While some of his Democratic colleagues joined with Republicans in pushing the Keystone XL pipeline, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz had something different in mind. Today they unveiled the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act.
Whitehouse, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, has long been an advocate for climate action. His official website features a page called “Climate Change: Time to Wake Up” and he has made 80 speeches in the Senate on the topic, giving one per week. In late October, he announced that he would propose a carbon pollution fee, with details to be introduced in the next few weeks. Today he revealed those details.
In his speech today, he pointed out the environmental impact of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. He said it is "changing the atmosphere and the oceans. We see it in storm-damaged homes and flooded cities. We see it in drought-stricken farms and raging wildfires. We see it in fish disappearing from warming, acidifying waters. We see it in shifting habitats and migrating contagions." And those things, he said, carry costs to homeowners, businesses and taxpayers—the "social cost of carbon."
"None of those costs from carbon pollution are factored into the price of the coal, oil or natural gas that releases this carbon," he said. "The fossil fuel companies have offloaded those costs onto society. That's just not fair. By making their carbon pollution free, we subsidize fossil fuel companies to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars annually. By making their carbon pollution free, we rig the game, giving polluters an unfair advantage over newer and cleaner technologies. It’s a form of cheating, and corporate polluters love it because it gives them advantage. But it's wrong."
The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act would attempt to restore some justice in factoring those costs. It would also assess a fee for other greenhouse gas emissions in addition to carbon, but only on the largest polluters who emit more than 25,000 tons a year. And it proposes a tariff on products from countries that don't price carbon, in order not to put U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The bill, Whitehouse said, would level the playing field for clean technologies like wind and solar to compete with dirty energy sources.
Whitehouse estimated the tax could generate between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion in the first decade. The bill would establish the American Opportunity Trust Fund to return the money to citizens in a variety of possible ways. They could, he said "include tax cuts, student loan debt relief, increased Social Security benefits for seniors, transition assistance to workers in fossil-fuel industries or even direct dividends to American families."
Whitehouse referenced conservative voices in defense of his idea, including the late economist Milton Friedman, President Reagan's economic adviser Art Laffer and President George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, whom he quotes as saying earlier this year, "A tax on carbon emissions will unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle.”
"We simply need conscientious Republicans and Democrats to work together, in good faith, on a platform of fact and common sense," said Whitehouse, pointing to past bipartisan efforts to address carbon pollution. "We know it can be done, because it’s been done."
Whether it can still be done with the new, more extreme crop of climate deniers coming into office in January remains to be seen. But environmental groups greeted the bill with enthusiasm.
“Senators Whitehouse and Schatz have been steadfast leaders in the efforts to take meaningful action on climate, both administratively and legislatively," said Martin Hayden, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice.
"They have been instrumental in supporting and defending the President’s Clean Power Plan and the ongoing efforts to get this critical safeguard finalized and implemented. The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act will put a price tag on carbon pollution. Funds generated by any carbon fee must provide for climate justice, aid those most impacted by climate change and not subsidize pollution released into our air.”
"The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act would both ensure polluters pay for their carbon emissions and generate significant economic benefits for the American economy," said Kyle Ash, Greenpeace senior legislative representative. "For years, the biggest corporate polluters have avoided the costs associated with their carbon pollution, putting the burden on the rest of us. It's time to support a way forward that holds industry accountable for the damage they are doing to our planet and our health."
Watch Senator Whitehouse introduce the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act:
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The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
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Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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