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Why the slowest EV chargers may be the fastest way to get people into EVs

Grist - Tue, 01/30/2024 - 01:30

Kay and Bruce Schilling decided last year that they wanted to install electric vehicle charging at an apartment building they manage in Belmont, California, but they had no idea where to begin. 

They figured that adding the amenity could attract renters, and Kay so loved driving her own EV that she hoped providing chargers would help tenants make the switch themselves. “Once people experience driving an electric car, it’s like you can never turn back,” she said. 

The Schillings considered their options. DC fast chargers can top off a battery in as little as 30 minutes, but were far too expensive. They looked into Level 2 chargers — like those commonly seen outside grocery stores and office buildings that typically charge a car in four to ten hours — and quickly encountered challenges. 

To supply enough power, they’d need an expensive electrical upgrade, which could take at least a year due to long permitting queues. The required improvements and charging hardware were so costly that they’d only be able to install a couple chargers, requiring tenants to share. And since a powerful Level 2 could fill an EV battery in a few hours, residents would have to move their cars when they were finished to open the stall for the next driver.

“It didn’t feel like a very friendly way to provide a service to our tenants,” Kay told Grist. 

Then the Schillings heard about a program by the community-led electricity provider Peninsula Clean Energy, or PCE, aimed at getting apartment building owners to adopt a commonly dismissed method of EV fueling: Level 1 charging, done with a trusty wall outlet. 

Level 1 charging is slow: It uses a 120-volt outlet, like a TV would, and batteries fill at a rate of about five miles every hour. But it’s also relatively cheap and simple. The Schillings discovered they could install 30 Level 1 “smart” outlets — one for almost every parking stall — without major electrical work. PCE picked up nearly the entire bill. 

A Tesla fills up on power from a smart outlet by Orange. PCE is pursuing a strategy of getting a high volume of slower, less expensive chargers into multifamily housing rather than fewer, faster, chargers. Courtesy of Orange

While most EV drivers who own a single-family home can install a charger, the one-third of the U.S. population living in multifamily dwellings depend on property owners to make that decision. But those who want to provide the amenity often encounter infrastructure hurdles, prohibitive costs, and the conundrum of how to implement a system that is convenient for tenants. 

It’s a problem that the U.S. is only beginning to confront, since most early EV adopters live in single-family houses. That will soon change, according to Brennan Borlaug, a research analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, who co-authored a study on national charging needs. 

“We’re coming into a period where the used EV market is going to start to be flooded and there are going to be a lot of people adopting EVs in multifamily homes,” Borlaug said. “It’s going to be exciting to see more people be able to drive these cars, but there will be some growing pains.”

To support 33 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2030, NREL estimates the U.S. would need nearly 27 million Level 1 and 2 charging ports at residences and workplaces. Reaching that number will require an enormous effort, but PCE believes one tool for getting there is to “right size” charging solutions, putting less focus on speed and more emphasis on ubiquity.

PCE is a community choice aggregator that sources clean energy for residents of San Mateo County just south of San Francisco, where EVs accounted for one-third of new car registrations last year and around 250,000 residents live in multifamily dwellings. It is focusing millions of dollars on incentives for Level 1 charging. The strategy, it says, will get more people some power instead of a few people a lot of power. 

“Using low-power solutions seems to be the fastest, most affordable, and most scalable solution to get immediate charging access to where people live,” Phillip Kobernick, head of transportation programs at PCE, told Grist. “So instead of putting one [fast] charger in, which is the default way, let’s put in 20, and at a much lower cost.”

Through its EV Ready program, PCE has already spent over $2 million to help install nearly 1,000 charge ports, most of them at apartment buildings and condos. Another 3,000 are in process. 

To craft its strategy, PCE scoured census data and surveyed customers. It discovered that most drivers leave their cars parked for at least 12 hours a day, and don’t drive more than about 40 miles daily. It also found that those customers who did use Level 2 charging at their apartments were plugged in all night, but drawing electricity for less than three hours. 

“That was like, okay, obviously this is an overbuilt solution,” said Kobernick, “if you’re just sitting there with a plug in your car doing nothing for nine hours.”

The long periods that cars were parked at night, and the short distances they were driving in the day, meant that plugging into a standard outlet could easily keep drivers’ batteries topped off. “It’s not that we reinvented the wheel,” said Kobernick. “It’s more that we matched our program to do what a lot of people are already doing.”

The low-and-slow approach also meant far fewer buildings would need electrical upgrades, and it would put less pressure on California’s already strained grid. But the strategy would only work if the outlets were installed in high volumes so every tenant could access one and plug in for as long as necessary. PCE created a program that would pay up to $2,000 per Level 1 or “low-power” Level 2 outlet (which uses a 240-volt, 20-amp outlet and can add about 140 miles overnight), with no cap on the number of outlets. The subsidies are higher for affordable housing buildings, and all projects include free site design.

The Schillings’ project at the El Dorado Apartments took just two weeks to permit and two more to install. They needed a couple of panel upgrades, but nowhere near the amount of work required if they’d chosen Level 2 hardware. With PCE’s help, the $77,000 undertaking cost them just $12,000.

Residents plug in to the Orange Level 1 “smart” outlets with the cord that comes with their car, and pay for the electricity through a connected app. The Schillings said their tenants have embraced the approach. 

“You just kind of plug in and forget it,” said Bruce. “It’s good for the night.” Not long after the outlets were installed, a resident told them that now that he could charge at home, he was going to buy an EV.

There’s a public fast charging station across the street from the El Dorado Apartments, which tenants can use if they need to fill up quickly for a long day of driving. Borlaug said that this kind of symbiotic relationship helps the Level 1 approach work while taking pressure off the fast chargers, which are, for now, underbuilt and oversubscribed. 

“Level one is get what you can, and then you rely on the public networks to backfill whenever you need it,” he said.

The GoPowerEV PowerPort 3 includes two Level 1 outlets and one low-power Level 2, allowing tenants to choose their charging speed based on how many miles they need and what they want to pay. Courtesy of GoPowerEV

By reducing reliance on public charging, which typically costs more than filling up at home, PCE’s approach could widen EV access, too.

The St. Francis Center, which manages affordable housing units in San Mateo County, used PCE rebates to install smart outlets in six parking stalls at the Alma Lea apartments in Redwood City. There are no EV drivers there yet, but the center wanted to make sure that a lack of home charging wouldn’t stand in the way of anyone considering switching to electric. 

“It’s thinking about the lived experience of our tenants long term and setting them up for success,” said Michael Pierce, board chairman of the St. Francis Center. “The families in our properties should have the opportunity to own an electric vehicle and get the benefits of lower cost per mile and less maintenance.” 

Pierce believes that now that the outlets are there, it’s only a matter of time before electric vehicles appear in the parking lot. “I think it’s a chicken-and-egg thing. When they need another car, it’s an option that they can choose without having to worry about charging.”

Some additional features of the GoPowerEV PowerPort outlets, capable of both Level 1 charging and low-power Level 2, could save Alma Lea’s tenants even more money on charging costs. Drivers set how many miles they need to add to their range and what time they need it through the connected app, and the software can wait to charge the car until electricity rates are cheapest. Users can even tell the app to charge only during the least expensive times, even if that means not getting as many miles as filling up the whole time the car is plugged in. 

That option works, Pierce says, because drivers are charging every time they park, rather than whenever they manage to find a spot at a public fast-charging station. “You realize, I don’t need to do this binary ‘full, not full,’” he said. “I can just add a little bit at a time and I’m going to be fine.”

This story has been updated to reflect the cost of the El Dorado Apartment project.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Why the slowest EV chargers may be the fastest way to get people into EVs on Jan 30, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

A bear hunt illuminates the complexities of a marriage

High Country News - Tue, 01/30/2024 - 00:00
Will the gift of a significant harvest be individual or shared?
Categories: H. Green News

Clarkson beer-maker backs fox hunt

Ecologist - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 23:00
Clarkson beer-maker backs fox hunt Channel News brendan 30th January 2024 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

As a Swiss Glacier Melts, a Trove of Invaluable Climate Data Is Being Lost

Yale Environment 360 - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 06:45

By analyzing ice collected from glaciers, scientists can study the past composition of the atmosphere and better understand how humans have altered the climate. But the rapid melting of ice may be compromising this critical data, according to a study of the Corbassière glacier in Switzerland.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Biden misses chance to tackle “huge” US landfill emissions

Climate Change News - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 05:37

As satellites reveal huge methane leaks from landfills across the USA, the Biden Administration has run out of time to tackle them before November’s election.

When garbage is taken to a landfill, bacteria decompose it and produce methane as a by-product. Unless this gas is captured, it heats up the planet.

Using satellites, scientists can now see how big these leaks are. Ilse Aben, who analyses satellite data at the SRON Netherlands institute for space research, told Climate Home she been “shocked” at the “huge” scale of the leaks.

Climate Trace, an NGO promoted led by former US vice-president Al Gore, estimates the US’s landfill emissions at 169 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

Climate Trace’s map of US landfill emissions with bigger circles for more emissions (Photos: Climate Trace)

That’s similar to the whole of Ethiopia’s emissions and a third higher than the 126 million tonnes the US government tells the United Nations its landfills emit, a figure worked out using a formula.

But, in its fourth year in power, campaigners say Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has missed its chance to  improve regulations on the sector.

Weak regulations

Kait Siegel campaigns against waste sector emissions at the Clean Air Task Force. She told Climate Home that US federal regulations on landfills are “weak”.

The companies which operate landfills are supposed to capture this gas but not for the landfill’s first five years and not if it’s a smaller landfill – broad exceptions which don’t apply in most European countries. 

US states can force operators to do more to clean up but so far only California, Maryland and Oregon have done so, she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is legally required to assess whether new federal standards for landfills are necessary at least every eight years. The last time it did so was in August 2016 so it should do so again by August 2024.

But they are unlikely to set new standards. At this stage, campaigners don’t want them to either because they don’t want to risk a Trump administration taking over that process.

