Pleasantly called natural gas and sold to many as a better solution, a good transition fuel, natural gas has been dominating new US electricity capacity alongside renewable energy. Yet, hydraulic fracking absolutely takes the “natural” out of it. Originally, natural gas was successfully sold as a cleaner transition fuel. Who knew there were not even laws on the books to address the hidden pollutants, and that there would be much information lacking about the truth of the acid stimulation, hydraulic fracturing, and other new extraction technologies?
By Cynthia Shahan, January 12, 2020
Pleasantly called natural gas and sold to many as a better solution, a good transition fuel, natural gas has been dominating new US electricity capacity alongside renewable energy. Yet, hydraulic fracking absolutely takes the “natural” out of the fuel source. Originally, natural gas was successfully sold as a “cleaner” transition fuel. Who knew there were not even laws on the books to address the hidden pollutants, and that there would be much information lacking about the truth of the acid stimulation, hydraulic fracturing, and other new extraction technologies?
Because they were new, lawmakers, regulators, and the courts couldn’t keep up with the effects of horizontal drilling, the high-pressure injection of a slurry of chemicals, and the entirely different process. Or, in some cases, lawmakers didn’t want to look at the effects. The law books were lacking rules for the newer drilling processes, and many of the chemicals used in fracking were not disclosed. So, damage was done. There’s the “Halliburton loophole” in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, for example — fracking operations were exempted from meeting the federal standards set in the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. How could that be allowed?
Some of the chemicals used have now been proven to cause significant health problems, and will for generations to come. A new white paper by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), “Climate and Health Risks of Liquified Natural Gas,” highlights some of these problems.
A Yale study published that of 1,021 chemicals were identified in fracking fluids. Of those identified, a great many showed dramatic contraindication for human or animal water supply. At least 157 were disruptive, disturbing, or toxic to the human reproductive system or human development. Chemicals that had federal guidelines regulating them — arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, and mercury — and 157 others were associated with either developmental or reproductive toxicity.
“The hydraulic fracturing extraction process injects a slurry of chemicals and millions of gallons of water thousands of feet underground at high pressure,” the article states.
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) build more on the body of information, revealing associated problems. An article titled “The False Promise of Natural Gas” by Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Brita E. Lundberg, M.D., reports, “Natural gas, composed principally of methane, has been hailed as a clean ‘transition’ fuel—a bridge from the coal and oil of the past to the clean energy sources of the future … but beneath this rosy narrative lies a more complex story. Gas is associated with health and environmental hazards and reduced social welfare at every stage of its life cycle.”
The article mentions water issues as well. “Ground and surface water contaminated with chemicals that are toxic. 25% carcinogens, 75% are dermal, ocular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal toxins. 50% have toxic nervous, immune, cardiovascular and renal effects, 30% to 40% are endocrine disruptors.”
Also addressed are air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, radionuclide releases, earthquakes, community disruption, fires and explosions, and climate change. You can download the article here.
“As physicians deeply concerned about climate change and pollution and their consequences, we consider expansion of the natural gas infrastructure to be a grave hazard to human health,” the report states.
Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, MPH, lead author of “Climate and Health Risks of Liquified Natural Gas,” adds, “Our current climate crisis is a health emergency. The actions we take now by extracting, transporting and liquefying fracked gas will determine the health of generations to come. It is unconscionable that we continue to subject our communities to these risks when we have the technology to make a just transition to renewable energy.”
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) encourages everyone to share information about the health risks of LNG and advocate for a rapid transition to clean, safe renewable energy solutions such as solar, wind and geothermal.
Featured Image: NRG Mandalay Natural Gas Power Plant in Oxnard, California. Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, supporter, or ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
WRITTEN BYCynthia Shahan
Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings born with spiritual insights and ethics beyond this world. (She was able to advance more in this way led by her
4 Recommendations to Electrify the US Federal Fleet
by Erika Myers – February 18, 2021
In his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order that gives federal agencies 90 days to devise a plan that fully transitions the federal fleet’s roughly 650,000 vehicles — including about 225,000 postal vehicles, 173,000 military vehicles and 245,000 civilian vehicles — into “clean and zero-emission vehicles for Federal, State, local, and Tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service.” While some of these vehicles may include hydrogen, the majority will likely be electric vehicles (EVs). As such, this executive order is a critical first step to getting the on-the-ground momentum for a major electric vehicle transition.
