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Weekly News Check-In 2/5/21

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Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is operating, and local opposition forces are pressing their public awareness campaign. Opponents recently placed 310 elf effigies near the facility – a whimsical elfin gathering signifying the very real presence of 3,100 local children who live or attend school within a mile of this toxic and dangerous facility.

The Keystone XL pipeline cancellation is broadly celebrated across the environmental community, and The Guardian reports that much credit for this and other significant victories rightly belongs to the many indigenous groups in the forefront of these battles. It remains to be seen whether the recent climate-progressive policies of the Biden administration will finally start to carry an appropriate share of this load. Protests against Enbridge’s Line 3 construction in northern Minnesota offer a prime example of indigenous groups and their allies resisting and highlighting a project that has yet to receive appropriate environmental review. Now these protesters have gained the interest of members of Congress and the Biden administration, and the project faces an uncertain future.

The redirection of U.S. climate policy in the past few weeks underscores the importance of national leadership. Unfortunately, Brazil is led by Jair Bolsonaro, whose full-on assault of the Amazon rainforest is leaving that country more and more isolated in a world that increasingly grasps the scale of the trouble we’re in. As was the case with Trump, the damage from Bolsonaro’s policies are both local and global.

We have positive news about clean energy, as the Vineyard Wind project appears to be back on track – and this bodes well for the U.S. offshore wind industry in general. We’re also calling attention to University of New South Wales’ professor Martin Green, who received the prestigious Japan Prize for his work leading pioneering research into solar PV technologies.

Energy efficiency in buildings continues to make news, as Massachusetts’ Governor Baker considers whether to accept or amend the net-zero stretch code option in the state’s ambitious climate bill. He’s being lobbied hard by the building industry, which opposes this critical provision. On the national stage, the Department of Energy reviewed the International Code Council’s proposal to eliminate voting on future energy efficiency codes by municipal officials. But it’s a new administration and a new DOE – and they were not immediately persuaded. We’ll be watching for further developments.

The massive increase in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and stationary energy storage appears to have reached critical mass, where the volume of material combined with newly developed recycling techniques have created an emerging circular economy in which recycling can be a profitable business. Of course, lithium and other materials must still be mined because the number of batteries in use is rapidly expanding. But materials from old batteries will increasing make their way back into new batteries, and that’s good news for the environment.

Massachusetts is asking electric utilities to find a way to avoid hitting businesses with huge demand charges when they provide electric vehicle fast-charging stations. Modernizing the demand charge structure would remove a significant barrier to the necessary proliferation of these chargers, which in tern will accelerate the transition away from fuel-burning cars. General Motors placed a big bet on that rapid transition last week, when CEO Mary Barra announced that the company’s entire roster of cars and SUVs will be emissions-free by 2035.

This week’s news on the fossil fuel industry includes a primer on various tricks Big Oil uses to subvert progress on climate action. Now is probably a good time to brush up on that, since the industry is feeling a level of regulatory pressure that was entirely absent during the past four years – and we fully expect their PR fog machine to kick into overdrive.

The proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas facility in Nova Scotia is intended to export huge volumes of fossil energy to Europe. We peeked inside the natural gas industry for this report. As it happens,  gas first has to get to the facility, and the pipelines don’t yet exist. They’ll certainly face resistance and regulatory hurdles. And wherever pipelines aren’t available, the controversial transport of LNG by rail is one risky alternative under consideration. The Trump administration fast-tracked approval for LNG rail transit, but the Biden administration wants to take another look because public safety wasn’t considered in the original study. Seriously.

Wrapping up, the town of Amherst intends to join a growing number of Massachusetts communities in opposing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. A vote at next week’s town council meeting should make it official. Thank you, Amherst.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

elf watch at Weymouth
Fire-up of Weymouth Compressor Met with Elfin Resistance
By Amneo Centuri, Boston Hassle
January 28, 2021

Local folks on the South Shore held a whimsically grim show of resistance to the toxin spewing, catastrophically explosive, greenhouse gas emitting compressor station force-built in their community with an Elf Gathering on December 20. Residents, including this “natural” gas compressor’s opposition group, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), placed 310 elf effigies in the park, next to the shut-down compressor, to symbolize the 3100 local children who live or go to school within a mile of this immense public health and safety hazard .

As the Weymouth compressor station begins to fire-up operations you can walk the narrow shoreline park at King’s Cove in Weymouth MA, along-side this disastrous facility, greeted by the sprightly faces of elfin dolls and figurines, many homemade, posed playing in the bushes in trees by the hundreds. What is conveyed by these homespun gestures is unmistakable, that children here have been put in horrible peril. This display of elves both cheery and grotesque, merry and mischievous is able to hit a dire tone while being accessible, humorous, poignant and surreal.

Behind these fanciful, frolicsome elves is the plight of local residents, already living with staggering levels of airborne toxins. They are confronted with the long-term risks of developing deadly disease, that can only increase with the compressor’s chemical emissions, as well as the threat of instant death by incineration. Standing there in the park you’d be only mere yards away from the 7,700-horsepower compressor, a massive piece of methane gas infrastructure that if exploded would immediately vaporize you along with everything within 1000 feet, including homes.

“Natural” gas compressors are usually sited in more rural areas away from large numbers of people but a conflate/deflate of data allowed the proponents to wrongly claim this densely populated urban area was rural. This working-class area, The Fore River Basin, is in sight of the Boston skyline, on the Weymouth/Quincy line just south of Dorchester. The Fore River also runs through Braintree and has been a workhorse for industrial coastal Massachusetts. This area hosts many industries including power plants, fuel storage and distribution, a hazmat facility and also pumps the sewerage for 14 other communities. Part of the major metropolitan area of Greater Boston it is adjacent to the more affluent towns just to the south. It’s hard to imagine this huge, loud, odorous hazard ever being sited in one of the quaint, high income, by-the-sea towns or in Boston proper. These elves are the totems of resistance in a sacrifice zone.

This is not a local “nimby” (not in my backyard) issue as it is sometimes reflexively assumed and dismissed. An accident here could paralyze the region’s power, transportation, home heating oil delivery and knockout sewerage treatment causing raw sewerage to be dumped directly into the ocean. Insidiously, the acceptance of the Weymouth compressor siting has also set a dangerous national precedent for the fossil fuel industry’s ability to impose its dangerous infrastructure on large populations of people. It will be easier now that an Overton window has been cracked.

A compressor is the machinery that pressurizes “natural” gas, methane to push it through pipelines, across regions and eventually to storage, market and customers. The Weymouth compressor is the lynchpin in a scheme to pipe fracked methane from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania up to Canada, most likely for export to China and Europe. “Natural” gas is a greenhouse gas, a potent driver of climate change making this compressor a planetary issue, not only because of the volumes of greenhouse gas it will emit but also for the additional infrastructure it will facilitate with more methane put into our atmosphere. The Weymouth compressor enables the expanded and continued use of “natural” gas, expected to operate for the next 40 years. The compressor station was built to accommodate a total of 5 compressors leading to one critique to characterize it, “fully operational, a fossil fueled [planet] destroying deathstar”.

Originally this compressor was justified to meet local energy needs but it has been well documented by the state of Massachusetts that there is no such need. This was confirmed by the market with major energy companies Eversource and National Grid, the biggest corporate customers for the gas, pulling out of the project before construction started. It appears that the Weymouth Compressor was built out of reckless speculative greed. The push to build this methane compressor may have been powered by the great hope of an energy industry destined to go the way of steam power and whale oil. The game seems to be to keep markets expanding, to prolong the use of this dinosaur fuel deep in the 21st century maximizing “natural” gas investments, the old meth-pushers scheme.
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

indigenous KXL protestersBiden killed the Keystone Pipeline. Good, but he doesn’t get a climate pass just yet
Democrats’ climate record is mixed – and it’s largely pressure from Indigenous and environmental groups that’s pushed them to act
By Nick Estes, The Guardian | Opinion
January 28, 2021

Joe Biden scrapping the Keystone XL permit is a huge win for the Indigenous-led climate movement. It not only overturns Trump’s reversal of Obama’s 2015 rejection of the pipeline but is also a major blow to the US fossil fuel industry and the world’s largest energy economy and per-capita carbon polluter.

There is every reason to celebrate the end of a decade-long fight against Keystone XL. Tribal nations and Indigenous movements hope it will be a watershed moment for bolder actions, demanding the same fates for contentious pipeline projects such as Line 3 and the Dakota Access pipeline.