In the US, legislation called the Congressional Review Act means a new Congress can overturn measures taken by the previous Congress in its last 60 legislative days. With Presidential and Congressional elections in November, anything introduced after April could be challenged.

There’s not enough time to introduce new regulations before April, so any regulations introduced could be overturned by a Trump administration.

If overturned, any future EPA wouldn’t be legally allowed to submit similar regulations again. This could permanently stop the EPA from tackling landfill emissions.

On the other hand, if the presidency remains in the Democrats hands then they could focus on it in the second term.

The waste management lobby is powerful in the US as it works closely with local governments to manage trash. It argues that any cost increase in operating landfills will be passed on to local governments who will pass them on to ordinary citizens.

On the other side of the argument, with the scale of the problem only recently revealed, climate campaigners have yet to make landfills the big climate issue that fossil fuels are.

Satellite revelations

Until satellites started revealing these landfill leaks, policy-makers could only guess how much methane was coming from a landfill.

In its reporting to the UN, the EPA uses a complex formula to work out its best estimate. Basically, it estimated how much the average landfill emits, multiplied this by the number of landfills and took away the amount of gas they think was captured before it reaches the atmosphere. This is common way for countries to report emissions.

The US government’s formula for estimating landfill methane emissions. Biden misses chance to tackle “huge” US landfill emissions.

But satellites can see how much methane is actually emitted, rather than a best guess. With their cameras pointed at individual landfills, they show huge leaks.

American nonprofit CarbonMapper spotted a leak of 5,000 kg of methane an hour from the Fort Bend landfill on the outskirts of Houston. If this continued all year, it would cause the same damage as 270,000 cars or the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

But scientists have yet to use satellites to come up with a better figure for the US’s total emissions. Their cameras have focussed on particular sites at particular times rather than non-stop monitoring of all the hundreds of American landiflls.

To get round these limitations, Climate Trace combine satellite imagery with their own assumptions, using Bayesian regression modelling, giving them their 169 million tonnes figure.

The solutions

There are many ways of reducing landfill emissions. The best, Siegel said, is to reduce waste we produce so as little goes to landfill as possible.

After that, she said people should seperate their organic waste (like food and garden waste) so that it can be more easily sent to treatment facilities.

Most food waste can be composted before it rots and releases methane. The compost can be put on new plants to help them grow. 

It can also be burned in incinerators to produce electricity. But campaigners have disputed the environmental benefits of this and scientists have linked incinerators, which are predominately located in poor communities, to health problems.

If the garbage does rot and release methane, that gas can be captured. It can be burned, turning it into less potent but still planet-warming carbon dioxide. This burning can produce electricity, potentially displacing other fossil fuels.

As an example of somewhere doing it well, definitely “better than the West”, Siegel points to Indore in India. There, according to the United Nations, residents dilligently seperate their waste and turn it into compost. 

A spokesperson for the EPA said that “regulating landfill gas is one of EPA’s many priorities to help combat climate change” and they would review the regulations and “if approriate” revise them.

The spokesperson said they were beginning to collect information on new technologies and strategies for emissions reduction, taking into account cost, health and environmental impacts and energy requirements.

They added that the EPA has an outreach programme which works with industry and government to cut methane emissions from landfills.

The post Biden misses chance to tackle “huge” US landfill emissions appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

Helping Bison Find Their Way Home

The Revelator - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 05:00

CHIEF MOUNTAIN BORDER CROSSING— When two bison belonging to the Blackfeet Nation of Montana attempted to enter Canada in September, rangers from Parks Canada, the country’s national park agency, met them before they could cross the border and gently steered them home.

It’s not that American bison, or buffalo, haven’t been welcome in Canada. When bison were on the brink of extinction in 1907, the Canadian government moved nearly 700 of them by train from Montana’s Flathead Valley to Alberta to ensure the keystone species’ survival. The Canadian program was so successful that the animals had to be moved again, to what is now Elk Island National Park. There, for more than 80 years, genetically pure stock has served as the base for an ambitious program reintroducing bison across Canada, into the United States, and around the world.

It’s from this herd that the Blackfeet Nation — part of the four-nation, boundary-spanning Blackfoot Confederacy — reintroduced 87 bison onto their land in Montana in 2016 with the help of wardens and biologists from Parks Canada. In summer 2023 the Blackfeet released 49 of these bison within a large section of the Blackfeet Tribal lands adjacent to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and the Canada-U.S. Border.

The bison summer paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park, filled with bison originally from the Elk Island herd. (Photo: Molly McCluskey)

And it’s from this land that bison keep finding their way into Waterton Lakes or Glacier National Park or up to the border — indifferent to political lines and simply roaming through their territory, as their ancestors did for centuries.

That territory, of course, has since been carved up into parcels now owned by different countries, public-land management agencies, and private entities, as well as Tribes.

Bison roaming freely presents challenges and potential threats to the massive animals, not the least of which is international bureaucracy. Every stray wandering near the border requires the cooperation of 20 government agencies, including the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and Alberta government, as well as the blessing of private landowners to turn them homeward.

“There’s a cultural connection to returning the buffalo back to the Blackfeet from Elk Island,” says Troy Heinert, executive director of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, based in Montana. “The Tribes that have sister Tribes or a presence on both sides of the border… it’s a little easier for them to work with international agencies in their buffalo program. But the paperwork is not very easy when you’re transporting buffalo across international borders.”

A press conference marking a commitment between US National Park Service and Parks Canada to support Indigenous-led conservation and increased collaboration with Indigenous peoples and advancing nature-based climate solutions and climate change adaptation. L to R: Chief Roy Fox of Kainai Nation; Chief Ouray Crowfoot of Siksika Nation; Council member Samuel Crowfoot of Siksika Nation; Kate Hammond, intermountain regional director, National Park Service. Photo by Molly McCluskey

Bison reintroduction programs have gained traction on Tribal lands in the United States and Canada in recent years amid growing understanding of their role in ecosystem management and the impact their eradication has had on First Nations and Indigenous people. The overarching initiative — often requiring vast interagency cooperation — shows no signs of slowing despite its challenges.

The Canadian government views the bison program as part of its fundamental responsibility to address past harms against its First Nations.

“With our truth and reconciliation objectives within the government of Canada, rematriating bison to First Nations and Indigenous peoples is one of our first priorities,” says Brad Romaniuk, Parks Canada’s resource conservation manager, who oversees wildlife transfers and is part of the team that helps turn wandering bison back from the border. Rematriation, he explains, is an overarching initiative to restore the relationship between Indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands that takes many forms, including the return of bison. “If a [Tribal] nation approaches us and they have the facilities and we can help them get set up, they’re the first ones to get buffalo from us.”

In September the U.S. Department of the Interior also reaffirmed its commitment to herd reintroduction, allotting $5 million to the restoration of bison and grassland ecosystems in Tribal communities.

“The American bison is inextricably intertwined with Indigenous culture, grassland ecology and American history,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote in a statement. “While the overall recovery of bison over the last 130 years is a conservation success story, significant work remains to not only ensure that bison will remain a viable species but also to restore grassland ecosystems, strengthen rural economies dependent on grassland health and provide for the return of bison to Tribally owned and ancestral lands.”

There are more than 80 Tribes in the buffalo council across 32 million acres of lands, managing 30,000 animals. Heinert says he receives calls from newly engaged Tribes nearly every day requesting information on joining the program. While some, like the Blackfeet, will receive herds from Elk Island, ultimately the source of each herd will depend on the reason for the request: whether bison are to be used to heal the land, reestablish a cultural and spiritual connection, restore a food source, or something else.

The bison summer paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park, filled with bison originally from the Elk Island herd. (Photo: Molly McCluskey)

“Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Badlands, those other national parks and grasslands that we take surplus buffalo from, it really comes to the intended purpose for that Tribe,” Heinert says. “Some Tribes are looking for specific genetics. Some Tribes are looking for genetic diversity, so maybe they have received Badlands buffalo for years and now they want to bring some Teddy Roosevelt in.”

Reintroducing a herd isn’t simply a matter of releasing it into a new location. The buffalo council provides technical services, training in management techniques and herd health, support with herd development grants and other financial resources, trainings for bison workers or herd managers, and more. In addition to providing the bison, Parks Canada helps with transport, collaring, and other services.

“Some of the challenges are obviously making sure Tribes are prepared to manage buffalo,” Heinert says. “We have Tribes that have managed buffalo for decades and Tribes that are brand new, so making sure they have the infrastructure and the right numbers on the landscape that they have dedicated to their buffalo program… that all takes resources, and Tribes very seldom have extra resources to dedicate to their buffalo program.”

It’s all “so much more than just backing up a trailer and opening a gate,” Heinert says. “In some cases there’s years of preparation before the first buffalo is ever unloaded.”


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Ensuring the bison live where they’re meant to once they’ve been reintroduced is another difficult task. Some, like the ones Romaniuk and his team encountered in the fall, can be turned back before crossing international lines. Others, such as a cow and calf who made it across the border on Sept. 29, have to be rounded up and sent back. Leaving them to roam could jeopardize their survival.

The threat doesn’t come from Canadian government agencies. It doesn’t come from the U.S. government, either, which named the bison the “national mammal” in 2016, or the National Park Service, which claims it’s an “honor” to support the Blackfeet Nation in “their historic achievement.”

Rather, the potential threat lies on privately held ranches and other lands outside the parks.

“Our respect for our neighbors and stakeholders outside the park, where there’s no real social acceptance for the bison, is a concern for us,” Romaniuk says. “They’re welcome into Waterton Lakes, but where they’re not welcome currently is on the private lands to the east of us,” where they could eat food intended for livestock or knock down fences. “Don’t get me wrong, there are landowners adjacent to tribal lands that are supportive, but the ranching industry, some of them just can’t afford to have bison on their lands because of fences and feed.”

