Trump Lifts Summer Ethanol Ban Meant to Prevent Smog
Just before the weekend, the Trump administration lifted a summertime ban on gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, the New York Times reported. The move, which is a boon to Midwest corn and soybean farmers hurt by both Trump's escalating trade war with China and catastrophic flooding, has made unlikely allies of the oil industry and environmental activists.
Currently, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, commonly known as E15, is banned during peak driving season from June 1 to Sept. 15. The ban exists because ethanol evaporates easily, especially in higher temperatures, which scientists say produces more nitrogen oxide. That pollutant increases ground-ozone concentrations, or smog, which is hazardous to respiratory health, according to Green Car Reports.
"We're doing this because it's a very important presidential priority," Bill Wehrum, who leads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) clean air office, said in a phone call with reporters, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
Wehrum deflected the ideas that the change came with environmental benefits. Instead, he noted that it would provide a "substantial additional market opportunity for ethanol producers," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The EPA's action, which drops rules and regulations imposed in 2011 to reduce smog, will face legal challenges from the oil industry and from environmental groups, claiming that the EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act, reports The Los Angeles Times.
"Allowing the year-round sale of E15 gasoline is both illegal under the Clean Air Act and will accelerate the destruction of wildlife habitat and pollution of our air, and drinking water," said Colin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement reported The Hill.
"Instead of undermining public health protections, the White House should focus on using the EPA's upcoming rewrite of the ethanol mandate to promote cleaner, more sustainable fuels that support the rural economy while also protecting our air, drinking water, and wildlife habitat," he said in his statement.
"Corn ethanol is not appreciably better and is potentially worse than gasoline," said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel with the Clean Air Task Force, to the Los Angeles Times. "The environmental effects of this rule are not a primary or even secondary concern, they just want to expand ethanol consumption."
Oil industry representatives point out that while the rule change may lower gas prices, its long-term effects are much more costly, since most cars are not equipped to burn E15 fuel.
"Extending this waiver is an anti-consumer policy that risks causing costly engine and fuel-system damage to nearly three out of four vehicles on the road today," said Frank Macchiarola, a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies, the New York Times reports. "This premature policy attempts to push E15 into the market before it is ready."
Green Car Reports suggests checking your owner's manual and the pump before refueling, lest you cause damage to your car's engine.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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