Tag Archives: Standing Rock

Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

We lead off this week with the story of young climate activists taking a page from the abolitionist playbook, when anti-slavery actions included waking politicians up in the middle of the night in hopes of also waking them up to the important issue at hand. Grab a nice big pan and a stout wooden spoon and set your alarm – there’s plenty of work to be done!

The Dakota Access Pipeline seems to run through dueling realities. In one, it just received a permit to double its flow. In a second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed another injunction in Federal District Court to have it shut down altogether, citing the grave threat it poses to the Tribe’s critical water supply. The strangeness of that situation creates a good segue into the topic of virtual pipelines, especially now that the Trump administration is approving new rules for hauling liquefied natural gas by rail. If oil-carrying trains are bombs, then LNG trains are nukes. 

A new study in the journal Science concludes that the planet could retool its economies to fully comply with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 1.5 degree C of warming by spending just 10% of what Covid-19 has cost the global economy. That moves the concept of greening the economy from being a good idea, to also seeming like quite a bargain. And the climate keeps sending signals that we’re running out of time to make this transition, even as far too many political leaders remain in denial about the crisis.

In our good news section, we look at the clean energy impact of virtual power plants, tidal power, and floating offshore wind turbines. For a real lift, check out the work of BlocPower, a group bringing zero emissions energy efficiency retrofits to mid-sized buildings. Our featured article is an NPR report, and includes a link to the audio content – worth hearing simply to soak up some of CEO Donnel Baird’s immense optimism.

Green Mountain Power’s pilot distributed energy storage program – subsidizing a network of thousands of Tesla Powerwall batteries in people’s homes – has been a huge success. Declared a decisive win for both homeowners and the utility, the program will continue to expand. There’s also encouraging news in clean transportation, as the twelve states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) are hearing from environmental justice advocates demanding less polluting and more accessible public transportation as priority concerns.

What we call the regional energy chess game currently includes a move by New England governors to assert more control over their grid operator ISO-NE. This is prompted by dissatisfaction with the pace of renewable energy integration and rate structures that continue to promote fossil fuel.

Our coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency (coal ash ponds) and fossil fuel industry (Texas, in general) both highlight regulatory agencies failing to function in the public interest.

A proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the Gibbstown Logistics Center on the Delaware River is raising concern for its unconventional and risky siting and supply chain plans – including bringing LNG by rail from sources in the Marcellus shale play. See virtual pipelines, above.

The Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the proposed biomass incinerator in Springfield. It’s a must-read and represents an issue well worth contacting state legislators about.

We close with the good news that New York’s plastic bag ban, after weathering industry-supported lawsuits and a brief pandemic-related freakout, is now in effect.

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

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

wake up
‘We don’t have any choice’: the young climate activists naming and shaming US politicians
As the election nears, young Americans are calling on US politicians to take action on climate, police brutality and immigration
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
October 16, 2020

It was a Saturday night in September when 160 or so middle and high school students logged on to a Zoom call about how to confront American politicians using tactics inspired by young civil rights activists fighting for the abolition of slavery.

The teenagers were online with the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide youth-led climate justice collective, to learn about organizing Wide Awake actions – noisy night-time protests – to force lawmakers accused of ignoring the climate emergency and racial injustice to listen to their demands.

It’s a civil disobedience tactic devised by the Wide Awakes – a radical youth abolitionist organization who confronted anti-abolitionists at night by banging pots and pans outside their homes in the run-up to the civil war.

Now, in the run-up to one of the most momentous elections in modern history, a new generation of young Americans who say they are tired of asking nicely and being ignored, are naming and shaming US politicians in an effort to get their concerns about the planet, police brutality, inequalities and immigration heard.

The first one targeted the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell after details emerged about the police killing of Breonna Taylor. In the days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sunrise activists woke up key Republican senators including McConnell and Lindsey Graham, demanding that they delay the vote on Trump’s supreme court nominee until a new president is sworn in.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can show up on the streets and wake up politicians. It’s our future on the line not theirs,” said 17-year-old Abby DiNardo, a senior from Delaware county. The high school senior recently coordinated a Wide Awake action outside the home of the Republican senator Pat Toomey, a former Wall Street banker who has repeatedly voted against climate action measures.
» Read article           

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

new DAPL injunction
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Files Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline
By Native News Online
October 22, 2020

A request for injunction was filed in Federal District Court of the District of Columbia last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as an effort to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline.

The brief was filed to have U.S. District Judge James Boasberg clarify his ruling from July 6 that ordered Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, to shut down the flow of oil on Aug. 6. That ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

“The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote in a Friday filing.
» Read article          
» Read the brief          

double DAPL
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle To Doubling Capacity
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 16, 2020

Illinois approved this week the plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline to double its capacity from 570,000 bpd to 1.1 million bpd, thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion.

Dakota Access, which has seen a lot of controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017, now has the approval of all four states through which it passes—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—to expand its capacity.

While the approval of the Illinois Commerce Commission is seen as a win for the oil industry, the pipeline’s operator Energy Transfer, and the North Dakota oil producers, environmentalists see the expansion of the pipeline – whose operation they still oppose – as unnecessary with the decreased oil demand in the coronavirus pandemic.

“This vital project will bring an additional half a million barrels a day of domestic energy from North Dakota that will be used to fuel our farms, communities and lives in Illinois and across the Midwest. It’s critical we continue to support and expand our nation’s pipeline infrastructure like DAPL to help family budgets and keep our economy moving – especially in this time of recovery from COVID-19,” Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) Midwest Director Chris Ventura said in a statement, welcoming the decision.

“It’s wildly inappropriate to be talking about expansion when the real conversation is about shutting it down,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney for EarthJustice who represents the Standing Rock Tribe against DAPL in the federal lawsuit, told Grand Forks Herald.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

Cleveland LNG disaster
What You Should Know About Liquefied Natural Gas and Rail Cars
Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars. The Trump administration is attempting to change that.
By EarthJustice
August 18, 2020

The explosion risk of transporting volatile liquefied natural gas in vulnerable tank cars through major population centers is off the charts.

Yet the Trump administration is finalizing a rule that would allow trains to travel the country filled with an unprecedented amount of explosive liquefied natural gas. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the proposed rule.

Earthjustice has filed a legal challenge to stop these “bomb trains.”

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to carry liquefied natural gas in tank cars.

Liquefied natural gas can only be transported by ships, truck, and — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in approved United Nations portable tanks.

UN portable tanks are relatively small tanks that can be mounted on top of semi-truck trailer beds or on railcars.

By contrast, tanker rail cars can hold roughly three times the volume of the UN portable tanks.

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Covid happenedTackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
October 20, 2020

Climate deniers and opponents of aggressive climate action have long argued that governments can’t afford comprehensive measures to confront the climate crisis. The Green New Deal, for example, has been ridiculed as a “crazy, expensive mess” by the Republican Policy Committee.

But then COVID-19 challenged preconceived notions about the limits of government spending. Since August, world governments have pledged more than $12 trillion in stimulus spending to dig their way out of the coronavirus-caused economic downturn — a truly mind-boggling amount of cash that represents three times the public money spent after the Great Recession. How does that compare with the money that would be needed to fight climate change?

That’s the question behind a new paper published last week in the journal Science. According to the analysis, the money countries have put on the table to address COVID-19 far outstrips the low-carbon investments that scientists say are needed in the next five years to avoid climate catastrophe — by about an order of magnitude.

If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change and the environment at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors, said the findings illustrated a “win-win” opportunity for governments to not only address the acute impacts of the pandemic and its associated economic crisis, but to also put their economies on a more sustainable, prosperous, and resilient long-term trajectory.

“This crisis is not the only crisis looming over people’s heads,” Rogelj said, referring to the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the journal Science paper        

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

driving while dismissive
Polling Shows Growing Climate Concern Among Americans. But Outsized Influence of Deniers Remains a Roadblock
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 22, 2020

More Americans than ever before — 54 percent, recent polling data shows — are alarmed or concerned about climate change, which scientists warn is a planetary emergency unfolding in the form of searing heat, prolonged drought, massive wildfires, monstrous storms, and other extremes.

These kinds of disasters are becoming increasingly costly and impossible to ignore. Yet even as the American public becomes progressively more worried about the climate crisis, a shrinking but vocal slice of the country continues to dismiss these concerns, impeding efforts to address the monumental global challenge.

“Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which leads the “Six Americas” research, said in an email describing the updated polling numbers.

Despite this growing awareness of the climate problem among the public, Americans who fall into the Dismissive category continue to have outsized influence in the public discourse, especially on the political right.

“However, because conservative media organizations prominently feature Dismissive politicians, pundits, and industry officials, most Americans overestimate the prevalence of Dismissive beliefs among other Americans,” Leiserowitz explained by email.

The “Dismissive” viewpoint is not only overrepresented in conservative media, but it has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration and among many Republican lawmakers. It has become part of the conservative orthodoxy to question human influence on the climate and downplay the seriousness of the threat.
» Read article           

melting permafrost
New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet.’
A new study shows a few degrees of warming can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen lands, releasing huge stores of greenhouse gases and collapsing landscapes.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
October 16, 2020

A dive deep into 27,000 years worth of muck piled up on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean has spurred researchers to renew warnings about a potential surge of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost.