When asked about turning herds away, Naaman Horn — a public affairs specialist with the Intermountain Regional Office in Denver — sent a statement that read in part, “The park looks forward to working on a co-stewardship agreement with the Blackfeet to coordinate bison conservation and management in the Chief Mountain area. In the event this herd enters Glacier National Park, ensuring the safety of our visitors as well as the bison is our top priority. As a free-ranging herd, these bison will be treated as any other wildlife in the park and be allowed to roam freely on the landscape.”

Both governments stress that their role is simply to support the Tribes. All officials interviewed were careful not to take any credit for the initiatives, or even to propose a five- or 10-year plan, which they say is entirely Tribal-led. It’s a sentiment Heinert shares on behalf of the buffalo council, which he says is following the Tribes’ leads, even as he is often a driving force, quite literally, behind some of these reintroductions.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a lot of those trucks delivering buffalo,” Heinert says. “When we show up to a Tribe, especially when it’s a Tribe that’s getting buffalo for the first time in maybe ever, knowing that when you see those Tribal members, knowing that the elders have never known buffalo on their lands, and the kids that are there, knowing that there will always be buffalo on their lands from that point forward, that to me is a reconnection and a reestablishment of that relationship that Indigenous people have had with buffalo.

“A lot of times it’s about healing and reconnecting to a life way that was a good way for many Tribes for a long time,” says Heinert. “We’ve seen the devastation with the decimation of the buffalo. A lot of Tribes view this as a way back to that lifestyle.”

The post Helping Bison Find Their Way Home appeared first on The Revelator.

Categories: H. Green News

Taking Water for Granted 

Green European Journal - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 04:14

Water use has always been an indicator of social relations. In western societies, most treat drinking water as a simultaneously infinite and hyper-individualised resource. But plastic pollution and the climate emergency are forcing us to question our consumption habits.

Oana Filip: How did your academic interest in water develop? 

Liviu Chelcea: I started becoming interested in water supply systems when I was doing research into housing nationalisation and restitution for my doctorate. This led me to apply for a Fulbright scholarship in the field of urban infrastructure, based at the New School for Social Research in New York. I decided to look at the difference between the flow of water in American restaurants, where you’re flooded with it in a welcoming gesture of perpetual hospitality, and the Romanian way of both purposefully and pointlessly using bottled water, including in restaurants. I started working on this topic and, as with any ethnographic research, other things came up along the way. For instance, water filters, which are used by about half of New Yorkers. This was raised in interviews, so I turned it into a research topic as well. 

In your research, you talk about the notion of “water hospitality” in American restaurants. What are the origins of this practice? 

It’s an old custom. I found a newspaper article dating from the 1840s, when New York’s water supply system was first developed, that spoke of restaurants offering free drinking water. 

Water hospitality is related to the act of commerce. Restaurants give away water, not based on any theory of consumer rights, but rather as a play at concealing the restaurant’s commercial nature. When the waiting staff offer free refills of coffee, as seen in many American movies, this is a similar gesture. It allows restaurants to pass as “good neighbours”. The restaurant is no longer just a purely transactional place of economic activity; it also comes with some features of friendship, community, home, and neighbourliness. There’s an interplay between economic and social calculations. Water and coffee set an interpretive framework signalling that you are welcome there. Economic transactions remain the most important, but human dynamics follow. 

All the ancient texts – such as the Bible, for instance – mention the idea of offering someone a jug of water, of people meeting by a well, of travellers engaging with locals via water. These interactions are no longer as frequent in the context of modern water supply networks, but they do still take place. In American restaurants, obviously, but in other places too. In Cairo, for instance, some people leave free water outside of stores in response to global warming.  

In the current climate context, the stateside custom of offering water comes with another plus: lower plastic consumption. New York has over 8 million inhabitants, plus tourists. If all restaurant-goers bought bottled water, as they do in Romania, millions of bottles would be used every day.  

Why is “water hospitality” not customary in Romania? 

It used to be. There are movies from the 1950s in which you see water pitchers on restaurant tables. Student cafeterias still provide free drinking water, but in general, the practice has slid into the background – or even the far background. I think this is partly because in poorer countries, bottled water is associated with modernity, and drinking it is a way of being modern. 

How did the world wind up with bottled water? 

Several factors came into play. One pertains to European – and, to a certain extent, American – health beliefs. Prior to the 20th century, the water in many places wasn’t fit to drink; wells in pre-industrial settlements were polluted, either by industry or by domestic sewage. This caused widespread and frequent epidemics of cholera and other waterborne diseases. Then, in the early 1900s, the treatment of urban water supplies with bacteria-killing chlorine began. New York-adjacent Jersey City was the first American municipality to introduce the practice, which quickly spread. As a result, waterborne diseases were largely eradicated in the US. Bottled water was not only prized for being safer; it was also seen as having medicinal properties. There were waters for treating the stomach or for curing a cold, for example.  

Another factor was the growth of aristocratic tourism. Aside from the cultural “Grand Tour” of France, Italy, and Greece, this often centred on visits to spa resorts to “take the waters”, creating a demand for mineral water among the upper classes back home. Bottled water was also valued for its connection with nature and bucolic landscapes. 

The consumption of bottled water dropped sharply after the turn of the 20th century, when modern water supply systems appear. In the 1980s, however, bottled water experienced a resurgence in popularity. In the US, this was connected to the expansion of the Perrier brand, which started advertising in the 1970s and 1980s. It was also driven by the results of research carried out in the late 1960s to early 1970s revealing that an athlete’s performance improves if they are sufficiently hydrated. This is when the idea that you need to drink two litres of water per day begins to develop. People start taking water with them when they leave the house, to stay hydrated.  

More recently, water has been promoted as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks. That’s why bottled water consumption levels have increased over the past 10 to 15 years, at the expense of carbonated drinks. 

According to market research, fifty per cent of Romanians drink bottled water. What is your view on this? 

I find this very troubling. So much money is being invested into water supply systems, and the country’s water is within legal safety limits. In Romania, annual bottled water consumption stands at about 106 litres per capita. In Serbia, which like Romania is known for its mineral waters, it’s around 20 litres. In Sweden, it’s only 10. Clearly, there is no simple correlation between a country’s income level, or whether it has a long-standing mineral water tradition, and its bottled water consumption. 

I think a key factor is the ideology of individualism: everything has to be private. You put up a 3-metre-high fence around your house and have your own, separate water supply. Nothing is shared with anyone else. Bottled water creates the feeling of a direct relationship between you and Spring no. 5 in Borsec (a remote Romanian town famous for its spas and mineral waters – ed.). It is in this context that urban drinking fountains have disappeared, which has also played a role in the growth of bottled water consumption.  

There is also a level of distrust in the municipal water supply. This is part of a broader lack of trust in the state and the whole anti-state discourse in Romania. I’ve met young people who grew up with bottled water and believe tap water isn’t safe to drink. This is how much the idea of public water has been degraded. 

This is something I’ve noticed as well: people who refuse to drink tap water under any circumstances, especially in big cities. 

It’s an interesting topic. People’s perceptions of water quality often have little to do with its potability. For instance, let’s say there’s lead in the water, which makes it bad for people, especially children. You won’t see or taste this when you drink it. On the other hand, if you see water with a bit of rust in it, you won’t drink it, even though it’s unlikely to do you any harm. 

Do you think climate change, or perhaps the current economic situation, might change the way we consume water? Will it encourage us to drink more tap water? 

According to forecasts, the consumption of bottled water in Romania, as in other countries, is likely to increase, even though its environmental impact – and cost – is much higher than that of tap water. 

That said, I think the number of people using water filters will also increase – and dramatically so. This can already be seen in Bucharest. Over the past six or seven years, the number of filter users has increased from 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the population. I’ve already seen some speciality coffee shops offering free filtered water. I believe the number of restaurants open to this idea will grow. It depends on how our trust in the state and municipal authorities evolves. There’s also a conversation to be had on the effectiveness of filters. 

Cups with integrated water filtration also appear in your research. They are often presented as an eco-friendlier alternative to bottled water. What’s your take on this? 

Indeed, filter cups involve less effort and much less plastic. That’s their marketing line. But the question is, how well does a filter do its job – and especially, for how long does it do its job well? Depending on the area, municipal drinking water can contain ten times more dissolved substances than the normal range. Filter cups aren’t designed for this type of water; they’ll get clogged within a week. People aren’t aware of this – and if they were, I don’t think they’d be willing to spend money on a new filter every week. There’s this pervasive idea that filters should be replaced roughly every two months or after 100 uses. Even if that corresponds to your water profile, good luck counting how many times you use a filter. Some people don’t even see the need to replace filters; they think that they last forever. 

What’s more, carbon, the active substance in many filters, provides an environment in which bacteria thrive. For these reasons, I think that standard filter cups and jugs are not as effective as they claim to be. The water engineers I spoke to told me that reverse osmosis filters, the type used in coffee shops, which are installed under sinks and are a bit pricier – those do the job properly. They also need to be replaced after a certain period, but a longer one, roughly six months. Basically, they’re plastic membranes with very small pores, which stop minerals, metals, and bacteria from passing through. Some bottled water companies use the same osmosis principle as part of their production process. 

This interest in filtration is not without cause. In 2019, an investigation by Recorder (an independent public service media platform based in Romania – ed.) explored the lack of access to clean water and the money invested into micro-supply systems in various villages. It highlighted corruption, which is definitely part of the problem. But the problem of water quality extends beyond Romania. Throughout Europe and the United States, there are legal standards related to drinking water quality – covering both tap and bottled water – but these don’t guarantee that the water is actually safe to drink. According to these standards, drinking water shouldn’t contain more than a certain amount of arsenic, nitrates, and heaven knows what other substances; there’s a whole list. But these countries produce tens of thousands of different chemicals. The fact that they’re not on the list doesn’t mean they’re not in our bottled or tap water; it just means they’re not being measured – yet. Indeed, this summer, the United States proposed adding PFAS – synthetic chemicals associated with Teflon production and fireproof materials that are thought to cause cancer in humans – to its list of substances subject to limits in drinking water. 

