Koch vs. California: These Groups Want Pruitt to Undo the State’s Right to Regulate Auto Emissions
By Ben Jervey
A coalition of conservative groups, many with close ties to the Koch brothers, is calling for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to strip California of its right to set stricter greenhouse gas limits for personal vehicles.
Not satisfied with Pruitt's decision to rewrite the Obama-era emissions standards—which had been written cooperatively with the automakers, state of California, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and EPA—the American Consumer Institute (ACI) organized a letter to Pruitt calling "for the revocation of California's waiver from the Clean Air Act, which allows the state to decouple from federal policy and impose strict emission standards on automobiles."
When asked about this threat on the sidelines of the BNEF Future of Energy Summit, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, told Desmog, "I don't think they're going to do that."
Commenting on the conservative organizations requesting that Pruitt revoke the waiver, Nichols told Desmog, "They're the same groups that've been supporting Pruitt through all this other stuff."
In the weeks leading up to his announcement about the emissions standards, Pruitt had taken a more antagonistic tone towards California, signaling that he might attempt to revoke the waiver that was granted by the Obama administration, per legal mandate, in 2009.
"California is not the arbiter of these issues," Pruitt told Bloomberg News in March, adding that the state "shouldn't and can't dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be."
Scott Pruitt: California Can’t 'Dictate' National Emissions Policy https://t.co/vKcFeRSPIZ @foe_us @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521165628.0
With the waiver in hand, California can continue to enforce current greenhouse gas emissions standards, despite whatever the EPA sets as the new national standards for model years 2022-2025. On top of that, any other state can choose to adopt California's standards, which 13 other states and the District of Columbia currently have.
Because these states represent roughly one-third of the country's personal vehicle market, automakers would have to decide whether to set up two different production lines for states following the California standards and the rest of the country, or whether to treat California's targets as a de facto national standard.
Predictably, the automakers, through the powerful Auto Alliance and Global Automakers trade groups, are calling for one national regime, which could result from a grand bargain like the one that Pruitt just scrapped, or could be delivered by Pruitt stripping California of its waiver.
Any attempt at such a repeal would be hugely controversial, and possibly illegal, due to many nuances in the Clean Air Act and the history of its application and enforcement. A waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act has never been revoked, and has only been denied once.
Notably, that lone denial came in December 2007 when William (Bill) Wehrum, who ran the EPA's clean air division at the time, convinced then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to reject the state's request to set its own greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, the very issue at hand today.
(California was later granted that same waiver in 2009 under the Obama administration, after the state sued the EPA, and after the Supreme Court had held in 2007 that the EPA was required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. For a much more comprehensive background on California's waiver and Wehrum's opposition, see this recent Desmog article.)
Today, Wehrum is again the air chief at the EPA, and is again in a position to attempt to strip California of its unique authority to set its own air pollution limits. As Wehrum, Pruitt and EPA policymakers work to figure out the new national emissions standards for cars and light trucks, they are hearing from groups including the American Consumer Institute and its Koch-tied coalition on the importance of revoking the California waiver.
Who Are the Groups Fighting California's Clean Air Act Waiver?
The ACI letter to Pruitt, dated March 28, 2018, was signed by representatives from 11 groups, eight of which have known ties to the Koch network, and all of which are routine commenters on conservative issues.
The American Consumer Institute (ACI) is credited with organizing the coalition, and the letter is signed by its President Steve Pociask. The group is best known for opposing net neutrality efforts while being funded by a major Internet service provider lobby, as journalist Lee Fang detailed for VICE. More recently, Pociask has turned his attention to attacking electric vehicles, writing on Forbes that "the science on electric vehicles does not support continuing California's waiver."
Less Government is an "organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault," which was founded and run by Seton Motley, who is also listed as a policy adviser to the climate science-denying Heartland Institute. Though Motley and his Less Government organization have their roots in telecom and media issues, he has in recent years engaged more on climate and energy issues, signing some anti-wind energy letters organized by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and writing a bit on electric vehicles.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is part of the network of front groups funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network through the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now called American Encore) and Freedom Partners. As the Energy and Policy Institute has described, "TPA essentially exists as a shell for its advocacy, based on its own IRS form 990s: 'The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has given control of the management duties and the daily activities of the organization to MLM Consulting, LLC (MLM). MLM will be responsible for managing the organization and work to support the exempt purposes of TPA. The President of TPA, David Williams, is the sole owner of MLM Consulting LLC.'" Williams signed the ACI letter to Pruitt. TPA has fought clean energy policy in the past using the website SolarSecrets.org and has published white papers arguing against solar energy tax credits.
Consumer Action for a Strong Economy is run by Matthew Kandrach, and has been linked to a number of coalition efforts stemming from the FreedomWorks organization, which was born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America.
