This week’s most timely story involves a ham-handed power grab by the building and natural gas industries – forcing a rule change at the International Code Council to deprive thousands of municipal officials of voting rights in future updates to the energy efficiency building code. This mass disenfranchisement appears to be special-interest blowback following the successful 2019 voting round, when record-breaking voter participation resulted in the first significant improvement of base building codes in a decade. The development is particularly unfortunate given recent reports showing that global emissions are still rising while country-level commitments for greenhouse gas reductions are running far below levels necessary to address the climate emergency. Building emissions are a significant part of the problem – especially from the combustion of natural gas for heating, domestic hot water, and cooking.
It’s been 30 years since the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a burst pipeline spewed 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto Minnesota’s frozen Prairie River. This pipeline is now Enbridge’s Line 3, and the project to replace and reroute it through sensitive wetland habitat is fiercely opposed by local indigenous people, who demand enforcement of Tribal treaties they feel should protect them from this environmental threat.
Another active protest campaign includes opposition to the Formosa Plastics project, a major expansion of the petrochemical industry in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, known as Cancer Alley. Industry abuse of this mostly Black environmental justice community has drawn a sharply critical report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We’ve posted a number of reports touting plans and pilot ventures aimed at transitioning coal country into a greener economic model. So far, the efforts have primarily been at the individual, local, and state levels, and disparities are exposing the need for a more coordinated federal program.
As usual, the news gets better when we look at developments in zero-emission technologies. Agricultural land hosting large solar arrays can remain productive by using flocks of sheep to control vegetation, and it’s catching on. Energy storage is looking beyond lithium, especially in the long-duration markets. Thermal storage and non-toxic iron flow batteries are two promising technologies ready to offer grid-scale services. And clean transportation is all about rapidly expanding easily accessible EV charging stations, plus an announcement that Volvo cars and SUVs will be 100% electric by 2030 – five years ahead of rival carmakers’ most aggressive goals.
The news always gets more sobering when we turn our attention back to the fossil fuel industry. A new pilot study shows disturbing health impacts for people living near fracking operations, even while the natural gas industry mounts an all-out effort to block increasingly popular efforts to ban gas hookups in new buildings. Industry leaders seem unable to visualize a business plan that doesn’t involve drilling, piping, and burning planet-cooking toxins. Consequently, they react to any zero-emissions transition plan as an existential threat. Hence today’s lead stories on the assault on energy efficient building codes….
We’ll close by checking in on Massachusetts’ biomass problem, including an opinion article from one of Reading Municipal Light Department’s five elected commissioners explaining how demand for Palmer Renewable Energy’s biomass-generated electricity is far less than it appears.
— The NFGiM Team
30 years later, echoes of largest inland oil spill remain in Line 3 fight
By Dan Kraker and Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio
March 3, 2021
Thirty years ago Wednesday, on March 3, 1991, the Line 3 oil pipeline ruptured in Grand Rapids, Minn., spilling 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River.
It’s still the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
Because the river was covered with ice, crews were able to keep the oil from reaching the Mississippi, 2 miles away.
“There would be people on the ice, squeegeeing oil on top of the ice, which was weird, everything was weird, it was like some kind of gross landscape,” Scott Hall, a reporter for Grand Rapids public radio station KAXE, told MPR News in 2018 for an episode of its Rivers of Oil podcast, which dove deep into the impacts of the spill.
“And so they had hoses going down, and just sucking as much oil as they could out into these tanker trucks.”
The Lakehead Pipeline Co. owned Line 3, which was built in the 1960s to carry oil from Canada, at the time of the spill. And the company that succeeded Lakehead, Enbridge Energy, is now replacing that same Line 3 with a new pipeline along a different route across the state.
Construction on the new line began in earnest in December. But Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to fight the $4 billion project, on the ground and in court.
