Tag Archives: public ownership

Weekly News Check-In 4/24/20

WNCI-4

Welcome back.

We lead with wonderful and informative conversation between Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Alice Arena, Director of FRRACS, about efforts to stop construction of the Weymouth compressor station. Watch the Youtube video, and then please sign the Sierra Club petition asking the Baker administration to take action.

Earth day week happened mostly online. Bill McKibben wrote a remembrance of the original event, and described how to cut the money pipeline to industries that stand between people and a sustainable future.

Our climate section considers how best to move on from the current crisis. We include a seven-part overview of climate change itself, a profile of Earth Day’s visionary first organizer Denis Hayes, and articles about methane emissions and Antarctic ice melt.

The message from our clean energy section is one of abundant opportunity for post-pandemic economic recovery, coupled with warnings that “green” energy isn’t benign. We need to proceed carefully in its development while simultaneously reducing overall energy consumption through significantly increased efficiency in all sectors.

Some of that increased efficiency can be gained in transportation simply by providing infrastructure that allows for less travel. To this end, we offer a story on the need for universal broadband internet access across western Massachusetts. Among other things, this would allow many more people to work or study from home.

The fossil fuel industry is a mess. We found some great articles about what happens when you mix fracked-up finances, low-to-negative oil prices, and government bailout money. Recall that the industry’s troubles predate the coronavirus pandemic. It is time to consider how to wind this industry down.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) collected a couple more lawsuits challenging its preferential treatment of fossil fuel projects. This includes a potentially important action from Food & Water Watch in partnership with our own Berkshire Environmental Action Team. If successful, it will finally force FERC to consider the upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with gas and oil pipeline projects.

Keeping with the theme of organizations behaving badly, we close with an article describing how Eversource is refusing to discuss its current rate hike plan with the Office of the Consumer Advocate in New Hampshire.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Earth Day conversation with Senator Ed Markey and FRRACS president Alice Arena
Youtube
April 22, 2020

The Weymouth compressor station is a public health hazard. Join me and Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station President Alice Arena for an EarthDay conversation about how we can stop the compressor station and hold Enbridge accountable.
» Sign Sierra Club’s petition, calling for Baker to bar construction on the compressor station
» Watch recorded video

Weymouth COVID plan
Markey, Warren seek Weymouth compressor station’s coronavirus plan
By Joe DiFazio, The Patriot Ledger
April 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH — The state’s two U.S. senators are asking Enbridge, the company currently building a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, what steps it is taking to mitigate potential risks to workers and the community as construction continues through the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to the company on Friday, Democrats Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, are asking the company for “information about the measures that Enbridge is taking to protect workers and prevent the transmission of the coronavirus at the Weymouth construction site.”

“Given the highly contagious nature of this disease, public health experts have recommended social distancing measures that keep physical interactions to a minimum — a near-impossibility on a construction site,” the letter said. “Although compressor stations have been deemed essential services, thus allowing construction to continue, it is still important to take all possible steps to protect the workers and surrounding community members.”

The senators said they wanted a copy of a pandemic plan from Enbridge and all on-site contractors by April 25, detailing steps taken to protect workers and the surrounding communities, and how Enbridge would monitor and ensure compliance for the measures.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

DIVESTMENT

Earth Day stop the money pipeline
This Earth Day, Stop the Money Pipeline
By Bill McKibben, DeSmog Blog
April 21, 2020

It’s no wonder that people mobilized: 20 million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970 — 10 percent of America’s population at the time, perhaps the single greatest day of political protest in the country’s history. And it worked. Worked politically because Congress quickly passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and scientifically because those laws had the desired effect. In essence, they stuck enough filters on smokestacks, car exhausts, and factory effluent pipes that, before long, the air and water were unmistakably cleaner. The nascent Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a series of photos that showed just how filthy things were. Even for those of us who were alive then, it’s hard to imagine that we tolerated this.

And so we are. Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of environmental and climate justice groups running from the small and specialized to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, formed last fall to try to tackle the biggest money on earth. Banks like Chase — the planet’s largest by market capitalization — which has funneled a quarter-trillion dollars to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement of 2015. Insurers like Liberty Mutual, still insuring tar sands projects even as pipeline builders endanger Native communities by trying to build the Keystone XL during a pandemic.
» Read article     

» More about divestment       

CLIMATE

normal was a crisis
Earth Day Message to Leaders: After Coronavirus, Rebuild Wisely
Activists and scientists called on world leaders to shift the global economy onto a healthier, more sustainable track.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 22, 2020

Activists and scientists worldwide, mostly prevented from demonstrating publicly because of the coronavirus pandemic, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with online events on Wednesday, and their message was largely one of warning: When this health crisis passes, world leaders must rebuild the global economy on a healthier, more sustainable track.

