EPA to Weaken Public Protections Against Toxic Coal Ash in Water
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release several new rules in the coming weeks, many of which will relax regulations meant to protect the environment from industrial pollution. In a gift to the coal industry, the EPA will reverse course on regulations meant to reduce the amount of toxic heavy metals that leach into the water systems from the ash emitted by coal-fired power plants, according to The New York Times.
The New York Times broke the story from sources familiar with the EPA's plans. The Trump administration plans to weaken the 2015 rule that would have increased inspections and monitoring at coal-fired plants, lowered the amount of effluent plants could discharge, and required new technology to protect water supplies from coal ash contaminants. Not only will the new rules slacken some of those requirements, it will completely exempt a significant number of plants from complying with any of the requirements.
When the regulations were written, the Obama administration estimated oversight and new requirements would prevent around 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and pollutants from seeping into nearby rivers and streams. A source that knows the EPAs current plans told The New York Times that the new rules would actually remove more pollutants than the Obama-era rules. However, that math is based on having 30 percent of coal-fired plants voluntarily choosing to install new, expensive technology.
Those pollutants in drinking water can cause birth defects, cancer and stunted brain development in young children. Environmental groups quickly assailed the news of the regulatory rollback.
"[It's] "a huge step backward and incredibly dangerous," said Lisa Evans, general counsel for Earthjustice, to the The New York Times.
The move is ostensibly another deregulation to keep coal-fired plants from shutting down. Eight coal energy companies have already filed for bankruptcy this year as demand for coal energy plummets. Cleaner energy from renewables and natural gas has gotten cheaper and more efficient, making coal energy an unpalatable option in the marketplace.
The EPA is maneuvering to save a dying industry since the department's director, Andrew Wheeler, was a lobbyist for the coal industry. Energy analysts, however, told The New York Times that this latest rollback will not save the industry from its inevitable decline.
"While it might keep some existing coal plants running a little bit longer, it's at best a Band-Aid on a bullet wound that the market has sent the coal industry," said Joshua Rhodes, a senior energy analyst with Vibrant Clean Energy, to The New York Times.
The industry's record around toxic coal ash is abysmal. For years, it was not regulated, but spills in North Carolina and Tennessee that released billions of gallons of toxic sludge into waterways caused state and federal lawmakers to issue new rules over the containment of coal ash. A recent study also found that more than 90 percent of 265 coal-fired plants had unsafe levels of at least one contaminant in the groundwater near their coal ash dumps, as Reuters reported.
Environmental groups that keep tabs on the coal industry say that power plants discharge more than 1 billion pounds of pollutants every year into 4,000 miles of rivers. In turn, those pollutants contaminate the drinking water and fisheries of 2.7 million people, as The New York Times reported.
"That knowledge should lead E.P.A. to move to establish greater protections for our health," said Evans of Earthjustice to The New York Times. "But E.P.A. is running the other way under the direction of the utilities."
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- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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