Recent News

Saving History With Sandbags: Climate Change Threatens the Smithsonian

Robert Horton, an assistant director for collections and archives for the National Museum of American History in Washington, in a room where artifacts are stored.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Beneath the National Museum of American History, floodwaters are intruding into collection rooms, a consequence of a warming planet. A fix remains years away.

President Warren Harding’s blue silk pajamas. Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves. The Star Spangled Banner. Scripts from the television show “M*A*S*H.”

Nearly two million irreplaceable artifacts that tell the American story are housed in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, the biggest museum complex in the world.

Now, because of climate change, the Smithsonian stands out for another reason: Its cherished buildings are extremely vulnerable to flooding, and some could eventually be underwater.

Eleven palatial Smithsonian museums and galleries form a ring around the National Mall, the grand two-mile park lined with elms that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol.

But that land was once marsh. And as the planet warms, the buildings face two threats. Rising seas will eventually push in water from the tidal Potomac River and submerge parts of the Mall, scientists say. More immediately, increasingly heavy rainstorms threaten the museums and their priceless holdings, particularly since many are stored in basements. 11-25-21


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In defense of leftovers

Americans claim to idolize Thanksgiving leftovers. The piles of food waste say otherwise.

Think of a typical Thanksgiving meal, and you’ll probably picture a table overflowing with bounty — turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, maybe a few candles and a decorative gourd for good measure. It’s a holiday where food and plenty are the main event. Judging by what happens afterward, however, that vision is sometimes more appealing than the reality.

The overstuffing of America’s fridges has become something of a tradition every November. Piles of post-feast green bean casserole and cranberry sauce get squirreled away in Tupperware, the once-molten gravy turning into a kind of savory jello. There they sit, waiting on the final variable: you. Depending on how you view leftovers, they can be a joy or a burden, an easy home-cooked meal for the weekend or unappealing scraps headed for the bin.

There’s an abundance of creative recipes for uneaten Thanksgiving food, which are often far more varied and customizable — cranberry sauce cocktails! stuffing frittatas! — than the traditional day-of meal. “A lot of people talk about loving Thanksgiving leftovers even more than the dinner itself,” said Helen Zoe Veit, a professor who studies the history of food at Michigan State University. For some Americans, they’re the whole point: Nearly three-quarters say that a fridge teeming with surplus food is the best part of the holiday. 11-22-21

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Energy company cancels $2.5 billion oil export terminal in Louisiana

The Plaquemines Liquid Terminal would have would have sat on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Google Earth

The project faced stiff opposition from residents, who argued it would have destroyed a historic slave burial site.

The energy infrastructure company Tallgrass Energy Partners announced Friday it is canceling a $2.5 billion oil export terminal and pipeline project in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, citing climate, economic, and cultural concerns. The proposal had faced years of fierce opposition from residents and environmental groups, who argued the facility would be built atop a historic burial site of enslaved people, further exacerbate climate change, and impact nearby ecological restoration efforts, partially blocking the flow of important sediments in theMississippi River Delta.

The Kansas-based company said in a press release that it is “withdrawing the current air permit application” for the site, and is considering alternative commercial development options.

The proposed export terminal would have sat on the west bank of the Mississippi River near the town of Ironton, with the capacity to hold up to 20 million barrels of oil. But the 200-acre site encompassed part of the former St. Rosalie Plantation, which used slave labor to grow sugarcane from 1828 to 1859, according to news site Bayou Brief. Most of Ironton’s residents are descendants of the enslaved Black people forced to work on the plantation. Over the last two years, archaeologists hired by the company have found 13,000 artifacts from the plantation, including pieces of human bones and fragments of inscribed tombstones, according to NOLA.com. 11-24-21

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The Supreme Court will hear cases that could undercut Biden’s climate agenda. Here’s what to know.

The Supreme Court on Nov. 22. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In our crowded news cycle, it can be easy to miss key developments related to climate policy. So you would be forgiven for missing that the Supreme Court last month agreed to hear cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency‘s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

But environmental lawyers say you should be paying attention to the pending cases, which could threaten a key plank of President Biden’s climate agenda.

“This is potentially a very big deal,” Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer who ran the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation under President George W. Bush, told The Climate 202.

Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said the cases could offer an early test of the willingness of the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices to step in to block Biden’s climate plans. “It is definitely a big test,” Adler told The Climate 202.

The Supreme Court said Oct. 29 that it would hear the cases in response to requests from Republican-led states and the coal industry.

  • The requests were spearheaded by two Republican attorneys general — Patrick Morriseyof West Virginia and Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota — as well as North American Coal and Westmoreland Mining.
  • The states and companies specifically asked the court to determine whether the EPA can issue sweeping climate regulations for the power sector under the Clean Air Act, which directs the agency to consider the “best system of emission reduction” for existing coal plants. 11-23-21

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More U.S. Residents Than Ever Before Understand Climate Crisis is Real and Dangerous

A woman walks through a flooded street the morning after the remnants of Hurricane Ida drenched the New York City and New Jersey area on September 2, 2021 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn / Getty Images

People in the U.S. are taking the climate crisis more seriously than ever before, a new survey indicates.

The latest Climate Change in the American Mind survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that an all-time high of 76 percent of U.S. respondents think global warming is happening. Further, for the first time, more than half say that they have personally experienced its impacts.

