Now Playing | Inspired by the decline of monarch butterflies in the Midwestern prairie, a gardener, educator, and pastor transform a rural church’s backyard into a sanctuary for pollinating animals, an educational garden for the community, and a sacred space for spiritual contemplation.
The Biden administration is proposing to tighten standards for pollution coming from coal-fired power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Tuesday that it is proposing to strengthen restrictions under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for the first time in more than a decade. The agency said it will update limits for pollutants, including...
Wyoming is home to some of the worst coal ash contamination in the country, according to a new report from a pair of environmental groups.
Past Presentation | People are increasingly aware of the origins of their food and the effects of chemicals in agriculture. Numen brings the same analysis to our healthcare system, providing both a sobering view and a vision of safe, elective and sustainable medicine.
If reactors are retired, polluting energy sources that fill the gap could cause more than 5,000 premature deaths, researchers estimate.
Declining plant health could mean increased food prices for already-constrained American consumers, experts tell Axios. Driving the news: It might not be obvious why the health of plants is a contributing factor to food shortages in developed countries. But there's a direct connection — when they're diseased, there's less food to go around, and food prices rise accordingly.A heady cocktail of climate impacts mixed with conservation failures is contributing to the problem. What they're saying: "Plant health can impact our food supply, our food security," Tim Widmer, a national program leader for plant health in the crop production and protection program at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, tells Axios.If enough staple crops are devoured by insects or become diseased, Widmer says U.S. consumer food prices — which are already substantially higher than average — could climb in response."Now with climate change, that too, is putting an extra pressure on our food supply, in terms of plant health." How it works: Warming temperatures fueled by climate change are increasing the risk of plant pathogens and pests spreading into new ecosystems.Plus, higher temperatures add extra stress on plants, which can make them more vulnerable and severely impacted by diseases and destructive insects. The intrigue: The relationship between crop production and food security in developing countries has been well established, but the impacts on wealthier nations, where food insecurity is more of a social problem, have been less clear.The U.S. isn't “immune” to the impacts of declining food production, per the CDC.According to the agency, food insecurity rises as the cost of food increases, and so do rates of micronutrient malnutrition, which occurs when healthy foods are inaccessible or people go hungry."Here in the U.S., I think we have taken food for granted, because we've always had a good supply," says Widmer, noting that the COVID pandemic exposed supply chain vulnerabilities, such as nationwide grocery shortages. What we're watching: A 2022 report by the Environmental Defense Fund forecasts that under a moderate emissions scenario, the U.S. will see "significant climate burdens" on crop production in the Midwest as soon as 2030. The report looks at projected changes in seasonal temperatures, but does not assess the impacts of pests and diseases, which are responsible for anywhere between 20% to 40% of losses to global crop production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Of note: "There are diseases out there that we know that if they would come into the U.S., that we would have some serious issues," says Widmer. A fast-acting fungal disease known as "wheat blast" — which under certain conditions can cause yield loss up to 100% — is one example. Wheat is the principal food grain produced in the U.S., according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.The key to avoiding diseases like wheat blast is through exclusion, or keeping them from entering a place, which gets harder to do when you consider corresponding climate impacts, Widmer says. But, but, but: While some insect species pose significant threats to agricultural crops, others help boost plant growth. Shawan Chowdhury, conservation biologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, tells Axios in an email that insects are a major source of pollinators — so if insect populations decline it will hamper crop yields.“If there are not enough insects, many other species will decline too due to food scarcity,” says Chowdhury.And a 2022 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that insect population declines, brought about because of climate change and expansion of agriculture, has led to inadequate pollination, resulting in 3%-5% fruit, vegetable and nut production being lost worldwide.Researchers also linked the impact of crop declines on healthy food production to roughly 500,000 annual nutrition-related early deaths.The bottom line: "Plants get sick too," USDA's Widmer tells Axios. "If we can have healthy plants, we can have a healthy environment, and a healthy human and animal population."
Three fossil fuel plants will stand by to provide emergency power for three more years despite California's mandate to switch to clean energy by 2045.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing on Thursday a draft rule aimed at curbing planet-warming emissions from fossil-fired power plants that is expected to be a key piece of the Biden administration’s climate policy. The proposal seeks to limit carbon dioxide from existing coal plants, as well as new natural gas-powered plants and some...
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposed regulations Wednesday morning tightening the discharge of wastewater from coal-fired power plants. The proposals would specifically toughen restrictions on three categories of coal plant-specific wastewater: bottom ash transport water, combustion residual leachate and flue gas desulfurization wastewater. The EPA is seeking public comment on whether it should...
