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Earth Matters: Biden’s IRA plan extends solar to low-income people, EVs surge

For the tens of millions of Americans who rent, whose roofs and yards are unsuitable for solar panels, or whose wallets aren’t ample enough to cover upfront costs of $20,000 or more, collecting on the promise of getting cheap, clean energy from the sun isn’t easy. 

Years ago, idealists who wanted to see the benefits of solar spread beyond the white and affluent—as described in this Berkeley Lab report—to communities of color and people on the low end of the income scale saw community solar as a means to that end. Unfortunately, while many community solar projects in the 39 states that now encourage them are perfectly fine and deliver the goods, many do not. The very nature of third party-owned community solar systems means too many of the benefits advantage the developer, not the consumer.  

The typical way it works is a developer signs up subscribers—local businesses, municipalities, owned and rented residences—and builds a (usually) small solar array that generates electricity transferred to the grid. Each subscriber receives a credit on their monthly utility bill for the electricity they used against their share of the community solar project’s output. In addition to the environmental benefits, bills can be reduced by as much as 15%, but it’s a lot less than that in many cases. For a good summary, check out the National Renewable Energy Lab and Berkeley Lab’s “Community Solar: Overview, ownership models, and the benefits of locally-owned community solar projects” published in June. In addition to limits on utility bill reductions, solar tax credits—federal, state, and local—don’t accrue to the subscriber, and cancellation penalties can be onerous.

Alternatives to this third-party approach exist. Among them are cooperatives and the Solar for All provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that includes $7 billion to cover grants for about 60 solar energy projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods around the country. The latter effort may seem paltry, and it is, but the projects that prove most successful could serve as models for widespread adoption if Democrats gain congressional majorities willing to pass something more like the defeated Build Back Better Act than the far less abundantly funded IRA.

Take cooperatives. Eduardo Garcia at The Revelator writes at length about the growing solar cooperative movement:

Solar co-ops are groups of property owners who band together to build small solar projects for their communities. “It’s like putting panels on your own roof, except you put them somewhere else with a bunch of other people,” Dan Orzech, general manager at the Oregon Clean Power Cooperative, tells The Revelator.

Once installed, the electricity produced by the panels is injected into the grid and utilities pay for that power using a system called “net metering” that allows co-op members to slash their energy bills. Solar co-ops members own the solar arrays and can therefore take full advantage of federal and state incentives.

Building a solar co-op can be a daunting process that is often facilitated by organizations like Orzech’s and others including Co-op Power and the People’s Solar Energy Fund, to name a few.

One of the largest solar co-op organizers is Solar United Neighbors, which has helped 8,400 people across the United States install over 70 megawatts of solar capacity since 2007.

Interest in solar cooperatives is on the rise in part because of the Biden administration’s push to add 20 gigawatts of community solar generation capacity by the end of 2025. Enough to provide electricity for 5 million households. Plus, the IRA provides a 30% tax credit for community solar projects, with extra benefits for those built in low-income communities or on tribal lands. 

Meanwhile, all but six states have applied or are in the process of applying for the Solar for All grants. Not a single congressional Republican voted for the IRA, but that hasn’t stopped more than a dozen Republican-led states from applying, just as it hasn’t stopped GOP members of Congress from taking two-faced credit for local projects funded by the IRA they voted against. The six declining states, which don’t seem to like the very concept of solar for all, are Florida, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, all led by Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. Nevada has a Republican governor with Democrats running the legislature. 

Here’s David Montgomery at Stateline pointing to an example of what grant seekers are proposing:

In North Carolina, the State Energy Office is taking the lead on a $250 million Solar for All grant proposal that would expand solar power to benefit more than 20,000 low-income and disadvantaged communities across the state.

In Greensboro, North Carolina, Diana Rosario and her family have seen their energy bills plummet after solar panels were installed in their home in 2020 through the efforts of nonprofit Community Housing Solutions, solar energy company Southern Energy Management and other organizations.