“After a brutal year of record heatwavesfiresfloods, and storms… Americans are increasingly convinced global warming is real, human-caused, and dangerous — right here, right now,” program director Anthony Leiserowitz told HuffPost.

The survey is the latest in a series of surveys conducted by the Yale program since 2008. Researchers asked 1,006 U.S. adults about their thoughts and opinions related to the climate crisis between September 10 and 20 of 2021. The results were published Thursday. 11-19-21

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Public schools are failing students on climate change

Grist / Courtesy of Columbia Global Reports / Emma Varsanyi

A new book exposes systemic shortcomings in the way global warming is taught in America.

From school strikes and congressional sit-ins to demonstrations at this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, young people are leading the fight against climate change. Poll after poll shows that Gen Z and Millennials are by far the generations most alarmedabout the climate crisis, and the most engaged in efforts to address it.

But a new book from the journalist Katie Worth makes it clear that many young people still aren’t getting accurate information about climate change in school. In Miseducation, Worth exposes systemic problems with the way U.S. public schools teach climate change. From kindergarten to high school, she reports, students are still being taught that the climate “has always changed” or reading textbooks that present global warming as a “debate.” That’s if climate change comes up in the classroom at all: According to a 2019 NPR/Ipsos poll, some 55 percent of teachers don’t cover climate or even talk to their students about it — mostly because they say it’s “not related to the subject(s)” they teach.

“There’s a real inequity in terms of what kids are learning about this problem that’s defining the century that they’re born into,” Worth told Grist. At best, she added, public schools are failing to engage students who want to learn about climate change. At worst, they’re sowing doubt into kids’ impressionable minds, undermining efforts to address the looming crisis. 11-19-21

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Pollution’s mental toll: How air, water and climate pollution shape our mental health

For years Americans have been warned about the dangers of pollution and climate change but one effect is neglected: impacts to our brains.

An investigation into the mental health impacts of air and water pollution in western Pennsylvania found alarming evidence that residents throughout the region are likely suffering changes to their brains due to pollution in the surrounding environment.

Reporting also uncovered the growing gap in mental health care as more people are traumatized by worsening climate change.

Here are the stories:

Story 1: Air pollution can alter our brains in ways that increase mental illness risk

Story 2: How contaminated water contributes to mental illness

Story 3: Feeling anxious about climate change? Experts say you’re not alone

Story 4: How to address the looming crisis of climate anxiety

Story 5: Seeking solutions: Pollution and mental health in western Pennsylvania

What we found

The collaboration between Environmental Health News and The Allegheny Front revealed:

  • Harmful PM2.5 air pollution, which is linked to more ER mental health visits for children, is consistently higher in western Pennsylvania.
  • Evidence that Clairton, Pa., which has some of the most polluted air in the country, is in the worst 25 percent of U.S. cities for adults experiencing 14 or more days of poor mental health each month.
  • Air pollution is worse in environmental justice communities experiencing high poverty and crime, which exacerbate the local mental health toll. Black and Hispanic residents report more days of mental health struggles.
  • Consistently high lead levels—which impact kids’ mental health—in regional water, contributing to the percentage of Pennsylvania children with elevated blood lead levels being more than twice as high as the national rate.
  • There is profound concern, especially among many young people, about climate change, and research shows it is creating climate anxiety. Mental health experts say the profession has not yet prepared for the onslaught of this community trauma.
  • There are efforts, including in Pittsburgh, to shift the current model of mental health care toward community-based care, training more people to help those with psychological needs, and creating new spaces for people to work together to discuss their feelings and experiences.
  • More therapists are encouraging people to act, whether by writing to their Congressional representatives, joining climate activism, or just recycling at home, as a way to alleviate climate anxiety. 11-18-21

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One surprising winner in Biden’s infrastructure bill: Biodiversity

Biden’s infrastructure bill puts billions toward wildlife and ecosystems.

President of the United States Joe Biden signs the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Kyle Mazza / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden on Monday will not go down in history as a milestone in America’s effort to control the climate crisis. A Princeton University analysis of the bill, which President Joe Biden initially hoped would deliver on many of his climate-related promises from the campaign trail, showed the policies in the package will only shave a hair off of the U.S.’s annual carbon emissions by the end of this decade, if they make any difference at all. But the bipartisan infrastructure bill could mark a turning point in the way the U.S. regards an equally important environmental issue that many scientists say comprises the flip side of the climate change coin: biodiversity.

There’s an extinction event underway in the U.S. and most other parts of the globe. The planet’s flora and fauna are getting squeezed by development, agriculture, deforestation, overfishing, and rising temperatures. One million species could sputter out, many of them in a matter of decades, because of humans. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” Robert Watson, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said in 2019. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Ensuring a liveable planet doesn’t just mean keeping global warming below a certain threshold; it also means stemming the loss of species and shoring up the planet’s biodiversity. 11-17-21

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Here’s how the bipartisan infrastructure deal could promote environmental justice

According to the White House, the new law earmarks $240 billion for environmental justice projects — the largest such investment in U.S. history.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After months of negotiation, President Joe Biden finally signed the long-awaited $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law on Monday afternoon. While the bill has been whittled down considerably compared to Biden’s initial $2 trillion proposal, the bipartisan agreement is a much-needed victory for the president — in part because, in the administration’s view, it commits the country to its largest-ever environmental justice investment.

