The Trump administration said Tuesday that federal protection for monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act is still a few years away. The reason? The administration cited 161 vulnerable species that are already waiting in line ahead of monarchs.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
An herbicide commonly used in corn and sorghum fields to kill grasses and weeds is being reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency as being harmful to endangered species, according to a biological evaluation draft currently open for public comment.
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For decades, Burt's Bees has been one of the leading names in cosmetic and skincare products developed with sustainability in mind. Not only do they create high-quality products from natural ingredients, but they're attentive to the ways in which their production, packaging, and distribution methods impact the world around them. For those who value environmental stewardship and wise corporate citizenship, Burt's Bees is iconic.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the company expanded its all-natural skincare and cosmetic line to include products that harness the potent, holistic effects of CBD. In this post, we'll offer a quick guide to the products included in the new Burt's Bees CBD line, as well as some further comments about the company as a whole.
By Matthew R Sanderson, Burke Griggs and Jacob A. Miller
A slow-moving crisis threatens the U.S. Central Plains, which grow a quarter of the nation's crops. Underground, the region's lifeblood – water – is disappearing, placing one of the world's major food-producing regions at risk.
Changes in Ogallala water levels from before the aquifer was tapped in the early 20th century to 2015. Gray indicates no significant change. Water levels have risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, but are mostly in decline. NCA 2018
A Production Treadmill<p>At first glance, farmers on the Plains appear to be doing well in 2020. Crop production increased this year. Corn, the largest crop in the U.S., had <a href="https://www.nass.usda.gov/Newsroom/2020/08-12-2020.php" target="_blank">a near-record year</a>, and farm incomes increased by <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/farm-sector-income-forecast" target="_blank">5.7% over 2019</a>.</p><p>But those figures hide massive government payments to farmers. Federal subsidies increased by <a href="https://www.agweb.com/article/usda-says-farm-income-increasing-gov-payments-are-record" target="_blank">a remarkable 65%</a> this year, totaling $37.2 billion. This sum includes money for <a href="https://theconversation.com/most-us-farmers-remain-loyal-to-trump-despite-pain-from-trade-wars-and-covid-19-146535" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lost exports from escalating trade wars, as well as COVID-19-related relief payments.</a> Corn prices were too low to cover the cost of growing it this year, with federal subsidies making up the difference.</p><p>Our research finds that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/socpro/spy011" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subsidies put farmers on a treadmill</a>, working harder to produce more while draining the resource that supports their livelihood. Government payments create a vicious cycle of overproduction that intensifies water use. Subsidies encourage farmers to expand and buy expensive equipment to irrigate larger areas.</p>
Irrigation pump in Haskell County, Kansas. Matthew Sanderson/Kansas State University, CC BY-ND<p>With <a href="https://www.agweb.com/markets/futures" target="_blank">low market prices for many crops</a>, production does not cover expenses on most farms. To stay afloat, many farmers buy or lease more acres. Growing larger amounts floods the market, further reducing crop prices and farm incomes. Subsidies support this cycle.</p><p>Few benefit, especially small and midsized operations. In a 2019 study of the region's 234 counties from 1980 to 2010, we found that larger irrigated acreage <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00390-9" target="_blank">failed to increase incomes or improve education or health outcomes</a> for residents.</p>
Focus on Policy, Not Farmers<p>Four decades of federal, state and local conservation efforts have mainly targeted individual farmers, providing ways for them to voluntarily <a href="https://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/managing-kansas-water-resources/wca" target="_blank">reduce water use</a> or <a href="https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/" target="_blank">adopt more water-efficient technologies</a>.</p><p>While these initiatives are important, they haven't stemmed the aquifer's decline. In our view, what the Ogallala Aquifer region really needs is policy change.</p><p>A lot can be done at the federal level, but the first principle should be "do no harm." Whenever federal agencies have <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1230/all-info" target="_blank">tried to regulate groundwater</a>, the backlash has been swift and intense, with farm states' congressional representatives <a href="https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2015-06-19/pdf/2015-15151.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repudiating federal jurisdiction over groundwater</a>.</p><p>Nor should Congress propose to eliminate agricultural subsidies, as some <a href="https://www.ewg.org/agmag/subsidies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">environmental organizations</a> and <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/five-reasons-repeal-farm-subsidies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">free-market advocates</a> have proposed. Given the thin margins of farming and longstanding political realities, federal support is simply part of modern production agriculture.