That was highlighted by an influential scientific body, the World Meteorological Organization, which forecast that the pandemic would drive down global greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent this year, the biggest yearly decline in planet-warming carbon dioxide since the Second World War. But the group said that would be nowhere near the reductions needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

The agency went on to caution that, while the short-term reductions are largely a result of the sharp decline in transportation and industrial energy production, emissions are likely to rise in the coming years unless world leaders take swift action to address climate change.
» Read article     

Permian twice estimated
Super-Polluting Methane Emissions Twice Federal Estimates in Permian Basin, Study Finds
The methane is a byproduct of fracking for oil, often burned off at well heads or emitted into the atmosphere instead of being captured for use as fuel.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
April 22, 2020

Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world, are more than two times higher than federal estimates, a new study suggests.

Using hydraulic fracturing, energy companies have increased oil production to unprecedented levels in the Permian basin in recent years.

Methane, or natural gas, has historically been viewed as an unwanted byproduct to be flared, a practice in which methane is burned instead of emitted into the atmosphere, or vented by oil producers in the region. While new natural gas pipelines are being built to bring the gas to market, pipeline capacity and the low price of natural gas has created little incentive to reduce methane emissions.

Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, said methane emissions in the Permian are “the largest source ever observed in an oil and gas field.”
» Read article     
» Read report

climate crash course
A crash course on climate change, 50 years after the first Earth Day
The science is clear: The world is warming dangerously, humans are the cause of it, and a failure to act today will deeply affect the future of the Earth.
By Henry Fountain, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Hiroko Tabuchi, Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman, Christopher Flavelle, and Somini Sengupta, New York Times
April 20, 2020

This is a seven-day New York Times crash course on climate change, in which reporters from the Times’s Climate desk address the big questions:
1.How bad is climate change now?
2.How do scientists know what they know?
3.Who is influencing key decisions?
4.How do we stop fossil fuel emissions?
5.Do environmental rules matter?
6.Can insurance protect us?
7.Is what I do important?
» Read article     

Denis Hayes
The ‘Profoundly Radical’ Message of Earth Day’s First Organizer
By John Schwartz, New York Times
April 20, 2020

In recent days, Mr. Hayes has drawn a connection between the coronavirus and climate change, and the failure of the federal government to effectively deal with either one. In an essay in the Seattle Times, he wrote that “Covid-19 robbed us of Earth Day this year. So let’s make Election Day Earth Day.” He urged his readers to get involved in politics and set aside national division. “This November 3,” he wrote, “vote for the Earth.”
» Read article
» Read Seattle Times essay

doomsday glacier
The Doomsday Glacier
In the farthest reaches of Antarctica, a nightmare scenario of crumbling ice – and rapidly rising seas – could spell disaster for a warming planet.
By Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
May 9, 2017

With 10 to 13 feet of sea-level rise, most of South Florida is an underwater theme park, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s winter White House in West Palm Beach. In downtown Boston, about the only thing that’s not underwater are those nice old houses up on Beacon Hill. In the Bay Area, everything below Highway 101 is gone, including the Googleplex; the Oakland and San Francisco airports are submerged, as is much of downtown below Montgomery Street and the Marina District. Even places that don’t seem like they would be in trouble, such as Sacramento, smack in the middle of California, will be partially flooded by the Pacific Ocean swelling up into the Sacramento River. Galveston, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans will be lost. In Washington, D.C., the shoreline will be just a few hundred yards from the White House.

And that’s just the picture in the U.S. The rest of the world will be in as much trouble: Large parts of Shanghai, Bangkok, Jakarta, Lagos and London will be submerged. Egypt’s Nile River Delta and much of southern Bangladesh will be underwater. The Marshall Islands and the Maldives will be coral reefs.
» Blog editor’s note: This article is three years old, but is worth another look. We have not changed our emissions trajectory, nor has the Trump administration altered its pro-fossil fuel position.
» Read article     

» More about climate       

CLEAN ENERGY

oldstyle rooftop wind
Rooftop Wind Power Might Take Off by Using Key Principle of Flight
By Scientific American, in EcoWatch
April 22, 2020

Past efforts to scale down the towering turbines that generate wind power to something that might sit on a home have been plagued by too many technical problems to make such devices practical. Now, however, a new design could circumvent those issues by harnessing the same principle that creates lift for airplane wings.

