By Kenny Stancil
The Center for Food Safety on Wednesday denounced the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arguing that Roundup should remain on U.S. shelves for an undisclosed period of time even after admitting that the Trump-era review of glyphosate — the key ingredient found in Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide — was flawed and requires a do-over.
In its federal court filing requesting to redo the Trump administration's faulty assessment of glyphosate, the EPA failed to provide a deadline for a new decision; instead, the agency maintained that Roundup — created by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired in 2018 by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer — should stay on the market in the meantime.
The EPA's request comes as it faces two lawsuits, including one brought by a coalition of farmworkers and environmentalists represented by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), that seek to reverse the Trump EPA's approval of glyphosate, a decision that was made despite evidence that the substance — described by the World Health Organization as "probably carcinogenic" — poses threats to human health and to pollinators such as bumblebees and monarch butterflies.
"Rather than defend its prior decision, at the 11th hour EPA is asking for a mulligan and indefinite delay, despite having previously spent far too long, over a decade, in re-assessing it," CFS legal director George Kimbrell said Wednesday in a statement. "Worse, EPA admits its approval risks harms to farmers and endangered species, but makes no effort to halt it."
According to CFS:
EPA is required by law to re-assess each pesticide every 15 years in a process known as registration review. EPA completed part of its registration review of glyphosate in 2020, designating it an "interim" decision because it had failed to assess glyphosate's impacts to endangered species, or complete other key assessments, such as glyphosate's potential to disrupt hormonal systems and harm pollinators. The 2020 interim decision represented EPA's first comprehensive assessment of the herbicide since 1993.
After the ongoing lawsuits and the agency's most recent biological evaluation identified the deleterious social and environmental impacts of glyphosate, the EPA "admits it can no longer affirm glyphosate's putative benefits outweigh its risks and costs, or that measures imposed to mitigate risks are at all effective," CFS noted.
EPA also bases its request to "re-do" the #glyphosate registration in part upon its *own* draft Biological Evaluati… https://t.co/Gn2ysV47jp— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1621451495.0
Some of the harmful effects of glyphosate, according to CFS, include a heightened risk of cancer among farmworkers and others who spray glyphosate-based herbicides or are nonetheless subjected to it as a result of "off-field drift." Moreover, farmers must contend with the development of glyphosate-resistant superweeds, the organization said.
In addition, CFS noted, because Roundup kills the milkweed on which monarch butterflies rely for survival, it poses a danger to the once-ubiquitous pollinators. And before it suggested that Roundup continue to be sold in the U.S. for an unspecified period of time, the EPA found that the herbicide is likely to adversely affect 93% of exposed species under the Endangered Species Act as well as 96% of their critical habitats.
In his statement, Kimbrell said that "we will ask the court to deny this extraordinary request to paper over glyphosate's ecological harms only to approve it anyway down the road."
"Time to face the music, not run and hide," he added.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jessica Corbett
As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.
"Today is a watershed moment in the history of the U.S. Department of the Interior," declared Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. "With Secretary Haaland's actions today, it's clear the Interior Department is now working for communities, science, and justice. We are grateful for her leadership and bold action to put people over polluters."
"Today's orders make certain that the Interior Department is no longer going to serve as a rubber-stamp for the coal and oil and gas industries," said Nichols. "Secretary Haaland's actions set the stage for deep reforms within the Interior Department to ensure the federal government gets out of the business of fossil fuels and into the business of confronting the climate crisis."
BREAKING: Interior Secretary Deb Haalaned just repealed Trump-era policies that prioritized Big Oil execs above com… https://t.co/m1d2uolRWV— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1618595500.0
Secretarial Order 3398 rescinds a dozen orders issued under the Trump administration which an Interior statement collectively described as "inconsistent with the department's commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science."
Specifically, she revoked: S.O. 3348; S.O. 3349; SO 3350; S.O. 3351; SO 3352; S.O. 3354; S.O. 3355; S.O. 3358; S.O. 3360; S.O. 3380; SO 3385; and SO 3389. Implemented throughout former President Donald Trump's term, they related to "American energy independence," the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, and leasing and permitting for energy projects, among other topics. With the order, Haaland reinstated the federal moratorium on coal leasing.
Haaland's other measure, Secretarial Order 3399, establishes a departmental Climate Task Force that will identify policies needed to tackle the climate emergency, support the use of the best available science on greenhouse gas emissions, implement the review and reconsideration of federal gas and oil leasing and permitting practices, identify actions needed to "address current and historic environmental injustice" as well as "foster economic revitalization of, and investment in, energy communities," and work with state, tribe, and local governments.
The department also noted that "the solicitor's office issued a withdrawal of M-37062, an opinion that concluded that the Interior secretary must promulgate a National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program consisting of a five-year lease schedule with at least two lease sales during the five-year plan," which allows DOI "to evaluate its obligations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act."
Today, @SecHaaland revoked a dozen pro-Big Oil and anti-environment orders from the Trump administration. Little by… https://t.co/p0tHEciEct— Western Values Project (@Western Values Project)1618606421.0
Haaland — a former congresswoman and first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary whose confirmation was celebrated by climate campaigners, Indigenous leaders, and various progressive advocacy groups — said Friday that "from day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy, and address environmental justice."
"At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy, Haaland continued. "These steps will align the Interior Department with the president's priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution."
"I know that signing secretarial orders alone won't address the urgency of the climate crisis. But I'm hopeful that these steps will help make clear that we, as a department, have a mandate to act," she added. "With the vast experience, talent, and ingenuity of our public servants at the Department of the Interior, I'm optimistic about what we can accomplish together to care for our natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations."
Haaland's orders were welcomed by environmental and climate groups as well as other critics of fossil fuel development on public lands and in federal waters.
Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League, said the orders "are another important step toward restoring scientific integrity, meaningful public process, and the longstanding stewardship responsibilities for America's public lands and waters at the Department of Interior. This is the type of bold and visionary leadership we need if we're to effectively fight climate change, tackle the extinction crisis, and prioritize environmental justice and tribal consultation."