Even if we had the ability to measure water substance levels, we’re not lawmakers. And if we were, we’d be facing an uphill battle. For instance, US water companies have heavily lobbied against expanding the list of chemicals to be monitored as this would mean extra costs for them. Besides, historically speaking, modern water systems have been designed to solve problems that kill you in two days, not in 20 years – to wipe out cholera and dysentery, not a chemical substance whose effect on our bodies we don’t even fully understand. 

Your research also mentions the “hyper-normalisation” of water. Water is always available, and we don’t give it much thought. At the same time, we’re seeing phenomena such as the emergence of “water sommeliers”. How do you perceive this tension between hyper-normalising water and hyper-individualising it? 

Modern water infrastructure has created the expectation of a continuous flow of drinkable water. This is a reality that we take for granted. We don’t stop to think that around two billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Millions struggle daily to haul water over large distances, with major effects on children’s schooling opportunities. This isn’t just a question of health, but one of social exclusion too. Without water, you don’t have access to proper hygiene, and you risk being marginalised. 

On the other hand, bottled water companies create a powerful story around the water they sell, a story that public water companies don’t tell. For instance, one of the most popular water brands in the US, FIJI Water, is brought over from the other side of the world, and its marketing revolves around this idea of distance – of an anti-city, anti-modern product. 

Water consumption will almost certainly be impacted by climate change. In south-eastern Germany, at the foot of the Alps, they’re starting to have groundwater problems due to lower levels of snow and rain. Water levels in the aquifers have dropped by 1.5 to 2 metres. We’ll find ourselves in the same situation if we rely on groundwater resources for our drinking water. 

During a visit to a foundation in England, I was told something that stuck with me. In the same way that we’re now surprised that smoking was allowed in London tube stations 40 years ago, we’ll soon be shocked at the practice of using drinkable water in our toilets when there are innumerable other solutions. 

Why do you think there isn’t more of a conversation around water and water-related problems, be it quality or access? 

Because that’s what we’ve got used to, those of us who have this privilege: taking water for granted. But it won’t be like this forever. On water quality, pollution can be hard for the average person to detect. And even if you are aware of it, you’re more likely to focus on what could kill you today, not in a few decades’ time. 

What is your perspective on water grabbing and water-related conflicts in the context of climate change and the way we treat water as an infinite resource?  

The most glaring examples of water grabbing are the relations established by large, sprawling cities with the rural areas where they source their water. Villages and towns are evacuated, barns and graveyards are relocated – all this to make room for reservoirs and water protection areas. In California, most of the water consumed is used by the agricultural sector. This is, once again, a question of power. Who has the power to influence water regulators? Cue the IT industry. Data centres need huge volumes of water – around 5 per cent of total US water consumption – to prevent servers from overheating. 

In terms of water-related conflicts, access to water in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin (shared between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait –ed.) has always been a contentious issue, but this has worsened over recent years. Irrigation systems dating back to Mesopotamian times helped transform this desert area into fertile agricultural land. Over the past 50 years, however, Turkey has built more than 20 mega dams on the upper parts of these rivers, affecting downstream water flows in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. People are being forced to leave the areas worst affected because they are no longer liveable. There have always been water-related conflicts – and there will be more to come – but only now are we starting to see them more clearly. 

As you say, water-related conflicts have been a constant throughout history. Are there any differences between past and current conflicts over water resources? 

The number of water-related conflicts appears to be increasing. There are certainly more of us, anyway – over 8 billion people – so conflicts now affect a larger number of people. The problem with water and climate change is that there’s either too much of it, all of a sudden, or there’s too little. Rising sea levels are causing problems in coastal areas. More than a third of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the coast. But while New York, for instance, can afford to think about the future, for poorer cities, such as Dhaka in Bangladesh, the future remains unclear. 

Translated by Ioana Pelehatăi.

This article was first published in Romanian by Scena9. This translation is part of the series “Breaking Bread: Food and Water Systems Under Pressure”. The project is organised by the Green European Journal with the support of Eurozine, and thanks to the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation. The EU Parliament is not responsible for the content of this project. 

Categories: H. Green News

Hot? Hungry? Step inside these food forests.

Grist - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 01:45

Below the red-tile roofs of the Catalina Foothills, an affluent area on the north end of Tucson, Arizona, lies a blanket of desert green: spiky cacti, sword-shaped yucca leaves, and the spindly limbs of palo verde and mesquite trees. Head south into the city, and the vegetation thins. Trees are especially scarce on the south side of town, where shops and schools and housing complexes sprawl across a land encrusted in concrete. 

On hot summer days, you don’t just see but feel the difference. Tucson’s shadeless neighborhoods, which are predominantly low-income and Latino, soak up the heat. They swelter at summer temperatures that eclipse the city average by 8 degrees Fahrenheit and the Catalina Foothills by 12 degrees. That disparity can be deadly in a city that experienced 40 straight days above 100 degrees last year — heat that’s sure to get worse with climate change. 

The good news is there’s a simple way to cool things down: Plant trees. “You’re easily 10 degrees cooler stepping under the shade of a tree,” said Brad Lancaster, an urban forester in Tucson. “It’s dramatically cooler.”

A movement is underway to populate the city’s street corners and vacant lots with groves of trees. Tucson’s city government, which has pledged to plant 1 million trees by 2030, recently got $5 million from the Biden administration to spur the effort — a portion of the $1 billion that the U.S. Forest Service committed last fall to urban and small-scale forestry projects across the United States, aiming to make communities more resilient to climate change and extreme heat. 

But in Tucson and many other cities, tree-planting initiatives can tackle a lot more than scorching temperatures. What if Tucson’s million new trees — and the rest of the country’s — didn’t just keep sidewalks cool? What if they helped feed people, too? 

That’s what Brandon Merchant hopes will happen on the shadeless south side of Tucson, a city where about one-fifth of the population lives more than a mile from a grocery store. He’s working on a project to plant velvet mesquite trees that thrive in the dry Sonoran Desert and have been used for centuries as a food source. The mesquite trees’ seed pods can be ground into a sweet, protein-rich flour used to make bread, cookies, and pancakes. Merchant, who works at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, sees cultivating mesquite around the city and surrounding areas as an opportunity to ease both heat and hunger. The outcome could be a network of  “food forests,” community spaces where volunteers tend fruit trees and other edible plants for neighbors to forage. 

“Thinking about the root causes of hunger and the root causes of health issues, there are all these things that tie together: lack of green spaces, lack of biodiversity,” Merchant said. (The food bank received half a million dollars from the Biden administration through the Inflation Reduction Act.)

Saplings soak up the Tucson sun before getting planted around the city. City of Tucson

Merchant’s initiative fits into a national trend of combining forestry — and Forest Service funding — with efforts to feed people. Volunteers, school teachers, and urban farmers in cities across the country are planting fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and other edible plants in public spaces to create shade, provide access to green space, and supply neighbors with free and healthy food. These food forests, forest gardens, and edible parks have sprouted up at churches, schools, empty lots, and street corners in numerous cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, and Miami. 

“It’s definitely growing in popularity,” said Cara Rockwell, who researches agroforestry and sustainable food systems at Florida International University. “Food security is one of the huge benefits.” 

There are also numerous environmental benefits: Trees improve air quality, suck carbon from the atmosphere, and create habitat for wildlife, said Mikaela Schmitt-Harsh, an urban forestry expert at James Madison University in Virginia. “I think food forests are gaining popularity alongside other urban green space efforts, community gardens, green rooftops,” she added. “All of those efforts, I think, are moving us in a positive direction.”

Researchers say food forests are unlikely to produce enough food to feed everyone in need of it. But Schmitt-Harsh said they could help supplement diets, especially in neighborhoods that are far from grocery stores. “A lot has to go into the planning of where the food forest is, when the fruits are harvestable, and whether the harvestable fruits are equitably distributed.”

She pointed to the Philadelphia Orchard Project as an emblem of success. That nonprofit has partnered with schools, churches, public recreation centers, and urban farms to oversee some 68 community orchards across the city. Their network of orchards and food forests generated more than 11,000 pounds of fresh produce last year, according to Phil Forsyth, co-executive director of the nonprofit.

Volunteers plant fruit trees at a food forest in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Orchard Project

Some of the sites in Philadelphia have only three or four trees. Others have over 100, said Kim Jordan, the organization’s other executive director. “We’re doing a variety of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, pollinator plants, ground cover, perennial vegetables — a whole range of things,” Jordan said. 

The community food bank in Tucson started its project in 2021, when it bought six shade huts to shelter saplings. Each hut can house dozens of baby trees, which are grown in bags and irrigated until they become sturdy enough to be planted in the ground. Over the past three years, Merchant has partnered with a high school, a community farm, and the Tohono O’odham tribal nation to nurse, plant, and maintain the trees. So far they’ve only put a few dozen saplings in the ground, and Merchant aims to ramp up efforts with a few hundred more plantings this year. His initial goal, which he described as “lofty and ambitious,” is to plant 20,000 trees by 2030.

The food bank is also organizing workshops on growing, pruning, and harvesting, as well as courses on cooking with mesquite flour. And they’ve hosted community events, where people bring seed pods to pound into flour — a process that requires a big hammer mill that isn’t easy to use on your own, Merchant said. Those events feature a mesquite-pancake cook-off, using the fresh flour.

Merchant is drawing on a model of tree-planting that Lancaster, the urban forester, has been pioneering for 30 years in a downtown neighborhood called Dunbar Spring. That area was once as barren as much of southern Tucson, but a group of volunteers led by Lancaster — who started planting velvet mesquite and other native trees in 1996 — has built up an impressive canopy. Over three decades, neighborhood foresters have transformed Dunbar Spring’s bald curbsides into lush forests of mesquite, hackberry, cholla and prickly pear cactus, and more — all plants that have edible parts.

“There are over 400 native food plants in the Sonoran Desert, so we tapped into that,” Lancaster said. “That’s what we focused our planting on.” 