Biden has also vowed to review more than 100 environmental rules and regulations that were weakened or reversed by Trump and to restore Obama-era protections to two Indigenous sacred sites, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which are also national monuments in Utah. And he issued a “temporary moratorium” on all oil and gas leases in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, sacred territory to many Alaskan Natives.

None of these victories would have been possible without sustained Indigenous resistance and tireless advocacy.

But there is also good reason to be wary of the Biden administration and its parallels with the Obama administration. The overwhelming majority of people appointed to Biden’s climate team come from Obama’s old team. And their current climate actions are focused almost entirely on restoring Obama-era policies.

Biden’s policy catchphrases of “America is back” and “build back better” and his assurance to rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” should also be cause for concern. A return to imagined halcyon days of an Obama presidency or to “normalcy”– which for Indigenous peoples in the United States is everyday colonialism – isn’t justice, nor is it the radical departure from the status quo we need to bolster Indigenous rights and combat the climate crisis.

Obama’s record is mixed. While opposing the northern leg of Keystone XL in 2015, Obama had already fast-tracked the construction of the pipeline’s southern leg in 2012, despite massive opposition from Indigenous and environmental groups.

His “all-of-the-above energy strategy” committed to curbing emissions while also promoting US “energy independence” by embracing domestic oil production. Thanks to this policy, the lifting of a four-decade limit on exporting crude oil from the United States, and the fracking revolution, US domestic crude oil production increased by 88% from 2008 to 2016.

Domestic oil pipeline construction also increased – and so, too, did resistance to it. During the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, Obama’s FBI infiltrated the Standing Rock camps. “There’s an obligation for protesters to be peaceful,” he admonished the unarmed Water Protectors at the prayer camps who faced down water cannons in freezing weather, attack dogs, mass arrests and the ritualistic brutality of a heavily militarized small army of police.
» Read article

fresh nutsWhy there’s now a push to secure the future of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline
Experts say Canada has lessons to learn from Line 5 about dealing with the U.S. on energy projects
By Elise von Scheel, CBC News
February 5, 2021

The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by U.S. President Joe Biden brought energy issues and cross-border pipelines to the forefront of Canada-U.S. relations — attention that is now fixed on Enbridge’s Line 5.

Line 5 transports oil and natural gas from Western Canada through the U.S. to refineries in Ontario and Quebec. Enbridge is working to replace a segment of the 68-year-old pipe that run 7.2 kilometres under the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

The 1,038-kilometre project, built in 1953, travels from northwestern Wisconsin, across the upper peninsula of Michigan, under the Strait of Mackinac and down through the lower peninsula before crossing back up into Canada, terminating in Sarnia, Ont.

American politicians’ environmental objectives are threatening the future of Line 5, making it the latest project in the spotlight during ongoing discussions about North American energy co-operation.

In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer moved to revoke the 1953 permit that allows the crossing under the straits. She gave notice that Enbridge must shut down the pipeline by May 2021, arguing the project presents an “unreasonable risk” of environmental damage to the Great Lakes.

Enbridge has said there is no credible basis to revoke the easement and there have never been any spills in the straits.

At the end of January, Michigan environmental regulators approved several permits Enbridge needs to build a $500-million tunnel to house the pipeline. That project was given the green light by then-Governor Rick Snyder in 2018. The regulator said the proposed tunneling would have minimal impact on water quality in the Great Lakes. However, the company still needs other federal and state approvals before proceeding. The tunnel is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Experts say while Line 5 isn’t a make-or-break project for western oil and gas, the pipeline’s precarious future symbolizes the current state of Canada-U.S. energy relations, instability for investors and the potential issues for oil and gas supply within Canada.
» Read article

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

name that tune
8 protestors, 1 piano at Line 3 blockade near Park Rapids
Many of the protestors traveled from the northeast “to act in solidarity with Anishinaabe peoples here in Minnesota,” according to a news release.
By Shannon M. Geisen, Park Rapids Enterprise
February 4th 2021

Eight self-described “water protectors,” locked to each other with barrels of concrete and a piano, blockaded an Enbridge fueling station Thursday morning.

They were joined by dozens of additional protesters at the worksite.

According to a news release, “As piano music floated through the early morning light, Water Protectors sang and uplifted the Native-led struggle to protect Anishinaabe territory, sacred wild rice and stand with Mother Earth. Line 3 poses a 10 percent expansion of tar sands production; tar sands is the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth.”

The protest was held near the proposed crossing by Line 3 through the Shell River in Hubbard County. Last weekend, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar visited the Mississippi headwaters and the Giniw Collective encampment, one of several along the route.

Many of the protestors traveled from the northeast “to act in solidarity with Anishinaabe peoples here in Minnesota,” the release said.

Tyler Schaeffer said, “I’m profoundly concerned about the future of life on our planet and my deepest desire is for future generations to grow up safe in a world that hasn’t been wrecked by greed and shortsightedness – where water is clean to drink, where we’ve come back to balance and honor the earth as sacred. It’s time we follow the lead and wisdom of indigenous peoples with humility and courage.”
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE

climate pariah Bolsonaro
Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah
Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.
By Jan Rocha, Climate News Network
February 1, 2021

At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.
» Read article

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

back on track
Biden administration puts Vineyard Wind energy project back on track
Offshore wind farm proposal’s fate became uncertain after it faced delays under Trump
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
February 3, 2021

The long-delayed Vineyard Wind offshore project has been put back on track by the Biden administration.

In one of her first actions as the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Amanda Lefton pledged on Wednesday to conduct a “robust and timely” review of Vineyard Wind and essentially resume the permitting process where it left off in December. That’s when the developers of Vineyard Wind withdrew their proposal for a wind farm that could generate 800 megawatts of electricity, enough power for more than 400,000 homes, to be built about 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Soon after Joe Biden became president last month, the developers rescinded their withdrawal and requested that BOEM resume its review.

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, was to be the first major offshore wind farm in the United States. It would be financed through contracts with three major Massachusetts electric utilities. But the project ran into delays under the Trump administration, after commercial fishermen raised concerns that the giant turbines would be hazardous to their work.

The developers have changed the turbines they plan to use. The nearly $3 billion project will now include 62 of Boston-based General Electric’s Haliade-X turbines. A spokesman for Vineyard Wind said the project is still on track to obtain financing this year, with a goal of getting built in time to generate power by the end of 2023.

Katie Theoharides, Governor Charlie Baker’s energy secretary, praised the federal agency’s decision to keep the Vineyard Wind project moving along.

“This puts Vineyard Wind, an 800-megawatt project that really kicked off the gold rush for the offshore industry here in the US, once again back in the position to deliver on that promise of clean, affordable energy and jobs here in Massachusetts,” she said. “It’s a very good indictor for all of the projects up and down the eastern seaboard.”

Theoharides said the Baker administration expects Massachusetts will need 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2050 to help meet the state’s goal of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by that date. That’s 10 times the amount of offshore wind power that is under contract today in Massachusetts, including through Vineyard Wind and a similar-sized offshore proposal called Mayflower Wind. The administration and the utilities are authorized to offer contracts for another 1.6 gigawatts.
» Read article

Martin Green
Australia’s Martin Green awarded prestigious Japan Prize for work as ‘Father of solar PV’
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
February 1, 2021

The University of New South Wales’ professor Martin Green has been awarded the prestigious Japan Prize for his work leading pioneering research into solar PV technologies.

Professor Green was awarded the 2021 Japan Prize in the category of “Resources, Energy, the Environment, and Social Infrastructure”, in recognition the more than four decades of research undertaken at UNSW, that developed technologies now ubiquitous in most commercially available solar panels.

“It’s a privilege to receive this award, which serves as a reminder that the quest for inexpensive, renewable energy is a global quest seeking to sustain the trajectory of human civilisation on our shared planet,” professor Green said in a statement.

“I’d like to pay tribute to the thousands of solar researchers who have worked in the field for many years, including those at UNSW and elsewhere who have helped not just make PERC [solar cells] a reality but solar now the cheapest source of bulk electricity supply.”

Green oversaw the creation of a dedicated solar research group at the University of New South Wales in the 1970s.

The research team, which featured members who would also establish themselves as some of Australia’s leading solar researchers, successfully held the world record for conventional silicon solar cell efficiency for several decades, outperforming much larger international research organisations.

Green’s research group produced the first solar cells with an efficiency above 20 per cent in 1989, and the research team held world silicon solar efficiency record for 30 of the last 38 years.

The research led to dramatic improvements in solar cell designs and has underpinned the progress that has seen solar power rank amongst the cheapest sources of electricity generation in history.

