Earth Matters – A roundup of climate action and clean energy news

  • Published on March 31st, 2024

OHIO’S SOLAR FARM WILL ALSO BE THE LARGEST U.S. AGRIVOLTAICS PROJECT – It was a struggle, but developers have finally gotten the go-ahead for what will be the nation’s largest agrivoltaics project. Locating crop production together with solar energy facilities has long been touted as a win-win and is now getting positive attention globally for its mutual benefits. Examples are springing up in various places in the United States and elsewhere.

Sheep grazing amid the solar panels in Oregon.
Sheep grazing amid the solar panels in Oregon.

By Meteor Blades

The regulatory Ohio Power Siting Board okayed the $1 billion Oak Run Solar Project last week. Built by Savion, a subsidiary of Shell, the world’s fifth largest oil company, the installation will have a electricity-generating capacity of 800 megawatts and a battery energy storage operation with a 300-MW capacity. The facility will be capable of delivering electricity to as many as 170,000 households. Michelle Lewis at Electrek notes that some of those 6,000 acres of Madison County are owned by billionaire Bill Gates, who has been engaged in various energy projects, including promoting small modular reactors, for years.

The project is expected to create more than 1,500 temporary jobs for the phased-in, years-long construction, and 63 permanent maintenance and operations jobs. For the facility’s expected 30- to 35-year life span, calculations put the increase in county tax revenues at between $242 million and $504 million. Oak Run’s first phases are expected to start generating electricity next year.

As in other locales across the nation, the project collided with local opponents. But it had support from an unusual coalition, the Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, and environmental advocates. As part of conditions to get the project approved, Oak Run plans to graze 1,000 or more sheep and grow crops on 2,000 of those 6,000 acres in the first year. By 2032, they plan to stretch that to 4,000 acres.

Nolan Rutschilling, Ohio Environmental Council’s managing director of Energy Policy, said, “As climate change continues to disrupt Ohio’s agriculture practices and yields, the practice of agriculture in tandem with solar panels represents a unique and bold opportunity to act on climate.”

But some of the public comments about the project were seething. Said Tim Kronk: “What a tragedy. Oak run project. 5,000 acres of corn equal 1,100,000 bushels of corn every year. Over 50% Kokomo soil, some of the best in the world. I am not against solar panels. I am against solar panels replacing GOD given soil. No amount of money is worth our soil.” Here is the full record of public comments.

FOSSIL FUEL LOBBY KICKS OFF DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN AGAINST EPA AUTO EMISSIONS RULE

Long before the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule reducing tailpipe emissions was issued last week, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute—the chief trade group for the oil and gas industry—had declared they would engage in a “seven-figure issue campaign” fighting it. In a joint statement, they argued that it “will unequivocally eliminate most new gas cars and traditional hybrids from the U.S. market in less than a decade.” Even avid supporters of what was watered down from the originally proposed rule don’t think that prediction is true, as much as many of them and most climate hawks would like it to be.

Electric Vehicles, EV charging

The EPA’s own prediction for the outcome of toughest-ever car pollution rule is that it means about two-thirds of new vehicle sales would be hybrid or electric by 2032. U.S. purchase of fully electric cars and light-duty trucks was 7.6% in 2023. The rule would also save drivers $6,000 over the lifetime of a new vehicle, including an aggregate of $60 billion in fuel and maintenance costs by 2055, and keep 7.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution out of the already burdened atmosphere. Besides that, the agency estimates $13 billion in health benefits from cleaner air, with a big portion of those benefits going to Black and Brown communities that disproportionately suffer from air pollution.

While the fossil fuel industry and legacy automakers battle anti-pollution measures and the global transition to electrification of transportation, Chinese companies are getting ready to devour the EV car market even as China undergoes its most serious economic difficulties since the 1990s.

A recent CNBC article notes that Chinese automaker BYD “reportedly” makes a profit on its new 190-mile range Seagull. Given that the car has barely seen its first deliveries, that “reportedly” should be viewed with skepticism. The same car that is being sold domestically in China for just under $10,000 is being offered in Latin America for $20,000.

