More than 156,000 Citizens Press EPA for Clean Air
More than 156,000 concerned citizens and 33 environmental and public health groups filed public comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the past four months, pressing for strong, updated air pollution protections from oil and gas drilling. Environmental groups submitted technical comments to the EPA highlighting the strengths of the agency’s proposed rule and explaining how it could be improved. The comment period ends Nov. 30.
“When the air in Wyoming gets smoggier than the air in Los Angeles, something has gone wrong. Thanks to lax air regulations on the oil and gas industry, that’s exactly what’s happened,” said Earthjustice Attorney Robin Cooley. “As demonstrated by the impressive volume of public comments on EPA’s proposed protections from oil and gas industry air pollution, the American public is eager to clean our air of lung-burning, cancer-causing pollutants.”
The country is in the midst of a gas rush, spurred on by a controversial technology know as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically laced water into the ground to crack shale rock and force out gas.
“Over the past several months, thousands of families stood up to the dirty gas industry and asked the EPA to fight for clean air,” said Deb Nardone, director of Sierra Club's Natural Gas Reform Campaign. “This industry is growing at an incredible rate and the weak air safeguards now in place do not protect the health of our communities from industry practices like hydraulic fracturing. We urge the agency to adopt these standards without delay and strengthen them to include overlooked pollutants and pollution sources.”
Fumes from natural gas and oil wells dump smog-forming pollutants and cancer-causing benzene into the air. In the drilling-rig-studded Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, levels of pollution-forming ozone reached 123 parts per billion earlier this year—worse than air quality in traffic-intensive Los Angeles.
“Shale gas production has gone from a negligible amount just a few years ago to being almost 30 percent of total U.S. natural gas production, but national clean air standards covering these activities have not been updated since 1985 in one case and 1999 in another. They are limited, inadequate, and out of date, particularly given recent technological advances in this area, said Susanne Brooks, senior economic policy analyst at Environmental Defense Fund. “This poses a serious problem, since exploration and production activities emit numerous hazardous air pollutants and other airborne contaminants that threaten human health and the environment. Communities across the country are paying the price, suffering from air pollution in the absence of protective, comprehensive standards.”
David McCabe, atmospheric scientist with Clean Air Task Force, pointed out that while the proposed regulation of several air pollutants will help protect our nation's public health, the regulations to cut smog-forming pollutants need to be tightened further, and the regulations fail to directly regulate the release of methane into the atmosphere. “Natural gas operations emit more methane—a highly potent climate pollutant—than any other industry in the nation,” said McCabe. “In our technical comments to EPA we have made a strong case for amending the draft rule to clean up wasteful and dangerous emissions of methane from operations of the oil and gas industries.”
The public comment period on a draft rule published in August ended Nov. 30. The agency is under a court order to finalize the rule by April 3, 2012.
Because the agency failed to update air pollution standards for drilling, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance—two American environmental organizations based in the American West.
An abbreviated version of the technical comments can be found by clicking here. A full copy of the technical comments will be available upon request.
For more information, click here.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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