Tag Archives: Renewable Energy Directive

Weekly News Check-In 5/27/22

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Welcome back.

We’re leading this week with an appreciative nod to individuals whose personal actions or protests either clarify an issue or make real change happen. However it’s done, it takes courage and for that we are grateful and inspired. We have articles about a senior safety consultant who quit working with Shell over what she calls the oil giant’s “extreme harms” to the environment. Also, take a look at the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

In that same spirit, lots of our friends were out on the Water Street Bridge between Peabody and Danvers yesterday, in a “mass action” demonstration to further their opposition to a new gas/oil peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaski Street. Ironically, the permits allowing the plant’s construction could not have been granted under current law.

While we’re talking about effective activism, keep in mind that it’s not always employed for the planet’s benefit…. In the U.S., Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in and punish companies that dare to divest from fossil fuels. This information lands at about the same time as a new study showing just how invested many of us are through pension and other funds, and to what extent these assets are at risk in a crash-the-economy sort of way.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency is also feeling this “opposing forces” dynamic. Last year, the head of the FERC delivered a message to the energy industry saying FERC’s Office of Enforcement would ensure energy and power companies comply with the agency’s rules. The number of investigations and the size of fines has since picked up considerably. But gas pipeline developers are striking back, bringing legal action through conservative-leaning courts that seek to undermine FERC’s core ability to regulate industry.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state, telling them not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels. It’s a serious message, since building a green economy is a project we largely left to these young people. That, and a mountain of student debt….

Recent climate research clarifies the scope and scale of our global decarbonization effort. We now have a better understanding of the urgency surrounding elimination of potent, short-term warming drivers like methane and other pollutants. Researchers describe it as having to “win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.” Without effective action against those short-term gases, a reduction in CO2 emissions would actually make warming worse for a while. Some related good news: Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recently voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard which will allow air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world to use new hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

In clean energy, researchers have shown that double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on ground-mounted solar arrays, mostly due to the snow’s reflective nature. And in clean transportation, the race to bring solid state batteries to the next generation of electric vehicles is running hot among all the major auto manufacturers – but nobody’s quite cracked it yet.

We’ll wrap up this optimistic section with a note that New England’s grid operator, ISO-NE, recently published a study that lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. It’s long-overdue, but a step in the right direction.

Let’s turn to a report that details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed to benefit oil and gas interests while offering little for the current crisis. According to Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years. See “misleading or questionable claims”, above.

Last week, we ran a couple articles that described the worrisome growth of the biomass industry in Japan and South Korea. Europe has been the other big proponent, but now it seems like the EU is finally ready to stop subsidizing this polluting, destructive, false climate solution. Big decision coming in September – we’ll be watching.

And circling back to South Korea, it’s made some progress with plastics recycling programs. This article offers an interesting description of what an organized society can accomplish through highly focused education and enforcement mechanisms. But it’s also a reminder that really, folks, the answer is to use much less plastic to begin with!

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Shell consultant
Shell consultant quits, accusing firm of ‘extreme harms’ to environment
Caroline Dennett tells staff in video she made decision because of ‘double-talk on climate’
By Alex Lawson, The Guardian
May 23, 2022

A senior safety consultant has quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the fossil fuel producer in a bombshell public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment.

Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time”.

The executive, who works for the independent agency Clout, ended her working relationship with Shell in an open letter to its executives and 1,400 employees. In an accompanying video, posted on LinkedIn, she said she had quit because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate”.

Dennett accused the oil and gas firm of “operating beyond the design limits of our planetary systems” and “not putting environmental safety before production”.

She said: “Shell’s stated safety ambition is to ‘do no harm’ – ‘Goal Zero’, they call it – and it sounds honourable but they are completely failing on it.

“They know that continued oil and gas extraction causes extreme harms, to our climate, to our environment and to people. And whatever they say, Shell is simply not winding down on fossil fuels.”

Dennett told the Guardian she “could not marry these conflicts with my conscience”, adding: “I could not carry that any longer, and I’m ready to deal with the consequences.”
» Read article     
» Watch Ms. Dennett’s resignation video

Goldman Price 2022
Meet the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 25, 2022

A teenage girl in California who shut down a toxic oil-drilling site; a Nigerian lawyer who got long-overdue justice for communities devastated by two Shell pipeline spills; two Indigenous Ecuadorians who protected their ancestral lands from gold mining. These are just some of the inspiring winners of this year’s so-called “Green Nobel Prize.”

The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the seven 2022 winners of its annual Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest honor one can receive for participating in grassroots environmental activism.

“While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity,” Goldman Environmental Foundation vice president Jennifer Goldman Wallis said in a press release. “The Prize winners show us that nature has the amazing capability to regenerate if given the opportunity. Let us all feel inspired to channel their victories into regenerating our own spirit and act to protect our planet for future generations.”
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

peaker throws
‘We’re not giving up:’ Protestors, neighbors rally near Peabody peaker plant site
By Hadley Barndollar, USA TODAY NETWORK, in Milford Daily News
May 26, 2022

PEABODY — Jerry Halberstadt has asthma, and lives about a mile from a new fossil fuel-fired peaking power plant that’s being built.

He’s very conscious of air quality because of his diagnosis, he said. “This stuff can stop me in my tracks. There’s an impact from the burning of fossil fuels.”

But more than anything, Halberstadt worries for his three grandchildren, and “the nastiness that awaits them.”

In a “mass action” demonstration with speakers, bikers, kayakers and even kites, protestors converged on the Water Street bridge between Peabody and Danvers on Thursday to further their opposition to a new peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaksi Street, where two power plants already exist on a riverfront site.

The new plant, which has received all necessary approvals from the state and been green-lighted for construction, would be located within an environmental justice neighborhood, a state designation given to areas where residents are historically vulnerable to environmental hazards.

State laws passed since the Peabody plant’s permitting process aim to vet projects as such and protect these very communities from fallout. Protestors on Thursday indicated they’re ramping up efforts to stop the plant.

[…] The situation in Peabody has taken center stage for climate activists in Massachusetts, which by law is now required to cut its emissions in half by 2030, and then reach net zero by 2050. Opponents feel building a natural gas and oil-fired power plant at this stage in the game is completely contradictory to those efforts.

Judith Black, a Marblehead resident and member of 350 Mass, said the peaker “flies in the face of environmental justice goals and our climate roadmap bill.”
» Read article     

» More about peaker plants

DIVESTMENT

woke in Glasgow
How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action
Legislators and their allies are running an aggressive campaign that uses public money and the law to pressure businesses they say are pushing “woke” causes.
By David Gelles and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2022

In West Virginia, the state treasurer has pulled money from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, because the Wall Street firm has flagged climate change as an economic risk.

In Texas, a new law bars the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that the state comptroller says are boycotting fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers in 15 other states are promoting similar legislation.

And officials in Utah and Idaho have assailed a major ratings agency for considering environmental risks and other factors, in addition to the balance sheet, when assessing states’ creditworthiness.

Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.

“We’re an energy state, and energy accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue for us,” said Riley Moore, the West Virginia state treasurer. “All of our jobs come from coal and gas. I mean, this is who we are. This is part of our way of life here in the state. And they’re telling us that these industries are bad.”

“We have an existential threat here,” Mr. Moore said. “We have to fight back.”

In doing so, Mr. Moore and others have pushed climate change from the scientific realm into the political battles already raging over topics like voting rights, abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. issues. In recent months, conservatives have moved beyond tough words and used legislative and financial leverage to pressure the private sector to drop climate action and any other causes they label as “woke.”

“There is a coordinated effort to chill corporate engagement on these issues,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, chief executive of the Leadership Now Project, a nonprofit organization that wants corporations to address threats to democracy. “And it is an effective campaign. Companies are starting to go into hiding.”

The pushback has been spearheaded by a group of Republican state officials that has reached out to financial organizations, facilitated media appearances and threatened to punish companies that, among other things, divest from fossil fuels.
» Read article    

assets at risk
People in US and UK face huge financial hit if fossil fuels lose value, study shows
Strong climate action could wipe $756bn from individuals’ pension funds and other investments in rich countries
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 26, 2022

Individuals in rich countries face huge financial losses if climate action slashes the value of fossil fuel assets, a study shows, despite many oil and gas fields being in other countries.

The researchers estimated that existing oil and gas projects worth $1.4tn (£1.1tn) would lose their value if the world moved decisively to cut carbon emissions and limit global heating to 2C. By tracking many thousands of projects through 1.8m companies to their ultimate owners, the team found most of the losses would be borne by individual people through their pensions, investment funds and share holdings.

The analysis also found that financial institutions have $681bn of these potentially worthless assets on their balance sheets, more than the estimated $250-500bn of mispriced sub-prime housing assets that triggered the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The researchers did not predict if or when these fossil fuel “stranded assets” would cause a financial crash, but said the size of the number was worrying. The US and UK are by far the countries with the biggest potential stranded assets in their financial sectors.

Overall, the study calculated that individuals own 54% of the $1.4tn oil and gas assets at risk – $756bn. Three-quarters of these people are in the 38 developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group. Governments and corporate creditors carry the balance.

But the proportion is much higher in the US and UK, where individuals own 86% and 75% of the potentially stranded assets respectively. In contrast, 80% of those assets in China are owned by the government.

“It is pretty obvious now that the fossil fuel companies are doing things that are not compatible with mitigating climate change,” said Dr Gregor Semieniuk, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, US, who led the research. The Guardian recently revealed that oil and gas companies are planning scores of vast “carbon bomb” projects that would shatter internationally agreed climate targets.

“I did not imagine that individual people would ultimately end up with so much of the risk,” said Semieniuk. “This is particularly relevant for countries like the US and UK, which show up as very major losers. That is where I think the losses really get spread around society.”
» Read article    
» Read the study

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC under Glick
FERC enforcement ramp-up spurs pipeline wars
By Miranda Willson andMike Soraghan, E&E News
May 25, 2022

Last year, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered a message to the energy industry: “The cop is back on the street.”

Chair Richard Glick was referring to FERC’s Office of Enforcement, which seeks to ensure energy and power companies comply with the independent agency’s rules. Last fiscal year, the office opened 12 new investigations compared to six the previous year.

The uptick in cases includes a new focus on energy infrastructure, including the country’s pipelines — and how companies handle their construction and operation. The bottom line, Glick said, is that pipeline companies must abide by the conditions in the permits that FERC issues.

“The message is you’ve got to live up to your commitments,” Glick told reporters in December. “If you don’t do that, we’re going to come down on you, because that’s our role.”

But as the agency seeks to penalize pipelines for permit violations — including pursuing record-setting fines — developers are hitting back with legal challenges that, if successful, could chip away at the commission’s enforcement powers. That in turn could make it more difficult to penalize companies for spills, groundwater contamination and failure to restore the land they trench through to build the lines.

Since Congress boosted FERC’s enforcement authority in 2005, the Office of Enforcement has not typically gone after pipeline violations, focusing more on wrongdoing in energy and power markets. But that has recently begun to change, some legal experts said.

Glick’s leadership has undoubtedly spurred FERC to increase oversight on pipelines, said Carolyn Elefant, a former FERC attorney who now represents landowners affected by pipelines. Before the Democrat was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as FERC chair last January, “pipeline stuff was completely below the radar,” she said.

Now, FERC is accusing two multibillion-dollar pipeline developers of failing to abide by the conditions and standards they agreed to when they were granted permits. In one case, the enforcement office is proposing its biggest-ever fines in a pipeline construction case.

Increased enforcement from FERC may send a message to the natural gas industry that the agency is prepared to hold developers accountable for the terms and conditions included in their permits, said Carrie Mobley, an associate at the law firm McGuireWoods LLP.
» Blog editor’s note: This good news is tempered by the fact that the gas industry and conservative judges are moving to dampen FERC’s regulatory powers. Stay tuned.
» Read article      

Glick at ACP
FERC’s Glick says he’s ‘bullish’ on energy storage, aims to prioritize regulations for hybrid projects
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
May 18, 2022

Amid other regulatory priorities, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick would have the agency look into energy storage participation in wholesale markets via hybrid projects with wind and solar, he said on Tuesday during the CLEANPOWER 2022 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

He noted that while FERC requires grid operators to facilitate storage participation in wholesale markets, the effort does not address the role of co-located storage with other generation. Glick, and other speakers at the conference, credited FERC for having “knocked down some of the barriers” for storage and distributed resource participation.

