Recent News

It’s dolphin season! Here’s what we know (so far) about the Potomac River population

Hear from an expert about what we still hope to learn about the dolphins in our hometown river

The dolphins are back, baby! That’s right, warm weather means thousands of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are making their way from the ocean to their summer home in the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. Mac, Chessie, their friends, and babies return to our local waters year after year to hunt, play, mate, give birth, and raise their young.

However, though sightings of dolphins have been reported near our nation’s capital for ages—one report from the 1880s describes seeing these intelligent creatures as far north as Alexandria – our local population is one of the most understudied in the world.

That’s why the Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project (PCDP) was founded by Georgetown University biologists in 2015 – to answer burning questions about these charismatic creatures.

There’s still much they hope to find out. What draws the dolphins to the Potomac? How many return every year? What caused mass strandings of dolphins from 2013-2015? How do they behave differently from other dolphins throughout the world?

Hear what we know so far about about this mysterious marine mammal from the expert herself, Ann-Marie Jacoby, the Assistant Director of PCDP, and what we’re still hoping to discover. Let’s dive in! 04-28-21

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After a Trump-length pause, the EPA is relaunching a major climate change report

Drawing on data from 50 government agencies, the EPA has published 54 indicators of global warming.

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

From 2010 through 2016, the Obama administration released four editions of a report entitled “Climate Change Indicators in the U.S.” A detailed look at dozens of variables documenting worldwide changes resulting from global warming, the report functioned as a public informational resource, a guiding star for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decisions, and a clarion call to action. The very first report in 2010 was unequivocal about humans’ role in climate change. “Evidence of human influences on climate change has become increasingly clear and compelling,” it declared.

Then, after the fourth biennial report in 2016, Donald Trump assumed the presidency. The climate change indicators website, which was previously updated every six months with new data, languished for years. One staffer told the trade publication E&E News that staff weren’t allowed to update the website and that political appointees were afraid changes to the site would be reported in the news, which could draw the ire of then-President Trump. During all four years of his tenure, the Trump administration didn’t bother to publish any new editions of the report, either.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration resumed the Obama-era practice, and the EPA published a 2021 update to the report. A newly updated website provides a sweeping overview of 54 key indicators of climate change and their effect on human health. Using peer-reviewed sources, the update is the result of a government-wide effort and relies on data collected by 50 different agencies. Many of the changes it documents are already commonly understood to be true: The planet is warming, ice sheets are melting, heat waves are becoming more common, sea levels are rising, flooding is more frequent along the country’s East and Gulf coasts, and both wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer. 05-12-21

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Renewable energy didn’t just survive 2020 — it thrived

But don’t mistake projected growth in renewables for emissions reductions.

P. Steeger / Getty Images

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for renewable energy did not look good. Factory shutdowns in China disrupted the global supply chain for wind turbines and solar panels, delaying construction of projects in the U.S. Clean energy industries across the board started bleeding jobs. Fear spread that the economic recession would put investments in renewables on the back burner.

But it turns out renewable energy has not only survived COVID-19 — it’s thrived. A new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA, found that the world added 280 gigawatts of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables to its electrical grids last year. To put that in perspective, that’s about a quarter of the United States’ total utility-scale electricity generating capacity. It’s also a 45 percent increase in new renewable installations from 2019 — the highest year-over-year increase since 1999.

Ultimately, pandemic-induced supply chain slowdowns affected certain countries more than others. India was hit particularly hard, with construction delays and challenges in connecting new projects to the grid leading to a 50 percent decline in new capacity there. Brazil and Ukraine also saw slowdowns. But in the United States, China, and Vietnam, where developers were racing to complete projects in order to meet deadlines for government subsidies, there was unprecedented growth. 05-12-21

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What do voting restrictions and anti-protest laws have in common?

Both have sponsors funded by fossil fuel companies.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

At a dizzying pace, state legislatures have introduced bills restricting both voting access and the right to publicly protest this year. In response to Republicans’ 2020 election losses — and, in many quarters, in support of the false claim that rampant voter fraud led to former President Donald Trump’s loss at the polls — GOP lawmakers in 47 states have introduced more than 360 billswith restrictive voting provisions such as strict identification requirements, purges of voter rolls, and hurdles to absentee voting. Such bills have passed in Georgia, Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah so far.