Although Biden’s initial infrastructure spending vision was touted for the ways it could help mitigate climate change, the bill signed on Monday focuses heavily on conventional transportation infrastructure: Bridges, roads, ports, and airports would all see substantial investment. Nevertheless, according to the White House, roughly $240 billion is expected to be spent advancing environmental justice, a pillar of Biden’s campaign platform.

“These long-overdue investments,” according to an administration fact sheet shared exclusively with Grist on Monday, “will take much-needed steps to improve public health, reduce pollution, and deliver economic revitalization to communities that have been overburdened, underserved, and left behind.” 11-16-21

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Biden Plans to Bar New Drilling Around a Major Native American Cultural Site

Fajada Butte in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The area is home to a vast network of pre-Columbian ruins.Credit…John Burcham for The New York Times

After years of tribal requests, the president plans to block new oil and gas leases within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The ban is likely to generate strong pushback from industry.

WASHINGTON — President Biden will announce on Monday that his administration is moving to block new federal oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant Native American sites, according to White House officials.

The announcement is to come as Mr. Biden hosts a tribal nations summit meeting at the White House at which, administration officials said, he will also highlight steps that he has taken to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans.

The move to restrict fossil fuel drilling around a major Native American site dovetails two of Mr. Biden’s top policy priorities: addressing climate change and injustices against Native Americans.

Although Mr. Biden has pushed an ambitious climate agenda, he has come under fierce criticism from Native American environmental activists for his administration’s approval of Line 3, a $9 billion pipeline that would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil through Minnesota’s delicate watersheds and tribal lands. 11-15-21

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Natural gas company goes to great lengths to avoid saying the word ‘pipeline’

Why call it a pipeline when you could call it “an infrastructure”?

Grist / Amelia Bates

Pipelines might be going the way of toilets, death, and sex — that is, best talked about discreetly. Just as ordinary folks might use a euphemism like “the birds and the bees,” a natural gas company is now awkwardly calling its proposed pipeline “an infrastructure.” No, really.

The proposed 12-mile pipeline, officially called the “Greenville County Reliability Project,” is meant to bring more natural gas to the growing population near Greenville County, South Carolina. Local environmentalists argue that the pipeline, proposed by a subsidiary of Duke Energy called Piedmont Natural Gas, is unnecessary. Duke Energy responded with a news release touting the community’s role in determining the pipeline’s route — but without any mention of the actual word “pipeline.”

Instead, there is plenty of discussion of a “new infrastructure project” and various “routes.” Pursuing the project’s site, you have to scroll down to the FAQ to find the p-word, as Politico pointed out. A page about construction includes some creative but not necessarily grammatically correct turns of phrase, perhaps to avoid the word “pipeline”:

Heavy equipment – such as excavators, cranes, rough terrain forklifts, track hoes, dump trucks, side booms and welding equipment – is often necessary to construct a large natural gas infrastructure. While construction of an infrastructure can take months, this equipment and associated construction on individual properties is much shorter in duration. [emphasis added] 11-12-21

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At COP26, 7 countries initiate the beginning of the end of fossil fuels

onurdongel / Getty Images

Meet BOGA, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

If the 26th United Nations climate conference is remembered for one thing, it might be that it marked the first time world leaders finally addressed the elephant in the room: fossil fuels. In 2015, even as countries reached a historic agreement to limit global warming to “well under” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), nobody was talking about what that goal would mean for fossil fuel production. The emphasis was placed on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, not on what caused them. The words “fossil fuels” do not appear in the Paris Agreement.

But this month in Glasgow, two dozen countries promised to cut off their funding for fossil fuel projects in other countries by 2022. More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal-fired power in the coming decades. On Tuesday night, the United Kingdom published a draft of the conference’s final agreement that mentioned phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies — the first time “fossil fuel” has ever appeared at the negotiations, even in a draft. And today, under the new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, or BOGA, seven countries and one Canadian province committed to end new oil and gas exploration and production. 11-11-21

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The role of electric vehicles in the push for environmental justice

Expanding electric vehicle access will help improve air quality and mobility in low-income communities plagued by environmental racism.

Take a moment and visualize: You’re walking down a street in a large city when you happen upon a bus stop.

You see a few people waiting for the bus. The bus rolls up, passengers get off, and those waiting at the stop climb on. Who do you see? As the bus drives away, you see vehicles trail behind. One is an electric car. Who do you see driving it?

Growing up in Chicago, public transportation was part of my everyday life and that of many others. As a young child, my whole family rode the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses—my sister and I to school, and my parents to work. Public transit helped us escape traffic, nap on the way to work or school, and avoid scraping ice or snow off a car in harsh winter months. However, by far the greatest reason that people on the south and west sides of the city opted for public transit was to save money. Driving a gas-powered vehicle can be costly if you’re low-income. But there’s an alternative, one that no one promoted in my community growing up: electric vehicles.  11-10-21

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‘Luxury carbon consumption’ of top 1% threatens 1.5C global heating limit

Richest 1% will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, while poorest 50% will release one tonne of CO2 a year

The carbon dioxide emissions of the richest 1% of humanity are on track to be 30 times greater than what is compatible with keeping global heating below 1.5C, new research warns, as scientists urge governments to “constrain luxury carbon consumption” of private jets, megayachts and space travel.

In keeping with the Paris climate goals, every person on Earth needs to reduce their CO2 emissions to an average of 2.3 tonnes by 2030, about half the average of today.