“Storage provides really an enormous amount of potential benefits that we’re not fully utilizing,” he told attendees. “We need to address the variability [on the grid] and where we need more flexible generation resources.”

Already there are a number of dockets open at FERC that are tangential to the role of energy storage, including a requirement for plans from regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, to contend with increasing power variability as more intermittent resources are connected to the grid.

“A couple of weeks ago, we issued an order requiring the RTOs around the country to report to us what their plans are for addressing … additional variability on the system. I’m very bullish about storage’s ability to play a great role in that,” Glick said.

Currently, energy storage plays a larger role in California than in other wholesale markets, as the independent system operator deals with a lot of high variability on the grid due to the large amounts of solar power, experts on an energy storage panel said at CLEANPOWER on Tuesday.

In order for energy storage to increase its participation in other wholesale markets, there needs to be a greater recognition of the resource’s resiliency capacities, experts said at the conference.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

tackling a fire
Do not work for ‘climate wreckers’, UN head tells graduates
António Guterres says young people should tackle climate crisis by using talent to deliver a renewable future
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 24, 2022

The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels.

António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state on Tuesday. “You must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change,” he said. “Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

“But we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end – no amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So we must put them on notice: accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.”

He added: “You hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. You will have plenty of opportunities to choose from. My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”

Guterres has become increasingly outspoken on the climate crisis in recent months, telling world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”

He has also recently attacked companies and governments whose climate actions do not match their words: “Simply put, they are lying and the results will be catastrophic. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

The Guardian recently revealed that the 12 largest oil and gas companies were planning to spend $103m a day to 2030 on projects that cannot go ahead if global temperature rise is to be kept well below 2C, as agreed by the world’s governments.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Hebei smokestacks
New Study Says World Must Cut Short-Lived Climate Pollutants as Well as Carbon Dioxide to Meet Paris Agreement Goals
Cutting only CO2 emissions, but failing to rein in methane, HFCs and soot, will speed global warming in the coming decades and only slow it later this century.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 23, 2022

Climate policies that rely on decarbonization alone are not enough to hold atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius and, rather than curbing climate change, would fuel additional warming in the near term, a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes. The study found that limiting warming in coming decades as well as longer term requires policies that focus not only on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but also of “short-lived climate pollutants”—greenhouse gases including methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—along with black carbon, or soot.

“We’re simultaneously in two races to avert climate catastrophe,” said Gabrielle Dreyfus, chief scientist for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development and lead author of the study.  “We have to win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.”

The study used climate models to assess how the planet would respond if countries addressed climate change solely through decarbonization efforts—namely transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy—without reining in methane and other short-lived but potent climate pollutants.

The authors found that decarbonization-only efforts would actually result in increased warming over the near term. This is because burning fossil fuels emits both carbon dioxide and sulfates. Unlike carbon dioxide, which warms the planet and remains in the atmosphere for centuries, sulfate particles reflect sunlight back into space but only remain in the atmosphere for several days, so they have a powerful, but short-lived cooling effect.

The continual release of sulfates through the ongoing burning of fossil fuels currently offsets roughly half a degree of warming that the planet would otherwise experience from the carbon dioxide emissions of fossil fuel combustion, Dreyfus said. Transitioning to renewable energy will quickly remove the short-term curb on warming provided by sulfate emissions, and the planet will continue to heat up for a couple of decades before the longer-term cooling from cutting carbon dioxide emissions takes hold, she added.

If, however, emissions of methane, HFCs, soot and nitrous oxide occur at the same time as decarbonization, both near-term and long-term warming can be reduced, Dreyfus said.
» Read article    
» Read the study

Williston flare
Greenhouse Gases Trapped Nearly 50% More Heat Last Year Than in 1990: NOAA
“Getting hot in here,” said one climate campaigner. “Gotta get congressmen and senators to do more midday outdoor events in their dark suits.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 23, 2022

An annual assessment released Monday by a U.S. agency underscored the need to dramatically cut planet-warming pollution with a notable revelation about heat-trapping gases over the past three decades.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from human activities trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere in 2021 than in 1990, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA announced that finding in its update of the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which converts the warming influence of carbon dioxide—or CO2, the most common GHG—as well as methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and 16 other chemicals into one number that can be compared to previous years, as the agency explained in a statement.

“The AGGI tells us the rate at which we are driving global warming,” said Ariel Stein, acting director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML).

“Our measurements show the primary gases responsible for climate change continue rising rapidly, even as the damage caused by climate change becomes more and more clear,” she added. “The scientific conclusion that humans are responsible for their increase is irrefutable.”

Echoing other experts and reports—including recent publications from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—NOAA scientists on Monday urged humanity to reduce GHGs.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

aerial view
Think Solar Panels Don’t Work in Snow? New Research Says Otherwise
Double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on solar arrays.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 26, 2022

Skeptics of renewable energy often claim—usually with an eye roll—that solar power doesn’t work well in snowy climates.

When most solar panels were stationary and one-sided, this idea carried some weight. But now, most panels move on an axis to follow the sun throughout the day, and an increasing share of panels have silicon on the front and back, making solar more effective even in places with regular snowfall.

Here’s the latest: A recent paper led by researchers at Western University in London, Ontario shows that the use of “bifacial” photovoltaic panels—solar panels that take in sunlight from both sides—produces substantially more electricity during winter compared to using one-sided panels, based on data from a solar array that has both kinds of panels.

“I was surprised how striking the results were,” said Joshua Pearce, an electrical engineering professor at Western University and co-author of the paper. “There is no question now that bifacial modules are the way to go for ground-mounted PV systems in the north.”

The paper, published in the journal Renewable Energy, shows that double-sided panels can take in substantial amounts of energy from light reflected off of the snowy ground at times when the front of the panel is most likely to be partially covered by snow, as described in PV Magazine.

The researchers went to a solar array in Escanaba, a town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They mounted cameras to observe snow cover, pyranometers to measure levels of solar radiation and also gathered electricity generation data from the system’s operator.

During the cold-weather months of November 2020 to March 2021, the one-sided panels experienced a snow-related energy loss of 33 percent, while the two-sided panels had a loss of 16 percent. The study period included 30 days in which there was snowfall.

Most of the gains for the two-sided panels were because of the reason the researchers expected, which is that sunlight reflected off of the snowy ground and hit the back side of the panels.
» Read article     
» Obtain the study

wind test center
As blades get longer, Charlestown testing center seeks to expand
Wind turbine technology moving faster than expected
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
May 22, 2022

WHEN THE WIND Technology Testing Center in Charlestown was built in 2011, the longest wind turbine blades in the world were around 65 meters long, or 215 feet. So the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center constructed the blade testing building to be 90 meters long, around 300 feet – about the size of a football field.

“We built this assuming that blades were going to get larger, and so 85 to 90 meters seemed like a reasonable length to expect at the time,” said Robert FitzPatrick, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. At that length, the testing center was the largest of its kind in North America.

Fast forward a decade, and General Electric wanted to test its newest blade – a 107-meter-long behemoth that will be used in its Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The testing center had to cut part of the blade off to fit it in the building. While blades can be tested without the tip, it is not ideal, and engineers need to account for the adjusted weight.

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Jennifer Daloisio said the facility was built with the knowledge that it would eventually have to be expanded, but the technology advanced faster than expected. “Essentially, the facility needs to be almost doubled in length and doubled in height to accommodate the wind blades of both the current and the future projects,” Daloisio said.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is working on plans to expand the center, lengthening it to be able to accommodate 140 or 150-meter blades. The center would grow from around 300 feet long to 500 feet long, while nearly doubling the height in the new section, from 85 feet to 155 feet tall. The expansion would not let the center test more blades – it would keep the same three testing stations – but it would adapt the center to the size of the more modern turbines.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy   

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Folkestone service
International Commission Votes to Allow Use of More Climate-Friendly Refrigerants in AC and Heat Pumps
The new guidelines could save the equivalent of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, but the U.S. could prove slow to adopt them.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 22, 2022

A secretive vote in the arcane and Byzantine world of international safety standards late last month may lead to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from home heating and cooling systems in the coming years.

In a closed-door process that concluded on April 29, two dozen technical experts from around the world voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard set by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The IEC sets safety standards for thousands of household appliances. The international standard serves as a guideline for country-specific safety standards such as UL, formerly Underwriters Laboratories, safety standard in the U.S. Details about the subcommittees that shape the safety standards are typically kept confidential. IEC declined to provide additional information about the vote, including the names of individual country representatives who approved the update.

The update, a draft copy of which IEC shared with Inside Climate News and which IEC plans to publish next month, could help solve a significant climate problem that has long bedeviled manufacturers of air conditioners and high efficiency electric heating systems known as heat pumps, which wanted to use more climate-friendly refrigerants but were prevented from doing so.

The vast majority of air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world today rely on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), synthetic chemical refrigerants that, when leaked into the atmosphere, are highly potent greenhouse gases. The approved safety standard update will allow appliance manufacturers to instead use hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

[…] Most air conditioners and heat pumps in the United States today rely on HFC-410a, a chemical refrigerant that is 4,260 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency     

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

overdue but welcome
Study lays out options for New England grid operator to help cut emissions
Critics say the regional grid operator has been slow to respond to states’ emission reduction goals, and that reforms are needed to help emerging clean energy resources compete in its electricity markets.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 23, 2022

The regional electric grid operator for New England is beginning to study how it could play a new role in cutting power sector emissions.

ISO New England oversees the electric grid for the six-state region, coordinating the real-time flow of electricity as well as operating longer-term markets to make sure an adequate supply of generation is being built.

Traditionally, as with other regional grid operators, its top concerns have been reliability and affordability: making sure it always has enough power to keep the lights on at the lowest possible price.

In recent years, though, many states have adopted a third priority: reducing emissions. Critics say grid operators have been slow to respond, and that their policies have become barriers to states’ climate goals by prioritizing conventional power plants over emerging clean energy resources.

ISO-NE’s recent Pathways study, released in February, lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. They include continuing the status quo, creating a new clean energy market, implementing carbon pricing, and a hybrid scenario.

Advocates say the report is a pivotal — if long overdue — step toward decarbonizing the region’s power supply.

“To date, the ISO’s market designs have been holding back the region,” said Melissa Birchard, director of clean energy and grid reform at environmental advocacy group the Acadia Center. “This study is a first step to changing that.”
» Read article    
» Read the Pathways study

transmission is expensive
‘More, more, more’: Biden’s clean grid hinges on power lines
By Peter Behr, E&E News
May 23, 2022

With its signature climate legislation roadblocked in Congress, the Biden administration is seeking an unprecedented expansion of high-voltage electric lines to open new paths to wind and solar energy.

“We obviously need more, more, more transmission to run on 100 percent clean energy … and handle all the buildings and the cars and the trucks that we’re working to electrify,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in February.

For example, 80,000 megawatts of new wind farms could be built on open lands in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG) noted at a DOE webinar in March. But today, there’s only enough existing high-voltage transmission to export one-tenth of that amount, according to ESIG, a nonprofit organization of grid experts.

The gap highlights a major challenge for President Joe Biden’s goal to decarbonize the grid by 2035. In response, DOE has started to roll out a range of proposals under its $16 billion Building a Better Grid initiative announced in January, hoping to break through layers of obstacles to transmission.

In an interview with E&E News, Patricia Hoffman, principal deputy assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Electricity, described a two-track strategy: Decisions beginning this year offer financial backing to help get “shovel ready” power line projects under construction quickly, and a multiyear planning operation seeks state officials’ support for new interregional power lines connecting large wind and solar regions with population centers.

DOE invited suggestions this month on how to structure the shorter-term initiative. It will contract to purchase up to half the electricity on new power lines up to a total commitment of $2.5 billion, aiming to get previously announced projects across the starting line to construction.