» Read article
» Oil and Water: The Line 3 Debate – full coverage
Line 5 ‘very different’ from Keystone XL and Canada will fight hard for it: O’Regan
‘The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,’ said natural resources minister
By James McCarten, CBC
March 4, 2021
The federal government won’t let Michigan shut down the Line 5 pipeline, Canada’s natural resources minister said Thursday as he dismissed opposition comparisons to the thwarted Keystone XL project.
Seamus O’Regan sounded almost combative as he vowed to defend the 1,000-kilometre line, which bridges an environmentally sensitive part of the Great Lakes to link Wisconsin with refineries in Sarnia, Ont.
“We are fighting for Line 5 on every front and we are confident in that fight,” O’Regan told a special House of Commons committee on the relationship between Canada and the United States.
The Enbridge Inc. pipeline carries an estimated 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily, and is vital to the energy and employment needs of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, as well as northern U.S. states, he added.
“We are fighting on a diplomatic front, and we are preparing to invoke whatever measures we need to in order to make sure that Line 5 remains operational,” he said. “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable.”
In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5 to be shut down by May, accusing Calgary-based Enbridge of violating the terms of the deal that allows the line to traverse the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
The straits, which link Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, boast powerful, rapidly changing currents that experts have said make the area the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.
Pipeline opponents in the U.S. — many of the same voices who helped make TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion an environmental rallying point over the last decade — have vowed to see it shut down.
Enbridge, which has plans to fortify the underwater segment of the line by routing it through a tunnel under the lake bed, is fighting Whitmer’s order in court.
» Read article
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
UN Human Rights Experts Condemn Expanding Petrochemical Industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley as ‘Environmental Racism’
By Julie Dermansky, DeSmog Blog
March 3, 2021
Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns about the further industrialization of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This largely Black-populated stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is lined with more than a hundred refineries and petrochemical plants. The experts said additional petrochemical development in this region, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows has some of the country’s highest cancer risks from air pollution, constitutes “environmental racism” that “must end.”
“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.
The statement calls for U.S. officials to reconsider allowing FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, to build its proposed “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, in the middle of the region. That development, one of several new petrochemical projects slated for the region, would be a massive complex. Its 14 units would produce two types of plastic and the petrochemical ethylene glycol, which is used to make polyester fabrics and antifreeze.
It is a development that Sharon Lavigne, founder of the faith-based grassroots organization RISE St. James, has been trying to stop ever since learning in 2018 that the company planned to build its complex less than two miles from her home.
If built, “Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical complex alone will more than double the cancer risks in St. James Parish affecting disproportionately African American residents,” the human rights experts wrote. Their statement also took government regulators to task for their role. “Federal environmental regulations have failed to protect people residing in ‘Cancer Alley,’” they said, calling for the U.S. Government “to deliver environmental justice in communities all across America, starting with St. James Parish,” by stopping the Formosa Plastics project.
» Read article
» Read the UN statement
GREENING THE ECONOMY
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 3, 2021
Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.
In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.
Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.
One rectangle down on the U.S. map, in Colorado, 2019 was the year a new state law passed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. In parallel, Colorado established an Office of Just Transition to help the workers and communities affected by now-inevitable coal mine and power plant closures. To comply with that timeline, the state’s two largest electric utilities recently submitted plans, not unlike Pacificorp’s, to retire several coal plants early and replace them with renewables and batteries.
While Colorado regulators have not yet approved the plans, they’ll likely be concerned with whether the utilities will phase out coal fast enough. Meanwhile, the Office of Just Transition has released a plan to help coal communities adapt to the looming changes in their economies and has already begun outreach efforts.
These two examples represent a larger trend in the West: While policies and proposals in some states (like Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry, others (like Wyoming and, to a lesser extent, Montana) are protecting it for dear life. A new study by researchers at Montana State University examines this chasm and connects it to the absence of cohesive national energy transition policy.