American Commitment is run by Phil Kerpen, a former vice president of Americans for Prosperity. The organization was founded by Sean Noble, a right-wing operative with close ties to the Koch brothers who also runs the Center to Protect Patient Rights (American Encore), a major funnel for Koch donor network money to front groups.
FreedomWorks was, as mentioned above, born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America, though it has no known Koch ties at present day. The group was described in a 2012 article in Mother Jones as "one of the main political outfits of the conservative movement and an instrumental force within the tea party." It pushes free market policies and has questioned the well-established science linking human activity to a warming planet.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a conservative advocacy group dedicated to "economic freedom" that has received funding from ExxonMobil, Texaco and the family foundations of the Koch brothers.
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is an anti-tax group that has received funding from the oil and gas lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, along with various groups in the Koch network such as the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, as well as DonorsTrust.
The 60 Plus Association describes itself as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and receives significant funding from groups connected to the Koch brothers. The group has also received funding from the American Petroleum Institute, and was created by Sean Noble (see American Commitment above). Noble was until recently a consultant for the Arizona Public Service utility company, and has led efforts in Arizona to kill solar-friendly legislation.
Frontiers of Freedom, run by George Landrith, has received significant funding from Exxon, the Koch brothers and dark money organizations like Donors Trust. In 2015, Landrith launched the Energy Equality Coalition to battle against the federal electric vehicle tax credit. The coalition also includes David Williams of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance and Horace Cooper, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. Landrith is also a director of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).
The Center for Freedom and Prosperity was once funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and has actively lobbied for more liberalized tax laws, and for less scrutiny towards offshore tax havens.
Seven of the organizations that signed this letter to Pruitt—and five of the actual representatives who signed—also recently penned a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defending "electronic and heat-not-burn" tobacco products (or vaping products), indicating that this network is defending the tobacco industry as well as oil and gas companies.
California and Partner States Fight Back
Nichols has signaled that California will not be retreating from its strong standards.
"California will not weaken its nationally accepted clean car standards, and automakers will continue to meet those higher standards, bringing better gas mileage and less pollution for everyone," Nichols wrote in a statement emailed to reporters. "This decision takes the U.S. auto industry backward, and we will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards and fight to preserve one national clean vehicle program."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also said that California is prepared to sue if the EPA moves to weaken the vehicle emissions standards.
"We are going to do everything that can been done to defend these standards," Becerra told Reuters last week. "So far, when we have been challenged on environmental standards we have had a good record in court. We haven't lost a case."
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to grant California a waiver on air pollution emissions standards if the state has "compelling and extraordinary circumstances," which California argued a decade ago, and which the Obama administration agreed that it does. To revoke the waiver, the EPA would legally have to prove that those circumstances are no longer there. To satisfy the courts in California's inevitable legal challenge, this would require a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous analysis.
At the BNEF Future of Energy Summit on April 10, Nichols said, "The document that came out a week ago from the administrator did nothing to change the nature of the debate. It expressed Mr. Pruitt's view but there was absolutely nothing new in the way of data or analysis to support that view."
She did indicate that she would be willing to sit down with the EPA and automakers to look at some "minor adjustments" to the technical changes measuring how companies could comply, but not the targets themselves. She provided an example related to electric vehicles. "Under the 2012 rules [car companies are] responsible for upstream emissions of power plants for charging EVs [electric vehicles]. I don't think that's a great idea. I didn't think so at the time."
However, "if the whole system is up for reexamination," said Nichols, "then that's a whole different story … That's a different fight. And we would win it."
It's also clear that other states would have California's back and join a legal fight, or start their own. Attorneys general from 11 states said last week in a statement that they would defend California's right to set firm standards.
"By cooking the books on its review of national auto emissions standards, the Trump administration is putting special interests ahead of New Yorkers' health and wallets," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "We stand ready to take legal action to block the Trump administration's reckless and illegal efforts to reverse these critical standards and the gains we've made in ensuring cars are more fuel-efficient and less polluting."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Material Revolutions: Shirts Made from Shellfish, Biodegradable Rum Bottles and Reusable Fast Food Containers
In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.