Spurred by the massive nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police last year, Republican state lawmakers have also simultaneously introduced bills that restrict the ability of protesters to assemble, including legislation that grants immunity to drivers who strike protesters and that which prohibits public assistance for those convicted of unlawfully protesting. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, a nonprofit civil liberties group that has been tracking anti-protest legislation, more than 80 such anti-protest bills have been introduced in 34 states this year. Of them, at least six have passed. Three of these new laws specifically target environmental protesters by increasing penalties for trespass on oil and gas property.

According to new research out Monday from the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace, the powerful state lawmakers driving both voting restrictions and anti-protest measures are often one and the same — and, despite their controversial legislation, these lawmakers enjoy substantial campaign support from major business interests. Over the past year, 44 state lawmakers sponsored at least one voting access and at least one anti-protest bill. Additionally, of the top 100 corporate donors to state lawmakers who filed voting access bills, more than half also gave money to lawmakers introducing anti-protest bills. 05-11-21

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Why Indigenous women are risking arrest to fight Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline construction is running into tribal resistance over fears of water pollution, wild rice impacts, climate change, and exploitation of Native women.

Valerie Whitebird harvests rice at the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota. (Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle)

On Dec. 14, Simone Senogles of the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota watched as machines chewed up the forest to clear a path to the Mississippi River where Enbridge plans to bury the Line 3 pipeline.

Weeks earlier, the state and federal government granted its final permits. Her friend’s nephew sat 30 feet above in a tree. A cherry picker rolled forward to extract him.

Senogles, a leadership team member for the Indigenous Environmental Network who fought the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, knew the Line 3 opposition had other strategies in place — court challenges, divestment campaigns — but in that moment she felt “a tremendous sense of responsibility.” She said she locked arms with about 20 other water protectors, hoping to slow the cherry picker, but dozens of police wrestled them to the frozen ground and arrested them.

Senogles was charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing. She said it felt insulting. “It’s Anishinaabe land,” she told EHN, referring to a group of Indigenous people whose traditional homeland stretches from the East Coast through the Great Lakes to the Midwest. “Enbridge is the trespasser, they are the criminal, and they were aided by law enforcement who are supposed to be protecting us, but instead they were protecting a corporation.”

After a six-year-long permitting process, Enbridge contractors in Minnesota are building Line 3, the largest project in the company’s history. If completed, it will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, at the tip of Lake Superior, the planet’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. Police from the Northern Lights Task Force, Minnesota police officers funded by Enbridge as a condition of state permits, have arrested 72 Indigenous people and allies since construction began Dec. 1, according to task force press releases. Water protectors have put their bodies on the line, building six resistance camps along the pipeline route, chaining themselves to equipment and camping in trees. 05-10-21

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This blanket permit makes it easier to build pipelines. Advocates are suing to stop it.

How the legal fight against an arcane permit could throw a snag in major pipeline projects.

Grist / sarkophoto / Getty Images

Environmental advocacy groups are taking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court over a permit that’s crucial for the construction of oil pipelines. A coalition of environmental advocacy organizations filed the lawsuit on Monday against the Army Corps, the federal agency that oversees civil works projects, over Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

A nationwide permit is a blanket permit — a streamlined alternative for infrastructure projects compared to applying for individual, project-specific permits. NWP12 has been issued every five years since the 70s, but during the Obama administration it started to be used for the construction of almost every major pipeline project, according to Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. The permit has played a role in pipelines such as Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But environmentalists argue that the permit was never meant to be used this way. NWP12 allows developers of pipelines and other infrastructure projects to bypass applying for an individual permit to cross streams, waters, and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, which usually requires extensive environmental analysis and public comment. Blanket permits are intended for projects that would have minimal impact on the environment, says Margolis. The new lawsuit argues that oil and gas pipelines do not fit that description, given the risk of spills and the environmental impacts of climate change. The Army Corps estimates that NWP12 is used 8,110 times per year. 05-07-21

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Biden’s infrastructure plan targets lead pipes that threaten public health across the US

Workers remove water service lines in Trenton, New Jersey, on Jan. 9, 2020. The city is replacing 37,000 lead pipes over five years. AP Photo/Mike Catalini

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes a proposal to upgrade the U.S. drinking water distribution system by removing and replacing dangerous lead pipes. As a geochemist and environmental health researcher who has studied the heartbreaking impacts of lead poisoning in children for decades, I am happy to see due attention paid to this silent killer, which disproportionately affects poor communities of color.

Biden’s proposal includes US$45 billion to eliminate all lead pipes and service lines nationwide. The funding would go to programs administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This effort would affect an estimated 6 million to 10 million homes, along with 400,000 schools and child care facilities. I see it as one of the nation’s best chances to finally get the lead out of the nation’s drinking water, and its children.