The work has led Green to be dubbed “the father of modern photovoltaics”, with Green beating the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk to be awarded another leading technology prize, the Global Energy Prize, in 2018.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

net zero makes sense
Baker take note: Net zero buildings make sense

Cities can get high-quality housing at no extra cost
By Meredith Elbaum, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2021

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of misinformation flying around regarding Gov. Baker’s veto of groundbreaking climate legislation this month, but nothing has been more egregious than claims that provisions related to building codes in the bill would stall economic progress in Massachusetts.

Now that the bill is back on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, it’s time to set the record straight.

The fact is, Massachusetts can build residential and commercial buildings more quickly and more affordably when following net zero standards, particularly if these buildings are bypassing polluting gas. According to a review of construction in Massachusetts conducted by Built Environment Plus, our state is already building zero-emissions buildings today at no additional upfront cost. The return on investment for building new zero emissions office buildings can be as little as one year.

These cost-findings were confirmed by the city of Boston, which examined how new affordable housing could be constructed to cleaner, pollution-free standards. In its assessment, the city found that there was little-to-no cost increase for building to zero emission building standards, and that available rebates and incentives could actually make the buildings less expensive to construct. These homes and buildings also then locked in long-term operational savings.

So the good news is, if cities are allowed to adopt net zero stretch codes, Massachusetts will receive higher-quality housing at no extra cost. To increase cost-savings even further, Massachusetts should ensure that no new homes or buildings are connected to the state’s aging and risky gas system. Fossil fuel hookups slow down permitting and the construction process, and according to think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, can cost upwards of $15,000 or more in construction costs, depending on the building type.

The cost-savings associated with going pollution-free should be very encouraging for Baker and the real estate industry as they look for ways to lower up-front costs and build more quickly as we recover from the COVID-19 economic recession.
» Read article
» Read summary of climate bill on Governor Baker’s desk            

Pepper Pike home
DOE, House Energy committee question proposed building energy code changes
Increased involvement by local and state officials led to efficiency gains, prompting pushback from the building industry.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
Photo By AP Photo/Tony Dejak
February 1, 2021

The organization responsible for developing model building energy codes is facing growing pressure to reconsider proposed changes that would limit the role of state and local governments in approving future updates.

More than 200 stakeholders submitted comments ahead of the International Code Council’s Jan. 21 board meeting, with about three-quarters of them opposing a plan to overhaul the process for approving its triennial updates.

Meanwhile, the organization received a letter from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting answers to several questions related to the proposed changes and the influence of industry groups like the National Association of Home Builders on the process. A U.S. Department of Energy official raised similar questions at the recent meeting.

“We at DOE don’t currently have a comprehensive justification for why it’s needed,” said Jeremy Williams, a program specialist with DOE’s Building Technologies Office. “We’d ask ICC to further demonstrate where exactly the current process fails and how the proposed process would proceed.”

The changes would strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members and leave final say over future energy codes up to a committee made up of building code officials, industry groups and other stakeholders, with some spots for clean energy advocates. Any one stakeholder interest group could not account for more than a third of the committee’s members.

The proposed overhaul was set in motion last fall after industry groups representing homebuilders and developers raised concerns over the recently completed code development cycle, which saw record online voting turnout by state and local government officials, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Li recycling takes off
Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Finally Takes Off in North America and Europe
Li-Cycle, Northvolt, and Ganfeng Lithium are among those building recycling plants, spurred by environmental and supply-chain concerns
By Jean Kumagai, IEEE Spectrum
January 5, 2021

Later this year, the Canadian firm Li-Cycle will begin constructing a US $175 million plant in Rochester, N.Y., on the grounds of what used to be the  Eastman Kodak complex. When completed, it will be the largest lithium-ion battery-recycling plant in North America.

The plant will have an eventual capacity of 25 metric kilotons of input material, recovering 95 percent or more of the cobalt, nickel, lithium, and other valuable elements through the company’s zero-wastewater, zero-emissions process. “We’ll be one of the largest domestic sources of nickel and lithium, as well as the only source of cobalt in the United States,” says Ajay Kochhar, Li-Cycle’s cofounder and CEO.

Founded in late 2016, the company is part of a booming industry focused on preventing tens of thousands of tons of lithium-ion batteries from entering landfills. Of the 180,000 metric tons of Li-ion batteries available for recycling worldwide in 2019, just a little over half were recycled. As lithium-ion battery production soars, so does interest in recycling.

According to London-based Circular Energy Storage, a consultancy that tracks the lithium-ion battery-recycling market, about a hundred companies worldwide recycle lithium-ion batteries or plan to do so soon. The industry is concentrated in China and South Korea, where the vast majority of the batteries are also made, but there are several dozen recycling startups in North America and Europe. In addition to Li-Cycle, that list includes Stockholm-based Northvolt, which is jointly building an EV-battery-recycling plant with Norway’s Hydro, and Tesla alum J.B. Straubel’s Redwood Materials, which has a broader scope of recycling electronic waste.

These startups aim to automate, streamline, and clean up what has been a labor-intensive, inefficient, and dirty process. Traditionally, battery recycling involves either burning them to recover some of the metals, or else grinding the batteries up and treating the resulting “black mass” with solvents.

Battery recycling doesn’t just need to be cleaner—it also needs to be reliably profitable, says Jeff Spangenberger, director of the ReCell Center, a battery-recycling research collaboration supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. “Recycling batteries is better than if we mine new materials and throw the batteries away,” Spangenberger says. “But recycling companies have trouble making profits. We need to make it cost effective, so that people have an incentive to bring their batteries back.”
» Read article

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

demand charge reconsideredMassachusetts asks utilities for ways to avoid bill spikes from EV fast-charging
A new state law requires utilities to propose alternatives to help customers avoid large demand charges that can come with installing electric vehicle fast-chargers.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Ken Fields via Creative Commons
February 1, 2021

Massachusetts is asking utilities to come up with new ways to tally the bill for customers with electric vehicle fast-charging stations that won’t punish them for drawing electricity in sporadic bursts.

“I don’t think I can stress enough how much of a game-changer this legislation is for electric transportation,” said Kevin Miller, director of public policy at charging station company ChargePoint. “This is going to make it easier for everyone in Massachusetts to drive and ride in electric cars and buses.”

The new policy is part of the comprehensive transportation bill signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month. The goal is to smooth the way for the growth of fast-charging infrastructure, which has been slowed in part by the potential to trigger big increases in monthly utility bills.

As Massachusetts works toward the goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050, transportation, which is responsible for around 40% of the state’s carbon emissions, is a major target for action. Electrifying private cars and trucks, fleet vehicles, and public transportation is a central element of the state’s strategy.

The state has set a goal of putting 300,000 electric vehicles in service by 2025, but is still well short of that number. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of electric vehicles on the road right now, it is likely somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 of the more than 5 million vehicles registered in the state.

Many drivers are hesitant to make the leap to an electric car because they worry it won’t be able to drive far enough between charges, a concern known as “range anxiety.”

A possible solution to this barrier is the installation of more direct current (DC) fast chargers, which can power up an electric vehicle to 80% full in 20 minutes. They are generally located in public spots like malls, supermarkets, and interstate service areas, where drivers can power up while they buy their groceries or grab a coffee.

“These stations are vital components of the successful electric vehicle adoption strategy,” Miller said.

At the moment, however, there are just 90 publically available fast-charging stations in the state, offering a total of 345 outlets.

The economics of demand charges partially explain the lag. Demand charges are a component of commercial and industrial electric bills that assesses a fee based on the highest amount of energy used in any 15-minute period throughout the month. They are designed to make sure customers are paying their fair share to keep the grid ready to deliver even in times of high demand.

“The cost of delivering electricity is based on the cost of building systems to meet customers’ maximum demand,” said Kevin Boughan, manager of clean energy strategy and business development for utility Eversource. “That’s why demand charges exist.”

There is widespread agreement, however, that traditional demand charges don’t make sense for fast-charging stations, at least not yet. These stations just aren’t used that often, so demand charges can constitute a disproportionate portion of owners’ bills — as high as 80% to 90% — often making it financially unfeasible to offer fast charging.

“The utilities are operating on an old model that wasn’t designed to fit this use,” said Sarah Krame, associate attorney for the Sierra Club. “Demand charges are a really significant burden on direct-current fast charging site operators.”
» Read article

GM CEO Barra
In a Major Move Away From Fossil Fuels, General Motors Aims to Stop Selling Gasoline Cars and SUVs by 2035
The corporation’s zero emission goal is based on technological advances that have lowered the cost of electric vehicles and policies requiring emissions cuts, analysts say.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
January 29, 2021

General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker and long a king of gas guzzlers, has a new aspiration: The corporation wants to stop selling gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035.