</p><p>With these cautions in mind, three initiatives could help ease pressure on farmers to keep expanding production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's <a href="https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conservation Reserve Program</a> pays farmers to allow environmentally sensitive farmland to lie fallow for at least 10 years. With new provisions, the program could reduce water use by prohibiting expansion of irrigated acreage, permanently retiring marginal lands and linking subsidies to production of less water-intensive crops.</p><p>These initiatives could be implemented through the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/farmbill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">federal farm bill</a>, which also sets funding levels for nonfarm subsidies such as the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, or SNAP. SNAP payments, which increase needy families' food budgets, are an important tool for addressing poverty. Increasing these payments and adding financial assistance to local communities could offset lower tax revenues that result from from farming less acreage.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a68a352afef927017e5c51944388e7b"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHJsdtLZGoY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Amending <a href="https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/" target="_blank">federal farm credit rates</a> could also slow the treadmill. Generous terms promote borrowing for irrigation equipment; to pay that debt, borrowers farm more land. Offering lower rates for equipment that reduces water use and withholding loans for standard, wasteful equipment could nudge farmers toward conservation.</p><p>The most powerful tool is the tax code. Currently, farmers receive <a href="https://www.irs.gov/publications/p225#en_US_2020_publink1000218297" target="_blank">deductions for declining groundwater levels</a> and can write off depreciation on irrigation equipment. Replacing these perks with a tax credit for stabilizing groundwater and substituting a depreciation schedule favoring more efficient irrigation equipment could provide strong incentives to conserve water.</p>
Rewriting State Water Laws<p>Water rights are mostly determined by state law, so reforming state water policies is crucial. Case law demonstrates that simply owning water rights <a href="https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/224/107/" target="_blank">does not grant the legal right to waste water</a>. For more than a century courts have upheld state restrictions on waste, with <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/2d/3/489.html" target="_blank">rulings that allow for adaptation</a> by modifying the definitions of "beneficial use" and "waste" over time.</p><p>Using these precedents, state water agencies could designate thirsty crops, such as rice, cotton or corn, as wasteful in certain regions. Regulations preventing unreasonable water use <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2020/c085762.html" target="_blank">are not unconstitutional</a>.</p><p>Allowing farmers some flexibility will maximize profits, as long as they stabilize overall water use. If they irrigate less – or not at all – in years with low market prices, rules could allow more irrigation in better years. Ultimately, many farmers – and their bankers – are willing to exchange lower annual yields for a longer water supply.</p><p>As our research has shown, the vast majority of farmers in the region <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/gwat.12940" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">want to save groundwater</a>. They will need help from policymakers to do it. Forty years is long enough to learn that the Ogallala Aquifer's decline is not driven by weather or by individual farmers' preferences. Depletion is a structural problem embedded in agricultural policies. Groundwater depletion is a policy choice made by federal, state and local officials.</p>
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of products containing the weedkiller dicamba for use on cotton and soybeans Tuesday. The EPA announcement means that two products that contain the herbicide found to cause cancer can be registered for five years. It also extended the use of a third product that also has dicamba in it, according to The Hill.
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By Jennifer Ann Thomas
For the first time, researchers have developed a model capable of anticipating drought periods in the Amazon up to 18 months in advance. The study was conducted by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), in Germany, as part of the Tipping Points in the Earth System (TiPES) project, led by physicist Catrin Ciemer and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Average monthly sea surface temperature (in degrees Celsius, red scale) and average continental rainfall in South America (in millimeters/month, blue scale) from 1981 to 2016. Sea surface temperatures and precipitation are generally higher around the equator. On the left, the area where El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurs; dotted lines indicate the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in January and July, responsible for transporting heat and humidity from the oceans around the tropics.
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'Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution': New Paper Outlines Vision for Climate Action
By Andrea Germanos
A white paper out Friday declares that "there is hope right beneath our feet" to address the climate crisis as it touts regenerative agriculture as a "win-win-win" solution to tackling runaway carbon emissions.