Lead poisoning does permanent damage

Lead poisoning is a major public health problem, because lead has permanent impacts on the brain, particularly in children. Young brains are still actively forming the amazing network of neurons that comprise their hardware.

Neurons are designed to use calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, as a transmitter to rapidly pass signals. Lead is able to penetrate the brain because lead molecules look a lot like calcium molecules. If lead is present in a child’s body, it can impair neuron development and cause permanent neural damage.

Children with lead poisoning have lower IQs, poor memory recall, high rates of attention deficit disorder and low impulse control. They tend to perform poorly at school, which reduces their earning potential as adults. They also face increased risk of kidney diseasestroke and hypertension as they age. Research has found strong connections between lead poisoning and incarceration for violent crimes. 05-04-21

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Leaked Docs: Gas Industry Secretly Fights Electrification

Welders work on a natural gas pipeline near Mustang, Texas. The gas industry is pursuing a secretive fight against U.S. efforts to electrify the building sector. Tom Fox/KRT/Newscom

In public, Eversource Energy likes to tout its carbon neutrality goals and its investments in offshore wind.

But officials from New England’s largest utility struck a different tone during an industry presentation in mid-March. Instead of advocating for lower emissions, company officials outlined a defensive strategy for preserving the use of natural gas for years to come.

Natural gas is “in for [the] fight of it’s life,” said one slide presented at the meeting and obtained by E&E News. It also called for a lobbying campaign, saying that “everyone needs to contact legislators in favor of NG.” Another slide asked how the industry could “take advantage of power outage fear” to bolster gas’s fortunes.

Eversource is identified in the presentation materials as the co-leader of a national “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” run out of the Energy Solutions Center, a trade group based in Washington. The slides identified 14 other utilities involved in the effort and said the group’s mission was to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” Read more


13 U.S. Oil Refineries Release Illegally High Levels of Benzene

A new list from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) shows that last year, thirteen U.S. oil refineries emitted more of the cancer-causing chemical benzene than was permitted by the government. This is an increase from eleven refineries that made the list in 2019.

Why This Matters: These unlawful benzene emissions can cause disproportionate health issues, especially for the nearby communities, which tend to be predominantly poor, Black and Latino. For eight of these thirteen refineries, benzene levels exceeded the EPA guidelines by nine micrograms per cubic meter of air. 2020’s highest benzene emitter was Delek’s Krotz Springs, Louisiana refinery, which, on average, secreted over 31 micrograms per cubic meter, which is over three times the EPA’s standard.

Ultimately, strengthening benzene regulations and punishing polluters lies with the federal government.  Benjamin Kuntsman, a staff engineer at EIP, told Reuters, “If the Biden EPA wants to act on its environmental justice promises, these neighborhoods near refineries are a great place to start.”

The Law: As NOLA.com wrote, A 2015 EPA rule requires oil refineries to install air pollution monitors on their fencelines to measure how much benzene is escaping into surrounding areas. If the annual average exceeds 9 micrograms per cubic meter, refineries must search for the cause and take steps to fix it. 05-04-21

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“Long overdue”: The Senate just passed $35 billion for clean drinking water.

America’s water systems are aging and underfunded. This bipartisan bill might change that.

Image by rachelrose111 from Pixabay

A massive, bipartisan clean water infrastructure bill passed the Senate 89-2 on Thursday. The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act would create a $35 billion fund for states and tribes to improve water systems — 40 percent of which would go to underserved, rural, and tribal communities.

The legislation would fund projects that address aging infrastructure and improve water quality, remove lead pipes from schools, and update infrastructure to be more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. The bill, having passed the Senate, will now move to the House of Representatives.

Such an influx in funding for America’s aging water systems is long overdue, policy experts, environmentalists, and urban planners argue. A 2018 study of 30 years of data found that in any given year, as many as 10 percent of community water systems in the United States have health-based violations, affecting up to 45 million people annually. In addition, more than 2 million Americans live without access to drinking water and sanitation services — such as safe drinking water, plumbing in the home, and wastewater removal and treatment — according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Water Alliance. Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack plumbing than white households; Black and Latino households are nearly twice as likely. Race is the strongest determinant of whether or not a household has access to water and sanitation services, the 2019 report found, the result of a history of racist policies in the planning and construction of water infrastructure. 05-01-21

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Court Rules That EPA’S Delay “Exposed A Generation of American Children” to Brain-damaging Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

A sign warns of the application of the pesticide Lorsban, a trade name for chlorpyrifos, in an orange grove in Woodlake, Calif., on June 26, 2012. Photo: Jim West/Alamy

AFTER 14 YEARS of legal battles, a federal court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to take actions that will likely force the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos off the market. The federal agency has for years been considering mounting evidence that links the pesticide to brain damage in children — including loss of IQ, learning difficulties, ADHD, and autism — but, as the court acknowledged, has repeatedly delayed taking action.

“Rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA could find were reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA sought to evade through delay tactics its plain statutory duty,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in his decision, which was released today by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “During that time, the EPA’s egregious delay exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos,” he wrote, and ordered the EPA to issue a final regulation within 60 days.

While Rakoff stopped short of requiring the EPA to immediately ban the pesticide, he gave the agency little choice in how to respond. “The EPA’s obligation is clear: it must modify or revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances and modify or cancel chlorpyrifos registrations,” Rakoff wrote in his ruling in the case, which was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Pesticide Action Network, United Farm Workers, and other groups. 04-29-21

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The Green Takeaways From Biden’s Address To Congress

Image: Screen capture/The White House/Youtube

Last night President Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress and outlined to the American people his vision for the power of government to improve lives and address urgent threats like the pandemic and the climate crisis. Biden has been a career champion of the ability of the federal government to solve the nation’s greatest challenges and has stated that he hopes to restore Americans’ faith in their government. In his speech, he offered a glimpse of the future where economic opportunity isn’t reserved for the wealthy and the privileged but is extended to workers, families, and the middle class, in large part through the buildout of the green economy.

The Climate Takeaway: The President continued to reiterate his message that climate action = jobs as well as the opportunity for the United States to lead the 21st century. In his remarks he stated,

“For too long, we have failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis. Jobs. Jobs.
 
For me, when I think about climate change, I think jobs.
 
The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes.
 
Electrical workers installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways.
 
Farmers planting cover crops, so they can reduce carbon dioxide in the air and get paid for doing it.
 
There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.
 
No reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.” 04-29-21

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Opinion: This might be the Senate’s most important climate vote ever

THE SENATE votes Wednesday on what sounds like an arcane regulatory question. In fact, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) argued Tuesday, “This is the most important climate vote that the Senate has had, maybe ever.”

The question indeed sounds technical: whether to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse a Trump administration rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rules on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector. But the vote will be an early indication of Congress’s seriousness about addressing global warming — and, by the same token, the depth of irrational opposition to action. A positive result would show the world that the United States has returned to sanity on one of the most pressing issues requiring global action. A negative vote — or passage by only a slim majority — would send a less encouraging signal.

The Obama administration developed rules to deal with methane, which is the primary component of natural gas. When burned, methane produces about half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal, so it can be a useful bridge to a non-carbon future. But if methane wafts into the air uncombusted, it is an extremely potent greenhouse agent on its own. It is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, but it traps heat about 84 times more efficiently over 20 years. So methane leaks in drilling and transporting natural gas can negate the climate benefits of switching from coal to gas to generate electricity. 04-27-21

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Eminent domain opens doors for fossil fuels — could it do the same for renewable energy?

Environmentalists have long opposed eminent domain for fossil fuel projects. Now, the legal power could be vital to building renewable energy infrastructure.

For renewable energy to power the United States, the country will need ambitious politicians, public buy-in, and billions of dollars in investment. But there’s a slightly less flashy tool that will also play a key role in the renewable energy transition: eminent domain law.

Eminent domain is the government’s power to seize private property for public use (with fair payment). It’s controversial — many Americans staunchly defend their private property rights — but the truth is that eminent domain has shaped the U.S. into the country we know today. From highways to national parks to public buildings such as courthouses, there is infrastructure in every corner of the country that would not have been built without the use of this legal power.

Eminent domain has long been a critical tool for the fossil fuel industry, most recently for natural gas because it allows companies to obtain the many parcels of property needed to build vast networks of pipelines. As a result, over the past decade the legal practice has become a popular target for environmentalists, who have teamed up with landowners to oppose its use for projects including the Dakota Access Pipeline, the recently canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline stretching from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the controversial PennEast Pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. 04-27-21

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How a massive new cattle feedlot threatens one of Iowa’s last pristine waterways

Years of controversy, environmental violations, and a whole lot of poop

In northern Iowa, nestled among limestone bluffs, is Bloody Run Creek, a six-and-a-half mile, clear-water stream revered for its trout fishing. The creek is a popular tourist spot and  one of just 34 bodies of water in the entire state labeled as an “Outstanding Iowa Water” for its near-pristine condition. Earlier this month, however, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources granted final approval for a massive new concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, roughly two miles from the banks of Bloody Run.

