Tag Archives: Stephen Lynch

Weekly News Check-In 2/4/22

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Welcome back.

We’re opening this week with a story on retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, focusing on his decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt forty years ago when he was a U.S. District Court judge. In that decision, then-judge Breyer “emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.” This is widely understood to require robust environmental impact analysis during the approval stage of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and prior to construction. Think pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, refineries, etc.

Watt has been on the books for four decades and is widely and routinely cited by environmental advocates. It is the law. How then, do we find ourselves with a Federal regulator admitting that the Weymouth compressor station’s environmental permits were based on flawed and shoddy analysis and should never have been granted… but refusing to shut it down? Why are we still seeing peaking power plants permitted for construction at all, but especially in environmental justice neighborhoods? It’s clear that much of the effort, sound and fury of protests and actions boils down to a demand by ordinary people that powerful interests simply comply with the law.

Better late than never, climate considerations are showing up in court rulings much more frequently. With Congress bogged down in partisan trench warfare, numerous states have taken the lead and passed ambitious legislation requiring rapid emissions reduction. California is even phasing out its huge oil and gas extraction sector, and moving toward economic protections for displaced workers.

Justice Breyer can look back with pride on his environmental law legacy, but he might also wonder what would be different today had his Watt ruling been followed enthusiastically in the U.S. – and globally through the example of U.S. leadership. Would we even be discussing a giant carbon capture & storage scheme in the Gulf of Mexico predicated on pumping even more oil? Would Europe have allowed itself to become so dependent on Russian gas pipelines that huge shipments of liquefied natural gas are hailed as a lifeline? Would the U.S., Canada, and Norway still be massively increasing fossil fuel extraction even as they make flimsy promises for emissions reductions and the U.N. declares “code red for humanity”? Would our fossil-dependent grid be in such a creaky state that it can’t accommodate new sources of renewable power?

Looking at clean energy, offshore wind is going gangbusters but turbine size is growing so rapidly that the sector is facing a critical shortage of ships capable of handling the huge towers and blades. Another area seeing rapid advancement in technology is long-duration energy storage, and we’re highlighting Zink8’s zinc-air flow battery in Queens, NY. Closer to home, Massachusetts has updated its energy efficiency program Mass Save, in an attempt to prioritize heat pumps over gas furnaces – but advocates feel much more needs to be done to meet the state’s emissions requirements.

U.S. Postal Service runs a huge fleet of delivery trucks, and it’s in the process of ordering billions of dollars worth of new, gasoline-powered models. Wait, what?! The Biden administration is intervening to make sure these new vehicles are electric.

Meanwhile, our watchdog Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers taking a look at the high energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining. The goal is to understand crypto’s impact on the environment and whether the energy-intensive activities may be impacting utility bills for U.S. customers.

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

— The NFGiM Team

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER’S ENVIRONMENTAL LAW LEGACY

bureaucratic commitment
Breyer ruling set stage for NEPA climate fights
By Niina H. Farah, E&E News
February 2, 2022

A 40-year-old ruling penned by Stephen Breyer on the timing of environmental reviews has laid the groundwork for a new wave of litigation over the quality of climate analyses for energy projects and oil and gas development.

The decision, which Breyer wrote while he was a judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is among the Supreme Court justice’s lasting contributions to environmental law. Breyer, 83, announced last week that he plans to retire this summer.

In his 1983 opinion in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt, Breyer emphasized the importance of fully analyzing the potential risks of projects before “bureaucratic commitment” prevents federal agencies from pumping the brakes on development.

Watt is widely cited by organizations pushing for more thorough National Environmental Policy Act analyses in cases related to coal mining and oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. The bedrock environmental statute requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the impacts of major actions, such as pipeline permitting and fossil fuel leasing.

“The concept [of bureaucratic commitment] is widely known and widely cited as a reason why comprehensive NEPA evaluation at the earliest stage possible is important,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans programs litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In Watt, then-1st Circuit Judge Breyer […] emphasized the importance of halting development while the government prepared an environmental impact statement.

“Once large bureaucracies are committed to a course of action, it is difficult to change that course — even if new, or more thorough, NEPA statements are prepared and the agency is told to ‘redecide.’”

The takeaway from Breyer’s opinion is that unless comprehensive analysis occurs at the start of a project, the government tends to favor allowing development to continue, Monsell said.

Setting aside an agency’s action at a later date won’t undo harm that’s already occurred, she said.

“While a new [environmental impact statement] might bring about a new decision, it’s much less likely,” Monsell said of Breyer’s reasoning.

She added: “It’s far easier to influence an initial choice than to change a mind that is already made up.”
» Read article         

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Mystic Generating Station
Activists urge Massachusetts to take another look at need for peaking plants
Campaigns in Boston and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peakers. Critics say the facilities are bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 1, 2022

Activists across Massachusetts are pressuring utilities and regulators to reconsider the need for some of the state’s most rarely used and least efficient fossil fuel power plants.

Campaigns in the Boston suburbs and western Massachusetts are taking aim at existing and proposed peaking power plants. The facilities — often simply called “peakers” — are intended to run only at times when demand for electricity is at its highest.

Utilities and grid managers say peakers are necessary to ensure reliability, especially as more intermittent wind and solar generation is added to the system. Critics, though, say they’re bad for the climate and public health, and that cleaner and more economical alternatives now exist.

“They are low-hanging fruit,” said Logan Malik, clean energy director for the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “They aren’t in use a whole lot of time, and at the same time, technology is available as we speak, today, to replace these dirty plants with clean, renewable alternatives.”

Massachusetts is home to 23 such plants, according to nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Roughly two-thirds of them burn oil; the remaining plants run on natural gas. More than 90% of the plants are more than 30 years old, and thus more likely to run inefficiently and have higher greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Some are so old they are not required to comply with the standards of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act.

Furthermore, they are often located in areas with concentrations of low-income households and residents of color, likely posing additional health risks to populations that are already more vulnerable. When peakers run, it can also raise costs for consumers, as they are generally the most expensive plants to operate.

“There’s just really almost no need for these plants,” said Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. “Right now, the ratepayers are paying a hell of a lot of money to keep these plants on standby.”

Environmental advocates also argue that allowing new peaker plants to move forward and renewing permits for existing ones runs counter to the spirit of the state’s new environmental justice laws. The law, adopted last March, makes environmental justice a central principle of the state’s climate action. Among the provisions is a requirement for new projects that might cause air pollution to undergo an assessment of their cumulative environmental impact if they are located near environmental justice communities.

Though the law covers new projects, advocates would like to see the state use its discretion to apply the same standards to plants already built or approved before the new measures were passed.

“We are arguing that, given the new environmental justice parameters in Massachusetts law, it requires an additional further look,” said Mireille Bejjani, energy justice director with Community Action Works, a group fighting a proposed plant in the Boston suburb of Peabody. “We need to understand what this is going to do to the environment and the community.”
» Read article         

South Hadley ELD
Advocacy group brings Peabody gas plant issue to South Hadley health board
By DUSTY CHRISTENSEN, Daily Hampshire Gazette
January 29, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — A physician-led organization fighting climate change has urged the South Hadley Board of Health to consider asking the state to further scrutinize the construction of a fossil fuel plant north of Boston — a project the town’s electric company has signed a 30-year contract to draw energy from.

On Tuesday, South Hadley’s Board of Health weighed a request from the organization Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, which called on the board to join health boards in Peabody and Holden in writing to Gov. Charlie Baker to ask for an environmental impact report and health impact assessment of the gas-burning plant that is set to be built in Peabody.

The construction of the “peaker” plant, which is designed to run during times of peak demand during the year, drew protests last month in front of Peabody District Court, where demonstrators held signs calling the investment in non-renewable energy “peak stupidity.” In November, protesters in Holyoke, whose electric company is also invested in the project, held a rally in front of the region’s wholesale power operator, ISO New England, joining organizers in Peabody in calling the operator to move the electrical grid away from fossil fuels.

The matter was an issue of intense debate last year between one elected member of the South Hadley Electric Light Department board, Peter McAvoy, and his fellow commissioners. McAvoy frequently raised his voice during meetings in opposition to SHELD’s use of energy from two nuclear reactors and its participation in the Peabody project, harshly rebuking the rest of the board.
» Read article

» More about peaker plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Rep Stephen LynchLynch urges feds to close Weymouth compressor station
By Chris Lisinski and Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, in The Patriot Ledger
February 3, 2022

Citing emergency shutdowns and recent admissions from federal regulators, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch is trying to revive efforts to close a natural gas compressor  station in Weymouth.

Lynch on Wednesday called on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “immediately terminate operation” of the station, citing environmental and public health concerns that opponents of the project have expressed for years and  pointing to recent shutdowns of the station and new acknowledgements from federal energy infrastructure officials.

“Regrettably, recent emergency events at the Weymouth Compressor Station have more than validated the health and safety concerns that South Shore residents, community safety groups, nonprofit organizations, and local, state and federal officials have expressed for nearly seven years,” Lynch wrote in a letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown. “Between 2020 and 2021, the Weymouth Compressor Station experienced four unplanned emergency shutdowns and multiple blowdown events necessitating the release of natural gas into the atmosphere – all amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month declined to revoke the certificate it issued to energy giant Enbridge, although Chairman Richard Glick said the office previously “erred” in siting the facility near environmental justice communities and “inadequately assessed” its likely impacts on the densely populated area.
» Read article         

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

offshore rig fireBiden Urged Not to Fight Court Ruling Against Massive Oil and Gas Lease Sale
The administration “should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters,” more than 70 climate groups write in a new letter.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
February 1, 2022

As the fossil fuel industry clamors for an appeal, the Biden administration on Tuesday faced pressure from environmentalists to adhere to a judge’s decision blocking a massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill.

“We urge you to comply with the court’s ruling and not appeal the court’s decision,” more than 70 climate groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The [Department of the Interior] should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice.”

“We also strongly urge the Department of the Interior to create a new five-year offshore lease program with no proposed offshore lease sales when the current program expires in June 2022,” the groups added.

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently account for the emissions impact of the proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such sell-off in the nation’s history. The judge blocked the sale and instructed the Biden administration to conduct a fresh environmental review.

John Beard, CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and member of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge got it “exactly right: every politician, judge, and decisionmaker in the country must consider the devastating damage that fossil fuel pollution does to our communities, our health, and our climate before they rubber-stamp a new pipeline, oil and gas lease, refinery, or chemical facility.”
» Read article         
» Read the letter

Mar del Plata
Protests Erupt in Argentina Over Plan for Offshore Oil Drilling
The Argentine government has subsidized oil and gas drilling for years, and is now shifting its sights offshore. But opposition is growing.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 1, 2022

On January 4, thousands of people took to the streets of Mar del Plata, a coastal city roughly 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were there to protest the plans by Norwegian oil company Equinor to begin offshore oil exploration later this year.

They held signs that read “the sea is ours!” and “an ocean free of oil,” and they chanted, shouted, and sang. The protests were focused in Mar del Plata, a beach town closest to the offshore blocks, but spread to other cities in the province and around the country.