While the federal proclamation may be a simple concept, executing it will be challenging. There is a limited variety of EVs available today, and creating new EV models — even when manufacturers are willing to take on the substantial investments and risks involved — can take more than five years. This can be especially challenging considering that the federal fleet has a massive variety of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, as well as both on- and off-road and light-, medium- and heavy-duty applications. Installing the necessary charging infrastructure and ensuring adequate energy supply could also take many years in areas with grid capacity constraints.
The logistical challenges of procuring vehicles and charging hardware, energizing parking lots, getting permits, installing infrastructure, training drivers and maintenance staff, and much more creates a Herculean task, which is largely why it hasn’t been done yet. To add further complexity, the administration will need to prevent unintended consequences, such as continued emissions from exporting used vehicles, to achieve the best possible environmental, economic and social outcomes.
Here are four recommendations, informed by WRI’s electric mobility work, to achieve those best outcomes from the federal fleet transition plan:
1. Create a National Electric Vehicle Roadmap
New Climate Federalism project also provides recommendations on the appropriate involvement of state, federal and local governments when transitioning to EVs.
2. Proactively Resolve Electrical Grid Constraints
Charging numerous EVs at the same time and in the same location, such as at a federal fleet facility, could cause issues with the local grid. It could also potentially lead to high electricity costs due to demand charges and expensive energy service upgrades. EV infrastructure planning adds complexity to an already arduous task for most fleet managers and their electric utility distribution engineer counterparts. Long lead times and high connection costs could be a major bottleneck for many of the federal fleet electrification projects that depend on traditional electricity service.
Electrifying federal fleets may require out-of-the-box solutions like on-site microgrids, energy storage, solar and demand charge management strategies to eliminate some of the cost and timeline barriers. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity and many federally funded national labs could play a central role in adapting these approaches to the varying needs and geographies of the federal fleet.
3. Enable Grid Co-benefits
match peak renewable energy generation. This will also help tackle climate change by aligning the charging times to overlap with the cleanest forms of energy generation and reducing consumption of fossil fuel-based generation. And because vehicles are typically parked over 90% of the time, they can be used as an alternative to stationary storage by “soaking up” excess renewable generation, preventing curtailment of those resources and supporting new renewable energy deployment.
If the EVs procured by the General Services Administration and others are bidirectionally capable (i.e., they can charge and discharge energy), the excess battery capacity could serve the dual functions of providing energy back to the grid during peak usage periods and creating local resilience benefits for emergency shelters, first responders and hospitals during disaster recovery. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) could play a critical role here in enabling new vehicle-to-grid aggregator wholesale power market participation via FERC Order No. 2222.
4. Permanently Retire Non-electric Federal Vehicles
During the transition to EVs, the federal government will have to phase out thousands of old, non-electric vehicles. If the federal government sells the used vehicles to the private sector, they could get exported to countries without strict pollution or safety standards. This could result in a global net negative outcome in terms of air pollution, climate emissions and road safety. The federal government should plan to permanently remove these fleet vehicles from the roads and recycle those materials as part of this process.
Ensuring the Best Outcomes from the EV Transition
President Biden’s proclamation to electrify the federal fleet dovetails with similar recent actions: an executive order in California, GM’s announcement to electrify all vehicles by 2035 and WRI’s goal to electrify all U.S. school buses by 2030, to name a few. Although it will be difficult, this shift to EVs is a massively ambitious undertaking that can succeed.
While these four recommendations are essential to an effective transition of the federal fleet, they are not the only steps that would benefit the plan. Other fleet transition plan components could include:
- Recommendations for federal loan and grant programs to build out the necessary manufacturing capacity to meet vehicle and charging infrastructure demand.
- Recommendations for a job retraining program for the existing automotive workforce.
- Plans to ensure a just transition for fossil fuel industry workers.
- Supporting policies that ensure that new jobs have livable wages with good benefits and increase the diversity of the automotive and supply chain industry workforce to reduce gender and racial wage gaps.
WRI is tackling these and many other challenges through our electric mobility practice. There are many opportunities to leverage the buying power of the federal government to reduce the supply chain costs of the current EV market and provide the leadership, guidance and investment signals to the industry that are required for an equitable and comprehensive EV transition in a relatively short time.