In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a package of updates to the Clean Air Act that could dramatically decrease dangerous air pollution. The proposal, which applies to roughly 80 different toxics, will enhance regulations for 218 chemical facilities across the country, cutting 6,000 tons of harmful air pollution each year. A key mandate will require on-site air monitoring for the estimated 128 chemical plants that emit one or more of six cancer-causing pollutants, including ethylene oxide, used to sterilize medical equipment, and chloroprene, used in the manufacture of the synthetic rubber neoprene. The updated regulations stand to cut national emissions of ethylene oxide by 63% and chloroprene by 74%. Overall, frontline communities’ excess risk from inhaling these hazardous chemicals is expected to drop by 96%, the EPA indicated. Despite the well-documented health risks of these air toxics, state and federal agencies have largely relied on plants to self-report their emissions — a system rife with abuse, advocates say. In the last three years alone, 80% of these facilities have violated environmental laws, according to an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund. Several companies, including the chemical giants Dow, Formosa Plastics and DuPont, have committed multiple significant infractions in environmental justice communities — areas where residents are predominantly people of color or where a substantial portion live below the poverty line. The proposed rule is “very long overdue,” Dionne Delli-Gatti, the associate vice president for community engagement at Environmental Defense Fund, told Environmental Health News (EHN). “There has been a history of pretty significant noncompliance,” she said. “You’re not talking about the mom-and-pop shops; you’re talking about companies and facilities that are owned by large corporate conglomerates that do have the funding to ensure compliance.” Increased monitoring, increased accountabilityMandating fenceline monitors — air pollution sensing devices located on a plant’s property line — will make it harder for chemical companies to hide their emissions, Jennifer Hadayia, executive director for Air Alliance Houston, told EHN. While regional air monitoring networks exist, they’re not designed to detect every pollutant of concern and can be many miles away from chemical facilities — making it virtually impossible to know what plants are emitting which toxics and in what amounts. “Monitors that are literally picking up the emission in real time at that facility’s perimeter,” Hadayia said, “are one of the only ways we know what is truly being emitted in our community.” Facilities whose fenceline emissions exceed new, federally determined levels will be required to find leaks and make repairs. In addition to fenceline monitoring, the EPA proposal introduces a slew of other changes and additions to the Clean Air Act. These include rules to reduce emissions from flaring — which occurs when chemical plants burn air toxics to destroy them — and improved regulations for dioxins and furans, highly toxic substances emitted from chemical plants and other sources.The new proposal, an EPA spokesperson told EHN via email, would also “remove general exemptions from emissions control requirements during periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction.” In Texas, Hadayia explained, companies are currently allowed to exceed their permitted air pollution levels for any length of time during emergencies or repairs — events left to companies to define or report. “That emergency situation doesn't have to be proven. It doesn't have to be documented,” Hadayia said.Communities at riskWhile the affected facilities are located across the country, major clusters are found in Louisiana and Texas. Of the chemical plants regulated under the EPA proposal, 15% are in Houston alone, Hadayia said. Houston is home to nearly half of U.S. petrochemical capacity and is the nation’s third-largest hotspot for cancer-causing air pollution, according to the investigative reporting outlet ProPublica. Along the Houston Ship Channel, a dense concentration of oil refineries, plastic manufacturing facilities and other chemical plants exposes residents to a hazardous mix of air toxics. In cities along this corridor, such as La Porte and Port Neches, excess cancer risk ranges from three to six times EPA-determined limits, ProPublica found. Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” however, has the grim distinction of having the nation’s highest levels of carcinogen-laced air. Residents of some parts of this chemical corridor, an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, are subject to a cumulative cancer risk 47 times what the EPA considers acceptable, ProPublica reports. Industrial emissions in Louisiana are seven to 21 times higher in communities of color, according to a 2022 report. A related 2022 study found that the state’s impoverished and Black communities face measurably higher cancer rates from air pollution. Residents in affected areas can learn more about their cancer risk from ethylene oxide, chloroprene and other air pollutants, as well how this rule will impact local chemical facilities, by viewing an interactive map put together by the Environmental Defense Fund. Fenceline monitoring data will be publicly available through the EPA’s WebFIRE database. “I think that probably the most important aspect of this rule is giving frontline communities, and agencies as well, the information necessary to ensure stronger protections and to ensure compliance,” said Delli-Gatti. The new EPA proposal is inspired in part by a 2015 rule that requires petroleum refineries to implement fenceline monitoring for benzene, a hazardous chemical linked to leukemia and bone marrow damage, among other risks. Benzene concentrations have dropped an average of 30% since the program began, “illustrating that fenceline monitoring is an effective tool in reducing emissions on an ongoing basis,” an EPA spokesperson said. In a statement, the industry trade group American Chemistry Council expressed concerns about the proposed ethylene oxide limits, saying “conservative regulations on ethylene oxide could threaten access to products ranging from electric vehicle batteries to sterilized medical equipment.” The ACC said it is reviewing the EPA’s proposal and will be active in the public comment and review process. For Hadayia, these updated regulations are crucial for protecting frontline communities in Houston and beyond. “There aren't a lot of things we can prevent in this world,” Hadayia said. “But if we can prevent carcinogens going into the air, then we have an obligation to do so. We believe industry has an obligation to do so as well.”Interested in the EPA's proposal and want to be heard? Public comments on the new regulations can be submitted on the EPA’s website until July 7. The agency expects to issue a final rule in March of next year.
