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Facing a Health Crisis, Cities Implore Courts to Limit Pollution

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Facing a Health Crisis, Cities Implore Courts to Limit Pollution
A power plant emits pollution next to a train in Chicago, Illinois. Arcaid / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

By Jeremy Deaton

The coronavirus is a case study in the limits of federalism. Where the federal government has declined to gather and distribute masks, gloves and ventilators, states and cities have been forced to compete for medical supplies, paying exorbitant prices to secure needed equipment. Where the federal government has been slow to ramp up testing, states and cities are struggling to conduct tests at the scale required to reopen business.


It is against this backdrop that 23 cities and counties, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities added their voice to a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's plan to weaken limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The document detailed how cities will struggle to cut carbon pollution without help from Washington.

"Cities can do a lot, but there are many ways in which the success of cities' climate plans hinge on concerted federal action," said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which worked with local leaders on a brief in support of the lawsuit. "I think that the fact that we were able to get this many cities to take the time necessary to give a final review to the brief, provide comments and get the final sign-off, indicates how important this issue really is."

Burger said the project had taken on special significance as of late, given that people living in more polluted areas are more likely to die of the coronavirus. Notably, it is communities of color that are most likely to be under siege from both air pollution and the coronavirus, as well as worsening floods, storms and heat waves.

Civic leaders have limited means to cope with these inequities — a mayor can't shut down a power plant that lies outside her jurisdiction, even if that power plant is sending pollution wafting over her city.

"The EPA's irresponsible weakening of its rules to allow power plants to pollute more will increase air pollution, asthma rates, and the overall burden on public health services for cities like Las Cruces," said Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces, New Mexico, which signed onto the amicus brief. "At all levels of government, we need to be more vigilant about managing and reducing risks, whether it's a pandemic or climate change."

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases. The agency later determined that it also had the obligation to do so. To fulfill that duty, the EPA under President Obama crafted the Clean Power Plan, a sweeping policy to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

President Trump, who has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promised to do away with the Clean Power Plan in his 2016 campaign. He has since fulfilled that promise by replacing the policy with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which does far less to limit pollution from power plants. Now, 22 states and the District of Columbia are suing the EPA for falling short of its legal duty to regulate carbon pollution.

While carbon dioxide poses little short-term threat to human health, it comes from the same power plants that produce mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants linked to lung disease, heart disease, asthma and other maladies. Over the long term, carbon pollution is fueling deadly weather disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. By the EPA's own estimate, the Clean Power Plan promised to save as many as 4,500 lives a year by 2030. Its replacement would only save around 120 at the high end. That grim calculus has mayors, governors and business leaders eager to strengthen federal limits on carbon pollution.

"We don't get to net zero in the United States without some kind of coordinated, comprehensive action by the federal government," Burger said. "Whether it's a public health crisis at this scale or the climate crisis, failures at the federal level lead inevitably to failures at the local level."

Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

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This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

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An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

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Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

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A film by Felix Nuhr.

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Scientists have found a way to use bricks as batteries, meaning that buildings may one day be used to store and generate power. Public Domain Pictures

One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.

Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.

The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.

If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.

The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.

"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.

"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."