Recent News

Ocean Isle group works to protect sea turtles year-round

Volunteers look for tracks like those shown in this photo to find new sea turtle nests. Photo: Deb Allen

Monday, May 23, is World Turtle Day, established in 1990 by the American Tortoise Rescue based in California to “shellebrate” and protect all species of turtles and tortoises.

For Deb Allen, who moved to Ocean Isle Beach more than a decade ago, every day is turtle day.

She and her husband Fulton work as island coordinators for the Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization and are licensed by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission to handle sea turtles, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

A division of the Museum of Coastal Carolina, a natural history museum on Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick County, the all-volunteer nonprofit works year-round to protect sea turtles, especially during nesting season, which began this month. Ocean Isle Beach had its first nest of the 2022 season Friday morning.

Volunteers, which are trained by the Wildlife Commission, also transport cold-stunned, sick or injured sea turtles to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City.

Allen told Coastal Review that when she and her husband moved to Ocean Isle Beach in 2010, she became a volunteer and has been volunteering ever since. Beginning as a volunteer, she advanced to become assistant coordinator and is now island coordinator.

“During my time doing this, I was exposed to every aspect,” Allen explained, from rescue to nest certification to watching a turtle lay her eggs to making sure the hatchlings get safely to the water.

“We get to spend time on the beach in the mornings for nest verification and the beautiful summer evenings under the stars, chatting with other volunteers and waiting for babies to emerge from a nest,” she said.

Allen has about 150 volunteers and everybody helps as much as they want in whatever capacity they can. “We have volunteers that do a little bit of everything.” 05-23-22

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Pennsylvania might really send an anti-fracking advocate to Congress

Summer Lee made environmental justice and a green transition a central part of her campaign.

Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

A neck-and-neck Democratic primary race for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District has yielded a probable winner: Summer Lee, the 34-year-old state representative who ran on a progressive platform of environmental, social, and economic justice. Lee’s opponent, the more moderate but still left-of-center Pittsburgh-based attorney Steve Irwin, ran an aggressive, well-funded campaign that frequently criticized Lee for seeking to “dismantle the Democratic party.” Lee’s campaign has declared victory as she outpaces Irwin by just a few hundred votes. But as there are a few hundred left to count due to voting machine reporting delays, Irwin has not yet conceded.

Lee’s success in the primary is remarkable in that she supports an outright fracking ban, a rare position for a politician seeking to represent Pennsylvanians. In the primary for one of Pennsylvania’s Senate seats, Democratic candidates Conor Lamb and John Fetterman — the latter of whom has enjoyed significant media attention as an unconventional, progressive prospect — both refused to endorse a fracking ban. Lee’s opponent Irwin received enthusiastic support from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has eagerly pushed fracking development in the region.

Western Pennsylvania, with its hallowed history as a center of industry and fossil fuel extraction, has long been presumed a stronghold of fracking supporters. But the reality on the ground is more complex. It would be easy to assume that the city of Pittsburgh proper, whose demographics have shifted considerably from aging steel town to something of a destination for educated young professionals, is a mighty center of anti-fossil fuel progressives in a red sea of roughnecks. But that still fails to capture the nuance of the situation. Multigenerational residents of old steel and coal towns have had to weigh the economic benefits of fossil fuel-based industry against its devastating pollution that sticks around for far longer, and many have had enough. 05-19-22

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NYC wants more rooftop solar. Its fire code is getting in the way.

Public safety vs. climate action: The battle over the Big Apple’s rules for buildings.

An NYC rooftop devoid of solar panels. kkong5/Getty Images

In 2014, former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office announced an ambitious new climate target: 80 percent fewer emissions city wide by 2050. In order to reach that goal, the city aims to install 1,000 megawatts of solar technology within the five boroughs by 2030, enough to supply 250,000 homes with electricity.

But New York City has fallen behind. As of April, it had only installed 333 megawatts of solar — less than half of the solar capacity it aims to achieve by the end of this decade. NYC has a 70 megawatt solar gap to close this year alone in order to fulfill its 2030 goal.

A number of regulatory hurdles stand in the way of the city making progress on its climate ambitions. One of those obstacles can be found in a surprising place: New York City’s fire and building codes.

In a city as densely populated as New York, rooftops play an essential role in deploying renewable energy. Without rooftop solar, the city can’t install enough solar capacity to meet its climate goal. City leaders know this — as of 2019, the city requires all new buildings and major renovations of existing buildings to include either solar panels or a green roof system. But putting a solar installation on every rooftop in the city isn’t easy — and especially on the rooftops of existing buildings. Solar panels are clunky objects that have to share space with bulkheads — structures on roofs that cover water tanks, shafts, or service equipment — mechanical equipment, stairways, railings, emergency pathways and exits, and more. 05-19-22

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Report: Pollution is connected to 9 million deaths worldwide each year

World governments have made “strikingly little effort” to solve the problem.

Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

World leaders aren’t doing enough to address pollution at its source, leaving nearly 9 million people each year to die from its effects.

That’s the message delivered on Tuesday by public health experts from the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, a high-profile panel of scientific experts. In a new progress update, they report that death and disease rates from pollution are as high as they’ve ever been, causing 1 in 6 deaths worldwide and disproportionately affecting people in the developing world, also sometimes known as the Global South.

“There’s not a whole lot being done about it,” said Rachael Kupka, executive director of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and one of the report’s coauthors. She called for coordinated action from world governments and international agencies to mitigate pollution while also addressing other threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

The progress update builds on previous data compiled by the Lancet commission, which showed that pollution was responsible for 9 million deaths in 2015. Now, the researchers say that number has remained virtually unchanged. Despite a decrease in deaths from types of pollution associated with extreme poverty — such as household air and water pollution — these modest gains have been more than offset by increased deaths from other forms of pollution such as airborne particulate matter. 05-18-22

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How to Make a City Safer for E-Bikes? Think Infrastructure

Photo illustration: Stephanie Davidson; Photos: Getty (3)

E-bikes are a powerful tool for lowering carbon emissions — boosting adoption is mostly dependent on offering riders protected bike lanes to enhance safety.

