Tag Archives: rapid ice melt

Weekly News Check-In 5/29/20

WNCI-1

Welcome back.

This week’s post is all about opposing forces.

Presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit if elected – signaling an about-face from the Trump administration’s blanket support for fossil fuel infrastructure build out. We explored further to look broadly at the road to a greener economy – finding obstacles already positioned by financial, corporate, and political interests deeply invested in the high-carbon status quo.

An interesting article describes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embraced the discredited research findings of contrarian scientist James Enstrom to justify its recent refusal to tighten clean air regulations of fine particulate pollution – ignoring the strong recommendations of credible environmental scientists. Also on the subject of federal regulatory agencies disregarding public interest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is being challenged by Congress and environmental groups on net metering and gas infrastructure issues.

The idea that the climate crisis can be resolved by simply planting a trillion trees has gained traction recently, especially among groups who see it as a free pass from having to decarbonize the economy. We offer an article that looks under the surface of that appealing message to reveal a much more complicated reality. Spoiler alert: we need to decarbonize the economy and do lots of work on forests.

Along those lines, our clean energy and clean transportation sections offer some looks ahead, and we take a peek backward to review the recent history of high performance batteries.

Last week, we carried an article about solar and wind projects on Federal lands, blindsided by a sudden demand for retroactive rent payments. In a pairing that puts fossil fuel industry influence into perspective, a report shows that public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide royalty relief for oil and gas companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Life is bland without irony, so we provide links to both stories.

We close with a report on emerging plastics alternatives from sustainable sources like seaweed and mushrooms.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

XL pull the plug
Biden White House would yank Keystone XL permit
The Monday statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how he would handle the project.
By Ben Lefebvre, Politico
May 18, 2020

Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project, his campaign told POLITICO on Monday.

The statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how the presumptive Democratic nominee would handle the project that has been stalled for over a decade if he wins the White House in November.

Biden’s opposition also raises the stakes for the TC Energy’s efforts to start construction on the cross-border portion of the pipeline this year that would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines            

GREENING THE ECONOMY

G20 fossil finance
New Report Details How G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
May 28, 2020

Even after the world’s largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Despite their public commitments to the Paris agreement, “G20 countries continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry even as it makes bad business decisions that hurt people and the planet,” FOE U.S. senior international policy analyst Kate DeAngelis said in a statement.

“Our planet is hurtling towards climate catastrophe and these countries are pouring gasoline on the fire to the tune of billions,” she said. “We must hold G20 governments accountable for their promises to move countries toward clean energy. They have an opportunity to reflect and change their financing so that it supports clean energy solutions that will not exacerbate bad health outcomes and put workers at greater risk.”
» Read article      
» Read the report

bad bet on fossils
Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Bad Bet
The Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.
By Sarah Bloom Raskin, New York Times – Opinion
May 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks. Climate change poses the next big threat. Ignoring it, particularly to the benefit of fossil fuel interests, is a risk we can’t afford.

The Fed is singularly poised to seed strategic investments in future economic stability. Oil, gas and coal companies are set or are seeking to receive billions in federal aid — including at least $3.9 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and at least $1.9 billion in tax credits tucked into the CARES Act passed by Congress. Their allies in Congress and the administration have lobbied for changes to several of the Fed’s lending programs, including relaxing the Main Street Lending Program. Among those eligible for government assistance are many fossil fuel companies that were in deep financial trouble long before the pandemic began.

These concessions to the fossil fuel industry are a risky investment in the past. The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment.
» Read article       

Spain to join group of first movers off oil and gas
By Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International
May 26, 2020

On May 19, 2020, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved a Draft Bill on Climate Change and Energy Transition which sets out the country’s overarching climate policies. If the law is adopted, Spain will join a growing group of countries and financial institutions putting an end to oil and gas production.

Faced with the twin challenges of an unprecedented economic and social crisis and an ever-worsening climate emergency, governments have a duty to build a resilient economic model that protects their citizens’ future. There is no room in that future for a volatile industry whose products are directly responsible for the climate crisis and that is faced with a bleak future as demand for oil reaches its peak.

