Recent News

Queen bees less likely to lay eggs, start colony after insecticide exposure

‘If queens don’t produce eggs or start new colonies, it is possible that bumblebees could die out’: researcher

(Adam Wyld/Canadian Press)

Some queen bumblebees exposed to a common insecticide may never lay eggs or start colonies, which would lead to their extinction, researchers say.

The latest findings, published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, found exposure to thiamethoxam can substantially affect how many eggs are laid by queen bees.

A year ago, the same Canadian and British researchers showed queen bees were less likely to feed, and their eggs developed more slowly after just a two-week exposure to thiamethoxam, an insecticide in the neonicotinoid family.

The tests examined exposure amounts that would be similar to those sprayed on a farmers’ field. Bumblebees are important crop pollinators. 08-14-17

Read more at CBC News

Scott Pruitt Is Carrying Out His E.P.A. Agenda in Secret, Critics Say

When career employees of the Environmental Protection Agency are summoned to a meeting with the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, at agency headquarters, they no longer can count on easy access to the floor where his office is, according to interviews with employees of the federal agency.

Doors to the floor are now frequently locked, and employees have to have an escort to gain entrance.

Some employees say they are also told to leave behind their cellphones when they meet with Mr. Pruitt, and are sometimes told not to take notes.

Mr. Pruitt, according to the employees, who requested anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs, often makes important phone calls from other offices rather than use the phone in his office, and he is accompanied, even at E.P.A. headquarters, by armed guards, the first head of the agency to ever request round-the-clock security.

A former Oklahoma attorney general who built his career suing the E.P.A., and whose LinkedIn profile still describes him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” Mr. Pruitt has made it clear that he sees his mission to be dismantling the agency’s policies — and even portions of the institution itself.

But as he works to roll back regulations, close offices and eliminate staff at the agency charged with protecting the nation’s environment and public health, Mr. Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees. 08-11-17

Read more at The New York Times

America’s Most (and Least) Sustainable Cities, Ranked

When it comes to sustainability in urban centers, the West Coast is faring better than the rest of the country.

Facebook’s campus in California’s Bay Area. Noah Berger/Reuters

U.S. coastal cities are coming the closest to meeting sustainability goals set by the UN, according to the first analysis of 100 metropolitan cities by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). But no U.S. city has yet managed to reach a score of even half of what is necessary to satisfy the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Sustainable Development Goals Index measures how successfully cities are dealing with issues related to poverty, health, and equitable income distribution in addition to climate change objectives like cutting large carbon emissions. Jeff Sachs, Director of the SDSN, said the report—the first of many—creates “an accurate starting line” for cities in their “race to 2030 and a smart, fair, and sustainable future.”

The results show that within U.S. cities, economic circumstances and climate change measures are correlated: cities like Baton Rogue, Louisiana, and Detroit, Michigan, which scored the lowest on the index, had high levels of relative poverty and unemployment as well as higher emission rates. 08-10-17

Read more at Citylab

Drilling Opponents Dominate Public Hearing

This map shows all Atlantic seismic permit application areas, including those previously issued, pending and withdrawn. Map: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Gov. Roy Cooper’s message last month to Washington echoed throughout a state-hosted public hearing Monday night on the proposed federal offshore leasing program.

The North Carolina governor’s stern statement “not off our coast” or a variation thereof reverberated throughout the two-hour public hearing attended by about 175 people.

An overwhelming majority spoke in opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling, expressing concerns about how such activity would result in oil spills, destroy the coastal economy and irreparably harm the environment.

“I’ve heard the argument many times ‘let’s update the seismic geological and geophysical data because what we have is old and we don’t know what’s out there,’ ” said Hampstead resident Jack Spruill.

Standing at a podium at the front of a sprawling room in the New Hanover County Government Center, Spruill followed that statement with the adage, “You better not go a courtin’ if you’re not prepared to get married.”

“I’m concerned about all aspects of this issue,” he said.

The one facet he chose to focus on during his three-minute allotted time to speak was onshore infrastructure.

Spruill lived in southern Louisiana for eight years. He spent half of those years as a Navy Reserve officer attached to a destroyer based in New Orleans.