The richest 1% – which is a population smaller than Germany – are on track to be releasing 70 tonnes of CO2 per person a year if current consumption continues, according to the study. In total they will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, up from 13% of emissions in 1990. Meanwhile, the poorest 50% will be releasing an average of one tonne of CO2 annually.

“A tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute,” said Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam, which commissioned the study by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). “Their oversized emissions are fuelling extreme weather around the world and jeopardising the international goal of limiting global heating,” she said. 11-05-21

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Congress is poised to fix the most annoying thing about buying an electric car

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The new EV tax credit would be $12,500 — and refundable.

President Joe Biden loves electric cars. Whether he’s zipping around a racetrack in Ford’s electric F-150 truck or promising that half of all cars sold in the U.S. will be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2030, the 46th president has made it clear that he wants to break the country’s addiction to gas-powered vehicles.

There’s a very solid reason for that: Today, less than 1 percent of the country’s 250 million cars, trucks, and vans are electric. If America is going to zero out its carbon emissions, that number has to go to 100 percent in just a few decades.

The good news is that Congress is poised to make it way, way easier for Americans to give up their gas cars for smooth, silent, all-electric ones. Last week, the White House released a framework for the Build Back Better Act, the $1.85 trillion budget bill that will also be the largest climate measure in American history. And nestled in the framework is a gangbusters improvement to the nation’s EV tax credits that could nudge millions of Americans to swap out their 2005 Honda Civic for a brand-new Nissan Leaf. 11-01-21

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The Supreme Court review that could change the EPA

Getty Images

What the Supreme Court’s review of the EPA’s authority over emissions from power plants really means

Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden announced a plan to cut emissions in half by the end of this decade. So far, conservative members of his own party have been the biggest obstacle to achieving progress on climate change. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of two crucial Democratic swing votes in the Senate, succeeded in removing the most aggressive climate policy from Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which is still being negotiated.

But a greater obstacle looms on the treacherous path to reining in greenhouse gas emissions, one that the White House won’t be able to negotiate with: the Supreme Court.

Under former president Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, ensuring a conservative supermajority for decades to come (unless Democrats pass a law to expand the number of seats on the bench). The effect of the court’s new ideological makeup on climate policy will be put to the test next year. 11-05-21

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Banks pledged $130 trillion for climate action. Activists aren’t impressed.

Climate activists staged a Climate Justice Memorial outside the Bank of England as part of the international campaign ahead of the COP26. Hesther Ng / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Ima

Some activists believe financial institutions’ most recent climate promises are just more greenwashing.

Financing the transition to a carbon-free economy is one of the most pressing issues at this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow — and it has been a busy first few days. On Wednesday, finance ministers met with international banking institutions and asset managers to discuss how private and public funds could be used to spur climate action. The multi-donor trust Climate Investment Funds, or CIF, launched a new financing mechanism to boost investment in wind and solar energy in the Global South. The United Kingdom promised to mobilize $788 million for developing economies’ energy transition. And the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank announced they would help developing countries raise $8.5 billion for renewable energy.

One of the most significant commitments came from the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, or GFANZ, which is made up of more than 450 financial institutions across 45 countries. The group launched a progress report that found its members have pledged to invest more than $130 trillion in the transition to a net-zero economy. Twenty-nine of its members have committed to reducing their portfolio emissions by up to 30 percent in the next three years. Another 43 have published carbon reduction targets for 2030. 11-04-21

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10 Facebook Publishers Responsible for Nearly 70% of Climate Change Denial Content

Photo: Loic Venance (Getty Images)

The publishers are largely products of the political right and have a combined 186 million followers on major social media networks.

Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes online is likely acutely aware of the seemingly endless ocean of climate change denial content swirling across social media. But the vast misinformation maelstrom is largely being churned out by less than a dozen publishers.

According to a new report published on Tuesday from The Center For Countering Digital Hate, just 10 Facebook pages pushed 69% of all climate denial. Most of them were—shocker—megaphones of the political far right.

To conduct the analysis, the group sifted through 6,983 climate denial articles featured in Facebook posts over the past year. Breitbart, the Western Journal, and Newsmax are the top purveyors of climate denial. Altogether, the report notes these publishers have a combined 186 million followers on major social media networks.

In addition to fomenting and amplifying unnecessary hesitancy around addressing the world’s most pressing problem, these publishers also made a decent amount of money. According to the report, the top 10 publishers of climate change denial content received 1.1 billion page visits and raked in $3.6 million in advertising revenue from Google over the past six months. 11-02-21

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New York rejects two new gas power plants as ‘inconsistent’ with climate law

Sane Energy Project

The decision marks a milestone in an ongoing debate over the role of natural gas in net-zero plans.

In the lead-up to the United Nations climate summit known as COP26, New York state officials made a landmark decision to deny permits for two proposed natural gas power plants after determining they would be inconsistent with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions targets and were not needed for grid reliability. The decisions, announced by the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, last week, mark the first time the state has wielded its 2019 climate law to reject proposals for new electricity generation.

“We must shift to a renewable future,” DEC commissioner Basil Seggos wrote in a tweet announcing the decisions, tagging #COP26.

After the Biden administration’s recent failure to pass a law designed to move the power sector toward the goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, the decisions in New York signal that state-level climate laws could prove to be a key alternative tool to get there. 11-02-21

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The Divestment Movement’s Big Month

Investors, foundations, universities and governments pulled their assets from fossil fuel companies in record numbers in October.