“We hope that we can expand the program in 2023 with some of the other authorities we have,” Hoffman said. DOE would resell the power to utilities, replenishing the funding pool, under the plan.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

scale issue
Inside the race for a car battery that charges fast — and won’t catch fire
Amid rising gas prices and climate change, car giants are in a fierce contest to perfect the solid-state battery, long viewed as a ‘holy grail’ for electric vehicles
By Pranshu Verma, Washington Post
May 18, 2022

In September, Toyota offered the world a glimpse into the company’s future. In an 11-second YouTube video, it displayed a modern four-door car cruising down a test track. The most important upgrade was the tagline emblazoned on the car’s right side: “Powered By All-Solid-State Battery.”

In recent years, car giants such as Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen have been trying to overcome the shortcomings of batteries that power electric vehicles by racing to produce a next-generation battery . Many companies are rallying around solid-state batteries, which do not contain liquid electrolytes and can charge quicker, last longer and be less prone to catching fire than the lithium-ion batteries currently in use, according to battery experts. Automakers have poured millions into perfecting the technology by the latter half of the decade.

The contest comes at a crucial time. Gas prices have skyrocketed, and climate change has accelerated efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, increasing demand for electric vehicles. This has led to shortages of many minerals used in current electric-vehicle batteries, amid ethical concerns as they’re often mined by adults and children in backbreaking conditions with little protection.

But experts and carmakers say getting the new batteries to market is an extremely challenging task.

“It’s the technology of the future,” said Eric D. Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute. “The question is: How soon is that future going to be here?”
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

stand with Ukraine
Oil and Gas Industry Seized on War in Ukraine to Water Down Climate Policy, Report Shows
A new report details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed at benefiting oil and gas interests, while offering little for the current crisis.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2022

While Russia dropped missiles on Kyiv and laid siege to the port of Mariupol in late February, the oil and gas industry took advantage of the war in Ukraine to spread misinformation about the causes of the energy crisis in order to apply political pressure and pursue a longstanding wish list of policy changes, according to new research.

Energy prices soared in the aftermath of the Russian invasion. In response, the oil and gas industry waged a concerted influence campaign that blamed the Biden administration’s climate policies for undermining American energy independence and for causing a spike in prices, according to a report from InfluenceMap, a corporate watchdog group. Across an array of platforms, the industry and its allies framed more drilling and looser regulation as a solution to these problems, and advocated for policies that had tenuous connections to the global energy crisis but were nonetheless favorable to the fossil fuel industry.

“The U.S. oil and gas sector has consistently argued for policies that allow for new or increased fossil fuel exploration, and against policies that would reduce demand. But what’s changed in recent months is the intensity of that message,” said Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

DeSmog previously reported on oil executives’ and lobbyists’ PR blitz in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move which sought to take advantage of the crisis to secure largely unrelated policy victories. But InfluenceMap’s new study offers a deeper and more comprehensive examination of how the industry attempted to influence public opinion.
» Read article      

pumps at work
U.S. Can’t Drill Its Way to Energy Security, Jenkins Warns
By The Energy Mix
May 19, 2022

The war in Ukraine is increasing gasoline prices in America despite the country’s status as the world’s largest oil producer, demonstrating why the United States “cannot drill its way to energy security” and should instead invest in renewables, writes Princeton University energy specialist Jesse Jenkins.

“Oil, coal and, increasingly, natural gas are globally traded commodities, which leaves the U.S. economy dangerously exposed to the vagaries and volatility of energy prices. The decisions of a single autocrat on the other side of the world can send the cost of filling the tank in Des Moines or Denver soaring,” writes Jenkins, an assistant professor of energy systems engineering and policy at Princeton University and leader of the REPEAT Project.

Drilling for more oil could have strengthened the country’s energy security the last time Americans were paying this much for gas, back in 2008. At that time, the U.S. imported more than half of its oil, while renewable energy sources were much more costly and supplied less than 2% of the country’s electricity.

But the energy landscape has fundamentally changed since then, after national oil and gas production outpaced consumption and the cost of renewable energy and lithium-ion batteries plunged.

But while he agrees the U.S. should continue to export oil and gas to European allies to help “starve the Kremlin war effort,” Jenkins says the country’s energy security depends on developing a new approach that expands renewable energy infrastructure. The energy provisions in the now-stalled Build Back Better bill would reduce U.S. consumption of oil by nearly 500 million barrels and natural gas by two trillion cubic feet per year, for combined annual savings of about US$70 billion for American homes and businesses.

Those reductions would also make the U.S. economy far more energy secure and help the country meet its national emissions-reduction targets.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jonathan Wilkinson
Energy Chief Says Canada Could Send Gas to Europe Within 3 Years
Trudeau minister eyes conversion of existing Repsol facility. But nation currently lacks export terminal on Atlantic coast.
By Brian Platt, Bloomberg
May 26, 2022

Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told Bloomberg News the fastest way to help “our European friends” would be for Spain’s Repsol SA to convert an existing LNG import facility in New Brunswick, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, into an export terminal.

“A lot of existing infrastructure is there,” Wilkinson said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Berlin, ahead of a Group of Seven energy ministers meeting. If Repsol decided to convert the terminal, “you likely could have a facility that would be producing within three to four years,” he said.

[…] Wilkinson said Canada would be looking for two things in any new LNG facility: that it use a low-emission process for gas and that it be capable of transitioning to exporting hydrogen later on.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

whole trees
EU Parliament’s Environment Committee urges scale back of biomass burning
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 18, 2022

In a surprising and unprecedented vote this week, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee recommended the scaling back of the EU’s existing subsidies incentivizing the burning of wood pellets, replacing coal for heat and energy. The committee also urged the European Union to reduce how much it counts forest biomass toward the continent’s renewable energy goals.

Forest advocates are viewing the move with both hope and skepticism.

If approved and written into policy in September as part of the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the recommendations would be the first steps of any kind toward slowing the accelerating use of biomass burning over the past 12 years, which scientists have long argued adds to carbon emissions, damages forests, and diminishes biodiversity.

“We are relieved to see a majority of the Environment Committee opt for a biomass limitation for energy and heat,” Fenna Swart of The Netherlands’ Clean Air Committee told Mongabay. “But there are still significant gaps in the law that the European Parliament must close during the plenary vote in September. Otherwise, compliance will backfire at the expense of forests, as is now happening on a large scale.”

The committee put forward four recommendations cautiously cheered by forest advocates like Swart — forest biomass opponents who have generated widespread public opposition to the practice across Europe, but who have yet to see any policy reform. The committee recommended that:

  • A definition for primary woody biomass, or biomass sourced directly from whole trees, be added to RED for the first time, with the intention of protecting intact forests. Exemptions would include forests affected by fire, pests and disease.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer qualify as counting toward member states’ renewable energy targets. Currently, biomass accounts for 60% of the EU’s renewable energy portfolio, far more than zero-carbon wind and solar.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer receive subsidies under RED, with certain exemptions.
  • Where whole trees are harvested, they should first be used for long-lasting wood products and only burned for energy as wood pellets if no other usage options exist.

Wood-pellet industry representatives, who are only accustomed to government support, were not happy with the recommendations.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

waste management
In South Korea, an Emphasis on Recycling Yields Results
Ambitious goals, messaging and enforcement put the nation at the top of the sustainability pack, serving as a model as the World Economic Forum pushes to end plastic waste.
By David Belcher, New York Times
May 21, 2022

[…] South Korea, which is the size of Portugal, but with a population of nearly 52 million — while surrounded by water on three sides and a hostile neighbor to the north — is like much of the rest of the planet: under pressure to better utilize existing resources, and to do so before it is too late.

That sense of urgency, and a United Nations effort to reach an international agreement by 2024 to eliminate plastic waste, may well be on many minds at the Davos summit this year as the ecological fallout from the pandemic becomes clear.

“One of the things the pandemic revealed was a rise in the use of plastic for food deliveries and a sense of safety with extra packaging all over the world,” said Kristin Hughes, the director of resource circularity at the World Economic Forum. “Recycling was put on hold in many countries. It wasn’t deemed as essential.”

Now that the crisis phase of the pandemic has passed, she said, it’s time to switch direction. “We need to move away from the take-use-dispose approach,” she said.

The challenge of consumption and disposal is evident across South Korea. A train ride through this country reveals patches of crammed houses, businesses and farms. There’s little room for landfills. In fact, one of the largest in the country, which absorbs much of the waste from Seoul and its 10 million residents, is expected to be full by 2025.

South Korea is also a major manufacturer, exporting electronics, cars and appliances at breakneck speed, which keeps it hovering in or near the top 10 countries for G.D.P. This has created the need for factories and shipyards, in an already crowded nation that has scant room to accommodate them.

So recycling bins and food waste canisters are ubiquitous, and 32-gallon food-recycling containers line the curbs of Seoul much the way cars pack the roads in the capital’s notorious traffic.

At the Recycling Management factory on a recent afternoon, dozens of workers in protective gear stood alongside jolting conveyor belts, sorting and positioning thousands of plastic bottles and sending them on to their second or third life.
» Read article      

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 7/16/21

banner 16

Welcome back.

Peabody’s planned gas peaker is drawing fire from the town’s own Board of Health, and also from nearby neighbors in Danvers. It’s nearly impossible to justify investing in new gas infrastructure – especially facilities that pollute nearby residential neighborhoods just in the course of normal operation. The beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline is on the ropes too, now that the EPA has advised the Army Corps of Engineers against issuing a critical permit related to hundreds of water crossings. Enbridge’s Line 3 is another fraught project, opposed by Native American Tribes whose protests and court actions are founded on the assertion that the project and its environmental risks violate certain treaties held with the federal government. We found a story describing those commitments.

A thread we’ve been following continues to yield new information…. Recent revelations include the extent to which fossil fuel industry lobbyists pressured federal regulators to relax rail transport safety regulations, especially for highly volatile Bakken crude carried on now-infamous bomb trains.

Pressure on Harvard to complete its fossil fuel divestment is intensifying, with frustrated climate activists wondering why the university’s endowment is stubbornly keeping around $2bn in that climate-cooking industry. Another mystery involves the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency approval, early in the fracking boom, of a slew of toxic chemicals for high-pressure injection into wells. The use of these chemicals remains legal, and ground water contamination, environmental degradation, and serious health impacts continue to this day.

Greening the economy depends on the creation of good jobs to replace those lost in the transition. While delivering enough of those jobs remains a significant challenge, the offshore wind industry is off to a good start. Meanwhile, a survey of Canadian oil and gas workers found two-thirds of respondents open to green energy work.

Climate change is leaning hard on the American west this summer, as a vast region experiences a frightening cycle of heat, drought, and fire. We cover that, along with some good news: the Biden administration has restored protections to Alaska’s huge Tongass National Forest, including old growth areas that his predecessor had attempted to open for industrial logging.

We continue to be alarmed by the industry-backed rush to promote green hydrogen to an outsized role in our carbon-free energy future. While burning it produces no carbon dioxide, its emissions include large amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which produce ground-level ozone (smog), and cause asthma and other dangerous respiratory conditions. Transporting and storing this explosive gas poses difficult and unresolved engineering challenges (embrittlement of metal pipes, valves, and containers; leaks that can’t be detected by sight or smell, etc). There is certainly a place for green hydrogen in the future energy mix – let’s limit it to applications that can’t be addressed with a combination of renewables, storage, demand management, and improved efficiency.

Which brings us to an excellent article describing how Mass Save, Massachusetts’ premier energy efficiency program, needs to retool its incentives to stop promoting gas appliances. The state’s climate goals can only be reached if the program starts incentivizing a shift away from gas – promoting heat pumps, improved building envelopes, and total building electrification. At the same time, the electric grid must rapidly deploy renewable energy and a huge amount of energy storage to replace existing fossil generators. Reducing the cost of that storage has become a national priority.

We’re spreading the word that GM still hasn’t solved the battery fire problem in 2017-19 Chevy Bolt EVs, and the company recommends charging them outside. While that’s unsettling for owners and bad press for electric vehicles, it’s encouraging to note that the problem does not appear to exist in the current generation battery module.

A pair of articles explains how Europe became a huge consumer of biomass, and how supplying those generating plants with wood pellets has increased emissions and burdened communities in the American southeast while mowing down vast tracts of forest.

And we end with an article warning about exposure to harmful PFAS chemicals through plastic food and beverage containers.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stealthy
Peabody health officials ask governor to intervene
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
July 11, 2021

PEABODY — The Peabody Board of Health has sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker requesting that an environmental impact report and comprehensive health impact assessment be done for the proposed peaker plant in the city.