The goal, announced on Thursday, is in line with GM’s recent actions indicating a desire to move away from internal combustion engines and invest heavily in electric vehicles, but it’s still a striking change for a company that has built much of its brand image and profits on SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade.

GM’s push to eliminate tailpipe emissions is part of a larger plan by the company, also announced on Thursday, to get to carbon neutrality by 2040.

With the new timetable, GM joins Volkswagen as among the largest makers of gasoline vehicles to announce a fundamental shift to cut emissions. Analysts attribute the change to advances in technology that are making EVs more affordable and a global policy trend toward requiring companies to cut emissions.

GM’s announcement is “a big deal in the sense that you have now a single set of planning targets that apply to the entire company, and it’s timed very carefully to resonate with the important political debates that are happening right now,” said David Victor, an international relations professor at the University of California, San Diego and a co-chair of the Brookings Institution’s energy and climate initiative.

It probably is no coincidence, he said, that GM is aspiring to get to zero tailpipe emissions in the same year, 2035, that the Biden administration had identified as a target for several of its climate goals. Also, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last year saying the state would ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles in 2035.

GM’s 2035 target includes light duty vehicles, which are most of the cars, pickups and SUVs GM sells, but does not include heavy trucks.

GM is indicating that it wants to work with the administration and also wants help from the federal government to make sure the country has the charging infrastructure needed for such a major change, Victor said.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

America misledHow to spot the tricks Big Oil uses to subvert action on climate change
Three ways fossil fuel companies try to trick the public.
By Jariel Arvin, Vox
February 1, 2021

In his first week in office, President Joe Biden committed to an all-of-government approach to tackle climate change, signing executive orders recommitting the US to the Paris climate agreement, pausing new leases for oil and gas companies on federal land, and stating his intention to conserve 30 percent of federal lands by 2030.

Yet while Biden’s climate actions have been lauded by many, there are some, often with connections to the fossil fuel industry, who strongly oppose taking stronger action on climate.

Many such detractors use common oil industry talking points in their arguments — talking points that have been developed in collaboration with PR firms and lobbyists to undercut clean energy policies and prolong dependence on fossil fuels.

A 2019 report by researchers at George Mason, Harvard University, and the University of Bristol describes how the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled the public by funding climate denial research and campaigns, all while knowing for decades that human-induced climate change exists.

Aware of the science but afraid of the impacts it might have on their returns, oil executives funded opposition research that “attacked consensus and exaggerated the uncertainties” on the science of climate change for many years, with the goal of undermining support for climate action.

Their messaging has worked for so long because Big Oil has become really good at stretching the truth.

“What’s really important to keep in mind is that part of the reason that oil and gas propaganda is so effective is that there is always a grain of truth to it,” said Genevieve Guenther, the founder of End Climate Silence, an organization that works to promote accurate media coverage of the climate crisis.

“I call it ‘sort of true,’ where there’s something about the messaging that’s true, but that grain of truth gets developed into a whole tangle of lies that obscure the real story,” she said.

Guenther, originally a professor of Renaissance literature, is also working on a book titled The Language of Climate Change. I spoke with her to get a better understanding of how to recognize — and counter — Big Oil propaganda.

As the Biden administration takes important steps to address the climate emergency, the fossil fuel industry and its allies in the media will be ramping up the misinformation campaign to skew public opinion and get in the way of climate policy. Fox News has already started.

Which is why it’s more important than ever to be aware of the tools oil and gas companies use to cloud the issue.

My conversation with Guenther, edited for length and clarity, is below.

Jariel Arvin: So what are the talking points the oil industry uses to try to convince the public in these PR blitzes?

Genevieve Guenther: People can recognize fossil fuel industry talking points by thinking about what they’re designed to do. In general, fossil fuel talking points are designed to do three things: make people believe that climate action will hurt them, and hurt their pocketbooks in particular; make people think we need fossil fuels; and try to convince us that climate change isn’t such a big deal.
» Read article            
» Read “America Misled”, the 2019 report on industry-funded climate denial

KYRAKATINGO
How U.S. Crude Oil Exports Are Hastening the Demise of the Oil Industry
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 28, 2021

When Congress lifted the export ban on U.S. crude oil in December of 2015 to allow for exports beginning in 2016, the oil industry celebrated. However, looking back at the impact of lifting the 40-year-old ban, it appears the move has helped hasten the financial demise of the U.S. oil industry — while also increasing the industry’s huge contribution to climate change.

In many ways, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s demise is self-inflicted. When historians look back upon its declines, lifting the export ban will likely mark a turning point where the industry made a huge bet on the profitability of fracking for oil in the U.S. — and subsequently began to dig its own grave.

“Opening the shale revolution to the world through the export ban lifting helped shift the global oil market psychology from supply scarcity to abundance,” Karim Fawaz, director of research and analysis for energy at IHS Markit, told Bloomberg in early 2021. “It unshackled the U.S. industry to keep growing past its domestic refining limitations.”

Now, not only is the U.S. shale oil industry failing financially and facing debts it likely can’t repay, but calls are growing for the new Biden administration to reinstate the crude oil export ban — which President Biden could do immediately under a national emergency declaration.

This would effectively put a limit on the U.S. fracking industry — and be a big step in reducing the industry’s contributions to climate change. It would also restrain the industry from simply producing as much oil as fast as possible, something investors have been lobbying for the last several years. That’s because this approach has led to the loss of over $340 billion since 2010. Investors hope imposing fiscal restraint on the U.S. fracking industry will result in companies producing less oil overall but finally producing some profits.

Lifting the crude oil export ban to allow exports beginning in 2016 unleashed the U.S. fracking industry to produce as much oil as possible because it opened access to global markets with a long list of willing buyers of cheap U.S. crude oil.

It was a seismic change for the U.S. oil industry and built on the excitement of what was being called the fracking miracle; investors continued to lend large sums to the industry to produce record amounts of oil, betting on the promise of future profits to pay back the debt.

The profits never materialized despite the record amounts of oil being produced and now it appears that most of the best U.S. shale oil deposits were drained in that effort.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuel           

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro LNG
Pieridae Energy to build Goldboro LNG plant, Nova Scotia
By Bruce Lantz, Resource World
January 29, 2021

Canada’s ability to provide oil and natural gas to its citizens markets abroad is being hindered by the lack of pipeline infrastructure, say industry producers.

“Canada is in the unique position of having abundant natural resources but currently insufficient pipelines and other infrastructure needed to transport Canadian oil and natural gas, and ideally increase exports to the United States and global markets,” said Jay Averill, media relations manager with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

An example of this shortfall is the need for Pieridae Energy Ltd. [PEA-TSX] to import natural gas from the U.S. for its planned $10-billion liquefied natural gas processing facility in Goldboro, Nova Scotia.

While Western Canada features some pipelines in that area, the lack of a pipeline from the West to Eastern Canada means Pieridae must bring product from the U.S. through the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline.

“CAPP is fully supportive of the development of LNG export facilities on Canada’s East Coast,” said Averill. “The LNG industry can become an important source of much-needed jobs in Atlantic Canada, and having the capacity to export LNG off of Canada’s East Coast could offer a future market for Canadian natural gas.”

Averill noted that the total marketable natural gas in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is estimated to be 988 trillion cubic feet (tcf), while the rest of Canada holds 223 tcf, a total of 1,220 tcf which CAPP estimates can meet Canada’s domestic demand for 300 years. [Yikes!!! – blog editor’s comment]

“If Canada is going to succeed at becoming a sought-after global energy supplier, additional infrastructure is essential,” he said.

“Canadian producers are looking to increase market share and Canada has vast resources that can offer an affordable and reliable supply of natural gas, which is among the lowest-emissions, most responsibly produced natural gas in the entire world. Unfortunately, a lack of infrastructure is limiting our ability to get Western Canadian product to our own East Coast. CAPP has been vocal in expressing the great need for increased pipeline capacity and new infrastructure.”
» Blog editor’s note: This article offers a snapshot into the mindset of the natural gas / LNG industry – one that assumes energy reserves must and will be extracted and burned, as demanded by an outdated business model that sacrifices a livable planet for the sake of profit. CAPP’s biggest concern is pipeline capacity. Climate activists know that stopping pipeline construction in Canada, as in the U.S., is critically important.
» Read article

safety unfactored
Regulators Discuss LNG-by-Rail Safety Concerns — After Approving New Rule To Allow Transporting LNG by Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
January 26, 2021

New regulations were announced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in July 2020 allowing the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

That same month, PHMSA released the interim report for its LNG-by-rail task force. It concluded: “The task force did not identify any new safety gaps related to the transportation of LNG in tank cars.”