The decades-long push to get large investment funds to pull their money from destructive oil, gas and coal has made several major leaps forward in the past month. One of the biggest occurred Oct. 18 when the Ford Foundation, a nonprofit built on profits from the combustion engine, announced it would divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies.

The foundation also promised to invest in renewable energy companies and funds that “address the threat of climate change and support the transition to a green economy.”

Fossil fuels represented a relatively small percentage of the Ford Foundation’s total investment portfolio, but even a fraction makes a huge difference when you’re worth $16 billion.

That’s a point activists and community organizers have been making with increasing regularity over the past decade. And their growing success shows that collective voices for change can make a difference.

“Most people don’t have an oil well in their backyard, but everyone lives near some pot of money,” says climate activist Bill McKibben. “And so the climate fight has come to college campuses, to church denominations, to union halls with pension funds. It’s made the abstract very real for millions of campaigners.”

McKibben first advocated for fossil-fuel divestment in 2012 as a way to “revoke the social license of the fossil fuel industry.”

Today that goal seems even more relevant. 10-29-21

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New budget deal marks the biggest climate investment in U.S. history

SolarCity employees install solar panels on a home in Kendall Park, N.J. The White House said that the new bill would cut the cost of installation on residences by about 30 percent. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg News)

The $555 billion focused on cutting carbon emissions includes tax credits for businesses and consumers, but omits a key plan targeting the U.S. power sector.

The White House’s Build Back Better plan unveiled Thursday represents the biggest clean-energy investment in U.S. history, with a $555 billion package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.

Although Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) forced Democrats to drop a key provision targeting the electric power sector, the final bill includes an array of tax credits for companies and consumers that will make it easier to buy electric vehicles, install solar panels, retrofit buildings and manufacture wind turbines and other clean-energy equipment in the United States.

The climate package comes at a time when President Biden is hoping to demonstrate at a high-profile United Nations summit next week that the United States can meet its international climate commitments. The legislation, coupled with executive actions, could help Biden halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in less than nine years compared with 2005 levels. 10-28-21

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The dirty dozen: meet America’s top climate villains

Illustration: Jason Goad/The Guardian

Few are household names, yet these 12 enablers and profiteers have an unimaginable sway over the fate of humanity. 

For too long, Americans were fed a false narrative that they should feel individually guilty about the climate crisis. The reality is thatonly a handful of powerful individuals bear the personal responsibility.

The nation’s worst polluters managed to evade accountability and scrutiny for decades as they helped the fossil fuel industry destroy our planet. The actions of these climate supervillains have affected millions of people, disproportionately hurting the vulnerable who have done the least to contribute to global emissions.

Working- and middle-class people must stop blaming themselves for the climate crisis. Instead, it’s time to band together to seek justice and hold these profiteers accountable. Only in calling out their power and culpability is it possible to reclaim the world that belongs to all of us, together. 10-27-21

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Nature for all: Connecting communities of color with the outdoors

Measuring the foot of an American alligator caught and released at Greenfield Lake, NC.

From an early age, many people don’t feel welcome in outdoor spaces or inspired to pursue environmental science careers. That needs to change

It’s hot and disgustingly humid at Greenfield Lake in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I’ve been up since 4 A.M., yet I can’t wipe a grin off my face.

The little boy helping me measure the back foot of an adult American alligator shyly thanks me as he gently touches its tail. His eyes light up as the male gator draws in a large breath, filling his massive nine-foot body with air. The gator lets out a slow growl and the boy’s hand grabs mine.

I can tell that we will both remember this moment for a long time.

We release the animal back to his home, and the child runs back to his grandmother and older brother—they’re both cautiously watching as they fish around the lake. He asked so many questions as we examined the health of the alligator during the field collection, and I want him to continue asking, continue to wonder. 10-27-21

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Hertz just made the biggest electric vehicle purchase ever

Tesla will deliver 100,000 EVs to the rental car company by the end of 2022.

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

The U.S.’s second-largest car rental company is betting big on a greener fleet.

Hertz announced Monday that it had placed an order for 100,000 Teslas as a first step toward electrifying its fleet of rental cars. The move represents the largest single purchase of electric vehicles ever, and comes just months after Hertz emerged from bankruptcy. In a press statement, Hertz’s interim CEO, Mark Fields, billed it as a major new chapter for the company.

“The new Hertz is going to lead the way as a mobility company,” Fields said, “starting with the largest EV rental fleet in North America and a commitment to grow our EV fleet and provide the best rental and recharging experience for leisure and business customers around the world.”

Hertz’s order, comprised entirely of Tesla’s Model 3 sedans, is expected to be delivered over the next 14 months, although customers in some locations will be able to rent a Model 3 as early as November. By the end of 2022, electric vehicles will make up one-fifth of Hertz’s global fleet — an enormous percentage, given that EVs currently account for less than 3 percent of all new car sales. 10-26-21

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Report: Plastic is on track to become a bigger climate problem than coal

A new report details 10 ways, from fracking to incineration, that plastic contributes to global warming.

Citizen of the Planet / UIG via Getty Images

Plastic permeates the oceans, clutters landfills, and threatens to create a “near-permanent contamination of the natural environment,” according to researchers. As if that weren’t bad enough, it is also a major contributor to climate change.

new report from the advocacy group Beyond Plastics says that emissions from the plastic industry could overtake those from coal-fired power plants by the end of this decade. At every step of its life cycle, the report said, plastic causes greenhouse gas emissions that are jeopardizing urgent climate goals and harming marginalized communities.

