By Pierre Bull
Media coverage of renewable energy developments at the state level continued to center on the efforts led by the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to try and weaken, repeal or “repeal-by-weaken” renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) in a couple dozen of the 29 states plus Washington, D.C. that have them.
There are several, perhaps less well known, positive developments too.
The figure below from a recent report by Justin Barnes and Chelsea Barnes of Keyes, Fox & Wiedman, LLP, categorizing active legislative proposals as either "strengthening" or "weakening" state RPSs, provides what I think is a more accurate and more complete picture of what is going on with clean energy in state legislatures. The starred states denote the four states with in-depth reviews.
Note the balance of RPS strengthening measures plus the New RPS Legislation to the RPS weakening legislation color-coded categories. Factoring in the dual-categorized RPS weakening and strengthening legislation states and the count of RPS new or strengthening bills (42) is nearly equal to the RPS weakening bills (45). Of course counting legislative proposals doesn’t mean much without understanding the specific intentions and provisions within each measure as well as the level of political support, i.e. votes, sponsors and stakeholders behind them.
One important thing to note is that this report only captures state legislative proposals and does not include state administrative decision-making forums, e.g., governors’ executive order and state utility boards/commissions where equally if not more important policy and implementation decisions also take place.
Let’s now dive into the states—a lot has happened in the month of April and first half-week of May.
HB 298, which sets out to douse the sustained growth of North Carolina’s clean energy sector by opening the floodgates of already paid-for, decades-old existing hydropower to qualify as "new renewable energy," was soundly defeated on April 24 in the House Public Utilities Committee (chaired by HB 298's primary sponsor Rep. Mike Hager) by a majority 18-13 roll call, bi-partisan vote. Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies’ wrote in the institute’s online magazine, Facing South that the bill’s defeat in the Public Utilities Committee came down to one big reason, jobs:
When the repeal bill came up for its first public hearing earlier this month in a House Commerce subcommittee, the only people who spoke in favor of it were from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, another conservative advocacy group. The overwhelming majority of speakers praised the renewable energy law's positive economic impact. Besides owners of clean energy companies, they included farmers who have begun investing in systems to generate power from livestock waste methane, which counts as a renewable under North Carolina's law. They were also joined by rural economic development advocates who spoke about how clean energy generation has created jobs and expanded the tax base in struggling rural communities.
But not to be outdone, later that same day after the House Public Utilities Commission defeat, the sole sponsor of the companion North Carolina Senate Bill (SB 365), Sen. Andrew Brock, brought up the bill in the Senate’s Finance Committee for a non-roll vote, meaning a vote via voice only. Observers say that nays were nearly equal to the ayes and that it was too close to call and should have at least received an actual count (counting via a raise of hands). Sturgis offers a thorough analysis of who’s behind the RPS repeal efforts and their respective legislative sponsors (i.e. ALEC plus at least 15 additional pro-fossil, pro-polluter groups).
With a couple of weeks remaining in the North Carolina legislative session, the sponsors of both HB 298 and SB 365 have made it clear that they intend to continue pushing their bills in committee. And we will continue to remind clean energy naysayers that they are up against popular support from North Carolinians who want a cleaner and safer place for kids and families to live, along with continued local economic growth and new clean job opportunities.
Thanks in part to Colorado-based NRDC members who voiced their support for clean, renewable energy, the Colorado legislature voted to increase rural access to renewable energy last week to 20 percent by 2020, doubling access for clean energy to 100,000 Colorado customers. The new policy could result in as many as 10,000 new wind, solar and renewable jobs. The bill now awaits Gov. Hickenlooper’s signature, which he is expected to sign, having showed his support for the measure as it made its way through the Colorado legislature.
In a post-Earth Day vote, the New York State Senate unanimously passed legislation to extend Gov. Cuomo's NY-Sun Initiative through 2023 and solidify the state’s long-term commitment to solar energy. The bipartisan vote for the New York Solar Bill (S.2522) indicates growing support among lawmakers for delivering comprehensive solar policy to Gov. Cuomo’s desk this legislative session.
The NY-Sun Program launched more than a year ago and has thus far surpassed its interim goal of "doubling the amount of solar installed in 2012 [compared to 2011]" with a near tripling in the amount of installed solar in New York State.
Given the promise for the solar industry in the state—along with the economic and climate change-combating benefits that come with it—it’s no surprise that the NY-Sun Act has support from a coalition of businesses, trade associations and environmental groups. Now it's the NY Assembly's turn, which has shown strong bi-partisan support to enact a long-term policy commitment to deploy solar at scale in New York State, i.e. to extend the NY-Sun.
Our colleagues on the ground in Jefferson City, MO, RenewMO, report that HB 44—a bill similar to North Carolina’s "repeal by flood" by allowing decades-old existing hydropower to earn credits under the existing renewable energy standard—continues to lie dormant. Only a few days remain on the Missouri legislative calendar for 2013. In a similar vein to our activities in North Carolina, we have continued to keep a close eye on bill movement and possible amendments to other bills that could carry RPS-weakening language, while at the same time showing state lawmakers that the RPS is bringing clean energy growth and jobs, benefiting all Missourians.
The final word for April
What is truly remarkable about U.S. state-level support for clean, renewable energy standards is that, even in these times of supposedly “cheap and abundant natural gas that will last for decades to come” is that renewable energy and efficiency continues to grow—despite continued policy uncertainties at the federal level. The claim that states are rejecting renewable energy rings hollow. It’s the fossil-fuel-backed, out-of-state groups like ALEC that were hoping to get states and utilities to turn their backs on clean energy.
Clean energy foes only face a steeper climb against the "super"-majority of Americans who see with their own eyes that locally available clean and renewable energy is in fact affordable, providing tens of thousands of new local jobs, while cleaning the air we breathe and combating climate change at the same time.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
- Drone Footage Captures Rare Finless Porpoises in Hong Kong ... ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing ... ›
- 10 Surprising Dolphin 'Superpowers' - EcoWatch ›
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
- Your Guide to Reef Friendly Sunscreens - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Sunscreens Don't Work or Have Unsafe Ingredients ... ›
- FDA Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream ... ›
By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
- Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free? - EcoWatch ›
- What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks' Three New Plant-Based ... ›
- 6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest? - EcoWatch ›
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
- Dangerous Chemicals From E-Waste Found in Black Plastics From ... ›
- Electronic Waste Study Finds $65 Billion in Raw Materials ... ›
- Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Plastic Packaging Use Increases During the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Plastic Waste Polluting the Environment - EcoWatch ›