Just as we were posting last week’s Check-In, news broke that the Massachusetts DEP revoked Palmer Renewable Energy’s air quality permit – effectively killing the proposed biomass generating plant in Springfield. It was huge news and a victory for environmental justice, and now we’ve included some of the best articles on that important story.
The Weymouth compressor station is similar. It is a large piece of polluting infrastructure inappropriately located adjacent to vulnerable communities already burdened by long exposure to industrial toxins. It is staunchly opposed by residents of Weymouth and surrounding towns, under attack from every politician from Massachusetts’ two Senators down to local Mayors and City Councillors, and currently under review by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission newly concerned with environmental justice issues and climate change. So Tuesday’s large, unplanned gas release (3rd in eight months!) energized the opposition and raised hopes that this project, too, will be scuttled soon.
The concepts of equity, justice, and addressing the legacy of environmental racism are informing everything from suggestions on how best to build out electric vehicle infrastructure to how the Environmental Protection Agency sets enforcement priorities. These head-spinning changes have all occurred since January 20th, when a departing President Trump left behind a wasteland of hollowed out and demoralized government agencies and told us to “have a nice life”.
Something else to make corporate polluters nervous: environmental and climate advocates and a growing number of world leaders are calling for the designation of a new crime that can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ecocide involves the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change.
There’s been a lot of press lately touting hydrogen as the key to our clean energy future, and we’ve been cautious about accepting it as anything more than hype. New analysis from Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy concludes that batteries are much better positioned as the clean energy foundation – and hydrogen will only assume that role if batteries fail to live up to their potential.
A few weeks ago, we ran a story about how difficult it is to purchase a new refrigerator with climate-friendly refrigerant. We are pleased to offer this update, along with a link to Energy Star’s new list. It’s now possible in the U.S. to know you’re buying a non-HFC fridge!
We keep track of pipelines, and this week’s focus is on Enbridge’s Line 5. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered it shut down by May 12, and Enbridge says it will not comply. The Straits of Mackinac are set to be the scene of a complicated international showdown over fossil energy, where the stakes include the potential for catastrophic pollution of the Great Lakes.
Our own Rose Wessel addressed some of the issues and misinformation circulating about peaking power plants, and explains how these expensive, polluting relics can be replaced with clean energy alternatives. We also take a look at resistance from gas utilities to implementing new safety rules developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Merrimack Valley disaster, as necessary to protect the public.
Our Fossil Fuel Industry section includes three great articles about really bad behavior. The first is a white-knuckle thriller about October’s Hurricane Zeta and an ultra-deepwater drilling operation that nearly ended in a disaster that could have eclipsed BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.
We close with a look at the online shopping that has sustained many of us through the pandemic, and consider Amazon’s excessive use of plastics in its packaging.
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
Mass. Revokes Air Permit For Controversial Biomass Facility In Springfield
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 2, 2021
In a big win for public health and environmental justice advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has revoked a key air permit for a controversial proposed biomass plant in Springfield.
The permit for the Palmer Renewable Energy facility — technically called the “Final Plan Approval” — was issued almost nine years ago, and according to the state, was revoked because of a lag in construction activities as well as major public health and environmental justice concerns.
Springfield City Councilor and long-time opponent of the Palmer facility, Jesse Lederman, praised the decision and called it “welcome news in the City of Springfield.”
“The days of polluters being rubber stamped in communities like ours are over,” he said in a statement. “For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out of town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities.”
First proposed in 2008, the 35 megawatt Palmer facility drew immediate public ire, but managed to receive a series of permits and green lights from local and state regulators. It got its final air permit from MassDEP in 2012 and was supposed to begin construction soon after.
In a letter accompanying the permit revocation, Michael Gorski of MassDEP explained that while there are some signs of pre-construction activities at the site, the company has not meaningfully “commenced construction.” Under state law, MassDEP can rescind a project’s final permit if it doesn’t begin construction within two years, or if it puts construction on pause for more than a year.
“The revocation of the approval for the Palmer biomass plant is a victory for Springfield residents, the health of our communities, and our fight for a livable planet,” Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to celebrate this victory with the Springfield residents who fought so passionately against it. Today’s decision will save lives.”
