When customers of America’s four largest banks visit their local branches on Tuesday, they may be greeted by an unfamiliar sight: Activists in rocking chairs blocking the entrances.
We’re running out of time to get things right.
With the final installment in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 6th Assessment Report released this week, the world’s leading climate scientists have offered a stark warning that we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 or face a “rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
This will require an abrupt about-face as emissions continue to rise despite the massive body of scientific literature affirming the dire risks of proceeding with business as usual.
“Recognize that you are living through the most profound moment in human history,” climate scientist Joëlle Gergis tells The Revelator. “How bad we let things get is still in our hands. Averting planetary disaster is up to the people alive right now.”
The Australian scientist is one of the lead authors of the latest IPCC assessment. She has also issued a rising call to action in a new book, Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope.
It’s clear from the book that Gergis isn’t a shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of person. But she felt compelled to share the loss she was feeling — not just as a scientist but as a person. And it’s something she hopes more scientists will do. 03-22-23
The news came as a shock: Lead, lurking somewhere in Nalleli Garrido’s home, was poisoning her 1-year-old son.
His pediatrician instructed her to clean all the toys of her toddler, Ruben, keep the home dust-free and prevent him from playing in the bare soil outside her rented bungalow in Santa Ana’s Logan neighborhood. She did all she could. But the dust kept sneaking in.
No one offered an alternative. The only solution she and her husband could find was to get out. In 2019, after two years of constant worry, they moved north to the city of Buena Park, buying a home with a grassy yard — not an exposed patch of soil like her Santa Ana front yard, where the toxic metal could be found in concentrations as high as 148 parts of lead per million parts of soil. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment considers 80 parts per million and above dangerous for children.
“I was terrified to take my son out,” said Garrido, a psychiatric nurse. “Even walking through the yard, I would tell my kids to hold their breath. ‘Don’t breathe that in, don’t breathe in the dust.’” 03-22-23
A discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Louisiana alleges that the St. James Parish Council steered polluting facilities into Black neighborhoods along the Mississippi River. As a result, Black residents there are forced to breathe in more pollution and face a higher risk of related health problems, according to the suit filed by Inclusive Louisiana, Mount Triumph Baptist Church, and RISE St. James.
“We’re being ignored and we have to do whatever we have to do to stop it,” said Myrtle Felton, a lifelong resident of St. James Parish and co-founder of Inclusive Louisiana, a community group focused on environmental injustices.
St. James Parish is situated in the heart of Cancer Alley, the 85-mile corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where more than 150 chemical facilities are located. Before the Civil War, much of the parish was made up of sugarcane and tobacco plantations. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they are descendants of people who were enslaved on these brutal plantations. They are being represented by attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic. 03-21-23
When customers of America’s four largest banks visit their local branches on Tuesday, they may be greeted by an unfamiliar sight: Activists in rocking chairs blocking the entrances.
Their aim? To pressure banks to stop financing fossil fuels and heed scientists’ warnings to help phase out oil, gas and coal to avert the worst effects of climate change.
The rocking chairs are the brainchild of Third Act, a group that seeks to engage Americans 60 and older — those in their “third act” of life — in environmental activism. But the demonstrations are expected to draw all ages in about 100 cities across 29 states, according to the 53 groups organizing the events.
The protests add to the mounting environmental pressures on Wall Street from politicians in both parties. Liberal lawmakers have pleaded with large financial institutions to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry, while conservatives have attacked what they call “woke” capitalism, a reference to companies publicly and financially supporting progressive social causes.
Caught in the middle are four banks — Chase, Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo — that rank as the world’s largest lenders to the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released last year by Rainforest Action Network and other environmental groups. Since the 2015 adoption of the Paris climate accord, the four firms together have provided more than $1 trillion in lending and underwriting to companies building coal plants, natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. 030-21-23
After half a year of suspense, the Biden administration is urging the Supreme Court to deny Big Oil’s petition to hear a high-profile case, arguing that climate lawsuits should stay in state courts.
The Department of Justice’s solicitor general released a legal brief last week that pertains to a lawsuit filed by the city and county of Boulder, along with San Miguel County, seeking millions of dollars from oil companies to update their infrastructure to deal with the impacts of climate change. The governments argue that Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil violated the state’s consumer protection laws by producing and selling fossil fuels in Colorado despite knowing that using their products would lead to more dangerous heat waves, wildfires, and floods.