Houchens and his colleagues think they have engineered a solution that overcomes these obstacles by borrowing from a fundamental principle of air flight. The curved shape of an airplane wing—called an airfoil—alters the air pressure on either side of it and ultimately produces lift. Houchens’ colleague Carsten Westergaard, president of Westergaard Solutions and a mechanical engineer at Texas Tech University, says he hitched two airfoils together so that “the flow from one airfoil will amplify the other airfoil, and they become more powerful.” Oriented like two airplane wings standing upright on their side, the pair of airfoils directly face the wind. As the wind moves through, low pressure builds up between the foils and sucks air in through slits in their partly hollow bodies. That movement of air turns a small turbine housed in a tube and generates electricity.
» Read article     

green NRG eco-boost
Green energy could drive Covid-19 recovery with $100tn boost
Speeding up investment could deliver huge gains to global GDP by 2050 while tackling climate emergency, says report
Jillian Ambrose, the Guardian
April 20, 2020

Renewable energy could power an economic recovery from Covid-19 by spurring global GDP gains of almost $100tn (£80tn) between now and 2050, according to a report.

The International Renewable Energy Agency found that accelerating investment in renewable energy could generate huge economic benefits while helping to tackle the global climate emergency.

The agency’s director general, Francesco La Camera, said the global crisis ignited by the coronavirus outbreak exposed “the deep vulnerabilities of the current system” and urged governments to invest in renewable energy to kickstart economic growth and help meet climate targets.
» Read article     
» Read IRENA report: Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050

threat to net metering
Solar Net Metering Under Threat as Shadowy Group Demands Intervention in State Policies
A fast-tracked FERC petition during a pandemic could “end net metering as we know it,” one legal expert warns.
Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
April 20, 2020

Solar net metering, the backbone of the U.S. rooftop solar market for the past two decades, may be facing its most important legal challenge in years — and it’s coming at a time when the industry is already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A nonprofit group that’s spent years fighting clean-energy legislation in New England is pressing federal regulators to approve a legal argument that could lay the groundwork for challenges to the solar net metering policies now in place in 41 states.

Last week, the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking it to declare “exclusive federal jurisdiction over wholesale energy sales from generation sources located on the customer side of the retail meter.” In other words, NERA is asking FERC to assert control over all state net-metering programs, which pay customers for the energy they don’t consume on-site but instead feed back to the power grid.

The day after NERA’s filing, FERC set a May 14 deadline for parties that might oppose or support it to file comments that could influence its decision.
» Read article     

magical NRG thinking
The Limits of Clean Energy
If the world isn’t careful, renewable energy could become as destructive as fossil fuels.
By Jason Hickel, Pocket
April 18, 2020

The phrase “clean energy” normally conjures up happy, innocent images of warm sunshine and fresh wind. But while sunshine and wind is obviously clean, the infrastructure we need to capture it is not. Far from it. The transition to renewables is going to require a dramatic increase in the extraction of metals and rare-earth minerals, with real ecological and social costs.

We need a rapid transition to renewables, yes—but scientists warn that we can’t keep growing energy use at existing rates. No energy is innocent. The only truly clean energy is less energy.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t pursue a rapid transition to renewable energy. We absolutely must and urgently. But if we’re after a greener, more sustainable economy, we need to disabuse ourselves of the fantasy that we can carry on growing energy demand at existing rates.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

internet for a green planet
Internet Seen as Helping Save Planet, but Many in Mass Still Miss Out
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires
April 22, 2020

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — When the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires last week hosted a virtual town hall with Berkshire County’s legislative delegation, the area’s elected officials got a little face time with their constituents to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All but one. State Rep. Paul Mark, of  Peru, was an audio-only participant in the hourlong webinar. That is because Mark is among the many Massachusetts residents who are underserved by internet access.

It is a problem that local officials have been talking about for years. The deficiencies have never been more stark than during the “stay at home” guidelines instituted in Boston last month in response to the pandemic.

And on Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day, one local climate change activist was thinking about the digital divide as an environmental issue.

