By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers
When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group's activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn's oldest Latino community-based organization, said she considers showing up to fight police brutality and racial violence integral to her climate change activism.
Bronx Climate Justice North, another grassroots group, says on its website: "Without a focus on correcting injustice, work on climate change addresses only symptoms, and not root causes."
These community organizations in New York have been joined in protest by the nation's most prominent climate change activist groups, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion.
"NRDC has a responsibility to be fully and visibly committed to the fight against systemic racism and for justice, equity and hope," Gina McCarthy, its president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
"We have marched to the Lincoln Memorial," Friends of the Earth tweeted Tuesday night, "where we are joining thousands of peaceful protesters sitting and standing face-to-face with law enforcement. #BlackLivesMatter"
While some established, and predominantly white, climate and environmental organizations have struggled with diversity in their ranks and faced criticism for being disconnected from communities of color, there are clear signs that they are becoming increasingly focused on racial and environmental justice.
The Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest who is executive director of GreenFaith, a global religious-based climate action network based in Highland Park, New Jersey posted on his blog: "For too long, the environmental movement has not been concerned enough about the destruction that climate change wreaks on Black and Brown communities around the world. For too long, we haven't been concerned enough about Black and Brown people who can't breathe because they are carrying the weight of climate change and White supremacy."
Patrick Houston, climate and inequality campaigns organizer for New York Communities for Change, said he believes the broader climate movement is "becoming much more open to listening and understanding the struggles of the black community" by connecting "overt racism and violence" with "overlooked racism" stemming from proximity to power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure.
This new show of solidarity, he said, reflects "a work in progress that must continue."
Yeampierre, who is also co-chair of the national Climate Justice Alliance, shares Houston's hope and skepticism. Given what she considers a historically "extractive" use of the climate justice narrative by "big green" organizations, she said those groups must take direction from Black Lives Matter organizers in protesting Floyd's killing.
Alexandria Villaseñor, the 15-year-old climate activist who is co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and founder of Earth Uprising, emphatically agreed. "I think that true solidarity is giving Black Lives Matter organizers platforms, donations and putting our bodies out there on the streets with them," she said. "We know that there is no climate justice without racial justice. The exploitation of black people is the greatest extractive system of production of all time and in order to heal the planet, we must have black and indigenous liberation."
While both environmental racism and police brutality have long histories in the United States and in New York City—Floyd's death comes six years after the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in a chokehold by a white police officer in 2014—the city's leading youth-led environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement and Fridays of the Future, did not exist before 2017.
Villaseñor said she has been pleased over the past week to see organizers with both Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise on the ground in solidarity with racial justice advocates.
Jonathan Kirsch, social media coordinator for the Sunrise Movement's NYC hub, said that the organization has "acknowledged that we are not the authority right now to be commenting on what is being said by the black community."
He added: "We are here to support our black and brown friends and family in this moment, so that their voices are the ones that should be heard—as they always should be heard."
A similar focus on racial and environmental justice by climate change and environmental activists was evident around the nation Tuesday as protests again took to the streets in dozens of cities eight days after Floyd's death. The officer who pinned the handcuffed man to the ground with a knee to his neck, Derek Chauvin, has been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with third-degree murder.
Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, said the group—which has volunteers in every Congressional district pushing for bipartisan carbon pricing legislation—is making plans to offer additional training to its volunteers on racism, privilege, bias and diversity in the environmental movement. There also will be a seminar in racial justice included in the group's upcoming annual conference, which will be held online in June.
"It's not enough simply to list diversity as one of our values," Reynolds said in a blog post addressed to the group's members who are black and people of color. "The best way we can proclaim that Black lives matter to CCL, and that we care deeply about your wellbeing and your safety and your happiness, is for us to take concrete action."
He added, "Like climate change, there is no simple fix for racism—but we will not shy away from doing our part in this vital work."
Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and executive director of the Boston-based Environmental Voter Project, said that environmentalists have a special duty to speak out on racial injustice.
In the battle to protect the planet, he said, "every fight we enter is also a choice about whom to protect—will we protect the privileged or the oppressed, the heard or the unheard, those who feel the brunt of environmental impacts or those who don't?"
Stinnett said his group, which works to identify environmental voters and get them to the polls, will redouble its efforts to fight for equality in ballot access as part of its work. "Fighting structural racism is—and must be—integral to the environmental movement's mission," he said.
In Louisville, where thousands of protesters have also been chanting the name of Breonna Taylor, an African American killed by police March 13 while they were serving a nighttime "no-knock" search warrant, environmental activists have been among those expressing outrage.
"Different faith leaders were speaking out about the violence that is perpetrated against black people in Louisville and across our country, and how that is against our values," said the Rev. Dawn Cooley, who is executive director of Louisville-based Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light, a coalition of faith communities that advocates for action on climate change.
Cooley said it is easy to find a connection between climate justice "and the system of racism in our country and in our world. And the same people who are struggling for their basic human rights in America and the larger world are the same people being most impacted by climate change."
Racial and ethnic minorities, she noted, are bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and death from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
'I Worry About My Kids and Their Kids'
Watching the events of recent days unfold have been very painful for Arnita Gadson, a veteran environmental justice advocate who has played a pivotal role helping to keep a large chemical industry in Louisville accountable through a local task force, and also serves as Kentucky's Environmental Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP.
She is contributing to a local climate adaptation plan, and that work has continued through the recent strife, Gadson said, adding, "but I've been scared.
"I am a black woman living in a white world," she said. "If I go out, I might get shot and I may get killed. I worry about my kids and their kids."
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Grace Olscamp has been reaching out on social media, calling on environmentalists to do more than pledge support for people of color on behalf of the environmental group HEAL Utah, which has focused for two decades on hazardous and nuclear waste, as well as air pollution and climate change.
"It shouldn't have taken us this long to really step up and take action," said Olscamp, HEAL's communications director, noting that she, the group's staff and many of its members are white and "definitely in a place of privilege."
It's a problem among environmental organizations, generally, that they have failed to include more people of color and to hold themselves accountable for working toward real change.
She started a Twitter thread Monday by saying: "Protecting the environment must include protecting the health & lives of others. Without recognizing this & acting on it, the environmental movement will be spinning its wheels. The roots of the disproportionate impacts of things like pollution are tied to systemic racism."
"We need to actually speak out and make a stand and not beat around the bush about it," she said in an interview. "We need to protect black lives."
Olscamp said that means working with state and federal lawmakers toward creating better policies and eliminating policies that place a heavier pollution burden on poor communities and communities of color. She added that it will be important to keep conversations about equity on the agenda among the group's 15,000 grassroots members, urging them, for instance, to press for changes in their workplaces and local government.
On the West Coast, The California Water Blog, a must read for environmentalists, journalists and scientists published by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, suspended all discussions of water this week in solidarity with the protests.
Monday's Cal Water Blog post was titled "Black Lives Matter."
The post, signed by the center's executive committee, whose members include biologists, geologists, engineers and legal scholars, said: "Institutional racism is urgent and real, and should divert us from topics of California water at this time. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others are horrific, and the effects of a pandemic are disproportionately affecting communities of color. At the Center for Watershed Sciences, we acknowledge that while we strive for equity and inclusion in our science in line with our Principles of Community, we have a long way to go to address racism and unconscious bias."
The post went on to encourage "everyone to have the hard conversations and do the hard work" to support all people in our communities. "It is moments like this that remind us that bearing witness to racism and injustice is critical and must be a core part of our mission." The blog included links to resources compiled by the Graduate Group in Ecology's Diversity Committee, including several under the heading "Ways white people can take action for racial justice."
Andrew Rypel, an associate professor of biology at UC Davis, wrote the California Water Blog post. He said a team was putting together the usual weekly science blog and "just realized this is ridiculous. The focus should not be on business as usual right now."
"I think we're at an inflection point right now," he added, "where voices matter and using your platforms matter and we thought it was important to point these things out."