Last February, a federal appeals court sent the case back to state court. After that, Suncor and Exxon petitioned the Supreme Court to grant “cert,” or hear the case, hoping to reverse that ruling. Oil companies have argued that the lawsuit isn’t really about deceptive marketing, but the large-scale problem of climate change, a question that should be handled by federal courts — historically a more corporation-friendly venue. The Supreme Court asked the solicitor general for guidance on the case in October, a sign that the justices were very interested in it. 03-20-23
WASHINGTON — President Biden plans next week to designate nearly a half-million acres of the Spirit Mountain area in southern Nevada as a national monument, according to two people familiar with the matter, protecting some of the most biologically diverse and culturally significant lands in the Mojave Desert.
The area, also known by the Mojave name Avi Kwa Ame, represents the largest such monument that Mr. Biden has designated to date. But it could also put some of the most potentially productive land in Nevada off limits to wind and solar projects.
Avi Kwa Ame is considered the creation site for Yuman-speaking tribes like the Fort Mojave, Cocopah, Quechan and Hopi. Their stories place it at the center of the universe.
Native tribes, environmental groups, local and state leaders have been seeking the designation for more than a decade. The administration is using the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect the area from development. 03-16-23
Right now, you likely have something unnatural lurking inside your body. It was made by a large corporation and could potentially harm you.
That something is called PFAS.
Known colloquially as “forever chemicals,” PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a large group of chemicals that make certain products nonstick or stain resistant. Research indicates that these chemicals can be dangerous. Exposure to PFAS is linked to cancers, weakened immune systems among children, weight gain, and a wide range of other health problems.
PFAS are a public health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Companies are still producing them, though stricter regulation may be coming. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to set a national standard to limit some of these compounds in drinking water.
What’s especially alarming is that nearly all Americans have some amount of PFAS in their blood, no matter how healthy they might be. “We’re really seeing PFAS absolutely everywhere,” said Elsie M. Sunderland, an environmental chemist at Harvard who’s been studying PFAS for roughly a decade.
These chemicals are in all kinds of consumer products, from clothes to fast food, where they help repel oil and water. They also contaminate the water we drink and, in some places, even the air we breathe, Sunderland said. Last summer, the EPA published an advisory that suggests even tiny amounts of PFAS in drinking water may pose health risks. 03-15-23
The Biden administration gave final approval Monday to a major Arctic oil project, marking one of its most significant and controversial decisions on climate change and energy. The drilling project had become an important symbol for both environmentalists and the oil industry over the last year as each camp fought to bend the decision in its favor.
The administration paired the approval with an announcement that it would seek to expand or strengthen protections across 16 million acres in the Alaskan Arctic, both onshore and in coastal waters, restricting or prohibiting oil and gas drilling in those areas.
The Willow Project was proposed five years ago by ConocoPhillips and would be the largest oil development to proceed under the Biden administration. Over 30 years of production, it would pump about 576 million barrels of oil from a federally-managed reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. The site lies about 30 miles west of a village of 500 residents, most of whom are Alaska Natives, and partially within a protected area that is home to millions of migratory birds and a caribou herd that is a subsistence food source for the village.
While some environmental groups welcomed the new conservation measures announced by the administration, they roundly condemned Willow’s approval. 03-14-23
The Biden administration will approve one of the largest oil developments ever on federal land Monday, according to three people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations, a day after announcing sweeping protections for more than 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska.
Opponents hoped Biden would reject energy giant ConocoPhillips’s multibillion-dollar drilling project, called Willow, on Alaska’s North Slope. But facing the prospect of having such a decision overturned in court, the administration plans to let the oil company build just three pads in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the nation’s largest expanse of public land, these three individuals said.
The decision shrinks the project from the five pads that ConocoPhillips originally proposed but allows what company officials have described as a site large enough for them to move forward and start construction within days.
Seeking to offset concern about the development, Biden will also declare the Arctic Ocean off limits to U.S. oil and gas leasing, the Interior Department announced Sunday. The department will also write new regulations protecting nearly 13 million acres in the NPR-A, including ecologically sensitive areas that provide habitat for thousands of caribou and shorebirds.
Biden’s effort to close off the spigot to future drilling in the region, even as he prepares to approve an operation that could produce between 576 million and 614 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years, highlights the challenge the president faces in delivering on his much-touted climate goals.03-12-23
A new batch of data about the country’s electricity generation shows the increasing dominance of one state as the clean energy leader.
No, it’s not California.
This isn’t new. Texas has produced more gigawatt-hours of electricity from renewable sources than any other state for several years running, thanks largely to wind energy. Now, the state is expanding its lead by continuing to be the county’s leader in wind energy, by a mile, and quickly closing the gap on California on utility-scale solar power.