"We applaud the secretary's actions to ensure meaningful consultation and elevate strong science, especially around climate change, into decision-making across the department," Miller added. "And we thank the secretary for reversing the Trump administration's energy dominance agenda in the Arctic Ocean and the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, and look forward to working with her on a different management direction for the western Arctic that focuses on addressing the climate crisis and protecting its extraordinary wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and cultural values."
Environment America public lands campaign director Ellen Montgomery said that "Haaland is building on President Biden's strong start by restoring conservation as a priority for the Department of the Interior. Our public lands and waters should be protected for the sake of the wildlife and people who depend on them. They should not be mined and drilled to extract fossil fuels — an antiquated 20th-century pursuit that pollutes our air and makes climate change worse."
"The Interior Department is in a powerful position to drive bold action for the climate in the United States," said Nichols of WildEarth Guardians. "Haaland's actions today confirm that President Biden and his administration are seizing the opportunity to rein in fossil fuels and make climate action and climate justice a reality."
"We can't have fossil fuels and a safe climate and today's orders take a major step forward in acknowledging and acting upon this reality," he said. "If we truly have any chance of protecting peoples' health, advancing economic prosperity, and achieving environmental justice, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.
So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.
While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.
In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.
Solar Roadways: The Original Concept
Solar roadways are complex in execution, but in concept, they're as simple as they sound. They're roads "paved" with extremely strong solar panels that are covered in glass that can withstand environmental stressors and the weight of vehicles driving over them on a consistent basis.
The idea was something that got people really excited when the initial Solar Roadways, Inc. project (which is still seeking funding) burst onto the scene in 2014:
More advanced designs included solar roadways outfitted with LED lights that could be used to illuminate lane lines, communicate to drivers and more. Other iterations included weight sensors that would detect when obstructions were on the road or could alert homeowners if unexpected vehicles were approaching their driveway. Embedding these kinds of technology into the solar roadways renderings only added to their appeal and the initial hype around the concept.
Key Selling Points of Solar Roadways
Early innovators of solar roadways touted the numerous benefits of their ideas. These included:
- Sunlight shines down on roads at no cost, making the energy not only readily available, but also free (aside from installation and maintenance).
- The ability to power street lights with solar roadways eliminated the need to pull extra energy from the grid.
- Having electronics embedded into the roadway opened up a world of possibilities for communicating with drivers in ways that didn't require painting and repainting of roads.
- The ingenuity to attach weight sensors on the solar panels could be used to alert drivers about potential obstructions, such as animals, disabled vehicles or rocks on the road.
- In a future of electric vehicles, the possibilities were seen as even more beneficial, as solar roadways could be used to power electric vehicle charging stations or to charge the cars while they're driving.
While some early thinkers may also have envisioned these roadways sending solar energy to the local power grid, the most impactful way solar roadways could utilize the energy they generated is right around the road itself: lighting street lights, heating mechanisms to melt snow on the roadway, or powering small emergency equipment on road shoulders.
Using the energy for on-road applications would mean that the power didn't have to be sent long distances before being used, which results in energy loss. However, in more rural or remote locations, having the solar roadway energy available for nearby homes and businesses could be a huge benefit, especially if there's an outage in the overall grid.
Why Solar Roadway Tests Have Failed
To much of the general public — and especially to people who weren't well versed in the intricacies of solar panels or road structures — solar roadways seemed like a slam-dunk solution that both looked futuristic and had benefits that went far beyond electricity generation. It was the kind of innovation that had people exclaiming: "How has no one done this yet?!" But in reality, the execution of solar roadways was much more complex than the idea.
Here are a few reasons solar roadway tests have failed:
Cost of Manufacturing and Maintenance
The cost of the energy from the sun may be free, but the investment to install and maintain the solar roadways was undeniably prohibitive. The reason asphalt is used by default to pave roadways is because it is immensely affordable and low-maintenance, which is especially critical on vast, expansive roadways and interstates.
In 2010, Scott Brusaw, co-founder of Solar Roadways, Inc., estimated a square foot of solar roadway would cost about $70. However, when the first solar roadway was built in France by a company called Colas, it measured 1 kilometer and cost $5.2 million to build — or about $1,585 per foot of roadway. Of course, this was a small iteration and bulk manufacturing would cost less, but either way, it's hard to believe the cost of a solar roadway would ever be competitive with the price of asphalt, which is about $3 to $15 per square foot.
Further, the cost and complexity to send a crew to repair individual panels that fail would far outweigh those to maintain asphalt. So, while one of the presumed benefits of solar roadways is the cost savings associated with self-generated energy, even back-of-the-envelope math highlights how the numbers would simply not add up to be more cost-effective in the long run.
Energy Required to Produce the Panels
Another limiting factor appears when considering the energy it takes to make asphalt versus high-durability glass and solar panels. Most asphalt used on roads today is a byproduct of distilling petroleum crude oil for products such as gasoline, which means it makes use of a substance that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
The solar roadway panels, although intended to save energy in the long run, take much more to produce. Typical rooftop solar panels can easily make up for the extra energy used in production because the glass doesn't need to withstand the weight of vehicles driving over them, but solar roadways have that added complexity.
Power Output of the Panels
When estimating power output, early optimists seemed to perform calculations based on the raw surface area they could cover — and not much else. However, beyond the stunted energy generation that any solar panels face on cloudy days or at night, solar roadways presented unique new performance challenges.
For example, vehicles constantly driving over solar roadways would interrupt sun exposure. Plus, they'd leave behind trails of fluid, dirt and dust that can dramatically reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Being installed on the ground is a challenge in itself because of how readily shade would find the roads; that's the reason you find most solar panels on rooftops or elevated off the ground and angled toward the sun.
Issues With Glass Roadways
Lastly, driving on glass surfaces is simply not what modern cars are designed to do. Asphalt and tires grip each other well, being particularly resilient in wet conditions. If the asphalt is replaced with glass — even the textured glass that's used for solar roadways — tire traction could be reduced dramatically. Wet or icy conditions could lead to catastrophic situations on solar roadways.
Could Recent Advances in Solar Technology Bring Solar Roadways Closer to Reality?