Electric bicycle use has been booming in the US over the last two years. Demand surged during the early days of the pandemic as people looked for new ways to travel safely and again this spring as rising fuel prices sent commuters looking for cheaper alternatives. Policymakers searching for ways to reduce demand for fossil fuels in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might also find e-bikes handy.

With battery-powered motors that assist riders as they pedal, e-bikes enable a broader range of people to make more and longer trips than traditional bikes. And they are cheaper, more efficient, and less resource-intensive to manufacture than electric cars. (The battery pack of a GMC Hummer EV is about 350 times heavier than a typical e-bike battery.) The combination of utility and efficiency makes e-bikes a powerful tool for lowering emissions.

One recent study found that boosting e-bike use to account for 15% of miles traveled per person annually in Portland would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from passenger transportation in the city by 12%. A single e-bike, according to the study, would yield an average reduction of 225 kilograms of CO2 per year — enough to shave more than a percent from the per capita emissions of the average US citizen. 05-17-22

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North Carolina house that collapsed into the sea is a warning for millions of Americans

States and the federal government can do more to protect homebuyers, like reforming flood disclosure laws.

A high cliff-side road near the ocean shows signs of major breakage in Pacifica, California. JOSH EDELSON / AFP via Getty Images)

Millions of Americans own homes that could flood at any moment. Many of them don’t have a clue. That’s what happened to Ralph Patricelli, a 57-year-old real estate agent who bought a house in North Carolina’s Outer Banks last summer. Last week, the four-bedroom waterfront vacation home he purchased with his sister for $550,000 was swept into the ocean. The house’s collapse was captured on video, which quickly went viral on Twitter. “I didn’t realize how vulnerable it was,” Patricelli said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Erosion, extreme weather, and sea-level rise have long threatened homes built on barrier islands like the one Patricelli’s house was located on. And yet Americans still buy homes in these areas with little to no knowledge of the risks and financial burdens they’re taking on. Studies show that 13 million Americans could become displaced by rising sea levels and $1 trillion worth of homes and commercial property could be inundated by the end of the century. Without intervention, more and more people, like Patricelli, will be left holding the deed to an empty lot or a severely damaged building. But there’s plenty that cities, states, and the federal government can do to prevent homebuyers from sinking money into properties that are destined to sink into the sea.

One major way to discourage homebuyers from buying flood-prone houses is to require sellers to disclose a property’s history of flooding to prospective buyers. But almost half of states don’t give homebuyers the right to this information. According to the National Resources Defense Council, 21 states have no flood disclosure requirements at all, and another five states have “inadequate” requirements. 05-16-22

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Ohio residents fight to get radioactive oil and gas waste off their roads

At least 13 states allow drilling waste to be used for road de-icing, dust suppression, and maintenance.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Joe Mosyjowski has watched a decade-long boom in oil and gas drilling unfold in the region surrounding his 50-acre farm in northeast Ohio. Mosyjowski, a 71-year-old retired engineer who once spent his days designing stormwater infrastructure, was surprised to learn that a byproduct of all that drilling was being spread on roads and streets near his property, which contains a football field-sized pond that he swims in every summer. Mosyjowski grew increasingly alarmed as he read that the product, a salty brine used to keep roads ice-free, can be radioactive.

“I don’t want this stuff spread anywhere near the roadways,” Mosyjowski told Grist in a phone call from his home in Portage County, a rural area about an hour south of Cleveland. “I don’t want it near my water, because the water runs into my pond. I just want to keep things clean.”

At least 13 states — including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan — allow oil and gas wastewater to be put to “beneficial use,” a category that includes road de-icing, dust suppression, and maintenance. This is an advantageous arrangement for oil and gas companies, because it’s cheaper to give brine to local governments for free rather than paying to dispose of waste in a landfill. Cash-strapped towns and counties, meanwhile, are reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth — to the detriment of their residents’ health, according to Cheryl Johncox, an organizer with the Sierra Club and member of the Ohio Brine Task Force, a coalition of activists, scientists, and concerned residents.

“This is a way for the industry to push off their problems onto regular people and not be held accountable,” Johncox told Grist. 05-13-22

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What overturning Roe v. Wade means for pregnant people in pollution hotspots

A fire burns at an ExxonMobil plant in Baytown, Texas in 2019. Lao Chengyue / Xinhua / Getty

Communities near polluting sites tend to be disproportionately lower income and people of color — populations that are more likely to need abortion care in the first place.

For many pregnant people in Baytown, Texas, there aren’t a whole lot of options. That’s not just in terms of seeking services for reproductive health like abortion care, although there is certainly a dearth of local providers for that particular need. But the town, which sits on the eastern edge of Harris County, abutting the Houston Ship Channel and the San Jacinto River, is a known pollution hotspot. Keeping yourself and a developing fetus safe from toxic exposures can be a real challenge — and it’s just one example of how environmental and reproductive justice issues collide in “fenceline” communities.

Baytown’s legacy of pollution largely comes back to its high concentration of chemical facilities, including an ExxonMobil refinery that routinely spews hazardous chemicals and most recently caught fire in 2021. A notoriously leaky Superfund site that sits in the middle of the San Jacinto River contaminates the water and seafood in the area.