“Plastic is intimately connected to the climate crisis,” said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and the founder of Beyond Plastics, at a press conference unveiling the report. Most people understand how plastic strangles the ocean and can cause health problems, she added, but far fewer have grasped its concerning climate footprint. “Plastic is the new coal,” Enck said. 10-22-21

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Cities’ Answer to Sprawl? Go Wild.

Sticking out like a green thumb: The Bosco Verticale towers in central Milan.
Source: Dimitar Harizanov/Stefano Boeri Architetti

Urban forests, plant-festooned buildings and other ‘rewilding’ efforts can help bolster climate resilience, biodiversity, even moods.

In a neighborhood of right-angled stone, stucco and brick buildings not far from Milan’s central train station, two thin towers stand out. Green and shaggy-edged, they look like they’re made of trees. In fact, they’re merely covered in trees — hundreds of them, growing up from the towers’ staggered balconies, along with 11,000 perennial and covering plants, and roughly 5,000 shrubs.

The greenery-festooned towers, called the Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, are residential buildings in a broader-than-usual sense. The 18- and 26-story structures are “a home for trees that also houses humans and birds,” according to the website of architect Stefano Boeri, who has built tree-covered buildings elsewhere and is working on similar projects in Antwerp, Belgium, and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

The Bosco Verticale is an example of urban rewilding, the growing global trend of introducing nature back into cities. There are consequences to the pace of today’s urban growth, which is the fastest in human history, including loss of biodiversity, urban heat islands, climate vulnerability, and human psychological changes. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that some 6,000 acres of open, undeveloped space become developed each day. Globally, past urban planning decisions like the prioritization of the car have given rise to cities that, but for scattered parks, tend to be divorced from nature. Rewilding aims to make cities better and more sustainable for people, plants, and animals. 10-22-21

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Inaction on climate change imperils millions of lives, doctors say

Top medical journal warns that rising temperatures will worsen heat and respiratory illness and spread infectious disease

An oil refinery in southwest Detroit, where asthma rates and other respiratory issues are common. (Nick Hagen for The Washington Post)

Climate change is set to become the “defining narrative of human health,” a top medical journal warned Wednesday — triggering food shortages, deadly disasters and disease outbreaks that would dwarf the toll of the coronavirus. But aggressive efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from human activities could avert millions of unnecessary deaths, according to the analysis from more than 100 doctors and health experts.

In its annual “Countdown on health and climate change,” the Lancet provides a sobering assessment of the dangers posed by a warming planet. More than a dozen measures of humanity’s exposure to health-threatening weather extremes have climbed since last year’s report.

“Humanity faces a crucial turning point,” the doctors say, with nations poised to spend trillions of dollars on economic recovery from the pandemic and world leaders set to meet in Glasgow for a major U.N. climate conference in less than two weeks. The United States is working to assemble a set of climate policies to help coax bigger commitments from other top emitters at that conference, even as the Biden administration is scaling back its climate legislation, given opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who represents a coal-producing state. 10-20-21

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From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything

SAMAN SARHENG/YALE E360

The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate.

The demand side is where humans, households, and voters live. It is where we use machines on a daily basis, and where the choices about what kind of machines we use — whether powered by fossil fuels or electricity — make our climate actions and climate solutions personal. We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our “personal infrastructure,” and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

According to an analysis by Rewiring America, a nonprofit think tank I co-founded that focuses on electrifying our lives, if we redraw our emissions map around the activities of our households, we see that about 42 percent stem from the decisions we make around our kitchen tables. It gets close to 65 percent if we include the offices, buildings, and vehicles that are connected to the commercial sector and the decisions we make from our office desks. 10-19-21

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The US was on the verge of passing real climate policy. Then Manchin happened.

The Clean Electricity Performance Program would have put America’s utilities on track to producing 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the world gears up for a massive United Nations climate change conference next month, a couple of U.S. senators are working to ensure that the U.S. fumbles a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address its climate-warming emissions.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like President Joe Biden was on track to accomplish what previous administrations have attempted and failed to achieve: writing an emissions-reduction policy into federal law. That policy, the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, is a system of carrots and sticks that would have pushed America’s electric utilities to go green between 2023 and 2030. The power these companies supply to your home would become progressively cleaner over that timeframe, putting the U.S. electricity sector, currently the second-most polluting sector in this country, on track to producing 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

The Biden administration aimed to pass this program via a process called budget reconciliation, which allows Congress to make changes to laws that have to do with spending, revenues, or the federal debt limit. Crucially, reconciliation is immune to the filibuster — it only takes 51 votes to pass it in the Senate — which meant that Senate Democrats could vote to approve the budget reconciliation bill as a bloc, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker, and bypass Republican opposition to the bill. (Not one congressional Republican, not even the ones who say they care about climate action, has expressed support for any of the climate measures in the reconciliation bill.)  10-19-21

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North Carolina tribes fear pipeline will damage waterways, burial grounds

The Mountain Valley Pipeline under construction in Virginia. Courtesy of Wild Virginia

A fracking company wants to extend the Mountain Valley Pipeline into the lands of Indigenous people and predominantly Black communities.

When Crystal Cavalier-Keck heard in 2018 that an energy developer was planning to build a natural-gas pipeline near her hometown of Mebane, North Carolina, she was immediately concerned. Cavalier-Keck, who is a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, knew about the violence against Indigenous women that often takes place when so-called “man camps” are assembled in areas where pipeline projects cut through Native communities.