Graph from Rodale Institute's new white paper "Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution."<p>The claim made in the new paper is bold: "Data from farming and grazing studies show the power of exemplary regenerative systems that, if achieved globally, would drawdown more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions.</p><p>"Regenerative agriculture, as the researchers describe, represents "a system of farming principles that rehabilitates the entire ecosystem and enhances natural resources, rather than depleting them."</p><p>In contrast to industrial practices dependent upon monocultures, extensive tillage, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, a regenerative approach uses, at minimum, seven practices which aim to boost biodiversity both above and underground and make possible carbon sequestration in soil.</p><ul><li>Diversifying crop rotations</li><li>Planting cover crops, green manures, and perennials</li><li>Retaining crop residues</li><li>Using natural sources of fertilizer, such as compost</li><li>Employing highly managed grazing and/or integrating crops and livestock</li><li>Reducing tillage frequency and depth</li><li>Eliminating synthetic chemicals</li></ul>
By Leanna First-Arai
In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.
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By Sean Taylor
MilkRun, a Portland, Oregon-based company, is supporting small, local farmers by enabling them to sell produce safely and directly to consumers' homes.
It's harvest time, and by eating what's in season locally, people can reduce the carbon pollution caused by trucking food long distances.
By Ray Levy-Uyeda
A farmer for most of his life, Sam Stewart bought farmland in Montana about 35 years ago. Since then, he's planted and harvested his wheat and other crops around 16 open oil wells on this land, which he estimates were dug in the 1920s.
Abandoned Wells<p>The first oil wells in Montana were drilled at the turn of the century, and the industry <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">experienced its first boom</a> in the 1920s. <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">Energy demands of World War II</a> spurred a second boom; between 1942 and 1945, <a href="https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6881&context=etd" target="_blank">oil production in the Elk Basin region</a> increased from 16,000 to 940,000 barrels annually. When those wells no longer produced oil, companies could just leave. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of Montana, tasked with identifying and plugging abandoned wells, wasn't created until 1954, and by that time an untold number of wells had already been drilled, produced, and abandoned. </p><p>As more companies moved into Montana, oil and gas production grew into an increasingly important part of local and state economies; by 2015, it<a href="https://montanapetroleum.org/about-us/economic-impact/" target="_blank"> made up 5.6%</a> of the state's general fund. But the industry that once was a cornerstone of Montana's economy is now in a nosedive: a yearslong decline in global oil production and demand compounded by the <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063049965" target="_blank">pandemic-induced economic slowdown</a> has produced some of the worst oil <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-07/oil-companies-warn-kansas-city-fed-of-widespread-insolvencies" target="_blank">production conditions in recent years</a>.</p><p>In 2016, the most recent year for which he was able to provide data, 4,713 oil and gas wells were in operation in the state and 204 had been abandoned, according to Allen Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of the businesses. But that's a <a href="https://montanapetroleum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/MPA-Booklet.pdf" target="_blank">fraction of the tens of thousands</a> that have been drilled in Montana in the past century. </p><p>Data on abandoned wells remain incomplete, which further complicates cleanup efforts. Plus, state legislatures have drastically different policies on how to address abandoned wells. One thing remains certain: The issue is enormous and far-reaching. A 2018 report from the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-06/documents/6.22.17_ghgi_stakeholder_workshop_2018_ghgi_revision_-_abandoned_wells.pdf" target="_blank">Environmental Protection Agency </a>estimated that the country has 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells. </p><p>Abandoned wells in Montana—left by companies that filed for bankruptcy, for example, default to the state. Theoretically, a state-run fund pays for well adoption and closure, but even under state control, the wells often lay unplugged, because plugging abandoned wells and restoring the surface land is expensive. Olson believes that the "state regulatory agency here is doing an excellent job staying on top" of plugging wells. But the <a href="http://www.mtrules.org/gateway/ruleno.asp?RN=36%2E22%2E1308" target="_blank">state's plugging plan</a> doesn't explicitly address the issue of abandoned oil wells, and also neglects to lay out a time-bound plan for plugging wells. </p><p>It's not just that states like Montana don't have a legislative apparatus to hold corporations accountable, says Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that pushes for corporate and government accountability. He says that the lack of governmental action is by design. When wells are abandoned, Jones says, "the costs of doing business are passed on to the public instead of being paid by the shareholders in the industry."</p>