This being said, by 2030, China is likely to dominate the global EV market. As Chinese makers expand their reach, some analysts expect legacy U.S. manufacturers will lose as much as 30% of the remaining slice of the car market they have managed to hold onto. If Donald Trump is elected, he try to impede that change by imposing a 100% tariff on Chinese EVs as he has said he would do to cars exported to the U.S. from a planned BYD plant in Mexico. Or, if Trump is in prison instead of the White House, there is the prospect that a deluge of Chinese EVs might spur a serious protectionist effort by Democrats.

Trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies have been on the rise. Last week, China accused the United States of violating global trade rules because it excludes EVs made with Chinese-extracted critical minerals from eligibility for the Inflation Reduction Act tax credits. Meanwhile, groups such as the Solar Energy Manufacturers for America are expressing worries that inexpensive Chinese exports could sabotage the Biden administration’s goal of building domestic clean energy industries.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Wednesday at the Suniva solar cell manufacturing factory in Norcross, Georgia, “China’s overcapacity distorts global prices and production patterns and hurts American firms and workers, as well as firms and workers around the world.”

Meanwhile, trade groups such as the Solar Energy Manufacturers for America are expressing worries that inexpensive Chinese exports could sabotage the Biden administration’s goal of building domestic clean energy industries.

“China’s overcapacity distorts global prices and production patterns and hurts American firms and workers, as well as firms and workers around the world,” Yellen said during a visit to the Suniva solar cell manufacturing plant in Norcross, Georgia.

But the die is cast, and the EV transition is coming. And in the global market, legacy makers are headed for serious trouble, much of it of their own making. Both GM and VW, the former once making a big part of its profits off the Chinese market, have seen a huge plummet in sales of their internal combustion engine cars in the past two years in China, and they haven’t captured more than a sliver of the EV market there outside of their partnerships with Chinese automakers. That could nudge U.S. policymakers—Democrats and Republicans—to make Chinese EV imports into the United States economically problematic.

Even without exports, however, that Chinese market is, by itself, gigantic, with fully electric vehicles now making up 25% of new domestic sales compared to 7.6% in the U.S. and 14.2% in the E.U.

China is also investing 2 1/2 times as much as the U.S. in electrifying its economy. But, as in the U.S., much of the renewables installations are just adding to output capacity, not retiring fossil fuel plants. China is still simultaneously adding coal plants along with its oceans of renewables and the U.S. is still adding methane gas plants. The recent surge in electricity demand could keep that approach going for a long time.

Any disruptive transformation has its burps and hiccups and farts. What seems inevitable, however, is that EVs are going to conquer the world car market and the foot-dragging American companies that once dominated it are going to take another big hit like they did in ‘70s and ‘80s when Japanese cars showed up in U.S. showrooms. Permanent oblivion will surely be the destiny of at least one of them.

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YET ANOTHER STUDY SHOWS PLUG-IN HYBRIDS AREN’T AS CLEAN AS CLAIMED

If you’re tired of my complaints about federal tax credits for plug-in hybrids, better skip to another story because I’m at it again.

The European Commission has just issued a report confirming what previous reports have shown—that “real-world COemissions were on average 3.5 times higher than laboratory values, which confirms that these vehicles are currently not realizing their potential, largely because they are not being charged and driven fully electrically as frequently as assumed.”

The study also found that real-world fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in diesel and gasoline vehicles was 20% above what is indicated in the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure (WTLP).

Plug-in hybrid sales 2023
Department of Energy data for sales of fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which have low-range batteries and gasoline engines.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are widely viewed as a transition into the transition. About 250,000 were sold in the U.S. in 2023. PHEVs are seen by advocates as the perfect light-duty car or pick-up truck for buyers not quite ready yet to go for a battery electric vehicle (BEV) because of concerns that the charging infrastructure is inadequate, prices have only in a few cases hit parity with internal combustion vehicles, and unfounded fears, uncertainty, and doubt spread by media that is highly fact-challenged on the subject of BEVs.