In 2022, Texas generated 136,118 gigawatt-hours from wind and utility-scale solar, most of it from wind. The runner-up was California with 52,927 gigawatt-hours, most of it from utility-scale solar, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Some perspective: Texas’ total from wind and solar is huge—more than either New York or Ohio generated from all electricity sources. But Texas is also the country’s leader in overall electricity generation, and it’s the leader in generation from gas and coal, so the total for wind and solar, while gigantic, was just 34.3 percent of the total from all sources.
Iowa and Oklahoma are among states with small populations that are huge generators of wind energy, ranking third and fourth in this list of leaders in wind and solar.
Kentucky is near the bottom, despite having a lot of available land. But this should change as several large projects are in development. 03-09-23
If you throw a polyester sweatshirt in the washing machine, it doesn’t emerge as quite its former self. All that agitation breaks loose plastic microfibers, which your machine flushes to a wastewater treatment facility. Any particles that aren’t filtered out get pumped to sea. Like other forms of microplastic—broken-down bottles and bags, paint chips, and pellets known as nurdles—microfiber pollution in the oceans has mirrored the exponential growth of plastic production: Humanity now makes a trillion pounds of the stuff a year. According to the World Economic Forum, production could triple from 2016 levels by the year 2050.
A new analysis provides the most wide-ranging quantification yet of exactly how much of this stuff is tainting the ocean’s surface. An international team of researchers calculates that between 82 and 358 trillion plastic particles—a collective 2.4 to 10.8 billion pounds—are floating across the world … and that’s only in the top foot of seawater.
That’s also only counting the bits down to a third of a millimeter long, even though microplastics can get much, much smaller, and they grow much more numerous as they do so. (Microplastics are defined as particles smaller than 5 millimeters long.) Scientists are now able to detect nanoplastics in the environment, which are measured on the scale of millionths of a meter, small enough to penetrate cells—though it remains difficult and expensive to tally them. If this new study had considered the smallest of plastics, the numbers of oceanic particles would no longer be in the trillions. “We’re talking about quintillions, probably, that’s out there, if not more,” says Scott Coffin, a research scientist at the California State Water Resources Control Board and a coauthor of the study, which was published today in the journal PLoS ONE. 03-08-23
WASHINGTON — Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, has given 287 speeches on the Senate floor raising alarms about climate change, often delivered mainly to the C-SPAN cameras in a nearly empty chamber.
But now Mr. Whitehouse has a much bigger megaphone for his zeal for saving the planet, and one with real power: earlier this year, Mr. Whitehouse became chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which shapes federal spending and revenue. He is using his new authority to argue that a warming planet poses fiscal dangers, injecting climate change into the partisan fight over federal spending, just as economists warned that the nation is nearing a catastrophic default on its debt.
At his first committee hearing as chairman on Feb. 15, he focused on the risks of climate change to the federal budget and the global economy. He gave each of his colleagues a 615-page binder detailing the fiscal threats posed by droughts, storms, wildfires and rising seas.
At its second hearing on March 1, the Budget committee targeted rising sea levels and the climate risk to coastal communities. And on Wednesday, the committee will hear about the economic devastation brought by wildfires.
“I can make the case for the danger of unchecked climate change blowing the debt through the roof, in the same way that both the mortgage meltdown and the pandemic together added $10 trillion to the deficit,” he said in an interview.
“We have all these warnings,” Mr. Whitehouse said at the Feb. 15 hearing. “Warnings of crashes in coastal property values as rising seas and more powerful storms hit the 30-year mortgage horizon. Warnings of insurance collapse from more frequent, intense and unpredictable wildfires. A dangerous interplay between the insurance and mortgage markets hitting real estate markets across the country. Inflation from decreased agricultural yields. Massive infrastructure demand. Trouble in municipal bond markets.” 03-07-23
A civil rights complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday accuses the state of Alabama of mismanaging funds that should have gone to fix long-standing sewage issues for predominantly Black communities in both urban and rural pockets of the state.
The Center of Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Poverty Law Center, accuse the Alabama government of withholding federal funds distributed though a state program intended to address clean water issues for Black residents.
The complaint alleges the Alabama Department of Environmental Management purposefully set up rules that stopped any applicant trying to get funds from Alabama’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Historically, Black Alabamans have comprised the majority of people who are forced to live with raw sewage and without proper plumbing. 03-07-23
More than 190 countries have reached a landmark deal for protecting the biodiversity of the world’s oceans, agreeing for the first time on a common framework for establishing new protected areas in international waters.
Environmental advocacy groups heralded the finalized text — which still needs to be ratified by the United Nations — as a new chapter for Earth’s high seas. Just 1.2 percent of them are currently environmentally protected, exposing the vast array of marine species that teem beneath the surface — from tiny plankton to giant whales — to threats such as pollution, overfishing, shipping and deep-sea mining.