It was in The Big Easy where Spruill said he saw the onshore infrastructure that supported offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. 08-9-17

Read more at Coastal Review

Trump’s border wall would slice through wildlife refuges and cut off U.S. territory in Texas

Multiple layers of steel walls, fences, razor wire and other barricades separate the United States, left, and Mexico, near Tijuana. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images).

On dusty land in Mission, Tex., near the Mexican border, Marianna Trevino Wright recently took a walk with a contractor. She was showing off her effort to turn the earth surrounding the National Butterfly Center into “an oasis for butterflies,” she said — with 10,000 native milkweed plants that a dwindling number of monarch butterflies use as habitat in their arduous and yearly migration from Mexico and across the United States to Canada.

But the yellow that caught her eye that day wasn’t the fluttering wings of butterflies. It was heavy machinery that mows vegetation, said Wright, executive director of the butterfly reserve. And men were taking soil samples on the center’s property. “I said, ‘Hey guys what you’re doing?’ They said, ‘Working.’ I said, ‘On what?’ They said, ‘Clearing the land.’ I said, ‘You mean my land.’ They said, ‘We’re going to have to call our supervisor.’”

The Department of Homeland Security sought a waiver from environmental regulations this month to build a section of border wall near San Diego. But 1,500 miles away in Texas, the Trump administration is working on another section that could block migrating butterflies and cut across the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most treasured spots for birdwatching in the country and a “crown jewel” in the federal refuge system. Wright unknowingly walked right into that effort. 08-07-17

Read more at The Washington Post

Massive Crowd Marches to Give ‘KXL the Boot’

Pipeline Fighters from Nebraska and across the region marched through the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska Sunday—on the eve of a weeklong public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, where Nebraska farmers and ranchers, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Bold Alliance and other environmental and citizen advocates will present evidence on why TransCanada’s tar sands export pipeline is unnecessary and not in the public interest.

Pipeline opponents have vastly outnumbered proponents who showed up to testify at public meetings on Keystone XL held by the Public Service Commission in Norfolk, York, O’Neill and Omaha. Landowners and citizens have voiced concerns about the state authorizing the use of eminent domain for a foreign corporation to take their land for a private gain pipeline that threatens the Ogallala aquifer and fragile Nebraska farmland. 08-07-17

Read more at EcoWatch

Climate Change Is The Leading Cause Of Moose And Loon Population Decline In New Hampshire

Climate change, which causes rising temperatures, increasingly severe weather events, and shrinking habitats, negatively impacts the moose and loon populations of New Hampshire more than any other factors — including human interference from road construction or hunting and fishing practices.

That’s according to longtime wildlife observers, who joined The Exchange to deliver an update on these two beloved new Hampshire species.

In January, The Exchange explored the correlation between climate change and the decline of the moose population based on an ongoing four-year study with New Hampshire Fish and Game. In a follow-up, The Exchange checked in with Kristine Rines, the study’s project leader, Harry Vogel, of the Loon Preservation Committee, and David Patrick, of the Nature Conservancy.

“Moose are the canary in the coal mine; they are the species that is telling us climate change is real. It is happening here in the Granite State and it’s impacting our wildlife,” said Rines, who is moose project leader for the N.H. Fish and Game Department. “They are the precursor. They are telling us things are changing. And they’re changing fairly dramatically.” 08-01-17

Read more at New Hampshire Public Radio

This pipeline could jeopardize Washington’s water supply, environmentalists say

Sources: TransCanada, Mountaineer Gas Company, U.S. Geological Survey. Darla Cameron/Washington Post

The pipeline that TransCanada wants to build is short, 3.5 miles, cutting through the narrowest part of Maryland. It would duck briefly under the Potomac River at this 1,500-person town, bringing what business leaders say is much-needed natural gas to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

But environmentalists say that brief stretch could jeopardize the water supply for about 6 million people, including most of the Washington-metropolitan area.

That’s why dozens of protesters have gathered each weekend this summer at various points along the upper Potomac, part of a growing national movement that opposes both oil and natural gas pipelines and wants businesses and governments to embrace green energy instead.