“I immediately thought about the man camps it would bring, and I was thinking we need to alert the people,” said Cavalier-Keck, who at the time was serving on the leadership council of the state-recognized tribe.

She began researching the project, which is known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate Extension. The planned line, she found, would carry natural gas roughly 75 miles from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to a delivery point in Alamance County, North Carolina, ending roughly five miles from her home. 10-15-21

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Raptors Rather Than Rodenticide

A red-tailed hawk perches by a chardonnay vineyard near the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. (Photo by Andrew A. Lincoln, @alincoln_photo)

Laura Echávez is perched precariously atop a 16-foot ladder next to a slender pole that is supporting a wooden box the size of a carry-on suitcase. She thrusts her hand inside the box, wriggling fingers through owl pellets, feathers, and fragments of eggshells heaped inches thick. A white fluff-ball of a barn owl chick tries to grab her gloved hand while its mother and siblings hiss a staticky barrage of white noise. When Echávez ventures a peek inside, she is hit by a salvo of bones and dried owl poo from defensive birds. And the smell? “Like cat urine,” Echávez says.

Her plunge into the dim domain of this barn owl family is hands-on science. Echávez, Samantha Chavez, and Jaime Carlino, all graduate students at Humboldt State University, are spending morning after morning monitoring barn owl nest boxes scattered throughout the sun-drenched vineyards of Napa Valley. The data they are collecting will not only deepen our understanding of how these birds, in their role as natural predators of rodents, contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of the $9.4 billion industry that has made Napa Valley an internationally known wine region. It will also help determine how vineyard nest boxes are affecting barn owls.

“It’s not just a pest control service, like a transactional thing,” says Matt Johnson, a Humboldt State wildlife professor who is supervising the multiyear research program. 10-12-21

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18 Weather Disasters in 2021 Cost US $1 Billion or More Each

Image: Kelly Lacy via Pexels

According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been 18 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2021, surpassing 2020’s disaster costs with almost three months still left until 2022. Experts say that weather events across the spectrum, including wildfires, hurricanes, and severe weather, are not only intensifying but happening in rapid succession. Now, the nation’s infrastructure, economy, environment, and population are facing “disaster fatigue.”

Why This Matters: The Biden Administration and climate leaders in Congress are struggling to pass legislation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, decarbonizeour energy systems, and update the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. But while partisan battles rage in the legislature, so are devastating weather events — and their impacts don’t stop at breaking the nation’s recovery budget. These disasters have worsened COVID-19 rates, caused oil spills, and destroyed crucial carbon sinks, threatening not only human and environmental health but the nation’s capacity to sequester its carbon emissions. The Biden Administration’s infrastructure and budget packages include climate adaptation infrastructure hand in hand with emissions reductions. Still, as they languish in debate on the house floor, those on the front lines are waiting for relief. 10-12-21

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“Code Red” for climate means reducing US oil and gas production

President Joe Biden and Personal Aide Stephen Goepfert walk through the Colonnade, Friday, August 6, 2021, on the way to the Oval Office of the White House. (Credit: White House)

Whatever long game the Biden administration hopes to play, the planet is telling us that we are going into the fourth quarter with no promise of overtime.

This summer, the report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that keeping the increase in global temperature under 2 degrees Celsius would be “beyond reach” without “immediate, rapid and large-scale” reductions in global warming emissions.

UN Secretary General António Guterres called it “code red for humanity.”

August ended with a UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reportdocumenting that climate change disasters have increased five-fold over the last half-century, taking more than 2 million lives in the world’s poorest nations and inflicting $3.6 trillion in economic losses. The six most expensive disasters hitting the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States–hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Irma, Sandy and Andrew—cost the nation nearly a half-trillion dollars.

As the summer winds down in the United States, there seem to be more exclamation points on these trends than one can count: record-sized wildfires in the West, helping to send record levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; the earliest hurricanes ever recorded hitting the South and East, with yet more devastation to the Louisiana gulf coast, record rainfalls and flooding in Tennessee; and the first-ever flash-flood warning for New York City as Hurricane Ida made its way north over land. Meanwhile, as those areas bail water, much of the Upper Midwest is in drought.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared July to be the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, with California’s Death Valley National Park in hittinga record 130 degrees. That was after a June where Portland and Seattle hit respective records of 116 degrees and 108 degrees. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the string of new records “adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” 10-12-21

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Indigenous Climate Activists Have Prevented Over 1.5 Billion Tons of GHGs

Allen Lissner | Indigenous Climate Action

new study co-authored by researchers from Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International has found that Indigenous climate activists in the US and Canada have “stopped or delayed greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual US and Canadian emissions.” Indigenous resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the two countries has faced both political and violent attacks, and serve as a solemn reminder that climate action comes at a price for those on the front lines.

Why This Matters: Indigenous communities are among those most impacted by climate change and have been at the forefront of the fight to protect lands and waters against fossil fuel interests. Not only that, but climate scientists have found that Indigenous knowledge is crucial to restoring and protecting vital ecosystems and carbon sinks. Despite this, Indigenous people have been left out of climate and policy talks. The success of their resistance movements and climate alliances should serve as a powerful message to governments: Indigenous solutions can guide the intersectional and inclusive policy needed to halt climate change in its tracks.