By tracking chemical and organic fingerprints in long-buried layers of sediments remaining from previously frozen ground, the scientists showed that ancient phases of rapid warming in the Arctic, such as occurred near the end of the last ice age, released carbon on a massive scale. Vast frozen landscapes collapsed, turned to mud and flowed into the sea, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere along the way.

The study, published today in Science Advances, shows that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough “to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing,” suggesting a “sensitive trigger” for greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost. The results also support climate models that have shown “large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere” when glaciers, and the frozen lands beneath them, melted.
» Read article          
» Read the study               

not a scientist
Amy Coney Barrett’s Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 14, 2020

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.

After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”

Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.

Whether Barrett is truly a climate science denier herself remains unclear, though the president nominating her has left no doubt about his own stance on climate change. Despite President Trump’s history of calling climate change a hoax and brushing aside the extensive scientific expertise of federal agencies on the subject, Barrett claimed she was unaware of the President’s views when Sen. Blumenthal asked point-blank whether she agreed with Trump.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change,” she said.
» Read article           

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

VPP explainedSo, What Exactly Are Virtual Power Plants?
GTM helps explain a growing grid resource that can mimic power plants without dominating the landscape.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 22, 2020

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.  

The term first started to be bandied about in the 1990s. But VPPs have really taken off in the last 10 years, not just as a concept but as something that a growing number of energy companies are creating, using and commercializing. Here’s the real deal on this virtual energy phenomenon.

According to Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, one of the pioneers of modern VPPs, it’s “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks and combined heat and power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.”

In practice, a VPP can be made up of multiple units of a single type of asset, such as a battery or a device in a demand response program, or a heterogeneous mix of assets.

These units “are dispatched through the central control room of the virtual power plant but nonetheless remain independent in their operation and ownership,” adds Next Kraftwerke.

In other words, a VPP is to a traditional power plant what a bunch of Internet-connected desktop computers is to a mainframe computer. Both can do complex computing tasks, but one makes use of the distributed IT infrastructure that’s already out there. 

A key feature of VPPs is that they can aggregate flexible capacity to address peaks in electricity demand. In this respect, they can emulate or replace natural gas-fired peakers and help address distribution network bottlenecks—but usually without the same capital outlay.
» Read article          

NY tidal power
New York City Is About to Get an Injection of Tidal Power. Is This Time Different?
A tidal energy startup plans to install a small generator in New York’s East River over the coming weeks.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 20, 2020

New York City may be weeks away from seeing tidal power injected onto its local grid.

Verdant Power, a 20-year-old tidal energy startup, plans to install a half-scale generator in the East River tidal strait this autumn, adding a small but novel source of generation for a city hungry for renewable energy but with limited means to generate it locally. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) installation will feature three underwater 35-kilowatt turbines on a single triangular base called a TriFrame.

The RITE project may have bigger implications than the Big Apple’s renewables goals. 

If the RITE generator is successful, Verdant hopes to get its technology certified by the European Marine Energy Centre, the world’s leading tidal testing facility. Subject to certification, the startup then plans to deploy two full-size arrays, equipped with 10-meter-diameter blades instead of the current 5-meter models, off the coast of Wales, U.K., by sometime in 2023, in what it hopes will be the first step in the development of a 30-megawatt tidal farm.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Verdant hopes the RITE project could form the basis for a half-scale tidal demonstration center in the East River. For nearly a decade, the New York-based startup has held a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to install up to a megawatt of tidal power in New York City, enough for thirty of its 35 kW turbines mounted on ten TriFrames.

Still, the path toward bigger tidal arrays, and even more demonstration projects, looks challenging.
» Read article           

floating offshore wind explained
So, What Exactly Is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating wind turbines atop the ocean could be the next big renewables market. GTM helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
October 19, 2020

Onshore wind turbines can be found everywhere from the tropics to the Arctic. Three decades ago, developers started putting them on fixed foundations out at sea, sparking the rise of the offshore wind market, which built 6.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2019.

More recently, the wind industry embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor: putting turbines on floating platforms in the water, rather than fixed foundations. Now on the verge of commercial maturity, floating wind has the potential to become one of the most important new renewable energy markets.

So, what is floating offshore wind?

It’s pretty much as it sounds. Instead of putting a wind turbine on a fixed foundation in the sea, you attach it to a structure that floats in the water. The structure is tethered to the seabed to stop it from drifting off into a beach or shipping lane.

Today’s floating wind designs envision using standard offshore turbines, export cables and balance of plant. The key difference between floating and fixed-foundation offshore wind is that the latter is limited to water depths of up to around 165 feet.
» Read article           

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Donnel Baird
Fighting Climate Change, One Building At A Time
By Dan Charles, NPR
October 18, 2020

When Donnel Baird was in his twenties, he had twin passions, and he didn’t want to choose between them. “I vowed that I was going to try to combine my passion for Black civil rights with trying to do something about climate change,” he says.

He’s doing it now, with a company that he founded called BlocPower. He’s attacking one of the seemingly intractable sources of America’s greenhouse emissions: old residential buildings. And he’s focusing on neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of money to invest.

Baird wants to show me how it’s done. So we meet in New York City, in front of a classic Brooklyn brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood. “It’s still largely African American, West Indian,” Baird says of the building’s residents.

The building is four stories tall, with two apartments on each floor. It’s a cooperative that’s legally designated as affordable housing. BlocPower looked at this building and saw a business opportunity.

“We thought that they were wasting a lot of money paying for natural gas, which whey were using for heating; also to heat their hot water,” he says.

Baird’s company went to the people who live here, the coop owners, with a proposal. BlocPower offered to manage the building’s heating and cooling. The company would install new equipment, and put solar panels on the roof. “Solar panels aren’t just for rich people, or for White people. They’re for everybody,” Baird says.

The best part: The residents wouldn’t have to pay anything up-front. In fact, BlocPower promised that their bills would go down. And they’d be helping the planet, with lower greenhouse emissions.

Shaughn Dolcy, who lives in this building, was sold. “It’s the only way to go,” he says. “There’s no other way.” He says most of his neighbors liked it, too. “I would say 90 percent” of them, he says. “You maybe had, like, one particular family, they weren’t really interested in getting anything progressive or new. They were on-board at the end of the day, though.”

So BlocPower went to work. The company tore out the gas-burning boiler in the basement and installed a set of efficient electric-powered heat pumps instead. Heat pumps capture heat and move it from one space to another, in either direction: during winter they heat a home, and in summer they cool it. BlocPower put up the solar panels, elevated high enough that people still can gather for parties underneath them.

“The result is, they save tens of thousands of dollars a year on their energy costs,” Baird says. Yet they’re still paying enough that BlocPower can earn back its investment. The new equipment saves that much money.
» Read article          

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

performance confirmedFrom Pilot to Permanent: Green Mountain Power’s Home Battery Network Is Here to Stay
The Vermont utility now controls several thousand Tesla Powerwall batteries sited in customers’ homes. The results have been promising.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
October 16, 2020

Utility pilot projects aren’t famous for being standout financial successes. Usually, the goal is to verify a technology in the field before attempting broader deployment. Sometimes nothing follows the pilot.

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power not only verified the efficacy of residential batteries for meeting grid needs, but it also saved its customers millions of dollars with them. Now, that program has been ratified by the state’s Public Utility Commission as a permanent residential storage tariff, which means battery installations — and utility savings — will continue to rise.

At a time when forward-thinking companies are excited to erect networks of distributed batteries at some point in the next few years, Green Mountain Power represents something of an anomaly. It already has not several hundred, but 2,567 utility-controlled Powerwall batteries sitting in customer homes, adding up to around 13 megawatts.

“These things are functioning exactly as or better than we hoped,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP vice president and chief innovation officer. “You’ve got an asset that’s improving reliability for the customer, paying for itself and providing a financial benefit for all of our customers.”
» Read article           

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

TCI and social justiceJustice advocates keep pressure on transportation emission pact planners
Transportation and Climate Initiative organizers recently held a webinar to discuss concerns around equity and environmental justice.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By barnimages / Flickr / Creative Commons
October 15, 2020

As organizers of a regional transportation emissions pact discuss how to make sure the initiative benefits everyone, environmental justice activists say they need to involve more people of color in the process.

“Anywhere I go, the conversation around [the Transportation and Climate Initiative] is dominated by white people,” said Joshua Malloy, a community organizer with Pittsburgh for Public Transit. “There has to be a way to make this more accessible that I’ve not seen.”

Founded in 2010, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, is a collaboration of 12 states and the District of Columbia working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources. Nearly two years ago, nine of the states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — along with Washington, D.C., announced plans to create a market-based system to reduce these emissions.

Since the beginning of the process, environmental justice activists have pushed for the needs of low-income, immigrant, and other marginalized communities to be a central focus of the program. Air pollution is often higher in low-income communities and in areas with high populations of people of color. Industrial developments are also more likely to be located in these neighborhoods than in wealthier areas that have the resources to mount organized opposition. 

Organizers of the initiative have also expressed support for the goal of equity, and late last month held a webinar to share the progress they have made toward designing a system that will benefit all communities and underscore why such efforts are needed.
» Read article           

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

NESCOE calls for change
New England states call for changes to wholesale markets, transmission planning and grid governance
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
October 19, 2020

[New England States Committee on Electricity] NESCOE’s call for reform of the ISO-NE market is the latest example of how some states are pushing back on federally-regulated markets they say ignore renewable energy and decarbonization goals.

The region’s wholesale markets “fail to sufficiently value the legally-required clean energy investments made by the ratepayers they serve,” according to the NESCOE vision statement.