“I knew it was a social issue and an important one but it was not one I was going to spend a lot of time on because I didn’t think it was a climate issue. And I take all of that back.

Where climate change comes in: All those Americans working from home are skipping their daily commutes, keeping cars in the garage and pollutants out of the air.
» Blog editor’s note: The greenest travel is to remain in place. Without broadband internet access, many people are forced to travel or commute to perform tasks that could be accomplished online.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation      

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no ff bailout
As Oil Prices Fall Below $0 Per Barrel, Climate Advocates Urge Against Fossil Fuel Industry Bailout
“The oil price collapse creates a historic opening: a public buyout of the fossil fuel sector to enact a managed decline of extraction and ensure a just transition for workers and communities.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
April 20, 2020

The plummeting of oil markets on Monday, the last day oil producers can trade barrels for next month, solidified a trend which has been evident since the coronavirus pandemic brought economies around the world to a halt last month.

Critics urged U.S. policymakers not to approach the collapsing markets as a problem that can be solved by propping up the oil industry. As David Roberts wrote at Vox Monday, the sector has been in decline for years and any taxpayer funds which go to propping it up further would be “wasted.”

“First, fracking was a financial wreck long before COVID-19 hit. U.S. fracking operations have been losing money for a decade, to the tune of around $280 billion. Overproduction has produced a supply glut, low prices, and an accumulating surplus in storage.

Both oil and gas prices were persistently low leading into 2019. Due to oversupply and mild winters in the U.S. and Europe, there is a glut of both natural gas and oil, such that the entire world’s spare oil storage is in danger of being filled.”
» Read article     

negative future
What the Negative Price of Oil Is Telling Us
We’re in a deflationary moment that surpasses anything seen in most people’s lifetimes.
By Neil Irwin, New York Times
April 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a series of mind-bending distortions across world financial markets, but Monday featured the most bizarre one yet: The benchmark price for crude oil in the United States fell to negative $37.63.

That means that if you happened to be in a position to take delivery of 1,000 barrels of oil in Cushing, Okla., in the month of May — the quantity quoted in the relevant futures contract — you could have been paid a cool $37,630 to do so. (That is about five tanker trucks’ worth, so any joke about storing the oil in your basement will have to remain just that.)

In the oil market, even assuming the negative prices for the May futures contract can be viewed as a bizarre aberration, there is a deeper lesson. A steep rise in American energy production over the last decade has outpaced the world’s need for energy, especially if many of the changes resulting from the pandemic, like less air travel, persist for months or years.
» Read article

done with fossils
Coronavirus stimulus money will be wasted on fossil fuels
Oil and gas companies were already facing structural problems before Covid-19 and are in long-term decline.
By David Roberts, Vox.com
April 20, 2020

In this post, I want to take a look at why it is equally shortsighted for President Trump and congressional Republicans to remain so devoted to the fossil fuel industry.

The dominant narrative is still that fossil fuels are a pillar of the US economy, with giant companies like Exxon Mobil producing revenue and jobs that the US can’t afford to do without. Even among those eager to address climate change by moving past fossil fuels to clean energy — a class that includes a majority of Americans — there is a lingering mythology that US fossil fuels are, to use the familiar phrase, too big to fail.

But the position of fossil fuels in the US economy is less secure than it might appear. In fact, the fossil fuel industry is facing substantial structural challenges that will be exacerbated by, but will not end with, the Covid-19 crisis. For years, the industry has been shedding value, taking on debt, losing favor among financial institutions and investors, and turning more and more to lobbying governments to survive.

It is, in short, a turkey. CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer put it best, back in late January, before Covid-19 had even become a crisis in the US: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.”
» Read article     

disconnected from reality
Demand For Oil Has Plummeted, But Industry Keeps Building New Infrastructure Anyway
Oil and gas companies are constructing pipelines and wells amid the pandemic, risking workers’ lives and depleting personal protective gear.
By Alexander C. Kaufman and Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post
April 20, 2020

In February, CNBC anchor Jim Cramer took aim at the heart of the debate over fossil fuels with a bold declaration on his investment advice show: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. … We are in the death knell phase.”

That was before the coronavirus pandemic and a price war sent oil prices into a tailspin.