» Read article
» Read the Montana State University study
New IEA Data Shows World on Path to Resume ‘Carbon-Intensive Business-as-Usual’
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, in DeSmog UK
March 2, 2021
Following warnings that the coronavirus-triggered drop in planet-warming emissions would be short-lived without structural changes, the International Energy Agency released data Tuesday showing that global CO2 emissions from the energy sector were 2 percent higher in December 2020 compared to the same month the previous year.
The Paris-based agency said the figures reflect a lack of concrete action by global governments to follow through on pledges to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and predicted 2021 emissions would continue the upward trend barring sufficiently bold action.
“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide. If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.
Birol further warned that the figures “show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.”
“This year is pivotal for international climate action,” he added, “but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”
While emissions in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in 2020 overall, the downward trend began moving back up after a low point in spring. The nation capped off 2020 with December emissions being nearly the same as those in December 2019.
In India, an increase in emissions began in September with the loosening of Covid-19-related restrictions. China’s emissions began climbing upward in April, and its emissions for the year overall increased by 0.8 percent.
The global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic resulted in a historic drop in global emissions, which climate activists said should be no substitute for real climate action and scientists said would ultimately do little to rein in global temperature increase.
Stressing that there’s “no time to lose” to address atmospheric concentrations of CO2, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in November: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”
“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said Taalas. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
» Read article
Global Action Is ‘Very Far’ From What’s Needed to Avert Climate Chaos
New climate pledges submitted to the United Nations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent, the world body announced.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
February 26, 2021
The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.
The global political response has been underwhelming so far.
New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.
The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”
The figures offer a reality check on the many promises coming from world capitals and company boardrooms that leaders are taking climate change seriously.
The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “a red alert.”
The tally was all the more damning because fewer than half of all countries submitted fresh targets to the United Nations. The Paris climate accord, designed to limit an increase in global temperatures, had urged them to do so by the end of 2020.
» Read article
Climate Change is Weakening the Ocean Currents That Shape Weather on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The change in the main ocean heat pump could bring more heat waves to Europe, increase sea level rise in North America and force fish to move farther north.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
February 25, 2021
Since the end of the last ice age, a swirling system of ocean-spanning currents has churned consistently in the Atlantic, distributing heat energy along the ocean surface from the tropics toward the poles, with heavy, cold water slowly flowing back toward the equator along the bottom of the sea.
Collectively known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the currents played a key role in shaping the climate of eastern North America and Western Europe, and thus the development of civilizations there. But in the 20th century, the circulation has weakened more than at any other time during at least the last 1,000 years, new research shows.
Together with other studies showing that global warming is driving the weakening, the new findings suggest that the circulation will lose even more strength in the decades ahead. That could cause heat and cold extremes in Europe and rapid sea level rise along the East Coast of the United States. As it weakens, pools of warm water form. That can lead to ocean heat waves, with increasing evidence that overheating oceans are linked with droughts and heat waves on nearby land areas.
The overturning circulation loops like a 10,000-mile conveyor belt through the North and South Atlantic, connecting polar regions. It brings cold water up from the deep, sends warmer water across the surface and then drops it back down thousands of miles away as it cools.
» Read article
Connecticut solar developers enlist sheep to cut grass and ease tensions
Several projects before the state’s siting board propose integrating sheep grazing with photovoltaic installations.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Antalexion / Creative Commons
March 3, 2021
It wasn’t your usual Connecticut Siting Council hearing.
The petition before the regulators last week concerned a proposed 4.99-megawatt solar project on a tobacco farm in East Windsor. But many of the councilors’ questions for developer Greenskies Clean Energy had little to do with the technicalities of solar.
Robert Hannon wanted to know how manure would be handled. John Morissette asked about the level of animal noise. And Chair Robert Silvestri wondered if the site would be safe from coyotes and other predators.
The answers were vague, as this is the first time Greenskies has proposed using sheep to control vegetation on a solar site.
The siting council is likely to become more savvy about the particulars in coming months as another Connecticut solar developer, Verogy, has proposed using sheep at three projects pending in East Windsor, Southington and Bristol.