Some states say their preferred resource mix and renewables goals are being undermined in regional markets overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They say the commission’s rulings have negated the impact of their support for green energy in favor of keeping fossil fuel generators competitive.
» Read article           

NE power play
N.E. governors seek bigger say in power policies

Seek greater role in oversight of grid operator
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
October 16, 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and four other New England governors made a push on Friday for a much bigger say in the way the region’s electricity markets are regulated and governed, although the vision statement they issued steered clear of the top recommendation put forth by the region’s power grid operator – a carbon tax.

The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont are concerned that the long-term electricity contracts their states are negotiating with offshore wind operators and the province of Quebec are not being absorbed into the existing wholesale markets for electricity. As a result, the vision statement says, the direct purchases of electricity by states and the production of electricity through wholesale markets are working at cross-purposes and may result in ratepayers paying for the production of power they don’t need.

The vision statement reflects a growing recognition that much larger amounts of electricity will need to be produced to decarbonize the transportation and other sectors of the economy. The vision statement calls for a reimagining of the region’s wholesale electricity markets; the development of a grid that relies less on big power plants and more on local wind, solar, and battery projects; and a new governance structure for the regional grid operator.

One area the mission statement does not explore is the recommendation by the grid operator, ISO New England, that the best way to make wholesale electricity markets work effectively is to impose a carbon tax that would nudge the market in the direction of cleaner forms of energy.
» Read article          
» Read the vision statement          

Eversource strategy chief sees role for green hydrogen, geothermal in Northeast
By Tom DiChristopher, S&P Global
October 16, 2020

Decarbonizing New England’s natural gas grid will require a portfolio of solutions that likely includes green hydrogen and geothermal energy rather than systemwide electrification, according to Roger Kranenburg, vice president for energy strategy and policy at Eversource Energy.

Kranenburg sees electrification of heating playing some role in achieving Massachusetts’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, Kranenburg sees Eversource evolving into a “regional energy company” that delivers a range of low-carbon energy to end users, and the right solution might not always be electrification.

“We feel that if you push folks too much artificially towards electrifying heat, you will actually get a lot of backlash and it can undo what we all agree is the end objective, which is to decarbonize the economy,” Kranenburg said during an Oct. 15 webinar hosted by the U.S. Association for Energy Economics’ National Capital Area Chapter. “Instead of thinking of it as systemwide, let’s look at what the customer characteristic and needs are. … Let’s look at it that way, and you’ll come up with a portfolio solution to provide that service.”

With the exception of California, the Boston area has emerged as the most active beachhead in the movement to adopt ordinances that require electric heating in new construction. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the region’s first gas ban in July, but lawmakers in several communities have resolved to pursue building electrification.
» Read article          
» Read report from National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues
Report by M. W. Melaina, O. Antonia, and M. Penev, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), March, 2013

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

coal ash ponds
EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds
By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill
October 16, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.  

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.
» Read article           

EPA coal ash pone rule
EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer
By TRAVIS LOLLER, AP
October 16, 2020

The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Texas regulators failingTexas Regulators Failing to Act on Pollution Complaints in Permian Oilfields, New Report Finds
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 21, 2020

Over the past five years, environmental advocates with the nonprofit Earthworks have made trips to 298 oil and gas wells, compressor stations, and processing plants across the Permian Basin in Texas, an oil patch which last year hit record-high methane pollution levels for the U.S. During those trips, Earthworks found and documented emissions from the oil industry’s equipment, and on 141 separate occasions, they reported what they found to the state’s environmental regulators.

However, in response to those 141 complaints, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) took action to reduce pollution — by, for example, issuing a violation to the company responsible — just 17 times, according to a new report published today by Earthworks, which describes a pattern in which Texas regulators failed to address oilfield pollution problems, allowing leaks to continue in some cases for months.

TCEQ took “other” regulatory action, which the report said might be contacting the company operating the site or sending out an inspector, in response to 60 complaints, but in many cases Earthworks said TCEQ’s response came weeks or months after the report was filed.

In 22 cases, TCEQ closed the complaint but took no action at all, the report says. And 42 of the nonprofit’s pollution complaints remain open.

“It’s not surprising to Texans that state law favors the oil and gas industry,” said Sharon Wilson, an Earthworks thermographer and Texas coordinator who filed the complaints described by the report. “What should be a surprise is that Texas regulators charged with protecting the public often can’t be bothered to enforce what laws do exist.”
» Read article          
» Read the Earthworks report            

» More about fossil fuels            

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Gibbstown LNG
Controversy Mounts Over Proposed LNG Export Facility on the Delaware River
By Yale Environment 360
October 22, 2020

A plan to build a major liquefied natural gas export facility in southern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is being met with increasing scrutiny and opposition from environmentalists and nearby communities. The $450 million project would send liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region to ports in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Europe.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an interstate agency that regulates river development, originally approved the project — an expansion of the Gibbstown Logistics Center — in June 2019, but the decision was appealed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, delaying the project. In September, the DRBC voted to delay the final permitting. A final decision on the facility, which has also received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is expected by year’s end.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the project’s supply chain and location are unusual. Most export facilities are located near deepwater ports, and fuel is loaded directly from an LNG plant onto vessels. But the proposed Gibbstown expansion requires dredging the Delaware River to make it deeper and building a second dock. The natural gas will also be transported hundreds of miles on trains and trucks to the facility from the Marcellus Shale region. According to a permit application, New Fortress Energy, one of the developers of the project, said it expects the facility will receive natural gas from several 100-car trains or up to 700 tractor trailers every day.

“We look at every part of the supply chain that this project entails, and we consider every single step of it to be dangerous and untested,” Delaware Riverkeeper Network Deputy Director Tracy Carluccio told FreightWaves, an industry news site.

More than a dozen environmental groups have joined the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club in opposing the Gibbstown export facility.

In addition to fighting the approval of the Gibbstown export facility, environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against a new rule approved by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allowing for the transit of liquefied natural gas by rail.
» Read article           

» More about LNG        

 

BIOMASS

Springfield biomass plant resistance
In the nation’s asthma capital, plans to burn wood for energy spark fury
By David Abel, Boston Globe
October 20, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — For more than a decade, Amy Buchanan has lived in a small house in an industrial section of the state’s third-largest city, where a pall of pungent air hangs over the neighborhood and heavy trucks spew diesel fumes on their way to a nearby paving company.

Like many of her neighbors in what last year ranked as the nation’s asthma capital, Buchanan has the respiratory disease, while her husband and sister suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, they worry their neighborhood could soon become home to the state’s largest commercial biomass power plant, one expected to burn nearly a ton of wood an hour and emit large amounts of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

Plans to build a 42-megawatt incinerator have been in the works for more than a decade. In an interview with The Boston Globe last year, Victor Gatto Jr., Palmer’s founder, said the company had already broken ground on the project, which he estimated would cost about $150 million.

“The plant will be built,” he said.

Despite local protests and opposition from nearly all city councilors, the plant’s prospects were given a boost when the Baker administration last year proposed to alter rules that designate woody biomass as a form of renewable energy. The draft rules would make developers eligible for valuable financial incentives, potentially saving Palmer millions of dollars a year.

The revised rules, which are still being vetted by state regulators, are supported by the logging industry that seeks to promote woody biomass, a fuel derived from wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.

Environmental advocates oppose the rule changes, saying they would increase carbon emissions, create more pollution in the form of soot, and lead to greater deforestation. Trees and plants grow by absorbing carbon dioxide; when they’re burned, they release the heat-trapping gas back into the atmosphere.

Opponents note that a state-commissioned study in 2010 by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that biomass — which accounts for about 1.5 percent of the state’s carbon emissions — “generally emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels per unit of energy produced.” The study also found that large biomass plants are likely to produce greater emissions than coal and natural gas plants, even after they’ve been in operation for decades.

The administration’s push to promote biomass was criticized by Attorney General Maura Healey, who called financial incentives to burn wood for energy a “step backward” in addressing climate change.

In comments submitted to the state, she said the draft rules “raise significant concerns about the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions . . . and may undermine the commonwealth’s nation-leading efforts to address climate change.”

In Springfield, opponents’ concerns about the biomass plant go beyond greenhouse gases. The soot from burning wood, in addition to asthma, has been linked to heart and other lung diseases.
» Read article          

» More about biomass           

 

PLASTICS BANS

NY ban starts nowNew York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
October 19, 2020

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

“New York’s bag ban has already improved New York’s health by cutting down on plastic pollution,” Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. “We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law.”

The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.

The law offers exceptions for takeout orders and bags used to wrap meat or prepared food, according to NBC4 New York. Families who use food stamps will also not have to pay the fee for paper bags.
» Read article           

» More about plastics bans            

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Weekly News Check-In 8/7/20

banner 07

Welcome back.

We’re covering a lot of ground, beginning with last week’s announcement that Liberty Utilities has cancelled the controversial Granite Bridge Pipeline project. While the utility’s move allows a continued increase of its natural gas footprint in New Hampshire, the very good news is they’ll proceed without a massive new infrastructure buildout. In other pipeline news, an appeals court decided to allow continued oil flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will continue its opposition in defense of its vulnerable water resources.

Another notable protest action is underway in Alvin, a small rural California community at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley. Already burdened with heavy pollution loads from agriculture and oil extraction, the mostly low-income, Latino residents have joined with other communities to demand reasonable setbacks between populated areas and new drilling rigs – and the pollution that comes from them.

Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the related economic crash, and the urgency to address climate change, financial managers are “having a moment”. Divesting from fossil fuels is an easy call considering the sector’s uncanny ability to destroy capital – but what next? We found a report describing how a major investor group is thinking strategically about investments to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

The urgency for climate action continues to be underscored by new research. One study finds that global heat-related mortality may eventually equal deaths from all infectious diseases combined. Another study warns that whatever emissions levels we achieve, we should expect real-world climate response to be on the hot side (worst case) of what models predict for those levels.

Better buildings will be a major factor in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. We found two articles on efforts in the northeast to meet the challenge by improving affordable housing. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has taken a legislative step forward in clean energy and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, while also moving to reduce power plant emissions during peak demand hours. All of which will benefit from continued innovations in energy storage technology.

We spotted a flashing yellow hazard light on the clean transportation speedway, related to the coming huge demand increase for electric vehicle battery materials like lithium and cobalt. We’re seeing a lot of interest in developing deep-sea mining – a new frontier with potentially catastrophic environmental consequences. The European Parliament and at least 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining to allow for the study of potential impacts along with management and mitigation methods.

For our friends in Ohio who may be wondering why their state recently gutted its renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives while simultaneously bailing out several coal and nuclear companies, we found a story that explains the whole sordid affair. It’s one of the worst utility scandals in the country.

While the fossil fuel industry continues to accumulate lawsuits, we see growing recognition among some of the major players that significant portions of their reserves – a primary basis for market valuation – are worthless in the sense that they can never be extracted, sold, and burned. BP leads the pack, along with some of the other European majors – but even Exxon recently admitted that 20% of global oil and gas reserves should be written off. We humbly suggest that number might be on the low side.

Liquefied natural gas is having its own troubles. Once considered a safe investment, the future is looking considerably less certain. In the last six years, 61% of LNG export terminal projects have failed. While many of those failures predated the current pandemic-related demand crash, the future outlook isn’t improving.

The myth of woody biomass as a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel recently collided with the notoriously clear-eyed analytical thinking of the Dutch. According to a new policy, The Netherlands recognizes that biomass is an indispensable resource in the circular economy, and burning it is “wasteful”. Accordingly, they will rapidly phase out the use of biomass-to-energy plants. The rest of the European Union should follow their lead.

We finish with a story highlighting the challenges associated with recycling plastics, and the lure of the easy fix. While there are still no good solutions to the plastic waste problem, there are definitely bad ones masquerading as “recycling”.

— The NFGiM Team

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

stop the pipeline and tank
Liberty Utilities nixes Granite Bridge Route 101 pipeline project
By Alex LaCasse, Seacoast Online
July 31, 2020

The utility proposing to construct the controversial Granite Bridge pipeline along Route 101 between Manchester and Exeter is abandoning the project after seeking an alternative plan.

Liberty Utilities filed notice with state Public Utilities Commission Friday afternoon it now intends to enter agreement with the owner of the Concord Lateral pipeline to carry natural gas to its customers in central New Hampshire, ending its pursuit of constructing the Granite Bridge pipeline.

“We’ve been fighting this pipeline for three years,” said Epping resident Joe Perry, who was a driving force behind a 2019 citizens petition opposing Granite Bridge. “It’s a tremendous weight off our shoulders.”
» Read article             

» More about Granite Bridge Pipeline        

OTHER PIPELINES

DAPL undead for now
Appeals Court Halts Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Order
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
August 6, 2020

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court canceled a lower court order mandating the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil while a full environmental impact statement is completed.

The shutdown order, which would have gone into effect Wednesday, marked the first time a major oil pipeline was court ordered to cease operations for environmental reasons. But while its reversal is disappointing for pipeline opponents, Wednesday’s decision was not wholly favorable for the pipeline, either. The court refused to halt the initial order for a new environmental review of the pipeline’s crossing under the Missouri River, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fears it will pollute its drinking water and sacred lands if it leaks.

“We’ve been in this legal battle for four years, and we aren’t giving up this fight,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in an Earthjustice press release. “As the environmental review process gets underway in the months ahead, we look forward to showing why the Dakota Access Pipeline is too dangerous to operate.”
» Read article             
» Read the Earthjustice press release

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Committee for a Better Arvin
Tired of Wells That Threaten Residents’ Health, a Small California Town Takes on the Oil Industry
The mostly low-income, Latino residents of Arvin have joined with other communities to demand setbacks for wells. Their slogan: “No drilling where we are living.”
By Julia Kane, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

In Arvin, a small, agricultural town at the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, pollution is a pervasive part of life. Pesticides sprayed on industrial-scale farms, fumes drifting from the region’s ubiquitous oil and gas wells, exhaust from the trucks barrelling down Interstate 5—it all gets trapped in the valley, creating a thick haze. This year the American Lung Association ranked Bakersfield, just 15 miles northwest of Arvin, as the worst metropolitan area in the U.S. in terms of annual particle pollution.

Arvin’s residents, like people in many other parts of California, are especially concerned by the oil and gas wells sprinkled throughout their community. These wells, sometimes drilled and operated in close proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and health care centers, release a toxic mix of hydrogen sulfide, benzene, xylene, hexane and formaldehyde into the air.

Studies have linked living near oil and gas extraction to a wide range of adverse health effects, including increased risk of asthma, respiratory illnesses, preterm birth, low birthweight and cancer—serious fears for the more than two million Californians who live within a quarter-mile of operational oil and gas wells.
» Read article 

» More about protests and actions      

DIVESTMENT

Moscow power plant
Investors launch climate plan to get to net zero emissions by 2050
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 5, 2020

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion on Wednesday launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds and others align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many investors have pledged high-level support to the goals of the 2015 Paris deal, but the “Net Zero Investment Framework” is the first to lay out the steps they need to take to ensure the commitment is backed up by the necessary action.

Specific targets could include increasing the percentage of assets invested in low-carbon passive indexes and ensuring the leaders of investee companies link pay to climate-related targets.

“Countries, cities and companies around the globe are committing to achieve the goal of net zero emissions and investors need to show similar leadership,” said IIGCC Chief Executive Stephanie Pfeifer

“The willingness is there, but until now the investment sector has lacked a framework enabling it to deliver on this ambition.”
» Read article

» More about divestment          

CLIMATE

cool-off
Rising temperatures will cause more deaths than all infectious diseases – study
Poorer, hotter parts of the world will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions, research finds
Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 4, 2020

The growing but largely unrecognized death toll from rising global temperatures will come close to eclipsing the current number of deaths from all the infectious diseases combined if planet-heating emissions are not constrained, a major new study has found.

Rising temperatures are set to cause particular devastation in poorer, hotter parts of the world that will struggle to adapt to unbearable conditions that will kill increasing numbers of people, the research has found.

The economic loss from the climate crisis, as well as the cost of adaptation, will be felt around the world, including in wealthy countries.

In a high-emissions scenario where little is done to curb planet-heating gases, global mortality rates will be raised by 73 deaths per 100,000 people by the end of the century. This nearly matches the current death toll from all infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.
» Read article             
» Obtain the study         

expect the worst
The Worst-Case Scenario for Global Warming Tracks Closely With Actual Emissions
With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 3, 2020

When scientists in the early 2000s developed a set of standardized scenarios to show how accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will affect the climate, they were trying to create a framework for understanding how human decisions will affect the trajectory of global warming.

The scenarios help define the possible effects on climate change—how we can limit the worst impacts by curbing greenhouse gas emissions quickly, or suffer the horrific outcome of unchecked fossil fuel burning.

The scientists probably didn’t think their work would trigger a sometimes polarized discussion in their ranks about the language of climate science, but that’s exactly what happened, and for the last several months, the debate has intensified. Some scientists say the worst-case, high emissions scenario isn’t likely because it overestimates the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the next few decades.

But a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the high-end projection for greenhouse gas concentrations is still the most realistic for planning purposes through at least 2050, because it comes closest to capturing the effects “of both historical emissions and anticipated outcomes of current global climate policies, tracking within 1 percent of actual emissions.”
» Read article
» Read the PNAS report

» More about climate     

BETTER BUILDINGS

NY home improvement plan
New York is spending $1 billion to help residents conserve energy — and lower their bills
By Angely Mercado, Grist
August 4, 2020

As summer heat waves converge with a surging pandemic and an impending economic collapse, energy-efficient homes are becoming particularly critical to Americans’ well-being. Millions now face tough choices when it comes to energy usage: The longer they stay home to stay safe from both scorching heat and COVID-19, the higher their utility bills climb.

New York’s state government, for its part, is eyeing a long-term solution to this conundrum. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with the region’s investor-owned utilities to provide clean and energy-efficient solutions to more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households throughout the state.

The collaboration aims to more than double the number of lower-income households that have access to services like voluntary electric load reduction, as well as better insulation and air sealing for more efficient cooling and heating, according to an announcement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last week. The initiative will also provide education and community support programs to connect these upgrades to the households most in need.
» Read article

triple-decker design challenge
Getting rid of fossil fuels in buildings
Passive house building too cost effective to resist
By Joan Fitzgerald, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 2, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey recently ruled that Brookline’s clean energy bylaw prohibiting installation of oil and gas lines in new and substantially renovated buildings violates state law. It’s true—state preemption law does not allow cities and towns to pass energy requirements stronger than the state’s code. But cities and towns still have substantial leverage. While we work on changing state law, we have other means to get rid of fossil fuels in buildings.