“There are many well-documented health concerns associated with fossil fuel-burning power plants,” the letter states. “Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other hazardous pollutants can contribute to cancer risk, birth defects, and harm to the nervous system and brain. Emissions of particulates increase risk of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, and asthma. Emission contributions from power plants increase levels of ozone and drive climate change, which can make breathing more difficult, increase allergens and the risk of fungal diseases, and affect health through the disruption of critical infrastructure such as electrical and water and sewer systems.”
» Read article               

reverse direction
Danvers officials express concern over proposed natural gas power plant in Peabody
By Jennie Oemig, Wicked Local
July 13, 2021

DANVERS — Although efforts to bring a new power plant online in Peabody have been ongoing since 2015, officials in Danvers have been entirely left out of the planning process. 

It wasn’t until last week Friday that representatives from Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) and the Peabody Municipal Light Company, the entities behind the power plant project, appeared before Danvers Select Board members and Town Manager Steve Bartha to provide more information and answer questions.

Referred to as Project 2015A, the new power plant is to be installed on the same site as two existing Peabody Municipal Light Plant capacity resources.

Rep. Sally Kerans, who represents both Peabody and Danvers, said she heard rumblings about the proposed plant shortly after she took office in January.

“I went online and read the filings,” she said. “And I had so many questions. Where’d it come from and how come no one’s heard of it?”

After reading up on the plant, Kerans said she gave testimony to the Department of Public Utilities in late April.

“I raised the issue of Danvers and the residents who live in Danversport, the neighborhood that suffered the explosion,” she said. “We are all very concerned and we have had no information from MMWEC directed to Danvers. … It’s shocking to think that MMWEC wouldn’t think to include Danvers.”

Concerns over environmental and health impacts have been raised by several groups in the area, including Breathe Clean North Shore and Community Action Works.

“I’m grateful to the group of residents in Peabody who stepped in and started asking questions,” Kerans said. “Is this the only way to meet capacity?”

Kerans said she would be surprised if the Baker Administration ultimately signs off on the project.

“It goes in the reverse direction of what we’ve been doing,” she said, referencing the climate roadmap bill signed into law in March.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants              

 

PIPELINES

MVP stream crossingEPA Warns of Mountain Valley Pipeline Impact on Streams, Says Project Should Not Receive Water Permit
The natural gas pipeline already has hundreds of water quality violations. Opponents are hopeful the EPA’s warning brings the project’s cancelation closer.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
July 14, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advising the Army Corps of Engineers not to grant a federal water permit to the Mountain Valley Pipeline due to “substantial concerns” about the project’s impact on streams and rivers. The warning is another regulatory hurdle for a pipeline that is already delayed and over budget.

The EPA’s advice brings hope to opponents of the pipeline who are growing increasingly confident that the 303-mile natural gas pipeline, which has been under construction for over three years, will never come online.

The long-distance pipeline would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. A proposed extension would take the system into North Carolina. The aim is to connect Marcellus shale gas to new markets in the U.S. Southeast.

But the pipeline has to run across hundreds of streams and rivers, up and down steep slopes prone to erosion and landslides. Its construction would result in enormous volumes of sediment dumped into water bodies, potentially threatening water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) needs a permit in order to cross these bodies of water and discharge “fill” – dirt, rocks, sand, and other debris – into streams and rivers. The Army Corps decides whether to sign off on the so-called Section 404 permit, part of the Clean Water Act, but the EPA weighs in on the process. 

And the negative impacts associated with constructing a pipeline across waterways has caught the attention of the EPA. In a May 27 letter, Jeffrey Lapp, the head of EPA’s wetlands branch for Region 3 – which covers West Virginia and Virginia – wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the crucial permit requested by MVP.

In the letter, the EPA said it “has identified a number of substantial concerns with the project,” including “insufficient assessment of secondary and cumulative impacts and potential for significant degradation.” Lapp also said MVP has not provided adequate detail on the water bodies it will cross, and has not demonstrated that it has done everything feasible to avoid negative impacts. The letter was published on July 9 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a legal advocacy group.
» Read article              
» Read the EPA’s letter            

slope creep
Thawing Permafrost has Damaged the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Poses an Ongoing Threat
The pipeline operator is repairing damage to its supports caused by a sliding slope of permafrost, and installing chillers to keep the ground around it frozen.
By David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
July 11, 2021

Thawing permafrost threatens to undermine the supports holding up an elevated section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, jeopardizing the structural integrity of one of the world’s largest oil pipelines and raising the potential of an oil spill in a delicate and remote landscape where it would be extremely difficult to clean up.

The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing several of the braces holding up the pipeline to tilt and bend, according to an analysis by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The department has permitted construction of a cooling system designed to keep the permafrost surrounding the vulnerable section of pipeline just north of Fairbanks frozen, as well as to replace the damaged portions of the support structure.

This appears to be the first instance that the pipeline supports have been damaged by “slope creep” caused by thawing permafrost, records and interviews with officials involved with managing the pipeline show.

In response, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of about 100 thermosyphons—tubes that suck heat out of permafrost—to keep the frozen slope in place and prevent further damage to the pipeline’s support structure.

The installation of the heat pipes builds on an obvious irony. The state is heating up twice as fast as the global average, which is driving the thawing of permafrost that the oil industry must keep frozen to maintain the infrastructure that allows it to extract more of the fossil fuels that cause the warming. 

Any spill from the 48-inch diameter pipeline that flows with an average of 20 million gallons of oil a day, and the resulting clean-up activity, could accelerate the thawing of the permafrost even more, environmental experts said. 

The extent of the ecological damage would depend on the amount of oil spilled, how deep it saturated the soil and whether the plume reached water sources. But any harm from an oil spill would likely be greater than in most other landscapes because of the fragile nature of the Alaskan land and water.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Carl Weimer, a special projects advisor for Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington.

“The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”
» Read article  

» More about pipelines  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Exxon tapes and bomb trains
What the Exxon Tapes Reveal About the American Petroleum Institute’s Lobbying Tactics on Oil Trains
The top oil trade group, which a senior Exxon lobbyist recently described as one of the company’s “whipping boys,” used similar delay tactics to push back against oil-by-rail safety rules.
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
July 9, 2021

Senior ExxonMobil lobbyists were recently exposed by undercover reporting from UnEarthed, an investigative journalism project of Greenpeace, which captured footage of the employees explaining how the oil giant influences policy makers using trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The undercover footage revealed Exxon lobbyists boasting about wins for the company under the Trump administration and admitting to continued efforts to sow doubt about climate change and undermine action to tackle the crisis. 

The recordings also confirmed the findings of years of DeSmog research on API’s lobbying tactics. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not,” Keith McCoy, a senior director in ExxonMobil’s Washington, D.C. government affairs team, told the undercover reporter Lawrence Carter. “Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our investments; we were looking out for our shareholders.”

These revelations exposed by UnEarthed and first published by Channel 4 News help shed light on API’s lobbying strategies, particularly when it comes to transporting oil by rail. The rise of fracking in 2009 created a transportation problem in U.S. regions like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which lacked sufficient pipelines and other infrastructure to move the sudden glut of oil. In response, the oil industry started ramping up transport of its products by train around 2012, but several high-profile fires and explosions of these oil trains also followed, starting in July 2013.

DeSmog’s coverage of the years-long process of creating new oil train regulations in the wake of 2013’s deadly Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster documented the tactics described by Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy — and revealed just how effective the company is at watering down efforts by regulatory agencies to protect the public and environment. 

After years of covering the regulatory process governing oil trains, one fact stood out: API was almost always leading the process. Even though the process was supposed to be about improving rail safety, the oil industry played the dominant role. Exxon representatives were rarely seen in the many public Congressional or regulatory agency hearings and did not take a public role in fighting the regulations. However, as DeSmog reported, Exxon was meeting in private with federal regulators and arguing against stronger regulations on oil trains.
» Read article               

» More about virtual pipelines                 

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

honor the treatiesWhat are the treaties being invoked by Line 3 opponents?
While the U.S. government signed a series of treaties with the Anishinaabe people, including the Ojibwe, between 1825 and 1867, the most significant are those of 1837, 1854 and 1855.
By Yasmine Askari, MinnPost
Photo: REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi
July 14, 2021

Tribal council representatives and members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe will be gathering at the Minnesota Capitol today to request a “nation-to nation” dialogue with Gov. Tim Walz and President Joe Biden in an effort to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.

Last Friday, leaders of the tribe gathered in a press conference to raise concerns about the pipeline’s effects on surrounding resources and waters, most notably the treaty-protected wild rice, and said continued efforts to build the pipeline was in violation of the tribe’s treaty rights.

As the pipeline nears completion, with the project estimated to be 60% finished as of June, opponents of the pipeline have been advocating for upholding treaty rights as a means to try to halt construction.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions            

 

DIVESTMENT

Harvard and Charles
The climate is boiling. Why has Harvard still not fully divested from fossil fuels yet?
At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. But it stubbornly refuses to speed up divestment
By Kim Heacox, The Guardian
July 15, 2021

On display in every corner of the Harvard University campus, carved in stone, students find a shield with three books and the inscribed school motto: “Veritas.” Latin for truth.

Ah yes, truth.

The word rolls easily off the tongue, but what does it mean? If a man believes something deeply enough, does that make it true? Yes, said the Puritan ministers who founded Harvard College – male only, of course – in 1636. Their de facto credo – I believe therefore I am right – worked just fine. For them. Two centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist and Harvard alum, saw things differently and wrote, “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.” That is, between reality and tranquility.

Emerson would caution us today to beware of the cozy lie and the comfortable delusion. The burning truth will exact a terrible price the more we ignore it.

Consider that after decades of disinformation, outright lies, media prating and political inaction on climate change, our home planet now sets higher temperature records every year, and could, by 2100 if not 2050, be unlivable in many places, beset by unending fires, droughts, rising seas, chaos and storms. All because of a conservative fidelity to fossil fuels; an unwillingness to acknowledge what’s true, and a selfish resistance to change.

Harvard, of course, is famous for its prestige and annual cost (up to $78,000 without financial aid), acceptance rate (3.43% this year, a new low) and excellence in higher education, given its curriculum (3,700 courses in 50 concentrations), faculty (161 Nobel laureates) and alumni (eight former US presidents and 188 living billionaires). It’s also somewhat notorious for the Harvard Corporation, a board that manages the world’s largest university endowment and, as our planet bakes and burns, refuses to divest entirely from fossil fuels.

At $42bn, the Harvard endowment exceeds the combined monetary value of many small countries. Granted, only about 2% ($838m) is invested in fossil fuels, down from 11% in 2008. But it’s symbolic. If the oldest and most prestigious school in America were to do the right thing and file for divorce from dirty energy, it would be a clarion call heard around the world.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

EPA approval
E.P.A. Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking a Decade Ago, New Files Show
The compounds can form PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which have been linked to cancer and birth defects. The E.P.A. approvals came despite the agency’s own concerns about toxicity.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
July 12, 2021

For much of the past decade, oil companies engaged in drilling and fracking have been allowed to pump into the ground chemicals that, over time, can break down into toxic substances known as PFAS — a class of long-lasting compounds known to pose a threat to people and wildlife — according to internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The E.P.A. in 2011 approved the use of these chemicals, used to ease the flow of oil from the ground, despite the agency’s own grave concerns about their toxicity, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times. The E.P.A.’s approval of the three chemicals wasn’t previously publicly known.

The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a nonprofit group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, are among the first public indications that PFAS, long-lasting compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” may be present in the fluids used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, E.P.A. scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The E.P.A. scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out.

“The E.P.A. identified serious health risks associated with chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas extraction, and yet allowed those chemicals to be used commercially with very lax regulation,” said Dusty Horwitt, researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Communities near drilling sites have long complained of contaminated water and health problems that they say are related. The lack of disclosure on what sort of chemicals are present has hindered diagnoses or treatment. Various peer-reviewed studies have found evidence of illnesses and other health effects among people living near oil and gas sites, a disproportionate burden of which fall on people of color and other underserved or marginalized communities.