For all of these challenges and even more roadblocks that early solar roadway projects have run into in the past, the reality is that solar technology continues to improve. In the seven years since the first Solar Roadways, Inc. video went viral, solar panels have developed to be more durable, more cost-effective and more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. To put some numbers behind these trends:
- The average solar PV panel cost has dropped about 70% since 2014.
- In 2015, FirstSolar made news with panels that were 18.2% efficient. Today, the most advanced prototypes are able to exceed 45% efficiency.
- Total solar energy capacity in 2021 is nearly six times greater than in 2014, and with that explosion has come advances to flatten the learning curve and increase the general public's acceptance of the benefits of solar.
- Solar jobs have increased 167% in the last decade, giving the industry more capable workers able to take the reins of a solar roadway project and more professionals who know how to affordably install solar.
The question to ask is whether these advances are enough to bring solar roadways from failure to success.
Despite the improvements, many of the original challenges with solar roadways remain, and the scale of execution is immense. Even with decreasing solar PV costs, outfitting long stretches of roadway with such complex technologies will require tremendous capital.
Rather than a future where solar roadways cover the country from coast to coast, a more likely outcome is that these advances will bring solar roadways to viability in narrow, niche applications.
Just like tidal energy is a great opportunity for small coastal communities but can't be scaled to solve the energy crisis across the world, it's conceivable that limited-scope solar roadways could be constructed around the world. However, large-scale solar roadways may never be more than a pipe dream.
By Jake Johnson
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump's attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.
Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor's 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration's appeal.
"Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities," the court said in its order.
Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump's order, said in a statement that "we welcome today's decision and its confirmation of President Obama's legacy of ocean and climate protection."
"As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage," Grafe continued. "One obvious place for immediate action is America's Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws."
VICTORY: 9th Circuit ends fight over President Trump's illegal attempt to open up 128 million acres of Atlantic & A… https://t.co/TvYVt2F1jO— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice)1618347073.0
In January, Biden ordered a temporary pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, a decision environmentalists hailed as a positive step that should be made permanent.
"We call on President Biden to keep his promise: a full and complete ban on fracking and fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Full stop," Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones said at the time. "The climate crisis requires it and he promised it."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Wednesday it will remove more than 40 members of scientific advisory panels appointed under the previous administration in an effort to reduce the heavy influence of regulated industries over the regulatory process.
The Trump administration barred — illegally, according to critics — experts who received EPA grants from sitting on the agency's Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), in effect elevating industry-backed voices and freezing out independent scientific experts.
Trump's EPA refused to strengthen standards on ozone, which disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color, on the advice of Trump-picked members of the CASAC. The CASAC also split on strengthening limits on industrial soot (also known as PM2.5) pollution despite mounting evidence it increased the risk of dying from COVID-19. An EPA spokesperson said the dismissed Trump-appointed board members were eligible to reapply if they chose to do so.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, "Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment."
As reported by The Washington Post:
The action Wednesday is one of several steps Regan says are necessary to rebuild the scientific integrity of the EPA and restore staff morale. It comes as the White House this week launched a government-wide assessment of past political interference in science.
Regan recently, for instance, revived an EPA webpage on climate change deleted during Trump's first weeks in office. And in a memo to staff last week, he said the agency is reviewing policies that impeded science and is encouraging career employees to "bring any items of concern" to the attention of scientific integrity officials as they review Trump-era actions.
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In 2017 the Trump administration altered the interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) arguing that it only prohibited the direct hunting or killing of birds, not unintended deaths from wind turbines or oil spills, for example, EcoWatch reported at the time.
The change "overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity," Interior Spokesperson Tyler Cherry told The Associated Press.
Obama U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe warned that the change could lead to billions of bird deaths in subsequent decades, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Before Monday's reversal of this interpretation by Biden's Department of the Interior, the Trump ruling had already encountered legal challenges. In August, a New York federal judge deemed the new interpretation to be invalid.
"It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime," U.S. District Judge Valorie Caproni wrote in her decision. "That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence."
The Trump administration moved forward despite the decision, and finalized the rollback during its last weeks in power.
However, Biden's administration delayed the new rule from taking effect and reopened it for public comments, HuffPost reported. Now that it has been jettisoned, Cherry said a replacement rule would be forthcoming.
"The department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common-sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry," Cherry told Courthouse News Service.
The 1918 MBTA resulted from overhunting and poaching of migratory birds, The Associated Press reported. The policy makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, kill, capture or possess migratory birds or their parts without a permit, HuffPost explained. Since the 1970s, the act has also been used to penalize companies when their actions accidentally harm birds.
For example, the act helped win a $100 million settlement from BP after the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed about 100,000 birds, The Associated Press reported.
It's estimated that around 460 million to 1.4 billion birds die every year from human-made causes, including oil pits and glass buildings. Between 2010 and 2018, civil and criminal enforcement cases against companies led to $5.8 million in fines, excluding the BP settlement. However, most of those cases did not lead to criminal prosecutions since many companies were willing to implement bird protections.
While industry groups backed the Trump rollback, they also did not oppose the Biden reversal.
"We are committed to working with the Biden administration throughout their rulemaking process in support of policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty," Amy Emmert, American Petroleum Institute senior policy advisor, told Courthouse News Service.
Conservation groups said this general atmosphere of cooperation made the Trump rollback unwarranted.
"There really had been a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of consensus about what best management practices looked like for most major industries," Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president with the Audubon Society, told The Associated Press. "There was a lot of common ground, which is why the moves from the last administration were so unnecessary."
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By Andrea Germanos
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday brought back its climate change website — a resource the former Trump administration had yanked.
How it started. How it’s going. Climate science is back at the @EPA 👇 https://t.co/WuC789TKue https://t.co/IXCrji7Biw— Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (@Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)1616092616.0
"Climate facts are back on EPA's website where they should be," newly confirmed EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Thursday.
"Considering the urgency of this crisis, it's critical that Americans have access to information and resources so that we can all play a role in protecting our environment, our health, and vulnerable communities," Regan continued. "Trustworthy, science-based information is at the foundation of strong, achievable solutions."
New information on climate science and the crisis' impacts will soon be added to the website, the statement added.