For example, the passive house building standard, promoted by the Commonwealth’s own three-year energy efficiency plan, released in October 2018, is one key element. The plan includes tax incentives and subsidies for developers for both market-rate and low-income housing. Even if energy codes are unchanged, this technology is becoming too cost-effective to resist.

A passive-house building is designed to keep heat in, using super-insulation, triple-pane windows, and similar measures. It consumes about 90 percent less energy for heating and 60 percent less energy overall than a typical building and usually does not require active heating and cooling systems. The buildings also use air exchangers that use the heat produced from lighting, cooking, and other sources to warm incoming cold air.

Dozens of European cities require the passive-house standard for some new construction—particularly in Germany, where it was developed. The passive-house standard is technologically and economically feasible for both new construction and retrofitting existing buildings, even in cold climates. By definition, passive house construction can be fossil-fuel free if it uses electric heating and appliances.

It’s been slow to catch on in the US, but Massachusetts is poised to become a leader—and gearing it to low-income housing. In 2017, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state economic development agency accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector, launched the Passive House Design Challenge to demonstrate that the standard can be employed at little extra cost. In 2019, the Clean Energy Center funded eight projects to the tune of $1.73 million that will build 540 units of affordable passive housing.

Joan Fitzgerald is a professor in the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Her latest book, Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Change, was published by Oxford University Press in March.
» Read article

» More about better buildings      

CLEAN ENERGY

fundamentally flawed
Massachusetts set to pass landmark clean energy law to reach net-zero by 2050
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News, in Energy News Network
August 6, 2020

Massachusetts is expected to pass clean energy and climate legislation in the coming months that would require the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, dividing conservative groups and environmentalists in atypical ways.

The state House and Senate, which are both controlled by Democrats, have yet to agree on final language. But both chambers have passed bills backing the net-zero goal, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has declared that his administration is planning to meet it.

If enacted, the law would place Massachusetts among a handful of states requiring a carbon-neutral economy by midcentury.

One environmental group, Environment Massachusetts, has set itself apart from most clean energy organizations in the state by opposing the net-zero bills.

Instead of simply mandating emissions reductions and allowing for energy officials to regulate the technologies involved, the state should create 100% mandates for renewable power, electric cars and other zero-carbon technologies, the group has argued.

“The underlying framework of this bill is fundamentally flawed,” said Ben Hellerstein, the group’s state director, adding that it could “leave Massachusetts dependent on dirty energy for decades to come.”
» Read article

clean peak passes
Massachussets policy to decarbonise grid at times of peak demand gets underway
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 5, 2020

A “first-in-the-nation” policy called the Clean Peak Standard has been launched in Massachusetts, US, whereby a proportion of electricity used on the grid at times of highest demand must be considered ‘clean’.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s administration announced the launch yesterday of the Standard, with Baker calling it an “innovative approach to create a cleaner and more affordable energy future for residents and businesses across the Commonwealth, while serving as a national role model for making meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The plan was first introduced in 2018, as part of the administration’s Bill H4857, ‘An act to advance clean energy’.
» Read article

float a loan
Floating Offshore Wind on Cusp of Unlocking Big Source of Finance, Experts Say
Non-recourse finance is the largest source of funding for offshore wind, and lenders are becoming more comfortable with floating turbines.
By Jason Deign, GreenTech Media
August 3, 2020

A major source of finance for offshore wind projects may soon open up to the industry’s most important technological frontier: floating turbines.

Non-recourse finance, which allows lenders to be repaid from the profits of a project and have no claim over the assets of the borrower, will likely be available to upcoming floating wind projects as the market reaches an initial stage of maturity, experts say. That would help to lower the cost of projects. Non-recourse lending accounts for the majority of funding flowing to conventional European offshore wind projects today.

So far, no floating projects have secured pure non-recourse finance, “but the market is becoming ready for it,” said Clément Weber, a floating wind expert at renewable energy financial advisory firm Green Giraffe.
» Read article

» More about clean energy     

ENERGY STORAGE

Voltstorage SMART
‘World’s only’ home vanadium battery storage provider Voltstorage nets €6 million funding
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
July 31, 2020

Germany company Voltstorage, claiming to be the only developer and maker of home solar energy storage systems using vanadium flow batteries, raised €6 million (US$7.1 million) in July.

Voltstorage claims that its recyclable and non-flammable battery systems, which also enable long cycle life of charging and discharging without degradation of components or electrolyte, can become a “highly demanded ecological alternative to the lithium technology”. Its battery system, called Voltstorage SMART, was launched in 2018 and comes with 1.5kW output and 6.2kWh capacity. At the time of its launch, company founder Jakob Bitner claimed that Voltstorage had been “the first to automate the production process of redox-flow battery cells,” enabling the production of “high-quality battery cells at favourable cost”. The company also claims that around 37% less CO2 is emitted in the production of its systems versus comparable lithium-ion storage.
» Read article

» More about energy storage     

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

step away from the edge
Could Deep Sea Mining Fuel The Electric Vehicle Boom?
By MINING.com
August 3, 2020

The world is hungry for resources to power the green transition. As we increasingly look to solar, wind, geothermal and move towards decarbonization, consumption of minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper, which underpin them, is set to grow markedly.

One study by the World Bank estimates that to meet this demand, cobalt production will need to grow by 450% from 2018 to 2050, in pursuit of keeping global average temperature rises below 2°C.

The mining of any material can give rise to complex environmental and social impacts. Cobalt, however, has attracted particular attention in recent years over concerns of unsafe working conditions and labour rights abuses associated with its production.

New battery technologies are under development with reduced or zero cobalt content, but it is not yet determined how fast and by how much these technologies and circular economy innovations can decrease overall cobalt demand.

Deep-sea mining has the potential to supply cobalt and other metals free from association with such social strife, and can reduce the raw material cost and carbon footprint of much-needed green technologies.

On the other hand, concerned scientists have highlighted our limited knowledge of the deep-sea and its ecosystems. The potential impact of mining on deep-sea biodiversity, deep-sea habitats and fisheries are still being studied, and some experts have questioned the idea that environmental impacts of mining in the deep-sea can be mitigated in the same way as those on land.

In the face of this uncertainty, the European Parliament, the prime ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and more than 80 organizations have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining, until its potential impacts and their management methods are further investigated. [Emphasis added by blog editor.]
» Read article

sit in traffic
Environmental Advocates Call for Ban on SUV Ads
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
August 3, 2020

To meet its climate targets, the UK should ban advertisements for gas-guzzling SUVs, according to a report from a British think tank that wants to make SUVs the new smoking, as the BBC reported.

The UK has set the ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050, but that will be difficult to achieve if the public’s appetite for large, private cars does not subside.

The report, called Upselling Smoke, from New Weather Institute and climate charity Possible, says that SUV advertising should be compared to tobacco advertising, blaming the vehicles for creating a “more dangerous and toxic urban environment.”
» Read article             
» Read the New Weather Institute report

» More about clean transportation         

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Ohio scandal explained
The Ohio Utility Scandal, Explained
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
August 5, 2020

Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy and a political science professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, has been following utilities corruption for years. Back in 2013 Stokes started looking into what utility FirstEnergy was doing in Ohio, so when Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder was arrested last month in connection with a utility bribery scandal she knew exactly what had happened. Householder was the architect of a piece of state legislation in Ohio called HB six, which passed in July 2019. That bill essentially gutted Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency laws and incentives and bailed out several coal and nuclear companies. It turns out it was a bill that was bought and paid for by FirstEnergy.

In this Q&A with the Drilled podcast, Stokes explains the whole sordid tale.
» Read transcript or listen to podcast 

» More about electric utilities        

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Title XVII fraudEnergy Dept. Sued Over Hiding Details of Loan Guarantee for Appalachian Gas Liquids Project
DOE refuses to release documents that could shine light on how a massive petrochemical storage facility would be eligible for a nearly $2 billion loan guarantee under a clean energy program
By Food and Water Watch – press release
August 6, 2020

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today, charging the agency has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to a massive loan guarantee for a fossil fuel infrastructure project.

The controversial $1.9 billion loan guarantee was sought by the Appalachian Development Group to support its plan to build a massive ethane gas liquid ‘storage hub’ in Appalachia – a project meant to stabilize feedstock prices for future petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

The loan guarantee was sought as part of the DOE’s Title XVII program, which requires that eligible projects must meet several criteria, including a provision that facilities must “avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.” A facility that would store ethane, a plastics feedstock derived from fracked gas, in order to utilize those gas liquids in petrochemical manufacturing would plainly not qualify on those grounds.
» Read press release             
» Read the complaint

oil due for a haircut
Exxon: 20 Percent Of Global Oil And Gas Reserves May Be Wiped Out
By Julianne Geiger, oilprice.com
August 5, 2020

After a grim Q2 season for Big Oil, the world’s third-most valuable energy company is warning that 20% of the world’s oil and gas reserves may no longer be viable, according to Bloomberg.

According to Exxon Mobil, one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves will no longer qualify as “proved reserves” at the end of this year if oil prices fail to recover before then.

A flurry of oil and gas companies have written off billions in oil and gas assets as the value of those assets in the current oil price climate is no longer what it once used to be. Exxon was not among them.