The blog, he said, has gotten a tremendous response, overwhelmingly positive. "Mostly, people have thanked us," he said. "It was tough to write that and tough to think about that because we all play a role in how bad the situation has gotten. In some ways, I look back at the 1960s and it makes me so sad that we haven't made much progress."
For the California Environmental Justice Alliance, a coalition of 10 grassroots environmental justice groups throughout the state, supporting the ongoing protests is no stretch.
The coalition's focus is on supporting and creating state policies that protect communities of color from bearing the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and other environmental hazards and offenses. Core members include Communities for a Better Environment, the Environmental Health Coalition and Center for community action and Environmental Justice.
Gladys Limon, the justice alliance's executive director, said the same racist system that exploits these communities, "pillaging the earth" and degrading the health and life expectancies of black and brown people, has led to "the heinous murders," that have upended cities across the country.
Members of the alliance as well as alliance staffers have been participating in the protests, speaking out and issuing statements in support, she said.
"Why wouldn't anyone stand with Black Lives Matter and all those rising up against the heinous murders of black people at the hands of our government," Limon said. "All social justice organizations and simply people of good conscience and those who believe in the promise of our country should be outraged and calling for justice, black liberation and systemic change."
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Idaho residents were rattled Tuesday evening by the biggest earthquake to shake the state in almost 40 years.
The 6.5 magnitude quake struck just before 6 p.m. local time 73 miles northeast of Meridian, The Associated Press reported. It caused no known damage or injuries, but plenty of surprise.
"At first I thought it was thunder, weird thunder, but then the house was moving and I realized this is an earthquake — a really big earthquake," Boise resident Melissa Hawkins, 44, told USA Today.
All told, more than two million people might have felt the earthquake, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) figures reported by The Associated Press. Reports of shaking came from as far as Spokane, Washington; Bozeman, Montana; and Salt Lake City, Utah, according to USA Today.
Here's an interesting visualization of "Did You Feel It?" reports for the #IdahoEarthquake. Head over to the @USGS… https://t.co/dELFgCELYt— Jess Phoenix 🌋 (@Jess Phoenix 🌋)1585702139.0
Evaro, Montana resident Shannon Patton at first blamed her health.
"I actually thought I was having a dizzy spell to begin with due to my migraine," Patton told USA Today in an email. "Our light fixtures were shaking and one of our signs on our pantry door almost fell off."
Earthquake near Boise, Idaho. Watching now for the four horsemen... https://t.co/qavCnyBGLl— Elaine Ambrose (@Elaine Ambrose)1585699128.0
Despite tweets warning of the apocalypse, Caltech seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones told The Associated Press that the Idaho region has an earthquake around this size every 30 to 40 years.
The last was actually much worse: the 6.9 Borah Peak earthquake of 1983. That quake struck near the town of Challis and killed two school children when they were buried under rubble, CNN reported. It also cost the state $12.5 million in property damage.
The 1983 quake was along a "normal fault," which causes vertical movement, Jones told The Associated Press. Tuesday's quake, on the other hand, was on an unmapped "strike-slip fault," which causes horizontal movement. Jones said it was not uncommon for faults in remote areas to go unmapped, since they are less likely to cause damage.
"This is one that wasn't obvious enough to be mapped before now," Jones told The Associated Press.
But she further explained on Twitter why Idaho sees earthquakes.
"Idaho is part of the Basin and Range tectonic province. Everything west of the Wasatch Mtns. is getting slowly stretched out as a bit of North America tries to cling to the Pacific plate," she wrote.
Idaho is part of the Basin and Range tectonic province. Everything west of the Wasatch Mtns. is getting slowly stre… https://t.co/mmHtOWAeJU— Dr. Lucy Jones (@Dr. Lucy Jones)1585701440.0
Jones said to expect aftershocks, and the USGS reported a 4.8 magnitude one about an hour after, according to USA Today. More, smaller tremors were felt throughout the evening.
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The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
By Tara Lohan
A sign at the north end of Kanab, Utah, proclaims the town of 4,300 to be "The Greatest Earth on Show."
It's a rare case of truth in advertising.
Kanab sits just seven miles north of the Arizona state line, at the crossroads of some of the Southwest's most beautiful places. In every direction a geologic wonderland awaits. To the north is Zion National Park with its breathtaking valley of 2,000-foot-tall rust and white sandstone cliffs. The sweeping expanse of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument stretches to the east of town, and just to the south you'll find the Grand Canyon's North Rim.
You don't even need to leave Kanab, which is ringed by the famously red-hued Vermillion Cliffs, to get socked by jaw-dropping beauty.
It's this landscape that drew Susan Hand to Kanab 25 years ago when she opened Willow Canyon Outdoor to sell gear, maps, books and coffee to local and visiting adventurers. And it's this landscape and the community's gateway-to-the-wonderland experience, the economic bedrock of this tourism-dependent town, that she worried would be destroyed by a new industrial project proposed for development 10 miles north of town last year.
Kanab, UT is a popular tourist destination. Tara Lohan
There, a company called Southern Red Sands LLC had announced plans to build a facility to mine and process massive amounts of sand for use by oil and gas companies conducting hydraulic fracturing. The sand is a lesser-known but substantial aspect of the fracking process. Round grains of silica sand serve as a "proppant" to keep underground fissures in the shale open as oil and gas are pumped out. Fracking a single well can require thousands of tons of sand.
"I really wanted to keep an open mind, but the more I learned about the project, the more concerned I got," Hand told The Revelator when I visited Kanab in September.
She had reason to be worried. The first decade of the fracking boom relied heavily on so-called "frac sand" sourced mostly from Midwest states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where mining reduced verdant green hills to piles of dust.
Frac sand in Wisconsin. Tara Lohan
But mining in the Midwest has its limits. Sand is expensive to ship across the country, so as fracking has taken off in Utah, Texas and New Mexico, companies have looked to find more local sources to trim costs.
That's when the proposed mine in Kanab entered the story.
Southern Red Sands, a two-person start-up backed by Utah real-estate developer Kem Gardner, hoped to establish the region's next frac sand mine in a scenic area of state-owned lands outside Kanab called Red Knoll.
City and county officials quickly gave their blessing — and a combined 1,200 acre-feet of water rights a year — after only cursory consideration.
But residents became concerned about impacts to scenic beauty, water resources and local businesses. They teamed up to fight back, forming a community group called Keep Kanab Unspoiled.
It was beginning to feel like a familiar story.
The struggle between extractive industries and environmental protection is not a new one in Utah. A fight is still raging nearby over the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of which President Trump slashed in order to increase drilling and mining opportunities.
Despite public pushback and some legal challenges, though, the frac sand mine seemed to be cruising toward approval as recently as October. It still needed an environmental impact assessment from the Bureau of Land Management, and the two water transfers needed approval from the state engineer. The project definitely wasn't a done deal, but in industry-friendly Utah, it had a good shot.
So it may have come as a surprise to a number of residents when Southern Red Sands announced at the beginning of January that it was abandoning the proposed project.
What happened? And are there any lessons that other communities fighting extraction threats can learn?
"Speak out, pull together like-minded neighbors, organize and don't give up," Hand told me after hearing the news. "But also, try to be nice."
Surprisingly, it's that last bit that may have made a big difference — along with a good hard look at the economics of the endeavor.
Von Del Chamberlain is a white-haired, soft-spoken Kanab resident. Born in 1934, he spent his youth exploring the red rock and his career studying the stars. The astronomer and former director of Salt Lake City's Hansen (now Clark) Planetarium retired to his hometown 15 years ago and hoped to start a public observatory.
He realized that Kanab's prized dark-night skies would be threatened by a 24-7 mining operation. But that wasn't even his biggest concern with the project.
"The beauty here is the thing that will sustain this area economically for as far in the future as we can possibly see," he said.
Opponents like Chamberlain usually cited two big concerns: environmental impacts, particularly the threat to water resources, and the local economy. But in Kanab it's hard to separate the two.