In April of 2017 the Trump administration, with Scott Pruitt then at the helm of the EPA, rendered the agency's climate change site basically useless, with readers being redirected to a page that said, "This page is being updated." Any pretense of ongoing or pending updates, however, was dropped in 2018. The moves were seen as on-brand for an administration carrying out a war on science and pushing forth pro-fossil fuel policies.
The relaunching of the site was welcomed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said it was "back and better than ever!"
"The EPA is restoring science and reinstating its climate website, making it a priority as @EPAMichaelRegan leads the way in transitioning our nation to a clean energy economy," the group tweeted.
After 4 years of climate denial, the @EPA is restoring science at the agency! Step one: reinstating its climate web… https://t.co/qvuzVaflKb— AFGE Local 704 (@AFGE Local 704)1616094261.0
Progressive advocacy group Environment America said the "relaunch is a strong signal that the Biden administration will restore the role of science in protecting our communities and public health."
The move was also welcomed by climate action advocate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
"For the first time in 4 years, the @EPA is providing information on climate change through its website. The public now has access to data and science about this existential threat. I am glad to see the federal government back in the fight for our future," Inslee tweeted.
A similar message was fired off by Regan, who tweeted: "Climate change impacts all of us. You deserve access to science and data so we can find solutions together."
Regan, who'd been serving as the top environmental official in North Carolina, was confirmed as EPA administrator last week.
Donna Chavis, senior fossil fuel campaigner for Friends of the Earth and an elder of the Lumbee Nation, said at the time that "Regan and the EPA have a new opportunity to place environmental justice at the center of the agency and the United States' approach to the climate crisis."
Chavis also urged Regan to "take bold and visionary steps to rebuild the EPA and address the very real climate crisis we face in the U.S and globally. It is time we all do better."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Erin Baker and Matthew Lackner
The United States' offshore wind industry is tiny, with just seven wind turbines operating off Rhode Island and Virginia. The few attempts to build large-scale wind farms like Europe's have run into long delays, but that may be about to change.
On May 11, 2021, the U.S. government issued the final federal approval for the Vineyard Wind project, a utility-scale wind farm that has been over a decade in the planning. The wind farm's developers plan to install 62 giant turbines in the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with enough capacity to power 400,000 homes with clean energy.
The project is the first approved since the Biden administration announced a goal in March to develop 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity this decade and promised to accelerate the federal review process. To put that goal in perspective, the U.S. has just 42 megawatts today. Vineyard Wind expects to add 800 megawatts in 2023.
So, are we finally seeing the launch of a thriving offshore wind industry in North America?
The Conversation /CC-BY-ND. Global Wind Energy Council
Several wind farm developers already hold leases in prime locations off the Eastern Seaboard, suggesting plenty of interest.
As engineering professors leading the Energy Transition Initiative and Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, we have been closely watching the industry's challenges and progress. The process could move quickly once permitting and approvals are on track, but there are still obstacles.
Why Offshore Wind Plans Stalled Under Trump
Vineyard Wind had planned to begin construction in 2019, but a ruling by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under the Trump administration stalled it. The ruling cast a shadow over other wind farm plans and hopes for an U.S. offshore wind industry.
The agency ruled that the developers needed to address what is called "cumulative impacts" – what the East Coast will look like when there are not one or two, but 20 or 40 large-scale wind farms. That part of the U.S. coast is ideal for wind power because of its wide, shallow shelf and proximity to cities that are looking for renewable electricity to reduce their climate impact.
Developers already hold wind energy leases for several areas off the East Coast. BOEM
Many researchers studying offshore wind, including some of our colleagues, urge planners to take this perspective.
But thinking carefully about a far future with several wind farms does not justify blocking the first utility-scale wind farm now. That first large wind farm will be an opportunity to learn, including about how wind turbines will interact with marine ecosystems. Right now there is almost no data on the impacts of offshore wind on the region's marine wildlife. The knowledge gained will be invaluable in moving forward responsibly.
Is Fast-Tracking Federal Approvals Enough?
Speeding up federal approvals for offshore wind farms is an important first step, but those aren't the only hurdles for offshore wind farm developers.
A large number of state environmental and coastal agencies also must approve offshore wind farm plans, and the communities where cables come ashore have a say.
Many of the Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, have their own offshore wind energy goals, so they're likely to support wind farms. But some wealthy communities and the fishing industry have pushed back on wind power in the past. Vineyard Wind's developers worked with community groups and fishermen from the region and agreed to compensate them for potential revenue losses.
Vineyard Wind's location and cable plan. Vineyard Wind
The federal approval process, even fast-tracked, is also time-consuming. The government conducts reviews and requires site assessment plans, including geological, environmental and hazard surveys. From planning to construction, the entire process can take five to six years or more.
Is the U.S. Ready to Build Offshore Turbines?
Some other big questions revolve around construction.
Under a 1920 law known as the Jones Act, only U.S.-registered vessels operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents can move cargo between U.S. ports. In December 2020, Congress made clear that this law applies to wind turbine construction, too.
When companies build offshore wind turbines today, they use special vessels for the installation of the most common offshore turbine designs. The U.S. doesn't have any of these vessels yet, and the Jones Act makes it difficult to rely on vessels from Europe to do the job. There is promise, though: The first U.S.-made version of this vessel is being built in Texas right now. That's one – the country will need several to meet the new goal.
Vineyard Wind's plan uses one of the world's largest turbines, GE's Haliade-X, to reduce the number of turbines needed. Each has a capacity of 13 megawatts and blades the length of a football field.
A thriving wind power industry will also need ports for storing and deploying the long turbine blades, plus a trained workforce for construction and turbine maintenance.
A few coastal states have a head start on this. Massachusetts started laying the groundwork early and already has a port terminal in New Bedford to support the construction and deployment of future offshore wind projects. New Jersey recently announced a plan for a new offshore wind port that will start construction in 2022, and Delaware has been considering one.
States are also investing in training. New York state announced a $20 million offshore wind training institute in January 2021 with the goal of training 2,500 workers. The Biden administration envisions 44,000 people employed in offshore wind by 2030, and many more in communities connected to offshore wind power activity.
