Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: Feb. 6
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley produces The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News. Excerpts from a recent Roundup follow; full Roundup is here.
Politics and Policy
President Joe Biden created the NASA position of senior climate advisor to guide its administrator and other top government leaders on issues related to Earth’s climate. SueEllen Campbell compiled several articles examining what can be done legislatively on climate in a closely divided Congress. The Biden administration has started discussions with utility and automobile sectors about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Automakers abandoned their legal fight for a Trump-era rule blocking California from setting its own emissions standards. The administration is asking courts to pause litigation over that rule and one rolling back oil and gas sector methane emissions. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-4 to advance the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to be secretary of Energy. Michael Regan, Biden’s choice to lead the EPA, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing he would “restore” science and transparency, focus on marginalized communities, and move “with a sense of urgency” to combat climate change. Lawmakers want to block further Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling by designating its coastal plain as wilderness. Legislation was introduced to require the president to declare a national emergency on climate change. The new Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met to establish a “baseline of global climate facts;” the only facts agreed on: climate change is real and “largely” human‑caused.
Achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the US by 2050 is feasible, would build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system. Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 could be “surprisingly feasible,” with costs running just 0.4% of US GDP. This link shows the modeling for a report on the impact on each state of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. A report outlines how Congress could set the US on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2035. Continuing to ignore the value of the services provided by nature in our global economy threatens humanity itself, according to a report on biodiversity and economics, commissioned by the British government.
Republicans introduced bills in both chambers giving permission for the Keystone XL pipeline to be constructed and operate across the U.S.-Canada border. Republicans who object to Biden’s agenda for addressing climate change are focusing on John Kerry and Gina McCarthy. American Conservation Coalition’s Benji Backer called on Republicans “to resist the urge to once again become obstructionists and, instead, continue to come to the table with our own perspective on tackling climate change.” A federal judge ruled US officials downplayed climate change impacts from expansion of a massive coal mine near the Montana-Wyoming border, giving the government until October to do a new analysis. The Biden administration is delaying a rule finalized during Trump’s last days in office designed to drastically weaken the government’s power to protect most wild birds.
UNFCCC’s executive secretary said rich countries must step up with fresh financial commitments to help the developing world tackle the climate crisis; IEA’s head said dependency on coal is preventing a global green recovery from taking off. Nearly six out of 10 US voters said the Biden administration should work directly with China to address climate change. China reinstated as climate envoy one of its most respected climate experts and a broker of the Paris Agreement. Treasury Secretary Yellen is giving climate change a prominent role in her talks with her counterparts around the world. France’s government must do more to combat climate change, a French court said. One year after Australia’s devastating wildfires, anger is growing at climate change inaction. Senior ministers of Australia’s National Party — the junior partner in the ruling coalition — have poured cold water on adopting a concrete commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.
Climate and Climate Science
An atmospheric river originating over the Pacific Ocean caused flooding rains and record snow in California last week—part of California’s “whiplash” climate future. California’s rainy season’s start has been progressively later in recent decades, now a month later than 60 years ago. Climate change ravaged the west with heat and drought last year; many fear 2021 will be worse. The number of heat-related deaths in Arizona soared to a new high last year as people endured the hottest summer on record.
Sea level rise is likely to be faster and greater than previously thought; researchers say recent predictions are inconsistent with historical data. If global warming continues unabated, Greenland’s ice sheet surface may start losing more mass than it gains every year by 2055.
The global food system is the biggest driver of the natural world’s destruction; a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage, according to a new report financed by the UN Environment Program.
Big oil companies lost billions in 2020 because of the pandemic. A finance community committed to net-zero carbon by 2050 is exposing itself to trillions of dollars in stranded oil and gas assets. ExxonMobil shareholders are trying to force it to address climate change and the weaker oil market in more aggressive ways. The US oil industry wants to forge an alliance with the nation’s corn growers and biofuel producers to lobby against the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles (EVs). US crude oil production is expected to rebound to a new record in 2023, the EIA said; it also projected US gasoline demand has already peaked.
Electrification of the US’s light vehicle fleet by 2030, plus replacement of coal-fired power plants by renewables and gas turbines, could decrease our total primary energy usage by 13%. RMI argued that, for the US to reap the benefits of transportation electrification, the Biden administration must communicate a bold vision of what transport will look like in 2030. The EV transition will have sweeping implications for companies that produce and sell electricity and manage the grid; Brad Plumer discussed four things that need to happen. The TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will add about 50 new EV fast charging stations, located every 50 miles along the state’s interstates and major highways, each with up to four chargers. Ford said it was “doubling down” on EVs and will invest $22Bn in electrification through 2025.
Central government inspectors slammed China’s energy authority for failing to apply environmental standards on coal power expansion across the country. China put 38.4GW of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, over three times the amount built elsewhere around the world. It is expected to add about 140GW of non-fossil fuel capacity this year, representing ~47.3% of its energy mix.
Coal-fired power generation is likely to disappear from the US power grid by 2033, replaced by renewable energy resources. NextEra Energy’s CEO said “There is not a regulated coal plant in this country that is economic today, full period and stop.” NRG Energy, which owns the Texas Petra Nova carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, announced it would be shut down indefinitely, leaving the US with no operating CCS projects.
The owner/operator of the Empire State Building and 13 other buildings announced a major wind power purchase, making it the nation’s biggest real estate user of entirely renewable energy. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it would resume an environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project, stopped by the Trump administration. Utilities and developers are repowering wind turbines with bigger, better blades years ahead of the end of their original life expectancies as they take advantage of technology improvements and expiring federal tax credits. Opponents of the Virginia Rocky Forge Wind farm filed a lawsuit alleging the Department of Environmental Quality and Apex Clean Energy cut corners in the permitting process. Smart cameras, which spot birds of prey and then halt wind turbines to protect them, can result in a large reduction of bird deaths.
Green hydrogen is set to play a substantive role in the overall energy mix, with its development likely to happen faster than anyone predicts. A German team developed a new strategy for storing and transporting hydrogen fuel — a magnesium hydride-based paste. To meet the zero carbon goal, industries such as steel production must wean themselves from coal; Maria Gallucci reviewed current efforts at Grist. Grist’s Emily Pontecorvo wrote about the “Mission Possible Partnership,” which is bringing together members of seven carbon-intensive industries to collaborate on how to reduce carbon emissions.
Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. Genevieve Guenther, End Climate Silence founder, said “… part of the reason … oil and gas propaganda is so effective is … there is always a grain of truth to it.” Vox interviewed her. A Kentucky folk singer and playwright reflected on what his time working on oil rigs in North Dakota taught him about America’s fossil fuel addiction—and how to curb it. The Atlantic’s science writer Peter Brannen described a trip into deep time warning of possible catastrophic surprises ahead. David Owen published an article in The New Yorker about a young woman using geographic information systems to help the Catholic Church use its land to better the environment. The Donors of Color Network launched a new initiative, challenging the nation’s climate philanthropists to shift 30% of their donations toward environmental efforts led by Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other people of color. Emma Marris argues that hope for the future is a reasonable and necessary prerequisite for action.