“In areas where there’s heavy fracking, the data is starting to build to show there’s a real reason for concern,” said Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS. The presence of PFAS, she said, was particularly worrisome. “These are chemicals that will be in the environment, essentially, not only for our lifetimes, but forever,” she said.
» Read article               

» More about EPA            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

turbine prototypeVineyard Wind developers sign deal with unions to build $2.8b project
Agreement would ensure at least 500 jobs go to union workers for massive offshore wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
July 16, 2021

The joint venture behind the massive Vineyard Wind project has signed an agreement to ensure union workers will play a key role in building the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

Executives from Vineyard Wind and its turbine manufacturer, General Electric, plan to join politicians and union leaders on Friday at the state-funded New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, where much of the wind-farm construction will be staged, to celebrate their new project labor agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. The deal with the unions is seen as another key milestone in finally launching the Vineyard Wind project, and by extension the nation’s entire offshore wind industry.

Vineyard Wind chief executive Lars Pedersen said the agreement covers about 1,000 jobs over the course of the two-and-a-half-year construction project, including about 500 union jobs. The reportedly $2.8 billion project will be built in federal waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with 62 giant GE wind turbines that will generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for more than 400,000 homes.
» Read article               

upskilling
Two-Thirds of Canadian Oil and Gas Workers Want Net-Zero Jobs
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
July 14, 2021

More than two-thirds of Canadian fossil fuel workers are interested in jobs in a net-zero economy, 58% see themselves thriving in that economy, and nearly nine in 10 want training and upskilling for net-zero employment, according to a groundbreaking survey released this morning by Edmonton-based Iron & Earth.

While large majorities are worried about losing their jobs, receiving lower wages, or getting left behind in a transition to net-zero, three-quarters would sign up for up to a full year of retraining—and 84% would participate in rapid upskilling that ran 10 days or less if they were paid to attend, according to the research conducted by Abacus Data.

“Oil and gas workers are just people who have families, who need to put food on the table, put a roof over their heads, and this is the work they’ve known,” Iron & Earth Executive Director Luisa Da Silva told The Energy Mix. “This is where their jobs have been.”

But “people are quite amenable to upskilling,” she added, and “for the workers on the ground or who are more on the technical side, their skills are still transferrable.” Whether a project is a tar sands/oil sands mine or a hydrogen plant, “they don’t look that different. If you’re a welder, you’ll be using the same skills.”

“The basic fundamentals of physics and science, the technical skills underlying an energy worker’s job or a fossil fuel worker’s job, are very similar,” agreed consultant Ed Brost, a chemical engineer who spent 35 years working for Ontario Hydro, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and Shell Canada. “A joule is a unit of energy in fossil fuels and in the electricity world. So it’s a matter of adapting, upskilling, and tuning up an existing skill set to match the 21st century instead of something from the last century.”

That means two of the essential elements of the transition are for workers to know what their next job will look like, and how their current skills will give them a pathway into a net-zero economy. Iron & Earth is calling for 10,000 fossil fuel workers to receive that training by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy                

 

CLIMATE

heat-drought-fire
American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn
Wildfires in several states are burning with worrying ferocity across a tinder-dry landscape
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
July 13, 2021

As fires propagate throughout the US west on the heels of record heatwaves, experts are warning that the region is caught in a vicious feedback cycle of extreme heat, drought and fire, all amplified by the climate crisis.

Firefighters are battling blazes from Arizona to Washington state that are burning with a worrying ferocity, while officials say California is already set to outpace last year’s record-breaking fire season.

Extreme heatwaves over the past few weeks – which have smashed records everywhere from southern California to Nevada and Oregon – are causing the region’s water reserves to evaporate at an alarming rate, said Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocacy group. And devoid of moisture, the landscape heats up quickly, like a hot plate, desiccating the landscape and turning vegetation into kindling.

“For our most vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, this also creates compounding health effects,” Ortiz said. “First there’s the heat. Then for many families their water supplies are affected. And then it’s also the same heat and drought that are exacerbating wildfires and leading to smoky, unhealthy air quality.”

In northern California, the largest wildfire to hit the state this year broke out over the weekend and has so far consumed more than 140 sq miles (362 sq km). The Beckwourth Complex grew so fast and with such intensity that it whipped up a rare fire tornado – a swirling vortex of smoke and fire.
» Read article               

Tongass hikers
In ‘Critical Step’ for Climate, Biden to Restore Protections for Tongass National Forest
“The Tongass is not only one of the few truly wild places left on the planet, it is vital to our path forward as we deal with climate change,” said the Alaska-based group SalmonState.
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
July 15, 2021

Conservation and climate action groups on Thursday applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of far-reaching new protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest as well as a restoration of a key rule that former President Donald Trump rescinded three months before leaving office in a bid to open millions of acres to industrial logging.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration would put back in place the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, also known as the Roadless Rule, which Trump exempted Alaska from in a move that outraged Indigenous communities in the region as well as environmental advocates.

With the rule back in effect, companies will again be barred from road construction and large-scale logging in more than half of the 16 million acre forest, which includes five million acres of old-growth trees such as Sitka spruce trees that date back at least 800 years. 

The forest serves as a habitat for more than 400 species of wildlife and fish, ensures food sovereignty for Indigenous communities in Alaska—including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, whose traditional territories lie within the forest—and plays a vital role in mitigating the climate crisis.

As one of the world’s largest intact temperate forests, the Tongass National Forest stores more than 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon and sequesters an additional 10 million metric tons annually, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.
» Read article               

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY

the new greenwash
Fossil Fuel Industry Given Billions in EU Hydrogen Support, Report Finds
In Italy, fossil fuel companies met over a hundred times with ministers and civil servants, helping to quadruple financial support for the sector, a new report claims.
By Sebastian Wirth, DeSmog Blog
July 8, 2021

Over €8 billion is being invested in hydrogen and “renewable gas” projects in southern Europe using EU Covid-19 recovery funds, thanks to extensive lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, a new report has found. 

The research warns that backing for the supposedly green developments has “thrown a lifeline” to fossil fuel companies, despite pledges by the European Commission to pursue a low-carbon transition.

EU officials have said they are eager to avoid repeating the same mistakes made during the 2008 financial crisis, when billions of euros of public money was used to bail out fossil fuel companies.

But the report says the sector has managed to secure support in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal for the development of hydrogen and renewable gases such as biomethane, whose potential critics argue is being wildly exaggerated.

The European Network of Corporate Observatories and Fossil Free Politics, the campaign groups which produced the report, entitled  ‘Hijacking the recovery through hydrogen: how fossil fuel lobbying is siphoning Covid recovery funds’, put this down to fierce industry lobbying
» Read article              
» Read the report: Hijacking the Recovery Through Hydrogen          

» More about clean energy                

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

MA coastline
Efforts to pursue climate goals in Mass. clash with incentives offered that promote fossil fuels
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
July 10, 2021

Massachusetts has ambitious climate goals, and not a lot of time to achieve them, which has some clean energy and climate experts questioning why a state program continues to promote fossil fuels with cash incentives for oil and gas home heating systems.

The state’s climate plan demands that 1 million households be converted from fossil fuels to electric heat by the end of the decade, part of a sweeping transition meant to help stave off the worst of climate change’s consequences. And yet the state’s only incentive program, and its best tool for helping convince businesses and homeowners to make that switch, is sticking with rebates for new carbon-emitting systems likely to remain in service long past that deadline.

The program, Mass Save, is run by utility companies with oversight by the state, and hands out between $640 million and $700 million a year in rebates that are funded by a surcharge on utility customers’ bills. It is credited with successfully reducing carbon emissions from home heating across Massachusetts since its inception in 2008. But in the past, those cuts have come largely by encouraging conversions from oil to gas, a less-dirty fossil fuel that the state plans to phase out.

However, in a set of proposed new incentives that would take effect next year, Mass Save is again planning substantial incentives to install gas systems and, in some instances, oil. And at a time when record-breaking heatwaves are scorching the country and the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is at an all-time high, experts said incentives must now move sharply in the other direction.

“This draft plan for energy efficiency still exists in the old mind-set, the old world, where we don’t actually have to do anything on climate very urgently, or where there isn’t a role in energy efficiency in helping us get to our goals,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, a senior attorney and vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts. “And that isn’t the case.”

Ultimately, the state wants the vast majority of homes and businesses to be outfitted with electric heat pumps that plug into a power grid fueled by wind and other renewable sources. While Mass Save’s proposed new incentives include robust rebates for heat pumps, the program is planning to direct those rebates primarily toward homes currently using oil or propane, not the 52 percent of residences statewide that now use natural gas.

Heat pumps are highly efficient, and provide cooling in addition to heating, but they come with hefty up-front costs. And with the low cost of natural gas and high costs of electricity in Massachusetts, a switch from gas to electric heat pumps could cause those customers to see their energy bills increase. For that reason, some experts say, Massachusetts needs to rethink its incentive program.

Mass Save’s critics point to two big hurdles standing in the way of fast action: First, the program prioritizes financial savings over energy savings, and second, the incentives it uses to encourage customers are decided by utility companies, including gas providers. The utilities revise the program’s incentives every three years, and while the state provides input, it has limited tools to ensure its input is adopted.

“These are electric and gas companies. There is an inherent conflict in the business models at play,” said Cammy Peterson, director of clean energy at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and a member of the state’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                   

 

ENERGY STORAGE

rapid response
New rules to reward batteries for keeping the lights on, and make hybrids a reality
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy (Australia)
July 15, 2021

Fast responding big batteries and wind and solar projects are set to be financially rewarded for helping to avoid blackouts under new reforms signed off by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) on Thursday.

The AEMC has also approved a range of new reforms to significantly reduce the red-tape encountered by aggregators of distributed energy resources, like residential battery storage and rooftop solar PV systems, and to simplify the rules for hybrid projects that combine different technologies.

AEMC chair Anna Collyer says the package of reforms comes ahead of an anticipated ramp-up in investment in energy storage technologies, which will play an increasingly important role in the energy market as thermal generators retire.

“The changes we’re announcing today recognise that energy is no longer a one-way transaction,” Collyer said.

“The energy market is moving to a future that will be increasingly reliant on storage to firm up the expanding volume of renewable energy as well as address the growing need for critical system security services as the ageing fleet of thermal generators retire.

“Within two decades, installed storage is expected to increase by 800% − it will be central to energy flowing two ways.”

On Thursday, the AEMC published its final determination to create a new fast frequency response market that will provide a financial reward for electricity projects that have the ability to rapidly respond and balance out fluctuations in the electricity system within just a few seconds.

With no moving parts, battery technologies have demonstrated their lightning-fast ability to adjust their output in response to changes in the energy system’s supply-demand balance, and Infigen Energy had requested the creation of a new rapid response market to reward batteries for this ability.

Frequency response services have existed in the energy market for some time, but until now, the fastest timeframe has been a six-second frequency response market.

The new market announced by the AEMC will provide payment to technologies that are able to respond to fluctuations in just one to two seconds and will predominantly benefit batteries and solar photovoltaic projects.
» Read article                   

Eos energy systems
US Department of Energy: Cost reduction target of 90% by 2030 set for long-duration energy storage
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
Photo: Eos
July 14, 2021

The cost of long-duration, grid-scale energy storage should be reduced 90% within this decade in order to accommodate the “hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy” needed, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said yesterday.

Granholm’s Department of Energy has set the cost reduction goal as part of Energy Earthshots, an initiative to support breakthroughs in clean energy that make it more abundant, more affordable and more reliable. Defining long-duration energy storage as technologies that enable 10-hour duration or more, Granholm said they will be among what’s needed to meet the US’ policy target of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Taking inspiration from the DoE ‘moonshot’ programmes of several years ago that helped reduce the cost of solar PV to a level competitive with fossil fuels, the Long Duration Storage Shot and parallel Hydrogen Shot are the first two to have been launched so far from an expected six to eight Energy Earthshots the Department plans to start each year.

“We’re going to bring hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy onto the grid over the next few years, and we need to be able to use that energy wherever and whenever it’s needed,” Granholm said.
» Read article                

» More about energy storage                    

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

open spaces
Charge your 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt EV outside: GM renews caution over fire concerns
By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
July 14, 2021

Drivers of certain 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV models recently endured months of living with just 90% of their battery capacity and range—and a winter of charging outside—due to concerns over fire risk. 

As of Wednesday, they’re being advised by the automaker to go back to parking outside and not to leave their cars charging overnight, at the peak times that afford the most benefit for the environment.  