And yet, it stated, “PHMSA and FRA will continue to pursue research and testing efforts designed to reduce the risks inherent in LNG transportation and hazmat transportation more broadly.”

As part of that continued work, this month, PHMSA held public meetings with a committee from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) to discuss the “Safe Transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas by Railroad Tank Car.”  (The NAS committee was announced a month before the new LNG-by-rail rule was finalized.) What’s more, earlier this year PHMSA stated that safety wasn’t a pretext for regulation.

The LNG-by-rail regulation fast-tracked by the Trump administration was a gift to the gas and rail industries. The regulation was pushed through without proper safety considerations at a time when there isn’t even any current demand for the moving LNG by rail. The fact that a regulation to move such a dangerous material was approved six months before public meetings began to discuss if moving LNG by rail could be done safely indicates how broken the U.S. regulatory system is — and how it is failing to do its job of protecting the public.

But this is nothing new with PHMSA. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has been an [advocate] for new pipeline safety regulations from PHMSA for years. Her Congressional testimony on the matter includes her assessment of PHMSA and the U.S. regulatory system.

“The system is fundamentally broken,” Speier testified in 2015. “PHMSA is actually a toothless kitten, a fluffy industry pet that frightens absolutely no one.”
» Read article           
» Related press release: DeFazio and Malinowski Applaud President Biden for Prioritizing Scrutiny of Reckless Trump Rule to Permit LNG Transport by Rail Tank Car       

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Amherst action on biomassAmherst Town Council asked to oppose Springfield wood-burning plant
By SCOTT MERZBACH, gazettenet.com
February 2, 2021

The Town Council may soon take a stand against the proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

The Amherst League of Women Voters is asking councilors to adopt a resolution at their Feb. 8 meeting protesting the wood-burning power plant being developed by Palmer Renewable Energy.

The resolution states that the opposition would be due to “the irreparable harm it would cause to the environment and human health.” It also calls for the state to not offer subsidies or other incentives to support such power plants, and for legislators to pass legislation permanently banning large-scale wood biomass power plants in Massachusetts.

Though the company has the phrase “renewable energy” in its title, the local League of Women voters chapter is making the case that the power plant would increase hazardous pollution in the region and emit more carbon dioxide than coal burning.

League member Martha Hanner wrote in an email the resolution is important because, if constructed, the plant would release significant amounts of respirable particulates and potentially harm mature forests that sequester carbon dioxide.

“Massachusetts is poised to become either a good example in the fight to control CO2 emissions or a very bad example,” Hanner wrote.

Endorsed unanimously by the town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee, the resolution comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has put forward regulations that would allow the plant to receive renewable energy credits under the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards.
» Read article

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 12/4/20

banner 04

Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is taking another run at becoming operational. Recall that their first attempt failed because of back-to-back unplanned gas releases caused by equipment failures. They now have Federal approval to try again, beginning today, and that comes with further – planned – releases of methane into the community as part of the process of voiding air from the lines.

In news about other pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to extend the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024. The upshot is they’ll need to apply again for that extension in a year or two, while the economic and environmental arguments against new pipelines continue to harden.

Legal action against the fossil fuel industry could be less effective if cases are heard in federal court, rather than at state level. That’s why the industry is pushing a strategy to make that happen, with an eye toward the very conservative US Supreme Court. Shifting gears to a whole different type of action, we found a great article on activist trolling of fossil fuel companies – taking it to the greenwashers through social media and calling them out for their propaganda.

And the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six environmental activists for grassroots work all over the world. Read about them at the end of this section.

The sunsetting Trump administration is trying to make divestment more difficult, by bullying banks into financing Arctic oil extraction. This follows announcements by all the major US banks that they won’t finance expansion into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What the Trump camp apparently doesn’t understand, is that banks are backing off purely out of economic interest. They have concluded that extracting oil and gas from the Arctic is a lousy business proposition.

Nonetheless, we’re still pumping a gusher. Articles in our Climate section warn that the pandemic-related emissions drop is both minor and temporary – and that the world is on track to extract and burn increasing amounts of oil and gas well into the future. Opposing that seemingly-inevitable trend are a few court rulings, mostly in Europe, that begin to force countries to take their climate commitments seriously.

The geothermal micro-district concept is a way to provide emissions-free heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods. Two pilot projects are underway in Massachusetts. Aside from being a super-efficient use of clean energy, its deployment offers a natural transition for existing utilities – a way to leverage the electrical and pipe fitting skills of their current workforce into green jobs.

Our Energy Efficiency section gives a shout-out to Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, for her vision and persistence in launching the ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program. While it isn’t aimed directly at increasing home energy efficiency, it helps homeowners finance some of the exterior repair work that often must be done prior to insulation and sealing. Its a welcome complement to existing energy efficiency programs like Mass Save.

Energy Storage covers new residential batteries, while our Clean Transportation section considers how to recycle old ones. We also found another article on the huge problem of aftermarket emissions control defeat devices installed in diesel vehicles – especially pickup trucks. A new EPA report estimates this problem is much worse in terms of total emissions than the notorious Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal from a few years ago.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was gutted and politicized under Trump, some devoted career scientists still remain. They’re mounting a concerted effort to resist the administration’s last-ditch assault on the environment, with an eye toward clearing a path for the incoming Biden administration to quickly reverse some of the worst damage. Dissent is also bubbling up at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where commissioners are beginning to stake out positions that seem to anticipate coming changes.

Fossil fuel industry news includes a lot of buzz about the Trump administration’s upcoming sale of extraction leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But banks have signaled a distinct lack of interest in financing future operations and environmentalists are ready with lawsuits. Meanwhile, oil refineries are showing financial stress, with many offered for sale and few interested buyers.

We close with an update on biomass. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would reclassify energy from burning woody biomass as carbon neutral. The value of renewable energy credits resulting from that reclassification would tip the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield from the “loser” to the “winner” column. After twelve years of protest, it would finally be financed and built. A massive effort is underway to prevent this environmental and public health disaster from happening. We offer a link to a petition you can sign, in opposition.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

compressor station photoWeymouth Compressor May Vent Gas As Part Of Its Startup Week
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
December 1, 2020

Crews at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth could vent natural gas into the community several times during the first week of operations at the site set to begin on Friday.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company that built the controversial facility, said Tuesday that the process to place the compressor into service will officially start on Dec. 4 after federal regulators gave the final stamp of approval last week.

That process will involve “controlled, planned venting of natural gas” to remove any air in the station’s pipes, according to the spokesperson, Max Bergeron.

“The controlled venting of natural gas may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on December 4 through December 11, 2020,” Bergeron said in an email. “The controlled venting of natural gas is a safe and routine procedure, and the gas which is vented will naturally dissipate. Algonquin Gas Transmission representatives will be on site during this work, and monitors that constantly measure the levels of natural gas will be used.”

Community leaders as well as environmental and public health groups have battled the proposed facility for years, but a federally ordered pause in operations at the site following two emergency shutdowns ended after about seven weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has been at the center of the opposition campaign announced it would mark the start of compressor service with an “Elf effigy” in Kings Cove Park near the facility.
» Read article             

Feds Give Compressor Station Approval to Start Up
Emergency Shutdowns Tied to O-Ring, Electrical Issues
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
November 25, 2020

Enbridge will start pumping natural gas through its Weymouth compressor station next month after federal regulators on Wednesday gave the final green light, ruling that the company sufficiently corrected any issues behind two emergency shutdowns this fall.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration signed off Wednesday on a plan to restart operations at the site with gas pressure limited to 80 percent of the levels before the most recent incident.

With the agency’s Thanksgiving eve approval, the controversial project appears set to begin operating in the next few weeks after years of opposition from community groups and elected officials.

News that the contentious project was again on the verge of completion sparked immediate criticism from opponents, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

“This project is a threat to public safety, health, and the environment, and I will continue to fight it,” Markey tweeted.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Not so fast - FERC
Federal agency refuses to extend construction deadline for National Fuel pipeline
By Thomas J. Prohaska, The Buffalo News
December 2, 2020

National Fuel was premature in requesting an extension of its deadline to complete a new $500 million pipeline to carry natural gas from northern Pennsylvania to Canada through Western New York.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to push the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024.

