Recent News

Majority of Americans Support Clean Energy By 2035

Would you support or oppose the government moving the country to a 100% clean energy electricity grid by 2035?

That’s the question Washington-based think tank Third Way posed across the country. It turns out that a majority of voters support federal action to reach a 100% clean energy grid. Only voters in six congressional districts didn’t clear the majority marker for support. Americans are in favor of a complete switch to clean energy from Georgia (60.8%) to Pennsylvania (64%) to Texas (60.8%) to Hawaii (72%).

Go Deeper: Explore the full map at the state and congressional level.

Why This Matters: Three words: Clean. Electricity. Standard. This policy would require utilities to ramp up their share of emissions-free electricity production every year to hit a final target — in this case, 100% clean by 2035. Greening the energy grid would directly cut a quarter of US emissions and enable other sectors like transportation to clean up as they electrify. The polling proves that working toward the energy policies needed to avoid the worst climate disaster are popular across the country — they just need political support to actually be implemented. 07-28-21

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What’s the true cost of shipping all your junk across the ocean?

Walmart and other retail giants import millions of goods on polluting cargo ships.

Grist / Sayan_Moongklang / Getty Images

Take a look around your home and you’ll likely find plenty of goods that traveled by cargo ship to your doorstep. A set of IKEA plates made in China. A dresser full of pandemic-era loungewear, ordered on Target and made in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Tracing the impact on the environment from shipping any of these goods is incredibly tricky to do. The data — if you can find it — involves many companies, countries, and cargo carriers.

Such obscurity makes it hard to count the full cost of our consumption. But a recent report helps unravel some of the mystery.

Two environmental groups, Pacific Environment and, worked with prominent maritime researchers to track goods imported by the 15 largest retail giants in the United States. They then quantified the greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants associated with those imports, usually ferried across the oceans on cargo ships running on dirty bunker fuel. In 2019, importing some 3.8 million shipping containers’ worth of cargo generated as much carbon dioxide emissions as three coal-fired power plants. These shipments also produced as much smog-forming nitrous oxide as 27.4 million cars and trucks do in a year, according to the report. 07-27-21

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The Western Drought Is a Crisis for Migrating Birds, Too

For years, California rice farmers have aided bird migration by flooding their fields in the off season. But this year, they barely have enough water to grow their crops.

A flooded rice field in Colusa County, California in December 2020.Photo courtesy of Brian Baer/California Rice Commission

Empty wellsSalmon die-offsWater thieves. The uncontrollable flames of monster wildfire.

In California, one of the worst droughts on record has touched off a kaleidoscopic range of emergencies, amplifying age-old resource conflicts as leaders call for conservation by citiescurtailments to farmers and coordination across the board.

 The interconnectedness of the state’s hydrology is especially apparent in one corner of the Sacramento Valley, where scarce water for farmers will also mean less for the migrating birds that make use of the same land. Fields that produce 95% of the rice grown in California have become an essential rest stop on the Pacific Flyway, with millions of ducks, geese, and other waterfowl and migratory shorebirds stopping to recharge during long flights south.

But drought is reducing capacity for both crops and creatures. Over the past century, 90% of the region’s wetlands have been drained for agriculture and urban growth. For surrogate habitat, water-loving birds rely on farmers who flood their fields as part of normal farming operations as well as through environmental incentive programs. This year, with water deliveries slashed to a tiny fraction of normal supplies, planted rice acreage is down more than 20%, leaving tens of thousands of acres fallow. That means avian travelers will be pressed for resources when they arrive. 07-26-21

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Stuck in the Smoke as Billionaires Blast Off

Climate inaction was never really about denial. Rich countries just thought poorer countries would bear the brunt of the crisis.

New Study Proves EVs Already More Sustainable

Image: Pexels

For years there’s been a false narrative perpetuated by special interest groups that electric vehicles actually produce more greenhouse gases than the average internal combustion vehicle. However, a new study shows that this is not true — over the entirety of its life cycle, an EV will release fewer greenhouse gases than a gas-powered car, even if plugged into a grid that’s not producing its electricity from clean sources. 