Rosario told Stateline her first electricity bill after the panels were installed was about $17 — down from a monthly average of about $120. She said her monthly bill [now] is usually higher than that first-month jaw dropper but never more than $60.

A just transition requires that nobody be left behind, whether they’re a developing nation faced with climate adaptation costs they cannot afford or a low-income renter without the means to save money and simultaneously help the environment by installing solar. Expanding projects like Solar for All and clearing the path for the blossoming of thousands of solar co-ops should be made crucial elements in that just transition.

RELATED:

Community solar projects seen as key step toward energy justice in Illinois 

WEEKLY ECO-VIDEO

RESOURCES

green BRIEFS

ARCTIC REPORT CARD 2023

Given the holiday season, something you may have missed was the release of the annual Arctic Report Card 2023 on Dec. 12. The latest 117-page edition is, frankly, a scary read. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been publishing these report cards since 2015, and they’ve all been alarming, with plenty of justification. Whether it’s wildfires or dwindling summer sea ice or polar bears scrambling under new conditions in their hunt for food, the world’s warmest summer on record last year generated a cascade of impacts across the Arctic. 

Among the profound worries are the impacts on Alaskan Natives because of rising seas and permafrost melt, the very thing covered in this week’s eco-video above. This isn’t fresh news. Twenty years ago, the internationally researched Arctic Climate Impact Assessment noted in its seminal, 20-page “Impacts of a Warming Arctic”:

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From 2004
  • Severe coastal erosion will be a growing problem as rising sea level and a reduction in sea ice allow higher waves and storm surges to reach the shore.
  • Along some [A]rctic coastlines, thawing permafrost weakens coastal lands, adding to their vulnerability.
  • The risk of flooding in coastal wetlands is projected to increase, with impacts on society and natural ecosystems.
  • In some cases, communities and industrial facilities in coastal zones are already threatened or being forced to relocate, while others face increasing risks and costs.

Two decades later, in an article in The Conversation, the 2023 report card’s editors write:

For many people living in the Arctic, climate change is already disrupting lives and livelihoods.

Indigenous observers describe changes in the sea ice that many people rely on for both subsistence hunting and coastal protection from storms. They have noted shifts in wind patterns and increasingly intense ocean storms.

On land, rising temperatures are making river ice less reliable for travel, and thawing permafrost is sinking roads and destabilizing homes.

Obvious and dramatic changes are happening within human lifetimes, and they cut to the core of Indigenous cultures to the point that people are having to change how they put food on the table.

Negative effects on the estimated 4 million Indigenous people who live in the circumpolar world are just one aspect of the warming of the Arctic at four times the average rate of temperature rise globally. Most humans will not have to deal with the collapse of their house or schools or roads because of permafrost melt or with the loss of their livelihoods as animals they depend on migrate elsewhere or vanish entirely. But as scientists have been telling us for a long time, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. As warming continues, there will be significant regional differences in impacts, but we will all be affected, are being affected. 

U.S. ELECTRIC VEHICLES MADE UP more than 9% OF TOTAL NEW CAR SALES IN 2023

Much of the mainstream media’s electric vehicle news coverage lately has come across as almost gleeful over GM, Ford, and Honda retreating on some of their multibillion-dollar plans for battery factories and reducing their plans for manufacturing hundreds of thousands of EVs immediately. Accompanied by numerous stories about lowered demand, under-par EV reliability, fatal crashes by users of Tesla’s AutoPilot as well as the company’s lowered profit margins, this retreat makes it seem like the transition to EVs is in deep trouble. 

In fact, a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency notes that fully battery-electric car sales rose from 1.8% of the total U.S. auto market in 2020 to 3.2% in 2021, 5.2% in 2022, and an estimated 9-9.8% in 2023. Sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles rose from 0.5% to 2% of total sales last year. The EPA predicts that by the end of 2024, BEVs and PHEVs will together have hit around 15% of total new car sales in the United States. If that growth trajectory continues, EVs of both types will make up around a third of new U.S. car sales by 2026. Solid performance. Worldwide, it’s a similar story.

Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica writes:

Electric vehicle sales continue to grow faster than most people expected, even faster than professional analysts in the field expected, and — surprise, surprise — they’ve grown much faster than oil companies have forecasted. That’s one of the big takeaways from BloombergNEF’s latest Zero-Emission Vehicles Factbook.

“In the base-case Economic Transition Scenario of BNEF’s 2023 Long-Term Electric Vehicle Outlook, ZEV share of passenger vehicle sales reaches 75% globally by 2040. This figure, while unchanged from last year’s report, is up significantly from the 2020 Outlook, reflecting additional policy support for ZEVs that has been introduced over the past few years. The International Energy Agency’s 2023 Global EV Outlook sees an estimated 36% BEV share of passenger vehicle sales by 2030. That’s more than double the 17% estimated in its 2022 report, bringing the IEA’s scenario closer to BNEF’s 2023 Outlook.”

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Growth in EVs on the road by country.

All told, about 1.4 million battery-electric vehicles were added to the U.S. fleet in 2023, and there is no reason to think the surge will cease despite continuing supply-chain bottlenecks, high interest rates, consumer range anxiety, and concerns about reliability. Don’t get me wrong, these are all legitimate issues, but they are solvable, most of them quickly. And though they pose short-term obstacles, these need to be balanced against impacts of federal, state, and other subsidies available to significantly reduce prices to purchasers of EVs. 

There’s one serious caveat: Installing far more and far more reliable public charging stations is crucial for dealing with range anxiety. Explain all you want to people hesitant to buy an EV about how the bulk of car trips only cover a few miles so charging needn’t be frequent or a hassle, and it just won’t convince them. Many existing EV owners will point out that they charge at home where electricity is much cheaper and charging more convenient. They don’t see what the problem is because they have an off-street space to call their own. However, about a third of Americans don’t because they live in rental housing without it.

That’s a problem that the free market alone would take decades to fix. The government push for this new infrastructure is strong, with $7.5 billion in subsidies earmarked for adding 500,000 public chargers. Installing them, however, is only half the battle. This needs to be accompanied by a vigorous effort to ensure chargers work all the time and are quickly fixed when they don’t, something only Tesla does well now.

Range anxiety isn’t the only consumer issue. Some just hate the idea of EVs in general or anything that hints at environmental betterment. And on another part of the political spectrum are people in the market for a new vehicle who have ideological reasons for why they would only buy a Tesla after Elon Musk arrives on Mars and don’t yet see other EVs as good alternatives. 

Although some people will hang onto their love of internal combustion vehicles for decades, the EV naysayers are going to dwindle fairly quickly because of government mandates on cars and light-duty trucks. Among these are Biden’s executive order calling for zero emission vehicles to account for half of new car sales by 2030, and California’s mandate that ZEVs make up 100% of new car sales by 2035. That mostly means electric vehicles. Nine other states have ZEV mandates: Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. But they aren’t all the same. For instance, Colorado mandates new car sales be 82% ZEVs by 2032, but officials chose not to make it 100% by 2035. 

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While electrification of the transportation sector will greatly reduce carbon emissions—cars and light-duty trucks account for 19% of total U.S. carbon emissions—it will also literally save lives by replacing internal combustion engines, the non-carbon toxic emissions of which contribute to the planet’s 7 million annual premature deaths from burning fossil fuels. In addition to getting rid of these lethal tailpipe emissions, ever more clean solar, wind, and geothermal installations will fill the hole left by shutting down power plants now fueled by coal and gas, thus reducing carbon emissions associated with manufacturing EVs, which are not inconsiderable. 