Resistance at Work

The study analyzed data from nine different environmental and oil regulation groups and found that the 21 projects prevented by Indigenous climate activists could have added 1.587 billion metric tons of annual GHGs to the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of 400 coal-fired power plants or 345 million passenger vehicles. The analysis also found that every year Indigenous activists launched legal action or physically disrupted construction resulted in a reduction of GHGs by 780 million metric tons. Ongoing efforts could prevent another 800 million metric tons annually. 10-08-21

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Not even a pandemic can stop solar’s epic growth

Lead by Texas and the Southeast, the U.S. added a record amount of solar power in 2020.

Berkeley Lab

The workers building the 200-megawatt Rambler Solar Project in Tom Green County, Texas, had hit their stride when the pandemic struck. Pile drivers smoothly sunk I-beams into the ground. A team attached rotating racks that followed the course of the sun across the sky. Next, a crew bolted in solar panels, followed by a group of electricians that wired everything together. All that halted when some of the project’s 300 workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.

But just a week later, the workers were back, and by August 2020 that project was generating enough electricity to power more than 32,000 homes. “There were a few more hurdles and things to dodge along the way, but the team did such a great job,” said Matt Johnson, general manager of engineering for Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions.

Despite the pandemic, the United States built more utility-scale solar power plants in 2020 than any other year, with Texas leading the way. All those new solar plants added up to 9.6 gigawatts of renewable energy added to the U.S. power grid, bringing the nation’s total solar capacity to 48 gigawatts. That’s enough to allow further retirements in the nation’s coal fleet, which had 223 gigawatts of capacity in 2020.  10-08-21

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White House Moves to Reverse Trump Assault on the National Environmental Policy Act

National Park Service

On Wednesday, the White House took first steps to reverse a Trump-era assault on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new rules will restore the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) obligation to take climate change and carbon emissions into account for major projects. Officials say the Biden meassure will increase the efficacy of new infrastructure and reduce the costs of lawsuits.

Why This Matters: The Trump Administration’s rollbacks of NEPA were designed to accelerate  highways, pipelines, and other major federal projects regardless of climate impacts. The move made it so the CEQ no longer needed to consider the potential climate impacts of federal projects. Coupled with the Trump Administration’s resistance to approving federal offshore wind projects and other green initiatives, it was a green light to build dirty and dirtier. The Trump Administration’s rules and rollbacks set the nation’s clean energy infrastructure and environmental regulations back significantly. Now, the United States is playing catchup, with very little time left on the clock. 10-06-21

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Nobel Prize Awarded to Three Climate Science Pioneers

As climate change finally becomes central to global diplomacy and policy, three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physics for their contributions to “the foundation of our knowledge of the earth’s climate and how humanity influences it.” Those awarded were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome. Such international recognition of climate science could signal that the world is finally taking the field seriously.

Why This Matters: Only recently has climate science started to get the spotlight it deserves, and even so, coverage in mainstream media outlets has been lacking. Only 13% of broadcast and cable TV news covered the recent IPCC report. In 2020, ABC, NBC, and CBS nightly and Sunday morning news only covered climate change for a combined 112 minutes. Despite this lack of coverage,  governments worldwide have pushed to take action while politics at home often become battlegrounds. Further, climate disinformation is still rampant, both online and within the government itself. 10-05-21

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EPA might finally regulate the plastic industry’s favorite kind of ‘recycling’

A new rule could make it harder to turn plastic into oil and gas to be burned.

Flimsy plastic, destined for a landfill, is removed from a conveyor belt. Lea Suzuki / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

One of the fossil fuel and plastic industries’ favorite “solutions” to the plastic pollution crisis may finally be coming under greater scrutiny from the federal government.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, formally announced it was considering tighter regulations for pyrolysis and gasification — controversial processes that are associated with “chemical recycling.” Industry advocates have named these processes as key steps toward building a circular economy — one that minimizes waste — but environmental groups have called them an “industry shell game” meant to keep single-use plastics in production.

The problem, according to Denise Patel, regional coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, is that most of what the industry calls “chemical recycling” isn’t recycling at all. Rather than turning used plastic into new plastic products, chemical recycling usually involves melting plastic into oil and gas to be burned — the process is sometimes called “plastic to fuel.” Not only does chemical recycling not contribute to a circular economy, Patel said, but it also releases greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change and hazardous chemicals that harm frontline communities. 10-05-21

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‘Major’ Oil Spill Off California Coast Threatens Wetlands and Wildlife

Oil washed ashore in Huntington Beach, Calif., after a pipeline failure caused at least 126,000 gallons to spill into the ocean.CreditCredit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

A pipeline failure sent at least 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific off the coast of Orange County, creating a 13-square-mile slick. Dead fish and birds washed ashore in some areas.

A pipeline failure off the coast of Orange County, Calif., on Saturday caused at least 126,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean, creating a 13-square-mile slick that continued to grow on Sunday, officials said.

Dead fish and birds washed ashore in some places as cleanup crews raced to try to contain the spill, which created a slick that extended from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach.

It was not immediately clear what caused the leak, which officials said occurred three miles off the coast of Newport Beach and involved a failure in a 17.5-mile pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform called Elly that is operated by Beta Offshore.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement Sunday night that crews had “recovered” about 3,150 gallons of oil. Fourteen boats were involved in the cleanup effort on Sunday, and crews had deployed 5,360 feet of boom, a floating barrier that helps contain oil. 10-03-21

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