If the U.S. federal government figures out how to address these challenges, it could provide a massive kickstart to the EV transition and serve as a beacon to many other fleets who aspire to begin their electrification journey, both in the United States and elsewhere. Documenting and publishing lessons learned, co-locating infrastructure, sharing procurement and negotiation services and providing individualized advice could go a long way to helping other fleets electrify. Success from the new administration in this quest could prove to be a victory in addressing climate change challenges and paving the way for broader electric vehicle implementation.
What’s Next for State Climate Action in the US? 7 Areas to Watch
The Biden administration has committed to a historically ambitious climate agenda. We can expect a profound shift in U.S. federal climate policy — from one of continued domestic rollbacks and international disengagement, to one of forward progress and cooperation. This is critical, as it is not possible to address the climate challenge without federal leadership, and time is running out to avert catastrophic levels of global warming.
At the same time, state-level climate action will remain essential. History has shown that even an engaged U.S. federal government faces real obstacles to progressive regulatory and legislative action. In the face of federal gridlock and inaction, state and local governments have played a crucial role in advancing climate action, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting the continued maturation of key low-carbon technologies such as wind and solar generation as well as electric vehicles.
Rather than taking a backseat, state leadership must now continue alongside a more supportive federal government, allowing the United States to achieve deeper emissions reductions through a new climate federalism framework that leverages comparative strengths at different levels of governance.
Below we outline seven high-impact policies to watch in 2021, as well as federal programs and policies that can encourage and reinforce state-level climate action plans.
1. Progress Toward 100% Clean Electricity
Over the past several years, momentum toward a decarbonized power sector has grown rapidly. Seven states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico have legislatively committed to 100% clean electricity by 2050 or earlier, while another eight states have a non-binding 100% goal.
Moving forward, we’ll watch how many more states adopt similar standards — and what lessons states can share to promote broader adoption of mandates to decarbonize electricity supplies fully. Many states have innovated in recent years to position their power sectors for more rapid decarbonization. For example, six states have set explicit targets for batteries and other forms of energy storage to complement renewables. Colorado has partnered with electric utilities to phase down fossil-based generation while limiting financial strain on impacted communities.
Rather than letting up, states can now expand these frameworks to speed up progress and broaden the adoption of 100% clean electricity across the United States.
Note: States with enacted targets by year adopted: Hawaii (2015); California (2018); Colorado, District of Columbia, Maine, Washington, Nevada, New Mexico, New York (2019); Virginia (2020). Additional states with proposed targets (through proposed legislation or executive orders): Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin.
The federal government will now join states in pushing for this transition. The Biden campaign set a goal of 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035, though it remains to be seen whether Congress will adopt that vision. Even without Congress adopting a 100% clean energy goal, the Biden administration will have a wide array of tools at its disposal, such as:
- Using the Clean Air Act to push for an aggressive clean power standard;
- upgrading transmission and distribution systems through infrastructure legislation;
- increasing Department of Energy research & development support for renewable and other low-carbon technologies;
- facilitating the development of renewable energy projects on federal lands and offshore;
- reforming Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) orders to support renewables in organized electricity markets;
- and eliminating ill-conceived trade barriers on solar panels and other key technologies.
These federal levers can enable states to deploy more renewable resources on the grid and help the nation move closer to decarbonizing its power sector.
2. Drive the Sale of Zero-Emission Vehicles
Decarbonizing transportation means moving to zero-carbon vehicles. Increasingly, states are driving the shift to a 100% emissions-free transportation sector. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C. have adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. The majority of these states have also adopted a Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program requiring automakers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles — such as battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
California‘s decision to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars starting in 2035 has the potential to dramatically grow the electric vehicle market, and Massachusetts and New Jersey are considering similar bans. States are also moving beyond just light-duty vehicles; last year, a coalition of 15 states and the District of Columbia committed to a 30% zero-emission vehicle sales target for buses and trucks by 2030.
These actions can be complemented by additional states’ measures including:
- Procuring electric vehicles for public fleets (like buses and other public vehicles);
- providing consumers, especially lower-income populations, with incentives that make purchasing electric vehicles and charging equipment more affordable;
- reforming electricity rates — by ensuring that electric vehicles charge in a manner that minimizes costs to the grid, while providing customers with fuel savings — to support electric vehicle deployment;
- and providing grants and loans for charging infrastructure to offset capital costs and attract private investment.