Petrochemical facilities in Harris County routinely emit “chemicals like benzene, toluene, and xylene that cause developmental and reproductive issues in human bodies,” said Nalleli Hidalgo, a community outreach and education liaison at the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, a Houston-based nonprofit. 05-12-22

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Summerlike heat bakes central states, breaks records

An “omega block” pattern leaves a heat dome parked over the central Lower 48. (WeatherBell)

Records have fallen in the Lone Star State, where readings spiked as high as 112 degrees. The Weather Service predicts scores of records will fall throughout the central U.S. through Thursday.

The calendar says May, but the atmosphere has fast-forwarded at least a month. A sprawling dome of summerlike heat is parked over the central United States, bringing temperatures 20 degrees or more above normal, with scant rainfall. Tornado chances have flatlined across the southern Plains, but the risks of wildfire and heat-related illness are surging instead. And many more hot days are ahead.

Temperatures spiked to 99 degrees in Kansas on Monday and a staggering 107 degrees in Oklahoma, setting a record in the Sooner State for early May, according to Maximiliano Herrera, a climate historian.

As record-setting heat blasts Pakistan, a glacial lake floods village

San Angelo and Abilene, Tex., hit record highs of 107 degrees Monday, their hottest weather so early in the year. Abilene did it on Sunday, too.

The heat in Texas has pushed electricity demand to midsummer levels, according to reports from local news outlets and Bloomberg News, but the entity that operates the state’s electrical grid has projected sufficient supply, the Dallas Morning News reported. 05-10-22

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The secrets to passing climate legislation — even in red states

Grist / Getty Images

These Republican states are passing clean energy bills in the name of freedom and economics.

In 2019, renewable power was having a moment — but not where you’d expect. Arkansas, South Carolina, and Utah, among the reddest of red states, passed landmark legislation paving the way for expanding solar and wind power.

The bills these states enacted were all sponsored by Republicans, passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, and approved by Republican governors. They were also bipartisan bills, getting support from Democrats, too.

Many Republican legislators still deny the scientific consensus around climate change and oppose policies to address the problem outright. But a recent study found that these red-state successes weren’t a fluke. The analysis, recently published in the journal Climatic Change, shows that states approved roughly 400 bills to reduce carbon emissions from 2015 to 2020. More than a quarter — 28 percent — passed through Republican-controlled legislatures.

“Even though some of these policies in red states might not be as ambitious as blue states, I just want people to know that things are happening,” said Renae Marshall, a co-author of the study and a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is researching ways to reduce political polarization around environmental problems. Marshall hopes that her study could be instructive for collaboration at the federal level, where attempts at bipartisanship tend to be less successful. 05-10-22

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Environmental justice law in New York could prevent new pollution in hard-hit neighborhoods

Courtesy of We Act for Environmental Justice

The state joins New Jersey in passing toughest legislation in country.

Industry will no longer be able to build polluting facilities like power plants, warehouses, and garbage dumps in communities that already have more than their fair share of environmental contamination, according to a bill passed by the New York state legislature the last week of April. Once the bill is signed into law, New York will join New Jersey, which passed a similar law in 2020, as the two states with the most ambitious environmental justice protections in the country.

The New York law will require that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation take a hard look at the cumulative pollution burden that a neighborhood would face before granting any permits for facilities in that community. That, in and of itself, is not unique — last month the Biden administration restored part of the National Environmental Policy Act to require federal agencies to consider the cumulative impacts of their actions and several states have similar rules.

But the New York legislation goes further by prohibiting the state agency from carrying out any actions or approving any permits that might cause or contribute to a “disproportionate or inequitable” pollution burden on communities that have a large percentage of minority or low-income residents, are economically distressed, or already experience high rates of pollution. 05-09-22

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A new Office of Environmental Justice is announced

AP Photo / Patrick Semansky

New Justice Dept. office will take on polluters in hard-hit communities

People whose neighborhoods have been plagued by pollution for decades heard welcome news yesterday: the Biden administration announced a new government office just for them.

The Department of Justice, or DOJ, is launching its first-ever Office of Environmental Justice, which will coordinate with other federal agencies to bring cases against polluters, prioritizing the communities most affected by environmental harms.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, Administrator Michael Regan also revealed a new environmental justice strategy and announced that the DOJ will be reinstating an enforcement tool the previous administration had banned.

“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said at a press conference. 05-06-22

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The US only recycled about 5% of plastic waste last year

Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

A new report highlights recycling’s failure to keep up with growing volumes of plastic trash.

By now, many of us have heard the depressing statistic about plastic recycling: Of the 5.8 billion metric tons of plastic waste that the world generated between 1950 and 2015, only about 9 percent has been recycled, leaving the rest to be incinerated, landfilled, or littered directly into the environment.

Until recently, that number was still accurate for the United States, which — according to the most recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA — recycled about 8.7 percent of its plastic refuse in 2018. But a new report from the nonprofit The Last Beach Cleanup and the advocacy group Beyond Plastics finds that the U.S.’s plastic recycling rate is now significantly lower, with just 5 or 6 percent of the country’s plastic waste converted into new products in 2021.

According to the organizations, their findings highlight the dismal failure of plastics recycling and add weight to allegations that the plastics industry has been disingenuous in its promotion of recycling as a solution to the plastic pollution crisis. Just last week, the attorney general of California announced a first-of-its-kind investigation into fossil fuel and petrochemical companies for what he called a “decades-long plastics deception campaign” to promote recycling, even though documents suggest they knew decades ago that recycling infrastructure would never be able to keep up with rising plastic production rates. 05-04-22

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Twice burned

Grist / Getty Images

How the U.S. military’s toxic burn pits are poisoning Americans — overseas and at home

When Julie Tomaska stepped off the cargo plane in Balad, Iraq in 2005, her biggest fear was the daily mortar attacks. But as the 27-year-old technical sergeant in the Minnesota Air National Guard took in her new surroundings, she was struck by a more insidious threat: an enormous field of burning garbage.