The issue goes back to a safety probe launched by NHTSA in October, followed by GM’s announcement of its own investigation and advice to owners in November. Things looked hopeful in May, when GM announced that it had developed a comprehensive remedy plan for the issue that would “utilize GM-developed diagnostic tools to identify potential battery anomalies and replace battery module assemblies as necessary.”

All of the incidents involved a fire originating around the vehicles’ battery packs, when the cars were plugged in and nearly fully charged. GM noted that none of the vehicles affected have the “design level N2.1” cells that GM transitioned to in mid-2019. Those unaffected cells were made in Holland, Michigan, rather than Ochang, South Korea, for the earlier ones. 

Now owners are being advised to go back to caution mode. The situation has some strange optics as GM prepares for first deliveries of its GMC Hummer EV, which leads its Ultium EV push with unrelated, next-generation technology, later this year. 

Hyundai faced a similar issue with some Kona Electric models, and opted in March for a quick but expensive fix: to replace the entire battery pack in up to 82,000 affected vehicles, including nearly 4,700 in the U.S.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation              

 

BIOMASS

needs attention
Biomass: The EU’s Great ‘Clean Energy’ Fraud
It turns out that for more than a decade, European power plants have merely been reducing their carbon footprint on paper by outsourcing their footprint to the United States.
By Alex Kimani, Oil Price
July 13, 2021

In 2009, the European Union issued a Renewable Energy Directive (RED), pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. But the fine print provided a major loophole: the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source, on par with wind and solar power. 

Following the directive, EU governments have been incentivizing energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal, driving up huge demand for wood.

In fact, the EU has been importing so much biomass from the American South that it has emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Back in 1996, the United Nations (UN) devised a method to measure global carbon emissions. In a bid to simplify the process and avoid double counting, UN scientists suggested that biomass emissions should be calculated where the trees are cut down, not where the wood pellets are burned.

The UN adopted this methodology in its Renewable Energy Directive, allowing energy companies to burn biomass produced in the United States without having to report the emissions.

The UN was clearly more concerned about the amount of carbon we are putting out into the atmosphere regardless of the source. This source-agnostic approach has, however,           been creating a lot of controversy amongst policymakers, advocates, and scientists—and now the investment community.                                     

“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University, has told CNN.                          

“It doesn’t change the physical reality. A law designed to reduce emissions that in reality encourages an increase in emissions … has to be flawed,” Tim Searchinger, senior research scholar at Princeton University, has told CNN, referring to Europe’s directive.
» Read article               

log loader
How marginalized communities in the South are paying the price for ‘green energy’ in Europe
By Majlie de Puy Kamp, CNN
Photographs by Will Lanzoni, CNN
Video by Matthew Gannon, Demetrius Pipkin & Nick Scott, CNN
July 9, 2021

Andrea Macklin never turns off his TV. It’s the only way to drown out the noise from the wood mill bordering his backyard, the jackhammer sound of the plant piercing his walls and windows. The 18-wheelers carrying logs rumble by less than 100 feet from his house, all day and night, shaking it as if an earthquake has taken over this tranquil corner of North Carolina. He’s been wearing masks since long before the coronavirus pandemic, just to keep the dust out of his lungs. Some nights, he only sleeps for two or three hours. Breathing is a chore.

“I haven’t had proper rest since they’ve been here,” he said.

That was eight years ago, when the world’s largest biomass producer, Enviva, opened its second North Carolina facility just west of Macklin’s property in Garysburg. The operation takes mostly hardwood trees and spits out biomass, or wood pellets, a highly processed and compressed wood product burned to generate energy. Enviva is one of nearly a dozen similar companies benefiting from a sustainability commitment made 4,000 miles away, more than a decade ago.

In 2009, the European Union (EU) pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. In its Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source — on par with wind and solar power. As a result, the directive prompted state governments to incentivize energy providers to burn biomass instead of coal — and drove up demand for wood.

So much so that the American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports.

Earlier this year, the EU was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history.

But scientists and experts say it’s too early to celebrate, arguing that relying on biomass for energy has a punishing impact not only on the environment, but also on marginalized communities — perpetuating decades of environmental racism in predominantly Black communities like Northampton County, where Macklin and his family have lived for generations.
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

fluorinated containers
Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating plastic food containers
Harmful PFAS chemicals are being used to hold food, drink and cosmetics, with unknown consequences for human health
By Tom Perkins, The Guardian
July 9, 2021

Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS, and new data suggests that it’s probably leaching into food, drinks, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and other items at potentially high levels.

It’s difficult to say with precision how many plastic containers are contaminated and what it means for consumers’ health because regulators and industry have done very little testing or tracking until this year, when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the chemicals were leaching into a mosquito pesticide. One US plastic company reported “fluorinating” – or effectively adding PFAS to – 300m containers in 2011.

But public health advocates say new revelations suggest that the compounds are much more ubiquitous than previously thought, and fluorinated plastic containers, especially those used with food, probably represent a major new exposure point to PFAS.

“Fluorination is being used for plastic food containers, cosmetic containers – it’s in everything,” said Tom Neltner, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It is disturbing.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds that are used to make products like clothing and carpeting resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and can accumulate in humans.

The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts, kidney disease, decreased immunity and a range of other serious health problems.
» Read article               

» More about plastics and health        

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Weekly News Check-In 3/26/21

Welcome back.

We’re leading this week’s news with a toot of our own horn, thanks to Danny Jin’s excellent reporting on the growing momentum behind BEAT’s campaign to replace polluting peaking power plants with renewables and battery storage. Please join the effort by signing our petition!

The Weymouth compressor station fight appears to be developing into something of a test case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is beginning to focus on fossil project climate impacts for the first time. We use that framework to explore a couple potential effects: the impact on the broader U.S. natural gas industry, and the tie-in with another controversial project in Canada – the Goldboro LNG export terminal.

We’re exploring the fascinating contest between Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and environmental allies, vs Enbridge, Canada, and a good chunk of the oil industry, over Michigan’s recent demand the shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline – the aging section crossing under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Amy Westervelt of Drilled News offers an excellent podcast dive into the fossil fuel industry’s continuing efforts to criminalize nonviolent civil protest. Related to all those protests, the divestment movement has taken off – but big banks are still financing polluters to a shocking degree.

We have late-breaking news that Governor Charlie Baker signed landmark climate legislation into law just before we posted. As Massachusetts moves forward, we’re also keeping an eye on broader efforts to green the economy. We found a report explaining why skepticism is in order when considering big-polluter claims to go net-zero, and also some encouraging news about the greening of some aquaculture operations – a good thing since a new climate report shows that ocean trawling for fish releases as much carbon as emitted by the global aviation industry.

As usual, we can take a breather and enjoy some good news in our clean energy section, including a report on the multiple benefits of covering open canals and aquaducts with solar panels – a huge opportunity in southern California. The news is a bit more sobering as we consider home energy efficiency and electrification, and look at the current shortage of contractors with up-to-date skills. And likewise in clean transportation, where we’re reminded that heavy future reliance on personal electric vehicles, without reducing miles driven, would still be a problem.

Springfield’s City Council has enlisted the support of the Conservation Law Foundation in its fight against Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass plant. Meanwhile, across the pond, the Dutch have signaled it’s time to end biomass subsidies, ahead of the critical review in June of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The EU must decide whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

We wrap up with a look at plastics, health, and the environment, along with a youtube video of comedian John Oliver’s deep dive into how the plastics industry convinced us to think we could simply recycle our way out of trouble. It’s pretty rude, but to the point.

   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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


BEAT’s ‘peaker’ campaign draws local support, statewide allies
By Danny Jin, The Berkshire Eagle
March 20, 2021

In its campaign to convert three local power plants to less-polluting alternatives, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team has added local supporters as well as allies across the state.

The “peaker” power plants in Pittsfield and Lee burn [gas, oil, and kerosene]. They serve to meet peak electricity demand — during the hottest summer days, for instance — but rank among the oldest and most polluting plants, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods that already have experienced significant pollution.

More than 10 local groups have joined the coalition opposing the operation of the three plants, and a petition to close them has reached about 200 signatures, said Rosemary Wessel, director of BEAT’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative.

“When we put up flyers in the afternoon, you see signatures by the evening,” Wessel said.

As a plan to transition Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 appears set to become law, Wessel said the state’s long-term climate goals align with a move away from fossil fuel-burning plants.

“That’s another argument for us: to switch over before they’re forced to shut down and become extinct,” Wessel said. “It’s a win-win for the companies, and we would get cleaner air sooner.”

The two plants in Pittsfield are on Merrill Road and Doreen Street, and the plant in Lee is on Woodland Road.

Wessel said BEAT has contacted the owners and operators of the plants but has not received a response. The California-headquartered IHI Power Services Corp. runs the Merrill Road plant, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Cogentrix acquired the Doreen Street and Woodland Road plants in 2016.

BEAT is pushing for battery storage as a cleaner alternative for peak demand, especially if paired with solar or wind energy. Wessel said BEAT wants to have a conversation with companies to see which storage incentives they might qualify for. The Clean Peak Energy Standard and the ConnectedSolutions program, for example, aim to cut costs and reduce emissions.

The Merrill Road plant is near Allendale Elementary School and Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood, which the state has designated an “environmental justice” area. Doreen Street is by Williams and Egremont elementary schools, and Woodland Road is at the edge of October Mountain State Forest.
» Read article               
» Sign the petition to shut down Berkshire County’s peaking power plants!

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Why A Federal Order In The Weymouth Compressor Case Has The Natural Gas World Worried
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 19, 2021

In the six years since Massachusetts residents began fighting a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, the controversial and now-operational project has mostly been an issue of local concern. Not anymore.

As a challenge to the compressor station’s permit to operate winds its way through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — the agency in charge of approving interstate energy projects — some on the five-person body have signaled that they’re no longer interested in doing business as usual.

In a 3-2 vote last month, the commission began what some FERC experts are calling “a seemingly unprecedented” review process that not only raises questions about the future of the Weymouth Compressor, but has many in the gas industry worried about the fate of their current and future projects.

At the simplest level, this case is about whether FERC should hold a hearing to relitigate the Weymouth Compressor’s license to operate, known as a “service authorization order.” This happens all the time when project opponents appeal a FERC decision.

But two things make this situation unique: the potential precedent it could set, and the fact that FERC has a new commissioner who has promised to give more weight to climate change and environmental justice concerns.

The Weymouth Compressor was designed to be the linchpin of a large interstate gas pipeline system called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The project connects two pipelines and allows fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania to flow through New Jersey and New England, and into Maine and eastern Canada for local distribution.

Though no public opinion polling about the compressor exists, there is intense opposition to it here in Massachusetts. From activists groups like the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) and Mothers Out Front, to elected officials, the anti-compressor movement here is vocal and visible.
» Read article                

Braintree Pays $20K For Air Quality Monitors At Fore River Plant
Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the area.
By Jimmy Bentley, Patch
March 19, 2021

Braintree will contribute $20,000 to help pay for an air quality monitoring system near the controversial natural gas plant along the Fore River.

Mayor Charles Kokoros said the money will help the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), detect harmful chemicals produced by the plant and monitor overall air quality in the river basin’s communities, including Braintree, Weymouth, Quincy and Hingham.

Residents and elected officials in Braintree, Hingham, Quincy and Weymouth have expressed concern and have opposed Enbridge’s compressor station. Elected officials, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, also came out against the plant after an emergency shut down where 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas was released at the facility. There have been numerous protests outside the plant’s [construction] site and several arrests.

But Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said upon the final approval that the project met all state and federal safety regulations, and that the project had passed air-quality testing impact assessments. Enbridge has also maintained that safety is their priority.

With state regulators approving the plant, Braintree joined Quincy, Hingham, the Ten Persons Group and the Ten Citizens Group in appealing the plant’s approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in federal court. The motion was filed last month in the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES


Gov. Whitmer offers propane plan for Upper Peninsula after Line 5 shutdown
By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
March 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration released its plan Friday to heat Michigan homes without depending on the Line 5 oil pipeline to deliver propane.

The plan calls for millions of dollars of investment in rail infrastructure and storage to help wean propane suppliers off the pipeline, plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies.