In one sense, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time for the oil industry. It was already deep in debt and facing its best-organized opposition in more than a decade as President Donald Trump’s brand of petro-state nationalism spurred an international movement for a Green New Deal. Then the coronavirus struck. Since the start of 2020, leading oil and gas companies have lost on average 45% of their value, according to a report published Thursday by the nonpartisan Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), which concludes that U.S. and overseas producers are “exploiting” the COVID-19 crisis to demand bailouts, regulatory relief and more in hopes of recovering from financial troubles that predate the pandemic.
» Read article     
» Read CIEL report

buy them out
Public Ownership of Fossil Fuels a Potential Solution to Multiple Crises, Says New Report
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 17, 2020

With each passing week, the U.S. oil and gas industry and its allies in Washington have used the COVID-19 pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis to gut important environmental protections and lobby for handouts.

Each newfangled idea is more brazen than the previous. On April 16, for instance, the Trump administration finalized rules to allow more toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Drilled News has a running tally of all the different ways the industry is trying to capitalize off of the coronavirus crisis, a list that has totaled about 60 different environmental rollback measures as of mid-April.

But one of the more outlandish ideas the administration has conjured up is to pay fracking companies to do nothing. Bloomberg reported that the Department of Energy was considering a plan to pay drillers to cut back on drilling, a sort of debauched version of “keep it in the ground.”

“That is actually an interesting step forward” in the sense that the government sets up a framework to keep oil and gas from being extracted in the first place, Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the Climate and Energy Program at the Democracy Collaborative, told DeSmog in an interview. She authored a new report called “The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry,” which was published jointly with Oil Change International.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels       

FERC

FERC HQ
Groups launch new legal attack on FERC climate policy
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
April 22, 2020

Environmental groups yesterday asked a federal appeals court to take a fresh look at energy regulators’ duty to expand their consideration of climate change impacts from the projects they authorize.

Food & Water Watch and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a Massachusetts infrastructure upgrade that involves construction of 2 miles of new pipeline and a compressor station.

The challengers suggested a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in their favor could force FERC to broaden its climate analysis to include upstream and downstream climate effects for energy projects beyond the 261 Upgrade Project near Springfield, Mass.
» Blog editor’s note: Emphasis added above. This suite could have enormous implications for the country’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in line with international climate goals.
» Read BEAT’s announcement         
» Read article     
» Read petition

FREC Yes
Broad array of groups sue FERC over PJM MOPR decision as Chatterjee rejects cost, renewable concerns
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
April 22, 2020

A flurry of lawsuits hit the courts on Monday as industry and environmental groups reacted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Thursday decision to uphold a controversial December ruling.

Several groups had filed a request for rehearing with FERC following the commission’s Dec. 16 order that would effectively raise the floor price for all new resources receiving a state subsidy in the PJM Interconnection wholesale power market.

Illinois regulators, the American Public Power Association (APPA), American Municipal Power and several environmental groups were among the parties who filed against FERC for its decision. Concerns largely surround long-term costs to customers and what is seen as unfair discrimination against new clean energy.
» Read article     

» More about FERC    

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Eversource Slams the Virtual Door
By D. Maurice Kreis, NH Consumer Advocate, InDepthNH.org
April 17, 2020

We – the Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA), representing residential utility customers, and the PUC Staff, which provides analytical and policy support to the three PUC commissioners – approached Eversource to talk about settling the big rate case that Eversource filed last summer.  The state’s largest electric utility asked for a nearly $70 million rate increase – a whopping 20 percent price hike for the monopoly provider of electric distribution service to 70 percent of the state.

The dark heart of any utility rate case is always the company’s request for an allowed return on equity (ROE) – basically, the profit guaranteed to the utility’s shareholders after the company covers its operating costs and pays back lenders with interest.  Eversource thinks its shareholders deserve an ROE of 10.4 percent.

Profits of ten point four percent!  At the start of a global economic depression, triggered by a planetary pandemic, that has left thousands of Eversource customers in New Hampshire wondering how they’ll cover the mortgage payments and buy groceries!
» Read article     

» More about electric utilities      

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Weekly News Check-In 4/17/20

WNCI-3

Welcome back.

We kick off with a note acknowledging that the relentless drive to build pipelines hasn’t yielded to a mere pandemic. The Keystone XL is pushing south into Montana with an initial work crew of 100 – many more to come.

Our climate section leads with a remembrance from Drilled News of notorious climate change denier Fred Singer, who passed away at 95. During his long career he spun layers of falsehoods and confusion in service of the planet’s biggest polluters.