If built, Palmer would have been the state’s only large-scale biomass plant and would have burned about 1,200 tons of waste wood per day in the heart of a state-designated environmental justice community. Nearly one in five children in Springfield have asthma; the air quality is so poor that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has ranked it the “Asthma Capital” of the country.
» Read article
Massachusetts Revokes Permit for Springfield Biomass Plant
By Partnership For Policy Integrity
April 5, 2021
In a major victory for Springfield residents and for environmental justice, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has revoked the permit for the long-contested Palmer Renewable Energy 42-megawatt biomass power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.
While MassDEP based its April 2nd decision on a technicality – the permit is nearly a decade old and the developers have still not begun construction on the plant – the real reason behind this move is far more significant:
“MassDEP has determined to exercise this authority due to the amount of time that has elapsed since issuance of the PRE Final Plan Approval, more recent health-related information, and the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution during the intervening years.”
It took a long time for state officials to hear what the project’s opponents have been saying all along, but it’s clear they finally got the message: Stop treating Springfield as an environmental sacrifice zone.
» Read web post
After years of protests, state officials revoke permit for controversial biomass plant in Springfield
By David Abel, Boston Globe
April 2, 2021
After years of protests, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday revoked a critical air permit for a massive wood-burning power plant proposed to be built in Springfield, which opponents said would pollute the city and contribute to climate change.
In a five-page letter, state officials cited potential adverse health impacts in rejecting plans for the state’s largest commercial biomass plant, which was expected to burn nearly a ton of wood a minute and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.
Noting the “strong opposition” from residents in Springfield, which has among the nation’s highest rates of asthma, environmental regulators said their decision was based on a “heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution.”
The link between environmental factors and heightened risk to the coronavirus also played a role in their decision.
“With COVID-19 rates particularly high in Springfield, there is increased concern, given multiple studies establishing a relationship between low-income and minority communities with elevated air pollution levels and increased severity of disease and/or mortality,” wrote Michael Gorski, director of the department’s offices in Western Massachusetts.
Officials at Palmer Renewable Energy, which proposed building the 42-megawatt incinerator, did not respond to requests for comment.
Local residents and environmental advocates, who have lobbied against the plant for years, cheered the decision.
“For too long communities like ours have been targeted by out-of-town developers seeking to get rich at the expense of the public health and environment of our children, seniors, and all residents, leading to generations of concentrated pollution and health and environmental inequities,” said Jesse Lederman, a city councilor and outspoken critic of the plant who chairs the city’s sustainability and environment committee. “The days of polluters being rubber-stamped in communities like ours are over.”
Laura Haight, policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Pelham-based advocacy group that opposes biomass, called the state’s decision “a huge victory” for environmental justice.
“Hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin for this ‘zombie’ plant,” she said, noting that it had been in the planning stages for more than a decade. She said provisions in the state’s new climate law, which Governor Charlie Baker signed last month, made it unlikely that the developer could find another way to build the plant.
» Read article
» More about biomass
WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION
Weymouth Compressor Reports Another ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release. Third Time In 8 Months
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 6, 2021
On Tuesday morning, the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station released a large quantity of gas into the air above the facility. The cause of the unplanned release remains unclear, but the company that owns and operates the facility, Enbridge, said it’s “continuing to gather information.”
Under state law, Enbridge is required to notify state and local officials if it vents more than 10,000 standard cubic feet of gas — an amount roughly equivalent to what the average U.S. home uses in two months.
According to Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron, the gas was released “in a controlled manner” through the compressor station’s tall vent stack and “the safety of the facility and surrounding area were not impacted by this occurrence.”
But opponents of the compressor like Alice Arena of the activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor (FRRACS) are skeptical. Big gas releases like this “don’t instill confidence in safety at all,” she said, adding that perhaps federal regulators should have some sort of “three-strikes rule” for problematic facilities
This is the third unplanned gas release in the last 8 months. The first — on Sept. 11, 2020 — occurred after an O-ring gasket failed and workers had to manually shut down the compressor. The second — on Sept. 30, 2020 — occurred after the emergency shutdown system loss power and automatically shut itself down. In both cases, the total amount of gas vented turned out to be much higher than initially reported
» Read article
Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas
By Emma Platoff, Boston Globe
April 7, 2021
Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.
Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months.
That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.
“Every accident at the Weymouth Compressor Station endangers the lives and health of local residents and surrounding communities and these so-called blow outs have become a dangerous pattern of releasing harmful gas into the nearby residential neighborhood,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who represents Weymouth. “It is completely unacceptable to allow Enbridge to continue their operations.”
Environmental activists and prominent politicians have been fighting the site for years, saying it brings unnecessary danger to a densely populated South Shore neighborhood.
After the latest release, and amid a federal review launched under a presidential administration that has called environmental justice a priority, activists hope this time the plant will be closed permanently.
Alice Arena, head of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has long protested the Weymouth site, said she’s “waffling between my regular pessimism and optimism.”
The timing of the incident feels less like coincidence than “karma,” she said.
“It seems as though every time they’ve had an accident it’s been at a tipping point,” Arena said. She pointed to a previous unplanned release last fall, which came just days before the facility was set to begin full operations.
“Instead, they ended up with a shutdown order,” she said wryly. The three gas releases show that operators are too reckless to continue work in the area, she said.
» Read article
» More about the Weymouth compressor
Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out.
The ongoing battle between North America’s largest mover of oil, Enbridge Energy, and the state of Michigan.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
April 7, 2021
As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.
Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.
A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.”
Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilled over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.
Since Whitmer’s closure order in November, Enbridge has sued the state of Michigan on the grounds that it doesn’t have authority over the company because Enbridge is regulated federally by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge has also stated outright that it will defy the governor’s orders. “We do not plan to shut down Line 5 unless ordered by a court or PHMSA, which we view as highly unlikely,” a spokesperson for the company told Grist. Among its stated reasons for refusing to shut down are concerns over energy security for Michigan and Canada and the increased environmental impact from alternative modes of transporting propane. The pipeline supplies between 55 to 65 percent of Michigan’s propane needs.
For the shutdown to go into effect, a state or federal court would need to rule in Whitmer’s favor. If the case is sent to state court, Shroeck said, Enbridge could appeal that decision, therefore sending it to a federal court of appeals, whereafter it could be years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Enbridge would be able to continue operating without penalty.
The U.S. portion of the pipeline that crosses under the Mackinac straits is the worst possible location in the Great Lakes for an oil spill. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that because of the turbulent waters and switching directions of the current, a Line 5 oil spill could potentially contaminate more than 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
» Read article
» More about pipelines
GREENING THE ECONOMY
States, utilities must ensure equitable investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, new report warns
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
April 7, 2021
Only a few states and power companies are taking steps to ensure low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color benefit from the transition to electric vehicles, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The study, published Tuesday morning, examined 36 states where utilities have filed transportation electrification plans, and concluded only six have some form of equity mandate or consideration.
“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study.
» Read article
» Read the ACEEE study
» More about greening the economy
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Exclusive: EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
Environmental Protection Agency launches crackdown on pollution that disproportionately affects people of color
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 12, 2021
» Read article
» More about EPA
As the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Katie Surma and Yuliya Talmazan, Inside Climate News
April 7, 2021
In 1948, after Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II, the United Nations adopted a convention establishing a new crime so heinous it demanded collective action. Genocide, the nations declared, was “condemned by the civilized world” and justified intervention in the affairs of sovereign states.
Now, a small but growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing an offense they say poses a similar threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions: ecocide, or widespread destruction of the environment.
The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster,” and has proposed making it a sin for Catholics.
The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. The monumental step, which faces a long road of global debate, would mean political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal” acts.
» Read article
Projected Surge of Lightning Spells More Wildfire Trouble for the Arctic
A major climate shift in the High North is sparking fires that can release huge amounts of greenhouse gases from tundra ecosystems, where fires have been rare until recently
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
April 5, 2021
With the Arctic warming at up to three times the pace of the global average, more lightning storms will invade the High North, igniting wildfires that release carbon dioxide and speeding the transition of flat mossy tundra to brush and forest landscapes that absorb more solar heat energy.