Costs and Benefits of Offshore Wind
In Europe, where many governments have reduced regulatory risks to the industry, the cost of offshore wind energy has come down much faster than experts expected, to around $50 per megawatt-hour. If the Biden administration's new approach allows U.S. wind farms to achieve costs like this, then offshore wind, with its proximity to large urban centers on the East Coast, will be competitive.
It's also important to recognize other benefits. Every year of delay for a large-scale wind farm costs the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in climate benefits. The Biden administration calculates that its new wind power goal would avoid 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, roughly equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road for a year.
Erin Baker is a professor of industrial engineering applied to energy policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Matthew Lackner is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Disclosure statement: Erin Baker receives funding from the National Science Foundation and Sloan Foundation. Matthew Lackner receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Brett Wilkins
Documents obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and published Wednesday reveal how leading players in the meatpacking industry—one of the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic—fought the minimal efforts imposed by the Trump administration to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in meat processing plants last spring.
As Public Citizen put it, "these docs are utterly damning."
Responding to Public Citizen's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the USDA handed over documents showing that:
- In April 2020, officials in the North American Meat Institute protested USDA's decision not to send Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors who were exposed to Covid-19 into other plants. On April 15, 2020, one NAMI official stated that "we can't start sidelining individuals at FSIS or in the industry because they may have been exposed. We all may have been exposed at this point";
- Later in April 2020, officials at the National Chicken Council complained to USDA that FSIS was asking too many questions about Covid-19 testing at poultry processing facilities, stating the "questions seem to be unnecessary."
- In May 2020, officials at animal processing giant Tyson Foods complained to USDA that the company had to "spend significant resources... each day when reporting positive team members."
- In March 2020, the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance developed guidance for industry members stating that, unless state or local governments required it, "physical (social) distancing should be a tool but not a requirement."
- Industry officials reported FSIS employees who warned their friends and families about plants with cases of Covid-19, specifically forwarding a personal Facebook post and asking USDA to take disciplinary action against the inspectors.
Adam Pulver, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a statement that "it is heartbreaking to see the callousness of the meatpacking industry, pushing back against basic safety measures that could have saved hundreds of lives and helped contain the Covid-19 pandemic."
BREAKING: New docs we uncovered show the meatpacking industry vehemently fought COVID safety measures, arguing that… https://t.co/HTeX4A9anG— Public Citizen (@Public Citizen)1614799740.0
"While we knew that meatpacking companies did not take adequate measures to protect their workers and the communities they lived in from the threat of Covid-19, these documents show that the industry actively pushed back against the few steps the Trump administration took to try to ensure the safety of meatpacking workers and federal inspectors," Pulver added.
As Public Citizen notes, at least 45,000 coronavirus cases and 240 Covid-19 deaths have been linked to U.S. meatpacking facilities.
In September 2020, Public Citizen and American Oversight published documents also obtained via FOIA requests that showed how the USDA and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the pandemic. The documents revealed that a leading meat industry lobby group drafted a proposed executive order that was strikingly similar to a directive issued a week later by then-President Donald Trump to keep meatpacking plants open against the orders of local health officials.
Last September's revelations were followed by a November scandal involving supervisors at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa who placed cash bets on how many workers at the facility would contract the coronavirus. More than 1,000 employees—over a third of the plant's workforce—were infected.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Tara Lohan
This holiday season just about everything was different. Vacations were postponed. Parties and family get-togethers were canceled or moved online as folks hunkered down at the request of public-health officials. But one thing continued as usual: President Trump's attacks on the environment.
In the weeks following the Nov. 3 election, Trump's team continued its unprecedented onslaught on environmental regulations, with nearly a dozen new rollbacks or threats to public health, wildlife, clean air, public lands and the climate.
As the New Year approached, the assaults didn't let up. Here are some of the most recent:
1. Cutting Disaster Funding
Despite a record-tying 16 weather and climate disasters topping $1 billion each this year in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency proposed a plan to curtail federal disaster aid.
It would affect wealthier states the most, requiring that they have higher levels of damage than less wealthy states to get federal assistance.
The proposal, announced on Dec. 14, "would be one of the most significant revisions of federal disaster policy in nearly a half-century and comes as states grapple with massive fiscal shortfalls due to the pandemic," E&E News reported.
The new rule is now open for public comments until Feb. 12 and would fall under the incoming Biden administration to move it forward — if it wishes.
2. Efficiency Rollbacks
The Department of Energy took two steps back on Dec. 15., finalizing new rules that ease efficiency requirements for some fixtures and appliances.
The move comes a year after Trump complained that showerheads don't have enough flow for him to wash his hair and toilets need to be flushed 10 or 15 times, which earned him a hearty amount of ridicule on social media.
But his new rules are no laughing matter when it comes to conservation and efficiency.
One of the rules would roll back a water-efficiency requirement for showerheads put in place by Congress in 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration. The other would allow for some new washers and dryers to use more water and energy.
Both would amount to more needlessly wasted energy, water and money.
3. No Help for Monarchs
Monarch butterflies on both the east and west coasts are in perilous decline, with populations falling 80% or more. So it made sense that on Dec. 15 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the butterflies were in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act. But the agency unfortunately decided those protections wouldn't be immediately forthcoming.
Monarchs were essentially told to get in line behind other species awaiting protection — and there are a lot of those these days. "The Trump administration has listed only 25 species — fewer than any since the [Endangered Species] act took effect in 1973," the AP reported. "The Obama administration added 360."
The current plan proposes delaying action to list monarchs until 2024, which would then be followed by another year of public comment and development of the final rule: time the species may not have.
In late December Trump issued dozens of pardons and commutations in what The Guardian called "another audacious application of presidential power to reward loyalists." The list included predictable names of political allies like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, but among them was a pardon for Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman.
Lyman has railed against the federal management of public lands and in 2015, when he was serving as a San Juan County commissioner, he led 50 all-terrain vehicles on a ride through Utah's Recapture Canyon. The area had been closed to motorized vehicle traffic to protect archeological sites. The illegal stunt earned him 5 days in jail and a $96,000 fine.
5. Airplane Emissions
On Dec. 28 the EPA finalized the first rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions from commercial airplanes. But hold your applause: The historic step isn't likely to amount to much.