“Two-thirds of the ocean has just been exposed to the will and want of all,” said Rebecca Hubbard, the director of the High Seas Alliance consortium of nongovernmental organizations that participated in the negotiations, in a telephone interview Sunday. “We have never been able to protect and manage marine life in the ocean beyond countries’ jurisdictions,” she said. “This is absolutely world-changing.” 03-05-23
What happens when you watch 20 or so documentaries that grapple with climate change and its many impacts — all in a row? I set out to find out at the 21st annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, held in February in Nevada County, California.
I braced myself for a heavy affair. After all, the climate crisis is exactly that: a crisis. Doom and gloom can be hard to avoid. But as a fest vet, I also knew I could count on the morale boost that comes with seeing great people, doing great things, everywhere, every day.
This year was especially galvanizing as the festival came to life in person again for the first time since COVID, with filmmakers, activists, and people who just like nature converging to watch a bunch of films about the environment and climate change.
“CommUnity” was the festival theme this year, a concept that came roaring to life throughout the nine film venues scattered across downtown Nevada City and Grass Valley, sister towns in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The film selections included a wide range of films focused on people with different backgrounds, and ASL interpreters stood alongside presenters on stage at several screenings.
The sense that we’re in this together reached far beyond the theater walls, infusing activist workshops, environmental vendor booths, and even shops and restaurants where people seemed ready, eager even, to talk about the films they’d seen. 03-02-23
The Biden administration sued a chemical company operating in southeast Louisiana on Tuesday, compelling it to face up to the cancer risk generated by its toxic emissions, a move that activists have been demanding for years. Denka Performance Elastomer, a synthetic rubber manufacturing plant owned by a Japanese company of the same name, is located half a mile from an elementary school in St. John the Baptist Parish, where the air is laced with toxic chemicals emitted by dozens of different industrial facilities and more than 60 percent of residents are Black. The parish sits along the Mississippi River just north of New Orleans in the state’s main industrial corridor, a region commonly known as “Cancer Alley.”
“This brings us hope,” said Mary Hampton, president of the local advocacy group Concerned Citizens of St. John, which was founded in 2016. “It’s been a long time coming. We need action now for our children and want this to be put in place immediately.”
Denka’s facility is the only one in the country that makes neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber used for wetsuits and mousepads, a process which releases the carcinogen chloroprene. The material was invented by scientists at Dupont, the American chemical giant that owns the complex where Denka operates, and that sold it the neoprene plant in 2015. In its complaint filed on Tuesday, the Justice Department also named Dupont as a party responsible for ensuring that the plant reduces its emissions of chloroprene, which has been linked to numerous cancers and diseases of the nervous, immune, and respiratory systems. 03-01-23
Chris Laderer was 34 days into his tenure as chief of the volunteer fire department in Darlington, Pennsylvania, when the station received a call that a train had caught fire in the neighboring town of East Palestine, just over the state border in Ohio. Laderer assumed that an engine had overheated, but as the crew pulled out of the station he saw signs of something far more disastrous.
“We could see the glow and plume of smoke from our station, and we’re 4 miles from the scene,” he recalled. “We realized we’re getting something much bigger than what we anticipated.”
When Laderer’s team arrived, alongside the fire departments from roughly 80 other towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, they found 38 cars of a 150-car train splayed along the tracks, with some emitting flames that smelled, as Laderer described it, of burning plastic. They would learn in the days that followed that 11 cars contained hazardous chemicals, including the highly toxic compounds vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, which are used in the manufacturing of common plastics.
By Monday, three days after the February 3 derailment, the Norfolk Southern railroad company had sent in their own officials and contractors to perform a controlled burn-off of the vinyl chloride. The tactic was meant to prevent, as much as possible, more than 100,000 gallons of vinyl chloride from evaporating into the air and seeping into the soil and creek beds surrounding the train, although an as-yet-unknown quantity of it already had. (“Either we were going to blow it up, or it blows up itself,” Trent Conaway, the mayor of East Palestine, explained at a town hall the next week by way of illustrating a frustrating lack of options.)
But the burn didn’t go quite as planned. A towering, bulbous cloud of black smoke erupted from the train in the explosion and then spread over the surrounding area like a pool of oil, where it hung in the low atmosphere for hours and hours. Experts have attributed the smoke’s stubborn refusal to dissipate to a weather phenomenon called an inversion, where warm air that rises into the atmosphere after a sunny day traps the cold air coming off the ground as night falls. “The smoke that was supposed to stay up started banking down a bit on the area,” Laderer explained. 03-01-23
“Please don’t let them mine what God has put for us here to enjoy, and generations beyond us,” said Sheila Carter, a former Okefenokee guide, to representatives from the Environmental Protection Division of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources during a Thursday Zoom hearing. She was one of more than 70 people ranging from state representatives to high school students, who spoke out against the mine, which scientists warn could change the water level in the Okefenokee watershed.