Although FERC said it was too soon for the company to ask for such an extension, it rejected National Fuel’s Oct. 16 request “without prejudice,” meaning the company is free to ask again when the question is more timely.

“We remain fully committed to this project and, as indicated in the FERC comments, we are able to file again,” National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

“We’re glad they denied it,” said Diana Strablow, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group.

The seven-page FERC ruling noted that 64 comments, all negative, were received during a 15-day public comment period.

“I think they had an impact,” Strablow said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has tried to block the pipeline project by refusing to grant a water quality permit that would allow the 24-inch-wide pipeline to cross 192 streams in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.
» Read article             

hands off Oregon
When Can Pipelines Take Private Land? Jordan Cove LNG Project a Test for Eminent Domain
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 24, 2020

In 2005, Deb Evans and her husband Ron Schaaf bought a piece of property in Klamath County, Oregon, where they hoped to build a house and selectively harvest timber on the land. They saw it as a long-term investment. About a month after they closed on the property, they went to walk through portions of it where they considered building a home, but they noticed orange survey tape hanging from the trees. “We had no idea who had put it there or why,” Evans said.

After calling around, they soon found out that a company wanted to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, and run a natural gas pipeline to California — and Evans’ land was in the way. If the company’s plans worked out, the pipeline would travel right through their property.

A decade and a half — and two White House administrations — later, there’s still no pipeline.

But the project still looms over Evans and Schaaf, limping along in a zombie-like fashion. The Jordan Cove LNG project, now overseen by Canadian company Pembina, just won’t seem to die — even after it had been rejected by federal regulators twice and had key environmental permits denied. Now, in a final attempt to stop the pipeline that would supply the LNG terminal, local residents are suing to protect their property.

Evans and a group of about two dozen landowners, represented by the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., are appealing the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline (reversing an Obama-era rejection) in a case that will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021. The outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for how pipelines get built in the U.S., and how pipeline companies can use eminent domain to take private land.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines     

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

SCOTUS bait and switch
Here’s How Big Oil Wants The Supreme Court to Help Delay and Derail Climate Lawsuits
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 2, 2020

On January 19, 2021 — just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office — the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate change accountability lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, against almost two dozen fossil fuel corporations.

Like over a dozen other climate lawsuits, Baltimore’s case seeks to hold major oil and gas companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil accountable for fueling the climate crisis through the extraction and sale of their products and for spreading climate disinformation and downplaying the dangers of fossil fuels to the public and shareholders in order to boost corporate profits.

And similar to other cases brought at the municipal or state level, Baltimore’s lawsuit demands that oil majors help pay for things such as seawalls to better protect the city from the impacts of climate change like more dramatic flooding. Proving the alleged corporate deception around the reality and severity of climate change is at the heart of the lawsuits lodged by communities like Baltimore which are facing enormous costs and damages from the unfolding climate crisis.

Seeking help from the fossil fuel companies to pay for these sorts of climate adaptation efforts, however, can likely only be done by keeping the case at the local level rather than trying it in higher federal courts.

This is why fossil fuel companies and their allies are currently waging a procedural battle to punt these cases from state to federal court. The upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court — which has dismissed climate lawsuits in the past — could determine whether or not the Baltimore lawsuit can remain at the state level. A ruling in favor of the fossil fuel industry will at the very least delay Baltimore’s case and similar climate cases from advancing in state court, and could derail these cases altogether if the Supreme Court determines they must be brought in federal, rather than state, courts.

In a series of legal briefs recently filed with the Supreme Court, several trade and lobby groups, and more than a dozen government bodies, are backing Big Oil’s argument that the case should only be heard in federal court.

This includes the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The Chamber of Commerce and NAM, whose members include fossil fuel companies, both regularly intervene on the industry’s behalf in court.)

Two conservative law organizations — the Atlantic Legal Foundation and the Washington Legal Foundation — also filed briefs, along with an organization of defense lawyers called DRI – Voice of the Defense Bar and Energy Policy Advocates, a shadowy initiative that files public records requests on behalf of fossil fuel interests.

On top of that, two retired military officers filed briefs as well as the U.S. federal government and 13 politically conservative states, including Alaska, Louisiana, and Texas. Under Trump, the Justice Department has regularly intervened on industry’s behalf in court cases — and its recent brief in the Baltimore case echoes arguments made by the fossil fuel industry.

Alyssa Johl, legal director with the Center for Climate Integrity, an initiative that supports holding polluters accountable for climate harms, described the oil companies’ Supreme Court plea as a “bait and switch.”

“Big Oil and their allies are asking the justices to bypass the narrow issue before them and instead issue a sweeping decision that would send all related climate damages cases to federal court,” she said. “Since the oil defendants have repeatedly failed to win that argument in lower courts, this really feels like a Hail Mary pass to escape accountability.”
» Read article             

greentrolling
Greentrolling: A ‘maniacal plan’ to bring down Big Oil
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 19, 2020

Mary Heglar has a “maniacal plan” to save the planet. It doesn’t involve shutting down pipelines or protesting in the streets. Heglar has simply been “trolling the shit out of fossil fuel companies” on social media.

Heglar is known for her essays about climate change and for being one half of the duo behind Hot Take, a newsletter and podcast she co-hosts with the journalist Amy Westervelt. Her strategy started taking shape after the oil giant BP shared a carbon footprint calculator on Twitter last fall.

“Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!” the oil company tweeted.

Hegar’s reply went viral. “Bitch what’s yours???”

“They can just walk out on the biggest arena in the world and pretend that they’re something that they’re not,” Heglar told Grist. “And it’s really persuasive. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that BP was on the right side of history.”

Heglar was tired of climate-conscious people turning against one other, shaming others for flying or eating meat. Instead, she wanted to direct their anger at the companies responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions. So she started prowling the social media feeds of Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips every day to point out their hypocrisy. (She can’t see Exxon’s tweets anymore, because she got blocked.) “I’m petty like that,” she said. “I am a Scorpio and I am vindictive.”

“Greentrolling,” as Heglar describes it, is a way of letting off steam. But there’s a deeper motivation behind it. The point isn’t to convince oil companies to do better. It’s to make sure that people aren’t misled by corporate PR teams — to try and shatter the idea that they’re champions of the environment, and point out the ways they shift blame to individuals to avoid accepting responsibility for their role in the climate crisis.

Greentrolling is catching on. Earlier this month, Shell tweeted a poll asking “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?” Every corner of Climate Twitter had something to say about it. “This you?” said climate activist Jamie Margolin, sharing a photograph of a 2016 Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunrise Movement tweeted, “omg cute!! we’re still gonna prosecute your execs for lying to the public about climate change for 30 years though!!!” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also chimed in.
» Read article             

Goldman Prize 20206 Grassroots Activists Win ‘Green Nobel Prize’
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
November 30, 2020

Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize,” this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continents.

This year’s winners include an Indigenous Mayan beekeeper who led a coalition to ban genetically modified soy in seven Mexican states, a French activist who pressured France’s three largest banks to stop financing coal, a woman who harnessed youth activism to enact a ban on single-use plastics in the Bahamas, an Indigenous Waorani woman who organized legal action preventing oil extraction in a huge expanse of Amazon rainforest, an Indigenous Karen organizer who spearheaded the formation of the world’s first peace park in an active conflict zone, and an activist who prevented the construction of what would have been the first coal-fired power plant in Ghana.

“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many,” John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement. “Even in the face of the unending onslaught and destruction upon our natural world, there are countless individuals and communities fighting every day to protect our planet. These are six of those environmental heroes, and they deserve the honor and recognition the Prize offers them — for taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real, lasting environmental progress.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

forced investment
Trump Administration Accused of Trying to Bully Banks Into Financing Arctic Fossil Fuel Extraction
“Contrary to the claims of oil-backed politicians, banks don’t want to finance more drilling in the Arctic not because of some vast liberal conspiracy, but because it’s bad business,” said a Sierra Club leader.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
November 20, 2020

Responding to grassroots pressure and shareholder activism, five of the six largest U.S. banks have decided they want no part of financing fossil fuel drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—but that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from what critics on Friday called bullying banks into funding oil and gas extraction.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Friday proposed a new rule that would bar financial institutions from refusing to lend to entire categories of lawful businesses. In the name of “fair access,” the proposed rule would force banks to finance not only the fossil fuel industry that is largely responsible for the ever-worsening climate emergency, but also other highly controversial sectors such as for-profit private prisons and firearms manufacturers.

“We need to stop the weaponization of banking as a political tool,” Brian Brooks, the acting comptroller, told the Journal. “It’s creating real economic dislocations.”