The facility, owned by Supreme Beef LLC and located in Clayton County, will be one of Iowa’s largest CAFOs ever, housing 11,600 heads of cattle and producing an estimated 35.4 million gallons of manure annually. The approval on April 2 of the facility’s nutrient management plan — essentially how the company will store and dispose of manure — comes after years of opposition from citizen and environmental groups.

The area surrounding Bloody Creek consists of what is known as karst topography, a network of porous limestone and sinkholes, a geologic composition that allows pollutants and nutrients to easily seep into local groundwater. Manure from the CAFO is expected to be spread on farm fields within 30 miles of the creek, an area classified as having “highly erodible” soil. Additionally, opponents argue that the amount of manure the animal feedlot will produce is actually much higher than what Supreme Beef calculated, and that the company didn’t include in its management plan mandatory conservation practices like how it will prevent soil erosion. 04-26-21

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Basically everyone in Florida is united against these new highways

Grist / Abstract Aerial Art / Getty Images

Florida wants to create 330 new miles of highways called M-CORES. Opponents have dubbed them “roads to ruin.”

A 67-mile highway looping around the eastern side of Cincinnati. A widening of Interstate 45 in Houston. A 52-mile, four-lane highway from southwest to central Indiana. The addition of high-occupancy toll lanes on Maryland’s Interstate 270.

Highway construction and expansion projects are in the works around the country. But none will add more highway miles or be more costly than Florida’s Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance program, or M-CORES for short. The 330 miles of toll roads are actually three highway proposals, two in north Florida and the other running from central to southwest Florida. The roads, supporters hope, will help the state keep up with its explosive population growth.

But a diverse cross section of opponents have dubbed them the “roads to ruin.” Conservationists worry about the impact on endangered species, especially the Florida panther. Taxpayer watchdogs don’t see the financial sense in the multi-billion-dollar price tag. Young people believe state leaders are forsaking their future by incentivizing driving and sprawl at a time when climate change demands reductions in both. And rural communities in the highways’ paths fear drastic disruptions to their lifestyle and economy.

“What is the return for us?” said Scott Osteen, a farmer living in the proposed path of M-CORES. “You’re asking us to give up land, you’re asking us to give up our current way of life, but currently I don’t see the upside to it.” 04-23-21

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17 Young People on the Moment the Climate Crisis Became Real to Them

From watching An Inconvenient Truth to living through Superstorm Sandy.

Watching An Inconvenient Truth in your middle-school science class. Hearing Greta Thunberg’s calls to join weekly school strikes. Driving away from smoldering wildfires engulfing dry California hillsides.

These are some of the moments that made young people realize the climate crisis will define their lives — and the future of human life on Earth. We’ve heard the facts so many times that it’s easy to become numb to them. The world is steadily growing warmer, certain parts of the world are facing extreme droughts or floods, many wildlife populations are shrinking — and things are only projected to grow worse, with carbon emissions rising and countries contributing to mass deforestation. Despite these emergencies, many U.S. politicians, including Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, deny the reality of climate change. And the Western world, particularly the United States, is currently the biggest contributor to the climate crisis. Though the climate crisis is affecting everyone on Earth, it’s effects have been particularly felt by those living in the global south, lower-income people, and younger people, whose futures are being shaped by how we handle the crisis

These overarching facts are important to reiterate. But it’s also critical to understand what climate change feels like on an everyday level — how it affects our mental and physical health. It’s a problem so enormous and disorienting that it’s often easier to just shove it into the darker corners of our minds, where we don’t want to look. Living under the spectre of climate change can make it feel surreal to try to plan an education, a career, a family, or any concrete aspect of your future. 04-19-21

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This new bill wants to bring the Green New Deal to a city near you

Representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have introduced a bill that would distribute $1 trillion to cities, towns, and tribes.

Grist / MANDEL NGAN / AFP via Getty Images

As Congress considers the Biden administration’s $2 trillion climate and infrastructure proposal, progressive lawmakers are beginning to signal their vision of what it would take to, in the president’s words, “build back better.” On Monday, Democratic Representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal for Cities Act of 2021, which would distribute $1 trillion directly to cities, towns, and tribes over four years, allowing local governments to enact ambitious climate justice initiatives without buy-in from more conservative state legislatures. On top of that, on Tuesday Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey reintroduced the joint resolution that first popularized the Green New Deal concept.