The hours-long meetings were part of the 60-day public comment period on the Mining Land Use Plan drafted by the Twin Pines Minerals company. The vast majority of participants spoke in defense of the swamp, citing reasons such as the Okefenokee’s importance as a habitat and a carbon sink. Many shared impassioned messages about their own experiences there, such as being inspired as children by the refuge’s beauty.
The Wild Farm Alliance is working with farmers across California and beyond to help farmers take advantage of birds as natural pest control.
For more than two decades, Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) has provided just that—an alliance—between farmers and wildlife advocates. Based in California, the group is focused on finding common ground between two groups that have often been at odds in an effort to address the biodiversity crisis while helping farms benefit from adding more wildlife to their operations.
Executive director Jo Ann Baumgartner has been with WFA since 2001, and she’s a passionate advocate for what she and WFA call “bringing nature back to the farm.” Baumgartner spoke with us about the one of the group’s core efforts in recent years: building awareness about the value of birds on farms.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why focus on birds?
We have a goal of [adding] a million nest boxes and perches on 10 percent of farmland in the U.S. Our audience is mainly growers, and so we want to show them where they can see the benefits, but we also want to educate them about the need for nature to be supported. There are so many species in decline and so many ways that farmers can help, because agriculture comprises almost 60 percent of the landscape [in the U.S.] when you count all the grazing lands, and it’s a huge footprint. With farmers’ help, we can do a lot to reduce the biodiversity crisis, and they can benefit from it. 02-27-23
Africatown, the only U.S. community established by West Africans who survived the Middle Passage, demonstrates the long roots of environmental injustice.
Four years ago, an announcement from the Alabama Gulf Coast shocked the world: The wreckage of the Clotilda, the last slave ship ever brought to the U.S., had been identified in the muddy depths of the Mobile Delta. The slavers had burned the ship after its 1860 voyage to erase evidence of their crimes, but those they took captive kept their memories alive in Africatown, a neighborhood at the edge of Mobile that they established after their emancipation. Those survivors included Cudjo Lewis, who lived to be nearly 100 — long enough to share his experiences with Zora Neale Hurston, who interviewed him for what became her book Barracoon.
Africatown is the only American community established by West Africans who survived the brutality of the Middle Passage, a distinction recognized by its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Descendants of the voyage still live in the neighborhood today, though its population is a fraction of what it once was.
Throughout its history, Mobile’s white power brokers have treated Africatown as an industrial dumping ground. For years it was hedged in by two paper factories that released vast amounts of pollution into the air and waterways. It’s now surrounded by other industrial businesses, including a chemical refinery and an asphalt plant. Many residents believe there is a cancer epidemic. With help from activists, some are trying to transform the neighborhood into a destination for heritage tourism, which they see as the only hope for preserving it. Despite the national attention Africatown has received since the Clotilda’s discovery — which culminated in the release of the recent Netflix documentary Descendant — the community’s very existence remains in peril. 02-24-23
It was March 2021, and Sheri Neil was throwing together po’boys for the lunch crowd at her namesake Sheri’s Snack Shack, the only restaurant in the small bayou village of Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana. The counter-service sandwich joint stands elevated about 12 feet off the ground, with a big red deck where people can sit as they enjoy one of Sheri’s renowned milkshakes.
At the height of the lunch hour, a woman drove into the parking lot and came running up the stairs. She was a teacher at Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary School, which served about 80 children from the village of Pointe-aux-Chenes and nearby Ile de Jean Charles, both Indigenous communities that had been eroding for decades. Earlier that morning a representative from the parish school board had shown up unannounced and informed the staff that the parish was closing the school, effective that summer. People had been leaving Pointe-aux-Chenes for decades, driven out by frequent floods and the decline of the local shrimping industry, and enrollment at Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary had fallen well below the district’s target. The village no longer merited its own school, officials said.
There were about a dozen people at the restaurant when the teacher drove up, and each of them ran at once to tell their families and friends. By nightfall everyone in town had heard the news, and by the next morning the residents of Pointe-aux-Chenes leapt into action as only the residents of a small town could. They started a Facebook group on behalf of the school and alerted the new cub reporter for the daily newspaper in the nearby city of Houma. The leader of the local tribal organization called the tribe’s attorney and asked her to help them file a lawsuit against the parish. The town staged a small picket outside the school, with students and parents holding up handwritten signs. 02-22-23
Roger Houser’s ranching business was getting squeezed. The calves he raises in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley were selling for about the same price they had a few years earlier, while costs for essentials like fuel and fertilizer kept going up. But Houser found another use for his 500 acres.