Saahil Desai at The Atlantic writes

“The transition to EVs is completely changing everything,” Loren McDonald, an EV consultant, told me. “It’s changing the people that automotive companies have to hire and their skills. It’s changing their suppliers, their factories, how they assemble and build them. And lots of automakers are struggling with that.” …

At the very low end, estimates Sam Abuelsamid, a transportation analyst at Guidehouse Insights, upwards of 10,000 “software engineers, interface designers, networking engineers, data center experts and silicon engineers have been hired by automakers and suppliers in recent years.” The tech wars can sometimes verge on farce: One former Apple executive runs Ford’s customer-software team, while another runs GM’s.

Job cuts are already happening, and more may come—even after the massive autoworker strike this year that largely hinged on electrification. Such a big financial investment is needed to electrify the car industry that from July to September, Ford lost $60,000 for every EV it sold. Or peel back one more onion layer to car dealerships: Tesla, Rivian, and other EV companies are selling directly to consumers, cutting them out. EVs also require little service compared with gas vehicles, a reality that has upset many dealers, who could lose their biggest source of profit. None of this is the future. It is happening right now.

All too often, activists see a desired change through a narrow lens. Some climate activists, for instance, may rightly see this cut in carbon and other pollution as a big win without scrutinizing the larger picture. As the intentionally disruptive, multifaceted transition of the engines of modern civilization really get rolling, the synergy of intersecting impacts will be far broader over a shorter time than any of us is likely to imagine. It’s a package deal with tendrils reaching everywhere. Sociologically, we’re headed for big changes, too. Think America 1939 and America 1949. And, of course, back then as now, think globally. We need to be asking a lot of questions every step of the way of this transition, this transformation. 

This disruption depends on a lot more than what free market ideologues call, in Joseph Schumpeter’s phrase, “creative destruction” for their success. Anybody with a clue about how the fossil fuel giants and their puppets have behaved in defense of their dishonest shenanigans to keep climate change off the public agenda knows better than to trust a chaotic, inequitable, so-called “free market” handling of the green transition. The transformation of so many interconnected systems—financial, infrastructural, social, industrial, agricultural—is very much a political project that requires democratic guidance, not a greedy free for all. 

How heavy the government hand should be on the tiller, or how tight the reins, or whatever description you want to put on it, must be a matter for public debate, not corporate dictate. Democrats are—nothing new here—divided on what precisely that means. At the very least, it ought to mean curbing the power of fossil fuel and other corporations to sabotage the transition. While spurring green energy and other important climate-related measures, the Biden administration has also granted vast numbers of drilling permits on public lands right when the industry is extracting more oil than any country at any time in history. So we’ve obviously a long way to go in the curbing department. And the Supreme Court may very well enhance corporate clout in resisting such efforts.

To those who say dealing with the climate crisis shouldn’t be a partisan matter, note that Donald Trump—who is back to calling global warming a “hoax” and trashing the whole concept of electric vehicles after laying off that kind of line for a while—would as president happily, vengefully dismantle the funding of the IRA along with every climate and environmental regulation. Subsidies for EVs would be out the window along with all the other IRA money meant to speed up the transition. Prominent Republicans have previously shown themselves eager to do the same. And even though the IRA includes unprecedented amounts of climate-related money, it’s actually tepid given the gigantic task. Imagine the GOP fury if Democrats had actually passed a Green New Deal along its originally conceived lines with a much stronger focus on environmental justice than the compromised IRA can deliver.

It’s de rigueur these days to point out that EVs alone will not rescue us from the climate and biodiversity crises. But nobody has ever argued otherwise. There is clearly so much more to do than simply electrifying our wheels. And in two or three generations, perhaps the whole concept of privately owned autos will seem alien. But just as dealing with other human behavior that is heating the atmosphere, from power plants to farming, rapidly switching from oil burners to EVs isn’t a luxury. The switch seems to be heading in a good direction, though not yet speedily enough, and there will no doubt be more hiccups. 