As more states adopt policies to support vehicle electrification, they can accelerate the move to zero-emission vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving local air quality, while also enabling the adoption of more ambitious federal standards over time.
Note: Policies and incentives can vary substantially in terms of scope and/or value from one state to the next. More details can be found at: https://afdc.energy.gov/laws/state
The state-level actions described above will send clear market signals for fleet owners and vehicle manufacturers. The federal government can be an important partner as well, by sustaining federal tax credits to incentivize electric vehicle purchases, and to more quickly and equitably deploy charging infrastructure. Equally important would be federal policies to spur manufacturers to invest in producing electric vehicles, batteries and charging equipment domestically.
Finally, tighter tailpipe emission standards, combined with a long-term strategy for electrification, will push automakers to increase electric vehicle sales. Here the Biden administration could model federal efficiency rules after the agreement between the California Air Resources Board and five automakers for model years 2022 through 2026, while developing more stringent standards requiring 100% zero-emissions vehicles for new car sales in the 2030-2035 timeframe.
3. Support the Deep Decarbonization of Buildings
States can drive significant decarbonization of buildings by expanding their highly successful energy efficiency resource standards, which regularly provide two to five dollars in economic benefits for every dollar invested. Carbon-neutral buildings, however, ultimately require more than improved efficiency. They require appliances than run on zero-carbon sources of energy, like electricity generated from solar and wind, rather than on-site gas or oil.
Recent technological advancements make air source heat pumps and electric water heaters economically compelling options throughout much of the country. States can support their rollout through a combination of incentives and regulations, and by limiting the installation of gas appliances in new buildings.
Some states have begun to set heat pump installation targets and incentives to provide market signals. Maine, for instance, passed legislation to install 20,000 heat pumps in the state annually (up from 7,500). Both California and New York have allocated funding to advance building electrification and deploy heat pumps, with a focus on low-income residents’ homes.
With multiple cities in California requiring or encouraging all-electric new construction, California also has an opportunity to adopt similar rules at the state level in its upcoming 2022 building energy code cycle. An analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute shows that going all-electric in new buildings would avoid $1 billion in spending on new gas connection infrastructure, which could become obsolete in the face of California’s target to eliminate statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. As 2021 begins, other states will likely include building electrification strategies in their climate and energy plans.
To enable the widespread adoption of zero-emissions buildings, federal funding should be dedicated to efficiency efforts proven to reduce energy consumption, save taxpayer dollars and create jobs — including the State Energy Program, Weatherization Assistance Program, and tax incentives for efficiency improvements in residential and commercial buildings. Federal funding, including those two programs, has significantly helped states scale up their energy efficiency work.
As states navigate the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout, federal efficiency programs can play a vital role in supplementing state efforts to save energy and reduce energy costs, especially for low-income residents. The federal government can also step up research and development for building electrification, provide incentives for electrification in addition to efficiency, establish national building performance standards, and provide financial and technical assistance to states that implement building performance standards.
4. Include Natural and Working Lands in Climate Change Strategies
Fighting climate change isn’t only about reducing fossil fuel use. Natural and working lands like forests, farms and wetlands collectively remove 11% of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere already. They have the potential to remove up to 1 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide per year with smart measures to promote conservation, restoration and sustainable land management. States can advance these measures through incentives for carbon removal practiceson private lands, smart growth policies for urban areas, and climate-smart management of state forests, among other policy opportunities.
In 2018, 17 states joined together through the US Climate Alliance to accept the Natural and Working Lands Challenge, which includes a commitment to integrate land-based carbon removal — through practices like restoring forests, planting cover crops and protecting wetlands — into state climate plans.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has emerged as a leader by releasing an Executive Order that calls on state agencies to develop a Climate Smart Strategy for Natural and Working Lands. The Order also sets a target to protect 30% of the state’s lands and waters by 2030.
We’re now watching whether other states follow California’s lead in recognizing the value of land in removing carbon from the atmosphere. Washington and Wisconsin are among the states positioning themselves for strong action in the year ahead, with recommendations issued in the final weeks of 2020 for new state policies to support carbon removal in natural and working lands.