The plan was praised by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others opposing Enbridge Line 5. But an Enbridge spokesperson called the plan “wholly inadequate” and at least one propane supplier raised doubts about whether it will adequately replace the propane currently supplied by the pipeline.

Whitmer has given Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy until May 13 to stop transporting oil through the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, citing concerns that the aging underwater pipeline poses an “unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

Much of the plan to replace Line 5 relies on grant programs Whitmer has written into her 2022 budget proposal, meaning it may require legislative approval.  Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

But the plan also notes that some propane suppliers have begun to independently wean themselves off Line 5 since Whitmer made the shutdown order in November.

Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis Parisio told Bridge Michigan the governor “is looking forward to discussions with the legislature and is hopeful that we can reach bipartisan support for her budget recommendations.”

In an interview Friday, Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps said the plan will put Michigan “in a good place for next winter and for whatever market changes arise.”
» Read article               
» Read the MI Propane Security Plan               


Ohio, Louisiana argue against Line 5 shutdown in federal court
By Garret Ellison, mlive.com
March 22, 2021

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to block Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, arguing on behalf of Ohio refineries and the state of Louisiana that closing the submerged oil line would have economic impact beyond Michigan.

Yost filed an amicus brief on Friday, March 19 in the case Enbridge brought against Whitmer last fall, which is pending before Judge Janet Neff in the Western District of Michigan. The case is scheduled to begin mediation in April.

In the brief, Yost argues that closing the pipeline segment under the Straits of Mackinac would cause economic hardship for businesses supplied by the pipeline.

In November, Whitmer announced termination of the 1953 easement that allows the pipeline to cross the lakebed where lakes Michigan and Huron connect. She gave Enbridge until May 12 to stop the oil flow, a deadline the company says it won’t comply with absent a court order.

“Ohio refineries, their employees, and key industrial stakeholders directly rely on Line 5′s crude oil supply, and its economic effects are strongly felt in the Buckeye State and beyond,” Yost wrote. “Ohio, joined by Louisiana, respectfully urges the court to carefully balance protections for both the environment and the economic health of individuals and businesses on both sides of the border by allowing Line 5 to continue to operate safely.”

Case documents indicate Michigan opposes the motion but the state has not yet filed a reply.

Enbridge allies have mounted a full-throated defense of the controversial pipeline this year. Canadian government and business officials are lobbying the Biden Administration to intercede in Whitmer’s decision and are threatening to invoke a 1977 treaty governing the operation of cross-border pipelines unless Michigan backpedals the closure order.

Seamus O’Regan, Canadian natural resources minister, told a parliament committee earlier this month that the pipeline’s operation is “non-negotiable.”

The 68-year-old, 645-mile pipeline runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario by way of Michigan. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Lakehead network that carries light crude and natural gas liquids under the Straits of Mackinac. Its existence has caused escalating concern since another Enbridge pipeline caused a massive oil spill in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River.

Because the pipeline crosses both Michigan peninsulas and many waterways, opponents see little benefit but substantial risk for the state from its existence and dismiss economic concerns around its closure as overblown.
» Read article                

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Another Line 3 Battleground: free speech
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
March 20, 2021

We’ve covered the ongoing, fossil fuel-backed push to criminalize protest before. In 2017, Oklahoma passed the first of these bills, specifically citing the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Then American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), the trade group for refineries and petrochemical facilities, crafted sample legislation based on the Oklahoma bill, and pushed the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) to adopt it. In 2020 , the Covid-19 pandemic slowed things down a bit, but in 2021 things are speeding up. In January, Ohio passed a bill that’s been debated for years, bringing the total number of states with so-called “critical infrastructure laws” in place to 14.

What’s defined as critical infrastructure varies a bit from state to state, but pipelines are always included; penalties range, too, but across the board these laws increase both the criminal and financial penalties of protest, potentially landing protestors in jail for years with fines up to $150,000. It’s worth noting that all of these states have trespassing and property damage laws already, it’s not as though those things have been going unpunished; the new laws merely make the consequences much tougher. They also add penalties for organizers and organizing entities. In Montana, for example, a proposed bill would fine organizations up to a million dollars for being involved in protest.

All of which comes into play in Minnesota, where the fight against Line 3 is underway. There are currently six bills under consideration in the state, packaged into four legislative packages. If any of them pass, not only could protestors be facing stiffer penalties but also the organizations involved, most of them led by Native women, could find themselves slapped with large fines too.

In this interview, researcher Connor Gibson walks us through the origin of these laws, why they’re picking up steam, and what to expect this year.
» Listen to podcast, “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Undermining Free Speech”

» More about protests and actions               

DIVESTMENT

Big banks’ trillion-dollar finance for fossil fuels ‘shocking’, says report
Coal, oil and gas firms have received $3.8tn in finance since the Paris climate deal in 2015
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
March 24, 2021

The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”.

Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.

US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.

Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.

A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.

The report’s authors said targeting of banks by campaigners and activist shareholders could help change bank policies but that action by governments was also needed.
» Read article            

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

Baker intends to sign climate and emissions bill
By Chris Lisinski, WWLP
March 25, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he plans to sign into law a sweeping climate policy bill the Legislature approved last week after vetoing an earlier version in January.

Asked as he departed a press conference if he would approve the climate bill, Baker replied with one-word: “Yes.” A spokesperson for his office then confirmed his intent to sign the legislation.

The landmark proposal aims to craft a path toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions statewide by 2050 by setting interim targets for emissions reductions, establishing energy efficiency standards for appliances and addressing the needs of environmental justice communities. Baker vetoed the original version of the bill, approved at the end of the 2019-2020 lawmaking session, in January over concerns that it could limit housing production and did not do enough to help cities and towns adapt to the effects of climate change effects.

Lawmakers passed the legislation a second time and then adopted many of Baker’s sought changes, though they did not agree to some of his more substantial amendments, such as a lower emissions-reduction milestone for 2030.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides signaled after the bill’s passage that the administration was happy with the amendments. Business groups NAIOP and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce have recently announced support for the bill after previously expressing hesitation. Baker has until Sunday to act on the climate bill.
» Read article            

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Why Companies’ ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Pledges Should Trigger a Healthy Dose of Skepticism
By Oliver Miltenberger, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, University of California, Berkeley, The Conversation, republished in DeSmog Blog
March 25, 2021

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
» Read article            


That Salmon on Your Plate Might Have Been a Vegetarian
Pescatarians take note: Farmed fish are eating more veggies and less wild fish, according to new research. That’s good news for nature.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
March 24, 2021

Twenty years ago, as farmed salmon and shrimp started spreading in supermarket freezers, came an influential scientific paper that warned of an environmental mess: Fish farms were gobbling up wild fish stocks, spreading disease and causing marine pollution.

This week, some of the same scientists who published that report issued a new paper concluding that fish farming, in many parts of the world, at least, is a whole lot better. The most significant improvement, they said, was that farmed fish were not being fed as much wild fish. They were being fed more plants, like soy.

In short, the paper found, farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians.

Synthesizing hundreds of research papers carried out over the last 20 years across the global aquaculture industry, the latest study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The findings have real-world implications for nutrition, jobs and biodiversity. Aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, there have long been concerns among some environmentalists about aquaculture’s effects on natural habitats.

The new paper found promising developments, but also lingering problems. And it didn’t quite inform the average fish-eater what they should eat more of — or avoid.
» Read article              
» Read the original study
» Read the new aquaculture study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE


Trawling for Fish May Unleash as Much Carbon as Air Travel, Study Says
The report also found that strategically conserving some marine areas would not only safeguard imperiled species but sequester vast amounts planet-warming carbon dioxide, too.
By Catrin Einhorn, New York Times
March 17, 2021

For the first time, scientists have calculated how much planet-warming carbon dioxide is released into the ocean by bottom trawling, the practice of dragging enormous nets along the ocean floor to catch shrimp, whiting, cod and other fish. The answer: As much as global aviation releases into the air.

While preliminary, that was one of the most surprising findings of a groundbreaking new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The study offers what is essentially a peer-reviewed, interactive road map for how nations can confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.

It follows similar recent research focused on protecting land, all with a goal of informing a global agreement on biodiversity to be negotiated this autumn in Kunming, China.

Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, the researchers found, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.

“It’s a triple win,” said Enric Sala, a marine biologist who directs National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. Dr. Sala led the study’s team of 26 biologists, climate scientists and economists.

How much and what parts of the ocean to protect depends on how much value is assigned to each of the three possible benefits: biodiversity, fishing and carbon storage.

Trisha Atwood, an aquatic ecologist at Utah State University who was one of the study’s authors, compared trawling to cutting down forests for agriculture.

“It’s wiping out biodiversity, it’s wiping out things like deep sea corals that take hundreds of years to grow,” Dr. Atwood said. “And now what this study shows is that it also has this other kind of unknown impact, which is that it creates a lot of CO2.”
» Read article               
» Read the study


We have turned the Amazon into a net greenhouse gas emitter: Study
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
March 19, 2021

Something is wrong in the lungs of the world. Decades of burning, logging, mining and development have tipped the scales, and now the Amazon Basin may be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Most of the conversation about climate change is dominated by carbon dioxide. While CO2 plays a critical role in the complex climate equation, other forces such as methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and black carbon are also factors.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a group of 31 scientists calculated the balance of all natural and human-caused greenhouse gases coming in and out of the massive Amazon Basin. The team concluded that warming of the atmosphere from agents other than CO2 likely exceeds the climate benefits the Amazon provides via CO2 uptake. Or more simply: due to humans, the Amazon Basin is now a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

“I would highlight that natural greenhouse emissions from ecosystems aren’t causing climate change,” the study’s lead author, Kristofer Covey, an assistant professor at Skidmore College told Mongabay. “It’s the many human disturbances underway in the basin that are contributing to climate change.”

Earth receives constant energy from the sun. Climate-forcing factors in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket, trapping that heat energy on Earth. When there’s more energy coming in from the sun than is being reflected back out into space, the planet warms and our climate is thrown out of balance.

A healthy forest ecosystem sucks in CO2 and keeps other climate-forcing factors in relative balance. But in the Amazon, where forests have faced increased logging, mining, dam construction, and clearing for agricultural (typically using fire), the system is drying and degrading. One study found that the amount of aboveground plant tissue in the Amazon was reduced by roughly one-third over the past decade.

In short, the ability of the Amazon to absorb CO2 is declining.
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Why Covering Canals With Solar Panels Is a Power Move
Covering waterways would, in a sense, make solar panels water-cooled, boosting their efficiency.
By Matt Simon, Science
March 19, 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80 percent of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Solar-paneling canals would not only produce renewable energy for use across the state, it would run the water system itself. “By covering canals with solar panels, we can reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing natural and working lands, while providing renewable energy and other co-benefits,” says environmental engineer Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Merced, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead author on the paper.
» Read article              


As early renewables near end-of-life, attention turns to recycling and disposal
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
March 24, 2021

Although only a handful of states have implemented rules related to the disposal of batteries, PV panels and other renewable assets, the time has come to consider their fate as early installations reach the end of their useful life, industry leaders concluded during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Batteries, solar panels and even wind turbines contain components that could be repurposed and recycled, panelists said, but high costs and the limited availability of these materials present barriers to scaling up recycling operations.

To create a “circular economy” in which no raw materials are wasted would reduce the lifetime environmental impact of renewable energy, but accomplishing this requires intent and funding that “starts at the design phase,” said Peter Perrault, senior manager of circular economy and sustainable solutions at Enel North America.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION


He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.
Want to electrify your home? Good luck finding a contractor.
Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 18, 2021

Adam James had been casually browsing the housing market for about a year when he came across a home that seemed like the perfect fit. The 31-year-old and his wife recently had their third child, and the 1960s split-level ranch house in Ossining, New York, a village on the Hudson River with ample green space and a commuter train station, was just what they were looking for. The house had only one downside: Its oil-based heating system was 35 years old and on the brink of sputtering out.

Except that wasn’t a downside for James, who works as chief of staff at Energy Impact Partners, a sustainable energy investment firm. “I was actually excited because I was like, I’m gonna get this thing off of fuel oil and decarbonize it,” he told Grist last October.