An energy company offered to lease Houser’s property in rural Page County to build a solar plant that could power about 25,000 homes. It was a good offer, Houser says. More money than he could make growing hay and selling cattle.
“The idea of being able to keep the land as one parcel and not have it split up was very attractive,” Houser says. “To have some passive income for retirement was good. And then the main thing was the electricity it would generate and the good it would do made it feel good all the way around.”
But soon after he got the offer, organized opposition began a four-year battle against solar development in the county. A group of locals eventually joined forces with a nonprofit called Citizens for Responsible Solar to stop the project on Houser’s land and pass restrictions effectively banning big solar plants from being built in the area.
Citizens for Responsible Solar is part of a growing backlash against renewable energy in rural communities across the United States. The group, which was started in 2019 and appears to use strategies honed by other activists in campaigns against the wind industry, has helped local groups fighting solar projects in at least 10 states including Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, according to its website.
“I think for years, there has been this sense that this is not all coincidence. That local groups are popping up in different places, saying the same things, using the same online campaign materials,” says Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.
Citizens for Responsible Solar seems to be a well-mobilized “national effort to foment local opposition to renewable energy,” Burger adds. “What that reflects is the unfortunate politicization of climate change, the politicization of energy, and, unfortunately, the political nature of the energy transition, which is really just a necessary response to an environmental reality.” 02-18-23
The Biden administration on Friday finalized a decision to reestablish Obama-era rules that require coal and oil-fired power plants to reduce toxic pollutants, including mercury and acid gas, that come out of their smokestacks.
Mercury is a neurotoxin with several health impacts, including harmful effects on children’s brain development. And while the updated rule significantly benefits public health for communities around these kinds of power plants, it also has the effect of requiring plants to cut down on planet-warming pollution that comes from burning coal to generate electricity.
President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency announced early last year that it intended to undo a Trump-era rollback of the 2012 mercury pollution rules, one of many Trump-era environmental decisions it has reversed.
“This is a really good day for public health in this country,” EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe told CNN. “We’re talking about mercury, arsenic, acid gases; these are dangerous pollutants that impact people’s health.” 02-17-23
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has a new platform for urging Americans to wake up to the threat of climate change.
Whitehouse, who has given nearly 300 “Time to Wake Up” speeches on the Senate floor to call for greater action on global warming, recently became chair of the Senate Budget Committee, which is responsible for drafting Congress’s annual budget plan.
The Democrat plans to use the committee gavel to probe ways climate change could threaten the overall economy — and how the fossil fuel industry has allegedly misled the public about global warming. But he faces a couple of big obstacles.
For one thing, the Budget Committee doesn’t wield a great deal of power: While the panel produces budget resolutions, which serve as a blueprint for appropriators, policy decisions are left up to other committees. For another, House Democrats have not sent a trove of internal industry documents to the Senate, complicating Whitehouse’s plans to continue investigating the fossil fuel industry’s downplaying of climate concerns.
Still, a defiant Whitehouse pledged in a recent interview to use the full powers of his new perch — however limited they may be — to push for continued climate action and accountability.
“There are plenty of sector-specific areas for the committee to dive into where there is profound budget impact from climate change, the obvious ones being coastal flooding and the flood insurance program,” Whitehouse said Wednesday after holding the panel’s first hearing of the 118th Congress on climate issues. 02-17-23
Michael Holtham, Oxbow’s plant manager, had been preparing for this moment. He had been on the job for nearly a decade. His three brothers had worked at the Port Arthur plant, as had his dad. He loved coordinating his 60-person team and had enjoyed watching many of them grow in their jobs. But they were now facing a new challenge.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, had installed an air monitor near the plant a few months earlier and was allowing Oxbow to capture nearly real-time data. The data was technically available to the public on request, but Oxbow was the only company in the state to have sought it — and it used the information to its advantage. Every time the wind blew in the direction of the monitor and the readings ticked upward, Holtham and other Oxbow employees were alerted. Then they improvised ways to decrease the brownish-yellow sulfurous plume spilling out of the smokestacks, stopping the company from running afoul of the law.
The Port Arthur plant was built in the 1930s and has been grandfathered in as an exception to the landmark federal environmental laws of the 1970s. The facility has four cavernous, cylindrical kilns that are constantly rotating, each about half the length of a football field. Raw petcoke, the bottom-of-the-barrel remainder from refining crude oil, is fed into the kilns and heated to temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit — a fourth of the temperature of the surface of the sun. The intense heat helps burn off heavy metals, sulfur, and other impurities into the air. It emits more than double the amount of sulfur dioxide, which can cause wheezing and asthma attacks, than the average U.S. coal-fired power plant. 02-16-23
You’ve probably seen ads promoting gas and oil companies as the solutions to climate change. They’re meant to be inspiring and hopeful, with scenes of a green, clean future.