The proposals reflect the growing interest throughout the region in what’s called agrivoltaics — the practice of combining agricultural uses and renewable energy production on the same parcel of land.
The idea is that “we essentially utilize the sheep for vegetation maintenance, and it allows the property to continue in an agricultural use,” said Gina Wolfman, a senior project developer for Greenskies.
And instead of revenues being paid out to landscaping services, “they are directed to the farming community,” said Bryan Fitzgerald, a co-founder of and director of development at Verogy.
That can help ease tensions around the use of prime farmland for large-scale solar arrays.
» Read article
Code council approves plan to limit city, state input despite pushback
The International Code Council’s decision to limit direct influence by state and local government officials left some critics speculating about the potential to create an alternative to the organization’s widely used model codes.
By Alex Ruppenthal, Energy News Network
March 5, 2021
The nonprofit responsible for developing model building energy codes used by cities and states nationwide finalized a controversial plan Thursday to strip voting rights from thousands of public sector members — a move clean energy advocates fear will slow progress in achieving more efficient buildings and reducing emissions that fuel climate change.
The decision, which critics say was made to appease the interests of industry groups representing homebuilders and natural gas utilities, came during a Wednesday meeting of the International Code Council’s board of directors. Unlike with its previous meeting in January, the board did not stream Wednesday’s meeting for the public to view.
The change to the code-setting process was set in motion last fall when groups including the National Association of Home Builders and Leading Builders of America cried foul over the latest code development cycle, during which state and local government officials voted in record numbers, resulting in the code’s biggest efficiency gains in at least a decade.
In response to the record voting turnout, industry groups alleged voting irregularities and “improper use of voting guides” that had been distributed by efficiency advocates. (The Code Council conducted a review of the voting process and found no evidence of irregularities.) Industry representatives also said the process needed to change because energy codes were getting more complex, requiring a higher level of expertise among voting members.
“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” said Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement following the ICC’s announcement. “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC Board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.”
» Read article
Cities voted for green building codes. Now developers want to end voting.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Grist
March 1, 2021
Kim Havey had a problem. Minneapolis was generating more and more of its electricity from renewables, dropping climate-warming pollution from power to record lows. But emissions from natural gas, which is used to heat buildings and stovetops, were climbing ― overtaking power plants as the city’s top source of carbon pollution in 2017.
Nearly three-quarters of Minneapolis’ emissions came from buildings, and the city was undergoing a construction boom to accommodate a population growing faster than at any point since the 1950s. So Havey, the city’s sustainability director, helped craft new rules mandating more efficient standards for all those new buildings.
But there was a hurdle. Buildings over 50,000 square feet ― medical offices, corporate headquarters, apartment buildings ― fell under state jurisdiction. And Minnesota, like most states, used the International Code Council’s model national energy code as its standard. The ICC ― which, as one newspaper once put it, like the World Series, primarily concerns the U.S. ― is a nonprofit consortium of construction industry groups, architects and local government officials that creates the standard building codes used in towns and cities in all 50 states.
Then Havey learned that as a government official responsible for buildings and energy codes in his city, he could register to vote on the ICC’s next round of energy codes in November 2019. He wasn’t alone in this endeavor. The slow progress in reducing emissions from buildings and a decade of virtually unchanged ICC codes were frustrating officials across the U.S., and hundreds applied that year to vote in a process that takes place every three years.
By the time votes were tallied, this army of Leslie Knopes had won an overwhelming victory. The ballots went 3 to 1 in favor of mandates to ratchet up energy efficiency and require new homes and buildings to include wiring to hook up electric vehicle chargers and electric appliances.
But the triumph was short-lived. The building industry groups that have long wielded dominance over policy at the ICC soon began challenging not only the approved measures, which they called costly and unrealistic, but the members’ right to vote at all.
The National Association of Home Builders, whose influence over the ICC has drawn scrutiny from Congress, demanded the organization reconsider the eligibility of dozens of city departments that cast ballots in 2019. Havey and his entire department were among them.