The cities bill introduced on Monday, which has been co-sponsored by 23 other Democrats, provides funding that can be spent on a range of environmental issues: replacing lead pipes, retrofitting water infrastructure, building bike lanes, installing electric vehicle charging stations, testing soil and water for contaminants, and phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure, among other options. It also “supports reparations programs for Black and Indigenous people and communities” to remediate historical environmental injustices, but the details of the program are not yet defined.

The bill’s environmental justice components are not limited to the reparations and project-based components. It also requires that hiring practices for new infrastructure projects “give preference to local hiring” and create opportunities for people of color, immigrants, women, and formerly incarcerated individuals. Projects would also be expected to support “housing stability” by requiring local governments work with community groups to prevent displacement, as a condition before receiving investment. Cities would be able to apply for funds for “Green New Deal Projects” on a project-by-project basis after they’ve met certain conditions. However, the bill does not stipulate how much funding can be allocated to individual cities or tribes. 04-20-21

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Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day—It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts

More and more states are looking to pass a new kind of recycling law that asks manufacturers to foot the bill for the waste created by their products.

Bales of plastic sit ready to be processed and recycled. Koron/Getty Images

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch—all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceanslakessoils, and bodies.

Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.

An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products. 04-16-21

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Despite Tensions, U.S. and China Agree to Work Together on Climate Change

China and the United States must “prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively,” John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, said in an interview in Seoul on Sunday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The two countries said they would treat global warming “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”

The United States and China have said they will fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands” by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation amid escalating tensions over a raft of other issues.

The agreement, which included few specific commitments, was announced on Saturday night, Washington time, after President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China for three days of talks in which the negotiators managed not to be sidetracked by those disputes.

“It’s very important for us to try to keep those other things away, because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Sunday morning in Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials to discuss global warming. “What we need to do is prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively.”

The agreement comes only days before Mr. Biden is scheduled to hold a virtual climate summit with world leaders, hoping to prod countries to do more to reduce emissions and limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Many scientists now argue that warming must be kept below that threshold to avert catastrophic disruptions to life on the planet. 04-17-21

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Biden prepares sweeping order on climate-related risks

The Biden administration is assembling the plan ahead of a major international climate summit the president plans to host April 22-23. | Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

In a draft executive order, President Joe Biden reaches into all corners of the federal government with plans that would touch every sector.

President Joe Biden is preparing to instruct federal agencies to take sweeping action to combat climate-related financial risks to government and the economy, including moves that could impose new regulations on businesses.

In a draft executive order obtained by POLITICO, Biden reaches into all corners of the federal government with plans that would touch every sector of American industry, including banking and insurance, oil and gas, housing, agriculture, and federal contracting, purchasing and lending.

The Biden administration is assembling the plan ahead of a major international climate summit the president plans to host April 22-23. It reflects growing global concerns about how rising sea levels and devastating disasters could have knock-on effects on the financial system.

The order, titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” directs White House economic and climate advisers to work with the Office of Management and Budget on a government-wide strategy to measure, mitigate and disclose climate risks facing federal agencies. Banking, housing and agriculture regulators are among those that will be asked to incorporate climate risk into their supervision of major industries and the lending of federal funds. 04-15-21

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How Wall Street funds environmental injustice against women

SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images

A new report examines the link between banks, fossil fuels, and health risks to women

It’s not just oil and gas companies that are causing the climate crisis — the financial sector has played a role, too. A new reportfrom the environmental advocacy group Women’s Earth and Climate Network International, or WECAN, outlines connections between the banks, asset managers, and insurance companies that finance oil and gas development and the damage inflicted by the fossil fuel industry — in particular to women, hitting women of color hardest. It also lays out how the financial sector can clean up its act.

The report examined projects that produce significant harm to frontline communities in the United States and parts of Canada, ranging from intensive oil extraction in Kern County, California, to the construction of Minnesota’s Line 3 pipeline, to chemical plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana, an area known as ‘cancer alley.’ It then identified the financial institutions that enabled those projects through both direct and corporate-level financing, including the banks that funded those projects, the asset managers that invested in them, and the insurance companies that underwrote them.

The order, titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” directs White House economic and climate advisers to work with the Office of Management and Budget on a government-wide strategy to measure, mitigate and disclose climate risks facing federal agencies. Banking, housing and agriculture regulators are among those that will be asked to incorporate climate risk into their supervision of major industries and the lending of federal funds. 04-15-21

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Companies Plan to Crush Climate Efforts

BlackRock Inc. headquarters in New York, U.S Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

With the annual proxy season about to kick off, corporate executives are encountering increasing investor scrutiny about their environmental policies. But rather than support green initiatives or even compromise with shareholders, some of the world’s biggest companies instead plan to crush efforts to slow the climate catastrophe.