The Dunbar Spring food forest is now what Lancaster calls a “living pantry.” He told Grist that up to a quarter of the food he eats — and half of what he feeds his Nigerian dwarf goats — is harvested from plants in the neighborhood’s forest. “Those percentages could be much more if I were putting more time into the harvests.” The more than 1,700 trees and shrubs planted by Lancaster’s group have also stored a ton of water — a precious commodity in the Sonoran Desert — by slurping up an estimated 1 million gallons of rainwater that otherwise would have flowed off the pavement into storm drains.  

Another well-established food forest skirts the Old West Church in Boston, where volunteers have spent a decade transforming a city lawn into a grove of apple, pear, and cherry trees hovering over vegetable, pollinator, and herb gardens. Their produce — ranging from tomatoes and eggplants to winter melons — gets donated to Women’s Lunch Place, a local shelter for women without permanent housing, according to Karen Spiller, a professor of sustainable food systems at the University of New Hampshire and a member of Old West Church who helps with the project. 

“It’s open for harvest at any time,” Spiller said. “It’s not, ‘Leave a dollar, and pick an apple.’ You can pick your apple, and eat your apple.”

Merchant wants to apply the same ethic in Tucson: mesquite pods for all to pick — and free pancakes after a day staying cool in the shade.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hot? Hungry? Step inside these food forests. on Jan 29, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

As summers grow ever hotter, OSHA appears ready to protect workers

Grist - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 01:30

Natalia, a 58-year old veteran farmworker from Florida, gets paid by the hour to work in a greenhouse, subjecting her and coworkers to a wretched humid heat that grows worse every summer. She gets two 10-minute breaks and one half-hour lunch each day, which recently have been moved from wherever she could find a corner to an air-conditioned lunchroom, a change she said has made a world of difference. No federal laws regulate heat exposure in the workplace, leaving employers free to do whatever they deem appropriate to protect workers; other farms Natalia has worked at lacked a bathroom and didn’t provide drinking water. 

Failing to provide such things could soon become illegal. Later this year, a new rule from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA, could for the first time provide federal protection to heat exposure and require companies to invest in employees’ well-being during the hottest parts of the year.

Over the past several months, the agency held dozens of public meetings and collected more than 1,000 comments, many from workers but also a number from businesses and business associations worried about the impact any rule might have on their bottom line. But new research says employers might want to think twice about opposing a heat standard, because unprotected workers will deliver diminishing returns in an ever-hotter world. Meanwhile, labor advocates are trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to push state and local versions of a rule.

Natalia’s testimony was recorded by Jeannie Economos, who coordinates health and safety programs for an organization called Farmworker Association of Florida. Economos has been using that interview and countless others from the Sunshine State’s field, greenhouse, and construction workers to advocate for local, state, and federal workplace heat standards. An ideal guideline, she said, would at the very least guarantee sufficient access to cold, clean water and “not having to walk a mile down the fields to get water to drink when you’re hot, not having to wait until a break or you’re on the verge of fainting.”

OSHA is considering various components to the proposed standard, which it plans to publish later this year, an agency official told the Washington Post. (When asked about the timeline, OSHA referred Grist to a posting in the Federal Registry, which does not specify a timeline.) Mandatory workplace education programs would teach both workers and managers how to recognize and respond to heat illness and take its risks seriously. The rule also could mandate that employers consider heat stress a medical emergency, and prohibit retaliation against employees who complain or report violations. The measure almost certainly will require that employers provide regular breaks; clean, accessible water; and protective equipment like hats and cooling vests. Another possibility is a requirement that employees be allowed to acclimate to intense heat by working only 20 percent of a typical workday during the first day of a heat wave and incrementally increasing their hours each day. 

Over the past 15 years, OSHA received three petitions to implement a federal heat standard. The rulemaking process finally began in 2021 but could stall again if President Biden loses this year’s election. “OSHA has to be balanced and there’s a lot of pressure on OSHA to do something, so we’ll just wait and see,” Economos said. “It could take three to eight years to get a [final] rule.”  

She had hoped a state heat standard in Florida could prevent deaths in the meantime. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 387 workers lost their lives to heat illness between 2013 and 2022, and because heat illness is often misattributed as heart failure or stroke, that’s almost certainly an undercount. State-level heat standards already exist in California, Washington, Minnesota, and Oregon, and one has been proposed in Colorado. California’s guideline only protects outdoor workers, but the state is planning to introduce rules for indoor workers this year. However, right-to-work states in the South have shown more opposition to such ideas. Texas preempted municipal attempts to regulate heat exposure last year. In Florida, attempts at a state heat standard were stymied by Republican lawmakers. Miami-Dade County officials were to consider a measure last fall but pushed it to March amid complaints that it was unfair to local business.

The federal rulemaking process is complicated and crowded, and OSHA is facing immense pressure from all sides. Any regulation must cover wildly varying conditions of a vast labor pool in multiple sectors, from electricians working in stuffy attics to construction workers framing houses to farmworkers harvesting vegetables in the full sun. Meanwhile, an equally staggering array of business interests have largely condemned, and in many cases actively lobbied against, attempts to do something, stating that employers already follow voluntary — and in some cases, state-level — heat-stress guidance and that further regulation would be burdensome. Segments of the construction and agricultural industries, along with chambers of commerce, have opposed the standard. “We firmly believe employers should be responsible or address heat hazards at individual facilities,” representatives of the National Grain Association and the Agricultural Retailers association wrote in a joint public comment directed to OSHA.  

Their opposition may be short-sighted, however. In order to weather climate change in the long term without severe economic damage, research shows, governments and employers will have to find ways to protect people from the heat. For agricultural workers, that’s particularly vital. A study released last week in the journal Global Change Biology found that heat exposure doesn’t only impact crop yields — it also impairs the productivity of the people who plant and and harvest the crops, and limits their ability to work in the field. Already hot and humid Florida will heat up even more by the end of the century, reducing fieldworkers to around 70 percent of their current work capacity if working conditions do not improve.

Gerald Nelson, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the study’s lead author, said that feeding the world in a new and extreme era of climate crisis means caring for the people who put our food on the table. 

“At some point it’s gonna be too hot,” Nelson said, “and you’re going to have to do some kind of remediation.”

That could mean simple rest breaks and water breaks. It could also mean opportunities to work at night, or to find and invest in crop varieties that thrive in slightly cooler seasons. “The challenge is to figure out a system that’s both good today and good tomorrow,” Nelson said.

But in the short term, Economos said a federal heat-protection rule is urgent. “While we’re waiting for the federal government,” she said, “people are dying.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline As summers grow ever hotter, OSHA appears ready to protect workers on Jan 29, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Chicago could be first major Midwestern city to ban gas in new construction

Grist - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 01:15

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Chicago could soon be the first major Midwestern city with an indoor-emissions standard that would make gas-powered appliances and heating systems a thing of the past. 

The Clean and Affordable Buildings Ordinance, introduced by Mayor Brandon Johnson during the first city council meeting of the year last week, would effectively phase out fossil fuel-based appliances and heating systems in new construction and substantially improved buildings. The new rule would take effect within a year of approval.

“This is an opportunity not just to address climate, but we can build an entire economy around it,” Johnson said.

Not everyone is convinced. 

Earlier this month, two aldermen successfully sidelined Chicago’s electrification ordinance by referring it to the rules committee, a tactic often used to obstruct ordinances with procedural delays. Once referred out of the rules committee,  the ordinance will have to make it through the zoning and environmental committees before heading to city council for a full vote. 

Some of the state’s most influential gas and construction unions are openly arrayed against the passage of the indoor-emissions standard. Together, they’re calling for further trials and studies into the costs of implementing the proposed rule.  

“Homeowners should not have to choose affordability over going green,” said Kristine Kavanagh, who is with International Union of Engineers Local 150. “They should have options for both clean and affordable energy.”

As the mayor and his allies see it, the push for building electrification in Chicago is part of a broader project to not just wean the city off fossil fuels, but also begin to address the cumulative health impacts of indoor air pollution and burdensome utility bills. The effort was a key recommendation of the city’s Building Decarbonization Policy Working Group back in 2022. The report determined that buildings are Chicago’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — nearly 70 percent.  

“The Clean Affordable Buildings Act is the first step in a managed, planned process to move away from dirty, expensive gas and embrace a cheaper, cleaner energy future for all Chicagoans,” said Alderperson Maria Hadden, who represents the 49th Ward on the south side of the city. 

Cities across the country are looking at building electrification as a pathway to cutting planet-warming emissions. Since the first-of-its-kind electrification ordinance was introduced in Berkeley, California, in 2019, more than 100 local governments have adopted similar policies. Major metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle have all gotten on board to rework building codes to prioritize electrification for new construction. Very soon, Chicago could be next. 

But the surge in local electrification policies has faced significant opposition. Berkeley’s electrification ordinance was overturned by a federal appeals panel last year. Over 20 states have passed legislation effectively prohibiting municipalities from banning natural gas connections.  

In a statement to Grist, Peoples Gas, the major gas utility that serves the Chicago area said, “This proposed ordinance would increase costs and risk reliability for everyone, especially during the coldest days of the year like Chicago has been seeing.” 

But Chicago’s utility bills are already unmanageable. This past November, the Illinois Commerce Commision approved a $302 million rate hike for Peoples Gas that is expected to make Chicago gas customers’ utility bills more expensive than they already are; approximately 1 in 5 Chicagoans are more than 30 days behind on their gas bills. 

“We don’t want to just trade one energy source for another,” Angela Tovar, the city’s chief sustainability officer said. She called the proposed policy “fuel neutral” — a key point for Tovar and others who helped draft the ordinance. They want to avoid the legal challenges that plagued the original iteration of electrification efforts, many of which were outright bans on gas hookups. A handful of those have already been withdrawn

Following the lead of New York City, Chicago’s workaround instead takes aim at indoor air pollution by limiting the combustion of any substance that emits 25 kilograms or more of carbon dioxide per million British thermal units of energy. In the process, the new standard would make natural gas-powered appliances obsolete and encourage the adoption of electric stoves and heating systems. The ordinance does, however, carve out a list of exemptions including emergency generators, health care facilities, and commercial kitchens. 