Located between the dusty beige tent where she slept and the runway-adjacent trailer where she worked, the burn pit sprawled across nearly 10 acres of Joint Base Balad, a U.S. air base 50 miles north of Baghdad. Plumes of noxious black smoke rose from the pile, which contained a long list of detritus from the base’s daily operations: Styrofoam containers from the dining hall, batteries, metals, plastics, paints, petroleum products, medical waste, amputated limbs, sewage, discarded food, ammunition, and more — all of it doused in jet fuel and kept smoldering 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“You couldn’t escape the smell. The taste in your mouth. The soot in your nose,” Tomaska said. “We would just joke around and say, ‘Well, this will come back to bite us later,’ not fully realizing what that meant.” 05-04-22

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In Wisconsin, small towns want more regulations for big farms

The state’s agricultural lobby says local efforts to regulate CAFOs are illegal.

Aerial view of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in Wisconsin. Grist / Amelia Bates

Laketown, Wisconsin, is a rural community of 949 people, spread out among the green fields and ample lakes of the state’s northwestern corner, just over an hour outside of Minneapolis. Lisa Doerr has lived there since 2001, when she and her husband started growing hay and grass for livestock and raising horses. The town and its surrounding area, the St. Croix River Valley, are home to lots of small farmers like them; much of the food people eat here is grown locally.

“It’s not a big corporate place,” Doerr said. “There’s a lot to protect here.”

Now, Laketown is at the center of a battle over this rural character, as the town aims to limit pollution from large, industrial livestock farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Over the past few months, Laketown and two nearby towns, Trade Lake and Eureka, have passed laws regulating how CAFOs can operate, requiring them to show how they will dispose of dead animals and avoid polluting groundwater. But these policies have faced stiff pushback from the state’s powerful agricultural lobby, which has called the new regulations illegal.

In the past decade, the industrialization of agriculture has led to a sharp rise in the number of CAFOs, as large livestock operations offer cheaper meat and crowd out smaller farmers. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of animals living on factory farms grew by 14 percent, even as the overall number of operations shrank. From North Carolina to Iowa, CAFOs have been found to pollute drinking water, release noxious gases, and encourage the spread of disease due to the animals’ confined conditions. In March, a nationwide outbreak of avian flu led an egg farm in Wisconsin to kill 2.7 million chickens, creating intolerable smells for a community downwind of the site where their bodies were dumped. 05-03-22

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California opens investigation into ‘decades-long plastics deception campaign’

Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The state’s attorney general argues fossil fuel companies have long known recycling is a “myth.”

California’s attorney general has announced an unprecedented investigation into the fossil fuel industry — not for its knowledge about climate change, but for its role in causing the global plastics pollution crisis.

In a press release on Thursday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta accused fossil fuel and petrochemical companies of disingenuously promoting recycling, even though they knew it would never be able to keep up with growing plastic production. “Enough is enough,” Bonta said in a statement. “For more than a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis.”

As part of the investigation, the attorney general’s office has issued a subpoena to Exxon Mobil for information relating to its alleged role in a “decades-long plastics deception campaign,” and seeks to determine if the plastic industry’s actions have violated California state law. 04-29-22

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Fracking Boom Turns Texas Into the Earthquake Capital of the U.S.

A state not known for earthquakes has been hit so hard, it’s even poised to overtake California and Alaska.

Earthquakes were never anything people in West Texas thought much about. Years would pass in between tremors that anybody felt. Even after the shale revolution arrived in force a decade ago and oil crews started drilling frantically in the region’s vast Permian Basin, there seemed to be no impact on the land.

But then, suddenly, in 2015, there were six earthquakes that topped 3.0 on the Richter scale. And then six again the next year. And then the numbers just exploded: 17 became 78 became 181. And in the first three months of 2022 alone, there were another 59, putting the year on pace to set a fresh record. Lower the threshold to include tiny tremors and the numbers run into the thousands.

All of which means that West Texas, the proud oil-drilling capital of America, is now also on the cusp of becoming the earthquake capital of America. Even California and Alaska, home to massive fault lines and a never-ending series of tremors, appear bound to be overtaken soon at the current pace of things. 04-29-22

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It’s raining harder than ever. New research says climate change is to blame.

Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Warmer temperatures cause heavier rainfall across the U.S. — even in the driest cities.

The old cliche is more accurate than ever before: When it rains, it pours. According to an analysis of hourly rainfall data released Wednesday by the nonprofit science and media organization Climate Central, the U.S. has seen widespread increases in rainfall intensity since the 1970s. These extremes elevate the risk of dangerous flash floods, soil erosion, and the destruction of crops. And climate change is largely to blame.

“This is directly related to temperature increases,” said Andreas Prein, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who wasn’t involved in the report. “The warmer it gets, the more extreme the rainfall rates get.

To conduct its analysis, Climate Central considered the amount of yearly rainfall divided by the number of hours of rain in the United States, what’s known as the rainfall intensity index. This index rose across 90 percent of the 150 weather stations that Climate Central examined, with an average increase of 13 percent between 1970 and 2021. Ninety-five of them showed a surge in hourly rainfall intensity of 10 percent or more. 04-27-22

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Batteries are getting cheap. So why aren’t electric vehicles?

Grist / Clayton Aldern

In 2015, the average price paid for an EV was around $36,000. Now, it’s over $63,000.

If the world has learned one thing from the adoption of wind, solar, and other green technologies over the past two decades, it’s this: Clean energy tends to get cheap as technology improves.

Since 2010, the cost of utility-scale solar power has declined by 82 percent; onshore wind has gone down by 39 percent. In many markets around the world, renewable energy is now cheaper than coal. The price of lithium-ion batteries has also plummeted: In 2011, a lithium-ion battery cost $946 per kilowatt-hour. Last year, it cost only $132.