But shiny ads are not all these companies do to protect their commercial interests in the face of a rapidly heating world. Most also provide financial support to industry groups that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political activities, often to thwart policies designed to slow climate change.
For example, The New York Times recently reported on the Propane Education and Research Council’s attempts to derail efforts to electrify homes and buildings in New York, in part by committing nearly $900,000 to the New York Propane Gas Association, which flooded social media with misleading information about energy-efficient heat pumps.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners and petrochemical firms, has spent millions on public relations campaigns, such as promoting a rollback of federal fuel efficiency standards. 02-14-23
The Department of Energy has agreed to loan a Nevada startup $2 billion to support its production of critical battery materials, a staggering sum that illustrates the Biden Administration’s determination to domesticate the electric vehicle supply chain.
Redwood Materials will use the money for construction of the first factory in the nation to produce anode copper foil and cathode active materials, two essential components in EV batteries. The company, founded by former Tesla executive JB Straubel, says it will manufacture enough of them to support the production of 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2025. That would reduce the country’s gasoline consumption by more than 395 million gallons annually and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3.5 million tons. It also would ease automakers’ reliance on battery components made overseas.
“It accomplishes the goals of less reliance on critical minerals from Asia, brings manufacturing and the supply chain to the US, and produces components for electric vehicles, which ultimately reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” Bob Marcum, chief operating officer of the DOE Loan Programs Office, told Grist on Friday. “It’s a very important project and something that we’re very excited about.”
The loan, which the Energy Department agreed to in a conditional commitment announced Thursday, will come from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which supports manufacturing projects that improve vehicle fuel efficiency. 02-13-23
With remarkable speed, Minnesota lawmakers have passed a bill requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.
The legislation, signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, means Minnesota joins a group of 10 states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington) plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in having laws that require a transition to 100 percent carbon-free or renewable electricity.
In addition, Maine and Nevada have laws that set 100-percent goals, rather than requirements, so I’m putting them in their own category. The governors of Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin have issued executive orders calling for a transition to 100 percent carbon-free electricity, so they also are in their own category.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2023, I’m wondering which states are most likely to join the 100 percent club with new laws. I asked a bunch of people who would know, and these are the places they suggested I watch most closely:
New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, issued an executive order in 2018 calling for a transition to carbon-free electricity. But an executive order doesn’t have the same durability as a law.
This may be the year that the New Jersey Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, takes the ideas behind the executive order and turns them into a law. 02-09-23
The morning of June 7, 2021, Sheriff’s Deputy Chuck Nelson of Beltrami County, Minnesota, bought water and refreshments, packed his gear, and prepared for what would be, in his own words, “a long day.” For over six months, Indigenous-led opponents of the Line 3 project had been participating in acts of civil disobedience to disrupt construction of the tar sands oil pipeline, arguing that it would pollute water, exacerbate the climate crisis, and violate treaties with the Anishinaabe people. Officers like Nelson were stuck in the middle of a conflict, sworn to protect the rights of both the pipeline company Enbridge and its opponents.
Nelson drove 30 minutes to Hubbard County, where he and officers from 14 different police and sheriff’s departments confronted around 500 protesters, known as water protectors, occupying a pipeline pump station. The deputy spent his day detaching people who had locked themselves to equipment as fire departments and ambulances stood by. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter swooped low, kicking dust over the demonstrators, and officers deployed a sound cannon known as a Long Range Acoustic Device in attempts to disperse the crowd.
By the end of the day, 186 people had been detained in the largest mass-arrest of the opposition movement. Some officers stuck around to process arrests, while others stopped for snacks at a gas station or ordered Chinese takeout before crashing at a nearby motel.
These latter details might be considered irrelevant, except for the fact that the police and emergency workers’ takeout, motel rooms, riot gear, gas, wages, and trainings were paid for by one side of the dispute — the fossil fuel company building the pipeline, which spent more than $79,000 on policing that day alone. 02-09-23
Most people associate hurricanes with high winds, intense rain and rapid flooding on land. But these storms can also change the chemistry of coastal waters. Such shifts are less visible than damage on land, but they can have dire consequences for marine life and coastal ocean ecosystems.
We are oceanographers who study the effects of ocean acidification, including on organisms like oysters and corals. In a recent study, we examined how stormwater runoff from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 affected the water chemistry of Galveston Bay and the health of the bay’s oyster reefs. We wanted to understand how extreme rainfall and runoff from hurricanes influenced acidification of bay waters, and how long these changes could last.