Under the proposal—which came on the heels of complaints by Republican politicians that banks are discriminating against Big Oil—institutional lenders would only be permitted to decline loans if an applicant failed to meet “quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank in advance.”

The proposal will be open for public comment until January 4, 2021 before it is subject to final approval. That would leave Brooks just over two weeks to enact the measure before President Donald Trump leaves office on January 20. The financial services industry is likely to push back against the proposal, fearing it could force banks to finance individuals, entities, or endeavors against their will.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

lost hills
UN Report: Despite Falling Energy Demand, Governments Set on Increasing Fossil Fuel Production
Top countries are projected to produce twice the limit on oil, gas and coal required to meet Paris climate agreement goals.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
December 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has sent global energy demand plummeting, and led many analysts and oil executives to conclude that a transition away from fossil fuels is marching nearer. But a new United Nations report says the world’s leading fossil fuel producers still appear set on expanding their output to levels that would send temperatures soaring past global climate goals.

The report, published Wednesday by the U.N. Environment Program and written by researchers from several universities, think tanks and advocacy groups, looked at national plans and projections for fossil fuel production. It found that top producing governments were set to produce twice as much oil, gas and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement. The countries are on track to expand output by 2 percent per year, the report said, while production needs to decline by about 6 percent per year to meet the Paris goal.

The government projections that underpin the U.N.’s second annual Production Gap Report were published mostly before the pandemic transformed global energy markets and sent fossil fuel production down by about 7 percent this year. But while this sharp drop, and trillions of dollars in government stimulus programs, present an opportunity to shift the global energy system, far more money has been directed toward activities that encourage burning fossil fuels than toward reducing emissions.

“So far, all indications are that, overall, governments are planning to expand fossil fuel production at a time when climate goals require that they wind it down,” the report said. “If governments continue to direct Covid-19 recovery packages and stimulus funds to fossil fuels, these plans could become reality.”
» Read article            
» Read the report

no Covid emissions relief
Covid-19 Shutdowns Were Just a Blip in the Upward Trajectory of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Emissions will drop by 4 to 7 percent for 2020, but carbon dioxide will continue to increase, the annual World Meteorological Association bulletin finds.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 23, 2020

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will drop by 4 percent to 7 percent in 2020 because of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, but that decline won’t stop the continued overall buildup of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide level will continue to increase, “though at a slightly reduced pace,” according to the annual greenhouse gas bulletin, published today by the World Meteorological Organization. The impact on CO2 concentrations from pandemic-related economic disruptions is no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations from natural ocean or plant cycles, the report concluded.

The bulletin is based on global average figures for 2019, but 2020 data from individual stations in the greenhouse gas monitoring network show that atmospheric CO2 continued to increase this year. At sampling sites on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and Cape Grim in Australia, the average September 2020 CO2 concentrations rose by about 2 parts per million from the previous year, passing 410 parts per million for the first time on record.
» Read article             

France held accountable‘Historic’ Court Ruling Will Force France To Justify Its Climate Targets
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 20, 2020

A French court this week issued what climate campaigners are calling a “historic decision” in the fight to hold national governments accountable for insufficient action to address the climate crisis.

The decision finds that France in recent years has exceeded its “carbon budgets” — the upper limit of allowable carbon emissions to help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The French government must now justify within the next three months how its refusal to take more stringent measures to curb emissions in line with the Paris Agreement puts the nation on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

This is the first court ruling of its kind in France — and it could influence other ongoing climate lawsuits in the country. The decision is the latest in a string of successful legal challenges to European governments’ inadequate policies to tackle the climate crisis, including in Ireland and most famously in the Netherlands, which was the first time a court anywhere in the world ruled that a national government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

While the decision this week in France does not order the French government to take more aggressive climate action (as was the case with the Dutch government), it is one step away from that. If the court finds the French government’s justification for its less-ambitious targets insufficient, it could order the nation to take action to rapidly slash emissions. France ranks among the top 20 carbon polluters in the world, according to 2018 data analyzed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

micro-district concept MA
Innovative geothermal micro-district concept moves ahead in Massachusetts
Utilities could prove useful partners in the projects, which involve drilling, trenching and laying pipe to bring underground heat into buildings.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Chris Sullivan / NREL
December 3, 2020

Two pilot projects in Massachusetts will attempt to deploy geothermal heating across entire neighborhoods — an innovative model that aims to slash fossil fuel use while providing an economic transition for gas utilities and their workers.

“The more we’ve learned, the more incredible it has seemed,” said Audrey Schulman, co-founder and co-executive director of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that developed and promoted the geothermal micro-district concept.

The first pilot is slated for the Merrimack Valley, an area in northeastern Massachusetts hit by a series of gas explosions and fires in September 2018 that federal investigators blamed on inadequate management by Columbia Gas. The $56 million settlement the company agreed to this fall included $4 million to implement a geothermal test project.

A second project is being developed by utility Eversource, which plans to spend $10.3 million constructing a district geothermal system in a densely populated, mixed-use area that has not yet been selected.

“We’re really thinking about how we can be a catalyst for clean energy in the region,” said Michael Goldman, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Geothermal systems — also referred to as ground-source heat pumps — are not a new concept. They work by running pipes filled with antifreeze liquid as far as 500 feet into the ground, to a depth at which the temperature is relatively stable, usually lingering in the low 50s Fahrenheit in Massachusetts. Heat is extracted from the earth and carried through the liquid-filled pipes to warm buildings.

The same principle allows for geothermal cooling as well: On hot days, a heat pump extracts heat from the air in the building and transfers it into the liquid in the pipes. The warmed liquid travels downward and its heat is released into the ground.
» Read article             

ILSR study
How Renewable Energy Could Power Your State
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in EcoWatch
November 20, 2020

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.

And that’s just a start: The report found that there’s so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.

So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)

The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

at home in Pittsfield
‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program overcomes earlier City Council opposition
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
November 24, 2020

PITTSFIELD — Nearly two years after she proposed it, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer won support Tuesday for a plan to help residents fix up the outsides of their homes through use of potentially forgivable loans.

When Tyer’s “At Home in Pittsfield” program was defeated in April 2019 by a different City Council, opponents said Pittsfield should not be pulling money from an economic development fund that’s a legacy of the General Electric Co.’s departure from the city.

Two of those councilors, Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 and Christopher Connell of Ward 4, remained against the plan. But with two other opponents no longer on the body, the measure passed 8-2. It needed and secured a supermajority to pass. Council President Peter Marchetti recused himself due to a conflict.

After seeing her idea sidelined in 2019, Tyer vowed to try again, arguing that helping residents invest in their homes not only builds equity and family wealth for borrowers who qualify, it is good for the whole city, particularly in distressed neighborhoods.

And more than a year later, that campaign came through.

Tyer told councilors Tuesday that she would not come back to the panel seeking additional funding beyond the $500,000 approved Tuesday for the program, which will allocate loans to qualifying applicants over the next two or three years.

The program is designed to help homeowners who might not otherwise qualify for financing for repairs. Four local banks are partners. Applicants without mortgages can apply through the city.

Loans can be used for exterior improvements that prevent deterioration, such as repairs to porches, roofs, windows or chimneys.
» Blog editor’s note: This program addresses a problem that often prevents energy efficiency upgrades from happening. Many of the repairs funded by ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ are required to properly prepare a building envelope for insulation upgrades and sealing, but homeowners often struggle to pay for them. Kudos to Mayor Tyer for her leadership and persistence – this is a big win.
» Read article             

green line
Retroactive energy efficiency loans offer pandemic lifeline for some businesses

Green banks are offering businesses a chance to borrow against previous investments in energy-saving upgrades.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Green Line Pharmacy / Courtesy
November 23, 2020

The Green Line Apothecary in Rhode Island is known for its old-school flair: Both locations in Wakefield and Providence boast authentic soda fountains where customers can sit and chat over root beer floats.

“We wanted to reestablish the days when the pharmacy was more than just a place to pick up your pills,” said Ken Procaccianti, who runs Green Line with his wife Christina, a pharmacist, and is also a builder. “It used to be a community gathering place.”

But when it came to readying the space for their Providence location, which opened just last year, the couple took a decidedly forward-thinking approach. The North Main Street site was so rundown it required a gut rehab. Beyond replacing the roof, plumbing and windows, however, the couple also invested in more than $300,000 in energy-saving upgrades, including LED lighting, spray-foam insulation, and high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

It was only after the project was finished that they learned they could borrow against those energy improvements, providing their growing business with valuable liquidity. And so earlier this fall, the Procacciantis closed on a $327,584 retroactive loan through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s C-PACE financing program.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

sonnenCore
Sonnen launches ‘affordable’ all-in-one home battery storage system in US
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
November 23, 2020

Germany-headquartered residential battery storage manufacturer sonnen has launched an “all-in-one” system in the US which comes at a recommended retail price of US$9,500.

