Tag Archives: secret science rule

Weekly News Check-In 5/22/20

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

This was a big week in news, and we ranged widely.

A longstanding pipeline battle concluded in New York, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied permission for the Williams pipeline to run from New Jersey and connect with another pipeline under Long Island Sound. DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement, “New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs.” While we applaud New York for asserting its right to stop this unnecessary interstate gas infrastructure project, we wonder how Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can continue to claim his hands are tied regarding the dangerous and unnecessary Weymouth compressor station.

Other stories related to pipelines (both real and virtual) include new evidence that dying urban trees suffered exposure to gas leaks from under the streets, and a head-spinner from Washington state where an attempt to regulate oil trains was overruled by the Trump administration. Apparently public safety is not a sufficient pretext for regulation that might inhibit market growth….

The effectiveness of persistent, youth-led activism is on display in New York, as long-stalled legislation to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels has found traction this legislative session. The bill was introduced each session for the past four years.

Transitioning to a greener economy may be most effective if governments take control of the fossil fuel phase-out, worldwide. We posted an excellent summary argument for why this should happen, along with peeks into policy proposals taking shape in the U.S. and Europe. For folks who might be tempted to think the pandemic-induced economic recession has set us tentatively on a path to heal the climate, we note that atmospheric CO2 levels are still rising.

In a move that’s arguably the opposite of economic relief, the Trump administration struck a blow against clean energy by suddenly and retroactively requesting rent payments from wind and solar developers using federal lands. The pettiness of that double-cross is countered by inspiring innovations in energy efficiency, energy storage, and clean transportation.

The last day for public comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “secret science” rule didn’t pass quietly. A joint letter from 39 top scientific organizations and academic institutions stated that the rule would greatly diminish the role of science in EPA decisions concerning the environment and public health.

It’s interesting to compare fossil fuel corporate spending on green technologies, especially during a recession. At some point investments move beyond cynical greenwashing to something that might signal a course change toward sustainability. We found reporting that shows European oil majors are investing significantly more than their U.S. counterparts. This may be driven by the home country political and regulatory landscape, but even a pro-fossil American administration can’t protect the liquefied natural gas industry from market headwinds.

New rules proposed in April under the Clean Air Act would define biomass, when burned to produce energy, as being carbon neutral. Some 200 U.S. environmental scientists sent a letter to congressional committee chairs urging they reject these new rules. It’s important to note that the science on biomass has advanced considerably in recent years, and consensus is now firmly established that burning biomass for energy is neither clean nor carbon neutral.

We wrap up with a couple interesting reports on plastics. One describes a biodegradable plant-based alternative for beverage bottles, and another profiles efforts to use satellite data to detect plastic pollution in oceans.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Williams canned
New York Rejects Williams Pipeline Over Water, Climate Concerns
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 18, 2020

New York state has rejected the controversial Williams pipeline that would have carried fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, running beneath New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean before connecting to an existing pipeline system off Long Island.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) announced the decision Friday, arguing that pipeline construction would have harmed water quality and threatened marine life.

“New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs,” DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement reported by POLITICO.

The decision is a victory for grassroots activists who have long campaigned against the pipeline. After Oklahoma-based company Williams submitted its most recent application, New Yorkers sent in more than 25,000 comments opposing the pipeline in two weeks, according to the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition.

“We know [New York State Gov. Andrew] Cuomo only did this because we pressured him to do so,” anti-pipeline campaigner Lee Ziesche told HuffPost. “At the end of the day, he still needs to make a plan to get New York off of gas.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

gas leaks kill trees
Tree Deaths in Urban Settings Are Linked to Leaks from Natural Gas Pipelines Below Streets
A new study finds dying trees are 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane-contaminated soil, confirming long-held suspicions that gas leaks kill plants.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
May 20, 2020

Natural gas leaks from underground pipelines are killing trees in densely populated urban environments, a new study suggests, adding to concerns over such leaks fueling climate change and explosion hazards.

The study, which took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston, also highlights the many interrelated environmental challenges in a city that faces high levels of air pollution, soaring summer temperatures and is now beset by one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.

Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

safety schmafety
Safety Can’t Be a ‘Pretext’ for Regulating Unsafe Oil Trains, Says Trump Admin
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
May 20, 2020

The federal agency overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials released a stunning explanation of its May 11 decision striking down a Washington state effort to regulate trains carrying volatile oil within its borders. A state cannot use “safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth,” wrote Paul J. Roberti, the chief counsel for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The statement appeared in the Trump administration’s justification for overruling Washington’s oil train regulation, which was challenged by crude-producing North Dakota and oil industry lobbying groups. The Washington rule seeks to limit oil vapor pressure unloaded from trains to less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi) in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that train derailments lead to the now-familiar fireballs and explosions accompanying trains transporting volatile oil.
» Read article

» More about virtual pipelines

DIVESTMENT

NY pension divest
Could New York’s Youth Finally Convince the State to Divest Its Pension of Fossil Fuels?
One analyst says oil, gas and coal were the biggest pension contributors for 30 years, but now are the worst performing sector—and there are no signs of improvement.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
May 15, 2020

In April, a day before Earth Day’s massive virtual gathering, Penna and about 150 other youth met with nearly 40 New York lawmakers or their staff online, asking them to support a bill that would force the New York Common Retirement Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies within five years. As of last year, the fund had nearly $211 billion in assets under management and currently has about $5 billion in fossil fuel holdings, according to the New York State Comptroller’s office.

The bill, known as the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, has been introduced in the New York Senate four years in a row but has never made it out of committee. But as youth climate strikers who are sheltering in place seek ways to spread their message without marching in the streets, the once stalled legislation has quickly gained support this year.
» Read article      
» Read the Act

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

five reasons for managed phaseout
Deep Dive: 5 reasons governments must act now to phase out oil and gas production
By Kelly Trout, Oil Change International – blog post
May 20, 2020

Since the Paris Agreement was signed, Oil Change International (OCI) has been making the case that meeting its goals will require governments to proactively manage the phase-out of fossil fuel production. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and sudden cratering of the oil economy, that is more true than ever.

Low oil prices and a near-term drop in demand are causing immediate financial and logistical stress for the industry. But current events provide no guarantee that the industry will stay in long-term decline, especially at the pace needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

Now is precisely the time for governments to pursue a carefully planned exit from oil and gas production: to systematically disentangle their economies from this volatile and toxic industry in a way that lines up with global climate goals, invests deeply in a just transition for workers and local communities, and builds the clean energy sectors we will need long into the future.
» Read article

Inslee plan promoted
Former Inslee Staffers Urge Biden and House Dems to Embrace $1.2 Trillion Green Stimulus as Part of COVID-19 Recovery
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams – reprinted in DeSmog Blog
May 15, 2020

Staffers who helped develop Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s widely-praised climate policy during his 2020 presidential run are now calling on congressional Democrats to adopt the bold initiatives included in the plan to make a shift to a renewable energy economy within coronavirus relief legislation.

The staffers formed an advocacy and political action group, Evergreen Action, on Thursday, a month after calling on former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to adopt large portions of Inslee’s multi-trillion-dollar plan. Progressive groups including Justice Democrats asked that Biden work closely with Inslee’s team on climate action after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suspended his presidential campaign.

Both Biden and Democrats in Congress must view the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to “jumpstart” the United States economy while transitioning away from fossil fuels and offering relief to the 36 million Americans who have lost their jobs so far as a result of the coronavirus, Evergreen Action says.
» Read article

EU green recovery previewLeaked Document Lifts Lid on EU’s Green Deal ‘Recovery’ Package
The EU has reshaped its Green Deal into a recovery package, with huge support for renewables, green hydrogen and EVs set to be announced next week.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
May 21, 2020

First revealed in December 2019, the EU’s Green Deal was initially structured as a roadmap for the bloc to achieve its goal of net-zero status by 2050. But early progress has been hampered since the Green Deal was revealed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The coronavirus outbreak and a failure to agree on the EU’s next seven-year spending framework have created division among some member states that are nervous about the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Next week, the reworked — and renamed — Green Deal Recovery package will be presented in full, with a string of near-term policies added to act as an economic stimulus. It will be an early indicator of policymakers’ willingness to act on promises of a “green recovery.”
» Read article

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

still filling the tub
Even with people staying in, carbon dioxide is breaking records
The coronavirus is doing little to slow down climate change
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 7, 2020

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still rising, even though people are driving and flying less during the COVID-19 pandemic. CO2 reached an all-time daily high on May 3rd, hitting levels that haven’t been seen in the more than 60 years since records began.

The annual average is also expected to rise, according to an analysis published today by scientists at the national meteorological service for the UK and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They found that the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is still climbing steadily, and that the dramatic changes from the pandemic barely slowed it down.

An important thing to keep in mind is that carbon dioxide can persist in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years after it escapes our factories and tailpipes. “It’s like a bathtub and you’ve had the spigot on full blast for a while, and you turn it back 10%, but you’re still filling the bathtub,” says [Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at the nonprofit Climate Central]. “You haven’t really stopped filling the bathtub, you’ve just slowed it a tiny bit.”
» Read article      
» Read analysis

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

surprise rent
Trump administration slaps solar, wind operators with massive retroactive rent bills
By Nichola Groom, Reuters
May 18, 2020

The Trump administration has ended a two-year rent holiday for solar and wind projects operating on federal lands, handing them whopping retroactive bills at a time the industry is struggling with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, according to company officials.