Exxon is currently reviewing its oil and gas assets, the results of which should be available by November.
» Read article

BP greening-ish
BP Reports a Huge Loss and Vows to Increase Renewable Investment
The European oil giant has plans for a future with more electrical generation.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 4, 2020

BP reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday, and cut its dividend in half — the first reduction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.

But what caught the attention of analysts and, apparently, investors, was the ambitious plan that Bernard Looney, the chief executive, set out for making over the London-based oil giant into a diversified purveyor of cleaner energy within a decade. BP’s share price jumped by more than 7 percent during trading Tuesday.

On a webcast with analysts Mr. Looney described a transformation plan that Stuart Joyner, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn, said in a note to clients was “major, positive, thoughtful and largely unexpected.”
» Read article

end game for oil
We have entered the “end game” for oil — with “permanent demand destruction”
What the industry denied for years, that its assets have become liabilities, has become a reality.
By Andy Rowell, Oil Price International – blog post
Photo by Pete Markham
July 30, 2020

With many countries and regions trying to open up their economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, many in the oil industry had been hoping that as hundreds of millions of people resume as normal a life as possible, demand for oil would pick up to pre-COVID levels.

This is not going to happen. The “old normal” is not coming back. As we have been repeatedly saying for months, we are witnessing the end of the oil age. Even once great giants are now crumbling at their core.

Today, oil giant Shell, a titan of the industry, revealed a net loss of USD 18.3 billion for the second quarter of this year, down from a net profit of USD 3 billion over the same period last year. This means Shell business is down USD 20 billion from last year.

Meanwhile, another titan, French oil company Total, has announced a USD 8 billion write-down on the value of its assets, including USD 7 billion from dirty Canadian tar sands Canadian operations.

The company stated, “Total now considers oil reserves with high production costs that are to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be ‘stranded.’”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels        

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG carriers
Global LNG terminal survey casts doubt on industry as ‘safe bet’
The failure rate for proposed LNG export terminal projects between 2014 and 2020 is 61 per cent, study says
By Carl Meyer, National Observer – in Terrace Standard
July 7, 2020

A new report is raising questions about the long-term viability of the liquefied natural gas export industry around the world as the Trudeau government continues to signal support for one such project in B.C.

The natural gas industry is facing multiple headwinds, from a collapse in demand due to COVID-19 disruptions, to competition from renewable energy sources, and protests against fossil fuel expansion such as those in support of Wet’suwet’en against the Coastal GasLink pipeline through B.C.

A global survey of LNG terminals released Monday by the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor research network outlines the central risk facing the hundreds of billions of dollars in sunk investments in LNG infrastructure: That some of these structures could become underused, or stranded, long before the end of their useful lives.

“LNG was once considered a safe bet for investors,” said research analyst Greig Aitken, one of the report’s five authors. “Suddenly, the industry is beset with problems.”

[The] survey suggests that the reputation of LNG as an “environmentally benign” fuel that is less dirty than coal has been debunked by scientific studies highlighting the serious impact of methane on global warming.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas, is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Scientific studies have connected a rise in global methane levels with the fracking boom, and say this rise in atmospheric methane is undercutting efforts to hold the global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
» Read article

» More about LNG   

BIOMASS

not sustainable
The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable
The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.
By Davine Janssen’ EURACTIV.com
July 21, 2020

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.
» Read article            

» More about biomass      

PLASTICS RECYCLING

not recycling
This ‘solution’ to the plastic crisis is really just another way to burn fossil fuels
By Joseph Winters, Grist
August 3, 2020

Amid an escalating plastic pollution crisis that threatens “near permanent contamination of the natural environment,” the fossil fuel and plastics industries say they have a not-so-surprising solution: recycling.

To be more precise, they’re advocating for “chemical” or “advanced” recycling. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group whose members include ExxonMobil, Dow, and DuPont, has promoted state-level legislation to expand it nationwide. Policymakers have taken note, and bills easing regulations on chemical recycling facilities have already been passed in eight states and introduced in at least five more.

But environmental activists say the word “recycling” is misleading. Rather than repurposing used plastic into new plastic products, most processes that the industry calls “chemical recycling” involve turning plastic into oil and gas to be burned. In a new report criticizing the practice, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, GAIA, didn’t pull any punches, calling chemical recycling an “industry shell game” that keeps single-use plastics in production, contributes to climate change, and produces toxic chemicals that disproportionately harm marginalized communities.
» Read article           
» Read the GAIA report
» Read the no-burn.org legislative alert (includes legislation introduced in MA)

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 7/10/20

banner 03

Welcome back.

This week it’s possible to look toward the horizon, squint a little into just the right kind of light, and glimpse the faint contours of a sustainable future. The big news stories include the cancellation of the $8 billion, 600 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline; a federal district court order to shut down and drain the Dakota Access Pipeline pending a proper environmental review; and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to allow continued construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline pending appeal of its water crossing permit – effectively halting a project that presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to end if elected. After years of activism and litigation, the environmental community is celebrating significant progress in the fight against fossil fuel infrastructure buildout. Almost every article in this week’s News Check-In relates to this potential turning point.

Although the Trump administration continues to use the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for its rollback of climate regulations, lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel companies are proliferating worldwide. The sophistication and success of this litigation has the fossil fuel industry on the ropes, with some analysts concluding it’s no longer possible to build a major pipeline project in the United States. A recent circuit court ruling that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) does not have the authority to postpone decisions on stakeholder requests for rehearing indefinitely, reduces industry advantage even more. As utilities survey this landscape and consider infrastructure investments, they increasingly conclude that renewables are a safer bet than new pipelines and power plants.

It’s worth remembering that significant portions of the natural gas pipeline construction frenzy has been to connect fracking wells to the once-promising liquefied natural gas (LNG) export market. The controversial and highly contested Weymouth compressor station project exists for the primary purpose of pushing fracked gas from the Marcellus shale play up to Nova Scotia’s planned Goldboro LNG terminal. But the global pandemic cratered LNG prices, and the future promises lower demand and much thinner margins than previously imagined. LNG projects are being cancelled or placed on hold worldwide – and the future of Goldboro is uncertain.

So this is a good time to focus on some of the goals and challenges facing a rapid transition to clean energy. One place to start is the Climate Plan just published by the Biden-Sanders “unity task force”. It describes a vision for economic recovery that addresses both climate change and longstanding social and environmental equity issues. Electric vehicles are part of all this, and the auto industry has lately been buzzing about new “million mile” batteries. We found an article explaining that in practical terms.

After all this encouraging news, we’ll close with a cautionary tale: while the pandemic and economic downturn hurt fossil fuels, it’s been something of a gift to the related plastics industry. Lobbyists successfully pushed aside recently-imposed plastic bag bans by promoting mostly unsupported theories of the relative health safety of single-use packaging. It may take years to recover lost ground in public acceptance of reusable bags.

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

Atlantic Coast Pipeline

ACP is dead
Duke Energy, Dominion abandon the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By John Downey, Charlotte Business Journal
July 5, 2020

The $8 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dead.

Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. are canceling the project because of continuing court delays likely to drive the price tag higher. That would threaten the economic viability of the project, they say.

Bound up in the cancellation is Dominion’s decision, announced separately, to sell it gas transmission business to Berkshire Hathaway Energy for $4 billion in cash and the assumption of $5.7 billion in debt.

Duke and Dominion specifically cite the April decision by a federal judge in Montana that vacated a key water permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Known as a Nationwide Permit 12, the permission to cross water bodies and wetlands was issued under an expedited process also used to permit the ACP. A decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals at the end of May allowing the order to stand until it is heard on the merits threatened to delay the Duke and Dominion project for at least a year.
» Read article           

project is dead
Atlantic Coast Pipeline win was a hard-earned victory. Beware industry and government’s revisionist history.
By Lorne Stockman, Oil Change International
July 8, 2020

Sunday’s announcement of the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was remarkable for so many reasons. Not least that the two companies, Dominion and Duke, are the most powerful corporate entities in their respective states (Virginia and North Carolina). For these two corporate giants to back down is a rare and beautiful thing to behold.

This victory comes as an enormous relief to people all along the more than 600 miles of pipeline route through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Farmers, homeowners, small business entrepreneurs — the pipeline fighters who won this rich victory were everyday people whose lives were upended for the past six years just because Dominion and Duke came up with a nifty scheme to enrich their shareholders with guaranteed ratepayer money. Or so they’d hoped.

There is little doubt that movements for environmental and climate justice in the U.S. and Canada are turning the tide on a reckless and arrogant industry that has run roughshod over all else for too long. But public statements from the companies involved, as well as from U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, mislead the public about the demise of ACP, as well as the implications for U.S. energy supply.
» Read article           

Dakota Access Pipeline

leaving Cannonball
Judge suspends Dakota Access pipeline over environmental concerns
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
July 6, 2020

A federal judge has sided with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and ordered the Dakota Access pipeline shut down until a more extensive environmental review is done.

US district judge James Boasberg said previously the pipeline, which has been in operation three years, remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law, and a more extensive review was necessary than the environmental assessment that was done by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In a 24-page order Monday, Boasberg wrote that he was “mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause”, but said he had concluded that the pipeline must be shut down.