» Read article
Aalborg CSP Can Retrofit Coal Plants into Thermal Energy Storage
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 28, 2021
Researchers at DLR, and NREL, and the Bill Gates-funded start-up Malta have been investigating converting coal plants into grid-scale thermal energy storage for curtailed intermittent renewable energy, as low-cost heat “batteries.”
Conversion would repurpose most of a coal plant’s assets. Instead of burning coal for the heat, tanks of molten salts would be heated electrically by surplus PV and wind on the grid to “charge” the storage, which could then be “discharged” back to the grid on demand using the former coal plant’s existing power generation and transmission assets.
Now Denmark’s Aalborg CSP A/S has taken a first step to commercialization. Their Integrated Energy System (IES) department, led by Executive Vice President Peter Badstue Jensen now offers their retrofitting of coal plants into thermal energy storage commercially.
The firm’s wide experience in the design and development of complex solar thermal energy and storage systems includes technologies supplying district heating and solar thermal plants operating globally. These include the world’s first seawater desalination solar greenhouse in Australia and seasonal thermal energy storage in Tibet that covers 90% of Langkazi’s annual heating requirement.
» Read article
‘All-iron’ flow battery maker ESS Inc launches ‘configurable’ megawatt-scale product
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
February 15, 2021
ESS Inc, the US-headquartered manufacturer of a flow battery using iron and saltwater electrolytes, has launched a new range of energy storage systems starting at 3MW power capacity and promising 6-16 hours discharge duration.
The company announced the launch of the ESS Inc Energy Center last week, a containerised utility-scale energy storage product aimed at serving front-of-the-meter use cases as well as larger commercial and industrial (C&I) site applications. Based on ESS Inc’s second generation of flow battery modules, the solution is designed to support large-scale renewable energy projects, serve transmission and distribution (T&D) applications and supply peaking energy capacity to replace peaker gas plants.
While other companies in the flow battery space have mostly focused on vanadium or zinc-bromine electrolyte, ESS Inc has been bullish on the potential for its ‘all-iron’ flow battery. It has a claimed 25-year expected lifetime without performance degradation and the company claims it is safe: in a 2018 interview CEO Craig Evans told Energy-Storage.news that a report from a fire marshall on the battery chemistry “was [just] three sentences long on how the fire marshal should handle our battery in case of an event”. Meanwhile the battery’s contents are non-toxic and are not made using rare-earth materials or hazardous chemicals, the company claimed.
In that 2018 interview Evans had conceded that lithium-ion batteries had the big head start on manufacturing scale and cost reduction on newer battery technologies like his company’s, but that technical advantages such as the ESS Inc flow battery’s operating temperature of 50°C — meaning it doesn’t need HVAC solutions to be deployed in hot environments — and ever-cheaper renewable energy could offer market opportunities.
» Read article
Kansas City plans curbside charging for electric vehicles on streetlights
The federally funded pilot project could become a model for other cities looking to close gaps in charging infrastructure.
By Karen Uhlenhuth, Energy News Network
Photo By Vitaly Vlasov / Creative Commons
March 4, 2021
Kansas City plans to piggyback electric vehicle charging on existing streetlights as a way to improve access in areas currently lacking charging options.
The federally funded pilot project is being led by the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, whose partners include the city and utility Evergy. They hope to install chargers on 30 to 60 streetlights before the end of the year.
Kansas City is a leader when it comes to charging stations — a recent Rocky Mountain Institute analysis ranked it as the region’s top city for electric vehicle infrastructure. But that infrastructure isn’t spread evenly across the city.
“There are places in the city that don’t have the same access to EV charging as other places,” said Miriam Bouallegue, the energy center’s sustainable transportation project manager. “We’re just trying to fill in some holes.”
As envisioned, the light poles would be equipped with one charger each. Customers would pay for each kilowatt-hour of power, although a rate will have to be established by state utility regulators.