Illinois set a goal to sunset fossil fuels by 2050. Oak Park, a Chicago suburb with a population just over 50,000, took the lead last summer and passed the first electrification standards of any local government in the Midwest. Oak Park architect Tom Bassett-Dilley said enthusiasm for living fossil fuel-free is already obvious. 

“We don’t do any buildings that have gas lines in them anymore for the last three or four years,” Bassett-Dilley said. “There’s a lot of people out there looking for it, the demand has definitely skyrocketed.”

Allies of Chicago’s new emissions standard call it a reasonable first step toward hitting the state’s climate goals and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change. 

“Equitable decarbonization is a core principle that guides us in the introduction of this policy, as well as future actions as a city,” Tovar said. “We must design better outcomes that work for every building type and every neighborhood across Chicago. We must ensure that the benefits of transitioning to clean energy sources are accessible to all regardless of your zip code.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Chicago could be first major Midwestern city to ban gas in new construction on Jan 29, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden plan will earmark millions of acres of public land for solar development

High Country News - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 01:00
Proposed updates to the Western Solar Plan would also close sensitive areas to utility-scale solar projects.
Categories: H. Green News

The Northwestern Shoshone are restoring the Bear River Massacre site

High Country News - Mon, 01/29/2024 - 00:00
The tribe is reclaiming their gathering place and returning water to the Great Salt Lake.
Categories: H. Green News

Social connections boost low carbon heating

Ecologist - Sun, 01/28/2024 - 23:00
Social connections boost low carbon heating Channel News brendan 29th January 2024 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

Is the Southwest too dry for a mining boom?

Grist - Sun, 01/28/2024 - 06:00

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

One by one, leaders from across Arizona gave speeches touting the importance of water conservation at Phoenix City Hall as they celebrated the announcement of voluntary agreements to preserve the declining Colorado River in November.

When Tao Etpison took the mic, his speech echoed those who went before him. Water is the lifeblood of existence, and users of the Colorado River Basin were one step closer to preserving the system that has helped life in the Southwest flourish. Then he brought up the elephant in the room: Arizona’s groundwater protection was lacking, and mining companies were looking to take advantage.

“The two largest foreign-based multinational mining companies in the world intend to construct the massive Resolution Copper Mine near Superior,” said Etpison, the vice chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “This mine will use, at a minimum, 775,000 acre feet of groundwater, and once the groundwater is gone, it’s gone. How can this be in the best interests of Arizona?”

The question is one the state and the Southwest must answer. Mine claims for the elements critical to the clean energy transition are piling up from Arizona to Nevada to Utah. Lithium is needed for the batteries to store wind and solar energy and power electric vehicles. Copper provides the wiring to send electricity where it will be needed to satisfy exploding demand. But water stands in the way of the transition, with drought playing into nearly every proposed renewable energy development, from solar to hydropower, as the Southwest debates what to do with every drop it has left as the region undergoes aridification due to climate change and decades of overconsumption. 

Mining opponents argue the proposals could impact endangered species, tribal rights, air quality and, of course, water—both its quantity and its quality. Across the Southwest, the story of 2023 was how water users, from farmers in the Colorado River Basin to fast-growing cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area, needed to use less water, forcing changes to residential development and agricultural practices. But left out of that conversation, natural resource experts and environmentalists say, is the water used by mining operations and the amount that would be consumed by new mines.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe has fought for years to stop Resolution’s proposed mine. It would be built on top of Oak Flat, a sacred site to the Apache and other Indigenous communities, and a habitat of rare species like the endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus, which lives only in the Tonto National Forest near the town of Superior. The fate of the mine now rests with the U.S. District Court in Arizona after the grassroots group Apache Stronghold filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing its development would violate Native people’s religious rights.

But for communities located near the mine and across the Phoenix metropolitan area, the water it would consume is just as big of an issue.

Throughout the mine’s lifespan, Resolution estimates it would use 775,000 acre feet of water—enough for at least 1.5 million Arizona households over roughly 40 years. And experts say the mine would likely need far more. 

“By pumping billions of gallons of groundwater from the East Salt River Valley, this project would make Arizona’s goal for stewardship of its scarce groundwater resources unreachable,” one report commissioned by the San Carlos Apache Tribe reads. In one hydrologist’s testimony to Congress, water consumption was estimated to be 50,000 acre feet a year—about 35,000 more than the company has proposed drawing from the aquifer.

The Resolution copper mine isn’t the only water-intensive mining operation being proposed. Many of what the industry describes as “critical minerals,” like lithium and copper, are found throughout the Southwest, leading to a flurry of mining claims on the region’s federally managed public lands. 

“Water is going to be scarcer in the Southwest but the mining industry is basically immune from all these issues,” said Roger Flynn, director and managing attorney at the Western Mining Action Project, which has represented tribes and environmental groups in mining-related lawsuits, including the case over Oak Flat.

Read Next Groundwater levels are falling worldwide — but there are solutions ‘The Lords of Yesterday’

To understand mining in the U.S., you have to start with the Mining Law of 1872.

President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law as a way to continue the country’s development westward, allowing anyone to mine on federal lands for free. To do this, all one needs to do is plant four stakes into the ground where they think there are minerals and file a claim. Unlike other industries that make use of public lands—such as the oil and gas industry—no royalties are paid for the minerals extracted from the lands owned by American taxpayers. 

Flynn referred to mining as the last of the “Lords of Yesterday”—a term coined by Charles Wilkinson, a long-time environmental law professor at the University of Colorado who died earlier this year—referring to the industries like oil and gas drilling, ranching and logging that were given carte blanche by the federal government to develop the West after the Civil War and push Indigenous populations off the land. All of those industry regulations have changed, Flynn said, except mining. 

That’s led mining to be viewed as the top use of public lands by regulators who give it more weight than conservation or recreational activities, he said.

“You don’t have to actually demonstrate that there are any minerals in a mining claim, you don’t have to provide any evidence that there is a mineral there at all,” said John Hadder, the executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch, an environmental group based in Nevada that monitors mining claims. “You can just be suspicious—and there’s a lot of suspicion going around.”

Most of Nevada is completely reliant on groundwater, an increasingly scarce resource. Without water, companies hunting critical minerals can’t mine, Hadder said, so they look to acquire water rights from other users, typically by buying up farms and ranches, changing the economics and demographics of a community. When the mines are developed, they can impact local streams, groundwater levels and the quality of the water as toxins seep into aquifers and surface supplies over the years. Now, with the clean energy transition gaining traction, there’s a new mining boom, prompting increasing concerns over how local ecosystems will be impacted. In Nevada alone, there are more than 20,000 mining claims related to lithium, the biggest of which are, of course, drawing controversy.

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In northern Nevada, companies have proposed two massive lithium mines—Thacker Pass and Rhyolite Ridge—in groundwater basins that are already over appropriated. Both have drawn heavy scrutiny, the former for being proposed on a sacred site for local Indigenous tribes that is also range for area ranchers and endangered sage grouse, and the latter for threatening an endangered wildflower found nowhere else in the world. 

Now, Canada-based Rover Metals is looking to drill a lithium exploration project near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a wetland habitat in Nevada near the California border that supports a dozen endangered and threatened species and is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, which environmentalists call “the Galapagos of the desert.”

“Nevadans almost more than any other state have had to wrestle with the availability or lack thereof of water for development for its entire history,” said Mason Voehl, the executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy, an environmental group that has helped lead the push to protect the refuge. “This is sort of compounding that already really complex challenge.”

Opponents of the proposal successfully sued the Bureau of Land Management over its approval of the drill site without consulting other agencies about the potential impact on the groundwater supply critical for the refuge. The BLM rescinded its approval, but the company behind it is still pursuing permitting. “A huge win in this world is basically a delay,” Voehl said.

In Utah, too, companies are looking to tap into dwindling water supplies to extract lithium. Compass Minerals planned to extract lithium from the Great Salt Lake, which in recent years has hit record lows, until pushback from regulators and environmentalists caused the company to announce in November it was pausing operations, at least for now. Along the Green River, the largest tributary of the Colorado River, Australia-based Anson Resources is looking to extract lithium from brine buried deep underground. The plan to drill wells 9,000 feet deep and use Colorado River water to extract the brine drew the attention of local environmentalists and the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the management of the river, both of which disputed the company’s claim that their process wouldn’t reduce the amount of water available for other uses. 

“We see that [the company] claimed this water is going to be nonconsumptive,” said Tyson Roper, a civil engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees hydropower and water in the West, at a hearing over Anson’s water right. “All the data out there says water will be consumed.”

That could have big implications for other users and water programs in the region, he said, a concern other federal agencies and environmentalists have raised as well. 

“This has the potential to impact much larger operations and allocations established by not only the Green River Block Water Exchange but the Colorado River Storage project as well,” Roper said at the hearing. “The same project that provides water to 40 million people, 5.5 million acres of irrigation, 22 tribes, four recreation areas and 11 national parks.”

These and other proposed mines in the Southwest are critical pieces in U.S. efforts to puzzle together a domestic supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition. But the mining projects also pose what many view as not only another serious burden on dwindling water supplies in the Southwest, but one that doesn’t face the same scrutiny that other major water users face. To some, the water for mines highlights a tension between the impacts and solutions of climate change as farmers and cities across the region are asked to accept dramatic cuts to their water supplies in the rapidly drying region, and clean energy developers endeavor to exponentially increase the amount the Southwest’s abundant solar and wind resources they harvest. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Is the Southwest too dry for a mining boom? on Jan 28, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Insurance companies are going after Hawaiian Electric to reimburse Lahaina fire claims

Grist - Sat, 01/27/2024 - 06:00

This story was originally published by Honolulu Civil Beat and is republished with permission.