Why his Matters: While the actual manufacturing process of building EVs produces more emissions than a standard combustion engine, enhanced battery recyclingcould eventually close that gap.

As it stands, the U.S. transportation industry is responsible for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, the largest of any sector, thus it’s crucial that we make the switch to EVs as quickly as possible.

 California and the European Union already have plans to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 but other states must follow suit. Now, the forces trying to slow the transition to a green economy have one less false talking point at their disposal. 07-22-21

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Breast cancer: Hundreds of chemicals identified as potential risk factors

A postdoctoral fellow in the National Cancer Institute’s Experimental Immunology Branch, pipetting DNA samples into a tube. (Credit: National Cancer Institute)

Researchers find nearly 300 chemicals linked to breast cancer-contributing hormones in everyday products, and call for a renewed focus on women’s exposure risks.

Researchers have identified almost 300 chemicals in everything from hair dye to pesticides that can increase levels of breast cancer-contributing hormones.

Of those chemicals, 219 had not been previously identified as potential carcinogens, Ruthann Rudel, director of research for the Silent Spring Institute and co-author of the new study, told EHN. The findings come in a study out this week in Environmental Health Perspectives.

While scientists have known for decades that higher levels of estrogen and progesterone are linked to breast cancer, experts say that safety screening to test U.S. consumer products rarely looks at how chemicals affect the production of those hormones.

“The way that chemicals are tested now, they are really missing breast-related effects,” said Rudel. “We have to do a much better job checking for these effects when we test chemicals.” 07-22-21

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Lessons from the Fight for the Grand Canyon

We once saved natural landmarks for their beauty—now it’s for survival, too.

Photo by Ross Feldner

To float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is to meander through geologic time. As you descend, the formations you pass include the Coconino Sandstone, the Redwall Limestone, the Bright Angel Shale—by the time you reach the tortured-looking Vishnu Schist, you’re a couple billion years back in time. But, even amid the towering mesas and buttes, one of the sights that moved me the most was a pile of gravel about twenty feet high and dating back not much more than fifty years. We pulled the raft to the river bank, anchored it to a tree, and climbed up above the tailings, entering the cool, dry hole from where they had come. This tunnel—perhaps seven feet high and five feet wide—had been bored in the nineteen-sixties, when the federal government planned to build a big dam and back the waters of the Colorado up in a reservoir that would have drowned the bottom of the canyon.

That never happened. And the primary reason it never happened is that David Brower, the executive director of the Sierra Club, decided to fight the plan, and to do it in a way that environmentalists hadn’t managed before. Brower—one of the great conservationists of the second half of the twentieth century—knew that the federal Bureau of Reclamation and its massive dams were immensely popular with politicians in the West. The dams provided the water and the electricity that turned the deserts of the Southwest into powerhouses of suburban growth, including in Las Vegas, where Frank Sinatra was in residence at the Copa Room at the Sands. To Brower’s great regret, the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam, upstream, was already filling Lake Powell; it seemed a reasonable bet that the bottom of the Grand Canyon, too, would soon be underwater. 07-20-21

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With disasters mounting by the day, the U.S. may finally enact real climate policy

But there are some big “ifs.”

Firefighters battle the Beckwourth Complex Fire in Lassen County, California on July 12. Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

It’s the summer of cascading disasters in the United States: Downpours have made rivers of major metropoles’ transit lines, a coastal condo collapsed, flames have engulfed vast swaths of land, and triple-digit heat has roasted typically temperate regions. The catastrophes have brought a mounting death toll and incalculable trauma.

But, for the first time in over a decade, the U.S. government may actually do something about the emissions destabilizing the climate.

Last week, the Biden administration and its allies in Congress announced plans to pack the federal budget with resources and rules that could jolt a country long paralyzed by corporate obstruction and science denial into finally confronting an unprecedented crisis.

Democrats plan to use their slim majorities in Congress to pass a $3.5 trillion spending package that includes mandates to cut 80 percent of planet-heating pollution from the electricity sector by 2030, fund a new green jobs corps, and make it easier for drivers to swap gas guzzlers for electric vehicles.