Seven years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its coal ash rule, ordering power plants to clean up toxic coal ash waste dumps. But three presidential administrations later, just one out of 292 plants evaluated by researchers has planned a comprehensive cleanup. Ninety-six percent of all plants evaluated have proposed no groundwater treatment at all. These toxic sites host arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxic metals—all of which seep into groundwater and thus the water we drink. Seventy percent of these waste ponds threaten lower income neighborhoods and communities of color.These findings were published in a report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, revealing that coal-fired plants across the country have gotten away with data manipulation, lax environmental safety measures, and delayed clean-ups (not including the baseline carbon emissions they have spewed into the atmosphere for years).It’s not just a lack of planning that has kept coal plants from cleaning up their mess. The report found nearly half the contaminating plants had owners refusing to take any cleanup action, and many even denying responsibility. Other plants have taken some action, simply agreeing that action is needed and—if we are so lucky—providing a list of possible solutions they could pursue someday. But owners have delayed actually executing solutions for years.In January, the EPA began following up with plants that requested more time and others that have not complied. But enforcement is limited; much of the follow-up has been limited to notifying plants about their obligations to comply with regulations.Though coal is on the decline in the U.S., it still generated about 22 percent of the nation’s electricity last year—roughly the same amount of all renewables. While renewable energy generation must overtake fossil fuel sources (by existential necessity), the report serves as a reminder that it isn’t enough to stop fossil fuel generation—the waste it leaves behind must be accounted for.Read more at Environmental Integrity Project.
Developed at SMART, the device can deliver controlled amounts of agrochemicals to specific plant tissues for research and could one day be used to improve crop quality and disease management.
Networks of thousands of home-based batteries could be key to a cleaner, more reliable electricity system.
Insect-eating sundew plants among 17,500 reintroduced as part of carbon-sequestering conservation schemeAfter a 100-year absence, ruthless carnivores are flourishing again on a peat bog near Garstang in Lancashire.The insect-eating great sundew and oblong-leaved sundew are among 17,500 plants being reintroduced to Winmarleigh Moss as part of its restoration by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Continue reading...
Louisiana residents in the heart of a cluster of polluting petrochemical factories filed a lawsuit in federal court raising allegations of civil rights, environmental justice and religious liberty violations.
From coal's demise to potential loopholes, here are some things to know about the Biden administration climate regulation expected to land Thursday.
GOP governors call for delay on waters rule Republican governors are calling on the Biden administration to delay implementation of a key rule until after a Supreme Court decision, a watchdog group warns of a chilling effect from a White House policy provision and a new report details how much more expensive coal is than renewables. ...
Louisiana residents in the heart of a cluster of polluting petrochemical factories filed a lawsuit in federal court raising allegations of civil rights, environmental justice and religious liberty violations.
A major lobbying and advocacy group for electric companies is pushing back on the Biden administration’s proposed climate regulations for power plants. In comments released this week, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rethink how it will go about trying to reduce climate pollution from electricity. In...
Residents of a Louisiana parish located in the heart of a cluster of polluting petrochemical factories filed a lawsuit in federal court raising allegations of civil rights, environmental justice and religious liberty violations
Microphones capture ultrasonic crackles from plants that are water-deprived or injured
Hortlandia, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s annual sale, will showcase efforts to meet the demand for low-water plants.
Health benefits of using wind energy instead of fossil fuels could quadruple if the most polluting power plants are selected for dialing down, new study finds.
And nearly half have no plans to clean up their mess.
It is a huge challenge for the electric utilities to change their way of doing things: They can’t shut down for retooling.
The EPA proposal will seek to address the United States' second-biggest source of carbon pollution — and recover from the Supreme Court's rebuke to the agency's powers.
“The EPA is calling the bluff on the power industry.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen a rule governing water pollution from coal plants. The move could lead more plants to close or switch to gas.
You don’t need a massive garden and a green thumb. Just put a pit in a pot.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal Tuesday to regulate “forever chemicals” in drinking water could pose steep cleanup costs for public water systems across Washington.
From the outside, the LeapFrog Design Estuary system looks like a planter box, but inside it’s cleaning gray water, which is water from sinks, showers and washing machines.
In a bid to build up the American chip industry, the Commerce Department plans to hand out billions so that semiconductor manufacturers will locate their next factories in the United States. But while federal officials—and the companies that could win massive grants—are keen to the idea, states and local communities will need to play a role, too. In order to win some of the $39 billion allocated by the CHIPS Act, the semiconductor legislation that President Joe Biden signed last year, chip companies will need to convince local and state leaders to support these plants as well, potentially through incentives, tax benefits, or other programs. Proponents of these fabrication plant (also called fabs) argue that the facilities would create new jobs—and draw significant economic investment—to surrounding communities. Some experts, however, have raised a wide range of questions about what the American chip renaissance will ultimately mean for local neighborhoods, including factories’ potential impact on rental prices, property values, workforce availability, and ecosystems. “So much depends on local regions, supply chains, and labor market,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings who focuses on the technology industry’s impact on local economies. “State and local leaders need to know about this because a lot is riding on it. And a lot of how they benefit or don’t depends on how it is implemented.” The fight to reclaim Silicon Valley goes through the states Given that the U.S. currently manufactures just 12 percent of the world’s total chip supply, it’s little wonder the federal government is interested in jump-starting the domestic semiconductor industry. The urgency of that shortfall was put under a microscope during the pandemic, when supply chain woes put a stop on semiconductor exports from Taiwan, a blip that in turn held up production of everything from computers and cars to advanced artificial