More than 140 insurance industry plaintiffs have joined the cascade of lawsuits filed against utilities and landowners related to the Maui wildfires, a move that could set up a battle over resources available to pay victims of the disaster that killed 100 people and destroyed much of Lahaina in August.

The global insurance industry has swept into Honolulu state court, seeking to collect reimbursements for claims paid to policyholders. Those total more than $1 billion in West Maui for residential property alone, according to the latest data from the Insurance Division of the Hawaiʻi Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

The plaintiffs include names familiar to Hawaiʻi homeowners: insurers like State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., USAA Casualty Insurance Co., Island Insurance and Tradewind Insurance. 

Also included are scores of additional companies, such as the French and Australian branches of the giant Swiss Re, Japan’s Mitsui Sumimoto Insurance, and Lloyd’s, the London-based marketplace known for insuring everything from ship cargo, fine art and space satellites to Bruce Springsteen’s voice. 

Defendants include Hawaiian Electric, Hawaiian Telcom, Kamehameha Schools and other unnamed parties the insurers allege were negligent in allowing the fires to start and spread. 

It’s a predictable turn of events, says Robert Anderson, director of the Center for Risk Management Research at the University of California, Berkeley. 

When a company like State Farm issues a policy to a homeowner, Anderson said in an email, State Farm typically buys reinsurance from another company like Swiss Re to cover the risk from catastrophic events, such as a hurricane hitting an urban area “or a wildfire that spreads and takes out a large number of homes, as happened in Lahaina.”

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When such a catastrophe occurs, State Farm would typically pay claims to the insured property owners and get reimbursed by its reinsurers, Anderson said.

If the losses occurred because of negligence, the insurer and reinsurers can sue the negligent parties to recover the payments “in the same way that a health insurance company could seek to recover the costs of treating someone injured in an automobile accident,” he said.

Multiply that by thousands of claims, and it explains the enormous number of insurance company plaintiffs, spread out over 26 states and a half dozen countries, filing suit in Hawaiʻi. It’s also a sign that the global insurance market is functioning adequately to spread the risk of a major catastrophe in Hawaiʻi, said Sumner LaCroix, an economist with the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization.

“The last thing we want in Hawaiʻi is to find out that two or three companies bear the risk of having a hurricane hit Hawaiʻi,” LaCroix said.

Battle could ensue between victims and insurers

The suit could have major implications in the long run for plaintiffs seeking to recover claims for damages from Hawaiian Electric and the others, said Mark Davis, a Honolulu trial lawyer who is serving as a liaison for dozens of plaintiffs lawyers who have filed suits on behalf of victims in Maui court.

At this point, Davis said, the insurance companies and other plaintiffs have a common goal: to prove that the utilities or landowners or both acted negligently in allowing the fires to start and spread. The insurance industry has had its own teams of investigators, Davis said.

“For the most part their inquiries go hand in hand with the plaintiffs’ inquiries,” he said.

Indeed, the insurance industry’s factual allegations of what happened on Aug. 8 mirror the allegations in many of the negligence suits filed by residents.

But eventually, Davis said, Lahaina residents will find themselves competing with the insurance companies for the same pot of money. 

To the extent that the insurers have paid claims, they’ll likely try to assert priority over the homeowners, which happened after lawsuits related to California wildfires drove Pacific Gas & Electric Co. into bankruptcy in 2019, Davis said.

Still some states have adopted a legal principle known as the “made whole doctrine,” which means insurers can’t jump the line ahead of insured property owners until the insured property owners’ damages are completely covered. Otherwise, a property owner could collect from both their insurance company and the wrongdoer if negligence is proven. All of this sets the stage for a fight between the individual plaintiffs and the insurers if they can prove the utilities or landowners were negligent.

Hawaiian Electric had $165 million in liability insurance before the Maui wildfires, but has pledged $75 million of that to a recovery fund for people injured and killed by the fire, and it had spent $10.8 million on legal fees as of Sept. 30. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Inevitably, that is a big struggle later on as they start to dole out resources,” Davis said. 

Hawaiian Electric and Hawaiian Telcom declined to comment. Paul Alston, an attorney for Kamehameha Schools trustees also declined to comment. Lawyers for the insurance companies did not return calls.

Hawaiian Electric, meanwhile, does not have the resources to reimburse the property insurers for the massive claims paid out so far, if the insurers were to prevail in their suit. The company’s stock price has plummeted since the fires. Rating agencies have slashed Hawaiian Electric’s bond rating, meaning it will cost more for the company to borrow money. And Hawaiian Electric has largely tapped out its lines of credit to raise cash.

The company is pursuing federal grant funds, which it hopes to steer to rebuilding infrastructure, but that money can’t be used to pay damages. Meanwhile, a big chunk of proceeds from a woefully inadequate insurance policy, worth $165 million, that could be used to reimburse the insurers has already been pledged to a settlement fund for people killed and injured in the fires.

The company has promised $75 million to the so-called Maui Recovery Fund. Makana McClellan, a spokesman for Gov. Josh Green, said the fund expects to have $175 million total when it becomes operational on March 1. Green previously announced the state, Kamehameha Schools and Maui County also would provide funding. McClellan said more details would be available this week. 

Each victim could receive more than $1 million from the fund if they choose to drop their legal claims, Green has said. 

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But the fund is not meant to address property damage. And how much money will be available to cover such claims isn’t clear. After putting $75 million in the recovery fund, the company theoretically would have $90 million. But Hawaiian Electric has been bleeding cash on lawyers.

When the company held its quarterly earnings call for the period ended Sept. 30, Hawaiian Electric revealed it had spent $27.6 million on fire-related expenses to that point, including $10.8 million – or about $1.5 million a week – on legal fees. And that was as the lawsuits had just begun pouring in. It remains to be seen how much Hawaiian Electric’s lawyers have cannibalized the company’s liability insurance at this point, 24 weeks after the fire.

Meanwhile, the staggering amount of insurance losses is becoming clear. According to the Hawaiʻi Insurance Division, as of Nov. 30, insurers reported 3,947 claims for residential property in West Maui, including 1,689 total losses. Estimated losses totaled $1.54 billion, of which insurers had paid $1.09 billion.

Perhaps the only good news in all of this, Davis said, is that insurance companies don’t appear to be squabbling about paying claims, which he said isn’t surprising given that so many homes were completely burned. 

“There’s not a lot to talk about if you bought ‘x’ amount of insurance and your house is dust,” he said. 

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Insurance companies are going after Hawaiian Electric to reimburse Lahaina fire claims on Jan 27, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Jane Fonda Joins Protest Against the Largest Expansion of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in the U.S.

EarthBlog - Fri, 01/26/2024 - 10:35

On Jan. 19, a week before the Biden-Harris administration announced it will pause all decisions on new applications for new liquefied “natural” gas (LNG) export terminals, Oscar-winning actress and longtime environmental activist Jane Fonda joined hundreds of people outside of the America’s Energy Summit and Exhibition in New Orleans to protest the expansion of liquified “natural” gas (LNG) facilities in the U.S.

“It feels like looking into the devil’s eyes,” Fonda said to the crowd. “They’re right on beaches, they’re right next to communities, they’re right next to homes. I’ve talked to people who have lost what was theirs over generations and are losing their livelihoods, the fishing, the oystering, the shrimping, their homes now. It’s clear to me that those men don’t care about human life.”

Jane Fonda joined a protest outside of the America’s Energy Summit and Exhibition in New Orleans on January 19, 2024 to protest the expansion of liquified “natural” gas (LNG) export facilities in the U.S.

The fossil fuel industry is racing to build roughly 20 new and expanded methane gas export facilities (aka LNG terminals), concentrated in communities across the Gulf Coast. This is the largest fossil fuel buildout in the United States and perhaps the world. According to energy analysts, the emissions from the projects could exceed those of over 850 coal fired power plants  — the entire continent of Europe. 

Hundreds of people march through New Orleans on Jan. 19, 2024 to protest the expansion of fossil fuel projects on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The protest marked the end of a week of distributed actions organized by Sunrise New Orleans alongside a coalition of environmental organizations including The Permian Gulf Coast Coalition, The Vessel Project of Louisiana, RISE St. James, and For A Better Bayou to confront fossil fuel executives and send the message that LNG projects are not welcome in local communities. 

The march ended at The Ernest Morial Convention Center with a performance of a political puppet show by Sunrise New Orleans. Photo by Zensuke Omi, Tikkun Olam Productions.

LNG projects are contingent on approval from the Biden administration, which has pledged to reduce climate-warming emissions and protect environmental justice communities. New export terminals and infrastructure are sited in low-income communities, communities of color, and on Indigenous lands due to decades of economic disenfranchisement and systemic racism. These same communities are also the hardest hit by climate disasters, which is caused by the emissions from fossil fuel production and use. Emissions from new export facilities and associated onshore infrastructure will push the world closer to climate catastrophe at a time when it is clear we need to phase out fossil fuels to avoid even more tragic climate disasters like fires, hurricanes, and heat waves. 

Members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas were among the hundreds of people marching through downtown New Orleans to confront the fossil fuel industry on January 19, 2024.

Dozens of fishermen with Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage (FISH) took the day off from  during one of the busiest seasons for fishermen to travel more than 400 miles round trip from Cameron, Louisiana to confront the fossil fuel industry for the facilities that threaten the local economy, where fishermen fear the buildout will destroy their way of life, harm local ecosystems and public health, and raise energy costs. They parked their boats outside of the conference on Friday, forcing the conference to end early as they protested harmful LNG expansion.

Dozens of fishermen with the Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage (FISH) took the day off from feeding U.S. families to travel more than 400 miles round trip from Cameron, Louisiana to confront the fossil fuel industry in New Orleans. 

Today’s pause on new LNG projects sets the stage for potential rejections and slows down the progress of these projects, making it much harder for them to secure financing. But the fight for clean air and clean water on the Gulf Coast is not over.