Whether enough funding will make it into the final budget to make the programs significant remains unclear. By tacking the proposals to the budget process, which requires only 51 votes to become law, Democrats can circumvent the 60-vote threshold for passing traditional legislation that grants Republicans filibuster power. 07-20-21

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Democrats look to crush states’ highway habit

The proposed changes are riling up opposition from state transportation departments and the road-building lobby.

House Democrats are trying to use a massive climate and infrastructure bill to change how Americans get around — by breaking states’ decades-old fondness for building highways.

Legislation the House passed this month is the biggest advance yet in Democrats’ efforts to bake climate policies into transportation, addressing the largest single contributor to the United States’ greenhouse gas output. It would also represent an historic shift away from the roads-first approach to federal transportation spending that has reigned since Dwight Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System.

But the bill is riling up opposition from two potential allies of the Democrats’ big-spending infrastructure initiatives: state transportation departments and the road-building lobby. That creates an awkward dynamic for supporters of the House bill, which faces a perilous path through the evenly divided Senate.

Critics say the five-year, $549 billion bill would represent one-size-fits-all Washington meddling at its worst. 07-18-21

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Biden Reinstates Roadless Rule, Bans Logging in Tongass

Image: gillfoto via Wikimedia Commons

It’s official: the Biden administration has announced it will end large-scale logging in the Tongass National Forest and restore the “roadless rule” that was previously rolled back under Trump. The administration says it will focus its efforts in the Tongass on forest restoration, recreation, and other non-commercial ventures. Officials are now celebrating the return of stability and safety for 9.3 million acres of the old-growth rainforest, often called America’s Amazon.

Why This Matters: The Tongass is one of the World’s largest old-growth forests and one of the nation’s largest carbon sinks. Experts say that preserving forests like the Tongass will be crucial to removing carbon from the atmosphere as the country works to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

In addition to its value as a weapon against climate change, the forest serves as a crucial tourism, food, spiritual, and cultural resource for local Indigenous communities, which have been at the forefront of the fight to protect the Tongass. Now official, these protections will benefit the entire American public and usher the Biden administration one step closer to protecting 30% of all public lands by 2030. 06-16-21

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The “twin crises” of high cancer rates and exposure to toxics in Pittsburgh

Doctors, researchers, and advocates call for action on cancer-causing pollution in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Polly Hoppin at the 2019 cancer and environment symposium. (Credit: Kristina Marusic for EHN)

PITTSBURGH—A group of local physicians, researchers, community advocates, and elected officials released a declaration today calling for action on cancer-causing pollutants in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The declaration, signed by more than 30 local organizations and 25 individuals so far, explains that rates of several kinds of cancer are “strikingly high” in the region—higher than state and national rates—with disproportionate burdens on people of color and marginalized communities. It calls on leaders across a diverse range of sectors—local businesses and elected officials, foundations and nonprofits, research institutions and health care facilities—to take concrete actions aimed at reducing people’s exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in the region.

“We all know someone who has been affected by cancer, whether it’s an immediate family member or a partner’s cousin or a friend,” Alyssa Lyon, a co-author of the declaration and director of the Black Environmental Collective, an environmental and racial equity advocacy group, told EHN. “This is an issue that permeates everyone’s communities and sits right at the intersection of equity and environmental justice.”

While there are local initiatives aimed at reducing smoking and promoting healthy lifestyles, the declaration’s authors note other factors play a role in cancer rates. A recent study estimated that even if everyone in Allegheny County (which encompasses Pittsburgh) had quit smoking 20 years ago, lung cancer rates would only be 11 percent lower—due in part to the region’s long-standing problems with carcinogenic pollution in air and water. 07-15-21

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How many 500-year floods must Detroit endure in a decade?

Detroit’s flooding problem needs long-term climate solutions.

Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

At the end of June, Detroit experienced its second 500-year flood in seven years. In some areas, 6 inches of rain fell in just five hours. Rain for the whole month of June is typically three inches. The extreme rains flooded homes and businesses with water and backed-up sewage, left around 1,000 cars stranded on the roads, and caused mass power outages.