Our findings were startling. Hurricane Harvey, which generated massive rainfall in the Houston metropolitan area, delivered a huge pulse of fresh water into Galveston Bay. As a result, the bay was two to four times more acidic than normal for at least three weeks after the storm.
This made bay water corrosive enough to damage oyster shells in the estuary. Because oyster growth and recovery rely on many factors, it is hard to tie specific changes to acidification. However, increased acidification certainly would have made it harder for oyster reefs damaged by Hurricane Harvey to recover. And while our study focused on Galveston Bay, we suspect that similar processes may be occurring in other coastal areas. 02-07-23
The company’s profits more than doubled to $27.7bn (£23bn) in 2022, as energy prices soared after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Other energy firms have seen similar rises, with Shell reporting record earnings of nearly $40bn last week.
It has led to calls for energy firms to pay more tax as people’s bills soar.
BP boss Bernard Looney said the British company was “helping provide the energy the world needs” while investing the transition to green energy.
But it came as the firm scaled back plans to cut carbon emissions by reducing its oil and gas output.
The company – which was one of the first oil and gas giants to announce an ambition to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 – had previously promised that emissions would be 35-40% lower by the end of this decade.
However, on Tuesday it said it was now targeting a 20-30% cut, saying it needed to keep investing in oil and gas to meet current demands. 02-07-23
Just four miles up the shore from the public beach in Waukegan, Illinois, sits the Waukegan Generating Station, a formerly coal-powered electricity plant. According to Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident, the coal ash—a byproduct of coal power generation—left behind by the plant is a “ticking bomb” that threatens not only her community’s water supply, but all of Lake Michigan, as well.
Ortiz, a founder of the environmental justice nonprofit Clean Power Lake County, has worked for a decade to ensure that the coal ash waste at Waukegan Generating Station gets cleaned up. In June 2022, they completed the first task: closure of the plant’s last two coal-burning units.
But coal ash still fills underground impoundments and ponds at the site, where residents are worried that toxic metals like arsenic, lead and mercury, linked to certain cancers and neurological problems, could be leaching into groundwater. According to a 2019 ruling by the Illinois Pollution Control Board, coal ash-derived boron and sulfate exceeding the board’s regulations have been detected in Waukegan’s groundwater. Because of the pollution, Ortiz doesn’t let her children swim in nearby Lake Michigan. 02-05-23
Exposure to air pollution has a significant impact on rates of cancers typically associated with smoking, according to a recent study.
The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that in polluted urban areas, reducing air pollution could do as much as completely eliminating smoking would to lower rates of the 12 types of cancer most commonly associated with smoking, including lung cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, cancer of the larynx and acute myeloid leukemia.
“Getting people to quit smoking is a really important way to prevent cancer, but we found that it’s not going to do as much in places that are highly polluted,” David Kriebel, a professor and director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts and one of the study’s authors, told Environmental Health News (EHN).
The study builds on previous research by the same authors that estimated how much cancer rates would have declined in counties across the U.S. if everyone had quit smoking 20 years ago. That study found that in many urban counties with high levels of air pollution, lung cancer rates would not be significantly lower if everyone had quit smoking.
For example, in Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh — a region with some of the worst air quality in the country — lung cancer rates would only have dropped by 11% if everyone had quit smoking 20 years ago. For comparison, the average cancer reduction for all 612 counties included in the study was 62% if everyone had quit smoking 20 years ago — suggesting that there is something else driving cancer rates in places like Allegheny County. 02-03-23
The Environmental Protection Agency used the Clean Water Act on Monday to veto a proposed copper and gold mining project near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Not only does the veto apply to the Pebble mine project, which would have dug into the path of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, it prevents any similar developments from moving forward in the watershed.
“While there are changes in nuance at the various stages, it has been clear for some time that EPA was determined to do something to safeguard the national treasure that is the Bristol Bay Fishery,” said Western Director and Senior Attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council Joel Reynolds, who was involved in the fight against the Pebble mine.
“It’s the wrong place for any large-scale mining project,” he said.
Plans for the mine date back to the early 2000s, when the California-based company Pebble LP proposed a massive, open-pit mine roughly 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Bristol Bay and its watershed sit on huge deposits of gold and copper. According to Pebble LP, the mine would produce hundreds of thousands of tons of the minerals each year, which it says are essential to the green energy transition (copper is often used in clean energy resources like solar and hydro power, and demand for the mineral is skyrocketing as a result). The company also said the mine would create jobs, employing up to 2,000 people. 02-01-23