Inspired by the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest at Standing Rock, N.D., and the broad wave of demonstrations that has energized the left since President Trump’s inauguration, the protesters hope to convince Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his energy secretary to stop the pipeline, which got an enthusiastic green light from West Virginia.

“It’s got me worried,” said Andy Billotti, 53, who wore a T-shirt from April’s Peoples Climate March in Washington as he erected his tent at the Paw Paw Tunnel Campground near Oldtown, Md., for one recent protest. “If something were to happen, that fracked poison would come down the river . . . right into our wells.” 08-03-17

Read more at the Washington Post

Sun’s Up

The Navajo Nation is transitioning from coal to solar.

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station is slated to close at the end of 2019, another victim of the boom in cheap natural gas. To fill the energy gap, the Navajo Nation has invested in clean-energy technology, specifically, the Kayenta Solar Project, a 27.3-megawatt farm in northeastern Arizona.

The project will provide electricity to 7,700 homes on the 27,000 square-mile reservation, home to 200,000 people. Some of those houses will be getting power for the first time. The farm builds on a Navajo Tribal Utility Authority program, which began providing solar panel systems to residents without electricity in 1999. 07-31-17

Read more at Grist

Electric Vehicles Enter the Here and Now

The high level of confidence that automotive industry leaders have in the future of electric vehicles (EVs) has been on full display recently.

In just the past few weeks:

This spurt of corporate announcements has been paired with a bevy of statements of international leadership:

  • France declared it would be all electric by 2040.

These developments are more than just excitement about an emerging solution. They are indicators that the market for EVs is developing faster than anticipated even just last year. 07-28-17

Read more at EcoWatch

Bee Pesticide Ban Debate Could Arise in Next Farm Bill

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) wants to include a ban on pesticides linked to declining bee health in next year’s farm bill, one of several initiatives he is pushing in the legislation to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition programs.

Thirty-one Democrats are backing a bill—the Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2017 ( H.R. 3040)—that would suspend the approval of neonicotinoid pesticides, common insect-killers that are said to harm honeybees, aquatic insects, birds, and other insects and animals. H.R. 3040 would ban imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, and any other neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency can determine that the pesticides won’t harm pollinators, based on peer-reviewed studies.

Blumenauer, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Bloomberg BNA he hopes the bill “will be folded into part of a larger initiative” like the next farm bill. Blumenauer is set to release a report next week outlining several measures to support small farmers, local food systems, and sustainability.

Blumenauer and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a similar pollinator bill in the last two Congresses, but neither received a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee.

Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) told Bloomberg BNA that he would be open to hearing Democrats’ case for the bill.

“That will be a part of the conversation,” he said. “We need a lot more evidence on what’s causing [bee declines], but I’m willing to talk to my Democratic colleagues on this issue because it’s important to all of us. If it’s important to them, I’ll absolutely talk to them about it.” 07-27-17

Read more at Bloomberg BNA

New Jersey tackles food waste and hunger — for the climate

new law in New Jersey aims to shrink the state’s climate footprint and feed the hungry by drastically reducing the amount of wasted food that ends up in landfills.

The law requires the state to develop a plan over the next year to cut its food waste by half by 2030. The bipartisan measure, which passed the state legislature without a single dissenting vote and was signed last week by Governor Chris Christie, mirrors an EPA goal for the entire country set under the Obama administration in 2015.

“The beauty of the bill is it’s going to get at two long-festering problems — climate and hunger — at the same time,” said Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City. “The states are going to have to take the lead on issues like climate and this new law holds the hope of tackling one piece of that problem.” 07-26-17

Read more at Grist

I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration

Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies. 07-19-17

Read more at The Washington Post

At Midway Point, 2017 Is 2nd-Hottest Year on Record

At the halfway point of the year, 2017 remains the second-hottest year to date — a surprise given the demise of the El Niño that helped boost temperatures to record levels last year.

The continued near-record warmth is a marker of just how much global temperatures have risen thanks to the greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere from fossil fuel use.

“Personally, I wasn’t expecting it to be as warm as it has been,” Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist, said in an email. “After the decline of the strong El Niño I was expecting the values to drop a bit and rank among the top five warmest years. This year has been extremely remarkable.”