The agency said that all the planes likely to be affected by the rule would be compliant by the date required, and therefore, EPA doesn't think there'll be any emission reductions associated with the greenhouse gas regulations or that they'll help spur technical improvements that wouldn't already have happened.
This "do-nothing rule," as environmental groups have dubbed it, may be hard for the Biden administration to quickly undo as the EPA has decided to forgo the usual 30-day waiting period between the publication of the final rule and its implementation.
"The agency has used the procedural tactic — which is legally allowed with 'good cause' — in recent weeks in an apparent effort to obstruct the incoming Biden administration," E&E News reported.
6. Endangered Species Act
The outgoing Trump administration took two more swings at the Endangered Species Act, which it has worked to undo in the last four years.
On Dec. 15 the administration finalized a rule that narrowed the definition of habitat to only areas that currently support a species. This would eliminate the government's ability to protect areas that could help support species in the future and areas previously occupied by the species. The move limits the tools available to protect endangered species, many of which have seen their historic range greatly diminished by development, agriculture and now climate change.
Two days later the Fish and Wildlife Service undermined the law again with a rule that lets money trump science. The change would allow the agency to omit areas from critical habitat designation if a review of the economic costs to industry outweigh the ecological benefits.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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"Today we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to the hard work of seeing this through."
By Jessica Corbett
Conservationists, local tribes, and commercial fishers celebrated on Thursday the Biden administration's move to permanently protect Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed from the proposed Pebble Mine and similarly destructive projects.
"Placing a massive mine at the headwaters of the world's greatest, most productive wild sockeye salmon fishery has been a terrible idea from the start," said Kristen Miller, acting executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, "and today's administrative decision and its commitment to following science and protecting clean water is directly attributable to the decadeslong, tribal-led effort to protect Bristol Bay."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the U.S. Department of Justice, in a legal filing, took aim at a decision under former President Donald Trump to strip protections from Bristol Bay.
If the United States District Court for Alaska agrees with the Biden administration, the EPA will be able to reinitiate the process of protecting the area — home to not only sockeye salmon but also copper and gold deposits — under the Clean Water Act.
"The Bristol Bay watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement.
"Today's announcement reinforces once again EPA's commitment to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment," Regan added. "What's at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America."
Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, agreed that the development was "a historic step forward in the long fight to protect Bristol Bay, our fishery, and our people."
"The 15 federally recognized tribes of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay who call this region home have worked for decades to protect our pristine watershed that sustains our sacred Indigenous way of life," Heyano explained. "Today, we applaud Administrator Regan for reinstating the process to consider protections for Bristol Bay and for respecting tribal sovereignty. The people of Bristol Bay are counting on the EPA to listen to the science and finish the job of protecting our lands and waters."
Biden's EPA restores protections to #BristolBay, recognizing its salmon as "essential to the livelihood and the com… https://t.co/W7geCgrf9M— Northwest Treaty Tribes (@Northwest Treaty Tribes)1631220425.0
Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, also welcomed the news, calling it a "pivotal moment" for commercial fishers in the region.
"Our decadeslong, locally led effort to permanently protect Bristol Bay, our thriving commercial fishery, and our communities from the Pebble Mine is finally back on track," Carscallen said. "While we are celebrating today, the last four years have taught us that Bristol Bay is not safe from the Pebble Mine until the EPA completes the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) process. The Biden administration has an opportunity and a responsibility to truly finish the job that the EPA started in 2014 and complete the 404(c) process so that Bristol Bay's fishermen, businesses, and communities can resume our lives free from the threat of the Pebble Mine."
Reporting on the Thursday filing, The New York Times explained:
The move will have little immediate effect because the Trump administration ultimately denied an essential permit for the project, known as Pebble Mine, in 2020. That happened after President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. and the Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, both of whom enjoyed hunting and fishing in the region, joined environmental activists and Native tribes to oppose the mine in an unlikely coalition.
But environmental activists noted that the decision to reject the permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is being appealed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the mine. The company wants to dig a pit, more than a mile square and one-third of a mile deep, to obtain the metals, estimated to be worth at least $300 billion. The project would include the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant and 165-mile natural gas pipeline, as well as an 82-mile road and large dammed ponds for the tailings—some of them toxic. It would also require dredging a port at Iliamna Bay.
Given the uncertainty due to ongoing litigation, as Common Dreams has previously reported, local and national campaigners have long called for permanent protections.
"The broad, locally driven coalition working to protect Bristol Bay has learned from experience how quickly political interference can unravel hard-earned progress," said Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks' Northwest program director. "Today we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to the hard work of seeing this through. The Biden administration has a responsibility to the people of Bristol Bay to finish the job of establishing permanent protections for the watershed and its salmon."
Today, we celebrate a significant victory in the fight to permanently protect #BristolBay, its economy, and its peo… https://t.co/g5ZCw58TMO— Stop Pebble Mine (@Stop Pebble Mine)1631208626.0
Environment America's Alaska organizer Dyani Chapman also emphasized the need to permanently protect Bristol Bay while praising the Biden administration's latest move.
"This decision will deliver a massive safeguard for salmon and the other wildlife that depend on the wetlands and streams in the area. With this action, the EPA will prevent what would have been catastrophic damage from one of the largest mining operations in the world," Chapman said. "We look forward to the Biden administration finalizing these protections so that the wildlife and communities near Bristol Bay can continue to safely enjoy clean water."
Noting that "Bristol Bay provides more than 50% of the global supply of sockeye salmon, is crucial to sustaining the region's Indigenous peoples, and is one of the premier destinations for sportsmen in the nation," Miller of Alaska Wilderness League declared that "it's time EPA vetoes the Pebble Mine once and for all."
U.S. lawmakers similarly praised the administration's action to protect the area from destructive mining.
I’m glad the Biden administration has taken this important step to secure permanent protection for this unparallele… https://t.co/YYZYbLEZQT— Governor Jay Inslee (@Governor Jay Inslee)1631210263.0
"I'm pleased to see the EPA take responsibility to restart a science-based protection process that was tossed out under the Trump administration," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). "There is no time to waste: The EPA must restart their Clean Water Act review to protect Bristol Bay now, before the whims of another nefarious administration derail the process again."