Yang Chen, an Earth scientist with the University of California, Irvine and lead author of a study released today in the journal Nature Climate Change that projected the increases in lightning strikes, said the findings were somewhat unexpected, and intensify wildfire concerns in the High North because lightning is the main ignition source in the Arctic.
“The size of the lightning response surprised us because expected changes at mid-latitudes are much smaller,” he said. More lightning-caused fires would speed a vicious circle of climate-warming changes already under way in vast areas of tundra and permafrost across Siberia and Alaska, he added.
A surge in the frequency of large Arctic fires in the last five years spurred the research, which is based on 20 years of NASA satellite data showing the relationship between lightning and the climate, he said.
Linking that data with climate projections through 2100, the scientists estimated the number of lightning strikes will grow by about 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By late in the century, the IPCC projects the Arctic could warm by 4.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on emissions.
The study also shows that the region that experiences lightning will shift, with future flash rates in the far northern tundra areas equal to the current rate in boreal forests, 300 miles to the south.
The increase may cause “a fire-vegetation feedback whereby more burning in Arctic tundra expedites the northward migration of boreal trees,” that will absorb more heat from the sun, accelerating the Arctic cycle of warming,” the authors wrote in the study.
» Read article
» Obtain the study
» More about climate
For hydrogen to dominate the low-carbon world, batteries must fail
By James Fernyhough, Renew Economy
April 5, 2021
Hydrogen has the potential to help bring more than half of the world’s emissions down to zero, but to reach that potential it requires aggressive government support, a dramatically improved value chain – and it needs batteries to fail.
That last point is one of the most striking findings in a new series of reports by Norwegian energy research house Rystad Energy, the last of which, on the “battery society”, was released last week.
The reports examine three solutions to the problem of storage in an energy system dominated by wind and solar: carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and batteries.
They conclude that battery technology is the most powerful of the three, having the potential to help reduce to zero 78 per cent of the world’s emissions. CCS could potentially help reduce 62 per cent of the world’s emissions, though it is the least practical of the three.
Hydrogen could help reduce 51 per cent of the world’s emissions, but to reach that level it would need to be used in areas where batteries currently have a big edge, such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support.
The race between hydrogen and battery technology is the latter’s to lose, the report argues. Batteries are not especially reliant on either dramatic policy changes, such as aggressive carbon pricing; or on rapid development in the value chain.
“An important advantage of the Battery Society is the fact that battery manufacturers must only rely on themselves to ramp up battery supply and bring the Battery Society to fruition,” the report says. “The CCS and Hydrogen Societies, on the other hand, are dependent on policy changes and cost developments in other parts of the value chain.
“In order to succeed, they essentially need batteries to fail,” it concludes
» Read article
» More about clean energy
Want to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator? Leading Manufacturers Are Finally Providing the Information You Need
The change came after I went out of my way to buy a green fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 6, 2021
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators.
Until the past few years, it’s been virtually impossible to buy a full-sized refrigerator in the United States that uses climate-friendly refrigerants like isobutane. The vast majority of refrigerators came with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemical refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.
For environmentally conscious consumers who wanted to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators, like me, it’s been difficult, if not impossible, to know which was which. As I found out the hard way, it seemed as if the manufacturers themselves didn’t even know.
But now, after I told the story last month of ordering an environmentally friendly fridge, only to have a climate bomb delivered to my house, two leading manufacturers have for the first time released lists of dozens of HFC-free refrigerators that they produce.
Meanwhile, the EPA’s Energy Star program has published its first concise list of all refrigerators that use climate friendly refrigerants.
» Read article
» See the Energy Star list of products with climate-safe refrigerants
Minneapolis program puts energy audits into hands of potential homebuyers
In its first year, a city ordinance requiring energy audits prior to home sales resulted in more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation, and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
April 5, 2021
Minneapolis saw near-perfect compliance and few complaints during the first year of a new ordinance requiring energy audits prior to all home sales.
The city’s residential energy benchmarking program generated more than 6,200 reports disclosing the conditions of windows, insulation and heating systems for prospective buyers and new owners. The information is also publicly available online.
That’s more than six times the number of home energy audits typically conducted each year through a voluntary program.