The protesters oppose offshore drilling because of the risks of an oil spill, which could wreck tourism and interfere with fishing, two important parts of the coastal economy. They also fear that the seismic tests that accompany oil exploration would pose a mortal threat to southern right whales and could harm abundant marine life.

More broadly, protesters are frustrated that Argentine officials continuously promote oil, gas, and mining projects as economic godsends, while ignoring the impacts to communities where they are located.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Nord Stream 2 politics
How Climate and the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Undergirds the Ukraine-Russia Standoff
Russia’s $11 billion natural gas conduit to Germany is a by-product of Donald Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy—and a real headache for President Biden.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
January 30, 2022

As tensions simmer on the Ukraine-Russia border, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has become an emblem of the energy and climate issues underlying the conflict—even though it has yet to deliver a molecule of natural gas.

Last week, the U.S. State Department vowed that Gazprom’s $11 billion conduit beneath the Baltic Sea to Germany would never open if Russia invades Ukraine. Much of eastern Europe, the environmental movement and even the U.S. oil industry opposed Nord Stream 2 as a tie designed to solidify Russia’s energy hold on Europe, but Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of leeway offered by President Donald Trump to push construction through.

Trump’s tacit acquiescence on Nord Stream 2 (often while voicing protest) was one of his only moves counter to the interests of Texas oil and gas producers, who coveted the Europe gas market themselves. But it was right in line with two other Trump impulses: to reject climate policy and to yield to Putin.

Now, the Biden administration is left with the consequences. And although it is attempting to use Nord Stream 2 as a threat, the pipeline also has served as a weapon for Putin—a wedge to divide Germany, and separate Europe’s largest economy from other members of the NATO coalition while he threatens Ukraine.

[In] the short term, at least, Europe remains dependent on natural gas. And Biden’s team  has been scrambling to secure gas and crude oil supplies from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, so European allies will be less vulnerable to threats from Russia. It’s not the Biden administration’s first effort at diplomacy to ramp up fossil fuel production short-term, despite criticism from progressives that it is counter to his vision for a net-zero carbon future. Others argue that there’s no conflict between Biden’s immediate geopolitical goals and his long-term climate agenda.

“Gas, the green transition and energy security are not either-or issues,” said Richard Morningstar, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Barack Obama, and also was a special U.S. envoy on Eurasian energy. “Gas can continue to be important in a responsible way, in the short- to mid-term, but it’s important to double down as quickly as possible on the green transition,” said Morningstar, who is founding chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. “The quicker the green transition, the less dependence on fossil fuels. And by definition, the less dependence on Russian gas.”
» Read article         

Lake Albert
New Fossil Fuel Project Would Turn Uganda Into Oil-Producing Country
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
February 2, 2022

A new project from French fossil fuel company TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) would turn Uganda into an oil-producing country for the first time.

Total announced Tuesday that the companies would spend more than $10 billion to develop oil fields in Uganda and build a pipeline network both within the landlocked country and through Tanzania, which has a coastline.

Accessing the oil would mean building a 1,443-kilometer (approximately 897 mile) heated pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean, according to 350.org. The so-called East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would be the largest heated crude-oil pipeline in the world and is vehemently opposed by climate activists.

“The future of East Africa relies on building sustainable, diversified and inclusive economies – not by letting huge multinational corporations like Total extract resources and keep the profit,” 350Africa.org regional director Landry Ninteretse said in a statement reported by 350.org. “The impacts of building the East Africa Oil Pipeline will be devastating for our communities, for wildlife and for the planet.”

In particular, activists are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on water resources for millions of people in Tanzania and Uganda, vulnerable ecosystems and the climate crisis. Uganda’s oil reserves amount to 6.5 billion barrels, 1.4 billion of which are actually recoverable, government scientists estimate, according to AllAfrica.

However, despite Tuesday’s announcement, activists argue that the funding for the pipeline is not secure, according to 350.org. Activists are putting pressure on banks not to finance the project, and several major players have agreed. Campaigners say the project is at least $2.5 billion short on necessary funds.

“The people benefitting from this aren’t local communities, they are rich European banks and oil companies like Total,” 350.org France campaigner Isabelle l’Héritier said in a statement reported by 350.org. “Over 260 organisations are urgently trying to convince banks around the world to rule out supporting this disastrous project. Eleven banks, including three French banks, have already pulled out.”

While Total has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, according to its website, the new project shows it is still investing in new fossil fuel extraction.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

fully electric
2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation in US states
Now comes the hard part.
By Adam Mahoney, Grist
February 3, 2022

Last year was rocky – to say the least. But as the coronavirus pandemic maintained its grasp on American society, the U.S. managed to continue charging on its path of energy efficiency, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

The nonprofit research organization’s annual Energy Efficiency Scorecard Progress Report found that in 2021 at least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards. Notably, the new legislation included incentives for everything from fuel switching and electrification to, encouraging clean heating systems and even strengthening building codes.

Seven states – Massachusetts, Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington – passed new energy laws that named electrification as a “growing priority.” At least five states, including the District of Columbia, passed laws requiring energy and water use reductions for appliances. California and New York set goals for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.

Many states have also put laws on the books to ensure “equitable benefits” from their electrification push, the ACEEE found. These measures, primarily focused on transit, include the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects and the electrification of public transit fleets. In New York, the state’s ramped up efficiency and building electrification programs have a goal of 40 percent of the benefits reaching “disadvantaged communities.”

While putting these codes and laws on paper are wins, the report argues, implementation is still a huge mountain to climb. States are “adopting promising new laws that can reduce harmful pollution and create thousands of clean energy jobs, but they need to vigilantly implement them,” Berg said. Fighting for electrification, the ACEEE asserts, will help reverse the country’s racial and economic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
» Read article         
» Read the ACEEE report

» More about legislation      

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Signal Hill
Calif. weighs help for oil workers in green future
By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News
January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

climate review
Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions
A federal judge this week required the government take climate change into account before approving offshore oil drilling leases. That’s becoming more common.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 28, 2022

WASHINGTON — A judge’s decision this week to invalidate the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, on grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into consideration, shows that regulatory decisions that disregard global warming are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said Friday.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Thursday that the Biden administration had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it conducted an auction of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department failed to fully analyze the climate effects of the burning of the oil and gas that would be developed from the leases, the judge said.

The ruling is one of a handful over the past year in which a court has required the government to conduct a more robust study of climate change effects before approving fossil fuel development. Analysts said that, cumulatively, the decisions would ensure that future administrations are no longer able to disregard or downplay global warming.

“This would not have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it is “a big win” that courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic analysis of climate” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

Emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands and in federal waters account for about 25 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

ship shortage
Offshore wind’s ship problem is growing
The US is in even deeper water
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 3, 2022

The short supply of ships capable of deploying giant wind turbines at sea is becoming an even bigger problem as offshore wind ambitions grow. By 2024, demand for wind turbine installation vessels will likely outpace supply, according to a recent analysis by Norwegian firm Rystad Energy. That’s even sooner than a prediction the firm made back in 2020 when it said that the global fleet wouldn’t be enough to meet demand after 2025.

Massive, specialized vessels are required to carry wind turbine components out to sea and install them. With just over 30 of these vessels navigating the world’s seas in 2020, according to Rystad, offshore wind projects already have to vie for time with a limited number of ships. A growth spurt in turbine technology will exacerbate the problem even further.

Taller turbines can reach stronger winds, while longer blades can harness more power. New turbines are the size of skyscrapers, dwarfing previous designs. Between 2010 and today, the amount of wind power turbine can harness, on average, has more than doubled from 3 MW to 6.5 MW. By the end of the decade, more than half of turbines installed globally are projected to be even larger than 8 MW.

That’s quickly making more ships — even those just built this decade — obsolete. Only four of the turbine installation ships in operation are capable of carrying behemoth next-generation turbines, according to Rystad’s 2020 analysis.
» Read article         
» Read Rystad’s 2020 analysis

Gordon van Welie
Grid operator should stop crying wolf

It’s time to step up on climate or get out of the way
By Bradley M. Campbell, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 3, 2022
Bradley Campbell is president of Conservation Law Foundation.

NEW ENGLAND’S fossil fuel interests and electric grid operator are at it again. Every winter, they issue dire warnings that our region’s power grid won’t be able to handle the stress of another season of extreme weather.

As this week’s CommonWealth story highlights, 2022 is no different. It’s time to call out ISO-New England (our electric grid operator) and fossil fuel companies for this naked attempt to prop up oil and gas at the expense of renewables and state climate policy.

Last week it was the owners of fossil power plants predicting doom. Back in December, it was a coalition of oil and gas dealers who sent a letter to governors of every New England state with their own SOS. Both use the same false narrative predicting the kind of extreme weather that shut down Texas’ electricity and gas systems last February could hit our region this year. The oil dealers took aim at state programs to promote electric heat pumps for home and business heating, demanding they must be “ceased immediately.”

Their solution? Firing up more climate-polluting heating oil and gas of course.

The oil dealers aimed their ire at heat pump programs because transitioning to electric heat is at the center of state strategies to cut climate-damaging emissions. Heating our homes and buildings with electric heat pumps poses a threat, as it means moving away from gas and oil in favor of clean energy sources. The owners of dirty power want to limit clean energy and extend the life of their power plants.

Both pleas have the circularity of a Texas two-step: to avoid risks posed by severe weather, we must burn more fossil fuels. But that severe weather is driven in large part by climate change – which is caused by burning those very fossil fuels.

The misleading messages of fear peddled by oil and gas companies would not be newsworthy or catch the attention of our politicians if not for one critical factor. They echo the anti-clean energy rhetoric of a supposedly credible source: ISO-New England.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

DPU falls short
With new Mass Save three-year plan, Massachusetts sharpens its best climate-fighting tool
The new 343-page order dramatically expands incentives to decarbonize homes. Yet some fear its fine print could undermine its broad strokes.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 1, 2022

In a move hailed as a sea change in the state’s climate fight, Massachusetts regulators approved a plan that would dramatically expand incentives for homeowners to invest in electric heat pumps as the state races to shift people off fossil fuels.

On Monday, the Department of Public Utilities approved a major rewriting of the state plan that provides energy efficiency incentives to consumers. Unlike previous versions of the Mass Save plan, the new one centers on curbing global warming by encouraging people to switch from oil or gas to electric heat or renewable sources, and also includes provisions to help make the transition more affordable to people in disadvantaged communities.

Among the $4 billion in new incentives is hundreds of millions of dollars for electric heat pumps, which, for the first time, will be available to gas customers looking to move off of fossil fuels.

The incentives are seen as critical to building momentum for the state’s quest to wean 1 million homes from fossil fuels by 2030, a massive undertaking that had languished because of high costs, anemic incentives, and, in some cases, active discouragement of homeowners looking to electrify their homes. In 2020, the state had converted just 461 homes.

Along with praise for the advances made in the plan came some harsh criticism. A number of climate advocates said it did not go far enough, especially with so little time to meet 2030 goals. Some blamed the DPU for walking back green energy measures, including restoring fossil fuel incentives that even the utilities that run Mass Save had recommended be ended.