Shareholders will be voting on at least 20 separate resolutions that are calling for more transparent climate disclosures at companies ranging from oil giant Chevron Corp. to rail freight operator Union Pacific Corp. to cable-television operator Charter Communications Inc.

“Almost universally, the quality of corporate reporting needs to improve to show how climate change is impacting a company’s bottom line, not only now but in the future,” said Jonathan Bailey, head of ESG investing at Neuberger Berman Group LLC, adding that his firm has held discussions about environmental risks with fossil fuel behemoths including Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp.

The increase in investor activism is emerging at the same time President Joe Biden’s administration is considering a pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% or more by the end of the decade relative to 2005, almost doubling the previous commitment. At the Securities and Exchange Commission, the first-ever senior policy adviser for climate and ESG was just appointed, putting both issues atop the agency’s priorities, according to analysts at UBS Group AG. 04-14-21

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Lobbying for good? New campaign asks Big Tech to push for bold climate action

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The top five U.S. tech firms devote very few resources to lobbying for climate policy, but a new employee-driven campaign could change that.

There’s no doubt that Big Tech has been talking a big climate game lately. In the last two years, Microsoft committed to running its operations entirely on renewable energy by 2025; Apple pledged to become carbon neutral across its supply chain in a decade; Amazon announced it would be putting 100,000 electric delivery vans on the roads by 2030; and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, committed to operating all of its data centers on carbon-free power round-the-clock within a decade.

But while major tech companies are making genuine efforts to clean up their own climate pollution, they’re doing very little to lobby for pro-climate policies at the state or federal level, despite the fact that such advocacy could play a much bigger role in helping the United States meet its climate targets. Now, one organization is trying to change that by calling on tech industry employees to tell their bosses to step up.

On March 31, ClimateVoice, a corporate climate advocacy nonprofit, launched the “1 in 5 Campaign,” which is asking the five biggest tech companies in the U.S. — Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook — to devote one-fifth of their lobbying dollars to climate policy in 2021. That would amount to a seismic shift for corporations that only devote a small fraction of their lobbying resources to climate issues today. ClimateVoice founder Bill Weihl, a former sustainability executive at Google and Facebook, believes that if major tech corporations want to show true climate leadership, there’s never been a better time for them to put their money and influence where their mouth is. 04-13-21

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7 million Californians live near oil and gas wells. This bill could change that.

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Despite its green reputation, California has a big fossil fuel problem on its hands: neighborhood oil and gas drilling. In California, there’s nothing preventing frackers or drillers from setting up shop right next to your home, school, or hospital — and indeed, this is the reality for 7.4 million Californians currently living within 1 mile of oil and gas drilling operations, who are disproportionately non-white and low-income.

Now, a new state bill called S.B. 467, slated for a hearing in the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on Tuesday, may reshape the lives of frontline communities by eliminating fracking and instituting mandatory buffer zones between oil and gas extraction and places where Californians live, work, and study. These buffer zones, known as setbacks, have long been fought for by communities impacted by the oil industry.

The oil and gas industry makes a huge impact on public health in California, especially for the frontline communities living the closest to oil and gas wells. These extraction sites release toxic pollutants into the air, including chemicals known to cause neurological damage, increased cancer risk, and reproductive harm, like volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, and others.  Proximity to oil and gas extraction sites has been linked to a range of health problems, including acute symptoms like rashes, migraines, and nosebleeds, as well as higher rates of asthma attacks, cancer, general hospitalization rates, high-risk pregnancies, and preterm birth. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another dimension of health risk: Exposure to pollution, in particular the fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, has been found to make the virus even deadlier, and conditions like lung disease that are linked to pollution from oil and gas extraction have been found to increase the risk of COVID-19 mortality. 04-12-21

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Retreat from coastlines? Politicians don’t want to talk about it.

Why managed retreat is still a political third rail.

