NEWS ON TAP THIS WEDNESDAY: President Joe Biden is talking climate change out West again today, and we also have items on New Zealand embracing BlackRock in its climate push, Google saying it has reduced chemtrails using artificial intelligence, and a feature by Breanne from the banks of the Anacostia. Please read on…
CLIMATE EMERGENCY? BIDEN SAYS IT’S ALREADY DONE: A moment worth noting from Biden’s interview with the Weather Channel yesterday – Biden was asked about declaring a “climate emergency” and said that he already has, “practically speaking.”
“I’ve already done that,” he said.
Biden has faced more questions about a climate emergency this summer because of the heat wave that has afflicted much of the country. He also faced pressure to declare an emergency in order to act without Congress prior to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Biden speaking again this afternoon: Biden will give a speech this afternoon in New Mexico, on the one-year anniversary of signing the CHIPS and Science Act and near the one-year anniversary of the IRA, focused in part on the build-up of clean energy on his watch.
MANCHIN’S IRA PRAISE … SORT OF: On the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act passing the Senate, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia offered some rare words of approval on the IRA – with a caveat.
In a statement published late Monday night, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee touted the bill as “one of the most historic pieces of legislation passed in decades,” and advances an “all-of-the-above energy policy and innovation to strengthen our energy security.”
But the part that caught our eye: Manchin didn’t miss the opportunity to throw the Biden administration under the bus: “While I have and will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s unrelenting efforts to manipulate the law to push their radical climate agenda at the expense of both our energy and fiscal security, I am also proud of the money it is saving hard-working families and the economic opportunities it is bringing to communities in West Virginia and across America.”
Why it matters: Manchin has been publicly dueling with the Biden administration for the past year over the IRA’s implementation – a bill he played a leading role in writing and pulling over the finish line.
As the West Virginia Democrat is still mulling over running for reelection, Republicans have been highlighting and campaigning on Manchin’s efforts on the bill – which heavily invests in clean energy projects and technology – in a state where coal remains dominant and which has turned redder over time. If Manchin does end up running for reelection, expect similar lines of attack from the Democrat in efforts to distance himself from the rest of the party.
NEW ENGLAND UTILITY CUTS TIES WITH AMERICAN GAS ASSOCIATION, CITING VIEWS ON CLIMATE: The largest energy utility in New England has severed ties with the American Gas Association, an apparently unprecedented move that comes amid its opposition to AGA’s views on climate change.
The utility, Eversource, said its decision to cut ties with AGA was part of a broader strategic decision to prioritize decarbonization. “It was a company-wide decision to withdraw membership from the American Gas Association and redirect costs to more targeted associations and memberships with a focus on decarbonization to support our company-wide operations,” Eversource spokesman Chris McKinnon told WBUR.
AGA has lobbied for so-called “preemption laws” that ban cities from banning fossil fuel hookups in new construction and is a prominent voice pushing against DOE’s efficiency standards, which the agency said could make as many as half of gas stoves on the market today ineligible for repurchase.
Eversource’s exit appears to mark the first time a utility has left the trade association over its contrasting views on climate change, though some analysts said it could portend similar splits in the months and years ahead.
THE NASA ENGINEER HOPING TO SAVE THE ANACOSTIA USING SPEARS: A former NASA engineer who helped remove hazardous pollutants around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is using the technology to clean up harmful toxins at some of the most contaminated groundwater sites around the world—including, most recently, the Anacostia River.
“Serg” Albino and his team traveled to the river’s Benning Road site yesterday, where they removed a set of beaker-shaped spears they had placed into the mudflats 12 months earlier.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Albino explained the spears work like a sponge, soaking up contaminants from water and treating them with an eco-friendly reagent developed by NASA (and for which he later obtained the exclusive rights). The technology is being used by the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam, by the Port of San Diego, and by researchers in Sweden, among others.
The technology has proved successful at eliminating dioxins, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and PFAS chemicals from contaminated waterways in a non-invasive way, and without dredging, which can often mix harmful contaminants back into the water and harms fish and other marine life. Proponents say it’s more cost-effective than current EPA regulations for hazardous waste, which require either they be incinerated or transported to one of the hundreds of federal waste facilities across the country.
It’s the first time the spears have been deployed in the Anacostia, though Albino said he is optimistic about their success in reducing PCBs, which have an extremely high concentration in the area. “We believe that there's a better way to achieve cleaning up the environment, as opposed to just digging it up and hauling it away,” Albino said.
…SPEAKING OF CONTAMINANTS: The International Space Station contains higher levels of harmful chemical compounds than most homes on Earth, according to new research, which scientists said could help guide the design of future spacecraft.
According to the study, published this week by the Environmental Science and Technology Letters, the ISS contained higher concentrations of potentially harmful chemical compounds than most homes in the U.S. or Western Europe.