PHEV batteries are good for 30-40 miles of range before their gasoline engines kick in. And that mileage is enough for the vast majority of daily commutes without every filling the gas tank as long as owners regularly plug their vehicle in so they can run on batteries all or most of the time. Thus, goes the theory, PHEV tailpipe emissions and fuel costs are zero or very low.

As Jameson Dow at Electrek points out, however: “The problem is … that doesn’t happen.” In the real world, PHEV emissions are higher than the WTLP results because many drivers do not regularly plug in their hybrids and thus use the gas engine more than has been calculated. More gasoline burned, more greenhouse gas emitted. Past studies by T&E and TU Graz in Europe and by the ICCT utilizing data from California also found PHEV emissions and fuel use were much higher than expected.

PHEVs, considerably cheaper than BEVs, are popular among policy-makers as a vehicle to ease the hesitant into the green transition. So a tax credit for them is a good thing. But, even if their owners reliably plugged them in, PHEVs’ battery range of 30-40 miles should not get them the same $7,500 federal tax credit as BEVs with 300 miles of range. PHEVs and BEVs are not equals in efficiency, pollution reduction, or climate impacts. A smaller PHEV credit based on battery range would still give consumers the incentive to make the switch.

ECO-TWXXT

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

Participants in the Spirit of the Sun’s toddler program.

Participants in the Spirit of the Sun’s toddler program.

Native Youth Learn to Heal Their Communities Through Mycelium by Kate Nelson at Civil Eats. At Spirit of the Sun, Native American youth are not only learning about traditional ecological knowledge, they’re also empowered to do the teaching. The opportunity to absorb Indigenous wisdom and share that knowledge with the community is what attracted 20-year-old Nyomi Oliver (Navajo/Chicana) to the Denver nonprofit, which offers a wide variety of cultural, culinary, and wellness programming. “I am a reconnecting Native and had lost my ways,” she says. “But Spirit of the Sun has shown me how important our Indigenous perspectives are and how our history has laid out a blueprint for us to follow in order to align with Mother Nature.” Oliver got involved in Spirit of the Sun’s Indigenous science and foodways program in 2022, then joined the organization’s newest initiative, the mycelium healing project, which taps into the bioremediation properties of fungi to restore the land and feed the local community. Mycelium—fungi’s web-like inner network structure—has been shown to remove toxins from the soil while improving its overall health. Last summer, for instance, the organization’s mycelium-inoculated foodscapes demonstration garden yielded more than 1,000 pounds of produce for the elder food share program. These experiences prompted Oliver to pursue a nutrition degree and inspired her 14-year-old sister, Mia Madalena (Navajo/Pueblo/Chicana), to join Spirit of the Sun, too.

State “Climate Superfund” Bills: What You Need to Know by Martin Lockman and Emma Shumway at Climate Law, a Sabin Center blog. State “Climate Superfund” Bills: What You Need to Know by In the first months of 2024, legislators in four states—MarylandMassachusettsNew York, and Vermont—have pushed for legislation that would collectively require large fossil fuel producers and refiners to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars of state-level climate adaptation infrastructure. Similar legislation may soon be introduced in California and Minnesota. These state-level “Climate Superfund” bills are modeled on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, which imposes liability on multiple parties, including the generators of waste, for the cleanup of contaminated sites. Since as early as 1992, some academics have pointed to CERCLA as a model for pooling funds from greenhouse gas emitters to remedy or mitigate climate change impacts. The Climate Superfund bills currently being considered by several state legislatures aim to do just that, taking the long-standing “polluter pays principle,” and extending it beyond traditional hazardous pollution of water or land to include GHG emissions. Under the CERCLA approach, large fossil fuel producers and refiners would be held strictly liable for costs arising from their products’ greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of whether they are deemed to have acted improperly. The Climate Superfund bills have already attracted vicious opposition from the fossil fuel industry and its political allies and, if passed, will inevitably face vigorous legal challenges. This post outlines the likely contours of these lawsuits, and the features of the Climate Superfund bills that may make them vulnerable to, or resilient against, such challenges.