By that he meant he wanted to switch out the heating and hot water systems in the house for appliances that run on electricity. This kind of conversion is called electrification, and it is currently the only proven way to eliminate the carbon emissions directly generated by our buildings. But even in New York state, which has a legal mandate to cut emissions 85 percent by 2050, a goal of getting 130,000 electric heat and hot water systems installed by 2025, and several public and private programs that promote and incentivize electric heating, James had an unexpected amount of trouble getting it done.

The first thing James did was call a few local contractors to ask about geothermal heat pumps, highly efficient systems that absorb heat from the near-constant temperature beneath the earth’s surface and transfer it into your home. But he quickly learned that it was going to cost a lot more than he thought — around $40,000, by one estimate. So James gave up on geothermal and began looking into air-source heat pumps, similar systems that instead absorb heat from the outdoor air, even on cold winter days. He found a list of contractors on the website for New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, a state agency tasked with promoting energy efficiency and renewables. The contractors on the list were ostensibly certified to install heat pumps, and James said he called about 10 of them just to figure out what his options were.

Several didn’t respond to his inquiry. A few told him they didn’t do heat pumps. The rest said they could install heat pumps but tried to talk him out of it, explaining that a heat pump would be more expensive than a fuel oil system or a propane furnace, and that he would still need one of those as a backup source of heat.

[Nate Adams, a home performance specialist based in Ohio who goes by the nickname the “House Whisperer,”] said some contractors are afraid of heat pumps because earlier generations of the technology were noisy and didn’t work well in colder temperatures. The technology has come a long way, and new, cold-climate heat pumps work just fine in places like New York, but contractors still perceive them as riskier than traditional systems. “We have 105,000 HVAC contractors across the U.S. that have to be convinced this is a good idea,” said Adams, using the acronym for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

There’s disagreement about heat pump effectiveness even among contractors who recommend the technology. In February, about five months after James’ ordeal, I called several contractors from the same list James consulted and reached Scott Carey, a contractor in Briarcliff, New York, who installs heat pumps for clients and even recently put them in his own house. However, he recommends that his customers keep a back-up source of heat, such as a propane furnace, for when the heat pump periodically goes into defrost mode, running the system in reverse and pumping cold air into the house.

Daphney Warrington, who runs an HVAC company called Breffni Mechanical with her husband in Yonkers, New York, and also installs heat pumps, disagreed — she said there was no need for a backup system unless the homeowner wanted to have one. When asked about James’ trouble finding a contractor, Warrington and Carey offered a similar assessment — a lot of contractors are old school and haven’t stayed up to date with the latest technology. “They still are thinking that heat pumps aren’t for this part of the country,” said Carey.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency and electrification

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Critics warn Massachusetts’ climate progress is headed for traffic jam
Climate advocates and analysts say the state will need to reduce driving if it wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and that current plans focus too much on vehicle electrification.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 22, 2021

Massachusetts won’t meet its climate goals without getting people to drive less.

That’s the unpopular message from climate advocates and analysts who say the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan draft places too much emphasis on vehicle electrification and all but ignores the critical need to also reduce driving miles.

The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state is on pace to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2030, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for greater Boston. This growth would cause emissions to rise unless all the vehicles in the state achieved an average — and unlikely — efficiency of 29 miles per gallon, the report concludes.

To alter this course, advocates say, state leaders will need to consider implementing congestion pricing, per-mile fees for road usage, or land use policies that make it easier and more attractive to use public transit — ideas that are not currently major parts of the climate plan.

“It leans on electrification of the vehicle fleet, which is obviously a critical pathway to pursue at the policy level,” said Conor Gately, senior land use and transportation analyst for the planning council. “There’s not as much enthusiasm for the land use side of things to reduce underlying demand.”
» Read article               
» Read the MAPC report

» More about clean transportation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick, Danly spar over gas pipeline reviews as FERC considers project’s climate impacts for first time
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
March 19, 2021

FERC’s decision to consider climate impacts when approving a pipeline certificate marks a significant compromise between Glick and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who had indicated in the weeks leading up to the meeting that he might be willing to consider such factors.

“I give [Chatterjee] a lot of credit,” said Glick. “He approached me a while back and said ‘Hey, I think we can work out some sort of compromise here on this issue.'”

Danly, in his dissent, accused the commission of a “dramatic change” inconsistent with long-standing precedent that the commission does not have the right tools to properly assess the impact of projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. Further, he expressed concern that oil and gas companies were not sufficiently involved in the process.

“It appears to me that the financial gas industry and its customers are on the verge of experiencing some dramatic changes in the coming months and years, and we’ve learned that those changes can come from unexpected proceedings,” he said.

FERC’s Thursday meeting followed the commission’s first listening session of the Office of Public Participation, wherein commissioners listened to hours long testimony from landowners and others who had been negatively impacted by gas infrastructure development and, they felt, left out of FERC’s proceedings. Glick pointed out that Danly’s arguments disregard those stakeholders.

“You had suggested that everyone should intervene in all these natural gas pipeline proceedings,” he said. “Well, I would say the same for not just the pipeline companies, but for all the other people that have been screwed by the Commission,” Glick said, calling Danly’s stance “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You were the general counsel, Mr. Danly, when the Commission … without any notice, without telling landowners, without telling people that are concerned about climate change” repeatedly chose not to examine the climate impacts of infrastructure, despite a 2017 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that found that FERC’s environmental impact assessment for pipelines was “inadequate.”

“Absolutely, if you’re a pipeline company, and you want to intervene in a proceeding, go for it … but I would say that everyone else, please you intervene too, because we need to hear your voices as well,” Glick said. “Not just the voices that can afford high-priced Washington D.C. law firms to participate in these proceedings.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


SLAPPed silly: the company promoting the Goldboro LNG plant that Premier Rankin supports is trying to bully its critics into silence
By Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner
March 22, 2021

This weekend, delegates at the Conservative Party of Canada’s national convention rejected a motion that called for the party to acknowledge that “climate change is real.”

Some of the no votes were more nuanced than others, but the gist is that party members don’t want to adopt policies — support for the Paris Accord and carbon taxes, better regulation of emissions from the oil and gas industry — that are necessary to confront the problem. If it means losing votes in the oil fields, they’re against it, the future of the planet be damned.

It’s a reprehensible attitude, but hopefully will have little real-world impact: the CPC is out of power, not even a bit player in the governing minority government, and by voting against the motion, delegates made it that much harder for the party to get back in power.

But it’s an entirely different matter when Iain Rankin, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, who is presiding atop a majority government that is setting energy policy for the next several decades, embraces the natural gas industry. Unlike the now powerless CPC, Rankin’s actions can contribute materially to humanity’s failure to confront climate change.

The Pieridae proposal envisions natural gas sourced in Alberta being delivered via new and enlarged pipelines to Nova Scotia, where it will be liquified at the Goldboro plant. That LNG would then be pumped into giant LNG carriers that will carry the LNG across the Atlantic to a new terminal to be built by the energy company Uniper in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; there, the gas will be regasified and distributed to German homes and businesses.

And last night, activists in the US alerted me to yet another possible gas source for the Goldboro plant — natural gas produced by fracking in Western Pennsylvania.

At issue is a now-operating natural gas compressing plant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As WBUR, the NPR station in Boston, explained it in October:

The 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor [emphasis added] is part of a larger gas pipeline plan called the Atlantic Bridge Project. The purpose of the project is to make it easier for “fracked” natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Western Pennsylvania to get to northern New England and Canada, and it does this by connecting two existing pipeline systems: the Algonquin Gas Transmission, which flows from New Jersey into Massachusetts, and the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which flows from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, Canada.
» Read article                
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 1           
» Read background story: The Goldboro Gamble, Part 2             

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Springfield City Council enlists Conservation Law Foundation in fight against Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
March 23, 2021


The Springfield City Council will challenge Palmer Renewable Energy’s decade-old building permit with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation of Boston.

At issue is councilors’ contention that the 2011 permit expired because construction has not begun at the proposed $150 million, 35-megawatt power plant. They say any construction now would require a new special use permit under a 2013 city ordinance.

The appeal will be filed this week — possibly Wednesday — with the Springfield Zoning Board. Whatever side loses at the Zoning Board can appeal to one of several courts after that.

“The people of Springfield seem largely opposed (to the plant),” said Johannes Epke, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We had a unanimous vote of the city council (Monday) night. If the city council and the people of Springfield cannot make these developers come in for a special permit and explain to the city why this is a beneficial use, there is a real problem in the operation of zoning and building enforcement.”

Building permits require construction to commence within six months, Epke said.

The appeal isn’t costing the council, or the city, anything to pursue, Epke said. The Conservation Law Foundation is “happy” to advocate on the council’s behalf, he said.
» Read article                

Dutch to limit forest biomass subsidies, possibly signaling EU sea change
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
March 9, 2021

The Dutch Parliament in February voted to disallow the issuing of new subsidies for 50 planned forest biomass-for-heat plants, a small, but potentially key victory for researchers and activists who say that the burning of forests to make energy is not only not carbon neutral, but is dirtier than burning coal and bad climate policy.

With public opinion opposing forest biomass as a climate solution now growing in the EU, the decision by the Netherlands could be a bellwether. In June, the EU will review its Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), whether to continue allowing biomass subsidies and not counting biomass emissions at the smokestack.

Currently, forest biomass burning to make energy is ruled as carbon neutral in the EU, even though a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it takes many decades until forests regrow for carbon neutrality to be achieved.

The forestry industry, which continues to see increasing demand for wood pellets, argues that biomass burning is environmentally sustainable and a viable carbon cutting solution compared to coal.
» Read article                

» More about biomass                 

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

My Team Found 2,000 Plastic Bags Inside A Dead Camel
By Marcus Eriksen, Bloomberg | Opinion, in NDTV
March 24, 2021

Digging between the ribs of a dead camel buried in the sands of Dubai, I couldn’t believe what my colleagues and I found: a mass of plastic bags as big as a large suitcase. At least 2,000 plastic bags were lumped together where the animal’s stomach would have been.

We had been led to the site by Ulrich Wernery of the Dubai-based Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, who knew we were researching floating plastics in the Persian Gulf region. After two decades at sea, I thought I had seen it all. We had traveled from the Arctic to the Antarctic, publishing research on plastic pollution across all the oceans’ garbage patches. We found plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. We have seen albatrosses full of plastic on Midway Atoll, fish with microplastics in their stomachs and California sea lions with nooses of fishing line around their necks.

But the camels were a whole new level of appalling. Our team of scientists documented that more than 300 camels in the Dubai region had died because they ate humans’ trash, accounting for 1% of dead camels evaluated there since 2008. Unlike other research that might examine animals in a laboratory, this was a field study with concentrations of plastic trash that exist in the environment. It is a real-world tragedy with ecologically relevant concentrations of trash.

Imagine having 50 plastic bags in your stomach that you could not digest, causing ulcers and tremendous discomfort and the feeling that you’re full all the time. You can’t and don’t eat any food. This is what happens to camels, and it results in intestinal bleeding, blockages, dehydration, malnutrition and death.

Much of the world still perceives plastic pollution as a problem limited to the ocean. Last month, U.N. Secretary General Antnio Guterres opened the gathering of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body, by warning that the “oceans are filling with plastic,” and left it at that.

This is wrong. The camels are only the latest casualties occurring in all environments on this planet due to plastic. Researchers have also observed death and suffering in animals from elephants to reindeer. They have found plastic fragments in farmland, food and drinking water. Another recent report drawing on the results of more than 30 studies calls attention to the damage that a chemical found in plastic may do to babies’ brains. Plastic has even been seen in Earth’s orbit.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING


John Oliver Takes on the Plastics Industry
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 23, 2021

In his latest deep dive for Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on plastic pollution and, specifically, the myth that if we all just recycled enough, the problem would go away.

Instead, Oliver argued, this is a narrative that has been intentionally pushed by the plastics industry for decades. He cited the [iconic] 1970 Keep America Beautiful ad, which showed a Native American man (really an Italian American actor) crying as a hand tossed litter from a car window. Keep America Beautiful, Oliver pointed out, was partly funded by plastics-industry trade group SPI.

“Which might seem odd until you realize that the underlying message there is, ‘It’s up to you, the consumer, to stop pollution,'” Oliver said. “And that has been a major through line in the recycling movement, a movement often bankrolled by companies that wanted to drill home the message that it is your responsibility to deal with the environmental impact of their products.”
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