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also blasted the Pebble Mine proposal and expressed relief over EPA's decision.
"By restarting the Clean Water Act review, the EPA has the opportunity to save the Bristol Bay region from certain catastrophe and reverse the dangerous course set by the Trump administration, which ignored both science and common sense," he said. "I have no doubt that this review will reaffirm what we already know: Bristol Bay is no place for an open pit mine."
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called it an "excellent decision from the administration" before connecting it to a fight against a fossil fuel project in her state: "Now let's protect the Mighty Mississippi and the thousands and thousands of people whose lives depend on it by canceling Line 3."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
A new report by a commission of health experts found 22,000 deaths in 2019 were caused by Trump's failed environmental policies alone.
The report was published this week by The Lancet, an esteemed medical journal whose "wade into the politics behind health policy is highly unusual," Bloomberg Green reported. But while the journal's editor Richard Horton has faced controversy before, the study was co-authored by 33 scientists, signaling "a changing time," Gretchen Goldman, a research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg Green.
"If you told me four years ago that scientific journals would be speaking out against Trump, I wouldn't have believed you," Goldman told Bloomberg Green. "But since then, there has been quite a shift, reflecting both the severity of what Trump did as well as the changing willingness of the scientific community to engage in policy conversations."
During his administration, Trump rolled back 84 environmental regulations, the report notes as of July 2020 – rollbacks that ultimately "hastened global warming, and despoiled national monuments and lands sacred to Native people," the scientists wrote.
Loosened restrictions on fine particulate matter air pollution was probably the main cause of the thousands of deaths, according to the report, harming communities in midwestern and southern states, where coal mining, oil drilling and natural gas extraction are prevalent. Many of these same communities have also overwhelmingly supported Trump.
Trump's exploitation of these communities gripped white, low-income and middle-income people's anger over "their deteriorating life prospects," banking on racism and xenophobia to gather support for his policies, the report said. But the "disturbing truth" is that many of Trump's policies were not radically new trends in the country's economic, health and social-political history, the report finds.
The Trump administration's policies rather accelerated a "decades-long trend of lagging life expectancy," particularly among Black and Indigenous people, impacted by lax restrictions on air pollution which are linked to health issues like asthma and pneumonia among children, heart disease and lung cancer, the scientists wrote.
In addition to outlining Trump's environmental policy, the report includes lengthy sections on the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration and racial disparities in health care. "I really think one of the accomplishments of the report is its historical truth-telling," said Dr. Mary T Bassett, a commission member and director of Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, according to The Guardian.
The scientists in The Lancet report also recommend various policies the Biden administration could consider. They call for anti-racist frameworks that directly compensate communities who have long been disregarded in the country, and they call for the new administration to introduce measures that address the social and environmental inequalities that "exacerbate" health inequities.
So how quickly can we expect a new tide of equitable environmental policy in a new administration?
Americans should brace themselves because it may take a while, Kevin Minoli, who served as a lawyer at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, told The New York Times.
"It's very possible, more possible than not, that some of the Trump rules will still be in effect for a couple of years," he added.
With an entirely new administration, environmental policies could be designed to protect the communities it has long disadvantaged. Early decisions by the Biden administration to cancel the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and plans to restore protections over national monuments, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, are promising steps forward.
But reversing much of what has been done over the past four years is a big job. Going forward, the U.S. must do so with "humility, and ambition," said John Kerry, the new White House climate envoy, according to The New York Times. "We really don't have a minute to waste."
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By Tara Lohan
In the aftermath of the Nov. 3 election, President Donald Trump has tried every trick in the book to avoid facing the reality of his loss. A barrage of lawsuits accompanied by disinformation campaigns has attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
But a close look at regulatory actions and executive moves shows that, even as Trump makes a show of refusing to concede or transition power to the incoming Biden administration, his team is pushing through a slew of last-minute rules and regulations.
Many of these changes will harm the environment and public health.
It isn't surprising that an administration that has attempted to roll back more than 100 environmental protections in the past four years would step up its assault in its waning months. But that doesn't make the continued attacks any less important. Here's some of what's at risk:
1. Tribal Lands
Tribes and environmental groups have fought for decades against a proposed copper mine in an area of Arizona known as Oak Flat, which is a sacred site for a dozen tribes, including the San Carlos Apache.
Now the Trump administration is pushing to fast-track a deal that would transfer ownership of the land, which is in the Tonto National Forest, to Resolution Copper, a firm owned by mining companies Rio Tinto and Billiton BHP.
"Last month tribes discovered that the date for the completion of a crucial environmental review process has suddenly been moved forward by a full year, to December 2020, even as the tribes are struggling with a COVID outbreak that has stifled their ability to respond," an investigation by The Guardian found. "If the environmental review is completed before Trump leaves office, the tribes may be unable to stop the mine."
2. FERC Shakeup
Just days after the election, Trump switched up the leadership of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has a hand in regulating hydroelectric projects, as well as interstate transmission of electricity, oil and natural gas.
Chairman Neil Chatterjee was replaced by fellow Republican James Danly, who has a more conservative view on federal energy policy. Chatterjee, once known as a "coal guy," had recently advocated for policies supporting distributed energy and for regional grid operators to embrace carbon pricing as a market-based solution for addressing climate change.
3. Hamstringing LWCF
The Great American Outdoors Act, a major conservation bill signed into law in August, allocated $9.5 billion to help fix national park infrastructure and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
But despite (falsely) hailing himself as a conservation hero at the law's signing, Trump has already begun undermining the legislation's effectiveness. An order signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Nov. 9 allows state and local governments to veto any land or water acquisitions made through the fund.
Chris D'Angelo at HuffPost called the move a "parting gift to the anti-federal land movement." Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who advocated for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, wrote a letter to Bernhardt urging him to rescind the order. "This undercuts what a landowner can do with their own private property, and creates unnecessary, additional levels of bureaucracy that will hamstring future land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund," he wrote.
Senator Jon Tester at a press conference to discuss the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2018. Public domain
In another blow, officials and conservation groups in New Mexico were surprised to learn that none of their projects proposed to receive funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund were selected by the Department of the Interior. Some believe the move is political retribution for being critical of the Trump administration and its policies.