"It doesn't matter what kind of an economy you want to develop here," said Hand. "Even if you have an industrial economy or an extractive economy — if you don't have water, you're out."
The water supply, which draws on underground aquifers, currently supports the town's tourist-driven economy, ranching, and the county's biggest employer — Best Friends Animal Society, known worldwide through the Dogtown TV series on the National Geographic Channel. The nonprofit owns a 3,700-acre sanctuary, the country's largest no-kill animal shelter, and would have been the mine's closest neighbor.
Best Friends, which employs 400 locals and draws 35,000 out-of-town visitors a year to its sanctuary, came to see the proposed mine as an existential threat. Their property relies on wells, seeps and springs that come from the same aquifer the project's two wells would tap.
Groundwater seeps to the surface at the Best Friends animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Tara Lohan
Last July Kanab's city council approved a 50-year contract for 600 acre-feet a year of water rights for the project and Kane County Water Conservancy District, which oversees water servicing for the unincorporated areas of the county, agreed to provide an additional 600 acre-feet of water. That combined amount equals about 740 gallons per minute, although Southern Red Sands contended it would use only about a third of that.
Many local residents were shocked by the water-rights transfer. A 2016 water needs assessment found that Kane County Water Conservancy District's reliable supply would be in deficit by 2035. And the district's executive director, former state representative Mike Noel, has been a vocal advocate for a pricy proposed pipeline to send Lake Powell water to southern Utah communities, including near Kanab, under the premise that the region is already running short on water.
"We knew that it would damage our seeps and our springs, and we weren't sure yet the full impact besides some drawdown to our groundwater, but we were really concerned," Bart Battista, an environmental engineer responsible for facilities management at Best Friends' Kanab sanctuary, told me. "It boggles my mind that the city wasn't as concerned."
But documents unearthed by local radio station KUER showed that officials at nearby Zion National Park already were concerned that the project could reduce flows into the East Fork of the Virgin River, which flows through the park, by reducing the amount of water from underground seeps and springs that feed the river.
Wanting to learn more about how the project could affect the region's water, Best Friends commissioned a study from hydrogeologist Kenneth Kolm of Hydrologic Systems Analysis, a firm that's completed water studies for other Utah towns.
Kolm found that the mine posed the potential for decline in productivity to wells owned by both Best Friends and the city's water supply. The project could also decrease flows into nearby Kanab Creek and dry up perennial streams and springs, including one that feeds an area of habitat that's home to the Kanab ambersnail — currently federally protected as endangered.
The amount of water being withdrawn wasn't the only issue. The proposed project site and its sandy soil are also vitally important to local hydrology.
"The sand is the first ticket to collecting water," said Hand. It captures rain and holds it in place long enough for it to sink into the water table and not run off. But the sand is exactly what would be removed from the site, further threatening the region's water supply.
"I realized for the first time how small and vulnerable our watershed actually is," she added.
Southern Red Sands hoped to start digging on 640 acres of land around Red Knoll, an aptly name rise of coral-colored rock and sand. The area is managed as part of Utah's School and International Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), where state-owned property can be leased (often for resource extraction), with revenue being funneled to education.
The operation would have started by bulldozing all the trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs, then scraped up to 30 feet of the earth from the exposed surface. The sand would then be processed — washed with water and chemicals, then dried and sorted — in a facility with up to six 120-foot-tall silos. After that it would be loaded into trucks and hauled out.
A small fraction of the remaining sediment — mostly the fine silts and clays — would be put back on the land. But that change in geology could mean a big change for the aquifer. How big would depend on the scope of the project, though.
In addition to the SITLA land, Southern Red Sands had acquired placer claims — mineral exploration rights — for 12,000 surrounding acres managed by the BLM. And although the company said it planned to mine only 700,000 tons a year from the SITLA property, the facility would have had the capacity and water rights to accommodate much more.
"If they're building a plant with a capacity of 3 million tons a year, that's presumably because they expect to be able to produce that," Dean Baker, a Kanab resident and opponent of the project told me in December. "They may never do that, but you don't build extra capacity without the idea that you might use it."
Water issues are paramount in arid Utah, but the mine was likely to come with some other potential problems.
If Southern Red Sands did build out to end of their claims, they'd be within 10 miles of Zion National Park and workers at Best Friends would be looking over their fence line at the operation — not to mention potentially breathing its dust.
Mining, processing and trucking frac sand can release tiny particles of crystalline silica into the air. Inhaling those particles regularly can cause lung disease, including cancer and silicosis, a chronic disease that, like "black lung" for coal miners, can be deadly.
Dust in the air at a frac sand processing facility in Wisconsin. Tara Lohan
The facility would likely run with lights and noise 24-7, which could be detrimental to wildlife. And adding more diesel-spewing, slow-stopping big rigs hauling 50,000 pounds of sand down the town's one main road concerned residents, too.
With so much at risk, opponents employed a number of tactics to try to fight the mine.
Keep Kanab Unspoiled held community meetings. They invited Kolm, the geologist who did the independent study, to report his findings, and started an online petition to discourage the company from moving forward.
Best Friends — an established national nonprofit with considerably more financial resources — took the lead role in mounting legal challenges. The organization filed an appeal of a conditional use permit approved by the county and formally objected to the water transfers, which needed to be approved by the state engineer.
But during the fall, Best Friends decided to shift tactics. Lawsuits could just lead to years of legal battles, something beyond the organization's longstanding mission.
"We might alienate our donors and members," Battista explained. "The appeal of Best Friends crosses party boundaries — animal welfare is something everybody can support." Apparently environmental action is not.
They decided the best approach was to sit down and talk with the company and its backers.
Battista couldn't disclose details of the negotiations — which went on for months — but on Jan. 9 Best Friends and Southern Red Sands released a joint statement saying that the company "had decided not to pursue its business ventures in Kane County."
The members of Keep Kanab Unspoiled were elated by the news.
"It's so heartening how so many people from our community came together to amplify a voice that is seldom acknowledged by our elected representatives and institutions," Hand tells me. "I'm relieved that an area I love won't be sacrificed on the altar of fossil fuel consumption. I'm grateful that this threat to our travel and tourism economy is diminished."
It would be comforting to think that the driving force behind the decision boiled down to preserving the scenic beauty or the region's groundwater resources, but it's more likely it had to do with money.
"Economics played some role," Battista said. "The market for frac sand has changed and [Best Friends] had financial viability assessments of the project to show that the mine wouldn't be a good idea. Economically it just didn't make sense to any of us. I think that our studies corroborated that."
This was a main talking point of Keep Kanab Unspoiled, bolstered by research done by Baker, who also happens to be an economist and cofounder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The frac sand industry — and the larger fracking industry — is volatile. The number of rigs drilling for oil tends to fall when prices get low. Rigs plunged with falling prices from 2014 to 2016 and last year saw record declines in rig numbers. In addition, fracking costs more than traditional drilling — and the industry has also been overspending to keep the fracking boom from going bust.
A research organization in Norway found that the amount of money being spent to drill for oil by 40 U.S. shale oil companies outpaced the money being made by selling that oil. That deficit cost companies almost $5 billion in just the first quarter of 2019, DeSmog reported in August.
It's a scenario that's happened before.
With oil prices now around $60 a barrel, the industry is hanging on. If prices dip much lower, it could be trouble. A decade into the fracking frenzy, investors are worried that the best spots have been drilled and many debts won't be paid.
There's even more uncertainty when it comes to producing and selling the sand. Companies used to rely almost exclusively on Midwest sand, but now more areas are getting in on the game.
The consequences of failures in the fracking business model are real.
Falling oil prices and a shifting market for frac sand recently took down Emerge Energy Services — owner of eight frac sand facilities in Wisconsin — which filed for bankruptcy last summer and left behind unsafe levels of arsenic and heavy metal contamination for the community to clean up.