Because improving the energy efficiency of buildings is critical to achieving necessary emissions reductions, it’s notable that the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS) appears skeptical of building design experts – apparently favoring developers who prefer existing methods and performance levels. We offer an excellent CommonWealth Magazine article to explain the headwinds faced by the net-zero building code campaign.

The pandemic highlights a multitude of fractures in American society. Clean energy development may offer a rare opportunity to lift people up from under-served and vulnerable communities. The economic potential is huge for post-pandemic recovery. We found a hopeful vision of how benefits might be broadly shared.

Now that the Trump administration has gutted vehicle emissions requirements, clean transportation may still be saved by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, combined with the likelihood that a future administration will put transportation sector decarbonization back on track.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy under Administrator Andrew Wheeler – continuing its planetary assault while a raging pandemic diverts public attention. In a particularly elegant bit of regulatory jujitsu, the agency rewrote a mercury pollution rule by leaving current standards in place but changing “how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains.” This subtle language has significant implications for many classes of pollutants and their future environmental impact.

Our fossil fuel industry section is particularly interesting. We found the usual press coverage of its precarious financial condition – already on the edge of insolvency even before the Saudi-Russian price war and sudden economic shutdown. Now there are emerging calls for a federal government takeover. And why not? The whole industry is in crisis, and a bargain at current share prices. If it were under federal control, a climate-minded administration could manage the phase-out and transition to a carbon-free future. It’s arguably a good investment, considering the massive costs associated with alternative, business-as-usual or go-slow climate scenarios.

We close on a  related topic. The pandemic and global economic crash have dealt a serious blow to expansion plans for the liquefied natural gas market. Australia is feeling that now, with LNG exports facing an uncertain future down under.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Keystone corona style
Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
April 07, 2020

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines    

CLIMATE

ding dong FSFred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest.
­Why speak well of the late climate denier Fred Singer, who spent over half a century attacking credible science and scientists?
By Paul Thacker, Drilled News
April 16, 2020

A chief talent of Fred Singer, the world-famous climate denier who died on April 6 at 95, was bullying scientists whose work he could never match, and whose findings threatened the bottom lines of his corporate polluter clients.

Singer was a physicist, whose most notable scientific work involved contributions to planetary science, as well as early satellite and rocket technologies. But beginning in the 1950s, and for a half-century thereafter, Singer offered up to the media his takes on the shortcomings of other sciences and scientists, especially those studying the impacts of toxic chemicals, air pollution, and smoking on the environment or public health. Singer’s opinion pieces appeared in newspapers all across the country, and he relished providing that perfect contrarian quote to a reporter on deadline who needed to “balance” a story about environmental regulations.

Singer seemed to take special pleasure in discrediting scientists who investigated the ways that human activity threatens public health and the safety of our planet, the sort of research that informs regulations to solve problems ranging from acid rain’s toll on forests to DDT’s impacts on wildlife, as well as — of course — the effects of climate change on us all.
» Read article     

cooperate and commit
Strengthen worldwide climate commitments to improve economy, study finds
Global economy could lose out by $600tn by end of century on current emissions targets
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

Every country in the world would be economically better off if all could agree to strengthen their commitments on the climate crisis through international cooperation, new research has found.

But if countries go no further than their current CO2 pledges – which are too weak to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and would lead to dangerous levels of global heating – then they face steep economic losses.

The global economy would lose out by as much as $600tn (£476tn) by the end of the century, on current emissions targets, compared with its likely growth if countries meet the Paris goals, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.
» Read article     
» Download the study       

credibility gap
To advise on green stimulus, the IEA needs to upgrade its own climate toolbox
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International / Blog Post
April 9, 2020

Oil Change International (OCI) has tracked how the IEA has historically hindered the bold climate ambition we need by normalizing and promoting fossil fuel-friendly scenarios and investments. In this post, we delve deeper into key shortcomings the IEA needs to correct in its own modelling toolbox in order to credibly advise governments on crafting ambitious, climate-proof economic recovery plans.
» Read article     

» More about climate    

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

BBRS and Net Zero
Cracking the climate code
Battle raging over building energy standards
By Andy Metzger, CommonWealth Magazine
December 8, 2019

AN ARCANE STATE BOARD, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

CLEAN ENERGY

get it right
Advocates call for methodical approach to make sure offshore wind benefits all
Low-income populations and people of color were largely left out of Massachusetts’ biotechnology and cannabis booms.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo by Wind Denmark / Flickr / Creative Commons
April 13, 2020