A Boost or a Burden?<p>Kirk Panasuk, a lifelong Montanan, farmer, and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council's Oil and Gas Task Force, remembers growing up with oil wells on his grandparents' farm. Panasuk says "once you've leased the land you've lost control." An oil company would lease the mineral rights—not the surface land but the profitable oil below. That lease might expire, the company would leave, and another company would come in to start the process again.</p><p>Agriculture is a difficult industry, and Panasuk says what seems like "free money" at the outset can lead to problems down the road. Water systems are connected, which means that an oil leak in Montana has the potential to leach chemicals into bodies of water such as the Yellowstone River that flows into other states through the Missouri River, a <a href="https://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/" target="_blank">river crucial</a> to municipal, industrial, and agricultural function. </p><p>Panasuk now volunteers with the NPRC to lobby state legislators on practices that would hold resource extraction companies accountable by mandating water testing and treatment. He admits that he's made money off of these companies by leasing mineral rights to oil producers who then sell the oil at market. Despite the environmental fallout, Panasuk believes that oil companies' leasing of land actually "saved a lot of small farms from failure [and] bankruptcy."</p><p>Olson of the Montana Petroleum Association says that in 2019, when oil was $60 per barrel, a company might produce 100 barrels per day and pay a royalty fee of 12.5%, which could garner a farmer $750 per day for leasing their land. Today, with prices and production down, the payoffs look different. In April, oil prices went into the <a href="https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/oil-price-collapse-hits-billings-area-businesses-hard/article_df10e954-3e0c-5b6c-9641-135208d4ad2c.html" target="_blank">negative</a>, and in August, they're <a href="https://www.oilmonster.com/crude-oil-prices/central-montana-price/159/228" target="_blank">hovering around $30 per barrel</a>. </p><p>While an oil lease might benefit a farmer initially, Jones says that oil companies are well-versed in this practice. "The oil and gas industry takes advantage of the inequities in our agriculture system to prey upon farmers and get them to sign leases for drilling on their land," Jones says, which can "undermine agricultural activity that's taking place."</p><p>In other farming communities around the country, where oil and gas companies produce natural gas through <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/poor-communities-bear-greatest-burden-from-fracking/" target="_blank">hydraulic fracturing</a>, farmers and members of the local community often bear the brunt of water pollution. Not to mention that farming is dependent on a predictable and healthy climate, which is being threatened by resource extraction. </p>
A Foundation Is Formed<p>In early 2019, Curtis Shuck was in the northern town of Shelby, about 15 miles south of the Canadian border, meeting with farmers about agricultural transportation. More than three decades in the oil and gas industry hadn't prepared him for what he saw—abandoned, methane-leaking, unplugged oil wells.</p><p>He walked the area with the farmers and learned how they worked around the wells, most of which had stopped producing oil decades earlier. What was left were remnant pipes strewn across the fields and a sulfuric stench like rotten eggs. </p><p>On his journey home to Bozeman, Shuck couldn't stop thinking about what he had seen, knowing that each open well was responsible for tons of emissions. On that drive, the idea for the Well Done Foundation was born. </p><p>Just over a year after that first trip north, the Well Done Foundation plugged its first three wells and expanded beyond the Montana pilot program into dozens of other states. Shuck says that he hopes the foundation can also gather the concrete data that the government lacks, such as the number of orphaned wells and their emissions, which makes it difficult to develop solutions.</p><p>Shuck says he can acknowledge the state's shortcomings in their cleanup efforts while building relationships with those who make regulatory decisions. The "state fund is grossly underfunded," Shuck says, but "why should the public bear the burden of this orphaned well issue?"</p><p>The Well Done team identifies abandoned oil wells around the state, and then posts a financial bond to the state's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, a way for the state to track and partially fund the plugging. In doing so, the state is holding up its end of the bargain, but without this push from Well Done, it might take the state years to accomplish what the Foundation does in months. </p><p>The foundation researches individual well emissions for about nine months as well as studying the construction of a well, how deep it goes, and the materials that are required to plug it. Shuck says it's important that the foundation does its due diligence to identify wells that have collapsed in on themselves or have an obstruction that needs to be addressed before plugging. </p><p>Then the foundation works with county commissions, private entities, and those who own the surface land to develop and execute a "plugging plan," which so far has been funded by private or anonymous donors. The actual plugging of the well takes only a few days, and then the Foundation works to restore the surface land to its "pre-drilling condition," which allows a farmer to seed the land and grow crops. </p>
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By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
By Danielle Nierenberg and Maya Osman-Krinsky
In the United States, over 2,000 acres of agricultural land are sold every day for housing or commercial development, according to the American Farmland Trust. This has especially affected Black farmers who, since 1920, have seen nearly a 90 percent decline in land ownership, according to the U.S. Census.