The researchers worked alongside scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and measured contaminants of so-called “space dust,” which contains polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among others.
“Our findings have implications for future space stations and habitats, where it may be possible to exclude many contaminant sources by careful material choices in the early stages of design and construction,” Stuart Harrad, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Birmingham, said in a statement.
EEI’S MESSAGE TO EPA: Electric companies are pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to regulate greenhouse gasses from power plants, arguing the Biden administration’s plan to slash carbon emissions relies on costly, unreliable technology that is not “legally or technically sound.”
Following the closing of the public comment period, the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing all of the United States’s investor-owned electric companies, issued its comments on the EPA’s proposed rules to address greenhouse gas emissions and existing fossil-based electric generation. The rules, which were unveiled in May, would require steep pollution cuts from plants burning coal or natural gas. The agency proposed for the plants to rely on carbon capture and storage technology to help reduce carbon emissions — a technology no power plant in the U.S. currently uses and that has been questioned by environmentalists, as well as the industry.
“Electric companies are not confident that the new technologies EPA has designated to serve as the basis for proposed standards for new and existing fossil-based generation will satisfy performance and cost requirements on the timelines that EPA projects,” EEI’s comment reads. “This will impact electric companies’ efforts to deliver affordable and reliable electricity to customers.”
The electric companies pushed back on the EPA’s assessment of carbon capture and sequestration and hydrogen blending as the “best system of emission reductions” for coal-powered plants or natural gas-based turbines, with the agency arguing these methods are “adequately demonstrated.”.
NEW ZEALAND ENLISTS BLACKROCK TO PURSUE 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY: New Zealand’s government said yesterday that it had partnered with the investment giant BlackRock to launch a $2 billion fund aimed at getting the island nation to 100% renewable energy.
“I’m absolutely stoked about what this means for Kiwi ingenuity in renewable energy,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
New Zealand’s grid is already about 82% renewable energy, thanks to significant hydroelectric power.
Why the partnership is particularly notable: It is interesting to see a government align itself with BlackRock while the company is facing increased political scrutiny in the U.S. Conservative Republicans have targeted the investment giant and its CEO Larry Fink as the face of ESG and woke capital. State-level GOP officials have sought to cut off the company or penalize it over its embrace of ESG – just yesterday, a group of Republican state auditors pressed the directors of BlackRock’s mutual funds over alleged conflicts of interest.
ESG RATINGS ARE OUT: S&P Global has dropped its alphanumeric scale used to score publicly rated entities on environmental, social, and governance – otherwise known as ESG factors – when assessing credit quality, reported by Reuters yesterday.
S&P, which announced the move on Friday, says that the decision is “effective immediately” – but will continue providing analysis in credit rating reports to describe the impact of ESG credit factors on creditworthiness.
The scale, which was launched in 2021, was used to score certain entities and asset classes on a range between one through five to characterize a company’s ESG risk. Five was the lowest grade, while one was the highest.
This move from the stock market index comes amid attacks from Republicans against companies participating in ESG investing, arguing that they’re pushing a liberal agenda and prioritizing “woke” investing over returns for their customers.
ICYMI – PROTERRA BANKRUPT: Proterra, the largest U.S. electric bus maker, filed for bankruptcy late Monday in a shocking turn for the two-decade-old company.
In a press statement, Proterra described facing “various market and macroeconomic headwinds” that have impacted their “ability to efficiently scale all opportunities simultaneously.” By filing for bankruptcy, the company is looking to “strengthen its financial position through a recapitalization or ongoing sale.”
Proterra, which was founded in 2004, sought to compete against Chinese electric car company BYD and to partner with traditional bus-makers in the developing electric bus markets. The company still intends to continue operating in an ordinary course of business and will continue to use existing capital to fund operations, including paying employee salaries and benefits, along with compensating vendors and suppliers.
GOOGLE SAYS ITS A.I. HELPED AMERICAN AIRLINES CUT CONTRAILS IN HALF: A team of researchers from Google, American Airlines, and Breakthrough Energy said they have used AI to successfully reduce airline contrails by 54%, a breakthrough that could help airlines shrink their carbon footprints.
Contrails, or, the thin white lines often seen behind airplanes, are formed when planes fly through levels of humidity. And they account for a staggering amount of aviation-based global warming—roughly 35%, according to the IPCC.
American Airlines flew 70 test flights over a six-month period to inform the study, flying at altitudes determined by Google’s AI-based predictions, which were cross-referenced with open-source contrail models from Breakthrough Energy. “After these test flights, we analyzed satellite imagery and found that the pilots were able to reduce contrails by 54%,” Google Research said in a statement.
The only snag is that contrail avoidance did result in slightly higher fuel consumption, though Google said further improvements are expected.