Carmakers speed toward electric future despite Trump rollback

Bloomberg reports:

The Trump administration wants to try to limit California’s special ability to require increasing purchase of electric vehicles in the state—but major automakers say they have no intention of reversing course on their electric vehicle plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are targeting California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set stricter tailpipe emissions limits and zero emission vehicle requirements than the federal government.

The agencies, as part of a larger Aug. 2 proposal to relax Obama-era fuel economy standards for passenger cars, argued federal regulators’ authority preempts the Golden State’s ability to go beyond federal requirements.

“By 2020, more than 15 percent of our U.S. lineup will consist of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell electric vehicles. And that’s regardless of what regulation does,” Fred Turatti, general manager of environmental regulation for Toyota, told a July 23 event hosted by the Energy Consumer Market Alignment Project, a recently launched energy policy nonprofit group.

Toyota isn’t an outlier. Other major automakers told Bloomberg Environment, or have said publicly, they will stay on track toward their electric vehicle plans.

And analysts say that is because China—and the rapid growth in the country’s electric vehicle market—is a larger and more long-term driver for U.S. and foreign automakers’ focus on electric vehicles, more so than stringent federal fuel economy regulations or state zero emission vehicle mandates. [Continue reading…]

Trump administration unveils its plan to relax car pollution rules

The New York Times reports:

The Trump administration on Thursday put forth its long-awaited proposal to freeze antipollution and fuel-efficiency standards for cars, significantly weakening one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to combat global warming.

The proposed new rules would also challenge the right of states, California in particular, to set their own, more stringent tailpipe pollution standards. That would set the stage for a legal clash that could ultimately split the nation’s auto market in two.

The administration’s plans immediately faced opposition from an unusual mix of critics — including not only environmentalists and consumer groups but auto-industry representatives as well as individual states — who are now launching efforts to change the plan before it is finalized. [Continue reading…]

Mexican president-elect vows to end use of fracking

The Associated Press reports:

Mexico’s president-elect said Tuesday that he will end fracking, the oil and gas extraction method that has just begun to take root in areas of the country’s north.

Asked about the potential risks of fracking at a news conference, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, “We will no longer use that method to extract petroleum.”

Mexico has a huge potential shale formation in the Burgos basin, similar to the Texas Eagle Ford fields.

But while a few wells have been drilled, the Mexican government has only recently scheduled bidding on opening some blocks for commercial development through fracking. [Continue reading…]

Global greening’ sounds good. In the long run, it’s terrible

Carl Zimmer writes:

“Global greening” sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and we are now emitting 40 billion tons of it into the atmosphere each year. A number of small studies have suggested that humans actually are contributing to an increase in photosynthesis across the globe.

Elliott Campbell, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleagues last year published a study that put a number to it. Their conclusion: plants are now converting 31 percent more carbon dioxide into organic matter than they were before the Industrial Revolution.

Climate change denialists were quick to jump on Dr. Campbell’s research as proof that increased carbon dioxide is making the world a better place.

“So-called carbon pollution has done much more to expand and invigorate the planet’s greenery than all the climate policies of all the world’s governments combined,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute declared shortly after the study came out.

“The best messages are positive: CO2 increases crop yields, the earth is greening,” wrote Joseph Bast, the chief executive officer of the Heartland Institute, in an October 2017 email obtained by EE News.

In June, Mr. Bast co-authored an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in which he cited Dr. Campbell’s work as evidence of the benefits of fossil fuels. Our unleashing of carbon dioxide contributes “to the greening of the Earth,” he said.

Recently I talked Dr. Campbell, and as it turns out, he feels people like Mr. Bast are drawing the wrong lessons from his research. Here are four reasons he believes nobody should be celebrating “global greening.” [Continue reading…]

Humanity consumes Earth’s resources in ever greater destructive volumes

The Guardian reports:

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days.

As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded.

To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt. [Continue reading…]

The Sierra Club declared war on Scott Pruitt — and won

Aaron Mak reports:

Of Scott Pruitt’s many bad weeks of press, the first week of June may have been his worst. Pruitt had been under scrutiny since his appointment as head of the Environmental Protection Agency for his close ties to the industries he was supposed to regulate. He had done little to quiet his skeptics. For the past few months, news stories had detailed his questionable interactions with energy lobbyists and exorbitant spending on air travel and security. By June, the stories had reached almost comical extremes. The heady week began when the Washington Post detailed his office’s purchase of a dozen fountain pens for $1,560. Three days later, the New York Times reported that he had directed an aide to acquire a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. The next day, the Post revealed that Pruitt had used his position to try to land his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.

Pruitt’s resignation on July 5 was the culmination of this relentless wave of scandals. (Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly called the agency to say it was time for Pruitt to go soon after a CNN story revealed that Pruitt had suggested to the president that he replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general.) Congressional investigators, whistleblowers, and reporters were all instrumental in unearthing the administrator’s ethical lapses and prompting his exit from office. But some of the wildest misconduct from the Pruitt era may never have made it into the public eye were it not for the Sierra Club, an advocacy organization that focuses on environmental policy.