As for what happens simultaneously with the EV transformation, here’s Ryan Cooper at The American Prospect:

More generally, it’s been obvious for decades that the total reorientation of the American built environment around cars and driving has been a disaster, contributing to a crisis of inactivity, loneliness, and nearly 120 people per day killed from collisions. If we could, it would be best to dedicate marginal manufacturing capacity to improved public transit, electric bikes, scooters, and so on, because they could replace most car trips at a fraction of the cost in energy and resources. Indeed, e-bikes have displaced global oil demand by something like four times as much as all EVs, mostly thanks to their heavy adoption in China and elsewhere.

But reorienting sprawling American cities to be safe for bikes and pedestrians—already well in progress in some cities—will take years of bitter fighting with NIMBYs and ingrained, knee-jerk car supremacy. Even New York City, where a majority of households don’t own cars, struggles with elementary stuff like dedicated lanes for bikes and buses. And in any case, even the least car-dependent cities on Earth (like, say, Amsterdam) still have many vehicles for taxis, deliveries, and those stubborn people who just like to drive.

For certain, the fewer vehicles on the roads the better, the more public transit the better. But we cannot wait to get transportation off fossil fuels for as long as it will take to broadly achieve those city-reorienting goals. At worst, EVs are a necessary short-run evil. But realistically they are far better than that.


RELATED: 

The (Pretty Short) List of EVs That Qualify for a $7,500 Tax Credit in 2024

The 2023 EPA Automotive Trends Report: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Fuel Economy, and Technology since 1975.

Here’s how the EPA calculates how far an EV can go on a full charge

ECO-QUOTE

“Solar is quietly eating the world. This is what an energy transition looks like.”  Eric Wesoff

HALF A DOZEN other THINGS TO READ (or listen to)

Some good news about eco-news by Maria Virginia Olano at Canary Media. “The media industry has been hard-hit by layoffs recently, including many climate journalists. But despite these headwinds, there’s been good news in independent climate media in 2023—something I think we can continue to be optimistic about next year. This year, Stephen Lacey and Scott Clavenna launched Latitude Media, and Robinson Meyer and Nico Lauricella started Heatmap. Cipher, Amy Harder’s newsletter, expanded to a full news publication, and Amy Westervelt’s Drilled also grew with new hires in 2023. Some older publications, like fellow nonprofits Grist, Inside Climate News and Floodlight, continued to do stellar work. Emily Atkin’s crucial Heated newsletter and David Roberts’ Volts podcast kept focusing on under-reported topics and highlighting important voices. Good reporting is essential to making a just, swift energy transition happen, and I am excited to see this growing group of publications (and Canary Media!) continue to raise the bar for what climate and clean energy journalism can do.”

Green Jobs Are Already Stealing Fossil Fuel’s Thunder by Oscar Boyd, Akshat Rathi, and Christine Driscoll at Bloomberg Green.

Excerpt:

Oscar Boyd 3:37

So 36.2 million people is the number of people working in clean energy in 2023, according to a report by my favorite source, I swear this is accidental… It is from the International Energy Agency. And it’s from their World Energy Employment report.

Akshat Rathi 4:02

What about the number of people working in fossil fuels.

Oscar Boyd 4:05

Well, 36.2 million people is higher than the number of people working in fossil fuels. There are currently about 32 million people working in fossil fuels as of 2023. And what’s interesting is seeing the growth in both of these numbers. So this report from the International Energy Agency, it tracks the numbers from 2019 to 2023. So it goes through the pandemic period, and renewables, or working in clean energy has grown by about 6 million. So between 2019 and now it’s gone from about 30 million to 36 point 2 million. Over that same time period, fossil fuels has actually fallen. Just before the pandemic, there were about 33 million people working in fossil fuels that has now gone down to 32 million. Clean energy workers overtook fossil fuels in 2021. And that difference has only grown with time.