“That’s an incredible gamechanger,” said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director, “but we need to be able to do that each and every year if we are going to be able to meet some of our goals for climate change.”
Sellers complied with the requirement for 95% of listings, but the city doesn’t yet have data on how the audits are affecting the housing market. Real estate agents said it’s unlikely energy efficiency is a deciding factor given how quickly homes are selling, but the reports could provide a useful roadmap for future home improvements — and in at least a few cases they have already spurred projects.
» Read article
» More about energy efficiency
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
‘Peaker’ plants or dirty energy is a false choice
By Rosemary Wessel, Cummington, Letter to the Editor – Berkshire Eagle
April 2, 2021
The writer is a member of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team
To the editor: In response to a recent letter about Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to put “peaker” plants in the past, it’s not surprising to see a restating of the false choices frequently proposed by the fossil fuel industry (“Letter: Environmental group misguided to target Berkshire ‘peaker’ plants,” Eagle, March 26).
It’s true that the sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow, as renewable energy detractors like to point out. And while it’s true that emissions from burning natural gas are roughly two-thirds that of oil or half that of coal, the truth is also that burning gas still creates dangerous fine particulate emissions as well as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. For the five percent of the time that the Pittsfield generating plant actually runs, it generates 15 percent of Pittsfield’s total annual stationary emissions.
One of the other fallacies in the author’s statement is that renewable energy would require cutting trees. I’m not sure if his reference was to biomass, which is not renewable in any realistic time scale and produces emissions roughly equivalent to coal, or if his assumption is that the only place to put solar panels is in the middle of forested land. BEAT does not support either of those options.
Understanding why fossil fuel peaker plants are no longer a valid option in the face of climate change requires consideration of modern options. Deployment of our state’s aggressive energy efficiency programs and other peak shaving options like demand response programs have already sharply reduced peak demand events on our region’s power grid and saved program participants significant sums in reduced energy costs.
When the wind blows and sun is shining, energy can be stored in grid-scale battery installations. It can also be stored in individual buildings like schools, town offices and other key municipal locations, commercial and industrial locations, multi-unit rental properties and even individual homes. This not only allows renewables to be installed on rooftops and over already disturbed grounds like parking areas, as they should be, but allows for thousands of “virtual power plants” to supply energy during peak demand, outages or whenever customers prefer to not draw power from the grid.
Mass Save’s Connected Solutions program allows for battery storage installations to be used in all these ways, and allows customers to combine financial incentives, shortening a payback period to a matter of years rather than a decade or more. Please visit tinyurl.com/putpeakersinthepast to learn more.
» Read article
» More about peaker plants
Gas industry says new rules not needed
By Christian M. Wade, Eagle Tribune
April 8, 2021
*Photo from September 14, 2018 New York Times article on the Merrimack Valley gas disaster caused by shoddy work and lax engineering oversight.
BOSTON — A gas industry official told regulators Thursday that proposed rules requiring a professional engineer’s approval of certain projects may be unnecessary because gas companies already follow heightened standards.
State regulators are hammering out rules that mandate an engineer’s stamp on plans for “complex” projects that could pose a risk to public safety. The new rules stem from a 2018 law passed in response to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.
The state Department of Public Utilities, which is drafting the rules, held an online hearing Thursday where an industry representative said utilities have since adopted guidelines, known as Pipeline Safety Management Systems, that make the new regulations unneeded.
Jose Costa, vice president of operations service at the Northeast Gas Association, said those guidelines include an engineering requirement that “provides another layer of protection that was not in place prior to 2018.”
“Some of the proposed prescriptive requirements in this rule-making are already being addressed through other methods and programs,” he told the panel.
Utilities, including National Grid and Eversource, have complained that the proposed regulations will be too costly, and that they are unnecessary.
Utilities have lobbied to limit the kinds of projects that must get an engineer’s sign-off, and submitted a litany of proposed changes to the rules ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
Brendan Vaughn, an attorney representing the utilities, made no mention of those requests Thursday but told regulators his clients “look forward to working with them.”
Meanwhile, an engineering group cautioned against excluding certain types of gas projects from review.
“While there may be instances in which a licensed engineer is not needed, I urge caution in defining those instances too broadly,” Anthony Morreale, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, wrote to regulators.