While the proposed emissions reductions trajectory is not in line with the cuts required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Spain’s proposed measures are nonetheless a welcome example of how countries can plan a fossil-free recovery. Under the proposed law, Spain would tackle both the demand for (by promoting electric vehicles, establishing alternative fuel targets for the air transport) and supply of fossil fuels thus highlighting the need to combine both approaches to address fossil fuel lock-in.
» Read article       

far out
Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from ‘Net Zero’ Fossil Fuels
By Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It’s also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary’s personal financial investments.
Blog editor’s note: There will be headwinds on the way to a greener economy. Not all will originate from the usual suspects – here’s something to keep an eye on.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

J Enstrom
How a Contrarian Scientist Helped Trump’s EPA Defy Mainstream Science
James Enstrom’s work on particle pollution’s health effects contradicts the findings of dozens of studies, but that hasn’t stopped the agency from relying on it.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

When, last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency’s decision that it would not raise the standards for air pollution because the science of PM 2.5 was too uncertain to justify doing so, he was relying in part on Enstrom’s work. Enstrom’s research was among the studies cited by Wheeler’s hand-picked committee of science advisers to raise doubts about the PM 2.5 consensus.

More broadly, Enstrom’s work has helped provide the underpinning for the Trump administration’s wide-ranging assault on environmental protection policy, from its retreat on climate change to its current effort to restrict the type of science used by the EPA by disqualifying studies that critics say are some of the most important in human health science.
» Read article       

» More about EPA        

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

net metering and FERC
24 Congressional Democrats urge FERC to reject net metering overhaul
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
May 28, 2020

A group of Democratic senators and representatives on Tuesday wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, urging the regulatory body to shut down a net metering proposal that experts say would effectively overturn the policy nationally.

The proposal at hand would subject any behind-the-meter, or customer-sited, energy generation to FERC jurisdiction, arguing that power production constitutes a wholesale sale. In the letter, Congress Members questioned FERC’s authority to make such a rule and also asked the commission to ask the petitioner, New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), to disclose its members.

“If FERC granted NERA’s petition, it would overturn long-held precedent and give the federal government decision-making power that has long belonged to the states, including the authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for programs,” the letter reads. “These decisions are best left to state regulators.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter

drilled podcast
The U.S. Government Has Been Rubber-Stamping New Oil and Gas Projects—This Lawsuit Hopes to Change That
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News podcast
May 8, 2020

A lawsuit filed against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) over a small project in Massachusetts could have big implications. It aims to force FERC to comply with an order the courts gave it back in 2017, and that it’s been ignoring ever since: to evaluate the overall emissions and climate change impact of any new energy project. The case has particular relevance right now as FERC has been rapidly approving every project that crosses its desk. Adam Carlesco, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, joins to walk us through the case.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about FERC      

CLIMATE

trillion tree diversion
Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say it’s a Lot More Complicated
Compared with cutting fossil fuels, tree planting would play only a small role in combating the climate crisis.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 27, 2020

It seems simple. Plant enough trees to soak up all the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels and people can forget about global warming and get on with their lives.

Climate scientists and many Democrats on the House committee greeted… proposed tree planting legislation skeptically, saying that the only real climate solution is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.

Forests can only be part of a long-term plan to curb global warming after that happens, Yale evolutionary biologist and ecologist Carla Staver testified at the Trillion Trees Act hearing.

“Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said, adding that any plausible attempt to limit global warming within our lifespan must also include forest protection and reforestation. “However, it is also crystal clear that tree planting alone will not fix our ongoing climate emergency,” she said.

In February, a coalition of 95 environmental groups sent a letter to Congress opposing the Trillion Trees Act as the “worst kind of greenwashing and a complete distraction from urgently needed reductions in fossil fuel pollution.”
» Read article      
» Read the letter        

seafloor ripples
Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise
A study of seafloor ripples suggests that ice shelves can retreat six miles per year, a quantum increase over today’s rates.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
May 28, 2020

Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites.