With offshore wind expected to add as much as $100 billion to the economy along the East Coast over the next 30 years, activists and business leaders in Massachusetts are urging the state to take steps ensuring that low-income populations and people of color are able to share in the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“There will be a lot of economic opportunity and jobs,” said Elizabeth Henry, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Think about what even just a fraction of that could do for communities that have been persistently left behind — it’s really exciting.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

impact on EVs
Trump’s new fuel-efficiency rule: The devil is in the details for electric cars
By Bradley Berman, Electrek
April 10, 2020

It’s well known that on March 31, the Trump administration gutted fuel-economy and greenhouse gas rules for model years 2021 to 2026. But what does it mean specifically for electric vehicles? Environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond broke down the new rule, shedding light on provisions for EVs.

Beveridge & Diamond warns that automakers who immediately start disregarding California ZEV standards “do so at their own risk.” The lawsuits are only beginning, and if the administration changes next year, it will likely invalidate the rules.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation    

EPA

change in calculations
Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 17, 2020

As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

The new rollback leaves mercury emission standards in place for now, but changes how their benefits are calculated so that the economic cost takes precedence over public health gains, The New York Times reported. The move provides a legal opening to challenge other pollution controls even as evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution might increase one’s chances of dying from the new coronavirus.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”
» Read article    

quicksilver play by EPA
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury
The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls, a move that would effectively loosen the rules on other toxic pollutants.
By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday weakened regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants, another step toward rolling back health protections in the middle of a pandemic.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.

By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”
» Read article     

science schmience
Ignoring Scientists’ Advice, Trump’s EPA Rejects Stricter Air Quality Standard
The decision flies in the face of large-scale studies that indicated tightening the standard would save tens of thousands of lives.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
April 15, 2020

Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.
» Read article     

fine particles - EPA
Trump administration declines to stiffen US clean air standards
EPA chief Wheeler says current soot regulations are adequate despite research that shows stricter rules could save thousands of lives
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
April 14, 2020

The Trump administration has said it will not tighten rules for soot pollution, despite research showing that doing so could save thousands of lives each year.

The fine particles, which come from the burning of coal, oil and wood, penetrate the respiratory system and are linked with heart and lung diseases, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Under the current standard, which was set in 2012, polluters can emit enough soot to measure 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Strengthening the standards to 11 micrograms could save about 12,000 lives per year, according to one Harvard study of US seniors.

Other research, noted in the government’s own analysis, found that maintaining the soot standard at its current level could allow as many as 52,000 deaths a year in just 47 urban areas.
 » Read article     

evidence
‘Unbelievable’ Timing: As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 14, 2020

WASHINGTON — Disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates, the Trump administration declined on Tuesday to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions that came up for review ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew R. Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will not impose stricter controls on the tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, a regulatory action that has been in the works for months. The scientific evidence, he said, was insufficient to merit tightening the current emissions standard.
» Read article     

» More about the EPA        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

CARES Act oil bailout
Fed’s Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams in EcoWatch
April 16, 2020

As calls for a People’s Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country’s Big Oil companies “stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout” thanks to the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.

The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
» Read article     
» Read FOE analysis         

the case for public ownership
Discussion Paper: The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
April 14, 2020

The U.S. fossil fuel industry continues to seek bailouts during the COVID-19 crisis, as global oil demand craters and crude oil floods an already oversupplied market.

During this crisis, the U.S. government should assert long-term ownership and control over fossil fuel companies to safeguard long-term economic security for workers, avoid taxpayer-funded windfalls for fossil fuel executives, restore communities exploited by fossil fuel corporations, save taxpayer dollars, and ensure an eventual managed phase-out of coal, oil, and gas production.

Bailing out the oil, gas, and coal industries with no strings attached would return our economy to a precarious status quo in which the fossil fuel industry’s volatile and environmentally destructive business model worsens our economic and environmental crises. It would allow a handful of executives and wealthy shareholders to continue to extract the vast majority of profits, while taxpayers, workers, and exploited communities shoulder the burden of corporate and social risks and externalities.
» Read overview    
» Download discussion paper
» Read related press release        

late 80s bad
Big Banks Pull Financing, Prepare To Seize Assets From Collapsing Oil and Gas Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 13, 2020

While banks seizing assets from borrowers who can’t repay loans is common for industries like real estate — especially residential real estate — it is an unusual move for the oil and gas industry. Reuters reported that the last time it happened was during the oil price crash of the late 1980s. In the most recent oil price crash, when oil dropped from prices over $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel, there was a rash of bankruptcies, but the banks did not seize assets.