4. Dam Raising
On Nov. 20 the Trump administration finalized a plan to raise the height of Northern California's 600-foot Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet, which would allow for more water storage. The reservoir feeds the federally run Central Valley Project, which funnels water hundreds of miles south to cities and farms. That includes the politically connected Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley, which formerly employed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as a lawyer and lobbyist.
The state of California has strongly opposed the effort to raise the dam's height because it would flood the McCloud River, protected as wild and scenic. Conservation groups also say the plan would threaten endangered species such as Chinook salmon, delta smelt and Shasta salamanders.
California Rep. Jared Huffman called it the "QAnon of water projects, meaning it's laughably infeasible and just not real."
The staunchest opposition has come from the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lost 90% of its sacred sites with the construction of the dam and faces the loss of its remaining sites and burial grounds if the reservoir is expanded.
5. Pesticide Changes
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Nov. 20 it was taking away a tool states can use to control how pesticides are deployed. The action could further endanger farmworkers and wildlife.
A Section 24 provision of the Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act lets states set stricter restrictions on federally regulated pesticides in response to local needs and conditions. But after numerous states sought to limit the use of the weed killer dicamba, the agency will now no longer allow states to set more protective rules for any pesticides.
6. Migratory Birds
A gutting of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 took a big step forward at the end of November, clearing the way for the administration to finalize the rule change by the end of Trump's term.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement to redefine the scope of the law to no longer penalize the energy industry or developers for "incidentally" killing migratory birds.
Pied-billed grebe on an oil-covered evaporation pond at a commercial oilfield wastewater disposal facility. Pedro Ramirez Jr. / USFWS
The agency's own analysis found that the rule change would "likely result in increased bird mortality" because — without penalties — companies wouldn't take additional precautions to help make sure birds aren't killed by their operations.
That's already proving true. "Since the administration began pursuing its looser interpretation of the law in April 2018, hundreds of birds have perished without penalty, according to documents compiled by conservation groups this year," The Washington Post reported.
7. ANWR Auction
The Bureau of Land Management announced on Dec. 3 that oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would go on sale on Jan. 6, following a shortened time frame for the nomination and evaluation of potential tracts to be drilled.
"Once the sale is held, the bureau has to review and approve the leases, a process that typically takes months," The New York Times reported. "But holding the sale on Jan. 6 potentially gives the bureau opportunity to finalize the leases before Inauguration Day. That would make it more difficult for the Biden administration to undo them."
Despite the fact that the Trump administration is intent on opening the door to drilling in the 1.6 million-acre coastal plain — one of the wildest places left in the United States — it's still unclear how interested the oil industry will be. Or how readily they'll be able to finance their operations. All the major U.S. banks have said they'll no longer fund new oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
8. Dirty Air
One week into December, the administration finalized its decision declining to enact stricter standards for regulating industrial soot emissions.
This came despite the fact that the administration's own scientists found that maintaining the current limits on tiny particles, known as PM 2.5, results in tens of thousands of early deaths each year. And despite the fact Harvard researchers found that those who have lived for decades with high levels of PM 2.5 pollution are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19.
9. Border Wall
The incoming Biden administration has vowed to not build another foot of the border wall, but the borderlands ecosystem remains under threat as the Trump administration is continuing to push ahead.
In some cases wall builders are even attempting to speed up the work.
"That's happening from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to Arizona's stunning Coronado National Memorial and Guadalupe Canyon, a wildlife corridor for Mexican gray wolves and endangered jaguars," NPR reported. "At $41 million a mile, the Arizona sections are the most expensive projects of the entire border wall."
In Arizona they're needlessly razing vegetation and blasting mountains for roads in remote areas to help enable construction that likely won't even take place.
10. Harming Whales and Dolphins
Trump may be leaving office, but marine mammals won't be able to rest easy. NOAA Fisheries issued a rule on Dec. 9 allowing the oil and gas industry to harm Atlantic spotted dolphins, pygmy whales, dwarf sperm whales, Bryde's whales and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico while using seismic and acoustic mapping, including air guns, to gather data on resources on or below the ocean floor.
In an effort to further efforts for oil and gas drilling, nearly 200,000 beaked whales and more than 600,000 bottlenose dolphins could be "disturbed." And "pygmy and dwarf sperm whales are expected to be harassed to the point of potential injury, with a mean of 308 whales potentially harmed per year, according to the final rule," E&E News reported.
Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. Carey Akin / CC BY-SA 2.0
11. More Lease Sales
The Arctic isn't the only place where the rush is on to exploit public lands. On Dec. 9 the Bureau of Land Management updated an environmental assessment for a 2013 plan for leases to extract climate- and water-polluting tar sands on 2,100 acres in northeastern Utah. But then just days late it hit the pause button on the effort.
While that one may be on hold, the administration did kick off the sale of leases for oil drilling on 4,100 acres of federal land in California's Kern County on Dec. 10. The first such sale in the state in eight years could be canceled by the Biden administration and if not, would face legal challenges from environmental groups.
12. Cost-Benefit Rule
One of the administration's biggest parting gifts to industry — the "cost-benefit" rule — was finalized on Dec. 9. It would require the EPA to weigh the economic costs of air pollution regulations but not many of the health benefits that would arise from better protections.
"In other words, if reducing emissions from power plants also saves tens of thousands of lives each year by cutting soot, those 'co-benefits' should be not be counted," in the EPA's new analysis, The Washington Post explained.
The rule would be a big blow to efforts to improve public health and curb pollution.
"The only purpose in making this a regulation seems to be to provide a basis for future lawsuits to slow down or prevent future administrations from regulating," Roy Gamse, an economist and former EPA deputy assistant administrator for planning and evaluation, told Reuters.
Slowing down the Biden administration will continue to be a big part of Trump's last month in office — along with the finalization of more rule changes to add insult to injury.
Legal experts have begun mapping which rollbacks will be quick and easy to undo and those that will take sustained effort. But one thing is certain: There's a long road ahead to reverse dangerous regulations, restore scientific integrity and make up for lost ground on climate change, extinction and other cascading crises.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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