“While this decision is a significant victory, we must not become complacent,” said Roishetta Ozane, founder of The Vessel Project of Louisiana. “The fight for environmental justice and the elimination of fossil fuel extractive industries must continue. We must remain vigilant and continue to advocate for sustainable alternatives. We cannot afford to let up in our efforts to hold decision-makers accountable and ensure that frontline communities are no longer subjected to the harmful effects of these industries. This announcement is a reason to celebrate, but it is also a reminder that our work is far from over.”

Rosihetta Ozane, founder and director of The Vessel Project of Louisiana, led the march to protest new LNG facilities through downtown New Orleans on January 19, 2024. 

“I’m thankful for this pause in granting gas export licenses; the DOE has finally heard the wake-up call,” said James Hiatt, Director of For a Better Bayou. “The gas industry was planning to inundate my hometown with LNG terminals. These gas export terminals, like CP2, are not just an environmental threat; they’re an economic burden on American families. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration points out, exporting LNG drives up domestic energy costs, affecting everything from home heating to food prices. It’s time to really assess our priorities and consider the wider implications of these projects – there’s no Public Interest in padding the pockets and short-term profits of big gas companies on the backs of every American family.” 

James Hiatt, founder of For a Better Bayou, speaks to a crowd before marching with hundreds of people in downtown New Orleans on January 19, 2024.

The post Jane Fonda Joins Protest Against the Largest Expansion of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in the U.S. appeared first on Earthworks.

Categories: H. Green News

US government pauses new gas export terminals in ‘historic win’ for climate

Climate Change News - Fri, 01/26/2024 - 08:24

The US government is halting decisions over further expanding its gas exports until it can apply updated climate considerations to projects seeking new approvals.

Announcing the move on Friday morning, President Joe Biden said the pause on all pending export permits for liquified natural gas (LNG) “sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time”.

The decision comes after Biden faced mounting pressure from environmentalists and climate activists to apply the brakes on the US build-up of fossil fuel capacity. The groups represent an important voter base for Biden as he seeks reelection in November.

The US is the world’s largest exporter of LNG and shipments are expected to keep soaring as a result of projects already approved and under construction.

But the review will put on hold the planned development of at least four more gas export terminals on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

That includes the Calcasieu Pass 2 (or CP2), a facility in Louisiana described by campaigners as a “carbon bomb”. If built, it could ship up to 24 million tonnes of gas every year.

New climate tests

Biden said his administration “will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security and our environment”.

A White House statement said the pause would allow the White House to integrate “critical considerations” that have emerged since the last analysis of gas export approvals was carried out five years ago.

That includes the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Gas supporters have historically promoted it as a “cleaner” fossil fuel because of its reduced carbon dioxide emissions compared to coal.

But LNG is primarily made of methane, a much more potent earth-warming gas. While burning it turns it into carbon dioxide, methane leaks during transport can push its lifetime emissions higher than those of coal, according to a new study by methane expert Robert Howarth currently undergoing peer review.

Liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities in Texas. Photo: Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Max Gruenig, senior policy advisor at E3G, said Biden’s decision is a “significant shift” because the Department of Energy, which is responsible for assessing the projects, has historically only taken economic benefits into account.

“They will have to come up with a new methodology to assess what is beneficial to the public that includes externalities like climate change”, he added. “But the problem is, of course, as soon as you publish the details of the methodology, you risk being litigated against and attacked in court. The pause allows the Biden administration to avoid this and buy itself more time until the election”.

Elections in sight

Campaigners hailed the White House announcement as a “bold step” and “a historic win”. Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the decisions “makes it clear that the Biden administration is listening to the calls to break America’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels and secure a livable future for us all”.

Sixty percent of US voters surveyed in a poll by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank last November supported limiting gas exports.

Gruenig said that the Biden administration had been “growing more careful” about climate considerations in energy infrastructure after approving the Willow oil project in Alaska. “I don’t think the White House expected that would cause such a massive backlash from the climate community”, he added.

Zimbabwe looks to China to secure a place in the EV battery supply chain

Biden’s statement attempts to draw a dividing line with his likely opponent Donald Trump. He criticised “MAGA [Make America Great Again] Republicans” who “willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future”.

Gruenig believes the LNG expansion freeze will bolster US credibility on the international climate stage, where many developing countries and campaigners regularly point fingers at American hypocrisy over fossil fuel investments.

Lobbyists fan energy security fears

Industry groups have condemned the pause as a “win for Russia” and “a loss for American allies”. As rumors of Biden’s plans swirled around in previous days, the prevailing narrative from pro-gas lobbyists has been that the approvals freeze would put Europe’s future energy security at risk.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced the bloc to look for alternative gas sources, US LNG exports to Europe have increased rapidly.

But analysts believe this is going to change soon as a result of rapid renewables rollout and better energy efficiency. By 2026, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts European gas demand will be one-fifth below the pre-war level of 2021.

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Existing LNG installations should be able to satisfy that demand without any further expansion, according to IEEFA. Their analyst say that, just taking into account terminals already being built, US export capacity by the end of this decade will be three-quarters higher than European demand.

A group of 60 European lawmakers largely from Green parties made that point in a letter to the White House on Thursday, arguing that the fossil fuel industry is using Europe as “an excuse” to expand gas exports. “The demand for new gas from industry voices in Europe is a false one”, they said. 

While using pro-Europe rhetoric, gas producers could actually be looking to sell their products in other, more promising markets. Venture Global, the owner of the CP2 terminal in Lousiana, has signed purchase agreements with Japan and China, for example.

The post US government pauses new gas export terminals in ‘historic win’ for climate appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

Global Power Sector Emissions Headed for Decline

Yale Environment 360 - Fri, 01/26/2024 - 05:58

⁠The power sector is the biggest source of emissions globally, but the rapid growth of wind, solar, and nuclear generation are at last pushing power sector emissions into decline, analysts say.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Zimbabwe looks to China to secure a place in the EV battery supply chain

Climate Change News - Fri, 01/26/2024 - 05:29

On a dusty road in eastern Zimbabwe, Wonder Mushove stares at plumes of red dust billowing into the sky as dozens of trucks carrying  lithium, also known as “white gold”, rumble past his home. 

In this dry part of the country, where repeated droughts have brought misery for small-holder farmers, the lithium mining industry is promising local people a better life. And Mushove is hopeful.

Zimbabwe has Africa’s largest reserves of lithium – a lightweight metal, which can store lots of energy and is used to manufacture batteries for electric cars.

Chinese companies have invested millions to access Zimbabwe’s lithium. And the Southern African nation sees this rush for the critical mineral as an opportunity for economic improvements.

Read the full story here

But in the past, Zimbabwe has failed to turn its vast diamond and gold wealth into revenue for development. This time, the country wants to add value to its lithium reserves by processing them into battery-grade metals that can find a place in the EV supply chain.

In the first of a series of stories exploring the supply chains behind clean energy technologies, Andrew Mambondiyani reports from eastern Zimbabwe on the country’s ambitions for its rapidly growing lithium industry.

You can read the full story on a specially designed mini-site here and learn more about our Clean Energy Frontier series here. Watch out for more stories from India and Indonesia soon.

The post Zimbabwe looks to China to secure a place in the EV battery supply chain appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

After gas pipeline sabotage, German activists claim solidarity against US gas export terminals

Climate Change News - Fri, 01/26/2024 - 04:12

While the US debates new gas export terminals, across the ocean in Germany an import pipeline remains unused after suspected sabotage from activists claiming to act in solidarity with Americans.

In November 2023, pressure tests revealed several tiny holes in the 55 km pipeline, designed to bring gas from a new floating import terminal in Brunsbüttel to the gas distribution network in northern Germany.

The pipeline was supposed to start operating by the end of last year but it remains out of action. The company building the pipeline says it will open it next month.

While they did not claim responsibility for the holes, radical climate activists from Ende Gelände, meaning ‘here and no further’, have demonstrated against the pipeline.

Zimbabwe looks to China to secure a place in the EV battery supply chain

They posted a thread on X, saying that “those responsible are unknown” but “anyone who builds an LNG [gas] terminal, a highway or other fossil fuel infrastructure should know: we will not leave you alone.”

“Where appeals fail,” they said, “we resort to blockades. Since we cannot block everything, sabotage against the destruction of our climate is legitimate”.

In their thread, they referred to climate activists setting fire to a cement factory in Berlin and to demonstrations against coal mining in Lusatia.

The group’s spokesperson Jule Fink told Climate Home News this week: “We are not going to stop protesting against public infrastructure, and we don’t plan to just let new LNG terminals be built”.

Solidarity with the US

She added that gas imports were “extremely destructive” and that “German hunger for gas” was driving the expansion of gas export terminals in the USA.

She said this was particularly an issue in the South of the USA. “We can see that this is an issue of climate injustice because places where marginalised communities live become sacrifice zones,” she added. Gas export terminals release air pollutants, damaging local residents’ health.

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The US had planned to build dozens of new terminals, particularly in the southern states of Louisiana and Texas, attracting anger from US and international climate activists.

But today, US President Joe Biden announced he would halt decisions on new gas exports. “This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” he said.

Not necessary

Franziska Holz is a gas expert at the German Institute for Economic Research. She said that Germany does not need new gas import terminals.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2021, Germany was getting more than half of its gas imports from Russia. Since the invasion, its government has been scrambling to find different sources of gas fast, announcing plans to build 12 new gas import terminals.

A spate of LNG terminals are either proposed (orange) or under construction (red) (Photos: Global Energy Monitor)

“In the short term, it was understandable that the German government and traditional importers wanted to replace Russian natural gas with natural gas from other sources,” Holz said.

“But it was not necessary to build massive LNG import capacity in Germany. Rather, the pipeline capacities from Norway and the LNG import capacities in the Netherlands and Belgium would have been sufficient”, she added.

Germany aims to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 and the European Union aims to reach net zero by 2050. To meet this, analysts expect gas demand, which is already falling, to reduce rapidly.

The post After gas pipeline sabotage, German activists claim solidarity against US gas export terminals appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News


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