Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/7/2020

Politics and Policy

Joe Biden’s climate plan is a political winner in four states where Senate races and the presidential contest are competitive, according to new polling.  At the Washington Post (WP), Brady Dennis and Dino Grandoni dissected how that plan came together.  E&E News compiled information about the energy and environment positions of eight vice president contenders.  Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would create an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.  A letter signed by more than 100 economists published in The Guardian states that the carbon economy amplifies racial, social, and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future.  An example of environmental injustice is occurring in the Four Corners areas where the rollback of methane regulations is having a major impact on Native Americans. 

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion in assets launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds align their portfolios with the Paris Climate Accord.  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with investor-owned utilities to assist more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households lower their energy use.  Pope Francis continued to criticize the world’s governments for their “very weak” response to the climate crisis.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), a conservative Christian environmentalist noted that some Republicans seem to have finally gotten serious about climate change.  And in Time, former Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich called for action on climate change “for the good of the planet and business.”  In a commentary at WBUR, Frederick Hewett wrote “on the whole, the politics of climate change is shifting toward other ways to meet the challenge, and carbon pricing is moving to the back burner.”

At Vox, David Roberts wrote about Saul Griffith’s (Rewiring America) ideas for decarbonizing the U.S. economy, stating: “Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, the U.S. doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice.”  David Ferris of E&E News also covered the proposal.  According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, 41 states cut their carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017, even as their economies grew.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, climate scientists Zeke Hausfather and Richard Betts warned that doom and dismissal are both traps that can lead to lack of action on climate change.  Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, former diplomat Peter E. Harrell noted that President Trump’s use of national security laws to impose tariffs and sanctions created a precedent for a future Democratic president to impose tariffs and sanctions to combat climate change.

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday said the Dakota Access Pipeline does not have to be shut and drained per a lower court order, but the legal battle is continuing over the permit that allowed the line to be finished.  Virginia’s Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are again proposing reforms to the federal pipeline review process in response to public complaints surrounding the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the still active Mountain Valley Pipeline through Virginia.  The Trump administration is still litigating changes to four major environmental regulations.  If Biden wins the election, he will likely ask the D.C. Circuit to put the suits on hold.  FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee has said that he is stepping down from the regulatory body on September 4.  The U.S. Senate confirmed Mark Menezes as Deputy Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE.)  President Trump fired two members of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) board of directors on Monday over the federally owned utility’s decision to outsource some technology jobs.  TVA reversed course Thursday and rehired 102 tech workers.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research has projected that under continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, hotter temperatures would increase global mortality rates by 73 deaths per 100,000 people annually in 2100, compared with the 2018 global death rate of 74 per 100,000 people for all infectious diseases.  During a House Oversight Committee hearing on the economic and health consequences of climate change, Prof. Drew Shindell of Duke University testified that if the global temperature rise is kept below 2°C, the U.S. could avoid 4.5 million premature deaths, 3.5 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and approximately 300 million lost workdays.  In an effort to raise awareness about the inequities of extreme heat, The NYT presented a moving photo-essay using photographs from around the world.

An updated hurricane forecast released on Thursday by NOAA calls for a total of 19 to 25 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 7 to 11 are expected to become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 3 to 6 that could become major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater).  Experts say that the pair of hazards bracketing the country this week, fire on the West Coast and a hurricane on the East, offers a preview of life under climate change: a relentless grind of overlapping disasters. 

A new study published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science tracked permafrost thaw at a variety of interior Alaska sites and found significant thaw during rainy summers.  A study published in Nature Climate Change found that climate change made the extreme “mass loss” seen in glaciers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand in 2018 at least 10 times more likely; another mass loss event in 2011 was made at least six times more likely.  A melting glacier as large as a cathedral is at risk of breaking apart due to a heatwave, forcing the evacuation of part of an Italian alpine valley.  The last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July.

July was the third-hottest on record, all occurring within the last five years.  A paper published in Scientific Reports projected that extreme droughts are likely to become much more frequent across central Europe.  A cluster of counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, along with three counties just across the border in eastern Utah, has warmed more than 2°C, double the global average; it is the largest 2°C hot spot in the Lower 48, a WP analysis found.

The coronavirus lockdowns will have a negligible impact on the climate crisis, with global heating cut by only 0.01°C by 2030.  Clearings in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest have increased by 28% during the current monitoring year, which runs from August through July, compared with last year.


Peabody Energy Corp. took a $1.42 billion impairment charge on its North Antelope Rochelle coal mine in Wyoming, representing more than half the value of the largest coal mine in the U.S.  The world’s fleet of coal-fired power plants has gotten smaller for the first time on record, with more capacity being retired in the first half of 2020 than being opened.

Globally, the number of public electric vehicle charging points now exceeds one million, having doubled in three years.  ChargePoint has raised $127 million to build out a U.S. and European charging network to meet the needs of a fast-growing global electric vehicle fleet. 

With Europe and Japan moving to develop green hydrogen as a fuel for decarbonization, E&E News examined the question of whether the U.S. should be working to build a green hydrogen infrastructure.  Greentech Media examined the question of who will own the hydrogen future, oil companies or electric utilities.  The U.S. and India have launched a new Hydrogen Task Force as a public-private effort to boost hydrogen production technologies.  U.S. power giant NextEra recently announced that its subsidiary Florida Power & Light plans to build a 20 MW electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen from water.  Christian Roselund of Rocky Mountain Institute discussed the implications of this to the future of hydrogen in the U.S.  In Germany, companies involved in a hydrogen project at the Heide oil refinery near Hamburg said they will build a 30 MW electrolysis plant to produce green hydrogen that will be used by the refinery and to produce raw materials for the partners in the project.  And in the UK, the HyFlyer project is working with Silicon Valley start-up ZeroAvia to develop mid-range passenger planes that fly on electricity from hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

BP said that it will transform itself by halting oil and gas exploration in new countries, slashing oil and gas production by 40%, lowering carbon emissions by about a third, and boosting capital spending on low-carbon energy tenfold to $5 billion a year.

GE plans to use IBM’s Summit supercomputer to simulate air currents in a way it has never been able to before, allowing it to enhance the design, control, and operations of future wind turbines.  Led by a clean energy surge by China, the offshore wind industry could reach 234 GW by 2030, from a global tally of just over 29 GW at the end of 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.  The University of Maine announced that a full-size floating wind turbine is expected to be complete in 2023 with the backing New England Aqua Ventus, which will license the University’s floating hull intellectual property.  At E&E News, John Fialka discussed the problems facing the offshore wind industry, with the biggest being establishing a standard for bringing the electricity to shore and tying into the grid.  The negative impact of aging on wind and solar power plant performance is being reduced, thanks to maturing technologies and commercial practices.


I’ve provided links to several articles about Michael Schellenberger’s rescinded article in Forbes and the book upon which it was based, Apocalypse Never.  Now Snopes has provided a detailed analysis of the controversy.  For conservatives who care about climate change, republicEn has a new website.  Individual acts alone won’t stop the climate crisis, but there are things we can do; The Guardian asked experts what they do.  A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the media still disproportionately amplify the views of businesses and coalitions pushing back on climate action.

Closing Thought

Five Maine activists shared what motivated them to join the fight on climate change.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.