That's a scenario that Baker worried could happen in Kanab. Southern Red Sands said their intended market was in Utah's Uintah Basin 350 miles north, but a new frac sand mine just opened in the basin. "It's almost inconceivable they'd be able to compete with them because the biggest cost with frac sand is the shipping," said Baker. "There are some operations in the San Juan basin [in New Mexico and Colorado] but it's not clear to me that they could beat those out either."
Even though economics played a role in halting the project, he believes community efforts were important, too.
"The fact they faced serious legal obstacles at every step in their path had to be a factor," he said. "It is a nice, and unfortunately rare, victory for the environment."
Best Friends worked to ensure the hard-earned victory wasn't short-lived, either. It also purchased Southern Red Sands' 12,000 acres of mineral rights.
"We want to make sure that no one else comes in here in two years if the market's better and tries to put in another sand mine, we just don't think that it's the right thing for this area," said Battista. "We want to make sure that in perpetuity, there's not a threat to the sanctuary."
As for Hand, she's now looking at the bigger picture. She saw the fight over frac sand in Kanab as a microcosm of the global fight over fossil fuels and climate change.
"While we can embrace a sense of triumph, it's likely to be brief," she said. "When it comes to protecting wild places and using our resources carefully, our work will never be done. The next development project is already bubbling. I do feel more hopeful for each success, but climate change marches on."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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A Christmas tree at the Tennessee Aquarium has a shocking secret: its lights are triggered by the charges released by an electric eel.
The eel, Miguel Wattson, is already a star on Twitter, according to the Associated Press, and coders at Tennessee Tech University's iCube center figured out how to translate his shocks into tweets like "SHAZAM!!!!" and "ka-BLAMEROO!!!!!"
This Monday, though, he tweeted something else. A video of his electricity making the lights on a tree near his tank flicker on and off.
ICYMI, here's a video of yours truly attempting to use my discharges to power the lights on a Christmas tree. (SPOI… https://t.co/aMeeUlken1— Miguel Wattson TNAQ (@Miguel Wattson TNAQ)1575321776.0
Miguel doesn't directly power the tree, the eel's caretaker Kimberly Hurt told NPR.
"There is a sensor directly in his exhibit that picks up when he produces electricity," Hurt explained.
That sensor then "translat[es] when he's producing electricity to the lights."
The brightness of the lights varies based on what kind of shock Miquel produces. Electric eels produce high voltage shocks of up to 800 volts when they are stunning prey or trying to defend themselves. That means the tree is brightest when Miguel is eating.
Otherwise, eels produce shocks of around 10 volts in order to navigate and find prey despite their poor eyesight and the murky waters where they live, according to the aquarium.
During the rest of the year, the sensors in Miguel's tank are hooked up to an amplifier and LED meter to let visitors know when he is sparking. It wasn't difficult to hook the sensors up to a tree instead, and Hurt says they will bring the display back in future years.
"We want people to be interested in these animals and interested in protecting the waters that they live in," Hurt told NPR.
Electric eels aren't really eels. They are actually a kind of knifefish that live in the freshwater ponds and streams of the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America, according to National Geographic. A study published in September revealed that what scientists thought was one species of electric eel is actually three, highlighting the extensive biodiversity of the Amazon region.
The fish can grow to be more than eight feet and 44 pounds, according to National Geographic. It is rare that their shocks kill humans, but they have the capacity to: multiple shocks can cause respiratory or heart failure. Miguel's keepers wear gloves to keep themselves safe, the aquarium says.
The Tennessee Aquarium isn't the first to bring the Christmas spirit to their electric eel display. The Living Planet Aquarium in Utah had a similar display in 2012, according to The Smithsonian. And an eel in Japan lit up a Christmas tree in 2015, according to Today.
Bill Carnell, a Salt Lake City electrician who set up the Utah display, says that the attention electric eels generate can help raise awareness about alternative means of producing electricity.
"Researchers looking to the future are trying to find ways to generate electricity through some kind of a biological process, rather than combustion or some mechanical energy. When you get into the science of the eel and you find that its body is constructed of all these little tiny batteries, of sorts, that are powered biologically, that is where the real interest is," Carnell told The Smithsonian.
A typical adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. If you live in a megacity like Beijing, with many of those lungfuls you're likely to inhale a noxious mixture of chemicals and pollutants.
According to BreatheLife, the air in the Chinese capital is 7.2 times above safe pollution levels, based on guidelines set out by the World Health Organization.
For expectant mothers, that means an increase in the risk of "silent" miscarriages, suggests a new large-scale study published in Nature Sustainability.
Air pollution is already known to raise the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and life-threatening health complications for pregnant women, like preeclampsia, which is marked by high blood pressure, or gestational hypertension.
But its impact on "silent" or missed miscarriages — where the fetus died or did not develop, but has not been physically miscarried — has been more difficult to establish.
A Toxic Link
A collaborative effort from 16 different authors at several universities in China, the study retrospectively examined the records of more than a quarter million pregnant women in Beijing from 2009 to 2017 in light of the womens' exposure to air pollution.
Among the women whose clinical records were studied, 17,497 — which is 6.8% — were found to have experienced these types of miscarriages.
The researchers found the probability of missed miscarriages increased with higher concentrations of air pollutants, taking into consideration different ages, occupations and air temperature.
Women who were older than 39 when they became pregnant, as well as farmers and blue-collar workers, had a higher risk of a missed miscarriage associated with air pollution, the authors said.
The authors defined "air pollution" as consisting of four pollutants: fine particulate matter (referred to as particulate matter 2.5 or PM 2.5), sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide, and calculated the levels based on historic data from Beijing's network of air monitoring systems.
As the authors point out, previous research had found that when pregnant women are exposed to air pollution over the long-term, pollutants are able to cross the maternal-fetal blood barrier and affect the fetus.
Ultrafine and Ultratoxic
Most human-made air pollutants are extremely small: Particulate matter is about the diameter of a hair, and ultrafine particulate matter is even smaller. It's so tiny, in fact, it can travel from the lungs into our blood and circulate in the brain.
The myriad harmful health effects of air pollution are well known and range from respiratory illnesses and children's cognitive decline to infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and dementia. Nearly one million children die every year from pneumonia and half of those deaths are linked to air pollution.
The Chinese study is not the first to have found a link between air pollution and miscarriages — in February 2019, a study conducted in Salt Lake City in the U.S., published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found a increase of 20 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic meter was associated with a 16% rise in the risk of miscarriage.
That study analyzed the records of around 1,300 women between 2007 and 2015 who presented to the emergency department after having miscarriages. It found the strongest link between air pollution and lost pregnancy was the level of nitrogen dioxide in the seven days preceding a miscarriage.
Five years ago, the Chinese government declared a somewhat controversial "war on pollution," but air pollution levels in many cities around the country are still extremely toxic.
With global greenhouse gas emissions showing no sign of slowing down, China is not the only country with an air pollution problem. The World Health Organization says 91% of the world's population now lives in cities where the air is toxic.
The authors of the study noted that they will need to do more research to understand how air pollution affects the fetus, including modeling a wide range of environmental conditions using more data sources, particularly to include land use and land cover.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.
The 56,000-year-old Lonar Crater Sanctuary Lake in the state of Maharashtra transformed from its usual blue-green to a reddish pink over the last few days, The Times of India reported Thursday. The lake, around 500 kilometers (approximately 311 miles) from Mumbai, is popular with tourists and scientists, and its transformation has sparked research and discussion.
"Sudden change in colour of water is strange. It might be because of microbial activities or could even be human interference. Research should be conducted before making any comments," Harish Malpani, who leads the microbiology department at RLT College of Science, Akola, told The Times of India.
From Green to Pink; Lonar Crater Lake has changed its colour. #LonarLake #LonarCrater #SaltWaterLake… https://t.co/4N558t8tXu— Maharashtra Tourism (@Maharashtra Tourism)1591800883.0
The lake was formed around 56,000 years ago when a meteor struck the basalt rock of the Deccan Plateau. It is the world's largest basaltic impact crater and the third largest crater of any kind formed less than a million years ago, according to The Weather Channel India.