“It seems like the DPU has minimized what could have been a transformative plan,” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and a member of the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which oversees the Mass Save program.
» Read article         
» Related: What the new Mass Save rewrite means for you    

Syrian coffee
Making gas unnatural
By Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe | Opinion
January 29, 2022

Don’t let that slippery word “natural” fool you.

Natural gas is very bad news. It’s lousy for human health, disastrous for the environment, and a massive money pit, sucking away billions we could be spending on trying to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

A study out of Stanford University last week found that gas cooking stoves leak methane not only when they’re in use, but even when they’re turned off: The projected emissions each year from the nation’s 40 million gas cooktops are as harmful to the environment as emissions from 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Numerous studies have shown that kids living in homes with gas stoves — which emit dangerous gases, including nitrogen oxides — are much more likely to develop asthma.

Gas does damage not just in the homes where it’s used for cooking and heating, but all the way along the supply chain. It is polluting to harvest, associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and poor birth outcomes. It is risky to store and transport, as we saw with the disastrous Merrimack Valley explosions of three years ago. Methane, of which it is largely comprised, is far more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. After transportation emissions, gas is this state’s second-biggest polluter.

We have to kick our habit on this stuff if we’re ever going to attain the ambitious, and absolutely vital, climate goals we’ve set for ourselves in Massachusetts. But so far, despite plenty of good intentions, we’re doing an abysmal job of it.

Instead of transitioning away from gas, utilities are spending billions to rebuild leaking pipelines across the Commonwealth. Obviously, leaks that send tons of methane into the air are dangerous, and we need to plug them, but the state has made it more lucrative for gas companies to replace those lines, greatly extending their life and the life of this damaging energy option, rather than repair them. A report last fall by the advocacy group Gas Leaks Allies found that the cost of replacing those pipelines is headed into Big Dig territory, at $20 billion, and that ratepayers will be on the hook for it. Worse, the system is springing new leaks as quickly as gas companies are plugging the old ones, so they’re essentially treading water says Dorie Seavey, who authored the study.

Meanwhile, legislation mandates that the state be at net zero emissions — that we be essentially done with fossil fuels — by 2050. That means switching to heat pumps, geothermal systems, and electric heat that relies on renewable energy sources. We’ve gotten a slow start so far: An analysis by my colleague Sabrina Shankman found that, though the state has set a target of converting 100,000 households each year from fossil fuels to electricity for heating and cooling, a measly 461 homes converted to heat pumps in 2020. That’s partly because the gas companies, for whom this whole movement away from fossil fuels is a monumental threat, have been discouraging these changeovers.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Zinc8 in Queens
New York demonstration project to showcase potential of Zinc8’s long-duration zinc-air battery
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
January 26, 2022

Canadian energy storage company Zinc8 Energy Solutions last week announced plans to deploy a 100kW/1.5MWh battery storage system at an apartment building in Queens, New York, to demonstrate the potential of its long-duration zinc-air storage technology.

Zinc8 specializes in a flow battery technology that relies on regenerating zinc particles to store and dispatch energy. The technology has fewer supply chain concerns than lithium-ion batteries, the company said, and is also scalable at a lower cost than other long-duration technologies.

The Queens project — developed in partnership with New York-based combined heat and power developer Digital Energy Corp and real estate company Fresh Meadows Community Apartments — will see Zinc8 deploy a battery capable of at least eight hours of storage at the 32-building housing development. The battery will draw power from on-site solar and the combined heat and power system and deploy it in order to minimize drawing power from the grid at peak times during the day.

Zinc8 President and CEO Ron MacDonald said the Queens project, backed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is more “validation” of the value of long-duration storage. Zinc8 has several other demonstration projects in New York, but this behind-the-meter project, MacDonald said, will show that the zinc-air system can work for buildings without the safety concerns that accompany lithium-ion batteries.

“You could safely deploy us in the basement of a downtown high rise or a school or a library,” Macdonald said.

The proprietary flow battery technology uses power from the grid or a renewable source to generate zinc particles, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Those flow to an electrolyte for storage and are then returned and recombined with oxygen to deliver power. The company says it can deploy at about $250/kWh for eight hours of storage, which drops to about $100/kWh for 30 hours. The system is also scalable without sacrificing power, unlike some other long-duration batteries, MacDonald said.
» Read article         

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

West Reading tangle
Overwhelmed by Solar Projects, the Nation’s Largest Grid Operator Seeks a Two-Year Pause on Approvals
“It’s a kink in the system,” says one developer trying to bring solar jobs to coal country. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
February 2, 2022

The nation’s largest electric grid operator, PJM Interconnection, is so clogged with requests from energy developers seeking connections to its  regional transmission network in the eastern United States that it is proposing a two-year pause on reviewing more than 1,200 energy projects, most of them solar power.

New projects may have to wait even longer.

The situation can be explained in part by the rapid increase in the economic competitiveness of solar power as state energy policies and corporate sustainability plans drive a booming renewable energy industry. But the logjam threatens to put some solar developers in a financial bind and is raising questions about the feasibility of the Biden administration’s goal of having a carbon-free electricity grid in just 13 years.

“It’s a kink in the system,” said Adam Edelen, a former Kentucky state auditor who runs a company working to bring solar projects and jobs to ailing coal communities in Appalachia, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. “Anyone paying attention would acknowledge that this has a tremendous impact on climate policy and energy policy in the United States.”

The backlog at PJM is a major concern for renewable energy companies and clean energy advocates, even though grid operators are a part of the energy economy that is largely unknown to the public.

“There is broad national consensus, in the leadership from the public and the private sector, that we need to hasten the adoption of renewable energy,” Edelen said. “The planet does not have time for a delay.”
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS next gen
Biden officials push to hold up $11.3 billion USPS truck contract, citing climate damage
The Environmental Protection Agency warns Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to halt his plan to replace the aging delivery fleet with thousands of gas-powered vehicles.
By Anna Phillips and Jacob Bogage, Washington Post
February 2, 2022

The Biden administration launched a last-minute push Wednesday to derail the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to spend billions of dollars on a new fleet of gasoline-powered delivery trucks, citing the damage the polluting vehicles could inflict on the climate and Americans’ health.

The dispute over the Postal Service’s plans to spend up to $11.3 billion on as many as 165,000 new delivery trucks over the next decade has major implications for President Biden’s goal of converting all federal cars and trucks to clean power. Postal Service vehicles make up a third of the government’s fleet, and the EPA warned the agency last fall that its environmental analysis of the contract rested on flawed assumptions and missing data.

The EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent letters to the Postal Service on Wednesday that urge it to reconsider plans to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles and conduct a new, more thorough technical analysis. The EPA also asked the Postal Service to hold a public hearing on its fleet modernization plans, a request the agency had rejected when California regulators made it Jan. 28.

“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Liz on the case
Is Crypto Mining Driving Up Power Costs For U.S. Consumers?
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 28, 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, demand that six major cryptocurrency mining companies detail their high energy usage, the possible impact on the environment, and the role in driving up power bills for U.S. consumers.

Riot Blockchain, Marathon Digital Holdings, Stronghold Digital Mining, Bitdeer, Bitfury Group, and Bit Digital were sent letters by the lawmakers, who were concerned about “their extraordinarily high energy usage,” Senator Warren said on Thursday.

In the letters, the lawmakers want written answers from the six crypto mining companies by February 10, 2022, on the amount of energy each of their facilities consume, projected energy use for the next five years, plans to address the climate impact of their increasing operations, and details of their purchasing agreements with electricity providers.

“Bitcoin mining’s power consumption has more than tripled from 2019 to 2021, rivaling the energy consumption of Washington state, and of entire countries like Denmark, Chile, and Argentina,” the statement from the lawmakers says.

“The extraordinarily high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining could undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis – not to mention the harmful impacts cryptomining has on local environments and electricity prices. We need more information on the operations of these cryptomining companies to understand the full scope of the consequences for our environment and local communities,” Senator Warren said.

Crypto mining globally has drawn a lot of attention in recent months, including from regulators, amid the current energy crisis in Europe and rising energy costs for consumers, including in the United States.
» Read article         

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Gulf CCS
CCS in the Gulf: Climate solution or green washing?
By Heather Richards and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
January 31, 2022

The Gulf of Mexico may be the largest potential sink for storing carbon dioxide emissions in the world — but getting the greenhouse gas under the seafloor would take a massive effort and cost.

Enter Exxon Mobil Corp.

The oil supermajor, along with other companies, is eyeing the Gulf as a prime spot to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, considering the region’s massive potential capacity, its existing oil and gas infrastructure, and its proximity to industrial facilities where the greenhouse gas could be captured, piped and stored underneath the seafloor.

“ExxonMobil believes the greatest opportunity for CO2 storage in the United States is in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for Exxon’s Low Carbon Solutions business, in an email.

But momentum for carbon capture in the Gulf hit a potential roadblock last week when a federal judge invalidated the Biden administration’s November oil and gas lease sale over faulty climate reviews, consequently striking a bundle of Exxon leases that observers say were primed for the company’s first Gulf carbon storage efforts.

Exxon declined to comment on the impact of the court case, but the ruling is not expected to quell a rush of industry interest in Gulf carbon storage. However, critics are making accusations of green washing and warning of potential environmental risks, like carbon dioxide leaking into the ocean. The dynamic raises the question: How likely is CCS in the Gulf?

Proponents say very.

Political leaders on Capitol Hill have responded to the industry push by tweaking federal laws to make carbon sequestration in federal waters permissible and taking steps this year to regulate where CO2 can be stored offshore, and how to do it safely.

But carbon storage has its critics, and Exxon’s interest in the Gulf is refueling allegations of green washing.

“CCS is the plan of the oil industry to keep business as usual, while claiming some kind of net-zero alignment or climate action,” said Steven Feit, an attorney with the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, which uses law to “protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.”
» Read article         

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

talk is cheap
Record Fossil Extraction from Canada, U.S., Norway Despite Fervent Climate Pledges
By The Energy Mix
February 2, 2022


The United States, Norway, and Canada are set to produce more oil this year than ever before, despite solemn pronouncements at last year’s COP 26 climate summit on the urgent need for climate action, Oil Change International asserts in a new analysis.

All three countries “like to see themselves as climate leaders,” Oil Change writes, recalling American president Joe Biden’s commitment to “doing our part,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s call to “do more, and faster,” and Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre’s urging to “jointly step up our commitments,” in their respective COP 26 speeches.

But those avowals were meant for last year, Oil Change says. “This is a new year, and instead of new commitments to double down on climate action, what do we see?”

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts, U.S. oil production in 2023 will surpass Donald Trump’s 2019 record for domestic crude production, courtesy of a drilling permit approval rate that surpasses that of Biden’s fossil-championing predecessor. The U.S. “has more oil and gas extraction expansion planned in the next decade than any other country,” Oil Change says.