The company, owned by oil and gas major Shell since last year, has just brought out sonnenCore, a home energy storage system (HESS) which comes with a free 10 year or 10,000 cycle warranty to an expected lifetime throughput of 58MWh.

SonnenCore has 4.8kW of continuous AC output or 8.6kW peak output and 10kWh usable capacity to 100% depth-of-discharge (DoD). The system, which uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, has been listed to UL 9540 standards for fire safety and sonnen said it is suitable for applications including time-of-use load shifting, solar self-consumption and emergency backup power.

The company said it comes with a newly-developed sonnen inverter and includes custom energy management software (EMS) which sonnen claimed enables “comprehensive end-to-end system integration and optimisation”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV timebomb
The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late
Millions of EVs will soon hit the road, but the world isn’t ready for their old batteries. A crop of startups wants to crack this billion-dollar problem.
By Daniel Oberhaus, Wired
November 30, 2020

Every day, millions of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Redwood’s CEO and founder J. B. Straubel understands the problem better than most. After all, he played a significant role in creating it. Straubel is cofounder and, until last year, was the CTO at Tesla, a company he joined when it was possible to count all of its employees on one hand. During his time there, the company grew from a scrappy startup peddling sports cars to the most valuable auto manufacturer on the planet. Along the way, Tesla also became one of the world’s largest battery producers. But the way Straubel sees it, those batteries aren’t really a problem. “The major opportunity is to think of this material for reuse and recovery,” he says. “With all these batteries in circulation, it just seems super obvious that eventually we’re going to build a remanufacturing ecosystem.”
» Read article             

diesel tuners
Illegal Tampering by Diesel Pickup Owners Is Worsening Pollution, E.P.A. Says
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 25, 2020

The owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling their vehicles’ emissions control technology over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road, a new federal report has concluded.

The practice, described in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Enforcement, has echoes of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide — including about half a million in the United States — designed to trick emissions control monitors.

But in this case no single corporation is behind the subterfuge; it is the truck owners themselves who are installing illegal devices, which are typically manufactured by small companies. That makes it much more difficult to measure the full scale of the problem, which is believed to affect many more vehicles than the 500,000 or so estimated in the report.

In terms of the pollution impact in the United States, “This is far more alarming and widespread than the Volkswagen scandal,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, the research group that first alerted the E.P.A. of the illegal Volkswagen technology. “Because these are trucks, the amount of pollution is far, far higher,” he said.

The E.P.A. focused just on devices installed in heavy pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, about 15 percent of which appear to have defeat devices installed. But such devices — commercially available and marketed as a way to improve vehicle performance — almost certainly have been installed in millions of other vehicles.
» Read article            
» Read the EPA report

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

surge in resistance
E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
November 27, 2020

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
» Read article             

» More about EPA

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC dissents
FERC Dissents Reveal Continued Political Tension on Clean Energy Policy
FERC’s sole Democrat blasts New England market and PURPA decisions, warns of legal challenges.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 20, 2020

Thursday’s meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission started off with expressions of comity between its three commissioners. It ended with another round of dissents from its sole Democrat, who warned of possible legal challenges to FERC decisions approved by its Republican majority over his objections.

Questions of political pressure on the avowedly nonpartisan agency have swirled around FERC over the past weeks after the Trump administration demoted Neil Chatterjee from his two-year tenure as FERC chairman to appoint fellow Republican James Danly to the leadership position.

But Chatterjee was gracious to Danly in welcoming him as chair and thanked Democrat Richard Glick for finding “common ground” amid “our fair share of political disagreements.” He also congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, making him one of the few Trump-appointed federal officials to do so.

Glick, in turn, noted that he’s had a “very good and open level of discussion” with his Republican colleagues, despite their disputes.

Glick was less sparing, however, in his dissents regarding two decisions to deny pleas from states and clean energy groups to reconsider two key FERC decisions — one applying to federally regulated wholesale energy markets in New England and the other to clean-energy facilities competing in states with vertically integrated utility regulatory structures.

Glick, who is considered a likely pick to chair FERC under the incoming Biden administration, said both decisions will have a negative impact on clean energy resources and noted that Thursday’s decisions are both open to legal challenges in federal court.
» Read article             

» More about FERC

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR lease sale scheduled
Administration Schedules Lease Sale for Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Environmental groups blasted the move and warned that petroleum companies bidding on leases will face legal battles “fraught with high costs and reputational risks.”
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
December 3, 2020

Even in the final weeks of his administration, President Donald Trump is trying to make good on his early promise to bring oil development to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not bothering to wait for the public comments that are customary before such a move.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the refuge on Jan. 6. This is far sooner than environmental organizations expected, and the announcement met with immediate criticism from groups that have been fighting to keep drilling out of what is known as the “crown jewel” of the nation’s wildlife refuge system.

Just over two weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management issued a “call for nominations,” asking oil companies to let them know which tracts of the refuge they might want to drill on. That process typically involves a 30-day public comment period, and is usually followed by a period of analysis—often several weeks—in which the bureau decides what tracts to offer up. Based on that timeline, it seemed that the earliest a lease sale could happen would be a few days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“This timing is highly unusual and breaks with protocol,” said Kristin Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Though Biden has said that protecting the refuge from drilling is a priority, once the leases are sold, the process of getting them back is complicated. That may be one reason the administration is rushing to get them sold before Trump’s term ends.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
» Read article             

With Bank of America Announcement, Every Major US Bank Has Ruled out Funding for Arctic Drilling
By Gabby Brown, Sierra Club
November 30, 2020

Bank of America has reportedly joined its peers and ruled out funding for new drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi have all announced similar policies this year. Bank of America has faced mounting pressure in recent months from Indigenous communities, environmental advocates, and shareholders to follow suit.

The Trump administration is racing ahead with plans to hold a lease sale in the delicate coastal plain of the refuge in the final days before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration, but industry analysts have raised questions about whether oil companies, or the financial institutions that fund them, will be interested in making such a risky investment. Biden has pledged to protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling.

“It has long been clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would trample Indigenous rights, threaten vulnerable wildlife, and worsen the climate crisis. Now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in Trump’s ill-advised lease sale should stay away,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Ben Cushing.
» Read article             

no refinery buyers
Oil Companies Can’t Find Any Buyers For Refineries Struggling Amid Pandemic Crisis
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2020

Major players in the U.S. petroleum refining industry — which is experiencing a historic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic — are attempting to sell refineries, with little luck. Unable to find any buyers, several refineries are becoming stranded assets as they are permanently shut down.

The pandemic continues to set new records in the U.S. almost daily — more than 250,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since February. This mounting crisis is leading to a second round of shutdowns and measures that will limit economic activity and slow the consumption of fuel. Amid this, the refining industry is expected to face a prolonged downturn.

In the second week of November 2019, U.S. refinery inputs totaled 16.0 million barrels per day (mbpd). In the same week in 2020, the total was 13.6 mbpd — a 15 percent decrease.

Expectations are for the economy and fuel consumption to return to 2019 levels at some point in the future, with one caveat: The demand for very profitable jet fuel (which accounted for 9 percent of total U.S. refinery output last year) may never return. This change poses a major threat to the basic business model of many refineries.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

Palmer RE rendering
Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
December 2, 2020

Environmental activists are keeping up their efforts to block construction of a long-proposed wood-burning power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With the end of the legislative session on Beacon Hill a month away, opponents of a biomass power plant proposed more than a decade ago are lobbying furiously to get language stricken from a climate bill that would provide valuable financial incentives to the project’s developer.

The efforts include phone calls to the offices of legislators, letter-writing, and an online petition with close to 3,000 signatures, so far, requesting removal of language from the climate bill labeling biomass a “non-carbon emitting” energy source.

Plans to build a 35-megawatt plant that would burn woody biomass to generate electricity in an industrial section of East Springfield were first disclosed about 12 years ago.  From the start it faced stiff resistance from nearby residents, local activists, and statewide environmental organizations.

“We call it the zombie project because it keeps coming back to life,” said  Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

He said the plant would cause air pollution not just from the wood that would be burned, but also from the trucks that would drive to and from the site daily.

“Its destructive to the local residents sound and air quality,” said McArthur.
» Read article
» Sign the petition

» More about biomass

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