The lake also has unique salt and alkaline properties that could be behind the color change, Times of India explained. These factors encourage the growth of a kind of bacteria called Halobacteriaceae, which produce a red pigment that converts sunlight into energy.
While the lake has turned reddish before, this year's transformation is especially dramatic.
"It's looking particularly red this year because this year the water's salinity has increased," local geologist Gajanan Kharat explained in a video posted on Maharashtra Tourism's Twitter feed, as CNN reported. "The amount of water in the lake has reduced and the lake has become shallower, so the salinity has gone up and caused some internal changes."
Here is a video by Mr.Gajanan Kharat, Geologist, explaining to us why the colour of #LonarCrater Lake has changed.… https://t.co/qMhQ4Q4QSd— Maharashtra Tourism (@Maharashtra Tourism)1591865820.0
Kharat also said the lake had gotten warmer, leading to an algae bloom.
"This algae turns reddish in warmer temperatures and hence the lake turned pink overnight," Kharat said further, according to AFP.
The exact cause of the color change will be determined by water samples sent in for testing by the state's forest department.
Another possibility is that lockdown measures implemented to control the spread of the new coronavirus, which returned blue skies and clean air to highly polluted Indian cities, could also be behind the lake's color change.
"There wasn't much human activity due to lockdown which could also have accelerated the change," Maharashtra's Babasaheb Ambedkar University Geography Department head Madan Suryavashi told AFP. "But we will only know the exact causes once our scientific analysis is complete in a few days."
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By Emily Long
Electric vehicles (EVs) are getting cheaper — so whether you're looking for a way to save on the hassle and cost of gas, shrink your carbon footprint, or simply zip around in a new Tesla, there are lots of reasons to consider a hybrid or electric car.
But before you go electric, there are a few decisions you have to make — and some planning you need to do — to make sure the car you buy fits your driving needs. Here are a few things to consider before you make the switch.
Decide Whether to Go With a Plug-In Hybrid or Full EV
While a conventional hybrid (HEV) relies on its gasoline engine and a small battery to work in tandem, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can operate on its battery alone — and burn no fuel — for a limited number of miles before the engine starts up to help.
If you never plug your PHEV in, it'll act just like a regular hybrid with the engine and battery trading off. So while you can charge your plug-in hybrid to get the benefits of battery-only driving over a short distance, you don't have to.
A full EV, on the other hand, relies solely on its battery for power — which means it has to be charged regularly.
Calculate Your Costs
There are a few elements to comparing the cost of an EV versus a conventional car. One is the cost to drive your vehicle off the lot. EVs are still more expensive up front: $55,600 compared to an industry median of $36,600. The median cost of a PHEV is somewhere in the middle (around $46,000).
If you install Level 2 home charging equipment, that'll add to your upfront cost (more on that in a minute).
But the real difference is in long-term costs, which vary widely based on factors like the car make and model; gas and electricity prices where you live; when and where you charge your EV; maintenance costs; and how much you drive.
For example, it's likely that your energy costs will be lower with an EV (electricity) versus a conventional car (gas) and somewhere in the middle with a PHEV. Use a calculator (like the FuelEconomy.gov's Plug-in Hybrid tool and eGallon comparison) to get a ballpark figure.
Install a Charger at Home
Depending on where you live, you may be able to rely on public charging stations to keep your EV's battery full. But many electric car owners say that it's much easier and more convenient to install a charger at your home if you're able. Your vehicle is likely to spend the largest chunks of idle time parked in your garage or driveway, so if you can charge there you'll save yourself the hassle of waiting at a station.
If you live in an apartment or have to park on the street or in a public lot, you may be out of luck on this (unless you can convince your landlord or property manager to install charging equipment).
Setting up home charging is pretty straightforward. You can plug a Level 1 charger right into a standard 120V outlet, though this will juice up your vehicle very slowly (2–5 miles per hour, according to Energy Department estimates).
A Level 2 charger uses 240V, costs anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more to install, and works much faster — adding anywhere from about 10 to 20 (or more, for some models) miles of range per hour of charging. You can install this type of charger yourself or hire an electrician. Make sure you get the right parts for your vehicle. Tesla, for example, has a specific hardware and installation guide for its cars.
Take Advantage of Free Charging (and Downtime)
Charging at home will add a little bit to your electricity bill, and some charging stations do require you to pay for juicing up your EV. But there are lots of ways to charge for free.
For example, your office may provide charging stations for employees so you can leave your car plugged in for part of your workday. Some hotels, restaurants, and stores offer charging for patrons. You can also find nearby public charging stations that are free using maps like ChargePoint and PlugShare (which have filters for paid vs. free stations).
Note that public charging stations often have time limits (similar to parking restrictions). Make sure you check signage and observe any posted rules.
Plus, you can use any time you're not driving — and any location where you can plug into a 120V outlet — as an opportunity to charge (at your friends' homes, at your Airbnb, etc.).
Plan Your Driving Routes Ahead of Time
Your vehicle's range may be one of the biggest limitations to consider before you buy. Most EVs have a range of fewer than 300 miles, which makes longer trips difficult unless you can find charging stations along the way. PHEVs have very short driving ranges per charge — generally enough for commuting or running errands — but will switch to gas when needed.
Since there are far more gas stations than charging stations, driving a full EV over longer distances requires some planning. Google Maps shows you nearby stations and what kind of equipment is available if you search "EV Charging" or "EV Charging Stations." Apps like ChargeHub and PlugShare offer similar mapping features.
Depending on where and how much you drive, an EV's range may be plenty. But if you travel a lot, you may end up frustrated with charging stops and route planning if an EV is your only option. If charging stations are few and far between, if there's a line of cars already waiting, or if you simply don't want to stop for longer than a lunch break, this could get really old, really fast.
A possible workaround: if you road trip less frequently, rent a car as needed for distances beyond your EV's range. Or go with a PHEV, which can switch to gas for longer journeys.
Use the Right Charging Equipment
If you have to charge your car away from home, make sure you use the right combination of charger and plug. Most vehicles have a standard J1772 port that connects with a Level 1 or Level 2 charging unit. Some cars can also connect to faster Level 3 charging equipment using one of a few different connectors (called CHAdeMO and SAE Combo).
Teslas can hook up to proprietary Supercharger stations, though Tesla also has J1772 and CHAdeMO adapters for stations outside of its network.
Your car's specs should outline which connectors and charging systems your EV can use (or it's something you'll learn on day one of ownership). It is possible that not every charging station you encounter will have fast charging options, but you should be able to connect to any Level 2 charger with or without a J1772 adapter.
Maintain Your Vehicle
EVs don't require regular oil changes like gas-powered cars. But that doesn't mean you can simply charge and go. You still have to attend to other standard-issue car maintenance tasks and regularly inflate and rotate your tires, change your wiper blades, and keep an eye on brake pads. Some EV drivers report that underinflated tires can significantly affect your car's range. Basically, maintenance matters.
But most EVs come with much less frequent maintenance checks than conventional cars (case in point: the Chevy Bolt has no scheduled maintenance outside of tire rotations every 7,500 miles, air filter changes every 22,500 miles, and coolant flushes every 150,000 miles). There may be some minimal maintenance required on batteries and electronics, and of course, things can unexpectedly go haywire.
By contrast, PHEVs will be on similar schedules to conventional cars because they still have gas engines and associated fluids.
Depending on your specific service needs, your neighborhood mechanic may not be equipped for the job (if specialty tools are required, for example). In that case, you may need to seek out a dealer who works on your EV model.
Prepare for Extreme Temperatures
EVs have some quirks in cold weather. All cars are slightly less efficient in the winter, but EVs lose some of their range (25 percent or more) because batteries are very sensitive to temperature. Plus, it takes energy to power climate control — whether you're running the heat or the air conditioning.
