UPDATE: On Oct. 6, the Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council approved new strong smog standards for coal plants. "By requiring that all of Maryland's poorly-controlled coal-fired power plants retrofit to include the best pollution control technology, repower or retire, these proposed new safeguards are poised to finally help all Marylanders breathe a little easier," said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club. "There are still steps to go to finalize these critical safeguards, and we believe they should be implemented much sooner than 2020, but this is a great leap forward."
More than 85 percent of Maryland's residents live in areas where the air is unsafe to breathe. That's a huge number! Maryland lags far behind other Eastern states in its use of state-of-the-art pollution controls for smog-forming pollutants from power plants, trailing even coal-heavy states like Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Believe it or not, the state is home to some of the worst air quality on the East Coast. The good news is that the state has proposed new protections for this deadly pollution, but we need help from people across the state to get these safeguards over the finish line.
Doctors have likened breathing smog to getting sunburn on your lungs—and it's a potent asthma trigger. That's why activists are urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to enact the strongest smog standards possible.
Shan Gordon, director of Cool Green Schools, is part of the fight for cleaner air in the Chesapeake Bay State, noting that it was the stats about Baltimore city kids and the state's coal plants that drove him to action.
"Baltimore children have asthma rates near twice the state average," said Gordon. "By the time our kids are in high school, 25 percent have been diagnosed with asthma sometime in their lives. Asthma is the leading cause of absences from school for health reasons."
Gordon has documented Baltimore City residents struggling with asthma—and their experiences are powerful. Here's one short interview with local Baltimore resident Doris Toles, who lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Gordon has also researched the history of power plant air pollution standards in Maryland and discovered that many of the state's coal plants are not always using their existing pollution controls.
"How can companies not use their existing pollution controls when many people in our city struggle for their next breath or stay indoors to avoid unhealthy air?" he asked. "For people with asthma or respiratory issues this can become a life or death struggle for their next breath and create staggering bills during emergency room visits."
Even more concerning, fewer than half the state's coal burners use the most effective technology. Poorly controlled coal plants can emit smog-causing pollution at levels 10 times higher than the best-controlled plants.
Thankfully, the Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed new controls on coal plants that will lead to cleaner air in the state, but some coal plant owners continue to oppose any requirement to modernize their outdated emission controls.
That's why Marylanders are standing up to support the MDE's plan by speaking out at rallies and public hearings.
The next important meeting on these standards is Oct. 6, and Beyond Coal activists will be out in force to call on MDE to enact the strongest air quality standards possible for state coal plants. If you’d like to join us or learn more, click here.
"By insisting on daily emission limits and further clean up by all plants, these new standards will help keep emissions from spiking during high demand days when the air quality is already poor," said Gordon.
Meanwhile, to help people nationwide, the Sierra Club's Mobile Air Alerts are available to everyone. Sign up and you’ll receive a text message when an air quality alert is issued in your area. You will know instantly when outdoor air is polluted with harmful levels of smog, and you can plan your outdoor activity accordingly.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.