Blocking renewable energy is a top state legislative priority for network of pro-fossil fuels think tanks by Dave Anderson, Keriann Conroy, and Jonathan Kim at Energy and Policy Institute. The State Policy Network (SPN) announced on its website last month that it will focus on working with state lawmakers to prevent states from adopting wind and solar power in 2024. SPN is the national organization that serves as the central hub of a network of affiliated think tanks located in all 50 states, and is funded by right-wing and corporate donors that include fossil fuel interests. The network also includes associate groups like the Donald Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute and multiple organizations backed by Charles Koch, such as Americans for Prosperity. Koch is the billionaire CEO and chairman of Koch Industries, which operates in multiple sectors of the fossil fuel industry. His Stand Together Trust contributed $5 million in 2022 to SPN-affiliated think tanks and millions more to SPN associates like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Cato Institute, according to the Center for Media & Democracy.

Deforestation from soy shows no sign of stopping in Brazil’s Cerrado by Maxwell Radwin at Mongabay. A new study shows deforestation from soy is still spreading in Brazil’s Cerrado and Amazon Rainforest, with satellite readings showing new areas of forest loss from as recently as last December. There were approximately 26,901 hectares (66,473 acre) of deforestation and forest degradation in the Cerrado between last September and December, while the Amazon lost around 30,031 hectares (74,208 acres), according to a report from the environmental group Mighty Earth. All of it is located near grain silos used by the seven biggest soy traders in Brazil. “We’re trying to make connections in the supply chain and tell traders that they must stop sourcing from these farms because they potentially are going to sell them soy that’s sourced from deforestation,” said Mighty Earth senior advisor Mariana Gameiro. The organization partnered with AidEnvironment and Repórter Brasil to monitor short-term deforestation and degradation linked to soy and cattle ranching activities through satellite imagery, with the goal of releasing case studies every three months highlighting recent forest loss. The groups’ analysis has the ability to distinguish between clearcutting, mining, logging, and fires, among other activities.

A silo used by soy trader Bunge in Brazil
A silo used by soy trader Bunge in Brazil’s Cerrado.

How Biden’s infrastructure plan created a ‘climate time bomb’ in Black neighborhoods by Adam Mahoney at Capital B. Nearly 45 years ago, the Acres Homes area north of Houston was the largest unincorporated Black community in the South, a thriving 9-square mile area where homeownership was the norm. That was until the city of Houston annexed it, and the Interstate 45 highway was built through its heart. In the aftermath, the community’s poverty rate has jumped to almost double the city’s average, and health ailments from pollution have increased. President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, one of the nation’s most significant investments in curbing climate change, was supposed to consider the history of areas like Acres Homes in an attempt to make communities whole again. […] Instead, the law is actually increasing pollution and contributing to the continued disruption and displacement of Black communities, according to a new report by the climate policy group Transportation for America. What has primarily happened is a repeat of that history: freeways, highways, and more roads. Out of the more than 55,000 projects totaling roughly $130 billion implemented through the $1.2 trillion spending package, nearly half has been allocated to highway expansion. However, less than three weeks following the report’s release, the Biden administration announced a $3.3 billion spending plan to “reconnect and rebuild communities” in more than 40 states disconnected by highways throughout the 20th century. Still, the spending pales in comparison to recent allocations to expand freeways. Last year, the Biden administration supported a nearly $10 billion expansion of that same highway that tore through Acres Homes. The expansion led to the demolition of almost 1,000 homes in a majority Black and Latino community.

The widening of Houston’s Interstate 45 highway expands a decades-long displacement of the region’s Black middle class, transit advocates said.
The widening of Houston’s Interstate 45 highway expands a decades-long displacement of the region’s Black middle class, transit advocates said.