One way around this is to precondition your EV while it's plugged into your charger — this warms the car and the battery so stored energy goes toward powering your actual drive. It's similar to turning on your gas-powered car's heat before you actually need to get in and drive away, but with most EVs, you can turn on or schedule this function with a connected app. Heating both your battery and your EV's cabin ahead of time means you'll be warmer and your car will be more efficient despite the cold weather. You can also set preconditioning to work in the summer so your car is nice and cool for your commute.
With a PHEV, heat relies on the gas engine. If you want to stay on battery power, turn on your heated seats until you can't handle the cold and need to blast the heat.
Don’t Forget to Turn Your Car Off
EVs and PHEVs are generally a lot quieter than regular vehicles — which means it's easy to get out, shut the door, and forget that the car is running. Remember to turn it off before you walk away. While it's unlikely you'll come close to draining your battery before you return, you probably shouldn't get in the habit of leaving it on. You may have the option to enable an alarm that goes off when you've left your car running. Some EVs automatically shut off after a set amount of time — and Teslas turn off when you exit and close the door behind you.
Emily is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, UT.
This story originally appeared in Lifehacker. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
With social distancing as the new norm and spring break plans canceled, many families and people finding themselves temporarily out of work are looking for a getaway that is both beautiful and isolating. They have found the U.S. national parks open and ready to welcome them, which have parks staff worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, according to The Guardian.
Park workers have taken to social media to share photographs of crowded visitor centers and lines of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they wait to crowd onto shuttle buses, as The Guardian reported.
To take steps to minimize contact, some parks have started to close their visitor centers and have removed staff from the entrance gate where fees are collected, effectively making the park free to visitors. At Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the collection gate is unmanned and the park headquarters lobby is closed while the park remains open.
Following guidance from the @WhiteHouse, @CDCgov, & local & state authorities, the NPS is modifying operations, inc… https://t.co/XzFpQtLRTS— National Park Service (@National Park Service)1584469792.0
In Great Basin National Park, the visitor center is closed and cave tours are canceled, but park rangers are available to answer questions and distribute maps, according to the CBS Las Vegas affiliate.
In nearby Utah, local residents are visiting the national parks, making up for the absence of foreign visitors who have had their travel plans canceled by travel restrictions. However, some of the most popular attractions have been canceled, like the shuttle buses through Zion National Park, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Last week, the area around Zion actually saw an uptick in visitors. While the federal government is keeping national parks open, some local officials are trying to protect the people who live around the park. The Southeast Utah Health Department issued orders limiting tourist services to protect Moab, the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The health department ordered businesses where people gather to close and only offer curbside, "no contact," service. It also banned nonlocals from checking into hotels or camping outside the park, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
"Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community," Mayor Emily Niehaus said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "This is an urgent message to people considering travel to Moab."
Keep your paws clean. Wash often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and m… https://t.co/sPJxdY0qSH— National Park Service (@National Park Service)1584459285.0
In the Grand Canyon, private companies are taking matters into their own hands. We proactively canceled all our trips," said Dave Logan, owner of Flagstaff, Arizona-based Four Season Guides, as The Guardian reported. "We decided to do it not only for the health of our guests but also for the health of our guides. We don't want them getting sick and then spreading the virus around in our community."
Some states are going the opposite way. New York, for example, which has declared a state of emergency, seems to be encouraging visits to state parks, keeping them open and waiving admissions fees in all state, local, and county parks, according to a statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The U.S. National Park system has actually closed a few parks, but only in dense cities. They include the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the National Mall in Washington, DC, and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York.
In an open letter released on Monday, an organization representing Park Service retirees called on the Department of the Interior to issue broader closures to protect the staff and the public, according to CNN.
In the letter, Chair Phil Francis of The Coalition to Protect America's Parks said that "to suggest to the public that gathering at national park sites is acceptable ... is irresponsible to the visiting public and employees," as CNN reported.
The findings are part of the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2019 report, released Wednesday, which found that the number of days of record-breaking levels of particulate matter, or soot, pollution increased in many cities, as did the number of days of unhealthy ozone pollution, or smog, since its last report. In total, more than 141 million Americans live in counties that have recorded unhealthy levels of air pollution.
NEW: The number of Americans living in counties with unhealthy air increased to more than 141 million— 7.2 million… https://t.co/wweuxMQ7Wm— American Lung Assoc. (@American Lung Assoc.)1556109302.0
"The 20th annual 'State of the Air' report shows clear evidence of a disturbing trend in our air quality after years of making progress: In many areas of the United States, the air quality is worsening, at least in part because of wildfires and weather patterns fueled by climate change," American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer said in an email. "This increase in unhealthy air is eye-opening, and points to the reality that the nation must do more to protect the public from serious, even life-threatening harm. There is no clearer sign that we are facing new challenges than air pollution levels that have broken records tracked for the past twenty years, and the fact that we had more days than ever before when monitored air quality reached hazardous levels for anyone to breathe."
The 141 million people exposed to unhealthy air over the last two years is still less than the 166 million exposed between 2012 and 2014, Time reported, indicating that progress has been made. But there are concerns that Trump administration attempts to rollback emissions standards for automakers and coal plants could increase pollution levels.
The fight between California and Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over auto standards is given new urgency by the report, which found that most of the nation's smoggiest cities are in the Golden State.
"California's air quality is worsening despite having the strongest environmental regulations in the nation," John Balmes of the University of California-San Francisco at a press conference reported by USA Today. This is because of the state's topography, rising population and sunny weather, but air pollution would be far worse in the state without its tough laws, the Lung Association said.
Find out the 5 most ozone-polluted cities in the U.S. in our new 2019 #StateOfTheAir report. https://t.co/7AHPDzbmLx https://t.co/HNGY8q4d8A— American Lung Assoc. (@American Lung Assoc.)1556111401.0
Overall, the nation's smoggiest cities are:
- Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
- Visalia, California
- Bakersfield, California
- Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
- Sacramento-Roseville, California
- San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, California
- Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
- San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
- Houston-The Woodlands, Texas
- New York-Newark, New York–New Jersey-Connecticut-Pennsylvania
The cities with the most year-round particulate matter pollution are:
- Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
- Bakersfield, California
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Visalia, California
- Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
- San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
- Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia
- El Centro, California
- Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio
- Medford-Grants Pass, Oregon
And the cities with the most short-term particulate matter pollution are:
- Bakersfield, California
- Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
- Missoula, Montana
- Yakima, Washington
- Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
- Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah
- Seattle-Tacoma, Washington
- Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia
On the other extreme, the report also accounted for the nation's cleanest cities. The report sets a high bar for cleanliness. Cities must have no high ozone days, no high particulate matter days and rank in the lowest 25 cities for year-round particulate matter between 2015 and 2017. Only six cities qualified.
Congratulations to the 6 cleanest cities for ozone and particle pollution. https://t.co/pGfKjCIzPQ #StateOfTheAir https://t.co/2z10snAs74— American Lung Assoc. (@American Lung Assoc.)1556114522.0
"Every American deserves to breathe healthy air that won't make them sick. The American Lung Association calls on the Administration and Congress to protect and prioritize Americans' health by taking urgent action to fight air pollution and address climate change," Wimmer said.
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This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation's archives.
As cold weather settles in across North America, some communities have already started up their snowplows, while others keep watchful eyes on the forecast. Snow and ice can wreck travel plans, but they also play important ecological roles. And frozen water can take amazing forms. For days when all talk turns to winter weather, we spotlight these five stories from our archives.
1. The Strange Forms Water Can Take
Beyond snowflakes and icicles, frozen water can behave in surprising ways. For example, during very cold snaps, lakes can appear to steam like a sauna bath.
As Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Scott Denning explains, this happens because the liquid water in the lake can't be colder than the freezing point — about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As water evaporates from the relatively warm lake into the cold dry air, it condenses from vapor (gaseous water) to tiny droplets of water in the air, which look like steam.
When it gets extremely cold, ice can form on the ocean's surface. Waves break it up, so the water starts to look like an undulating slurpee. "For anyone willing to brave the cold, it's wild to stand by the shore and watch the smoking slushy sea with its slow-motion surf," Denning writes.