These national-level fossil expansions come despite the International Energy Agency’s conclusion last May that any new investment in oil and gas will leave efforts to contain global heating below 1.5°C dead in the water. Then in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a landmark report urging leaders to halt oil and gas drilling or face heat waves, droughts, flooding, and other weather catastrophes. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity,” but Oil Change says that message seems to have gone over the heads of some.
» Read article

fracking rig Colorado
Living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development linked with increased risk of early death
By Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
January 27, 2022

Boston, MA – Elderly people living near or downwind of unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD)—which involves extraction methods including directional (non-vertical) drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—are at higher risk of early death compared with elderly individuals who don’t live near such operations, according to a large new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The results suggest that airborne contaminants emitted by UOGD and transported downwind are contributing to increased mortality, the researchers wrote.

The study was published on January 27, 2022 in Nature Energy.

“Although UOGD is a major industrial activity in the U.S., very little is known about its public health impacts. Our study is the first to link mortality to UOGD-related air pollutant exposures,” said Petros Koutrakis, professor of environmental sciences and senior author of the study. Added co-author Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, “There is an urgent need to understand the causal link between living near or downwind of UOGD and adverse health effects.”
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Prelude FLNG
Ukraine dispute opens door for Goldboro LNG exports from N.S.
By Kevin Dougherty, iPolitics
January 27, 2022

The dispute between Russia and the West over Ukraine could revive a shelved liquefied natural gas project in Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Canada confirmed that on Wednesday officials from Canada and Germany met virtually to discuss the project.

These “natural energy allies,” according to Natural Resources Canada, discussed “building a low-emissions energy future with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Stakeholders from both countries were also in attendance, including representatives of Calgary’s Pieridae Energy Ltd., who presented their revised Goldboro concept to potential German partners.

James Millar, Pieridae’s director of external relations, said in an email that the Alberta company now is looking at a less-costly floating liquefication plant “much smaller project than the original, land-based Goldboro LNG.”

Pieridae announced last June it was putting Goldboro on hold, citing “pandemic-led disruptions” which have “made the current version of the project impractical.”

The floating platform would be moored off Goldboro, north east of Halifax, N.S., where Pieridae owns the land. Natural gas piped in from Alberta would be liquefied aboard the vessel, then loaded on LNG tankers for export.

Royal Dutch Shell pioneered the floating LNG concept with its mammoth 600,000-tonne Prelude FLNG vessel, now in the Indian Ocean, off the north coast of Australia.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 10/2/20

banner 16

Welcome back.

This week, the Weymouth compressor station suffered its second unplanned gas blowout and emergency shutdown since September 11. The Feds are investigating, and the facility’s planned opening is now on hold until these mishaps are understood. Meanwhile, activists emphasize – as they have all along – that this compressor poses a health and safety hazard by its very existence on this too-small and too-populated site.

News about other pipelines includes a report exposing a $10 million donation to a Trump super PAC by Kelcy Warren, CEO of the company that owns the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline. The donation was made on August 31, just two weeks before the Trump administration proposed regulations that could “make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil.”

The organization Law Students for Climate Accountability has taken action against top law firms representing the oil and gas industry. The story includes access to their 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard. According to the accompanying analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change.” We’re also following major climate cases in the courts.

The divestment movement works by exposing financial support for the fossil fuel industry in both obvious (banking) and unlikely places. In the “unlikely” category, it’s surprising that the retirement fund covering many fire fighters battling California’s blazes continues to invest in coal. That almost seems like arson.

Lots of climate news because of just-published studies covering Antarctic ice loss, Amazon rain forest collapse, and the increasing depth of ocean heating. All of these add to the understanding that we’re in serious trouble and our window of opportunity is swinging rapidly closed. But we end on the very positive note that 94-year-old international treasure Sir David Attenborough lauched a climate-focused Instagram account last Thursday, and racked up his first million followers in just 44 minutes. With that accumulation rate, he now holds the Guinness world record previously belonging to Jennifer Aniston.

The clean energy debate in the power sector is moving to a question of when, not whether, net zero will happen. The year 2050 has become the default target of most major U.S. utilities, while activists declare a need to move faster (see everything in the Climate section, above). Meanwhile, energy efficiency in the building sector benefits from efforts to adjust aspects of state programs to better meet the needs of lower income communities, and also to reduce the carbon embodied in construction materials. And Massachusetts has awarded $1.4 million in clean transportation grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.

The fossil fuel industry is facing a massive amount of litigation. We found a story exploring this trend and the industry’s vulnerabilities. Another report explains the abrupt departure of the industry-friendly head of the Bureau of Land Management, and we wrap with an investigation of Exxon’s carbon capture greenwash program.

Residents of Springfield have fought a proposed biomass-to-energy plant for a decade, and the outcome hangs in the balance as the legislature considers a bill that would classify woody biomass as carbon neutral and make it eligible for clean energy credits. Burning woody biomass is far from carbon neutral, and emits fine particulate pollution – something the asthma capital of the country shouldn’t have to absorb. This is an important local story with broader implications as the biomass industry presses everywhere for growth opportunities.

The state of Maryland is the first to ban foam food containers, and it may soon be possible to truly recycle some plastics using newly-developed super-enzymes that break polymers down to chemical building blocks that can be reformulated into virgin plastic. This opens the possibility of a “circular” plastic container economy that relies much less on oil and gas for new stock – and provides value to materials currently discarded or burned as trash.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

feds investigating Weymouth compressor blowoutsFeds Investigating Unplanned Gas Releases At Weymouth Compressor
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 1, 2020

The federal government is investigating what caused an emergency shutdown and unplanned gas release at the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station on Wednesday, and whether it’s related to the station’s Sept. 11 shutdown and gas release.

The announcement by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation, comes on the same day the facility was slated to start sending gas northward to Maine and Canada.

According to PHMSA, Enbridge — the Canadian company behind the project — cannot restart the facility until the federal investigation is complete and a series of mechanical “corrective actions” have been met. Just hours earlier on Thursday, Enbridge announced it was “temporarily” pausing all operations at the compressor.
» Read article        

Weymouth hits pause
Gas company delays Weymouth compressor station startup after yet another ‘blowout’
The area’s congressional representatives want it shut down for good.
By Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com
October 1, 2020

Following two emergency shutdowns in less than three weeks, the energy company Enbridge says it will delay the start of service at its controversial gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The decision — first reported by the State House News Service — comes after the energy company disclosed that an unspecified incident triggered the station’s automatic shutdown system Wednesday morning and resulted in an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the area, as WBUR reported. In a separate incident on Sept. 11, a gasket failure caused a similar shutdown and venting of gas at the unfinished station, which had won approval from federal regulators last month to begin shipping gas as soon as Thursday.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s larger “Atlantic Bridge” plan to connect two existing interstate pipelines in order to increase its capacity to ship gas to New England and eastern Canada. However,  the project has faced vocal protests from local South Shore residents and environmental advocates over safety concerns and opposition to the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has deferred to federal regulators on the project, told reporters Thursday that he supports the decision to press pause.

“We believe that until these issues are completely and thoroughly investigated, and signed off on by the feds, it shouldn’t open,” the Republican governor said. “And my understanding is the feds made an unqualified statement earlier today saying just that, which we agree with, and support.”

But local Democratic delegation members, who have opposed the project’s location for roughly a year, are now calling on federal officials to pull the station’s permit.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Stephen Lynch said the second “dangerous blowout event” shows the danger of operating in “such a densely residential area.”

“While additional details on this latest safety incident are still under investigation, these accidents endangered the lives of local residents and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington and Braintree residents, as well as surrounding communities,” Lynch said, adding that he was “extremely concerned for the public’s safety.”
» Read article        

MA delegation reacts
Mass. members of Congress seek to block opening of Weymouth Compressor Station
By Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe
September 30, 2020

The state’s two Democratic senators and a South Shore congressman called for the federal government to block the planned opening Thursday of a controversial gas compression station in Weymouth after equipment failures led to emergency shutdowns of the facility.

The Weymouth Compressor Station had a “dangerous blowout event” Wednesday morning involving its emergency shutdown system — the second safety incident at the facility this month, according to Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who represents Weymouth.

Lynch said Wednesday afternoon that officials at the facility were “in the process of ordering a temporary emergency shutdown of the station.”

Separately Wednesday, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey asked a federal regulator to block the opening of the station and “conduct a thorough review of [an earlier] natural gas leak and the station’s ongoing activities.”

Opponents have argued for years that the Weymouth site, located on a peninsula, is too small, too polluted, and too close to too many dangers to safely accommodate the compressor.

Lynch said he has asked that an official from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration join him for a walk-through of the facility when he returns to Boston later this week.

“I have already asked the Secretary of Transportation to suspend the opening of the compressor station pending a comprehensive review,” Lynch said, “and I am now demanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission … revoke the certificate of approval for the site and suspend operations due to the repetitive occurrence of these extremely dangerous events.”
» Read article        

second leak at Weymouth
Second ‘Unplanned’ Gas Release At Weymouth Compressor This Month
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
September 30, 2020

For the second time this month, something triggered the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station’s emergency shutdown system and caused an “unplanned release” of at least 10,000 standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas into the nearby area.

The venting happened around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and occurred in a “controlled manner,” according to the company that operates the compressor, Enbridge.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the company said it would “follow up with more information in 3 business days, including an estimate of the actual volume of gas released.” It is legally required to notify MassDEP and the towns around the compressor about any unplanned gas releases that exceed 10,000 scf.

But while Enbridge says it’s “proceeding with safety as our priority,” opponents of the project are furious about the lack of details and terrified about what a second shutdown before the facility even goes into operation portends for the future.

Less than three weeks ago, a gasket failure at the facility caused a shutdown that forced operators to vent the entire contents of the station — about 265,000 scf of gas, which includes about 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds. It remains unclear how much of that gas was vented through a tall stack and how much was released at ground level, a distinction opponents of the project say is important because gas at ground level is more likely to ignite and explode.

“We still don’t know how much they released at ground level from the first accident, and now we have a second accident?” said Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against The Compressor (FRRACS).
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

greasing the DAPL skids
After Dakota Access CEO gave $10M, Trump pushed secret pipeline permits

By Steve Horn, Real News Network
September 29, 2020

On Sept. 15, the Trump administration proposed regulations that could make the federal pipeline permitting process more secretive and create a fast track for Big Oil. Just two weeks earlier on Aug. 31, one of the potential beneficiaries of that proposal, the CEO of the company that owns Dakota Access pipeline—Energy Transfer Equity’s Kelcy Warren—gave a Trump super PAC $10 million.

“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s given Trump cash shortly before getting lucky with his pipelines,” Hopkins told The Real News. “He donated to Trump’s presidential campaign, and one of the first executive orders Trump signed after being inaugurated was to push through Dakota Access and Keystone XL.”

The Army Corps of Engineers proposal calls for a reauthorization of the Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) oil and gas pipeline permitting program, the same expedited permit Dakota Access got in the months leading up to the standoff at Standing Rock Sioux tribal land in North Dakota in 2016. NWP 12 is also the subject of ongoing high-profile federal litigation because of that expedited permit. The legal news website Law360 noted that the new NWP 12 proposal could be an attempt to make that litigation moot, because it pertains to the 2017 NWP 12 regulation and not the new proposed rule.