The odds are good that 2017 will stay in second place through the end of the year, and it is even more likely that it will remain in at least the top three hottest years.

NOAA released its global temperature data for June on Tuesday, and ranked June as the third warmest in its records. The four-warmest Junes in its records have all happened in the past four years. (NASA, which released its June numbers on Friday, ranked June as the fourth hottest. The two agencies handle the data slightly differently, which can lead to small differences in their rankings, though they strongly agree on recent warming.) 07-18-17

Read more at Climate Central

Natural gas building boom fuels climate worries, enrages landowners

Companies have asked a federal regulator to approve thousands of miles of pipeline from Appalachia. They almost always get their way.

They landed, one after another, in 2015: plans for nearly a dozen interstate pipelines to move natural gas beneath rivers, mountains and people’s yards. Like spokes on a wheel, they’d spread from Appalachia to markets in every direction.

Together these new and expanded pipelines — comprising 2,500 miles of steel in all — would double the amount of gas that could flow out of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The cheap fuel will benefit consumers and manufacturers, the developers promise.

But some scientists warn that the rush to more fully tap the rich Marcellus and Utica shales is bad for a dangerously warming planet, extending the country’s fossil-fuel habit by half a century. Industry consultants say there isn’t even enough demand in the United States for all the gas that would come from this boost in production.

And yet, five of the 11 pipelines already have been approved. The rest await a decision from a federal regulator that almost never says no.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is charged with making sure new gas pipelines are in the public interest and have minimal impact. This is no small matter. Companies given certificates to build by FERC gain a powerful tool: eminent domain, enabling them to proceed whether affected landowners cooperate or not. 07-17-17

Read more at The Center for Public Integrity

A Mystery of Seabirds, Blown Off Course and Starving

One of the seabirds found in Atlantic City, N.J. Hundreds of carcasses were found over the course of two weeks, from Montauk, N.Y., to as far south as Cape May, N.J. Credit Scott McConnell

LIDO BEACH, N.Y. — Joe Okoniewski has seen this before, just not on this scale. Each year Mr. Okoniewski, a wildlife pathologist with the New York State Department of Conservation, performs necropsies on small numbers of seabird specimens that wash up dead along the coastal parts of the state. The birds are usually lone adults or juveniles that strayed too close to shore.

This summer Mr. Okoniewski has already examined more than 20 dead birds, while twice that many are awaiting necropsies. All are the same species of agile seabird called great shearwaters, and all washed up emaciated on Long Island beaches last month in a mass mortality event that scientists say is extraordinary for the region.

Now Mr. Okoniewski and others are hoping the unusually large number of carcasses can provide clues into the mysterious lives of these birds, which are considered good indicators of the health of the world’s oceans.

“The birds are extremely thin and anemic,” Mr. Okoniewski said. “The big mystery is: Why are they thin? On the surface it looks like you know what happened: They starved. But when you ask why, it becomes much more of a mystery.” 07-14-17

Read more at The New York Times

Decline in hummingbird population linked to insecticide

Some species of North American hummingbirds are in severe decline and a British Columbia research scientist says one possible cause might be the same insecticide affecting honey bees.

Christine Bishop with Environment and Climate Change Canada said researchers started looking at a variety of factors that may be responsible, ranging from habitat loss to changes when plants bloom.

To try and find some answers, researchers began collecting urine and feces from the birds for testing.

“No one has ever measured pesticides in hummingbirds before. So we decided to try it,” she said in an interview. “It turns out, to our surprise actually, that the birds are obviously picking up pesticides in their food, which can be nectar and also insects.”

Bishop said the concentration found in the urine is relatively high at three parts per billion.

“Now what does it mean? Right now we’re just understanding what the level of exposure is, and then how is it affecting the population, well that’s part of the population dynamics,” she said.

Her research is focused in the agricultural regions in the Fraser Valley and southern B.C. — the core area for the rufous hummingbird.

The rufous is a feisty, red-throated bird that weighs about as much as a nickel and spends its summers in B.C., Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states, then migrates to the southern United States and Mexico. 07-09-17

Read more at the Times-Colonist