Clean Air Act Under Attack: House to Vote This Week
By Ellen Webb and Julie Moon, Center for Environmental Health
The U.S. House of Representatives is voting this week on the latest attempt to stifle the Clean Air Act: H.R. 4775, the so-called “Ozone Standards Implementation Act."
In direct contrast to its title, the bill threatens to restrict implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newest standards for ozone and other "criteria" pollutants supposed to be protected by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAQQS): nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead. As criteria pollutants are both the most common air pollutants in the U.S. and considered harmful to human and environmental health, it is clear that passing H.R. 4775 into law will jeopardize public and environmental health.
The bill proposes to dismantle the Clean Air Act systematically: by imposing a two-fold delay of the time in which the EPA is required to review national health standards for ozone and other harmful pollutants (from 5 to 10 years); by imposing an additional delay on the time states have to publicize healthy and unhealthy areas of pollution (and subsequently adopt and implement cleanup standards) from one to eight years; by allowing corporations that apply for permits to pollute at levels beyond national health standards; by imposing considerations of cost and “technological feasibility" in the process of setting NAAQs, which has historically only considered medical and public health data.
Each of these measures—and the bill lists more—undermine the fundamental purpose of the Clean Air Act. The delays in statutory deadlines mean longer delays in practice and delaying implementation of science-based emission standards means that more Americans will suffer from pollution for longer. Forcing a consideration of cost and “technological feasibility" dismisses the fact that costs have no bearing on what is safe and unsafe and thus should not influence on the process of determining safety thresholds for exposure to pollutants.
Human and environmental health advocates have refused to stay silent on such a dangerous bill. In April, 13 major environment, science and health advocacy groups including the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Natural Resources Defense Council and Union for Concerned Scientists signed a letter condemning the bill as “one of the most irresponsible compilations of attacks on Clean Air Act health standards ever to be introduced in Congress. If this bill were to become law, it would be very detrimental for our nation's air quality, public health and Americans' right to clean, safe air ... It eliminates Americans' 46-year right to healthy air based on medical science and substitutes a process in which politics and profits will dictate acceptable air quality. The bill delays life-saving health standards that already are years overdue."
Fundamentally, the bill seems to be completely disregarding the growing number of studies publicizing the health risks of exposure to ozone and other criteria pollutants. In direct backlash to a more health protective, lowered ozone emission standard of 60ppb proposed by the EPA in 2015, section 3(a)(2) of H.R. 4775 singles out the pollutant and prohibits the EPA from proposing new standards before 2025. In other words, the bill seeks to not only ignore ozone standards recommended by health experts but also delay additional suggestions for a decade.
Yet we now know that ozone is not only harmful to the environment (it degrades habitats and decreases biodiversity by interfering with photosynthesis), but also human health. Last month, the Center for Environmental Health's paper on the respiratory health impacts of pollutants from unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations reported that ozone pollution has been linked with major respiratory health problems ranging from coughing and wheezing to pulmonary infection and severe asthmatic exacerbations.
Our review found that, alongside other criteria pollutants in threat of deregulation by H.R. 4775 and associated with UOG like particulate matter, ozone is associated with: 1. Reduced lung and pulmonary function; 2. Increased susceptibility to lung infection and decreased immunity and 3. the induction of asthma (the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under 15 years). The latter respiratory health impact—asthma—is particularly concerning, since, asthma is not merely a health burden but also a socioeconomic one: asthma is also a leading cause of school absenteeism. One study estimated that if ozone standards were tightened, total school absences would be reduced by about 1 million. Further, the direct (treatment) and indirect (lost days of productivity) for treating asthma in the U.S. has been estimated to be $56 billion.
In ignoring the known human and environmental health risks of unmitigated criteria pollutant emissions, the so-called “Ozone Standards Implementation Act" threatens to subvert the Clean Air Act of 1970, this country's greatest means of protecting all Americans' right to breathe healthy air.
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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.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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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.
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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.
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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