Documents from the Sierra Club’s Freedom of Information Act requests led to stories about the used mattress and the Chick-fil-A franchise—likely violations of ethics rules stating that government officials cannot have staffers run personal errands for them or use their offices for personal gain. The club’s FOIA requests were what revealed that Pruitt’s top aide, Millan Hupp, had signed off on the purchase of the customized silver fountain pens and journals embossed with Pruitt’s signature, along with the total price of the order: $1,670. Hupp resigned on June 6, five days after the piece was published. [Continue reading…]

Support for the Endangered Species Act remains high as Trump administration and Congress try to gut it

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The endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
USFWS

By Jeremy T. Bruskotter, The Ohio State University; John A Vucetich, Michigan Technological University, and Ramiro Berardo, The Ohio State University

The Endangered Species Act, or “the Act,” is arguably the most important law in the United States for conserving biodiversity and arresting the extinction of species.

Congress passed the ESA in 1973 with strong bipartisan support (the House voted 355-4 in favor of the law) at the behest of a Republican president, Richard Nixon. Nixon had come to believe existing protections for threatened and endangered species were insufficient.

Since its passage, the Act has helped reverse and stop declines in numerous species – from bald eagles to Lake Erie watersnakes – and served as a model for similar laws around the world.

Nevertheless, criticism of the law has been a persistent feature of debates about whether and how to protect imperiled species. That criticism often comes from business and agricultural interests, who argue that the Act’s provisions excessively limit their ability to develop and manage private property.

Such criticisms led to a proposal by the Trump Administration this week to severely curtail the scope of the Act. And they have prompted recent congressional hearings and raised concern that support for the law may be waning.

We are ecologists and social scientists whose work often intersects with the Endangered Species Act. We wanted to know: Is public support for the Act declining? And if so, why?

[Read more…]

Fueled by climate change, wildfires erode air quality gains

E&E News reports:

Fourteen years ago, University of Washington researcher Daniel Jaffe installed an air pollution monitor on a mountainside outside Eugene, Ore.

His intention was to measure pollution levels, with a particular focus on tracking emissions from China that drift into the United States in the spring. But in recent years, the monitor has unexpectedly produced a second and more urgent data set: tracking fine particle pollution from wildfires in the western United States.

“We spend more of our time not worrying about what’s coming across the ocean but worrying about what’s coming here,” he said.

Climate change is not just increasing the likelihood of wildfires in some areas of the country; it’s also erasing decades of air pollution gains in those same regions, according to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows that wildfires are causing a spike in air pollution across the West. [Continue reading…]

Plastic doesn’t ever really disappear

Zoë Schlanger writes:

Since the end of World War II, plastics have proliferated, becoming a part of nearly everything we use in nearly every aspect of daily life. Yearly production has grown from 2 million metric tons of plastic in 1950 to 380 million metric tons in 2015.

In total, according to a paper published on July 19, 2017, in Science Advances, humans have made 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastics since 1950. And, thanks in large part to the global popularity of single-use plastic packaging, half that total was made in just the last decade.

The problem is plastic doesn’t ever really disappear—at least not on any timescale that would be relevant to humans. Recycling plastic helps some, but it doesn’t make it go away, it just delays the date at which it ultimately ends up in a landfill. So each year, the plastic we make piles onto the plastic we made the year before, and the year before that, and so on. [Continue reading…]

Orcas of the Pacific Northwest are starving and disappearing

The New York Times reports:

For the last three years, not one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales spouting geysers of mist off the coast in the Pacific Northwest.

Normally four or five calves would be born each year among this fairly unique urban population of whales — pods named J, K and L. But most recently, the number of orcas here has dwindled to just 75, a 30-year-low in what seems to be an inexorable, perplexing decline.

Listed as endangered since 2005, the orcas are essentially starving, as their primary prey, the Chinook, or king salmon, are dying off. Just last month, another one of the Southern Resident killer whales — one nicknamed “Crewser” that hadn’t been seen since last November — was presumed dead by the Center for Whale Research.

In March, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing state agencies to do more to protect the whales, and in May he convened the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, a group of state, tribal, provincial and federal officials, to devise ways to stem the loss of the beloved regional creature. “I believe we have orcas in our soul in this state,” he said. At another point, he wrote of the whales and Chinook salmon that “the impacts of letting these two species disappear would be felt for generations.”

The orcas are also facing a new threat. The recent agreement between the Canadian government and Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline would multiply oil tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat by seven times, according to some estimates, and expose them to excessive noise and potential spills. Construction is set to begin in August, despite opposition from Governor Inslee and many environmentalists. [Continue reading…]