Adapt, Move or Die? Plants and Animals Face New Pressures in a Warming World by Tara Lohan at The Revelator. Researchers are rushing to understand how a quickly changing planet affects myriad species of plants and animals. One thing is certain: There’s still much we don’t know. Frogs, for example, are succumbing to mass mortalities as heat waves push temperatures above thresholds they can tolerate. But researchers found that we don’t even know the heat tolerance for 93% of described amphibian species. One of the things we do know is that people need to act quickly to halt climate emissions, and while they do, many plants and animals have just two choices: adapt or move. Some species are already doing this. “Dark-colored dragonflies are getting paler in order to reduce the amount of heat they absorb from the sun,” wrote biologist Michael P. Moore and evolutionary ecologist James T. Stroud in The Conversation. “Mustard plants are flowering earlier to take advantage of earlier snowmelt. Lizards are becoming more cold-tolerant to handle the extreme variability of our new climate.” But for many species, adaptation or migration is a task made difficult or impossible by physiology or other human impacts to the environment.Some recent scientific findings shed light on why.

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ECO-QUOTE

“There are no wastelands in our landscape quite like those we’ve created ourselves.”Tim Winton

ECOPINION

Hop Hopkins, WildEarth Guardians’ new executive director.
Hop Hopkins, WildEarth Guardians’ new executive director

Fighting climate change by fighting racism, an interview conducted by Susan Shain at High Country News. WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit that looks out for the West’s wildlife and wild places, recently named its first new executive director in three decades. Hop Hopkins, formerly of the Sierra Club and LA River Keepers, has spent more than 25 years organizing in the West, and is one of the few Black leaders within the U.S. conservation establishment. He’s perhaps best known for drawing attention to the connections between the environmental and racial justice movements, notably through his viral article “Racism Is Killing the Planet.” An excerpt:

High Country News: What drew you to WildEarth Guardians?

Hop Hopkins: I appreciated their unabashed positioning on how they’re going to defend the planet. In the face of folks saying it can’t be done, they say, “We’ll find a way.” That’s the same kind of cloth I’m cut from.

HCN: In a previous interview, you said you plan to bring an “intersectional approach to how we protect the wild future of the West.” What did you mean by that?

HH: (We) need to not bifurcate the human environment from the wild environment. In my article “Racism Is Killing the Planet,” the tagline everybody remembers is: “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”

The same pernicious systems making it possible for environmental degradation to happen are some of the same systems plaguing communities of color. The ideology of extraction and its supporting ideas of domination, sacrifice and disposability — they have to give way to a concept of regeneration.

Climate action and jobs are a winning combination by Sue AnderBois at the Boston Globe. Last week, Providence made history with the passage of an ordinance making it one of the first cities in the United States to mandate net-zero public buildings by 2040, including schools, with strong labor standards that will create union jobs in our communities. This ordinance was championed by union and environmental leaders, passed unanimously by City Council, and signed into law. The ordinance commits our city to meaningfully addressing the climate crisis with long overdue upgrades to our public buildings while creating high-quality union jobs in the process – and it’s just the beginning of our work to implement Providence’s first-in-the-nation Climate Jobs City resolution, which passed through City Council last September and builds on the justice and equity-centered goals of the capital city’s Climate Justice Plan. We are also proud that this is an example of the aggressive but achievable policy that is possible when legislative and administrative functions  work together to forge cross-government solutions. The Energy Efficiency and Carbon Neutral Goals for Municipal Buildings ordinance will help Rhode Island achieve the State’s 2021 Act on Climate targets. We’re also creating a model for cities across the country seeking to maximize the high-quality job creation, equity and climate impacts of federal climate investments under the federal climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Liza Featherstone
Liza Featherstone 