“Clear precedent favoring vacatur during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the 13 months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take,” Boasberg wrote.
» Read article           

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard“A Dream That Comes True”: Standing Rock Elder Hails Order to Shut Down DAPL After Years of Protest
By Democracy Now
July 07, 2020

Following years of resistance, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous organizers across the country scored a massive legal victory Monday when a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and emptied of all oil, pending an environmental review. “You ever have a dream, a dream that comes true? That is what it is,” responds LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, an elder of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and founder of Sacred Stone Camp, where resistance in 2016 brought tens of thousands of people to oppose the pipeline’s construction on sacred lands. We also speak with Ojibwe lawyer Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective.
» Watch video        

arrogance on display
Energy Transfer Launches Appeals Following Court Order to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 9, 2020

On Monday, July 6, a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) by August 5. The move follows a March judgment that ordered the pipeline to undergo a more thorough environmental review.

However, Energy Transfer, the pipeline’s parent company, later revealed that the company was continuing to offer deals to oil companies to ship their product on DAPL during times when the pipeline is slated to be shut down. Today, the legal battle moved towards the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, after the judge denied a request to freeze the shutdown order.

Energy Transfer said that it was continuing to offer shippers oil transportation on DAPL after the court-ordered shutdown date, Bloomberg reported on July 8, adding that the company had made “no moves to take it offline.”

“We are not shutting in the line,” Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado told Bloomberg, adding “we believe [Judge James Boasberg] exceeded his authority and does not have the jurisdiction to shut down the pipeline or stop the flow of crude oil.”

Energy Transfer’s statement that DAPL was not being shut down caused a stir, with some observers asking whether the company intended to openly defy the federal court.

“To be clear, we have never suggested that we would defy a court order,” the company wrote. “Rather, DAPL is seeking appropriate relief from that order through the established legal process.”

The suggestion that the company might keep oil flowing unlawfully garnered immediate condemnation from Indigenous and environmental organizations.

“Perhaps they’re taking their inspiration from the father of the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson. In response to the 1832 Supreme Court decision that established tribal sovereignty in the U.S. — Worcester vs. Georgia — President Jackson declared: ‘[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it,’” the Lakota People’s Law Project, a Bismark-based legal advocacy group, wrote in a statement.
» Read article           

Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone dead end - Supremes
Supreme Court Won’t Block Ruling to Halt Work on Keystone XL Pipeline
But the justices stayed the rest of a federal trial judge’s ruling striking down a permit program, allowing construction of other pipelines around the nation.
By Adam Liptak, New York Times
July 6, 2020

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from the Trump administration to allow construction of parts of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that had been blocked by a federal judge in Montana. But the court temporarily revived a permit program that would let other oil and gas pipelines cross waterways after only modest scrutiny from regulators.

The court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices rule on emergency applications, and it said it would last while appeals moved forward. There were no noted dissents.

Environmental groups had challenged the permit program, called for by the Clean Water Act, saying it posed a threat to endangered species. In April, Judge Brian M. Morris of the Federal District Court in Montana suspended the program, which is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, saying that it had been improperly reauthorized in 2017.
» Read article           

In Yet Another Blow to Keystone XL, Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Revive Key Water Crossing Permit
Court Rejects Push from Trump Admin to Allow Construction of KXL Through Waterways Amid Appeal
By Sierra Club
July 6, 2020

Today, the United States Supreme Court declined a request from TC Energy and the Trump administration to allow Keystone XL to proceed under Nationwide Permit 12, a key water crossing permit for pipelines that a district court found unlawful. The court also issued a partial stay of the district court’s decision as it applies to other pipelines while a full appeal of the decision moves forward.
» Read article           

» More about pipelines               

CLIMATE

Trans-Alaska
From the Pandemic to the Protests, Trump Is Using National Crises as Cover for Climate Rollbacks
By Amy Westervelt and Emily Gertz, Drilled News
July 7, 2020

If there’s one thing we’ve learned since we began, three months ago, to track the Trump administration’s climate rollbacks and favors to fossil fuel under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that the fossil fuel industry and its allies never waste a good opportunity to advance their interests with as little public scrutiny as possible.

So in the days and weeks since the first protesters hit the Minneapolis streets on May 26 over the killing of George Floyd, we have not been surprised to see Trump’s team use the national uprising for Black lives and against police brutality for cover to advance a new flurry of incentives for fossil fuel development.

But what is remarkable is how sweeping these moves have been. Over just the first two weeks of June, the Trump administration knocked the foundations out from under U.S. environmental protections by targeting three key laws that the fossil fuel sector has long fought to weaken: the Clean Air, Clean Water, and National Environmental Policy acts.

Let’s take a look at what happened in the first two weeks of June. As always, you can find more details on these moves, and more than 100 other climate-and-energy-related rollbacks and fossil fuel incentives pushed forward since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March on our Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker.
» Read article
» Go to the Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker

climate litigation report
Report: Global Climate Lawsuits Against Governments and Polluters on the Rise
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
July 7, 2020

Climate litigation is not going away any time soon.

Lawsuits demanding accountability and action on the existential threat of climate change continue to take hold across the world with some significant new developments and new cases emerging over the past year, according to a new report on trends in global climate change litigation.

That report, published July 3 by the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, provides an overview of climate change lawsuits around the world including key developments between May 2019 and May 2020. Grantham Research Institute maintains a database of global climate change lawsuits and in recent years has issued annual reports on trends in climate litigation.

While a majority of climate-related lawsuits are routine cases such as regulatory proceedings or challenges to fossil fuel permitting, cases are also being brought more strategically as a way to hold governments and companies accountable for damaging climate impacts. This kind of litigation against national governments and against fossil fuel companies has taken off in recent years.
» Read article          
» Read the report

delayed gratification
There’s no quick fix for climate change
Scientists looked for a ‘shortcut’ and didn’t find one
By Justine Calma, The Verge
July 7, 2020

It could take decades before cuts to greenhouse gases actually affect global temperatures, according to a new study. 2035 is probably the earliest that scientists could see a statistically significant change in temperature — and that’s only if humans take dramatic action to combat climate change.

Specifically, 2035 is the year we might expect to see results if we switch from business-as-usual pollution to an ambitious path that limits global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius — the target laid out in the Paris climate agreement. The world isn’t on track to meet that goal, so we might not see the fruits of our labor until even later. That means policymakers need to be ready for the long haul, and we’re all going to need to be patient while we wait for the changes we make now to take effect.

“I foresee this kind of train wreck coming where we make all this effort, and we have nothing to show for it,” says lead author of the study, Bjørn Samset. “This will take time.”
» Read article          

» More about climate            

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

reverse the TrumpocolypseBeginning of the End for New Oil and Gas Pipelines?
On this week’s Political Climate, we discuss recent pipeline-project setbacks against the backdrop of President Trump’s multiyear effort to expand oil and gas development.
By Julia Pyper, GreenTech Media – podcast
July 9, 2020

In a series of major wins for environmental advocates, three multibillion-dollar pipeline projects — the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — were recently delivered devastating setbacks.

The business and legal decisions undermine President Trump’s multiyear effort to ease environmental regulations and expand oil and gas development in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force has released its roadmap on combating the climate crisis that calls for immediate action “to reverse the Trump administration’s dangerous and destructive rollbacks of critical climate and environmental protections.”

On this week’s episode of Political Climate, we dig deeper into the pipeline project defeats and their implications for the energy sector in an interview with Steven Mufson, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering the business of climate change for The Washington Post.

We discuss the environmental movement’s strategy and recent successes in the courtroom against the backdrop of President Trump’s deregulation agenda. Plus, we address how these developments are playing politically ahead of the 2020 election.
» Listen to podcast       

fast track dead endThis federal permit used to fast-track pipelines. Now it’s threatening them.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
July 8, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is officially dead as of Sunday, and the Supreme Court delivered another blow to the troubled Keystone XL Pipeline on Monday. While the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s demise was a decision made by its developers, and Keystone’s impairment a judicial matter, both outcomes are directly tied to the same ongoing battle over a federal permit that helps developers to fast-track pipeline construction called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12). Its fate could have far-reaching consequences for pipeline development all over the country.

NWP 12 is a streamlined permitting process that’s been around since the 1970s and is designed to get infrastructure built faster. It is considered a “general” permit, in that it gives blanket permission for certain standard construction activities that have been deemed to have minimal impact to rivers, streams, and wetlands. Under the Clean Water Act, pipelines must obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to cross U.S. waters. Pipeline developers can either apply for a Clean Water Act permit for their specific project, which requires extensive environmental assessment and a public comment period, or, they can seek permission to use NWP 12. NWP 12 allows them to skip that public, comprehensive review process if they can demonstrate to the Corps that the project will result in only “minimal adverse environmental effects.”

Environmental groups have been arguing for years that NWP 12 was never meant to be used to streamline such large and environmentally risky infrastructure projects and that pipelines like Keystone should have to undergo full and transparent environmental assessments.

“We need to go back to this individual permit process where there’s a real analysis, there’s public input, there’s everything that the law requires of these types of projects to make sure that they’re not harming the environment or endangered species or anything else,” said [Jared Margolis, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity].
» Read article          

DAPL for example
Is This the End of New Pipelines?
Defeats at three projects reflect increasingly sophisticated legal challenges, shifting economics and growing demands by states to fight climate change.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer, New York Times
July 8, 2020

They are among the nation’s most significant infrastructure projects: More than 9,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in the United States are currently being built or expanded, and another 12,500 miles have been approved or announced — together, almost enough to circle the Earth.

Now, however, pipeline projects like these are being challenged as never before as protests spread, economics shift, environmentalists mount increasingly sophisticated legal attacks and more states seek to reduce their use of fossil fuels to address climate change.