It was a distressingly familiar experience for Detroiters. Detroit’s last 500-year flood, in 2014, caused $1.8 billion in damages. More major flooding followed in 2016, 2019, and 2020. A new preprint of a study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University found that recurrent flooding is more prevalent than previously thought in Detroit and that primarily African-American neighborhoods are at risk.

In Detroit, flooding is both a climate crisis and an environmental justice crisis. Detroit is one of the poorest big cities in the country and has the most Black residents of any major city, and it’s increasingly being hit by extreme weather events associated with climate change that are impacting its most vulnerable residents. And it’s not just flooding. Detroit has also dealt with increasing cold and hot extremes in the last decade coupled with mass utility shut-offs and frequent outages, creating dangerous conditions for its residents. Last month, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology predicted that a combined heatwave and power outage in Detroit could result in more fatalities than Hurricane Katrina. 07-13-21

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Report: Corporate giants have been lobbying against their own emissions targets

Cem Ozdel / Getty Images

Almost every S&P 100 company plans to reduce its emissions. But only 40% have lobbied for science-based climate policy.

Corporate America has made a slew of pledges to reduce its emissions over the past few years. Today, 92 percent of the companies on the S&P 100, an index of leading U.S. stocks, have announced intentions to reduce at least some of their carbon emissions, according to the corporate sustainability advocacy nonprofit Ceres.

But do these companies actually plan to change their business practices, and in some cases their entire business models, to meet the scale of the challenge? Or are these pledges just greenwashing?

A telling way to assess how serious companies are about meeting their own goals is to look at whether they are lobbying in statehouses and in Washington for the policy changes that would make reducing emissions easier and cheaper. But a new report from Ceres published on Tuesday finds that over the past five years, only 40 percent of those S&P 100 companies have engaged with lawmakers at the state or federal level to advocate for science-based climate policy. 07-13-21

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For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death

Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.

A farmworker wears a face mask while harvesting curly mustard in a field on Feb. 10, 2021 in Ventura County, California. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury.

No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38.

If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.

The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place. 07-09-21

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A watershed moment: How Boston’s Charles River went from polluted to pristine

And what the cleanup shows us about the power of federal waterway protections

A pair of mute swans nest along the Charles River in the Back Bay of Boston, near a heavily traveled walking and cycling path. Once a national embarrassment for its pollution, the cleaned-up river today teems with wildlife. Derrick Z. Jackson

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan officially announced earlier this month that the Biden administration will reinterpret the Trump administration’s definition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” – waterways that are deserving of federal protection.

Trump’s definition was actually a reinterpretation (or rejection) of what the Obama administration delineated as waters worthy of federal oversight. Obama had sought to increase protections under the Clean Water Act, based on EPA science conducted under both his administration and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The agency’s researchers had determined that many wetlands and rain-fed intermittent and ephemeral streams were significantly connected to larger bodies of water than met the eye – and thus those tributaries warranted protection.

The Trump administration’s own scientific advisors agreed with Obama’s interpretation. No matter, the Donald’s EPA gutted the rule on behalf of industrial and agricultural polluters by removing half of wetlands and a fifth of streams and tributaries from protection. That shift amounted to an overall 25-percent drop in protected waters, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The most stunning drama this spring along the banks of the Charles, walking distance from downtown Boston, has been a pair of mute swans. They nested at a landing alongside a walking and biking path in the Back Bay neighborhood and produced nine eggs. Seven hatched. By predation or sickliness, the number of cygnets eventually went down to five. 06-30-21

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Op-ed: Another road is possible

To tackle climate change and save lives, the Biden Administration needs to support bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets.

Busy street corner in NYC. (Credit: Benjamin Voros/flickr)

Years ago when my grandmother was hit by a car near her apartment in East Harlem — and later run over by a taxi – she became part of the stupefying toll of Americans killed by motor vehicles.

I remember bursting into tears on a jam-packed NYC subway, my mind fresh with the news. President Biden, too, has lost family on the roads, his young wife and baby daughter.