1. Allbirds Shirts Made From Shellfish<p>Sustainable sneaker start-up <a href="https://www.allbirds.com/pages/apparel" target="_blank">Allbirds</a> is known for its thoughtfulness for consumers and the environment. The four-year-old shoe company has become hugely popular by creating comfortable shoes made from responsibly sourced materials like tencel and wool, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90565358/allbirds-new-clothing-line-includes-t-shirts-made-from-discarded-crab-shells" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>Recently, Allbirds launched its debut apparel line with garments for men and women made with eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint, the report said.</p><p>Introduced along with the line is a new t-shirt material called "TrinoXO," which is made from wool and discarded snow crab shells from Canada's seafood industry, reported <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/20/sustainable-sneaker-start-up-allbirds-is-selling-sweaters-t-shirts.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a> and <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/business/allbirds-sustainable-apparel/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>. The shells are the "number two discarded resource on earth," Allbirds claims, reported <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/style/a34427585/allbirds-apparel-clothing-line-review/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Men's Health</a>.</p><p>"Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers," Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, told Fast Company. "It's far better for the environment than getting raw materials from scratch."</p><p>The shells have antimicrobial properties that keep clothes fresh even after hours of wear, without the need to add "extractive" materials like zinc or silver, Men's Health reported. This allows for longer periods of wear between washes, reducing clothes' environmental footprint.</p><p>"We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we'd be an innovation company first, and a product company second," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/allbirds-launches-clothing" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Vogue</a>. "And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don't have to compromise on the planet for amazing products."</p>
2. Bacardi Biodegradable Rum Bottles<p>By 2023, <a href="https://www.bacardi.com/us/en/" target="_blank">Bacardi</a> rum will be sold in 100% biodegradable bottles, <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005281/en/Bacardi-First-in-Fight-Against-Plastic-Pollution-With-100-Biodegradable-Spirits-Bottle" target="_blank">Business Wire</a> reported.</p><p>The alcohol giant is collaborating with Danimer Scientific, a leading developer of biodegradable products, to create the new bottles using the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy, the report said.</p><p>According to <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/bacardi-to-make-100-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-124436841.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAE1Wl8ONNdph3ID8reylzGM8dbX575Mk96Jw6z3kHZaGjKCz_UgQgxH0Q1n3RNCzhOMBEZ7fAIf8iiOXLRtY9VVHNZsmb-w1VOJnGlzIbuwhmoBo_KOV4dba8FoWrkgmmwwCyQZnRoTL0Uda6HQ4pE5ewGWh2pwQzjS3gKAe1ynm" target="_blank">Yahoo Finance UK</a>, the new bottle will biodegrade in a wide range of environments, including compost, soil, freshwater and seawater. After 18 months, the bottle will disappear completely without leaving microplastics.</p><p>"Nodax PHA is one of the most promising eco-friendly materials in the world today because it delivers the biodegradability that consumers demand without losing the quality feel they receive from traditional plastic," said Danimer Scientific chief marketing & sustainability officer Scott Tuten, reported <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/bacardi-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-plastic-free-packaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thrillist</a>. "The material provides the best of both worlds, and we look forward to working with Bacardí and incorporating PHA into their iconic packaging."</p><p>Bacardi is also creating a sustainably sourced paper bottle, Yahoo reported.</p><p>The manufacturing of both new bottle types will save energy over petroleum-based plastic ones. Bacardi plans to share the technology with competitors to help in the global fight against <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastic-pollution" target="_self">plastic pollution</a>, and aims to be 100% plastic-free by 2030, reported Thrillist.</p>
3. Burger King Reusable Fast Food Containers<p>Fast food giant <a href="https://www.bk.com/" target="_blank">Burger King</a> plans to launch reusable Whopper boxes and soda cups by next year. Partnering with TerraCycle's zero-waste packaging division Loop, Burger King will nudge customers to return the specialized packaging for hygienic washing and reuse, similar to how milk bottles used to be returned, reported <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-burger-kings-reusable-packaging-change-fast-food-forever-11603392581" target="_blank">MarketWatch</a>.</p><p>"During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/air-pollution-food-delivery-plastic-waste-2648454324.html" target="_self">increased takeaway ordering</a>, which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important," said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO, according to MarketWatch.</p><p>Customers who don't feel comfortable can opt-out of the service, <a href="https://www.abc10.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/the-buzz-burger-king-to-test-reusable-packaging-in-2021/77-f01f1b70-05b7-436d-9971-a7dd6081249b" target="_blank">ABC News</a> reported. Those who are willing to try will be charged a small deposit upon purchase, and when the packaging is returned, they will receive a refund, reported <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/business/burger-king-reusable-packaging-sustainability/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p><p>Burger King and TerraCycle are aiming for a container that can be used at least 100 times, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>"The benefit is, you're able to serve your guests without having to create that single-use item in the first place," Matt Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability at Burger King, told <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>. "This product is durable enough to go through the system multiple times, so it's ultimately reducing our environmental impact, and minimizing the amount of single-use packaging that we have to produce as well."</p><p>Burger King has also committed to sourcing 100% of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified outlets, and recycling all customer packaging at its restaurants in the United States and Canada by 2025, reported CNN.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.
A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).