intelligence systems. Even more alarmingly, some foreign policy experts fear that should China invade Taiwan—something that looks increasingly possible—that chip pipeline could be more permanently damaged. As a result, local governments in the U.S. will play a part in boosting the geopolitical stability of the world’s technology supply chain. Ohio, for example, offered Intel several billion in incentives to push the company to build its upcoming chip mega site in New Albany, a city right outside of Columbus. Similarly, New York State offered Micron, which could spend up to $100 million to build a chip plant in the Syracuse suburbs, $5.5 billion in incentives for its new facility. New York also spent about $500 million to woo Wolfspeed, a chip company that focuses on the power conversion semiconductors used in cars, to build its newest factory just outside Utica. Beyond financial assistance, states need space to accommodate these facilities—and the businesses that want to be located near them. To build its Ohio chip sites, Intel purchased hundreds of acres of land outside the Columbus area. Other technology companies followed suit, with Amazon Data Services alone spending more than $100 million to buy the plots that surround the future Intel facility. Finding enough room for these fabs isn’t necessarily easy. Oregon’s land use laws mean there are currently no sites that are large enough to support one of these factories. Chip fabs also use an enormous amount of water, and upcoming projects will require new water recycling facilities—that need to be permitted—so that they don’t strain local utilities. Semiconductor factories use an enormous amount of electricity, too. The Vermont Public Utility Commission recently allowed GlobalFoundries, a chip plant based in New York, to create its own electric utility to power its operations. (The plan will allow the company to save on energy costs, but was only approved after local officials ensured the company would stick to environmental goals and a payment transition plan.) Then there’s the challenge of finding people to work at these fabs. The Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group that heavily pushed for the CHIPS Act, says that the 10 new fabs could lead to as many as 42,000 new positions in the chip industry. The Micron plant in Syracuse, for example, is supposed to create up to 9,000 jobs. (In a bid to boost gender equity, the Biden administration has required any chip company that receives more than $150 million in grants to provide childcare for workers.) “While there are some people who are having anxiety about some of this growth, the majority of people are excited and proud of what’s occurring and the opportunities that are being created,” says Kenny McDonald, the president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization that’s pushed for the Intel plant in Ohio. “Your sons, your daughters, your grandkids have an opportunity to stay here and build a life here.” The chip industry will create tradeoffs But there are reasons to doubt that chip plants will be the massive job boom that proponents promise. To keep chip facilities clean, the actual manufacturing of chips is mostly handled by automation, not assembly workers. As a result, chipmaking doesn’t produce as many jobs as some other forms of manufacturing. And as the pandemic chip shortage has abated—and demand for consumer tech has declined—some chip companies, including Micron and GlobalFoundries, have already turned to layoffs. At the same time, the chip manufacturing jobs that do exist are highly specialized, and the U.S. is still looking to build up its supply of qualified workers. If the U.S. builds eight new fabs, the country will need about 3,500 workers with specialized skill sets from abroad, according to Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) analysis. “If I was in the position of a local official working in one of these towns where a fab is going to be located, I would be working to make sure that the company knows who to talk to,” says Jacob Feldgoise, a data research analyst at CSET. “In terms of local community colleges, technical colleges, maybe four-year degree colleges as well, to make sure that they don’t run into workforce problems.” It’s not just jobs directly in chip manufacturing that could raise challenges for local communities. In Columbus, about 40 percent of the workers needed for building Intel’s facility, including electricians and pipe-fitters, may need to come from beyond the nearby area, according to Bloomberg. The chip industry also has an enormous carbon footprint, and state and local governments welcoming these facilities risk releasing pollutants into the local environment, which will require new permits and oversight from environmental regulators. Meanwhile, the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group that represents the chip industry, has pushed for exemptions to the National Environmental Policy Act, which would necessitate additional environmental review for federally funded semiconductor projects. “The plants can be environmentally polluting. The process of receiving the permit is long and difficult. There are lots of potential conflicts,” Feldgoise says. “That could become difficult for local leaders or will require them to make trade-offs and decide where to prioritize their constituents and where to prioritize the economic development that comes from these facilities.”
The EPA has proposed the most stringent update on limits to mercury from coal power and other industries since the Obama administration in 2012.
Sometime soon, the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil new rules governing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. The standards are expected to rely heavily on a controversial emissions-reduction technology known as carbon capture utilization and storage, in which emissions are trapped at their source before entering the atmosphere. The technology has long been touted by the fossil fuel industry and its defenders—such as Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin—but still has a very limited track record. In fact, there isn’t a single commercial power plant in the U.S. currently using it.The EPA’s new regulation could see the industry’s more fantastical claims about carbon capture come back to bite them. If its new rules look like early reports suggest they will, they would effectively be calling the bluff of those who have claimed for years that this expensive technology—still unproven at scale—is a unicorn solution that will allow polluters to continue to burn coal, oil and gas without furthering a planetary catastrophe. Experts predict the EPA will base its clean-performance standard for power plants on a “best system of emission reduction” that includes carbon capture’s capacity to neutralize emissions. In other words, the new rules won’t mandate that power plants use the technology, but will treat it as one of many ways to meet the reductions goal. Some utility companies may instead choose to shut down dirty plants, opting for a cheaper option like wind or solar; gas plants may use hydrogen. “It’s going to be up to the states and the companies to look at their options and choose whether they want to keep that plant online,” NRDC’s Lissa Lynch told energy writer David Roberts. Two people familiar with the rulemaking process told Politico that the proposal “would require power companies to capture most of their carbon emissions rather than letting it enter the atmosphere” (if, that is, they’re not slashing emissions