American car and road design have long dismissed vulnerable road users – those in the smallest cars or in no cars at all. Unlike me, Biden is now well placed to steer us on a sharp turn, one that takes on both vehicular carnage and climate change.

If the president and his transportation secretary can muster the courage to flip the priorities, America’s roadways might no longer remain the primitive cousins of Europe’s modern streets. Biden’s big- ticket transportation items, electric cars, maintenance, and public transit, won’t buy us the needed transformation. Achieving adequate scale and timing for those initiatives is a pipe dream, and the roads will remain barbaric.

If the new administration does not act soon, then walking and biking — the lowest-carbon mobility — will remain a fool’s bargain. 07-08-21

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NC riverkeepers cry foul over state’s farm law

A huge pile of poultry litter lies uncovered at a farm in Calico Bay. Photo: Courtesy of Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear riverkeeper

North Carolina’s riverkeepers are starting to return to business as usual now, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed their efforts to fly over hog and poultry farms looking for violations of the state’s environmental regulations.

Before the pandemic, some of the riverkeepers flew over the farms at least once a week. When they found a suspected violation, they took pictures that included a timestamp and GPS coordinates. Then they’d send that information to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is supposed to investigate the complaint and cite the farm if a violation is found.

By law, the DEQ cannot use a third party’s information to determine whether a farm should be issued a notice of violation, which would force the farm owner to remedy the infraction and abide by the state’s laws and regulations. A fine often comes with the notice. The department has to conduct its own investigation and draw its own conclusions.

The problem, the riverkeepers say, is that a state law approved in 2014 shields the DEQ from revealing any part of its investigation until and unless it issues a notice of violation. Without a notice, the DEQ cannot reveal its investigative findings even if it wanted to.

Some of the riverkeepers say they continually file the same complaints against the same farms, only to find that nothing has been done.

Some question whether the DEQ is doing a thorough job. 07-07-21

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US wildfires’ increasing toll on wildlife

In Sept. 2020, the 7-year-old female mountain lion pictured above was dehydrated and burnt on the bottom of her paw pads.The pain made it unbearable to walk.

According to data from a satellite tracking collar and camera footage, seven months later she is chasing deer, mating, and has even travelled hundreds of miles through the San Gabriel Mountain wilderness in southern California, on those once lifeless feet.

“I’m really proud of that cat,” Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), told EHN. “It shows you how resilient those animals are if they’re given a chance.”

She was found at the edge of a Monrovia resident’s backyard pond, where she crawled in search of water during the Bobcat Fire, one of the largest wildfires in Los Angeles County history at 115,000 acres.

After she was transferred to the CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Sacramento, Clifford and a team of vets from University of California, Davis and CDFW spent a month monitoring her progress before releasing her into the wild. To accelerate healing, they applied a special treatment using the skin of tilapia, which can relieve pain, provide moisture, and prevent scarring for burn wounds. 07-06-21

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How to sabotage climate legislation? An Exxon lobbyist explains.

Joe Manchin, “shadow groups,” and one really bad job interview.

AP Photo / Matt Rourke

All the billions ExxonMobil spent on PR went up in flames this week after a sting operation by Greenpeace recorded one of the oil giant’s lobbyists talking about what goes on behind the scenes — sabotaging climate legislation, secretly manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals, and using trade groups as “whipping boys” to evade public scrutiny.

“It’s pretty damning stuff,” said Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard researcher who investigates fossil fuel propaganda.

The lobbyist, Keith McCoy, has been representing Exxon on Capitol Hill for eight years, chatting with senators as a senior director of the company’s federal affairs team. Earlier this year, an undercover reporter with Unearthed, an investigative site run by Greenpeace, posed as a recruiter and got in touch with McCoy.

In the resulting Zoom job interview in May — segments of which first aired on the British network Channel 4 on Wednesday — McCoy outlines the ways that Exxon is actively sabotaging climate legislation and trying to avoid public scrutiny. A second installment of the interview aired on Thursday revealed that Exxon manufacturers and uses so-called “forever chemicals”linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and more — and used the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization, to lobby against legislation that would regulate the chemicals. 07-02-21

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