As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days.
» Read article       

9th circuit
Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court
By Karen Savage, Drilled News
May 26, 2020

Six California municipalities scored crucial wins on Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent their climate liability suits against several fossil fuel companies back to state court, rejecting the companies’ arguments that the cases belong in federal court.

The 9th Circuit is the second appellate court to rule that climate-related lawsuits brought by municipalities across the country belong in state court. The 4th Circuit ruled earlier this year that a case filed by Baltimore against more than two dozen fossil fuel producers and distributors belongs in state court. The 10th Circuit is currently considering whether a suit filed by three Colorado communities belongs in state or federal court, and the 1st Circuit is reviewing the issue in a case filed by Rhode Island.

“I think a lot of plaintiffs were watching very carefully to see what happened in the 9th Circuit to see how this question of jurisdiction was resolved,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
» Read article

» More about climate     

CLEAN ENERGY

PTC guidelines
US Treasury Gives Renewables More Time to Meet Tax Credit Deadlines
The wind and solar sectors both got something to like in new tax-credit guidelines issued by the Treasury Department.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 28, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department released much-anticipated guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines.

Wind was the big winner: onshore projects that started construction in 2016 and 2017 will now have five rather than four years to finish projects, while still receiving production tax credit (PTC) benefits. But solar developers got some help too, with the IRS allowing for investment tax credit-qualified equipment bought in 2019 to be delivered into October and providing added assurance that developers will receive benefits as long as they have “reasonable” expectation that equipment will be delivered in the required timeframe.

The guidance, requested by members of Congress and encouraged by the clean energy industry, should offer developers comfort as they recover from extended coronavirus-related shutdowns.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

morning traffic
States Sue to Block Trump From Weakening Fuel Economy Rules
At stake in the lawsuit is the single biggest effort by the United States to fight the climate crisis.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2020

Led by California, nearly two dozen states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, arguing that the move is based on erroneous science, and endangers public health.

The lawsuit escalates a standoff between President Trump, who has moved to undo a long list of environmental regulations since taking office, and a coalition of Democratic states, which have gone to court to stop him.
» Read article      
» Read the petition     

CAL
California Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against Trump Admins’ Clean Car Rollback
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
May 27, 2020

A coalition of 23 states plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Obama-era clean car standards. Those standards mandated stronger reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from new light-duty cars and trucks — reductions equivalent to corporate average fuel economy improvements of 5 percent annually.

But on March 31 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule requiring only minimal fuel economy increases of 1.5% annually, which the agencies’ own analyses showed would result in more pollution and premature deaths.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

better and cheaper
The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas
The economics of cheaper batteries—and why they’re good news for the planet.
By Timothy B. Lee, ARSTechnica
May 22, 2020

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

public lands fossil giveaway
Ailing Oil Companies Get a Pass on Royalties
Federal public lands managers bypassed normal processes to provide pandemic relief, according to documents obtained by High Country News.
By Nick Bowlin, High Country News, in Drilled News
May 27, 2020

The day after oil futures went negative, Nicholas Douglas, a top-ranking national BLM official, emailed the agency’s Western state directors. This email thread, obtained by High Country News, shows the agency encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market.

The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. Several BLM state offices confirmed to High Country News that they are carrying out these policies.

These new directives are not outliers. Despite the pandemic, the BLM appears to be encouraging public-lands drilling, rather than pressing operators to shut in wells and not produce oil. In the past few months, the BLM held lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. A September auction could make more than 100,000 acres of public land available for drilling just outside Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah. No such aid has been offered to renewable energy industries, which have also suffered in the downturn. Instead, the Interior Department hit solar and wind projects on federal land with large retroactive rent bills in mid-May, Reuters reported.
Blog editor’s note: we recently carried that Reuters story about retroactive rents for green energy installations on public lands. Refresh your memory here.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

 

tired of plastic
Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You
Companies are developing alternatives to single-use plastic, and with options including seaweed and mushroom tissue, consumer interest isn’t disappearing, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times
May 27, 2020

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.
» Read article      

» More about plastics alternatives

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