by other means). “No commercial power plants in the United States use carbon-capturing technology now, but the agency views it as ready to be used widely,” the sources said. According to the Global CCS Institute, there are just two commercial power plants on earth that are currently using carbon capture and storage, in Canada and China. The 30 carbon capture sites that were operational last year, mostly at industrial locations, captured about 0.1 percent of global emissions. Eleven more facilities were under construction.The Supreme Court’s decision last summer in West Virginia v. EPA is surely front of mind for regulators crafting these rules. In that ruling, the court’s right-wing majority found that the agency’s Clean Power Plan—proposed by the Obama administration in 2015—had overstepped the mandate Congress gave it via a specific section of the Clean Air Act. Rather than regulating emissions per power plant, the Obama-era regulation had set out rules for the power sector generally. The new Biden rules reportedly would require changes of individual plants. It’s thanks to the Supreme Court decision, as well, that the standards are unlikely to mandate that companies reduce emissions through a specific means. The Inflation Reduction Act also hangs over this process. The law’s incentives for wind and solar have made it possible to deploy renewables more quickly and make deeper cuts in power sector emissions, turning them into an attractive alternative to coal and gas. Expanded tax credits for carbon capture and storage should make it more feasible for plants to reduce their emissions more aggressively, now the technology is more heavily subsidized and thus more appealing. In comments supporting new rules to the EPA, green groups have argued that these shifts mean the agency can require more ambitious reductions. NRDC modeling found that the IRA makes it possible for the EPA to mandate a 77 percent reduction in power sector emissions by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. The group adds that carbon capture devices are “similar to sulfur dioxide scrubbers and other pollution controls on which the EPA has been basing standards for decades.”Evergreen Action similarly suggests that new standards “should be set at the most stringent levels achievable via adequately demonstrated technology applicable inside the fenceline.” Since carbon capture is a “cost-reasonable and adequately demonstrated technology,” the group wrote in a letter to the EPA, “reductions of 90% are achievable for both coal-fired and gas-fired power plants.” The implicit reasoning here seems to be that—given the still-high cost of retrofitting existing coal plants—many power providers will simply opt to take another, cheaper route. “The cost of adding CCS or hydrogen is likely to make many plants unviable because of the comparative affordability of renewables and storage,” said Holly Jean Buck, a sociologist at the University of Buffalo who has done extensive research on emissions-reductions technologies. “That isn’t to say that there will be no CCS at all anywhere, just that it won’t be the cheapest option in many places.”Climate groups that support the new rules thus are in the position of explicitly vouching for questionable, hotly debated technologies that some say are just an excuse for fossil fuel producers to extend the lives of polluting plants. But in the U.S. power sector, at least, those technologies might now be the basis for accomplishing the opposite: By taking carbon capture seriously, the rules would force its boosters to put their money where their mouths are.Still, any such outcome is a long ways off. The EPA’s proposal may not come out until next month, after which point there will be a round of public comments before a final rule is issued. Depending on when it comes out and what happens in the 2024 elections, the standard could also be subject to the Congressional Review Act—that is, Republicans could nullify it if they win control of Congress and the White House. However careful the EPA’s lawyers have been, Republican attorneys general are still likely to mount a legal challenge akin to the one they brought against Obama’s Clean Power Plan. If they do—and if the rules are written along the lines reported—fossil fuel companies might have to admit that their climate savior isn’t such a messiah, after all.
By Leah DouglasWASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intends to update its water pollution rules for slaughterhouses for...
A new “good neighbor” rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency will restrict smokestack emissions from power plants and other industrial sources that burden downwind areas with smog-causing pollution they can’t control
This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Wastewater treatment plants are typically overlooked when it comes to reducing greenhouse gasses, but new research from Princeton University reveals the plants emit twice as much methane as previously thought. Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas and the treatment plants […]
Canary Media’s Down to the Wire column tackles the more complicated challenges of decarbonizing our energy systems. In our previous Down to the Wire column , we walked through the basics of a new federal loan program aimed at transforming old and dirty energy infrastructure into new and clean energy…
Floods upend the plans of humans and wildlife – but after the water calms, it’s boom time for nature.
A new study says the plants emit twice as much methane as previously thought.
The coal industry may be dying in the U.S., but its health impacts are not, report finds.
In a historic move, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, according to the New York Times. If implemented, it would be the first time that the federal government has restricted carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal and gas-fired power plants, which produce 25 percent of the United […]
Tanya Plibersek announces crayfish, frogs, insects and plants among wildlife now under threat amid renewed calls for reformFollow our Australia news live blog for latest updatesGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastMore than 40 plants and animals have been added to Australia’s list of threatened wildlife, including crayfish, frogs, insects and several plants, in what environment groups say is another reminder of the urgent need for reform.The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, announced the bulloak jewel butterfly, Kate’s leaf-tail gecko, and 16 types of native spiny crayfish were among 48 species that had “been given greater protection under Australia’s national environmental law” by joining the threatened list.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...
The Biden administration this week proposed a new rule that could go a long way toward meeting the president's ambitious climate goals. But it relies on two little-used technologies, which could make its targets challenging to reach. The new proposal lays out strict limits for planet-warming emissions from coal plants and some gas plants that would significantly cut down...
After rejecting a controversial proposal in Huntington Beach, the state Coastal Commission greenlights another in Dana Point. While environmentalists raised concerns, the commission calls it a well-planned project.
Mungee is a revered teacher to Noongar people with lessons for us all. This mighty mistletoe knows how to prosper in the hostile, infertile, but biologically rich landscapes of southwestern Australia.
