Environmental Leaders React to President Obama's $3.8 Trillion Budget
The Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) is proposed to get $15 million in the President's budget. DERA helps public and private vehicle fleet owners clean up old, dirty, diesel engines.
"We are pleased the President proposes to fund DERA," states David R. Celebrezze, director of air and water special projects at the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC). "We do have concerns that the amount and change from a grant program to a loan and reimbursement program may deter some fleets from cleaning up their act, though."
According to government scientists, diesel exhaust contains harmful pollutants including more than 40 air toxins. This toxic stew contributes to a host of health ailments including asthma attacks, painful breathing, cancer and preventable deaths. In Ohio, $3.6 billion in additional health care costs are associated with diesel soot according to the Clean Air Task Force. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that for every dollar invested in DERA, $20 is realized in health benefits.
According to the EPA, diesel exhaust can:
• Trigger asthma attacks and cause lung damage, heart disease, cancer, and early death.
• Cause acid rain, ozone smog, haze, and global climate change.
• Drive up costs for business from lost work days caused by air pollution-related illness and by forcing counties in non-attainment areas to offset increases in emissions.
The President's proposed 2013 budget would make significant changes in the Farm Bill programs. Most important is the proposed elimination of the "direct payments" to farmers. These subsidy payments have been made annually to farmers, regardless of their actual production, and regardless of the commodity price levels.
Eliminating "direct payments" could save some $4.5 billion annually. The 2013 budget also proposes additional reductions in the crop insurance subsidies to insurance companies. Unfortunately, these proposed crop insurance reductions have been widely criticized by members of Congress from both sides of the isle, and are extremely unlikely to survive.
The proposal also includes reductions of $400 million in conservation programs, including the elimination of several important conservation programs, such as the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program.
"At a time when many waterbodies across the country, including Lake Erie and Grand Lake St Marys, are overcome with toxic algal blooms it makes no sense for the administration to reduce funds for conservation programs that will reduce farm-field runoff," said Joe Logan, director of agricultural programs for the OEC.
"The administration had an opportunity to revitalize the Wetland Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program, which were eliminated by Congress in earlier budget agreements. These important and effective programs will dampen the effectiveness of national conservation efforts."
The administration also missed an opportunity to require farmers to comply with conservation programs in order to qualify for subsidies like crop insurance, said Logan. "This linkage between conservation and crop subsidies, would carry very little cost, and could drive many additional farmers toward conservation efforts."
President Obama's budget proposes $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which supports solutions to some of the most urgent threats facing the Great Lakes.
Over the last three years Ohio has received more than $48.5 million to reduce nutrients running into our waterways, clean-up toxic contamination, stem the tide of aquatic invasive species, and restore vital wetlands and habitat while sustaining and creating Ohio jobs.
Recognizing the dire situation that has been blooming in Lake Erie, the U.S. EPA, in-conjunction with their sister agencies, will be targeting the Maumee River watershed for fiscal year 2012 funds.
Last summer the toxic algal bloom was 1,000 times the World Health Organization's recommendations for recreational contact. Each year the bloom starts earlier and stays longer.
"We are encouraged by the administration's commitment to restoring Lake Erie and the Great Lakes," said Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs at the OEC. "We are starting to see results and know that these programs are working. We look forward to working with Ohio's Congressional delegation to continue to make restoring Lake Erie and the Great Lakes a priority."
Oil & Gas Exploration
The Administration is proposing $14 million to support U.S. EPA research in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy that will "begin to assess potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on air quality, water quality and ecosystems." This allocation is a three fold increase to the $4.2 million requested for fiscal year 2012.
The President's proposal on Fracking is a potential two-edged sword, said Trent Dougherty, director of legal affairs. "We are encouraged that increased funding is going toward studying all potential impacts of the shale gas boom. However, with the current speed of permitting under less protective regulations, this comprehensive analysis may be but a post-script to an environmental bust."
At the same time, the Department of Energy is ending its decades-long subsidies to dirty fossil fuels, including oil and gas. The Budget slashes more than $4 billion per year in tax-payer funded subsidies to oil, gas and other fossil fuel producers. The Administration's Budget Synopsis states that these subsidies impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to address the threat of climate change.
"The President has sent a clear message that the days of coddling Big Oil and King Coal, are a thing of the past," added Dougherty. "Ending these handouts will finally put clean energy on an even playing field with dirty power."
The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) programs are slated to see a combined $359 million reduction under President Obama's proposed budget. The budget calls for a nearly 20 percent reduction (from the FY 2012 level) in the Clean Water SRF program alone. These programs provide valuable financing to municipalities to fund much needed water infrastructure projects.
Water infrastructure is necessary for providing communities with safe drinking water, properly treating wastewater and keeping our rivers and lakes clean and free from untreated sewage.
"We were very disappointed to learn that Ohio will receive $16 million less in critical SRF as a result of the significant reductions to the programs in the President's proposal," said Kristen Kubitza, director of water policy and outreach at the OEC.
"Our nations' water infrastructure is outdated, failing, and as a result contaminates our waterways and drinking water each year. Reducing this vital funding puts at risk not only the health of the environment, but the health and safety of our communities. We are pleased, however, that the administration understands the benefits of green infrastructure and set aside a portion of SRF funds for development of green infrastructure."
Green infrastructure is less costly than traditional infrastructure and effectively filters storm water before it reaches our streams and groundwater.
Each year more than 10 billion gallons of untreated sewage is dumped into Lake Erie and water resources across Ohio according to a 2007 report by Environment America.
Furthermore, the U.S. EPA reports that each year 3.5 million Americans become sick from swimming in contaminated waters. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nations' water infrastructure a 'D minus', the lowest grade of any public infrastructure.
The mission of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home. The OEC is Ohio's leading advocate for fresh air, clean water, and sustainable land use. The OEC has a 40-year history of innovation, pragmatism, and success. Using legislative initiatives, legal action, scientific principles, and statewide partnerships, the OEC secures a healthier environment for Ohio's families and communities.
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By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
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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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For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
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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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