Electric cars have long been expected to follow the same trajectory. But even as batteries have gotten cheaper, the cost of purchasing a new electric car in the United States has skyrocketed. According to data from Cox Automotive, an automotive services firm, in 2015 the average price paid for a new electric car was $35,880 — not much higher than the industry average of $33,543. By last December, however, the average price of an EV had ballooned to $63,821, an almost 80 percent increase — while the average cost of a gas car was around $47,000. 04-27-22

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First all-electric heating mandate for buildings passes in Washington state

Under a new energy code, most new commercial and large multifamily buildings will have to install heat pumps.

Washington just became the first state in the country to mandate that newly constructed buildings be outfitted with all-electric space heating and hot water systems.

The State Building Code Council voted 11-to-3 on Friday to adopt a revised energy code that requires most new commercial buildings and large multifamily buildings to install electric heat pumps. The Council will consider a similar proposal for smaller residential buildings later this year.

Heat pumps are an extremely energy-efficient technology that can extract heat from the outside air, even on very cold days, and pump it inside to provide space heating. They can also run in reverse and provide cooling in the summer. The revised code also mandates the use of heat-pump hot water heaters.

The news comes shortly after another high-profile effort to ban gas in new buildings in New York State was dropped during tense budget negotiations in early April. 04-26-22

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Will Big Oil and major banks face another reckoning from investors this year?

A new season of shareholder climate demands has begun. Here’s what’s coming.

Photo by MICHEL EULER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, executives from Citibank and JPMorgan sat on a panel at a New York City business conference hosted by the news agency Reuters to discuss “the decarbonization pathway for finance.” But as they were expounding on what their banks were doing concerning climate change, an activist got up and interrupted them.

“Citibank and JPMorgan are two of the world’s — THE TOP TWO financiers of fossil fuels in the world,” she told the room. “You’re telling me that you people are going to lead the way to sustainable finance?”

It’s no longer just activists confronting executives with these kinds of questions. This week kicks off a new season of shareholder activism at the annual general meetings of banks, oil companies, and other publicly traded corporations. These meetings are typically a time for companies to convince investors that their money is in good hands. But increasingly, shareholders are using these meetings to demand more information on how climate change and the transition to clean energy could affect their investments, and what companies are doing to manage climate-related financial risks.

“Investors are saying we can’t conduct business in a world that is on fire, that has heatwaves and insufficient water,” said Danielle Fugere, president of the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. “And I do think companies are beginning to understand that it’s in their interest to take action and that shareholders support that action.” 04-25-22

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Biden to issue Earth Day order to safeguard old-growth forests

The order, which the president will sign Friday in Seattle, aims to slow climate change by storing carbon in trees

Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

President Biden will sign an executive order on Friday in Seattle laying the groundwork for protecting some of the biggest and oldest trees in America’s forests, according to five individuals briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not yet finalized.

Biden will direct the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year, three of the individuals said. He will also require the agencies to identify threats to these trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and to use that information to craft policies that protect them.

The president’s order, however, will not ban logging of mature and old-growth trees, they added, and the administration is not considering a nationwide prohibition.

It will include initiatives aimed at restoring U.S. forests ravaged by wildfire, drought and insects, requiring federal agencies to come up with a reforestation goal by 2030. It will also address major problems facing tree planting efforts in the West — insufficient seeds and seedlings — by directing agencies to develop plans to increase cone and seed collection and nursery capacity. 04-21-22

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These 9 cities are leading the nation’s solar surge

Together, they’re generating more solar power than the entire country did a decade ago.

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Nine cities — Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Antonio, New York, Phoenix, San Jose, and Albuquerque — now have the collective capacity to generate nearly 3.5 gigawatts of power through solar, more than the entire country did a decade ago, according to a new report.

Los Angeles is leading the way with the most solar capacity of any city, but Honolulu has by far the most solar capacity per capita.

Across the country, solar has been expanding rapidly. The U.S. now has enough solar panels to generate 121.4 gigawatts of power — enough to power more than 23 million homes.

To quantify where this growth is happening and where it can be accelerated, researchers with the Frontier Group and the Environment America Research & Policy Center tallied the power capacity of rooftop solar panels and utility-scale solar installations within the 56 largest cities in the U.S.

“America’s major cities have played a key role in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap tremendous benefits from solar energy,” the researchers wrote. “As population centers, they are major sources of electricity demand and, with millions of rooftops suitable for solar panels, they have the potential to be major sources of clean energy production as well.” 04-21-22

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FEMA’s new flood insurance system is sinking waterfront homeowners. That might be the point.

Premiums are ballooning in states like Florida and Louisiana — and adaptation measures won’t bring costs back down.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Two years ago, Chris Dailey decided he wanted to live higher up off the ground. Dailey, 53, had lived in the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Florida, for almost 30 years. His house had almost flooded four times during that span. Plus, Dailey’s flood insurance costs were steep: He was paying $2,000 a year to purchase insurance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Dailey bought a lot down the street, farther from the water, and — on the advice of his insurance agent — built a new house that was elevated 16 feet above the neighborhood flood level, with only a garage on the first floor. The house was high enough to stay dry even during large floods, and its flood insurance premiums reflected this fact: Dailey would now pay just $500 a year.

Last summer, though, he got a rude awakening. His insurance agent called him up and told him that FEMA had just debuted a new system for calculating flood insurance rates. His premiums would soon increase to around $5,000 a year.