Here’s where utility-scale solar is located in the U.S. by Maria Virginia Olano at Canary Media (from the article “10 charts that sum up 2023’s clean energy progress”). “Solar installations are skyrocketing in the United States, and this map shows where many of the country’s utility-scale solar systems are located. The map reveals a high concentration of solar in Massachusetts and North Carolina, though when accounting for power-generating capacity, California and Texas are far ahead of the rest of the country.”

Ground-mounted PV arrays of at least 1 MW as of start of 2022

Working to End ‘Food Apartheid’ by George B. Sánchez-Tello at Capital & Main. “The doorway into La Placita Oaxaqueña—a small corner store in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park neighborhood—frames a view of a red wicker basket overflowing with golden Mexican mangos next to freshly picked oranges still on their leafy stems. A small sign hanging from the ceiling reads ‘¡Compra Saludable Aquí!’ (Buy Healthy Here!). Next to the card readers at the cashier counter are small plastic containers of red, ripe strawberries flanked by a straw basket of more than a dozen dark green avocados. This presentation is all by design. Store owner Emilia López shares a receipt with a breakdown of sales so far this year. In a dense, urban neighborhood a mile’s walk from the closest full-service grocery store, López has sold more than $400,000 worth of produce—more than 60% of her annual sales. La Placita Oaxaqueña’s success matters not only to López and her neighborhood, but to businesses and communities across California. Making the sale of fruits and vegetables cost effective to corner markets and convenience stores could unlock access to wholesome food for millions in low-income communities across California and improve health outcomes. As of 2015, nearly 3 million low-income Californians lived too far from a full-service market to access affordable nutritious food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For urban communities, that means more than one mile and for rural communities, more than 10 miles. About eight years ago, the non-profit Los Angeles Food Policy Council began urging small markets and convenience stores to start selling fresh fruits and vegetables. The goal was to serve residents who lived within a half mile walk from the store through the burgeoning Healthy Neighborhood Market Network.”

Owner Emilia Lopez stocks shelves at the La Placita Oaxaqueña market.
Owner Emilia López stocks shelves at the La Placita Oaxaqueña market.

Dying in the Fields as Temperatures Soar by Liza Gross, Peter Aldhous at Inside Climate News. “No federal standard protects workers from extreme heat, though OSHA proposed a rule in 2021—a half century after public health officials first recommended precautionary measures. California was the first of the five states that have passed a heat exposure standard and its requirements are considered among the toughest. Yet the standard doesn’t recognize an increasingly dangerous threat for agricultural laborers in a warming world: working in hot, polluted air. According to the 2022 annual report from California OSHA, or Cal/OSHA, just two California farmworkers died from heat exposure between 2018 and 2022. But an Inside Climate News review of federal farmworker death records, along with temperature and air pollution data, suggests the numbers may be much higher. Scores of farmworkers died in California between 2018 and 2022 when temperatures exceeded the threshold that triggers California’s heat safety requirements. All of these deaths occurred in counties with chronically unsafe air.”

Switching to plant-based diets means cleaner air and could save more than 200,000 lives around the world, says study by Toon Vandyck and Marco Springmann at The Conversation. “Food systems represent one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked, these emissions would probably add enough extra warming to take Earth’s average temperature beyond a 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7 degree) rise in a few decades. Studies have shown than air pollution is one of the big problems caused by agriculture. Animal farming, in particular, is a major source of ammonia emissions. These react with other pollutants to form fine particulate matter—also known as PM2.5 and soot—which can cause a broad range of potentially lethal health problems such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and diabetes. A recent study reveals that shifting from current diets to healthier, more plant-based ones could prevent up to 236,000 premature deaths around the world and boost global gross domestic product—simply by improving air quality. World Health Organization organization researchers found that 4 million premature deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution in 2019. Agriculture was responsible for roughly one-fifth of these deaths.”

