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Earth Justice

Reclaiming Hydrogen for a Renewable Future: Distinguishing Fossil Fuel Industry Spin from Zero-Emission Solutions

By Sasan Saadat and Sara Gersen - Earth Justice, August 2021

To chart a course toward a safer climate and more habitable planet, we must rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases across our society. The biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. Consequently, the clearest path to reducing emissions is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable, zero-emission energy in our transportation, buildings, and power generation (sectors that are collectively responsible for about 75% of United States’ greenhouse gas emissions). This transition would make significant strides in eliminating the devastating public health impacts of pollution throughout the life cycle of fossil fuels—pollution that is most severely concentrated in Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. A just transition will also require careful policy design and meaningful engagement from frontline communities. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification are zero-emission solutions that eliminate both greenhouse gases and health-harming air pollution. To meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis will require deployment of renewable resources on an unprecedented scale— ultimately achieving 100% clean power generation—and a complete transition to efficient, electric models for things like household appliances and cars.

As we electrify everything that can feasibly plug into a clean power grid, “green hydrogen” is a promising tool for transitioning to renewable energy in sectors that lack a viable route to direct electrification. Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced by using 100% renewable electricity to split water molecules.

To understand the potential role of green hydrogen, consider the challenges of cutting climate pollution from one hard-to-electrify sector: maritime shipping. Maritime travel is difficult to decarbonize because battery-powered ocean-going vessels will not be able to handle long-haul voyages across the ocean, at least for the foreseeable future. The hope for green hydrogen is that it may store energy from clean electric resources like wind and solar in a fuel that could be used to propel large, long-haul ships. This vision is at least a decade away from reality, if it overcomes the challenges to cost-effective production and efficient on-vessel storage. Still, it offers a path to displacing the highly polluting bunker fuel currently relied on to move much of the world’s goods across oceans.

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North Dakota, Using Taxpayer Funds, Bailed Out Oil and Gas Companies by Plugging Abandoned Wells

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, May 23, 2021

The bailout, environmentalists say, raises bigger questions about who will pay, in an energy transition, to close off the nation’s millions of aging wells.

When North Dakota directed more than $66 million in federal pandemic relief funds to clean up old oil and gas wells last year, it seemed like the type of program everyone could get behind. The money would plug hundreds of abandoned wells and restore the often-polluted land surrounding them, and in the process would employ oilfield workers who had been furloughed after prices crashed.

The program largely accomplished those goals. But some environmental advocates say it achieved another they didn’t expect: It bailed out dozens of small to mid-sized oil companies, relieving them of their responsibility to pay for cleaning up their own wells by using taxpayer money instead.

Oil drillers are generally required to plug their wells after they’re done producing crude. But in practice, companies are often able to defer that responsibility for years or decades. Larger companies often sell older wells to smaller ones, which sometimes go bankrupt, leaving the wells with no owner.

These “orphaned wells” become the responsibility of the federal or state governments, depending on where they were drilled. While oil companies are required to post bonds or other financial assurance to pay for plugging them, in reality those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the costs, leaving taxpayers on the hook. One estimate, by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank, found that those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the expected costs of cleaning up the nation’s oil and gas wells.

But in North Dakota, it turned out that most of the wells the state plugged were not truly orphaned, but had solvent owners. After the industry warned last year that the pandemic-driven oil-crash was threatening its finances, state regulators stepped in, assumed ownership of more than 300 wells, and used CARES Act funds to plug them, meaning the companies avoided paying anything themselves.

“What happened was a bunch of people got a free ride,” said Scott Skokos, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, a grassroots environmental group in the state.

EPA Moves To Gut Agricultural Worker Protection Standards

By Earth Justice - Common Dreams, December 14, 2017

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farm workers and pesticide applicators by the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule.

The WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for workers who mix, load, and apply pesticides; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; and provides anti-retaliation protections and the right of a farm worker to request pesticide-application information via a designated representative.

The EPA also announced the reconsideration of the minimum age requirements established by the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which sets training and certification requirements for Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs), the most toxic chemicals in the market. There are roughly half a million child farm workers in the United States.

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