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Last week, President Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that, if passed by Congress, would protect the U.S. from climate change and prepare its economy for a transition to clean energy. The plan has a little something for just about everyone — out-of-work fossil fuel workers, public housing advocates, lovers of research and development — but it almost entirely avoids mentioning a looming crisis. Biden’s plan barely mentions managed retreat, a term that refers to the coordinated movement of communities away from coastlines and other vulnerable areas as sea levels rise and climate disasters worsen. The White House infrastructure plan included just one sentence about it, saying the American Jobs Plan will provide “transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”

In the coming decades, vulnerable tribes will comprise a tiny fraction of the communities that will need relocation help. 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. Southeastern Louisiana, Miami, and New York City are some of the spots that will see precipitous sea-level rise before then. The National Flood Insurance Program, the federally funded insurance program that is one of Congress’ best tools for making people understand flood risks, is mismanaged and has been bankrupted by years of catastrophic flooding events. State governments don’t have nearly enough policies in place to deter people from building and buying homes in flood zones. And federal buyout programs that provide incentives for people to leave their homes are limited and tend to favor wealthier homeowners. 04-08-21

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Can a Pipeline Firm Defy a Governor’s Orders? Gretchen Whitmer Is About to Find Out.

An Enbridge crew works on a stretch of pipeline in June 2019. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/ZUMA

As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.

Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.

A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 04-08-21

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Renewable Energy Smashes Records in 2020

ewable energy projects boomed in 2020, including solar, wind and hydropower. zhihao / Getty Images

Despite the difficulties associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world added a record amount of new renewable energy capacity in 2020, according to data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency.

IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that global renewable energy capacity grew by more than 260 gigawatts (GW) last year, beating the previous record set in 2019 by nearly 50%. Last year marked the second consecutive year in which clean energy’s share of all new generating capacity increased substantially, with renewables accounting for over 80% of all new electricity capacity added in 2020.

Total fossil fuel additions, by contrast, fell by more than 6% last year—from 64 GW worth of new electricity capacity in 2019 to 60 GW in 2020.

“These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean, and just future,” IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said in a statement.

“The great reset,” as La Camera called the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown, “offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.” 04-06-21

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White House Climate Advisor Sees A Path To A Clean Energy Transition Through Coal Country

Jeff Young | Ohio Valley ReSource
Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.

For decades now, rhetoric around action on climate change has been about things like saving the planet, or saving polar bears. Just think: How many times have you seen an image of ice crashing into the sea from a melting glacier, or a sad-eyed seal atop a floe, as part of a climate change message?

But Gina McCarthy — the veteran environmental policy maker President Joe Biden has picked as his top climate advisor — is making a very different case for climate action.

“I want people to know that this isn’t about a planet. This is about our people. This is about our families,” McCarthy said in our recent interview.

Forget about polar bears and seals. McCarthy wants to talk about plumbers and steelworkers and the other blue-collar Americans who could play a part in greening the country’s infrastructure and economy.

It’s not that melting ice caps and the like don’t matter for her — they do. But she’s more interested in making action on climate change something that ordinary working people can feel that they have a stake in, rather than something they have to worry about as a potential threat to their livelihoods.

“We do have to act, we have to act on climate,” she said. “But we also have to act to make sure that there’s no worker and no community left behind.” 04-05-21

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NAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities

The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.

That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACP report titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.

This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACP published in 2019.

Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabama spill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gasmaintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”

Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”

Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACPitself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report. 04-02-21

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Fossil Fuel Firms Slashed Nearly 60,000 Jobs In 2020 While Pocketing $8.2 Billion Tax Bailout

Oil workers faced tens of thousands of layoffs in 2020 while their employers raked in billions in pandemic-related tax benefits

Last year was $8.2 billion less painful for 77 big fossil fuel companies, thanks to a tax bailout provision in a big pandemic stimulus bill.

The tax-law change did little, however, for nearly 60,000 workers those companies fired, leaving them stretching the $1,200 checks they received under the same law. Individuals were not eligible for the CARES Act loophole, which allows big polluters to reduce past taxes owed based on their recent yearly losses.

As Washington debates ending tax subsidies for fossil fuels, part of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, fossil fuel companies are quietly reporting their employee headcounts and final tax bills for 2020. The data underscore the hypocrisy of claims that fossil fuels are a necessary engine of employment and succeed on an equal playing field in the free market.

A BailoutWatch analysis of public filings by companies primarily involved in oil, gas, and coal finds:

  • Seventy-seven companies pocketed $8.24 billion as a result of tax-law changes in the CARES Act stimulus law
  • Payrolls were cut by a net 58,030 jobs at the 74 of these companies that reported employee headcounts for the end of 2019 and 2020
  • The 62 companies that laid off workers collected $7.65 billion through the tax bailout — about $131,000 for each of the 58,488 people they left jobless.
  • Five companies filed for bankruptcy protection after receiving $308.7 million in tax bailouts and laying off a total of 5,683 workers 04-02-21

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