“It was a bait and switch,” Dailey told Grist. “I was playing by their rules by building a compliant house. And now they yanked the rug out from underneath me.” 04-20-22

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California gives rivers more room to flow to stem flood risk

A “No Trespassing” sign stands on the Dos Rios Ranch Preserve, California’s largest single floodplain restoration project in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The sign is protecting land where native trees and shrubs have been planted to draw wildlife back to the land along the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Between vast almond orchards and dairy pastures in the heart of California’s farm country sits a property being redesigned to look like it did 150 years ago, before levees restricted the flow of rivers that weave across the landscape.

The 2,100 acres (1,100 hectares) at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers in the state’s Central Valley are being reverted to a floodplain. That means when heavy rains cause the rivers to go over their banks, water will run onto the land, allowing traditional ecosystems to flourish and lowering flood risk downstream.

The Dos Rios Ranch Preserve is California’s largest single floodplain restoration project, part of the nation’s broadest effort to rethink how rivers flow as climate change alters the environment. The land it covers used to be a farm, but the owners sold it to the nonprofit River Partners to use for restoring wildlife habitat.

The state wants to fund and prioritize similar projects that lower risks to homes and property while providing other benefits, like boosting habitats, improving water quality and potentially recharging depleted groundwater supplies. By notching or removing levees, swelling rivers can flow onto land that no longer needs to be kept dry.

“It’s giving new life ecologically but in a way that’s consistent with, complementary to, the human systems that have developed over the 150 years since the Gold Rush,” said Julie Renter, president of Rivers Partners.

The Central Valley covers about 20,000 square miles (51,800 square kilometers) and is an agricultural powerhouse — more than 250 crops are grown there. The region constitutes about 1% of U.S. farmland but produces 25% of the nation’s food while accounting for one-fifth of all groundwater pumping in the U.S. 04-19-22

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Can the EPA actually make school buses greener?

Sarah Reingewirtz / Los Angeles Daily News / SCNG

Electric school buses could greatly reduce students’ exposure to diesel emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a new strategy in mind to reduce kids’ toxic exposure: electrify more school buses.

Last month, EPA Administrator Michael Regan took a trip to Northern Virginia to publicize the agency’s Clean School Bus Program, which will reimburse districts $5 billion over five years if they replace their diesel-burning buses with electric, zero-emissions vehicles. These rebates could go a long way toward decarbonizing America’s transportation sector – the single-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. But public health officials say the benefits go beyond the climate, potentially improving the health of millions of kids.

“Diesel exhaust is strongly associated with asthma risk, and it causes inflammation in the airways and the blood vessels,” Gina Solomon, a principal investigator at Public Health Institute, said to E&E News. “None of these are things we want to have happen to kids on their way to school.” 04-18-22

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They derailed climate action for a decade. And bragged about it.

President George H. W. Bush speaks at the U.N.-sponsored Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, June 12, 1992. Daniel Garcia / AFP via Getty Images

New research sheds light on the Global Climate Coalition’s efforts to block legislation.

In 1989, just as leaders around the world were starting to think seriously about tackling global warming, the National Association of Manufacturers assembled a group of corporations — utilities, oil companies, automakers, and more — united by one thing: They wanted to stop climate action. It was called, in Orwellian fashion, the Global Climate Coalition.

With 79 members at its height in 1991, the coalition helped lay the groundwork for efforts to delay action on climate change for decades to come. It would not just deny the science, but also argue that shifting away from fossil fuels would hurt the economy and the American way of life. The coalition lobbied key politicians, developed a robust public relations campaign, and gave industry a voice in international climate negotiations, all to derail efforts to limit carbon emissions. Its arguments were so successful that they’re still employed today, or, more perniciously, simply taken for granted.

“This was all developed in the 1990s, and we can prove it,” said Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University. In a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Politics, Brulle details the untold history of corporate America’s earliest efforts to block climate legislation, supported by recently uncovered documents.

Based on conversations with lawyers, Brulle believes his report could be helpful in lawsuits to hold corporations responsible for heating up the planet. “It would be used to basically document that this has been a long-term, corporate objective and that they should be held liable for the damages — that their political actions resulted in the fact that we didn’t deal with climate change,” he said. 04-15-22

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Study: Global warming will stay below 2 degrees C — if countries actually keep their promises

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

But 1.5 degrees, the world’s most ambitious goal, still looks out of reach.

In the early 2010s, climate scientists were painting a grim picture of the future: If humans didn’t curb carbon dioxide emissions, the world was headed toward 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century.

A decade later, the planet is on a different path. Scientists now estimate that current emissions trajectories make a 4-degree scenario highly implausible, even as total carbon emissions continue to rise. In fact, a new study estimates that if countries fulfill the climate pledges they made at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP26 last year, warming could be limited to just below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

That’s a more optimistic outlook than those found in the assessments released in the months leading up to COP26. Based on the pledges that countries had made prior to the conference, those studies found that there was a less than 50 percent chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees C, the goal set by the world’s countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement. Indeed, the commitments prior to COP26 put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees.  04-14-22

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Historically redlined neighborhoods have twice the number of oil and gas wells

Grist / Mapping Inequality / Getty Images

A new study reveals the link between structural racism and pollution.

Neighborhoods that were redlined have nearly twice as many oil and gas wells as neighborhoods that were historically considered “desirable,” a new study has found. The findings underscore the connection between structural racism and polluting oil and gas infrastructure.

The analysis is the first of its kind, the work of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco, and Columbia University. They compared data on the location of plugged and active oil and gas wells to data from maps generated by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the federal lending program created to prevent home foreclosures during the Great Depression. The program excluded Black people — as well as Jews, other people of color, and immigrants — from opportunities by creating maps which labeled white neighborhoods as “desirable,” shading them green, and labeled Black neighborhoods, in particular, as “hazardous,” shading them red — hence the term “redlining.”