2. How Road Salt Tames Ice
When a big storm is forecast, utility trucks often will head out to pre-treat streets and highways, typically spraying rock salt or saltwater solutions. But contrary to popular belief, salt doesn't melt ice.
Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but mixing it with salt lowers its freezing point. "The salt impedes the ability of the water molecules to form solid ice crystals," explains Julie Pollock, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond. "The degree of freezing point depression depends on how salty the solution is." When dry salt is spread on ice, it relies on the sun or the friction of car tires to melt the ice, then keeps it from re-freezing.
Pulses of salt can harm plants, water bodies and aquatic organisms when it washes off of roads — especially during spring runoff, which can carry huge doses. Researchers are working to find more benign options, and are currently studying additives including molasses and beet juice.
3. Why Trees Need Snow
Snow may seem like nothing but trouble, especially if you have to shovel it. But it's also a valuable resource. In the Northeast, environmental scientists Andrew Reinmann and Pamela Templer have found that winter snow cover acts like a blanket, protecting tree roots and soil organisms from the cold.
In experimental forest plots where Reinmann and Templer removed snow from the ground, they have observed that
"…frost penetrates a foot or more down into the soil, while it rarely extends more than two inches deep in nearby reference plots with unaltered snowpack. And just as freeze-thaw cycles create potholes in city streets, soil freezing abrades and kills tree roots and damages those that survive."
Climate change is shortening northeast winters and decreasing snowfall, with serious effects on forests. "Losing snowpack can reduce forest growth, carbon sequestration and nutrient retention, which will have important implications for climate change and air and water quality all year-round," Reinmann and Templer predict.
4. Frozen Reservoirs
Snow is even more valuable in western states, where many communities get large shares of their drinking water from snowpack that lingers at high altitudes well into the warm months. Here, too, warming winters mean less snow, and scientists are already observing "snow droughts."
Adrienne Marshall a research fellow studying hydrology and climate change at the University of Idaho, defines a snow drought as a year with snowpack so low that historically it would only happen once every four years or less.
"Today, back-to-back snow droughts in the western U.S. occur around 7% of the time," she writes. "By mid-century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, our results predict that multiyear snow droughts will occur in 42% of years on average."
Snowpack is also melting earlier in the spring, which means less water is available in summer. These changes are affecting cities, farms, forests, wildlife and the outdoor recreation industry across the West year-round.
Today’s #snowpack on Montgomery Pk in northern White Mtns CA, seen from down in Benton Valley. Very good snow for J… https://t.co/PrFvN50V7G— Laura Cunningham (@Laura Cunningham)1559786481.0
5. Can We Make It Snow?
If nature doesn't deliver as much snow as we need, what about helping it along? Many western states and agencies have tried to do just that for years by cloud-seeding — adding particles to the atmosphere that are thought to serve as artificial ice crystals, promoting the formation of snow.
There's just one hitch: No one has proved it actually works. Nonetheless, "Western states need water, and many decision-makers believe that cloud seeding can be a cost-effective way to produce it," write atmospheric scientists Jeffrey French and Sarah Tessendorf.
In a 2018 study, French, Tessendorf and colleagues used new computer modeling tools and advanced radar to see whether they could detect ice crystals forming on silver iodide particles injected into clouds. They hung imaging probes from the wings of research planes, which flew in and out of the seeded areas of clouds. Sure enough, in those zones ice crystal formation increased by hundreds, leading to the formation of snow. No such results occurred in non-seeded regions.
More research is needed to see whether cloud seeding can change water balances over large areas. And ultimately, even if that proves to be true, another question will remain: Whether it's worth the cost.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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- 'Snow Droughts' Increasing in the Western U.S. - EcoWatch ›
By Jeremy Deaton
A driver planning to make the trek from Denver to Salt Lake City can look forward to an eight-hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of the country, long stretches with nary a town in sight. The fastest route would take her along I-80 through southern Wyoming. For 300 miles between Laramie and Evanston, she would see, according to a rough estimate, no fewer than 40 gas stations where she could fuel up her car. But if she were driving an electric vehicle, she would see just four charging stations where she could recharge her battery.
The same holds true across the country. Gas stations outnumber public charging stations by around seven to one. It's no wonder people get so nervous about driving an electric car.
Numerous studies have shown that consumers steer clear of EVs because they worry about the lack of charging stations. Studies also show that consumers are more likely to buy an electric car when they see stations around town. While fears about range anxiety are largely unfounded — even the cheapest EVs sport enough range to serve nearly all of a driver's needs — the paucity of charging stations is a real concern on longer trips, and it is deterring consumers from going all-electric.
To be clear, it's not just consumers who want to see more chargers. Charging stations are a boon to automakers, who want to sell electric cars, as well as to power utilities, who want to sell more electricity. Some utilities and automakers are investing huge sums into setting up charging stations — including Volkswagen's commitment to spend $2 billion on EV charging infrastructure as part of their settlement over the diesel emissions scandal. But by and large, automakers and power companies are not putting a lot of money towards charging infrastructure.
"I think the biggest problem with charging stations is there is no one responsible for installing charging stations," said Nick Sifuentes, executive director at Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "So you see some automakers, like Tesla, installing charging stations. You see charging stations occasionally getting put out as part of a municipal planning process," he said, "but for the most part, there is no one entity or group that feels responsible for that duty."
Power utilities have a big interest in EVs. Despite continued economic growth, demand for electricity has stayed flat over the last decade, as businesses slash energy use and consumers switch to more power-thrifty appliances — LED light bulbs, flat-screen TVs, high-efficiency washers and dryers. EVs could drive up the demand for electricity, throwing a lifeline to power utilities. And yet, these companies largely aren't building charging stations.
"For power utilities, the question is whether they see it as something that's actually in their bailiwick or not," Sifuentes said. Policymakers have not directed utilities to build out EV infrastructure, and with so few electric cars on the road, utilities are unlikely to take it upon themselves to start building charging stations.
The Tesla Model 3.
"The problem is that the charging infrastructure doesn't have a viable business model yet," said David Greene, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee. "Although, there are some companies who are working on it really hard."
Private firms like EvBox and ChargePoint are looking to radically expand the number of available charging stations, but these plans depend on exponential growth in the sale of EVs. ChargePoint is looking to add 2.5 million charging stations to its global network of just 50,000, a goal it said is based on a "conservative view" of future EV sales. EvBox, meanwhile, is aiming for 1 million new charging stations. A spokesperson noted this target is "at least partly dependent on the number of electric vehicles on the road," though he was similarly bullish on the growth of EVs. Analysts expect EV sales to increase dramatically in the coming years, though major roadblocks stand in the way of future adoption.
Even if EV sales take off and charging stations proliferate, barriers will remain. Making EVs more viable means installing not just more chargers, but more fast chargers that allow drivers to take long journeys. The difference between a fast charger and a slow charger is the difference between a family stopping for coffee while they refuel their car and a family stopping overnight.
A Chargepoint electric vehicle charging station.
"It's 180 miles from Knoxville to Nashville. Supposedly there's a [direct current] fast charger at a Cracker Barrel in Cookville, which is almost exactly halfway, but it almost never works," Greene said. "The fact that the range is limited and the recharging time can be quite long if one does not have access to fast charging, that's another problem."
There is also the fact that the technology isn't standardized. Different cars use different plugs. Ford and GM use one kind. Tesla uses another. Fast charging requires a different kind altogether. So, while charging stations dot the country, not every station meets every driver's needs. Until manufacturers arrive at an industry standard — or policymakers mandate that standard —
"charging stations are going to need to have two or three different types of plugs, and people will need to be able to charge at different speeds because their car might not have a supercharger," Sifuentes said.
Sifuentes believes that policymakers have a key role to play in building out charging stations. "They have to actually put in place laws and incentives that encourage the development of the necessary infrastructure, and I think that takes place in two ways," he said. "One, encouraging utilities to do that. But also, I think we can't ignore the role that public transit plays here."
Different types of EV plugs.