The move represents a multi-million-dollar hit to an industry that has already seen installation projects cancelled or delayed by the global health crisis, which has cut investment and dimmed the demand outlook for power.

It also clashes with broader government efforts in the United States to shield companies from the worst of the economic turmoil through federal loans, waived fees, tax breaks and trimmed regulatory enforcement.
» Read article

electrify or fry
Electrifying Space Heating Will Require a Herculean Effort
The technology is here today, but the sector has a long way to go, according to Wood Mackenzie.
By Fei Wang, GreenTech Media
May 12, 2020

Natural gas and fuel oil satisfy 60 percent of heating needs of households in Europe. In the U.S., the share is about 75 percent. In China, coal and gas boilers make up more than 90 percent of heating sources.

To decarbonize space heating in residential and commercial buildings, several tools will need to work together: energy efficiency, electrification, and alternative fuels.

Building codes enacted and enforced by municipalities can also push forward all-electric new construction and retrofits. In California, 30 municipalities have started such initiatives encouraging or mandating building electrification, including San Francisco and San Jose.

In Europe, while the Green Deal recognizes buildings as a primary sector for decarbonization, several countries already enacted bans on fossil fuels for heating, such as Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands.
» Read article

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

NUS chilling outCooling with heat: Hybrid air conditioner that reduces electricity consumption
By National University of Singapore News
May 14, 2020

The innovative air conditioners comprise an unconventional electrical compression machine that uses the heat from the sun and ambient surroundings to ease the electrical load of energy-guzzling compressors by up to 55 per cent.

“As the global temperature rises, fuelled by urbanisation and exacerbated by climate change, so does the global demand for fuel to run energy-hungry air conditioning. Today’s conventional air conditioners require high electrical energy, yet at the same time, they also produce a high volume of heat which is released into the environment, causing the creation of undesirable heat zones,” explained Associate Professor Ernest Chua Kian Jon from NUS Mechanical Engineering who led the team.

The jointly-developed solution utilises a solar thermal collector (i.e. heat collector) comprising vacuum tubes filled with a novel medium specially designed and engineered by the NUS team to absorb more solar energy and ambient heat.

The harnessed energy is then recycled to assist in the superheating of the refrigerant in the system, converting it from a low pressure, low temperature gas into a high pressure, high temperature gas. This reduces the system’s reliance on the compressor that pumps the refrigerant through the system and, in turn, reduces the system’s overall electricity consumption and the harmful greenhouse emissions released to the environment.
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency     

ENERGY STORAGE

EV charging with storage
Energy storage poised to tackle grid challenges from rising EVs as mobile chargers bring new flexibility
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
May 18, 2020

“One can expect that the number of EVs in fleets will grow very rapidly over the next ten years,” according to Rhombus’ report. But that means many fleet staging areas will have trouble securing sufficient charging capacity.

“Given the amount of time it takes to add new megawatt-level power feeds in most cities (think years), fleet EVs will run into a significant ‘power crisis’ by 2030,” according to Rhombus.

“Grid power availability will become a significant problem for fleets as they increase the number of electric vehicles they operate,” Rhombus CEO Rick Sander said in a statement. “Integrating energy storage with vehicle-to-grid capable chargers and smart [energy management system] solutions is a quick and effective mitigation strategy for this issue.”
» Read article

» More about energy storage      

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Wireless EV charging
HEVO to Launch US Manufacturing for Wireless Electric Vehicle Charger
The Brooklyn-based startup quietly finalized a product, working with limited funds and staff. Now the race is on for the wireless charging market.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
May 21, 2020

Wireless electric vehicle charging carries a whiff of the future, akin to flying cars. But HEVO, a Brooklyn-based startup, aims to make it part of the present by emerging from obscurity with a commercially ready wireless charger this year.

The electric vehicle industry is scrambling to build out enough chargers to handle the expected wave of EV adoption. Wireless charging holds many potential advantages over the currently available wired systems.

Wired charging uses a smattering of different plugs, but automakers have already agreed to a universal wireless charging standard, eliminating interoperability challenges. Nobody can yank out the charging cable when a car is left to fill up at a wireless public station. Drivers don’t even need to get out of the car to charge, which is handy in a rainstorm.

From an urban-planning standpoint, wireless charging would allow a more seamless installation of charging equipment into existing paved surfaces, rather than sticking charging cables around town. And the technology could theoretically go into roadways to top up drivers on the go rather than making them park and wait.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation     

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

bad idea opposed
EPA’s ‘Secret Science’ Rule Meets with an Outpouring of Protest on Last Day for Public Comment
Among those opposing the proposed rule were nearly 40 top scientific organizations and academic institutions which jointly submitted a letter to the agency.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
May 19, 2020

As the deadline approached for public comment on a controversial “transparency” rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, 39 top scientific organizations and academic institutions joined together on Monday to warn that if finalized, the regulation would greatly diminish the role of science in decisions affecting the environment and the health of Americans.