The federal government can support these efforts with targeted policies to expand U.S. Department of Agriculture incentive programs for private lands, enhance carbon sequestration on federal lands, and improve measurement of carbon storage in forests and soils. During his first week in office, President Biden has already followed California’s lead by enacting a national 30% target for land and water protection. The federal government can also support state efforts by investing in research and technical assistance to landowners through land grant universities, agricultural extension offices and regional Climate Hubs.
5. Adopt or Expand Carbon Pricing Programs
Carbon pricing programs can help reduce emissions by putting an immediate financial price on carbon emissions across regulated sectors and establishing a clear and consistent financial signal to investors that low-carbon technologies will pay off now and in the future. Most economists agree that such programs are a critical tool for decarbonizing the U.S. economy. Where they have been adopted, these programs have reduced emissions, improved air quality, and supported investments in an equitable and just transition.
The adoption of carbon pricing can be an arduous process, due to numerous political and administrative barriers. However, states have historically demonstrated the political will and creativity to get effective mandates across the finish line. Established programs include California’s economywide cap-and-trade mandate, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program in the transportation sector, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) covering power sector emissions in the Northeast.
These programs are poised to expand and provide frameworks for new policies in other states and regions. Last year, Virginia and Pennsylvania moved to become the 11th and 12th states to join RGGI. In addition, three Northeastern states and Washington, D.C. have agreed to a cap-and-invest program for the transportation sector through the Transportation and Climate Initiative. The program would begin in 2022, with potential for additional states involved in the initiative to officially sign on by that time.
Given the barriers facing carbon pricing, federal adoption is unlikely in the near term. However, the federal government can play an important supporting role through research and development funding for the next generation of low-carbon technologies required to meet states’ ambitious emissions reduction targets.
The federal government can also play a key role in establishing common metrics and rules to enable more robust state implementation. The Biden administration is already taking steps to update the Social Cost of Carbon, which can serve as a key underlying benchmark for not just federal but state-level regulations and programs. In addition, FERC may use its authority to encourage regional electric market operators to work with states on market rules that incorporate a state-determined carbon price. Though several technical and markets challenges to implementing carbon pricing in wholesale electricity markets still need to be resolved, last year FERC issued a policy statement opening the door for these rules to be developed.
6. Leverage Purchasing Power to Support Low-Carbon Technologies
States can play a critical role in supporting emerging clean technologies through preferential purchasing programs. This includes purchasing 100% clean electricity. It can also include deploying zero-emission public vehicles, as well as supporting advanced low-carbon industrial products, such as concrete and steel. Some innovative concrete products on the market already offer emissions reductions of up to 40%, and continued advancements could produce carbon-negative concrete.
States including Oregon, Minnesota and Washington are considering policies similar to California’s Buy Clean standard, which requires state agencies to consider the embedded carbon emissions of four construction materials when contracting for public infrastructure projects.
A bill in California is seeking to expand the list of products to include cement, while a legislative proposal in New York focuses only on concrete procurement by state agencies. 2021 is likely to see progress in some of these states adopting their own Buy Clean policies.
At the federal level, President Biden’s latest executive orders on climate change direct federal agencies to leverage their vast purchasing power to procure renewables, electric vehicles and batteries. A federal Buy Clean program would spur the development of environmental performance metrics for different materials that could be used by states.
7. Promote Equity and Address Air Pollution Hot Spots
2020 highlighted the stark need to address climate change in a way that advances racial, economic and environmental justice. A growing number of states have begun to address environmental and economic disparities by identifying communities most impacted by pollution and other environmental hazards, and directing investments in climate solutions to these areas.
Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, for instance, includes several equity and environmental justice provisions, including a commitment to invest 50% of the state’s RGGI auction proceeds toward energy efficiency for low-income housing. Michigan established the state’s first Advisory Council for Environmental Justice to ensure that all residents receive equal protection from environmental hazards.
Much more work is needed by states to implement policies that incorporate equity and environmental justice concerns into all aspects of climate and energy planning. 2021 is likely to see more states stepping up. They will find an ally in the Biden administration, which has signaled its intention to prioritize environmental justice issues through, among other commitments, its nominees for key environmental posts and its executive order directing 40% of all clean energy investments to benefit disadvantaged communities.TAGS: climate change, united states