Looking at data for 33 cities where oil and gas wells are drilled and operated in urban neighborhoods across 13 states, researchers discovered the striking correlation between neighborhoods that were redlined and neighborhoods that have a high density of oil and gas wells. 04-13-22

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EPA to investigate racial discrimination in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’

Complaints allege that industrial facilities have discharged “excessive levels” of carcinogenic chemicals in a majority-Black community.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited St. John and St. James parishes on a “Journey to Justice” tour in November. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is looking into complaints that Louisiana’s health and environmental agencies discriminated against Black residents when reviewing air pollution permits.

The two complaints, filed in January on behalf of community groups and the Sierra Club, accuse the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, or LDEQ, of allowing several facilities –  including a chemical complex, a plastics plant, and a proposed grain terminal – to operate without updated permits and release dangerous levels of air pollution, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. One complaint also contends that the Louisiana Department of Health failed to provide residents living near the chemical complex, Denka Performance Elastomer, in St. John the Baptist Parish with information about the health effects of chloroprene, a byproduct of neoprene rubber production which the EPA says is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The complaints allege that these plants have discharged “excessive levels” of carcinogenic chemicals in an industrial corridor with some of the nation’s highest cancer risk and a majority-Black population. According to the EPA’s EJScreen tool, nearly every census tract between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — an area environmentalists call “Cancer Alley” — has a higher cancer risk from toxic air pollution than 95 percent of the country. The Denka plant, in particular, is located just half a mile away from Fifth Ward Elementary School, where more than 90 percent of students are Black.  04-12-22

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As utility-scale renewables expand, some Midwest farmers are pushing back

Rural communities are concerned about losing agricultural land in a region long-defined by its farming roots

In mid-March, about 80 people gathered in the auditorium of a local high school in Licking County, Ohio, a rural area about 40 minutes outside the state capital. The public hearing, set up to discuss a proposed 350-megawatt solar project, lasted more than four hours.

Supporters of the project said it would bring in much-needed tax revenue for local schools and promote energy independence in a state reliant on coal and natural gas. Opponents raised concerns about the loss of 1,880 acres of prime farmland, the impact on property values, and the potential environmental effects of the development.

“It’s becoming like the Hatfields and McCoys,” one resident told the Newark Advocate at the meeting, referring to the infamous feud between two families in Appalachia in the late 1800s. “This is destroying the community. Family members are pitted against each other. Church members are pitted against each other. And it’s neighbor against neighbor.”

The United States is experiencing a boom in utility-scale renewable energy projects, as solar and wind prices continue to fall and the Biden administration pushes for a fossil fuel-free electricity sector by 2035. Throughout the process, developers seeking vast expanses of cheap land for utility-scale facilities have faced pushback from the likes of Massachusetts fishermen, coal plant supporters, and environmental groups concerned about desert tortoises. Now, rural communities around the Midwest are mobilizing to restrict or ban large renewable energy projects. Experts say that some residents have been swayed by misinformation about the health impacts of solar and wind. But for most, the issue is tied to concerns about the loss of agricultural land in a region long-defined by its farming roots. 04-11-22

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Scientists identify the missing ingredient for climate action: Political will

The IPCC’s latest report finally recognizes the social barriers to climate action.

Demonstrators hold a ‘Listen To The Science’ banner during a climate protest in London. Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

When the world’s scientific community caught wind of a novel coronavirus circulating in Wuhan, China in 2020, it sprang into action. In the span of just 12 months, researchers came up with an effective inoculation against COVID-19, beating the previous record for fastest vaccine development and deployment by three years. But experts quickly ran headfirst into a crucial problem: human behavior.

Despite reassurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine disinformation spread. Influencers such as Fox News pundits, right-wing podcasters, and anti-vax parent groups slowed the response to the pandemic. At the end of last year, 15 percent of the American population remained unvaccinated.

A similar story is playing out, albeit on a much longer time scale, with humanity’s response to the climate crisis. This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a report that emphasized that the barriers to accomplishing progress on climate change are largely political, not scientific.

The report, dedicated to analyzing the solutions to climate change, found that, thanks to decades of work by researchers, the world has the science, the technologies, and much of the engineering prowess needed to scale down emissions and ensure a livable planet. The missing ingredient is the political will to make those adjustments. Actions taken by a powerful minority — led by lawmakers and lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry — have prevented the world from confronting this existential threat. Now, scientists warn that the window to take effective action is rapidly closing. 04-08-22

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Roberts joins liberals in criticizing ‘shadow docket’ pollution ruling

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. speaks with fellow Justices and lawmakers at President Biden’s State of the Union address March 1. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In a first, chief justice agrees conservatives’ ruling marked an abuse of the court’s emergency powers

Conservatives on the Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated for now a Trump-era environmental rule that limited the ability of states to block projects that could pollute rivers and streams, a decision more notable because Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined liberals in calling it an abuse of the court’s emergency powers.

The five members of the court who granted the request from Louisiana, other states and the oil and gas industry did not explain their reasoning, which is common in emergency requests at the court.

But Justice Elena Kagan, dissenting along with Roberts and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, said her conservative colleagues were turning what critics have called the court’s “shadow docket” into something it was never intended to be.

The majority’s order “renders the Court’s emergency docket not for emergencies at all,” Kagan wrote. “The docket becomes only another place for merits determinations — except made without full briefing and argument.” 04-06-22

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‘We are at a crossroads’: New IPCC report says it’s fossil fuels or our future

Climate panel calls for “rapid and deep” transition away from fossil fuels.

A crew on a boat inspects solar panels with wind turbines in the background Power workers inspect solar panels at a power station in China’s Jiangsu Province. Costfoto / Future Publishing via Getty Images

Nations have moved too slowly to curb climate change, and now must take swift and aggressive steps if they hope to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the world’s top scientists warned on Monday. Greenhouse gas emissions must peak within the next three years, and in the next eight, the world must push fossil fuels aside, rapidly scaling up the use of clean energy like wind and solar. It is only through these “rapid and deep” emissions reductions, they said, that the world can get on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming.