The proposal comes two years before NWP 12 expires and appears to tie the hands legally of a prospective Biden administration if Trump loses the election in November. If it advances, the proposal could make even more opaque a regulatory regime already slammed by climate justice activists as circumventing transparency and democracy. It would add to the list of the 100 proposed or enacted environmental regulation rollbacks put in place by Trump.
» Read article        

State legislators update Westborough officials on Eversource project
By By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Community Advocate
September 24, 2020

Westborough – Town officials heard an update on the Eversource project from State Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), State Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough), State Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) at the Board of Selectmen meeting Sept. 22.

Dykema noted that the town has had a number of contacts with Eversource since January regarding the Worcester Feed Line Improvement Project, and that because it’s such a large project involving permitting processes from both the state and several communities it is important to maintain effective partnerships. Westborough town officials were not pleased with Eversource’s last presentation to the board, citing a real lack of effort on Eversource’s part to provide answers to questions the town has.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

law firm climate scorecardTop Law Firms Called Out for Serving Fossil Fuel Industry Clients in New Climate ‘Scorecard’
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 1, 2020

With lawsuits against major fossil fuel producers over climate damages on the rise, a new report and initiative examines how prestigious law firms are enabling climate breakdown. The student-led initiative, Law Students for Climate Accountability, calls for holding the legal industry accountable for profiting from work defending and lobbying for fossil fuel clients as the world faces what scientists say is a climate emergency. This campaign is emerging as industries ranging from finance to insurance are facing greater scrutiny in a rapidly warming world.

“Law firms write the contracts for fossil fuel projects, lobby to weaken environmental regulations, and help fossil fuel companies evade accountability in court. Our research is the first to expose the broad extent of firms’ role in driving the climate crisis,” Alisa White, a student at Yale Law School and a lead author on the report, said in a press release.

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, as the report is titled, looks at the top 100 most prestigious law firms in the U.S. (known as the Vault 100) and grades them according to their work in service of the fossil fuel industry. According to the analysis, the top 100 firms “worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change; were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry;” and “lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies.”

Overall, per this scorecard, only four firms received an “A” grade while 41 firms scored a “D,” and 26 received an “F.”
» Read article       
» Read the scorecard and report          

youth climate plaintiffs CanadaCourt Set to Hear Arguments in Youth Climate Lawsuit Against Canadian Federal Government
By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
September 30, 2020

A landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians against Canada’s federal government will come before a court this week for two days of hearings to determine if the case will advance to trial. Should the case go to trial, it would be one of the first courtroom trials anywhere in the world in litigation brought by youth against their national government over the climate crisis.

The Canadian lawsuit La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, filed almost exactly a year ago in October 2019, argues that Canada is contributing to dangerous climate change – such as by permitting fossil fuel projects – despite knowing the risks and that this amounts to violations of young people’s rights under a part of Canada’s constitution called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The youth also say the Canadian government is violating its legal obligations to protect life-sustaining natural resources under a legal doctrine known as the public trust doctrine. The claims are essentially the same as ones brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. federal government in the groundbreaking case Juliana v. United States. The La Rose lawsuit is the Canadian equivalent of the Juliana climate case.
» Read article       

as the world burns
‘As the World Burns’: Q&A With Author Lee van der Voo on Her New Book About a Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
September 29, 2020

Earlier this year a pair of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to dismiss the groundbreaking American youth climate change lawsuit Juliana v. United States. But the case is not yet over — while the 21 young people who sued the U.S. government await a decision on whether the full appeals court will review the ruling to toss the lawsuit, a brand-new book by award-winning environmental journalist Lee van der Voo takes a behind-the-scenes look at this landmark legal case and the youth plaintiffs known collectively as the Juliana 21.

The book, AS THE WORLD BURNS: The New Generation of Activists and the Legal Fight Against Climate Change, tells the stories of these young people who are part of a generation of youth fighting for their lives and their rights amidst the unfolding climate crisis. “AS THE WORLD BURNS is climate breakdown like you’ve never seen it — through the eyes of the young,” the book’s description notes.

DeSmog reporter Dana Drugmand recently chatted with author Lee van der Voo about this new book on the Juliana youth climate lawsuit. The interview, which has been edited slightly for brevity, explores why the book is so timely, how the Juliana lawsuit is part of a broader youth movement, and how the mainstream media “is in danger of being on the wrong side of history” when it comes to covering the climate crisis.
» Read article        

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

CalPERS in coal
Retirement Fund for Many California Firefighters Battling Wildfires Puts Money in Coal
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 27, 2020

This week, the Creek Fire in California officially became the largest single wildfire in the state’s history — and the blaze remained just 32 percent contained. Already this year, more than 3.6 million acres have burned in nearly 8,000 separate fires.

Five of the six largest fires to strike California since reliable record-keeping began are currently burning according to Cal Fire. Smoke from the fires has already reached the Atlantic coast and turned skies along the West coast eerie shades of orange and red. The fires have killed at least 26 people — and the smoke may have already caused the deaths of an additional 1,200 people, researchers from Stanford University estimated earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a new report finds that California’s largest pension fund has continued to invest in fossil fuel companies, whose products are the biggest driver of climate change. CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund, still invests in, for example, a South African mining firm that calls itself a “leading coal producer” — despite the sector’s massive downturn over the last several years and a state law that directed CalPERS to divest from coal.
» Read article         

» More about divestment             

CLIMATE

Antarctic ice loss modeled
Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
October 2, 2020

The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.
» Read article         
» Obtain the study

Amazon collapseFire and drought could trigger Amazon collapse
Amazon collapse could soon mean the end of one of Earth’s richest habitats, leaving the rainforest destroyed by humans.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
September 30th, 2020

Within one human lifetime, Amazon collapse could have turned the rainforest into open savannah.

The combined devastation of human-induced global warming, rapidly increasing degradation or destruction of the forest, natural climate cycles and catastrophic wildfires could be enough to bring the world’s biggest, richest and most vital forest to a tipping point: towards a new kind of habitat.

“The risk that our generation will preside over the irreversible collapse of Amazonian and Andean biodiversity is huge, literally existential,” warns Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology, in the latest Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Professor Bush bases his argument on the evidence of history: painstaking study of fossil pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Andean lakes confirms that the profligate biodiversity of the Amazon has been disturbed many times in the past, as global climate has varied with the retreat and advance of the glaciers.

It has, however, never reached a tipping point towards collapse, if only because it has never before had to face the hazard of fire on the present scale.

There is another factor: ever-greater human intrusion into, degradation of, or conversion of forest into plantation or ranch land heightens the hazard of a dramatic shift from moist tropical canopy to open and wooded grasslands.

And then, the argument goes, there are the ever-higher temperatures driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions from human investment in fossil fuel energy, and ever more extensive destruction of the natural habitats that in the past have absorbed atmospheric carbon. And with higher temperatures, there arrives the risk of ever more catastrophic drought.
» Read article         
» Read the AMBG article

ocean stratification study
New Study Shows a Vicious Circle of Climate Change Building on Thickening Layers of Warm Ocean Water
Global warming is deepening blankets of warmer water that alter ocean currents, hinder absorption of carbon, intensify storms and disrupt biological cycles.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
September 28, 2020

Near the surface of the ocean, global warming is creating increasingly distinct layers of warm water that stifle seawater circulations critical for regulating climate and sustaining marine life. The sheets of warm water block flows of heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients within the water column, and between the oceans and atmosphere.

A new study shows more heat is building up in the upper 600 feet of the ocean than deeper down. That increasingly distinct warm layer on the surface can intensify tropical storms, disrupt fisheries, interfere with the ocean absorption of carbon and deplete oxygen, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, said.

The intensified layering, called ocean stratification, is happening faster than scientists expected, an international team of researchers reported in the study, published Sept. 28 in the journal Nature Climate Change. And that means the negative impacts will arrive faster and also be greater than expected, said Mann, a co-author of the study.

The research suggests that some of the worst-case global warming scenarios outlined in major international climate reports can’t be ruled out, he said. If the ocean surface warms faster and less carbon is carried to the depths, those processes along with other climate feedbacks could lead atmospheric CO2 to triple and the global average temperature could increase 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, he added.
» Read article         
» Read the study

Sir David goes social
Climate Champion David Attenborough Breaks Jennifer Aniston’s Instagram Record
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Sir David Attenborough wants to share a message about the climate crisis. And it looks like his fellow Earthlings are ready to listen.

The beloved 94-year-old nature broadcaster joined Instagram Thursday, and quickly broke the world record for the shortest amount of time to reach one million followers, Guinness World Records announced. He reached the milestone in just two hours and 44 minutes.

“I’ve been appearing on radio and television for the past 60 years,” Attenborough said in a video accompanying his first post, “but this is my first time on Instagram.”

In the video, Attenborough said he was trying the new (to him) form of communication in order to spread awareness about the threats facing life on Earth.

“As we all know, the world is in trouble,” he said. “Continents are on fire. Glaciers are melting. Coral reefs are dying. Fish are disappearing from our oceans. The list goes on and on. But we know what to do about it.”

Attenborough said he would be recording video messages over the next few weeks explaining both the problems facing our planet and possible solutions.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

net-zero 2050 new norm
Inside Clean Energy: Net Zero by 2050 Has Quickly Become the New Normal for the Largest U.S. Utilities
New plans from Ameren and Entergy show the trend to renewables is accelerating because coal just can’t compete. Some activists want it to go even faster.
By Dan Gearino, InsideClimate News
October 1, 2020

In 2018, when Xcel Energy became the first large U.S. utility to pledge to get to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, I wondered how long it would take for those kinds of commitments to become the industry standard.

The answer, as we learned in recent days, is “less than two years.”

Ameren and Entergy each issued plans to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, joining a list of some of their largest peers like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy.

Also, Vistra Energy, the country’s largest independent power company that is not a utility, released a plan this week to get to net-zero by 2050 and said it would close all seven of its Midwestern coal-fired power plants by 2027.

Each of the corporate announcements demonstrate that the transition to clean energy is accelerating. Taken together, they make clear that we are in the middle of great change in the energy economy in which electricity producers have concluded that they can save money and reduce risks by investing in wind, solar and energy storage, and by closing fossil fuel plants.

But this is not a quick shift from coal to renewables. Ameren says it will gradually reduce its use of coal, starting with a plant closing in 2022 and continuing until the final plant closes in 2042.

The slow timetable is a problem for environmental advocates who otherwise are excited to see Ameren commit to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Fall River MA liquor and lotto
Massachusetts seeks solutions to expand access to energy efficiency dollars
A recent report shows that renters, lower-income residents and non-English speakers are less likely to benefit from the state’s widely praised energy conservation program.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons
October 1, 2020

As cold weather approaches and COVID-19 continues to hit harder in disadvantaged neighborhoods, advocates in Massachusetts are pushing the state and its utilities to do more to ensure everyone has equal access to the energy efficiency services that could help them stay warmer and healthier throughout the winter.

This latest surge of activism has been driven, at least in part, by a recent report by the major utility companies that concludes residents use energy efficiency services at significantly lower rates in communities with lower median incomes, more renters, or higher populations of non-English speakers.