New York City, he said, has pledged to switch to all-electric buses by 2040. "That means they're going to have to put some serious charging infrastructure in place," Sifuentes said. "If there's a charging location that has to be put in because buses need to charge there but that's available for private use as well, great."
In addition to building public charging infrastructure, governments can also encourage the development of private charging infrastructure. Policymakers in Iowa and Austin, Texas, for example, are working to lower barriers to setting up charging stations, allowing private firms, as opposed to power utilities, to resell electricity. "I think the other role that policymakers have to play here is they have to actually put in place laws and incentives that encourage the development of the necessary infrastructure," Sifuentes said.
In Norway, where EVs account for around a third of all new car sales, the government has gone a step further. The government is installing a fast charging station every 30 miles on main roads. EV drivers can get free charging at public stations in addition to free parking and free access to toll roads. Sifuentes said these kinds of policies are needed to spur the growth of EVs and support the installation of EV charging stations.
"We're absolutely on the tipping point," Sifeuntes said. "The more that we see EVs rolling out, the more and more it's going to look like the right move to be putting this infrastructure in place."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
An examination of monitoring data available for the first time concludes that 91 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants with monitoring data are contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants.
The study by the Environmental Integrity Project, with assistance from Earthjustice, used industry data that became available to the public for the first time in 2018 because of requirements in federal coal ash regulations issued in 2015.
The report found that found that the groundwater near 242 of the 265 power plants with monitoring data contained unsafe levels of one or more of the pollutants in coal ash, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, and lithium, which is associated with neurological damage, among other pollutants.
"At a time when the Trump EPA — now being run by a former coal lobbyist — is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction: toward stronger protections for human health and the environment," said Abel Russ, the lead author of the report and attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).
"This is a wake-up call for the nation," said Lisa Evans, senior counsel with Earthjustice. "Using industry's own data, our report proves that coal plants are poisoning groundwater nearly everywhere they operate. The Trump Administration insists on hurting communities across the U.S. by gutting federal protections. They are making a dire situation much worse."
The data came from more than 4,600 groundwater monitoring wells located around the ash dumps of 265 coal-fired power plants, which is roughly three quarters of the coal power plants across the U.S. The rest of the plants did not have to comply with the federal Coal Ash Rule's groundwater monitoring requirements last year, either because they closed their ash dumps before the rule went into effect in 2015, or because they were eligible for an extension.
EIP's analysis of the data found that a majority of the 265 coal plants have unsafe levels of at least four toxic constituents of coal ash in the underlying groundwater. Fifty-two percent had unsafe levels of arsenic, which can impair the brains of developing children and is known to cause cancer. Sixty percent of the plants have unsafe levels of lithium, a chemical associated with multiple health risks, including neurological damage.
Many of the coal ash waste ponds are poorly and unsafely designed, with less than 5 percent having waterproof liners to prevent contaminants from leaking into the groundwater, and 59 percent built beneath the water table or within five feet of it.
The report lists and ranks the sites across the U.S. with the worst groundwater contamination from coal ash. Below are the "Top 10" most contaminated sites, according to the monitoring data reported by power companies in 2018:
- Texas: An hour south of San Antonio, beside the San Miguel Power Plant, the groundwater beneath a family ranch is contaminated with at least 12 pollutants leaking from coal ash dumps, including cadmium (a probable carcinogen according to EPA) and lithium (which can cause nerve damage) at concentrations more than 100 times above safe levels.
- North Carolina: 12 miles west of Charlotte, at Duke Energy's Allen Steam Station in Belmont, the coal ash dumps were built beneath the water table and are leaking cobalt (which causes thyroid damage) into groundwater at concentrations more than 500 times above safe levels, along with unsafe levels of eight other pollutants.
- Wyoming: 180 miles west of Laramie, at PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger power plant in Point of Rocks, the groundwater has levels of lithium and selenium (which can be toxic to humans and lethal at low concentrations to fish) that exceed safe levels by more than 100 fold.
- Wyoming: At the Naughton power plant in southwest Wyoming, the groundwater has not only levels of lithium and selenium exceeding safe levels by more than 100 fold, but also arsenic at five times safe levels.
- Pennsylvania: An hour northwest of Pittsburgh, at the New Castle Generating Station, levels of arsenic in the groundwater near the plant's coal ash dump are at 372 times safe levels for drinking.
- Tennessee: Just southwest of Memphis near the Mississippi River, at the TVA Allen Fossil Plant, arsenic has leaked into the groundwater at 350 times safe levels and lead at four times safe levels. Recent studies show a direct connection between the contaminated shallow aquifer and the deeper Memphis aquifer, creating a threat to drinking water for thousands of people.
- Maryland: 19 miles southeast of Washington, DC, at the Brandywine landfill in Prince George's County, ash from three NRG coal plants has contaminated groundwater with unsafe levels of at least eight pollutants, including lithium at more than 200 times above safe levels, and molybdenum (which can damage the kidney and liver) at more than 100 times higher than safe levels. The contaminated groundwater at this site is now feeding into and polluting local streams.
- Utah: South of Salt Lake City, at the Hunter Power plant, the groundwater is contaminated with lithium at concentrations 228 times safe levels and cobalt at 26 times safe levels.
- Mississippi: North of Biloxi, at the R.D. Morrow Sr. Generating Station, the groundwater is contaminated with lithium at 193 times safe levels, molybdenum at 171 times safe levels, and arsenic at three times safe levels.
- Kentucky: At the Ghent Generating Station northeast of Louisville, lithium is in the groundwater at 154 times safe levels and radium at 31 times safe levels.
The researchers of this report could not determine the safety of drinking water near the coal ash dumps analyzed in this study because power companies are not required to test private drinking water wells.
However, the report contains examples of several well-documented instances of residential tap water contaminated by coal ash. For example:
- At the Colstrip Power Plant in Colstrip, Montana, unsafe levels of boron, sulfate and possibly other pollutants migrated into a residential neighborhood. The owners of the plant had to provide clean water, and settled a lawsuit with 57 local residents for $25 million in damages.
- At the Oak Creek Power Plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, contamination with elevated levels of molybdenum seeped from ash landfills into at least 33 nearby drinking water wells. Wisconsin Energy purchased at least 25 homes around the site and demolished several of them.
- At the Yorktown Power Station in Yorktown, Virginia, gravel pits were filled with fly ash, contaminating the water supply for 55 homes with arsenic, beryllium, chromium, manganese, selenium and other pollutants.
- At Battlefield Golf Course in Chesapeake, Virginia, about 25 drinking water wells had elevated levels of boron, manganese or thallium that may have leaked from coal ash used as a construction material beneath a golf course.
- At a coal ash landfill in Gambrills, Maryland, ash dumped in an old sand and gravel quarry caused unsafe levels of arsenic, beryllium, lithium and other pollutants in multiple residential wells. Constellation Energy settled a lawsuit with impacted residents for $54 million.
Additional examples of contamination of residential drinking water outlined in the report are in Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin and North Carolina.
"This report is yet another example of why we must require full cleanup of these unlined and leaking coal ash pits," said Amy Brown, a resident of Belmont, North Carolina, who lives near coal ash waste sites of the Duke Energy Allen Steam Station.
"The findings of this report are disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising," said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director for Clean Water Action. "For decades, coal utilities have been dumping their toxic waste in primitive pits — often unlined, unstable and near groundwater — while state and federal regulators have mostly looked the other way. These dangerous coal ash ponds should have been closed and cleaned up years ago."
The report details steps that EPA should take to more effectively protect public health and the environment from coal ash pollution. A more successful regulatory program would: regulate all coal ash dumps, including those that are inactive; require the excavation of dumps within five feet of the water table; require more monitoring, especially of nearby residential wells and surface water; and mandate more transparency and public reporting.
New Report Reveals Severe #Groundwater Contamination at Illinois #CoalAsh Dumps https://t.co/kAM9ixJyRk @BeyondCoal @Coal_Ash— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543788038.0
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