Much of the work so far has involved trying to identify the best locations to install the charging stations. Generally, planners want to locate them near “points of interest” such as stores, apartment buildings, schools and churches. They collaborated with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to map those sites and found about 300 lights that met the criteria.
» Read article
6 Utilities to Build EV-Charging Network Across 16 States
By Climate Nexus, EcoWatch
March 4, 2021
Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.
Transportation is the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, and electrifying the sector is a major opportunity to reduce those emissions through increased efficiency and renewable-generated electricity. Utilities stand to benefit from massively-increased electricity demand driven by widespread EV adoption, but range anxiety — the fear of running out of battery power without being able to reach a convenient charging station — is a barrier to many customers who might purchase (or consider purchasing) an EV.
The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition — made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — is seeking to ameliorate those concerns by creating a network of charging stations from Texas to Indiana to Virginia to Florida. The announcement follows a similar initiative by major midwest utilities last year.
» Read article
Volvo says it will stop selling gasoline-powered cars by 2030.
By Jack Ewing, New York Times
March 2, 2021
Volvo Cars said it would convert its entire lineup to battery power by 2030, phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles faster than other automakers like General Motors.
Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by Geely Holding of China, has been ahead of larger rivals in converting to electric power. In 2019, all the models it sold were either hybrids or ran solely on batteries.
By 2030, Volvo will “phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
Hybrids have better fuel economy than conventional vehicles, but they may not be much better for the climate or for urban air quality if drivers do not use the electric capabilities.
G.M.’s promise to sell only emission-free vehicles, which it made in January, does not take effect until 2035.
Volvo acknowledged that it was responding in part to pressure from governments, many of which have announced bans on internal combustion engines in coming years.
The company said its decision was based “on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.”
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities’ mental, physical, and social health.
By EHN Staff, Environmental Health News
March 1, 2021
It’s been 12 years since fracking reshaped the American energy landscape and much of the Pennsylvania countryside.
And despite years of damning studies and shocking headlines about the industry’s impact—primarily on the state’s poor and rural families—people that live amongst wellpads remain in the dark about what this proximity is doing to their health and the health of their families. A two-year investigation by EHN set out to close some of those gaps by measuring chemical exposures in residents’ air, water, and bodies.
In the summer of 2019, we collected air, water, and urine samples from five nonsmoking southwestern Pennsylvania households. All of the households included at least one child. Three households were in Washington County within two miles of numerous fracking wells, pipelines, and compressor stations. Two households were in Westmoreland County, at least five miles away from the nearest active fracking well.
Over a 9-week period we collected a total of 59 urine samples, 39 air samples, and 13 water samples. Scientists at the University of Missouri analyzed the samples using the best available technology to look for 40 of the chemicals most commonly found in emissions from fracking sites (based on other air and water monitoring studies).
This was a small pilot study, so we aren’t able to draw any sweeping scientific conclusions from our findings. Instead, we hope our findings will provide a snapshot of environmental exposures in southwestern Pennsylvania families and help pave the way for additional research.
We found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.
The chemicals we found in the air and water—and inside of people’s bodies—are linked to a wide range of harmful health impacts, from skin and respiratory irritation to organ damage and increased cancer risk.
But these stories are about more than a list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. They’re about a single father on disability who fears these exposures are causing his son’s illness but can’t afford to move; a family that did move to escape a school surrounded by well pads, but found themselves living next to a new set of wells and still being exposed; and quiet rural lifestyles once defined by idyllic farms, rolling hills, and fresh air now overwhelmed by heavy truck traffic, heavy industry, and communities at odds over whether to protest that loss or try and cash in by leasing their mineral rights.
» Read article
A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
The fossil fuel industry is using the same playbook to fight city climate plans around the country
By Emily Holden for Floodlight, Amal Ahmed for the Texas Observer and Brendan Gibbons for San Antonio Report, in The Guardian
March 1, 2021
When the city of Austin drafted a plan to shift away from fossil fuels, the local gas company was fast on the scene to try to scale back the ambition of the effort.
Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves.
The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.
In its suggested edits, the company struck references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.
Those proposed revisions were shared with Floodlight, the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, by the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained them through public records of communications between city officials and the company.
The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes.
» Read article
Baker’s $175m regulatory gift to biomass
Few municipal light plants actually wanted project
By David Talbot, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
February 20, 2021
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION and much of the Legislature is trying hard to give the developer of a controversial proposed wood-fired “biomass” power plant in Springfield everything it wants—especially a regulatory change that could give the plant $175 million in additional cash from Massachusetts electric ratepayers over 20 years.
To those wondering why Beacon Hill is doing so much—despite opposition on emissions and environmental justice grounds from the Springfield City Council, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, both of our US senators, and five state senators who filed an anti-biomass bill Friday – the answer often comes back that this is what the Commonwealth’s 41 municipal light plants want.
As the story goes, these local electric utilities, anticipating new standards, sought biomass electricity as part of a broader way to meet those standards.
But the actual decisions made by these century-old entities suggest otherwise. When the power contracts for the unbuilt Springfield facility were offered to municipal light plants in late 2019 and early 2020, only eight signed up—and for a total of only 75 percent of the plant’s output—based on information contained in contracts signed in February of 2020.
Low as these numbers are, they overstate the interest. By far the biggest tranche, 25 percent, was taken by the Reading Municipal Light Department, where I am one of five elected commissioners. But the Reading deal was signed at the management level; when our board later learned of this, we voted to examine all options with respect to the contract’s disposition.
In other words, we started looking for exits.
Our board-voted signal meant just seven municipal light plants truly wanted just half of the plant’s output, according to those contracts signed in February 2020. And though those other local boards were no doubt better informed than ours, it’s not clear how much they knew about the controversy.
If Beacon Hill’s efforts are not answering demands from local municipal electric utilities, the question begging more investigation is why our elected leaders want to shovel so much money to just one developer (no other such plants are currently proposed in Massachusetts) to build a facility wanted by so few.
The developer, Palmer Renewable Energy, first got permits for the plant more than a decade ago. The company prevailed over certain legal challenges – but still needed more than electricity sales at market rates to make a business case to build the $150 million plant. Gov. Charlie Baker and Patrick Woodcock, Baker’s commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, stepped in to help.
Woodcock, formerly the top energy official under Gov. Paul LePage in Maine, set about gutting the rules for wood-fired biomass plants in the Bay State. The existing ones, in something called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, were stringent. Under them, electricity from the Palmer plant – which would burn 1,200 tons of wood chips per day, hauled in by tractor-trailers potentially from five states—could not be called “renewable.” Only far more efficient versions could do so.
The proposed Baker/Woodcock rewrite puts this giant wood-burning plant on the same “renewable” footing as a fleet of offshore wind turbines or an array of solar panels. And this meant the developer could also sell something called “Class 1 renewable energy certificates,” which is a form of subsidy.
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Comments on Draft Regulations Amending Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I and II Regulations, 225 C.M.R. §§ 14.00 et seq.and15.00 et seq.( H.5169)
MA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Maura Healey
December 23, 2020
The Commonwealth was prescient in stringently constraining biomass participation in the RPS program, and we should not reverse course now. In this letter, the AGO explains that (1) forest biomass energy production—the burning of woody fuel from forests to generate electricity—will only exacerbate the climate and public health crises facing the Commonwealth; (2) DOER’s Draft Regulations and their complex accompanying analyses, which stakeholders have not had sufficient time to review, raise important substantive and procedural legal concerns; and (3) the Draft Regulations contain numerous provisions that may increase—not decrease—greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions, and the analyses purporting to support the Draft Regulations appear to overlook important considerations, make unsupported assumptions, reach dubious conclusions, and in any event show the regulations may indeed have troubling emissions impacts.
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