“There are real barriers that need to be addressed here,” said Cindy Luppi, New England director for environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action. “There is a big disconnect here that needs to be a priority for the program.”
» Read article         
» Read the report

addressing embodied carbonBuilding Industry Gets Serious About Its Embodied Carbon Problem
Wringing carbon out of buildings, including the materials, is a major climate challenge. Industry veterans see changes stirring.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
September 30, 2020

In the not-too-distant past, a small group of architects and people in the building industry, saddened and motivated by the urgent arc of climate change, set out to discover just how much their own profession was to blame.

They began by summing all the emissions released at power plants to keep buildings cool and electricity flowing to wall outlets. Then they added the invisible gases drifting out of roof vent pipes from heaters and hot water heaters that burn fuel inside of buildings. The picture was already sobering: Just keeping buildings running this way amounted to 28 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

But there was another, still more intractable series of smokestacks: for the glass, vinyl, drywall, and especially steel and concrete that go into buildings.

In the case of cement, the very chemical reaction at its heart generates massive carbon dioxide. Since carbon dioxide is so lasting in our air, the furnace roar of material creation reverberates for generations.

When the clean building advocates added in this embodied carbon, buildings turned out to be directly and indirectly responsible for nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

This growing cadre of change makers has now set in motion a transition in the building industry that is as hopeful and may be as important as the better-known transition sweeping our electrical sector. They are trying to change the way materials are made. And they are trying to do it now, to preserve the delicate blanket of gases enveloping Earth, and with it, any hope of a recognizable climate.

As the professionals who specify or “spec” materials for buildings, they are powerful, and it is that power they are wielding.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

CEC grants announced
Massachusetts transportation grants emphasize partnerships to cut emissions
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center this month awarded $1.4 million in grants that pair promising electrification solutions with organizations to deploy them.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 29, 2020

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.4 million in grants to nine transportation projects that promise to speed the spread of electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center earlier this month announced the recipients of its Accelerating Clean Transportation Now (ACTNow) program grants, awarding between $37,000 and $200,000 to a range of projects including school bus electrification, a car-sharing program using electric vehicles, training and certification programs for car dealers selling electric vehicles, and the creation of a fleet electrification planning tool.

“This is our first large-scale banner effort on clean transportation,” said Ariel Horowitz, senior program director at the center. “This is an area of key importance for greenhouse gas reductions in the commonwealth.”

As Massachusetts pursues its goal of slashing carbon emissions 85% by 2020, the transportation sector is a major target for reductions. As of 2016, transportation was responsible for 43% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

tidal wave
Why a Tidal Wave of Climate Lawsuits Looms Over the Fossil Fuel Industry
By Karen Savage, The Climate Docket, in DeSmog Blog
September 28, 2020

Amid a summer rife with climate-related disasters, the liability lawsuits came like an advancing flood, first Minnesota and Washington D.C. within days of each other in June, followed by Hoboken, Charleston, Delaware and Connecticut in rapid succession in September. Their suits have turned a summer of unrest into a quest to make fossil fuel companies pay for the damages caused by the burning of their products, joining a trend that began three years ago but evolving to match the circumstances of today.

The latest round of lawsuits draws from the dozens filed across the country since 2017, but with a few new twists. They continue to charge fossil fuel companies with public nuisance for producing and marketing a dangerous product, but they increasingly allege the companies acted together to also violate state consumer fraud statutes. And for the first time, they have begun to include the industry’s largest trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), among the alleged culprits in deceiving the public.

“There is a very strong evidentiary basis for showing that these companies knew about the impacts of climate change and colluded to prevent the dissemination of that information,” said Jessica Wentz, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article         

trespassing at BLMTrump’s Bureau of Land Management Chief Forced Out After Judge Says He’s Serving Unlawfully
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

A federal judge in Montana ordered William Perry Pendley, the head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to quit immediately after finding that the Trump administration official had served in the post unlawfully for 14 months, according to CNN.

The ruling may reverse an entire year of decisions that Pendley made to open up the American West to oil and gas drilling, as The Washington Post reported. The judge in the case, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, said that Pendley had been appointed to the post, but his name had never been submitted to the Senate for confirmation.

“Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” wrote Morris in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday, as The New York Times reported. He added that Pendley’s authority “did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution.”
» Read article         

not actually sequestered
Exxon Touts Carbon Capture as a Climate Fix, but Uses It to Maximize Profit and Keep Oil Flowing
The company sells the CO2 to other companies that use it to revive depleted oil fields and has relentlessly fought EPA oversight of the practice.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
September 27, 2020

Sprawled across the arid expanse of southwestern Wyoming is one of the world’s largest carbon capture plants, a hulking jumble of pipes, compressors and exhaust flues operated by ExxonMobil.

The oil giant has long promoted its investments in carbon capture technology—a method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions—as evidence that it is addressing climate change, but it rarely discusses what happens to the carbon captured at the Shute Creek Treating Facility.

The plant’s main function is to process natural gas from a nearby deposit. But in order to purify and sell the gas, Exxon must first strip out carbon dioxide, which comprises about two-thirds of the mix of gases extracted from nearby wells.

The company found a revenue stream for this otherwise useless, climate-warming byproduct: It began capturing the CO2 and selling it to other companies, which injected it into depleted oil fields to help produce more oil.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

welcome to Springfield
Activists Continue 10-Year Fight Over Biomass Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
September 29, 2020

Environmental activists fear a climate bill in the Massachusetts legislature will breathe new life into a long-proposed biomass power plant in Springfield.

The House version of a climate bill currently in a conference committee on Beacon Hill would define commercial grade wood-burning biomass as non-carbon emitting sources of energy. Unless that language is taken out, a long-stalled biomass power plant in Springfield could get financing, according to Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman.

“There should not be any green energy subsidy given to these types of incinerators,” said Lederman.

Lederman, who chairs the council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee recently forwarded to the co-chairs of the legislative conference committee an online petition with over 2,500 signatures opposing state incentives for biomass energy projects.   Ten Springfield City Councilors also signed a letter urging the state legislature to eliminate the language in the climate bill they say would provide a boost to the controversial local project.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS

foam clam
Maryland Will Be First State to Ban Foam Food Containers
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
September 28, 2020

Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.

The law, which was passed in 2019, prohibits restaurants and other institutions that serve food, such as schools, from using polystyrene containers, The Baltimore Sun reported.

“Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods,” chief bill sponsor Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman told CNN when it passed. “We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space.”

Lierman said she had tried twice before to pass the bill, but a shift in public opinion against plastic pollution finally pushed it over the finish line.
» Read article         

» More about plastics bans

PLASTICS RECYCLING

super-enzymes
New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster
Breakthrough that builds on plastic-eating bugs first discovered by Japan in 2016 promises to enable full recycling
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
September 28, 2020

A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists and could be used for recycling within a year or two.

The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, enables the full recycling of the bottles. Scientists believe combining it with enzymes that break down cotton could also allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled. Today, millions of tonnes of such clothing is either dumped in landfill or incinerated.

Plastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from the Arctic to the deepest oceans, and people are now known to consume and breathe microplastic particles. It is currently very difficult to break down plastic bottles into their chemical constituents in order to make new ones from old, meaning more new plastic is being created from oil each year.

The super-enzyme was engineered by linking two separate enzymes, both of which were found in the plastic-eating bug discovered at a Japanese waste site in 2016. The researchers revealed an engineered version of the first enzyme in 2018, which started breaking down the plastic in a few days. But the super-enzyme gets to work six times faster.
» Read article         

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 9/18/20

banner 14

Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station generated a lot of news this week. We lead with an excellent report by DeSmog Blog’s Dana Drugmand, covering an accidental methane leak during testing. Ms. Drugmand also includes a summary of the many problems  and objections that make this facility so controversial. In spite of the methane leak, renewed calls for the project’s shut-down, and fresh criticism of the disputed 2019 Health Impact Assessment, developer Enbridge just sought federal approval to begin operations as early as October 1st.

Every week seems to bring several more climate-related lawsuits, as cities and states take legal action against the fossil fuel industry. Cleaning up after hurricanes, floods, and fires is crushingly expensive, and these suits seek compensation from the corporations and their lobbies for the fraud and deception that led to the current crisis. The state of Connecticut and city of Charleston, SC are the latest to take action.

New legislation aims to stop further harm by rolling back fossil fuel expansion. Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), introduced the Future Generations Protection Act, which would “ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants, stop hydraulic fracking, and ban crude oil and natural gas exports”, among other measures. Congress is also probing ways to insert green economic development into Covid-19 relief funding.

As we conclude the northern hemisphere’s hottest summer on record, life is becoming untenable in previously desirable parts of the country. We start with an accounting of future emissions expected from the Trump administration’s rollback of dozens of environmental regulations, and follow with a look at the human migration that will result when those rollbacks play out in the climate.

Assuming we manage to quickly and decisively reverse our current disastrous policies, clean energy deployment will have to accelerate substantially. A new study finds that solar buildout needs to proceed at a pace six times greater than the 2019 level to achieve zero carbon by mid century. There’s also more work to be done in clean transportation, as some of the current generation of electric buses are falling short of performance requirements, especially in winter conditions.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries and electric vehicles. This is a big deal and FERC deserves credit for doing the right thing. Now, if they could only apply the same principles to pipeline projects….

The fossil fuel industry seems to have exhausted its run on the policy of denying, ignoring, and self-policing their methane emissions problem. Satellite-based methane detection technology and increased global awareness have left nowhere to hide. Accountability is long overdue but seems to be coming.

We close with outstanding reporting from NPR and PBS/Frontline on the decades-long scam by the oil/gas and plastics industries that sold the myth of plastics recycling to a public that was growing alarmed about huge volumes of trash flowing to landfills and oceans. It’s vital to understand this story at a time when the industry plans to significantly ramp up plastics production – and still has no viable way to dispose or recycle the stuff.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unplanned not unexpected
‘Unplanned Gas Release’ at Controversial Gas Facility in Weymouth, South of Boston
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
September 15, 2020

The standard, pre-operational testing of a new natural gas compressor station in the Massachusetts community of Weymouth, south of Boston, had barely begun last week when a gasket failure prompted an emergency shutdown of the facility and resulted in an unintentional gas leak. Weymouth’s compressor station, once open, would keep gas pumping through a regional pipeline system, but even before this gas leak, its road to get there has been bumpy, with outcries over its air pollution permit and health concerns from the surrounding community.

Enbridge, the Canadian-based energy pipeline corporation behind the controversial Weymouth compressor station, sent a written notice to Massachusetts state regulators on Friday, September 11 informing them of the mechanical failure and “unplanned” gas release. The compressor station’s approval plan requires this notification when there is an unplanned gas release exceeding 10,000 standard cubic feet in volume. According to Enbridge, 265,000 standard cubic feet of gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were leaked during the incident.

Natural gas, also known as fossil gas, is composed almost entirely of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that has roughly 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the short-term. Both planned and unplanned gas releases in pipeline infrastructure like compressor stations add methane to the atmosphere, contributing to the ongoing climate crisis. Emissions of VOCs and chemicals including some known carcinogens are also common with gas compressor stations. Explosions and fires have occurred in gas systems, including compressors, all over the country.