ECO-TWXXT 

ECOPINION

dairy cows
Selective analysis of methane emissions is leading to “climate neutral” claims in the peer-reviewed literature.

The Livestock Industry’s “Climate Neutral” Claims Are Too Good To Be True by Joe Fassler at DeSmog. “Recent findings from some peer-reviewed academic papers in agricultural journals sound like fodder for optimism: The United States cattle industry has helped to cool the climate almost every year since 1986. European dairy goats and sheep have caused no additional warming since 1990. Australian sheep meat is a ‘climate-neutral’ product. But these findings are highly misleading, according to a new study in Environmental Research Letters. The study found that an alternative method of quantifying the impact of methane emissions has led to a raft of industry-friendly findings that the livestock sector seems to be  using to claim climate neutrality as they continue to pollute. While virtually everyone agrees that anthropogenic methane emissions play a huge role in climate change, different approaches to measuring that impact can result in dramatically different narratives. For decades, scientists have relied on a standard metric called GWP100, which measures the global warming potential of greenhouse gasses relative to carbon dioxide over a timeframe of 100 years. This approach makes methane’s potency clear: A pound of methane warms the climate 30 times more than a pound of CO2. But unlike carbon dioxide, which can linger in the atmosphere for millennia, methane is a relatively transient greenhouse gas. Since methane’s lifespan in the atmosphere is only about 12 years, GWP100’s critics tend to feel it’s inaccurate to compare it to carbon dioxide because, in that shorter period, methane is more than 80 times the potency of CO2.”

EPA’s Rules for Verifying Carbon Capture Projects Are Riddled with Holes from the Environmental Integrity Project. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for monitoring and verifying that sequestered carbon dioxide stays underground fail to ensure safe and long-term carbon storage, according to a new report. Federal regulations require companies seeking federal subsidies to capture and bury CO2—a key part of the Biden administration’s climate policy—to have monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) plans approved by EPA under its Greenhouse Gas Reporting program. EIP’s report, ‘Flaws in EPA’s Monitoring and Verification of Carbon Capture Projects,’ analyzes the 21 MRV plans approved so far and reveals that plans are insufficient to prevent leakage of carbon dioxide and difficult to enforce. Among the report’s conclusions: EPA does not require specific monitoring strategies or technologies, allowing companies to write their own rules; the plans contain ambiguous language that lack explicit monitoring timelines or quantification strategies, with some saying companies will only continue with monitoring actions ‘if beneficial,’ or allow companies to ‘determine the most appropriate method’ to quantify leaks; the plans are difficult to enforce, with no third-party verification of data self-reported by companies.”

Hannah Ritchie
Hannah Ritchie.

What If People Don’t Need to Care About Climate Change to Fix It? David Marchese at The New York Times conducted an interview with Hannah Ritchie, a senior researcher in the Program on Global Development at the University of Oxford and deputy editor at the online publication Our World in Data. She is the author of “Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet,” which will be released next week. “It seems like we’ve been battling climate change for decades and made no progress. I want to push back on that,” she says. Ritchie argues that “the flood of doom-laden stats and stories about climate change is obscuring our ability to imagine solutions to the crisis and envision a sustainable, livable future.” She points to progress in deforestation, air pollution, and the ramped-up adoption of clean-energy technologies. “For a long time I felt helplessness, that these problems were massive and unsolvable,” she says. “It’s important to counter those feelings. We need to go much faster, but there is a lot of progress to acknowledge and lessons to learn.”