Donald Trump’s Crusade Against Electric Vehicles Is Getting Racist by Liza Featherstone at The New Republic. Donald Trump, who first came to prominence in the 1980s, seems to be trying hard to single-handedly bring back that awful decade and the type of panicked, racist frenzy that killed Vincent Chin. His recent remarks about Chinese electric vehicles sound particularly dangerous. Trump has been claiming—falsely—that Biden’s electric vehicle policies will allow a flood of Chinese imports (the administration’s policies support the growing domestic E.V. industry) and put Americans out of work. He promised a “bloodbath” if he lost the election, linking the fantasized violence to these imports, insisting, “They’re not going to sell those cars.” (United Auto Worker president Shawn Fain was unimpressed, saying, “Trump only represents the billionaire class, and he doesn’t give a damn about the plight of working-class people—union or not.”) Experts interviewed by The New York Times noted that Trump’s language about EVs is consistently violent: They will “kill” or amount to an “assassination” or a “hit job” on American jobs.

Bill McKibben with his new grandchild, Asa Caleb Crane, March 26, 2024.
Bill McKibben with his new grandchild, Asa Caleb Crane

2100, and before. Thoughts on the birth of my first grandchild, by Bill McKibben at his substack, The Crucial years. Asa Caleb Crane was born over the weekend; he came into the world with a full head of hair, and on first impression an undeniable charisma, a full array of important moral virtues, and a calm but determined approach to the new world in which he found himself. And I found myself both entirely agog at his general niftiness, and bowled over by the fact that I now know, very intimately, someone who God willing is going to exist in the 22nd century. […] We have the chance to move over the next five years to establish a counter-momentum to the rising temperature. If we do, by 2030 we’ll be in a place to weigh the options going forward; if we don’t then nature will be making decisions for us, and we’ll be reacting. For those like me of a certain age we have no real business telling young people what kind of world to build—that will be their opportunity and their responsibility, and my sense is that they have the savvy to do a good job of it. But our job—everyone’s job these next five years—is to arrest the sudden and sickening lurch upwards in temperature, so that there’s somewhere at least a little stable for those young people to stand as they build that new world that must come. The best proxy for that stability is the number of solar panels and wind turbines and batteries we install between now and the end of the decade. I’ve always thought this to be true; it’s why this newsletter is called what it is, and it’s why I do the work I do at places like Third Act. It’s just that all of a sudden I take it even more personally. Hi Asa!

Weak Biden Endangered Species Rules a ‘Massive Missed Opportunity’ by Jessica Corbett at Common Dreams. While welcoming efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to undo Trump-era damage to endangered species protections, conservationists warned Thursday that three new federal rules are inadequate, given the world’s worsening biodiversity crisis. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, which proposed the rules last June, said that they will “restore important protections for species and their habitats; strengthen the processes for listing species, designating of critical habitat, and consultation with other federal agencies; and ensure a science-based approach that will improve both agencies’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” The Center for Biological Diversity—which had blasted the Trump administration for taking a “wrecking ball” to the decades-old law—praised the agencies for removing barriers to designating unoccupied areas as critical habitat as well as for restoring the “blanket rule” for threatened species and the ban on considering economic impacts of listing decisions. However, the center also pointed out that “of the 31 harmful changes made in 2019 to the act’s regulations, only seven are fully addressed and corrected in today’s final rules,” despite years of work on the new rules and nearly half a million public comments.

WEEKLY ECO-VIDEO

RESOURCES & ACTION

BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION’S ENVIRONMENTAL EFFORTS

OTHER GREEN STUFF IN THE NEWS

UN report: E-waste growing five times faster than electronics recycling • “Climate the Movie” portrays today’s climate denier agenda by rehashing the same old fossil fuel talking points and trolling the left • Report: As Climate Crisis Expands, Canada Still Hands Billions to Fossil Fuel Industry • Look for the helpers: Virginia climate volunteers connect with service providers on weatherization effort • In major cattle states, ranchers have been coping with intense precipitation events, followed by long stretches with no rain • US court blocks EPA order to eliminate PFAS in plastic containers  Over half of global commutes are by car, says study • A Warmer Arctic Challenges Troops Training for Subzero Warfare • Daimler Truck’s Chief Executive Takes Tesla’s Semi Down a Peg

(Originally appeared at DailyKos)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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