In a letter submitted to the EPA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, and a wide array of other professional groups and universities, strongly opposed the rule, which they said is “not about strengthening science, but about undermining the ability of the EPA to use the best available science in setting policies and regulations.”
» Read article      
» Read the AAAS letter          

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

oil majors reveal fantasy gap
Coronavirus widens climate rift between European and U.S. oil majors
By Ron Bousso and Shadia Nasralla, Reuters
May 18, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – Europe’s top oil and gas companies have diverted a larger share of their cash to green energy projects since the coronavirus outbreak in a bet the global health crisis will leave a long-term dent in fossil fuel demand, according to a Reuters review of company statements and interviews with executives.

Europe’s top five producers – BP, Shell, Total, Eni, and Equinor – are all focusing their investment cuts mainly on oil and gas activities, and giving their renewables and low carbon businesses a relative boost, according to Reuters calculations.

The biggest U.S. oil and gas companies are taking a different path, encouraged by a government that is a vocal supporter of expanding fossil fuel production: investment in business ventures outside petroleum hardly register, and that is not going to change without a shift in government policy.

Chevron CEO Mike Wirth told investors in a conference call on May 1 he expects demand for oil and gas to rebound after the coronavirus pandemic lifts.

“The world is not ready to transition to another source of energy in large part anytime soon,” he said.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG unmasked
Failed Finances and ‘the Demonization of Gas’ Are Threatening the Future of US LNG
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
May 14, 2020

The U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) market, once the promising golden child of the fossil fuel industry, has a major long-term problem. While it’s facing financial disaster due to the current crash in oil and natural gas prices, that’s only the short-term threat.

The real issue for the LNG industry is an existential one: It’s a fossil fuel in a rapidly warming world, and these polluting fuels are losing public favor fast.

As DeSmog reported earlier this year, European LNG buyers are considering measuring the true climate impacts of U.S. LNG, which means considering methane emissions — another strike against the U.S. LNG industry.

Growing public awareness and concern about the climate impacts of natural gas apparently are frightening industry executives.
» Read article

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass carbon accounting
Scientists warn U.S. Congress against declaring biomass burning carbon neutral
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay.com
May 13, 2020

Some 200 U.S. environmental scientists have sent a letter to congressional committee chairs urging they reject new rules proposed in April under the Clean Air Act that would define biomass, when burned to produce energy, as being carbon neutral.

The scientists say that biomass burning — using wood pellets to produce energy at converted coal-burning power plants — is not only destructive of native forests which store massive amounts of carbon, but also does not reduce carbon emissions.

A long-standing UN policy, recognizing biomass burning as carbon neutral, has caused the U.S. forestry industry to gear up to produce wood pellets for power plants in Britain, the EU, South Korea and beyond. Scientists warn that the failure to count the emissions produced by such plants could help destabilize the global climate.
» Read article      
» Read the letter

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS ALTERNATIVES

better bottles
The end of plastic? New plant-based bottles will degrade in a year
Carlsberg and Coca-Cola back pioneering project to make ‘all-plant’ drinks bottles
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
May 16, 2020

Beer and soft drinks could soon be sipped from “all-plant” bottles under new plans to turn sustainably grown crops into plastic in partnership with major beverage makers.

A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project that hopes to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels.

The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic.

Avantium’s chief executive, Tom van Aken, says he hopes to greenlight a major investment in the world-leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite the coronavirus lockdown, is set to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer.
» Read article

» More about plastics alternatives

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

 

floating plastic
Satellite imagery is helping to detect plastic pollution in the ocean
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
May 1, 2020

A new study illustrates how optical satellite imagery from the European Space Agency can be used to identify aggregates of floating plastic, such as bottles, bags and fishing nets, in coastal waters.

It is estimated that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, threatening global ocean health.

While plastic tends to get pushed around in the ocean, winds and ocean currents will propel it into clusters that stay in one place. [Lauren Biermann, an Earth observation scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the U.K.] says she hopes that optical satellite data can help identify these aggregates, and that people and organizations can use this information to work on solutions.

“There will be cleanup operations like the Ocean Voyages Institute, which we’d like to work with. They would then go to where we spotted things, and they would be able to remove tons of plastic at a time,” Biermann said. “This really is the first technical exercise, but we would then like to apply the method, far more broadly … to rivers and open waters.”
» Read article

» More about plastics in the environment

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