Gas industry officials have also raised concerns about a shortage of engineers who specialize in utility work, warning that delays could result.
But Morreale noted more than 15,000 licensed professional engineers are working in Massachusetts.
“I respectfully suggest that decisions about public safety should not be made based on the purported availability or not of personnel, but rather that companies tasked with upholding public safety adjust recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are appropriately staffed,” Morreale wrote in an April 1 letter.
» Read article
» More about gas utilities
» More about the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Exclusive: 2020’s Hurricane Zeta Nearly Caused ‘Another Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe’ in Gulf of Mexico
The near-miss raises questions of corporate management in a battered oil industry, how drillers will handle increasingly volatile hurricanes, and federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry nearly 11 years after the Gulf of Mexico was coated in oil.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
April 5, 2021
It was Thursday, October 22, 2020, when the crew aboard the Transocean Deepwater Asgard, an ultra-deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico, started monitoring a weather disturbance in the nearby Caribbean Sea that bore the tell-tale signs of a forming hurricane.
But the Asgard, which was drilling an oil well in the waters about 225 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had other pressing matters to deal with. That same day, the oil well it was drilling more than a mile below the water’s surface experienced a kick — an eruption of oil, gas, or other fluids from deep underground up the drill pipe. If not properly controlled, this type of incident can sometimes lead to a blowout.
Kicks aren’t necessarily all that uncommon during offshore drilling. What happened over the following week, however, not only left the crew of the Asgard in deadly peril and caused over $5 million in damages to the ship and its equipment, but also, according to experts, risked an oil spill potentially several times the size of the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.
Events out to sea on the Asgard received little or no media attention at the time. An investigation by DeSmog reveals how close the Gulf Coast may have been to a major oil industry disaster this past fall.
“This could easily have become another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former professor at the University of Alaska whose background includes advising on the response to that spill, the Exxon Valdez, and many others worldwide. “Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland should order a comprehensive independent inquiry into the Deepwater Asgard incident, the failures leading up to it, and what needs to be done to prevent another such near casualty in the future.”
» Blog editor’s note: this article is a gripping and unsettling account of what’s happening out there in the world of deep water drilling.
» Read article
Analysis: Fossil Fuel Tax Programs to Cut Emissions Lead to Lots of Industry Profit, Little Climate Action
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
April 4, 2021
The fossil fuel industry and its investors have financially benefited from tax policies and subsidies designed to reduce the emissions from oil, gas, and coal — sometimes without taking the action required to tackle climate change.
Recently, claims have been surfacing of companies taking the taxpayer money offered to incentivize these actions but not following through on reducing their emissions. In March, for example, Reuters reported that Congress has opened an investigation into problems with the government’s “clean coal” tax credit. This is after Reuters revealed that financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, were making huge profits off the program, despite it not effectively reducing emissions.
Now, companies such as ExxonMobil are lobbying against transparency efforts when it comes to reporting their emissions for an existing carbon capture tax credit.
And the industry is also increasingly calling for a national carbon tax to be introduced. In March, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it supports efforts to put a price on carbon — this is a reversal from its position a decade ago when it was opposed to a bill that would have introduced a cap and trade program to limit carbon emissions.
Introducing a carbon tax would allow polluters to continue to produce carbon, they would just have to pay a price to do so.
These market-based approaches to limiting climate emissions, however, raise concerns about their overall effectiveness. They provide an opportunity for companies to reap the financial benefits of climate action without actually delivering the emission reductions. This makes them incredibly popular with the fossil fuel industry.
“It’s naive of us to think that all of a sudden the oil and gas industry is going to put forward policies that are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst for environmental NGO Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog.
» Read article
NAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 2, 2021
The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.
That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.
This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.
Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gas maintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”
Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”
Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACP itself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report.
Fossil fuel companies and their allies also try to shift blame onto the very communities affected by pollution to distract from the impact of industry operations, the NAACP found.
» Read article
» Read the NAACP report
» More about fossil fuels
PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, New York Times | Opinion
April 5, 2021
The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.
Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.
And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.
In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.
The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.
These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
» Read article
» More about plastics in the environment
» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!