Tag Archives: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Weekly News Check-In 10/23/20

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions            

 

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines                  

 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what you should know:
» Read article           

» More about virtual pipelines          

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy             

 

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate        

 

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is floating offshore wind?

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

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

» More about clean energy          

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy efficiency         

 

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation               

 

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about regional energy                 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The plant will be built,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

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

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

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

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