“You cannot build anything big in energy infrastructure in the United States outside of specific areas like Texas and Louisiana, and you’re not even safe in those jurisdictions,” said Brandon Barnes, a senior litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

The growing opposition represents a break from the past decade, when energy companies laid down tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines to transport oil and gas from newly accessible shale formations in North Dakota, Texas and the Appalachian region.

Strong grass roots coalitions, including many Indigenous groups, that understand both the legal landscape and the intricacies of the pipeline projects have led the pushback. And the Trump administration has moved some of the projects forward on shaky legal ground, making challenging them slightly easier, said Jared M. Margolis, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In the meantime, the entire energy industry is wrestling with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused demand for oil and gas to drop worldwide. Falling energy prices further complicate the financial case for new pipelines.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels             

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

stakeholders have rights too
DC Circuit pipeline ruling could prompt dramatic shift in FERC power sector actions, attorneys say
The ruling could have major consequences for stakeholders requesting a rehearing from the commission in the gas and electricity sectors.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
July 8, 2020

A recent ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that prevents federal regulators from delaying decisions on whether to build out gas infrastructure indefinitely leaves many unanswered questions for the power sector, attorneys say.

Last week, the court ruled 10-1 that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not have the authority to postpone decisions on requests for rehearing indefinitely. The Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC en banc hearing concerned the commission’s practice of delaying landowners’ requests for rehearing on pipeline development, while developers could move forward with construction under the Natural Gas Act.

But the D.C. Circuit’s response was much broader than anticipated, according to industry lawyers, and as a result could lead to a dramatic shift in legal processes before FERC.
» Read article         
» Read the D.C.Circuit Court of Appeals ruling

» More about FERC          

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

pipeline to nowhere
As Fossil Fuel Pipelines Fall to Opposition, Utilities See Renewable Energy as Safe Bet
Atlantic Coast and Dakota Access pipeline woes underscore trends pushing utilities toward clean power as a less risky business.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
July 6, 2020

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s cancellation marks the natural-gas market’s “third high-profile victim in the last six months,” [director of the North American gas team at Wood Mackenzie, Dulles Wang] wrote in a Monday note. The others include Williams Co.’s Northeast Supply Enhancement and Constitution Pipeline projects, which were withdrawn after facing permitting denials and public opposition from New York state.

“The setbacks speak to the difficulties of building new pipeline projects in the northeast U.S., even when there is actual consumer demand that supports these projects,” Wang said.

The legal victories for environmental groups on technical permitting issues are part of a broader fight against the global warming impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has so far denied challenges based on the greenhouse gas impacts of pipeline projects, but groups including The Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund continue attacking those decisions in court.

For utilities and energy companies, the mounting challenges to pipeline projects may serve as an incentive to shift from plans to rely on natural gas as a bridge fuel, and toward a less risky role building ratepayer-financed electric infrastructure to serve an increasingly renewable-powered grid, analysts say.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities              

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Freeport LNG
US LNG Exports at 20-month Low
By Scott DiSavino, MarineLink
July 8, 2020

Natural gas flows to U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants plunged this month after falling to a 20-month low in June as coronavirus lockdowns cut global demand for the fuel.

Before the pandemic slashed energy demand, U.S. producers counted on LNG exports to keep growing fast as an outlet for their record gas output. But after soaring 68% in 2019 and 53% in 2018, U.S. LNG exports were only expected to rise about 7% in 2020.

With U.S. LNG capacity rising as new units enter service, utilization of those plants has collapsed from 85%-90% in 2019 to just 32% so far this month as buyers cancel dozens of cargoes.

Analysts at Simmons Energy, energy specialists at U.S. investment bank Piper Sandler, projected U.S. LNG utilization will hover between 60%-70% over the next several years.
» Read article           

LNG clean claims doubtedCanada’s LNG industry on shaky ground as high-profile investors back off: report
By Lee Berthiaume, Global News
July 6, 2020

Legendary investor Warren Buffett’s decision to walk away from a proposed export terminal for liquefied natural gas in Quebec is being held up in a new report as a sign that the LNG sector in Canada and elsewhere is on shaky ground.

The Global Energy Monitor report released Monday says Buffett’s move in March underscores the growing political and economic uncertainty that LNG projects are facing even as governments around the world tout liquefied natural gas as a clean alternative to coal power.

Monday’s report goes on to suggest that political opposition is only one of many new challenges to the LNG sector, with another being a dramatic drop in the price of gas due to an oversupply at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has sent demand plummeting.

The result: plans to build pipelines, terminals and other infrastructure in Canada and around the world have been put on hold _ or dropped entirely.

The report lists 13 LNG projects in Canada alone that have been cancelled or suspended in recent years. That includes a $10-billion [Goldboro] LNG export facility in Nova Scotia, which is now in limbo as the company behind the project tries to decide whether to move ahead or not.
» Read article           

gas bubble
Gas Bubble 2020

TRACKING GLOBAL LNG INFRASTRUCTURE
By Lydia Plante, James Browning, Greig Aitken, Mason Inman, and Ted Nace, Global Energy Monitor
July, 2020

In the past year, the fossil gas industry worldwide has more than doubled the amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal capacity under construction, a strategy driven by the U.S. and Canada as they seek to create new markets for LNG supplied from North America by tanker ship. This boom in construction threatens to lock in massive amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and negate any chance of limiting global warming to the 1.5°C tipping point identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet even measured against the balance sheets of their own financial and political backers, the future of many of these projects is tenuous due to low gas prices caused by global oversupply, now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, growing concern about the role of methane emissions in climate change is threatening the industry’s social license to promote and build fossil fuel projects.
» Read report            

KBR to focus on government contracts, quit natural gas, energy business
By Jennifer Hiller, Reuters
June 22, 2020

Engineering and construction firm KBR Inc (KBR.N) will exit most of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) construction and other energy projects, it told investors and employees, as customers pull back on energy investments.

The company will refocus on government contracts and technology businesses, Chief Executive Stuart Bradie wrote to employees on Monday. It will “no longer engage in lump sum, blue collar construction services,” saying the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decision to leave fixed-contract energy projects.

KBR held contracts for engineering and construction services for several LNG projects, including at Freeport LNG in Texas, Pieridae Energy Ltd’s proposed Goldboro LNG facility in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Glenfarne Group’s Magnolia LNG project in Louisiana.
» Read article           

» More about LNG            

CLEAN ENERGY

good starting point
Can the Clean Energy Industry Deliver On the Biden-Sanders Climate Plan?
The campaign’s unity task force wants 100 percent carbon-free power by 2035.
By Julian Spector, GreenTech Media
July 9, 2020

After effectively clinching the Democratic presidential primary, Joe Biden’s campaign began work with Senator Bernie Sanders in May to create a “unity task force.” The group hoped to propose policies that appeal to moderates and progressives alike, uniting Democrats ahead of the 2020 election.

The task force’s climate change recommendations, out this week, push further than any policy proposed in previous general election platforms. They call for carbon-free power production by 2035, net-zero emissions for new buildings by 2030, and accelerated adoption of zero-emission vehicles. The authors frame the national climate response as a matter of equity for communities that have suffered disproportionately from pollution and climate impacts, and as a form of economic rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic.
» Read article          
» Read the climate change recommendations

» More on clean energy           

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

follow the yellow brick road
‘Million-mile’ batteries are coming. Are they a revolution?
By Maddie Stone, Grist
July 6, 2020

Electric vehicles (EVs) have a clear environmental advantage over their gas-guzzling counterparts, but when it comes to longevity, the two are in a dead heat. Two hundred thousand miles is considered a good, long run for a car built today, regardless of whether it’s powered by a lithium battery or an internal combustion engine. But if a flurry of recent reports are to be believed, EVs may soon surge ahead in this long-distance competition — not by mere thousands of miles, but by 800,000.

But what does the million-mile battery revolution actually mean? According to experts in battery storage technology and the EV market, claims of new batteries that will last a million miles don’t tell us much on their own. How these batteries can be used is going to depend, first and foremost, on how they perform and degrade over their so-called “million-mile” lifespan. Several experts pointed out that true million-mile batteries are likely to outlast whatever cars they’re built for, meaning their arrival could dramatically impact both second-use markets and battery recycling.
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PLASTICS BANS

COVID plastic
‘It’s all on hold’: how Covid-19 derailed the fight against plastic waste
Pandemic prompted states to temporarily ban reusable grocery bags and stalled legislation aimed at reducing plastic packaging
By Erin McCormick, The Guardian
July 9, 2020

2020 was supposed to be the year America revolted against plastic.

Consumers were refusing straws and toting their own coffee mugs. Legislators had proposed an unprecedented wave of laws to ban single-use plastics. Even companies like Coke and Pepsi were opening up to the idea plastic might not be the future.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Now activists worry the anti-plastic movement is once again back in the trenches.

The fight has stalled on a number of fronts across the US. Fears about the virus spreading on surfaces prompted several states to temporarily ban reusable grocery bags, sending single-use bags flooding back into the marketplace. Major legislation aimed at reducing plastics packaging has stalled as lawmakers’ priorities shifted elsewhere. Disposable masks and gloves have become the harbingers of pandemic life, along with plastic take-out food containers and the debris of Amazon packages.

Meanwhile the plastics industry ramped up its lobbying, urging federal agencies to declare the sanitary benefits of disposable plastics, and arguing that plastic bag bans went against public health.
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