St. James Parish, located on a stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans dubbed “Cancer Alley” due to the high concentration of petrochemical plants, is home to the country’s largest producer of polystyrene — the foam commonly found in soft drink and takeout containers. Now, the owner of that plant wants to build a new facility in the same area that would break down used foam cups and containers into raw materials that can be turned into other kinds of plastic. While there’s limited data on what kinds of emissions this type of facility creates, environmental advocates are concerned that the new plant could represent a new source of carcinogens like dioxin and benzene in the already polluted area.The proposed plant comes as the U.S. federal and state governments and private companies pour billions into “chemical recycling” research, which is touted as a potential solution to anemic plastics recycling rates. Proponents say that, despite mounting restrictions on single-use packaging, plastics aren’t going away anytime soon, and that chemical recycling is needed to keep growing amounts of plastic waste out of landfills and oceans. But questions abound about whether the plants are economically viable — and how chemical recycling contributes to local air pollution, perpetuating a history of environmental injustices and climate change. Skeptics argue that chemical recycling is an unproven technology that amounts to little more than the latest PR effort from the plastics industry. The Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether or not to continue regulating the plants as incinerators, with some lawmakers expressing concerns last month about toxic emissions from these facilities. “They’re going to be managing toxic chemicals…and they’re going to be putting our communities at risk for either air pollution or something worse,” Jane Patton, a Baton Rouge native and manager of the Center for International Environmental Law’s plastics and petrochemicals campaign, told EHN of the proposed new plant in Louisiana.The air of St. James Parish, where the new plant will be located, has among the highest pollution levels along the Mississippi River corridor dubbed “Cancer Alley.” A joint investigation in 2019 by ProPublica, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate found that most of the new petrochemical facilities in the parish –including the recycling plant– will be located near the mostly Black 5th District.What is chemical recycling?When most of us picture recycling, we picture what industry insiders call “mechanical recycling:” plastics are sorted, cleaned, crushed or shredded and then melted to be made into new goods. In the U.S., though, less than 10% of plastics are actually recycled due to challenges ranging from contamination to variability in plastic types and coloring. “No flexible plastic packaging can be recycled with mechanical recycling — the only real plastic that can be recycled are number one and number two water bottles and milk jugs,” George Huber, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin and head of the multi-university research center for Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics, told EHN. Enter chemical recycling –– processes that use high heat, chemicals, or both to break used plastic goods down into their chemical building blocks to, in theory, make more plastics. Proponents say that chemical recycling can complement more traditional recycling by handling mixed and harder-to-recycle plastics. “An advantage of advanced recycling is that it can take more of the 90% of plastics that aren’t recycled today, including the hard-to-recycle films, pouches and other mixed plastics, and remake them into virgin-quality new plastics approved for medical and food contact applications,” Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division at the American Chemistry Council, told EHN. A long and winding historyThe technology has actually been around for decades, with an initial wave of plants built in the 1990s, but it didn’t take off then because of operational and economic challenges. Huber said some factors have changed, like a significant increase in plastic use and China’s refusal to accept other countries’ waste, that make chemical recycling more viable this time around. Yet a 2021 Reuters investigation found that commercial viability remains a major challenge for chemical recyclers due to difficulties like contamination of the incoming plastic, high energy costs, and the need to further clean the outputs before they can become plastic. “It's one thing in theory to design something on paper — it's a whole huge challenge to build a plant, get it operational, get the permits and for it to perform like you think it would,” Huber said. Tracking down just how many chemical recycling plants operate today in the U.S. is tricky — and depends in part on what one counts as “recycling.” Potential climate impacts Most of the plants in the U.S. are pyrolysis facilities, which use huge amounts of energy to heat plastics up enough to break their chemical bonds, raising concerns about their climate impacts if that energy comes from burning fossil fuels. An analysis from Closed Loop Partners found that, depending on the technology, carbon emissions from chemical recycling ranged from 22% higher to 45% lower than virgin plastics production. “It's a very promising technology to tackle the problem of (plastic) waste, but if you don't concurrently tackle the challenge of where the energy is coming from, there's a problem,” Rebecca Furlong, a chemistry PhD candidate at the University of Bath who has conducted life cycle assessments of plastics recycling technologies, told EHN. A life cycle assessment study prepared for a British chemical recycling company found that chemical recycling has a significantly lower climate impact than waste-to-energy incineration — but produced almost four times as many greenhouse gas emissions as landfilling the plastic. The American Chemistry Council, or ACC, says that there are at least seven plants in the U.S. doing plastics-to-plastics recycling, although many of those facilities also turn plastics into industrial fuel. For example, according to records reviewed by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, in 2018 a facility located in Oregon and owned by one of the companies planning to build the Louisiana plant, converted 216.82 pounds of polystyrene into the plastics building block styrene, sending roughly the same amount to be burned at a cement kiln. The ACC, European Union regulators and Furlong and her advisor, Matthew Davidson, say plastics to fuel shouldn’t count as recycling. “Clearly digging oil out of the ground, using it as a plastic, and then burning it is not hugely different from digging it out of the ground and burning it,” Davidson, director of the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies at the University of Bath, told EHN.Unknowns about environmental health impacts Chemical recycling saw a boost under the Trump administration, including a formal partnership between the federal Department of Energy and the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of the plastics industry, to scale up chemical recycling technologies. There’s limited information, however, on the environmental health impacts of chemical recycling plants. Furlong said she had not included hazardous waste generation in her life cycle assessments because of a lack of data. Tangri said there have been few studies outside the lab, in part because there are relatively few chemical recycling plants out there. Additionally, the ones that do exist are either too small to meet the EPA’s pollution reporting threshold, or are housed within a larger petrochemical complex and so don’t separately report out their air pollution emissions. Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report looking at eight facilities in the U.S. The environmental group found that one facility in Oregon sent around half a million pounds of hazardous waste, including benzene and lead, to incinerators in Washington, Colorado, Missouri and three other states. Hazardous waste incinerators can release toxic air pollution to nearby communities. Additionally, some hazardous waste incinerators in the U.S. have repeatedly violated air pollution standards and the EPA has recently raised serious concerns about a backlog of hazardous waste piling up due to limited incineration capacity. The Oregon facility, which is supposed to break down polystyrene into styrene, also sent more than 100,000 pounds of styrene in 2020 to be burned in waste to energy plants rather than recycled back into new plastics, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report. Plastics contain a range of additives, like phthalates and bisphenols, that have serious health concerns. The European Chemicals Agency expressed concerns in a 2021 report about the extent to which chemical recycling could eliminate these chemicals, especially “legacy” additives like lead-stabilized PVC that the EU no longer allows, and prevent them from showing up in new plastic products. The agency also cautioned that, depending on the type of plastic waste the facilities are processing, pyrolysis and gasification plants can generate hazardous compounds such as dioxins, volatile organic compounds and PCBs. Dioxins are considered “highly toxic” by the EPA as they can cause cancer, reproductive issues, immune system damage and other health issues. Volatile organic compounds can cause breathing difficulties and harm the nervous system; and some, like benzene, are also carcinogens. The agency noted that companies are required to take measures, like installing flue gas cleaning systems and pre-treatment of wastewater, to limit emissions. Additionally, experts interviewed by the EU highlighted an overall lack of transparency about the kinds of chemicals used in some of the chemical recycling processes. The American Chemistry Council, or ACC, says that emissions from most chemical recycling plants are too low to trigger Clean Air Act permits, citing a recent report from consultant Good Company and sponsored by the ACC that found that emissions from four plants in the U.S. were on par with those from a hospital and food manufacturing plant. The trade group claims the plants are “designed to avoid dioxin formation with many interventions, the primary one being that the plastic material is heated in a closed, oxygen-deprived environment that is not combustion,” and that the facilities would be subject to violations or operating restrictions if dioxins were formed. Policy debateAs the EPA decides what to do about chemical recycling plants, 20 states — including Louisiana, where the new plant could be built — have already passed laws that would regulate the facilities as manufacturers rather than solid waste facilities, according to the American Chemistry Council — a move that environmental advocates say could lead to less oversight and more pollution. “Whenever I see a big push for exemptions from environmental statutes, I get a little concerned,” Judith Enck, director of the anti-plastics advocacy group Beyond Plastics, told EHN. Advocates in Louisiana fear the new law will exempt the new facility from being regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality, something the ACC says won’t happen. However, it is unclear in the text of the law which state agency will oversee its environmental impacts (the state Department of Environmental Quality didn’t respond to our question). In a recent letter to the EPA, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and more than 30 other lawmakers requested that the agency continue to regulate pyrolysis and gasification plants as incinerators. Additionally, they also urged the EPA to request more information from these facilities on their air pollution and climate impacts. “Communities located near these facilities need to know what chemicals they are being exposed to, and they need the full protection that Congress intended the Clean Air Act’s incinerator standards to provide,” wrote the lawmakers. The American Chemistry Council contends that chemical recycling plants take in plastics waste that is already sorted, and that regulating these facilities as solid waste facilities, with measures like odor and rodent controls, does not make sense. The ACC adds that, like other manufacturing facilities, chemical recycling plants would still be subject to air and water pollution and hazardous waste regulations. Tangri, from GAIA, said that the U.S. should also follow in the footsteps of the EU and not count plastics to fuel as chemical recycling. Overall, environmental advocates would prefer to see stronger measures taken to reduce plastic use and require that manufacturers take more responsibility for plastic packaging — a concept known as “extended producer responsibility.” Enck suggested that there be mandatory environmental standards for packaging similar to auto efficiency standards. “We really need to move to a refillable, reusable economy,” she said. “Do we need all these layers of packaging on a product? Do we need multi-material packaging?”
The Biden administration will plunge into political and legal fights as soon as this week by proposing stringent requirements on utilities to reduce carbon emissions.
The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed a package of bills that would cut support from wind and solar power and force renewable electricity producers to help pay for new fossil fuel power plants. The five bills are part of a larger campaign by the Republican-controlled body to redirect growth in the states' flourishing renewable energy sector — by far...