The arrogance of the off-road vehicle lobby by Jonathan P. Thompson at The Land Desk. “In a rather predictable—but still maddening—move, the off-road-vehicle lobby is suing the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges travel plan for off-highway vehicle use. The BlueRibbon Coaltion, Colorado Off-Road Trail Defenders, and Patrick McKay are challenging the ‘illegal and arbitrary’ closure of 317 miles of motorized routes on about 468 square miles of public land north and west of Moab between the Green River and Highway 191. The off-road coalition was already shot down once by the Interior Board of Land Appeals; now they’re taking their gripes to federal court, using the same spurious arguments.  Of course, these groups have every right to challenge federal agencies’ decisions; environmentalists do it all the time. But what’s maddening about these motorized-access groups is their intransigence—even arrogance—and stubborn unwillingness to compromise. They promise to ‘Fight for Every Inch’ of motorized access to public lands, not for any real reason but as an end in itself, damn the consequences to the environment, the public, and wildlife. The kerfuffle over the Labyrinth/Gemini plan is a perfect example.”

As the world swims in plastic, some offer an answer: Ban the toxic two by Alden Wicker at Mongabay. “Anti-plastic campaigners have achieved limited initial success in passing bans based on the toxic health effects of some plastic types, especially those that contain known carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals. ‘All plastics are toxic, and certainly some are worse than others,’ says Michael Schade, director of consumer-focused campaigns at the U.S. nonprofit advocacy organization Toxic-Free Future. His organization has a long list of problematic plastics, including polycarbonate (a hard, clear plastic once used in baby bottles that often contains hormone-disrupting bisphenols like BPA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. But experts often point to two types of plastic that are so toxic to produce, use and dispose of, they shouldn’t even be on the market: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene. Both should see an ‘immediate freeze and phase-down’ of production, says the U.K.’s Environmental Investigation Agency, an NGO. More than 60 nations want an outright ban on ‘problematic plastics’ by the global plastics treaty now being negotiated.”

plastic pollution

Democrats and Climate Activists Are on a Collision Course in 2024 by Aaron Gell at The New Republic. “Among the 75,000 or so people who showed up at the March to End Fossil Fuels in New York in September, I encountered quite a few who knew the IRA was mostly a climate bill. They didn’t seem impressed. In fact, the primary goal of the event was ratcheting up the pressure on Biden, who would be in New York to address the U.N. The largest climate march since the pandemic, it represented a reset for the movement. But behind the scenes, schemers and dreamers were at odds about messaging: The decision to chastise the administration was raising concerns. ‘Elections are about choices,’ Tiernan Sittenfeld noted. ‘Our best shot at actually meeting our shared climate goals is helping the president get reelected.’ Representative Mike Levin, a Democrat from California and a strong advocate of more aggressive climate action, agreed. ‘Will we have Democrats, who actually want to address the climate crisis with the seriousness it requires? Or will we have climate deniers like [Speaker] Mike Johnson in charge, much less the biggest climate denier of them all, Donald Trump, who is now the de facto nominee of the Republican Party?’ As a result of this dispute, march organizers ‘had a really hard time getting funding,’ according to Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist turned climate activist who now serves as executive director of the Climate Emergency Fund. ‘Some of the larger climate funders thought that it would hurt Biden, which I think is just ridiculous. Like not only will they not support disruption, they won’t support a frickin’ march.’”

GREEN LINKS

First Comes the Hurricane, Then the Evictions • Only 2% of US electricians are women. Tonya Hicks wants to change that • 21 Gigawatts of US Coal to Retire in Next 3 Years, 88–211 Gigawatts of Solar to Join Grid • Green shipping picks up speed • rom Austin to Anchorage, U.S. cities opt to ditch their off-street parking minimums • This U.S. Agency Lent Nearly $1 Billion to Fossil Fuel Projects in 2023 • Evolution might stop humans from solving climate change, researchers say • Wind turbine market improves, but higher costs may linger in 2024: BNEF  How Mounting Demand for Rubber Is Driving Tropical Forest Loss  Ireland Could Become the Next Nation to Recognize the Rights of Nature and a Human Right to a Clean Environment • How watching beavers from space can help drought-ridden areas bounce back • Electricity is fundamental to quality of life”: the man bringing off-grid, pay-as-you-go power to Africa

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