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC — a United Nations body of leading climate experts from around the world — highlights key strategies countries can use to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is no time to lose, the report authors said. Although emissions are rising more slowly than they have in previous years, humanity has lost precious time to drive down climate pollution, and even with the most ambitious policies, there is now only a 38 percent chance that the world will stave off a 1.5-degree C rise in temperature. This is a significant decrease from 2018, when the panel predicted a 55 percent chance of staying below that threshold.

“We are at a crossroads,” IPCC chair Hoesung Lee, an economist at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, told reporters. “We have the tools and know-how to limit warming and secure a livable future.”

The new report is the final installment in a three-part assessment from the IPCC. The body’s previous reports detailed both the current and future catastrophic impacts from climate change and warned that time is running out to adapt to them. This week’s report focuses on mitigation — what we can do to halt climate change.  04-04-22

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The climate case for seizing superyachts, Russian and otherwise

Oligarchs’ superyachts emit more carbon than some Pacific Island nations.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s megayacht, the Eclipse, harbored in Mugla, Turkey. Getty / Anadolu Agency / Contributor

On Monday in Mallorca, Spain, the U.S. government seized a 254-foot yacht linked to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Vladimir Putin. This was the first such capture for the Biden administration under its own sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine. It’s one of several recent developments that drive home the outsize influence that the assets of the uber-rich have on both international diplomacy — and climate change.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’ve seen world leaders repeatedly use the tactic of appealing to the interests of the super rich to further their own agendas. On Sunday evening, for example, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the glamorous attendees of the Grammy Awards ceremony to urge them to support stronger sanctions against Russia. And over the past month, a number of international governments have worked to ban billionaire Russian oligarchs from their borders and to seize their most valuable assets, in hopes that they will demand Vladimir Putin put an end to the war so that they can get their yachts back.

Vekselberg’s Tango is the latest superyacht owned by Russian oligarchs to have been seized from various harbors around the world. Multiple vessels owned by industrial billionaire and soccer club owner Roman Abramovich — including the Eclipse, the second-largest private yacht in the world — have so far eluded capture in Antiguan and Turkish waters.

In the case of defense conglomerate CEO Alexander Mikheyev’s Lady Anastasia, which has been docked in Port Adriano in Mallorca, the story is particularly dramatic: A Ukrainian man who had worked as the yacht’s chief engineer for a decade attempted to sink the boat in an attempt to retaliate against his former boss for his role in attacks on Kyiv. The vessel was captured by authorities a couple of weeks later. 04-05-22

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Rappahannock Tribe gets 465 acres of land back on the Chesapeake Bay

The 465-acre parcel of land that was donated to the Rappahannock Tribe has been restored to its original name, Pissacoack. Chesapeake Conservancy

The return of the land is “a historic victory for conservation and racial justice.”

It’s been more than 350 years since the Rappahannock Tribe was forcibly removed from its ancestral lands on the Chesapeake Bay in present-day Virginia. Now, it’s finally getting some of its land back.

Rappahannock Tribe members were joined by conservation leaders and U.S. officials — including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — on Friday to commemorate the return of a 465-acre parcel of land that was seized by European settlers in the 17th century. The return of the land, which has been restored to its original name of Pissacoack, is “a historic victory for conservation and racial justice,” the tribe said in a statement.

The news marks the culmination of a yearslong collaboration between conservationists and tribal members to protect the area and restore it to its original owners. Besides its reputation as one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most beautiful places, the region’s bluffs and wetlands provide important habitat for fish and migratory bird species — some of which have cultural and religious significance to the Rappahannock. Bald eagles, for example, descend upon the area by the hundreds each year as part of their annual migrations.

“You can sometimes see 40 eagles in the span of a couple hours,” said Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy.

Dunn’s organization helped lead efforts to restore Rapphannock ownership of the land following multiple threats that it would be developed into residential subdivisions or a sprawling resort complex with an 18-hole golf course. The organization and its allies in the tribe feared development would decimate wildlife habitat and irreparably harm the land.

“The river is life to us,” said Anne Richardson, chief of the Rappahannock Tribe. She described the resplendent landscape as the tribe’s “grocery store” — home to some 250 or more species of plants and animals that the tribe gathers to eat or use for craft and medicinal purposes. Some of these species have long served as staples for the tribe — including the blueback herring, whose populations have fallen dramatically due to urbanization and agriculture. Richardson said it has been painful to watch their decline. “It’s difficult to lose those things,” she said. 04-04-22

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Biden administration lines up $3 billion so low-income families can retrofit their homes

The move will affect nearly a half million households and lower greenhouse gas emissions

Westend61 / Getty Images

Low-income families will be able to lower their utility bills with $3.16 billion in funding for home retrofits made available by the Biden administration on Wednesday. The move will also help the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding, approved as part of the infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year, will flow to states, tribes, and territories through the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP.

The surge in federal dollars means that the program will be able to retrofit about 450,000 homes by installing insulation, sealing leaks, upgrading appliances to more energy-efficient models, and replacing fossil fuel-powered heating systems with cleaner, electric options. That’s a significant increase; in recent years, the program has retrofitted about 38,000 homes annually.

The boost to WAP comes amidst an embargo on Russian oil, soaring energy prices, and rising inflation — circumstances strikingly similar to those when WAP was created in the 1970s. Congress authorized WAP in 1976, just a few years after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed an oil embargo against the U.S., causing energy prices to spike and inflation to climb. Lawmakers reasoned that one way to achieve energy independence was to reduce energy demand by making buildings more efficient. 04-01-22

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