Canary Media’s Down to the Wire column tackles the more complicated challenges of decarbonizing our energy systems. The Inflation Reduction Act contains $369 billion in tax credits, grants and incentives meant to drive investment in new clean energy technology over the next decade, a fact that has been widely…
Mizuna plants growing from a seed (A) to a seedling (B, on ISS) in a ground environmental chamber (C) or within an ISS Veggie unit (D). After 908 days in low Earth orbit, a small package on board the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 has come home to the delight of some biological scientists. Soon they will open an aluminum alloy container that holds samples of plant seeds that they hope can be used to sustain astronauts on long duration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Officially, it is known as a SEER experiment, short for Space Environment Exposure Research, a pathfinder mission supported by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division (BPS) in collaboration with the US Air Force. Unofficially, they’re referred to as the “Thrive in Space” experiments – a way to underscore the stepping-stone research that scientists are undertaking to help advance their fundamental understanding of what it takes to grow and protect plants beyond our planet. Space Biology Scientists Dr. Ye Zhang and Dr. Howard Levine, with NASA’s BPS Division, will advise a team of researchers who will begin to study these seeds shortly after their arrival. Q: What kinds of plant seeds did you send into orbit? Zhang: “We chose seeds from 12 plant species or subspecies, including thale cress and purple false brome, which will serve as model organisms. For crops, there were seeds from mizuna mustard, pak choi, lettuce, tomato, radish, chili pepper, Swiss chard, onions, dwarf rice, dwarf wheat, and cucumber.” Q: Many of those plant seeds have already been germinated, grown, and studied on board the International Space Station. What new information are you trying to get from this mission? Zhang: “We want to see what happens to these seeds after they’re exposed to a variety of space radiation over a long period of time. As a basis of comparison, we’ve examined how seeds react to high levels of radiation; we’ve conducted a number of seed experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory where we’ve observed how they change behaviors as a result of being subjected to controlled radiation exposure. And, we’ve seen how they react to a lower radiation dose for a limited time on board the space station. But we’ve never subjected them to the multiple types of space radiation bombardment that you’ll find in space over a long period of time. Remember, when we have a round trip to Mars, we’ll be traveling for two or maybe three years, so we want to determine how long these seeds can be stored and still be viable.” Q: What are the challenges to growing Is crops in space? Levine: “The biggest challenge is the room you need to grow these edibles. Just to give you a general number, it would take about 50 square meters of soil to provide enough food for one person. So, as we transport our crew members to Mars, the plants we grow will provide them with a token amount of their nutritional needs. That said, there’s an often overlooked or minimized aspect to growing plants in space and that’s the psychological benefit to our crew members; they’ve often told us when they’re able to take care of the plants on board the space station, they really appreciate it as gives them a remembrance of what it’s like on Earth. Also remember, you don’t just grow plants for food: They also suck up carbon dioxide which we normally have to do by chemical means. Plants purify the water that’s passed through them. Oh, and by the way, they also produce oxygen.” Q: Are there any potential benefits from your experiments that could benefit current horticultural methods on Earth? Levine: “We’re now in what we call the ‘omics’ era, where we look at how genes are differentially expressed under microgravity conditions and eventually under partial gravity. We’re learning about which genes are turned on more, or less, or the same amount as they are on Earth. And all that has great implications for the metabolism and physiology of the plants. That can be very enlightening for horticultural applications on Earth.” Q: To sum up, what are the top things you’d like researchers to know about your seed radiation experiments? Zhang: “First, we’re working on deep-space crop production capabilities, and that includes testing space exposure impact. Second, we may be able to share some of these seeds with the science community. Certainly, the data we collect from our experiments will be transparent for anyone to see. But, in certain circumstances, I’m hoping we’ll be able to share the actual seeds with other researchers to further our knowledge about growing seeds in inhospitable or extreme conditions.” Levine: “Once the seeds return, there are three primary areas we’ll want to explore. First is germination; the beginning of growth. We want to know if there’s a reduced germination percentage of the seeds that have spent many long months being bombarded with higher levels of radiation compared to our ground control experiments. Next is the morphology – the seed’s form and structure. Once we get seedlings, we want to see how they differ from the ground control group. We’ve already radiated seeds at our Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island and have seen a number that developed mutations, so we’ll be looking for that from our seeds exposed to spaceflight conditions for a prolonged interval. Third, we’ll be conducting ‘omics’ analyses of the seedling tissues obtained from the germinated seeds, to see which plant genes may have been under expressed or overexpressed.” Planning for Future Missions When this small container of seeds returns, the first SEER experiment will increase our knowledge about the impact of space radiation, one of the major risks associated with crop production. By developing ways to mitigate this risk, scientists will enable plants to “Thrive in Space”, a critical undertaking for the success of future interplanetary missions and establishing permanently inhabited bases. Stay informed on other exciting BPS research initiatives at: https://science.nasa.gov/biological-physical News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Wednesday, December 7, 2022 - 12:33
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed new rules for monitoring and limiting harmful emissions from chemical plants
This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The global energy transition has reached a pivot point, in which fossil fuels have likely peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline. This is the idea at the heart of a […]
Residents accuse St James parish officials of civil rights and religious liberty violations by approving petrochemical plantsResidents of St James parish, Louisiana, have unveiled a federal lawsuit accusing local government officials of civil rights and religious liberty violations by repeatedly approving the construction of petrochemical plants in two majority Black districts.The lawsuit, part of a wave of litigation in the heavily industrialised corridor known as “Cancer Alley”, also calls for a moratorium on the construction of new plants and the extension of existing facilities in St James parish. Continue reading...
The agency claims the proposed rules will result in a 96% reduction in the population facing cancer risk from 200 polluters.
The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency used the smokestacks of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” as the backdrop on Thursday to announce new rules aimed at reducing harmful, toxic emissions from chemical and plastics plants across the country. “For generations, our most vulnerable communities have unjustly borne the burden of breathing unsafe, polluted air,” Michael S. […]