One difference now is that shale oil companies have continued to increase debt — thanks to loans from the banks — to the point where most of these companies are not viable with low oil prices. As one industry observer recently noted in the New York Times, “This is late ’80s bad.”

One new angle that didn’t exist in the 1980s is a dramatic change in sentiment from parts of the investment community about the viability of the oil industry as an investment. Television investment advisor Jim Cramer of CNBC was saying oil stocks were in the “death knell phase” in January, before oil prices crashed to the current lows and the coronavirus had crushed global oil demand.

More recently, in a remarkable opinion piece for Seeking Alpha, Kirk Spano advised investors to get out of the industry now with a unique twist on why this was urgent.

“We are about to see a massive wave of shale oil bankruptcies by thieving executives who have borrowed against assets and paid themselves bonuses for years without regard to shareholder value.”

While DeSmog has commented on issues of potential industry fraud and executives paying themselves while the companies they ran lost money, it is a decided shift in sentiment when sites like SeekingAlpha are calling for investors to get out and then “sue the dirt out of the executives who have almost all broken fiduciary duties.”

Which is why banks are now considering seizing the assets of the failed oil  companies — it is a bad option for the banks but it is the best one left.
» Read article     

cuts are complicated
Oil Nations, Prodded by Trump, Reach Deal to Slash Production
The deal will reduce output by 9.7 million barrels a day. While significant, the cut falls far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
April 12, 2020

HOUSTON — Oil-producing nations on Sunday agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated, in an unprecedented coordinated effort by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States to stabilize oil prices and, indirectly, global financial markets.

Saudi Arabia and Russia typically take the lead in setting global production goals. But President Trump, facing a re-election campaign, a plunging economy and American oil companies struggling with collapsing prices, took the unusual step of getting involved after the two countries entered a price war a month ago. Mr. Trump had made an agreement a key priority.

It was unclear, however, whether the cuts would be enough to bolster prices. Before the coronavirus crisis, 100 million barrels of oil each day fueled global commerce, but demand is down about 35 percent. While significant, the cuts agreed to on Sunday still fall far short of what is needed to bring oil production in line with demand.
» Read article     

wink and nod
Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream
America’s energy independence was an illusion created by cheap debt. All that’s left to tally is the damage.
By Bethany McLean, New York Times Opinion
April 10, 2020

Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil.

In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off.
» Read article     
Ms. McLean is the author of “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.”

climate deception
Baltimore, Rhode Island Argue They’re Suing Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Deception
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
April 10, 2020

At a time when fossil fuel companies are using a public health crisis to demand financial and regulatory support, the governments of Baltimore and Rhode Island are calling out a “decades-long campaign of deception” by these companies in urging courts to advance lawsuits trying to hold polluters responsible for climate damages.

Over a dozen of these climate liability lawsuits are currently pending, brought by cities, counties, one state, and one trade association seeking payments to help cover climate change-related costs. The lawsuits target major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, alleging they deliberately deceived the public and policymakers on the dangers of fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels        

LNG

LNG hits pause down under
Australia’s booming LNG industry stalls after fall in oil prices amid coronavirus
More than $80bn of investment decisions are delayed due to a collapsed oil price and a geopolitical price war
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
April 12, 2020

The extraordinary growth in Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the main cause of recent rises in national greenhouse gas emissions, has stalled indefinitely, with decisions on more than $80bn of investments delayed due to a collapsed oil price sunk by coronavirus and a geopolitical price war.

The price of Brent crude oil is less than half what it was in early January, having fallen again on Friday despite the Opec oil cartel and its allies reaching a supply deal to stop Saudi Arabia and Russia flooding the world with more oil than it can use. The Asian spot price for LNG, which is linked to the oil benchmark, is down about two-thirds in six months.

The unprecedented crash had already prompted oil and gas giants to defer investment decisions on projects including Woodside’s massive Burrup Hub expansion off the Western Australian coast and Santos’ $7bn Barossa project 300km north of Darwin. A decision on the first parts of the Burrup Hub expansion, including a $17bn development of the Scarborough gas field, has been pushed to 2021.
» Read article     

» More about LNG         

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