Activists opposed to the Weymouth compressor have repeatedly raised a number of climate, health, and safety risks. The contentious project has seen sustained local protests and direct action for the last several years. Earlier this year, Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, an environmental researcher, went on a two-week hunger strike to raise awareness of the compressor’s public health and safety hazards.

But federal and state regulators have apparently ignored these concerns. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which initially approved the project in 2017, granted permission in late November last year for Enbridge subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission to begin construction on the compressor.

Massachusetts permitting authorities such as the Office of Coastal and Zone Management and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have also green-lighted the project. In June a federal appeals court overturned the project’s air quality permit, finding that the DEP erred in approving it, but on August 31, the court reversed its decision and reinstated the permit.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge pipeline carrying fossil gas through the Northeast region and into Canada, where it could be exported. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Nova Scotia, however, has not yet been built and it is unclear exactly where the gas is going as several utility companies that originally signed onto the project have since said they do not need the Weymouth compressor to meet customer gas demand. 

“The question of where the gas is going is totally up in the air,” Alice Arena, Weymouth resident and president of the community group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, told DeSmog.
» Read article            

 

compressor pic 9-3-20
Enbridge seeks to turn on Weymouth compressor station
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
September 17, 2020

WEYMOUTH_ An unplanned gas release from a compressor station in the Fore River Basin, on Sept. 11 is not deterring Enbridge Inc. from trying to have the controversial facility be in full operation by Oct. 1.

Enbridge is requesting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allow the compressor station to be fully operative by its subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the opposition group requested FERC to order the facility shut down after the gasket failure.

“They had an emergency shutdown system, but it was not fully operative,” she said. “Their (Enbridge) letter to the DEP said the emergency shutdown system was not fully operative.”

Arena said FERC had not done an investigation into how the gasket failure occurred.

“We are working with Sen. Markey’s office to get the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) involved because the facility is part of an interstate pipeline,” she said. “That is in the works. Nobody has gone down to the site to say, why did your emergency shutdown system not work?”

Arena said the natural gas leak from the gasket failure might have been worse if it occurred at 2 a.m. because there were no workers at the facility.

“The gas buildup could have been so immense that there could have been a fire,” she said.

Arena said FRRACS couldn’t fathom how the compressor station could be ready for full service on Oct. 1 because Enbridge has not finished its commissioning activities.
» Read article            

 

Lynch calls for shutdown
Congressman Lynch pushes for compressor shutdown
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
September 15, 2020

Congressman Stephen Lynch is calling for a halt to operations of the natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin after an unplanned gas release last week just days after the facility started testing.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, called the compressor station a “misguided and dangerous project” that poses an “imminent public safety threat” to the residents of Weymouth and nearby communities.

He said the station should be shut down pending extensive state and federal oversight following an unplanned release of 265,000 cubic feet of natural gas at the facility last week, just days after testing started to prepare for operations.

“The September 11th gas leak in Weymouth has greatly exacerbated our concerns – particularly in the wake of the series of devastating natural gas explosions that occurred in the Merrimack Valley in 2018 and considering the marked increase in pipeline safety incidents reported by (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) over the last two decades,” Lynch wrote in the letter.

The controversial compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. It has been a point of contention for years among neighbors and some local, state and federal officials who say it presents serious health and safety risks.
» Read article            

 

Fore River HIA
MAPC Releases Independent Evaluation of Fore River Health Impact Assessment
Statement by MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen, MAPC
September 14, 2020

Today, I am releasing an independent evaluation of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) regarding the proposal to site a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, MA. The evaluation was conducted by Public Health by Design (PHD), a consulting group with broad expertise in international standards for the conduct of HIAs. PHD is based in London, England. [The following excerpts are from the summary of PHD’s findings]

  1. HIA scoping limitations. PHD found that the HIA was limited by Governor Baker’s Directive, which narrowed the HIA’s scope and split the air quality assessment from other health-relevant issues, including public safety in the case of malfunction and impacts on climate. Furthermore, the time allocated to complete the HIA, and the resources made available for that purpose, were highly constrained.
  2. Cumulative pollutant exposures assessment. PHD found that MAPC should have gone further in the assessment of cumulative exposures in the study area.
  3. Environmental Justice communities. PHD also found that MAPC did not conduct adequate outreach to nearby Environmental Justice communities or ensure their residents were represented on the Advisory Committee.
  4. Health impacts of emissions below regulatory thresholds. Finally, PHD found that the findings of the report tended to under-estimate the possible health effects of emissions that fall below regulatory thresholds.     

» Read statement 

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

 

Connecticut trendingConnecticut Becomes the Fifth State to Sue Big Oil over Climate Change
By Dana Drugmand, Drilled News
September 14, 2020

On Monday, September 14, Connecticut announced it had filed a lawsuit in state court against oil major ExxonMobil for alleged “decades of deceit” on the risks of climate change that stem from burning fossil fuels.

“ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a press release. “ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health and our economy. Yet it chose to deceive the public. No more.”

At a time when much of the West Coast is engulfed in flames, fossil fuel companies are facing a torrent of climate accountability lawsuits from cities and states with four new cases filed this month alone.

Connecticut’s lawsuit comes on the heels of back-to-back lawsuits filed against Exxon and other oil and gas companies by the city of Charleston, South Carolina and by the state of Delaware on September 9 and 10, respectively. Hoboken, New Jersey sued some of these same fossil fuel firms on September 2. All of these cases are centered on allegations that the industry deliberately deceived the public on the climate risks of its fossil fuel products in order to stave off climate policies and protect profits.
» Read article      
» Read the press release        

 

Charleston up nextClimate Litigation Reaches American South with Charleston, SC Filing Latest Suit
By Dana Drugmand, Drilled News
September 10, 2020

 

The city of Charleston, South Carolina is going to court to hold two dozen oil and gas companies accountable for alleged deception about the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change.

Charleston filed its lawsuit against 24 petroleum firms in South Carolina state court on September 9, joining around 20 other communities across the country pursuing similar litigation against the fossil fuel industry. Hoboken, New Jersey filed a climate lawsuit just last week against six major oil and gas companies plus the industry’s largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. 24 hours after Charleston’s announcement, the state of Delaware announced the filing of its climate liability suit, against several fossil fuel companies and the American Petroleum Institute.

The Charleston lawsuit names major petroleum companies and their affiliates such as BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Shell Oil.

“As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a press release. “And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception.”
» Read article          
» Read the Charleston press release               

» More about protests and actions        

 

LEGISLATION

 

US Capitol
Reps. Schakowsky, Barragán Introduce Legislation to End Fossil Fuel Expansion and Protect Communities
By Collin Rees, Oil Change International
September 17, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Future Generations Protection Act. This bill would help ensure a rapid shift to clean renewable energy by stopping further expansion of fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Specifically, the Future Generations Protection Act would ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants, stop hydraulic fracking, and ban crude oil and natural gas exports. It would also prohibit the Federal Energy Resources Commission from approving new liquified natural gas terminal siting or construction, unless doing so would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The wildfires currently devastating our country and heightened hurricane threat prove we can’t afford to wait any longer to act on climate change,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “These once-in-a-generation disasters are now normal occurrences and securing our environmental health and prosperity for future generations requires that we address the source of the problem — fossil fuels. Of course, Congress must be thorough when it comes to passing legislation that has the potential to cause mass labor displacement and pair this bill with a jobs package. The Future Generations Protection Act is a critical step toward creating opportunities for more economically viable solutions and a cleaner, healthier future for all.”
» Read press release                                                

» More about legislation            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

 

trailing EuropeHouse to probe US lag on leveraging clean energy for COVID-19 recovery, consider bipartisan energy bill
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 11, 2020

While the U.S. has yet to include green infrastructure and clean energy in any of its COVID-19 recovery packages, countries across Europe and elsewhere were comparatively quick to tie climate policy into their economic recovery plans.

“What’s interesting about the EU situation is they already had a plan,” said Jennifer Huang, senior international fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
» Read article           

» More about greening the economy         

 

CLIMATE

 

damage assessment
What Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Mean for Global Warming
President Trump has made dismantling federal climate policies a centerpiece of his administration. A new analysis from the Rhodium Group finds those rollbacks add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.
By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer, New York Times
September 17, 2020

The Trump administration has acted to repeal or weaken at least 100 environmental regulations over the past four years, including a number of Obama-era climate policies that Mr. Trump has said stifle businesses.

Assuming these Trump administration policies go forward as planned and survive legal challenges, the United States will emit the equivalent of an extra 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide between now and 2035, the Rhodium Group estimated. That’s more than Germany, Britain and Canada together emitted from energy use in 2018, the latest year for which data is available.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of global warming, which is increasingly causing damage throughout the United States. More frequent flooding along the coasts, increased fire hazard in the West, worsening air quality, and fiercer heat waves have all been tied to rising global temperatures. If emissions are not reined in, scientists say, the damage will only deepen.
» Read article          
» Read the Rhodium Group analysis                 

 

moving day
Climate Change Will Force a New American Migration
Wildfires rage in the West. Hurricanes batter the East. Droughts and floods wreak damage throughout the nation. Life has become increasingly untenable in the hardest-hit areas, but if the people there move, where will everyone go?
By Abrahm Lustgarten, photography by Meridith Kohut, ProPublica
September 15, 2020

For years, Americans have avoided confronting [climate] changes in their own backyards. The decisions we make about where to live are distorted not just by politics that play down climate risks, but also by expensive subsidies and incentives aimed at defying nature. In much of the developing world, vulnerable people will attempt to flee the emerging perils of global warming, seeking cooler temperatures, more fresh water and safety. But here in the United States, people have largely gravitated toward environmental danger, building along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and settling across the cloudless deserts of the Southwest.

Across the United States, some 162 million people — nearly one in two — will most likely experience a decline in the quality of their environment, namely more heat and less water. For 93 million of them, the changes could be particularly severe, and by 2070, our analysis suggests, if carbon emissions rise at extreme levels, at least four million Americans could find themselves living at the fringe, in places decidedly outside the ideal niche for human life. The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable. And the nation’s federal flood-insurance program is for the first time requiring that some of its payouts be used to retreat from climate threats across the country. It will soon prove too expensive to maintain the status quo.
» Read article            

 

hottest summer
Northern hemisphere breaks record for hottest ever summer
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
September 14, 2020

This summer was the hottest ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, according to US government scientists.

June, July and August were 1.17C (2.11F) above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

The new record surpassed the summers of 2016 and 2019. Last month was also the second-hottest August ever recorded for the globe. The numbers put 2020 on track to be one of the five warmest years, according to Noaa.

United Nations officials have warned that many countries are not prepared to advance climate ambitions, while the US faces a presidential election that will decide whether it will contribute to such global efforts or hinder them.

With aggressive federal action, the US could cut its climate pollution almost in half by 2030 compared with 2005, according to the latest report from America’s Pledge, a group of private- and public-sector leaders.
» Read article           

 

methane explainedClimate Explained: Methane Is Short-Lived in the Atmosphere but Leaves Long-Term Damage
By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter, EcoWatch
September 13, 2020

For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.

In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency – a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (GWP) of the gas over time.

The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.

In this way, emissions of one gas – like methane – can be compared with emissions of any other – like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.

Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.

How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.

As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.
» Read article           

» More about climate      

 

CLEAN ENERGY

 

6x to net zero
Solar buildout must accelerate by up to six times 2019 levels to achieve net zero
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
September 16, 2020

The world will need to build five to six times as much solar and wind power per year as in 2019 if a carbon-zero economy is to be reached by the middle of the century, a study has said.

To reach that goal as well as the 90,000 – 115,000TWhs of annual global electricity supply needed, additional solar and wind capacity of around 13,000 – 18,000GW will be required by 2050, representing an investment of US$32 trillion, according to new analysis from think tank the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC).

It highlights that reductions in the cost of renewable energy make a net-zero economy “easily affordable” and argues that all growth in electricity supply should now come from zero-carbon sources with no need to build any new coal-fired power capacity to support economic growth and rising living standards.

Signatories of the report say the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the unpreparedness of the global economy to systemic risks and that the massive public spending now being dedicated to stimulating economic recovery constitutes a unique opportunity to invest in a more resilient economy. The ETC estimates that additional investments required to achieve the climate goals will be between US$1 trillion and US$2 trillion per year, equivalent to 1% – 1.5% of global GDP.
» Read article           

 

perovskite
Meet Perovskite, the Mystery Mineral That Could Transform Our Solar Energy Future
Someday, solar panels may be light and cheap enough that they could be hung on a clothesline, thanks to a synthetic mineral called perovskite. Physicist Sam Stranks explains the science and the challenges that stand in its way.
By Karen Frances Eng, TED Ideas
September 15, 2020

 

Solar power is key to our energy future. But the solar industry is butting up against one hard problem: Silicon cells are not very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity — at best, about 29 percent efficient. You may wonder, Why does efficiency even matter, when sunlight is free? The answer: because low efficiency means you need to install a whole lot of solar panels — which can be large, heavy and expensive to manufacture — to generate enough energy to make a dent in your needs.

But that could change thanks to a mineral called perovskite, according to Cambridge University physicist (and TED Fellow) Sam Stranks. He and his colleagues at Swift Solar are working to develop perovskite-based solar panels that could break the energy-efficiency upper limit.
» Read article           

 

Europe renewables dominating soon
Renewables Start to Outpace Fossil Fuels on Europe’s Grid
This week on The Energy Gang, we survey Europe’s electricity transition.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
September 11, 2020

By 2030, Wood Mackenzie expects wind, solar and batteries to dominate Europe’s grid mix. But it may be happening even sooner.

In the first half of 2020, renewables (defined as solar, wind, hydro and biomass) beat out fossil fuels on the European grid for the first time. They didn’t just beat out coal — they beat out all fossil fuels put together.

This week on The Energy Gang, we’ll look at what the milestone means.
» Listen to podcast       

» More about clean energy        

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

 

underperformingT notes: Battery buses not ready for primetime yet
Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
September 14, 2020

MBTA OFFICIALS said on Monday that battery-powered buses are a promising technology that is still several years away from being ready for prime time, largely because a test of five vehicles indicated they take too long to charge and don’t live up to their mileage specifications, particularly during the winter.

The MBTA purchased five battery-power, 60-foot buses in 2019 and ran them on Silver Line routes over the past year. According to the T, the vehicle manufacturer promised the buses would run 100 to 120 miles on a single charge, but the actual mileage ranged from 60 to 110 miles, with the lesser amounts coming on colder weather days.

Erik Stoothoff, the MBTA’s chief engineer, said the buses would run out of juice in the afternoons, unable to complete some of their runs. He said it took eight hours to recharge the batteries.

“They don’t have enough battery power to deliver a full day’s service,” he said.

Stoothoff said the performance may actually be worse than the T’s testing indicates because the past winter was so mild. He said mileage dropped to 60 miles when the temperature was 20 degrees, but may have dropped even more with colder temperatures. “We have not stressed these buses the way the Boston climate can stress these buses,” he said.

Lawmakers and transportation advocates are pressing the T to convert to all-electric buses as quickly as possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stoothoff said the battery technology is rapidly improving, but he predicted it would be several years before the technology reaches a level that would justify a major procurement.
» Read article           

 

marks the spot
Climate Scientists Take Their Closest Look Yet at the Warming Impact of Aviation Emissions
A new study reaffirms that contrail clouds produce more global warming than carbon dioxide, a finding that could help in the reduction of emissions from air travel.
By Leto Sapunar, InsideClimate News
September 18, 2020

An international team of prominent scientists has published what they say is the most comprehensive study to date calculating the complex climate impact of aviation emissions, reaffirming that contrail clouds produce more warming than carbon dioxide.

The study, which had been in the works since 2015, looked at both carbon dioxide and several types of “non-CO2” emissions in aviation. Carbon dioxide emissions are fairly well understood at this point, Lee said, but the impacts of non-CO2 emissions, which the study found account for about two-thirds of the net warming effect, are considerably harder to calculate.

The primary non-CO2 impact results from the emission of nitrogen oxides, water vapor and soot that can create heat-trapping contrail clouds. They form as emissions of hot gases and soot from aircraft engines activate water particles that freeze, producing the contrails, those straight, wispy white markings of a plane’s path through the sky.   

Other non-CO2 emissions involve what the study calls “aviation aerosols”—small particles composed of black and organic carbon known as soot, sulfur and nitrogen compounds.

“The airlines did not dispute that there was an impact of CO2 on the atmosphere,” said Annie Petsonk, the international counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, who was not involved in the study. But until now, she said, they have claimed the science isn’t in on non-CO2 airline emissions. 

This paper, in filling that knowledge gap, deprives airlines of excuses to avoid dealing with non-CO2 emissions, said Petsonk.
» Read article          
» Read the study           

» More about clean transportation         

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

 

DERs getting traction
‘Game-Changer’ FERC Order Opens Up Wholesale Grid Markets to Distributed Energy Resources
A huge opportunity for solar, batteries, EVs and other DERs — and a huge challenge to integrate utility grid operations with bulk energy markets.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
September 17, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries and electric vehicles. 

Now comes the hard part: creating market rules that allow these DERs to play in bulk energy markets while retaining the role of state regulators and utilities to maintain the soundness of their distribution grid operations and retail DER programs.

“DERs can hide in plain sight in our homes, businesses and communities, but their power is mighty,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said at Thursday’s meeting. Projections indicate that from 65 gigawatts to more than 380 gigawatts of DERs could be added to the country’s power grids over the next four years, he noted.
» Read article           

 

big changesBig changes may be ahead for natural gas pipelines, if FERC does its job
By Jessica Bell, Clean Energy Attorney in the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law, Utility Dive – Opinion
September 16, 2020

The day of reckoning for new natural gas infrastructure is long overdue. As states and consumers turn towards cleaner sources of energy, we must ask what the place is for new pipelines.

While prior wisdom may have seen natural gas as a bridge to a lower-carbon future, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from natural gas operations are substantial and increasingly unmitigated, as the current administration abandons regulations, such as those meant to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Pipelines risk becoming costly stranded assets if they are built without a serious look at how they fit with decarbonization goals. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency tasked with evaluating the public need for new interstate natural gas pipelines and permitting their construction, refuses to grapple with these issues, though. And although FERC has said it wants to be more landowner-friendly, the burden of this infrastructure — that may not even be needed to meet demand — is still severe. But there are several avenues right now that could potentially lead to widespread change for natural gas pipeline projects.
» Read article           

» More about FERC          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

 

dirty laundryThe US Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Problem Is Catching up With It
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
September 16, 2020

For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to downplay, or outright ignore, the problem of methane. Methane is an invisible gas, and lax state and federal regulations in the U.S. have allowed oil and gas producers to self-report how much of this potent planet-warming gas leaks from its supply chain, which researchers have repeatedly found is a lot more than the industry was admitting to.

But improved technologies, particularly from satellites, have allowed the world to increasingly fact-check industry numbers, shining a light on the true climate impact of natural gas, which is primarily methane. These days, methane emissions have become an industry black eye, to the point that major players are now clamoring for regulations after the Trump administration recently finalized the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas.

On August 24, the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed arguing for the United States to regulate methane emissions for the oil and gas industry, and it was co-written by two influential voices in the industry, Antoine Halff and Andrew Gould. Halff was formerly the head of oil analysis at the International Energy Agency, an independent, intergovernmental organization focused on energy research and policy — and notorious for its overly optimistic (and inaccurate) outlooks for fossil fuels and overly pessimistic views on renewables. Gould is the former CEO of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company. Gould also currently serves on the board of Occidental Petroleum Corporation — one of the largest fracking companies among the Permian oilfields of Texas. 

Halff and Gould were writing in response to the Trump administration’s repeal of existing methane regulations. However, as a sign of the changing times, they argued that regulating the greenhouse gas is simply good business for the oil and gas industry. 

“Producers will find it increasingly difficult to stay in business while visibly spewing methane into the air,” they wrote.
» Read article           

 

400 billion strandedOil Industry’s Shift to Plastics in Question as Report Warns $400 Billion in Stranded Assets Possible
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
September 14, 2020

This past year has brought massive disruptions for fossil fuel producers, who saw oil prices briefly dip far below $0 a barrel in some places amid pandemic lockdowns and witnessed ExxonMobil, once the king of blue chip stocks, unceremoniously booted from the widely-watched Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The last decade saw US oil and gas production skyrocket — but the sector also underperformed the market eight out of the last nine years, according to industry analysts.

And going forward, the oil industry faces increasing doubts about demand for oil in the future because of an expected shift to electric vehicles. The gas side of the oil and gas industry also faces growing competition from renewable energy, which has gone from being the most expensive way to generate power to, in many cases, the cheapest.

But executives with major oil giants have said that even if oil demand [growth] dries up, they expect they’ll still be able to sell an increasing amount of their products as petrochemicals. “Unlike refining, and ultimately unlike oil, which will see a moment when the growth will stop, we actually don’t anticipate that with petrochemicals,” Andrew Brown, a Royal Dutch Shell official, told the San Antonio Express News in 2018.

This strategy, according to a report published this month by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, carries significant financial risks, putting $400 billion of petrochemical industry investments at risk of becoming stranded assets. That’s nearly an entire year’s revenue for the worldwide plastics industry, based on 2018 figures from the Plastics Industry Association, potentially down the drain.

And the vast majority of those petrochemical investments are, in fact, investments in plastics. “Whilst most commentators have noted that petrochemicals are a major driver of expected oil demand growth, we can go one stage further,” the Carbon Tracker report notes, “and demonstrate that it is specifically plastics within petrochemicals that drive the expected growth in oil demand.”
» Read article             
» Read the Carbon Tracker report        

» More about fossil fuel            

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

 

recycling hoaxHow Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled
By Laura Sullivan, NPR
September 11, 2020

NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal industry documents and interviewing top former officials. We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn’t work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic.

The industry’s awareness that recycling wouldn’t keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program’s earliest days, we found. “There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis,” one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.

Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true.

“If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment,” Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, known today as the Plastics Industry Association and one of the industry’s most powerful trade groups in Washington, D.C., told NPR.
» Read article                  

» More about plastics recycling       

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