‘This Is Political Retribution:’ Trump Admin Attacks California’s Environmental Record
First, on Monday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to the state warning that the federal government would hold back highway funds if it did not address a backlog of air pollution control plans, according to The New York Times. Then, on Thursday, Wheeler sent another letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom giving the state 30 days to respond to a series of concerns about its implementation of water quality regulations, The New York Times reported further.
"[T]he EPA is concerned that California's implementation of federal environmental laws is failing to meet its obligations required under delegated federal programs. The cost of this failure will be paid by those Californians exposed to unhealthy air and degraded water," Wheeler wrote in Thursday's letter.
The letters come about a week after the administration formally moved to withdraw California's power to set its own vehicle emission standards under the Clean Air Act, a power the state has argued is essential to protecting its air quality.
"We need the extra clean cars to meet the standards set by the federal government," California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in a press conference last week reported by The New York Times. "If this prevails, millions of people in California will breathe dirty air. There will be more pollution, more asthma, more hospitalizations, more premature deaths."
California officials say this week's letters are not about the state's environment at all, but are rather further retaliation for the state's opposition to the administration's agenda on issues like immigration and environmental deregulation. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has sued the Trump administration 62 times in federal court, according to The Washington Post. The state has 30 lawsuits pending against the administration over environmental issues alone, according to The New York Times.
"There's a common theme in the news coming out of this White House this week. The president is abusing the powers of the presidency and weaponizing government to attack his political opponents," Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said in an email reported by The Washington Post. "This is not about clean air, clean water or helping our state with homelessness. This is political retribution against California, plain and simple."
Click's remarks were a clear response to a whistleblower complaint that President Donald Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President and Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the 2020 election, which has prompted 220 House members to support an impeachment inquiry, according to TIME.
An overarching theme coming out of the White House:— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 26, 2019
Trump persistently weaponizing our government to attack political opponents.
The Director of Natl Intelligence, the DOJ, the EPA...all being used to attack those that stand in his way.
This is about retaliation. Nothing more. https://t.co/eF0adb1qt1
In Thursday's letter, Wheeler echoed remarks made by Trump last week that homelessness in California was threatening its environment.
"If these Democrat liberal politicians don't straighten it out, the federal government will have to come in. We're not going to lose cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and others that are great cities. We're not going to allow that to happen to our cities," Trump said, as NPR reported.
Wheeler's letter cites reports of human feces piled on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"The EPA is concerned about the potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters," Wheeler wrote. "San Francisco, Los Angeles and the state do not appear to be acting with urgency to mitigate the risks to human health and the environment that may result from the homelessness crisis."
But environmental and homeless advocates have criticized the president for treating homelessness as a threat primarily to the environment or appearance of certain cities, instead of to the well-being of homeless people themselves.
"The way to reduce the impacts from homeless encampments is to reduce homelessness," Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis told NPR.
Our ED @DavidLewis speaks out: "@realDonaldTrump has less standing to complain about #pollution and #homelessness than pretty much anybody since his administration is actively gutting the #CleanWaterAct and other environmental laws that protect us all from pollution.” https://t.co/zCNRgabRDq— Save The Bay (SF) (@saveSFbay) September 19, 2019
Wheeler also accused California of other water quality problems. The Washington Post highlighted two, and explained California's response:
His examples include a "years-long practice" in San Francisco of discharging more than a billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water annually into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean without treating it fully for all biological contaminants.
San Francisco officials said this discharge is being done under a federally approved permit, and 99 percent of it is storm water.
San Francisco is one of the few major American cities that combine storm water and sewage flows that is not operating under a federal consent decree. It is spending billions to upgrade its aging infrastructure, including $4.8 billion to improve regional and local water systems used by 2.7 million people. It has also launched a 20-year, multibillion-dollar sewer system upgrade.
Thursday's letter also called out high amounts of lead and arsenic in California water, but former Obama-era regional EPA head Judith Enck said that other states, like Texas and Louisiana, had more violations.
"I'm not going to say that enforcement isn't a problem, but there are other states that are far worse than California," Enck told The New York Times. "This an obvious attempt at political intimidation."
Our take on @realDonaldTrump's attack on #cleanercars: "Trump has married his administration-wide hostility to the environment to his personal vendetta against California." @EcoWatch https://t.co/ssv5x2qeDf— Safe Climate Campaign (@safe_climate) September 22, 2019
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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