Biden Administration Bans Drilling Around Native American Cultural Site
The Interior Department will withdraw public lands around Chaco Canyon from new oil and gas leasing for 20 years.
The Biden administration took action on Friday to block new oil and gas leasing on federal land around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant Native American sites. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that her agency would withdraw public lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon and the area around it, known as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, from access to new oil and gas leasing for 20 years, following through on a 2021 pledge by President Biden to protect the area from drilling. The move will not affect existing oil and gas leases on the land or drilling on private property within the 10-mile radius.
The plan laid out by Ms. Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, came after decades of tribal requests. It is intended to underscore President Biden’s efforts to focus on Native American issues and expand conservation of public lands. But it has also generated opposition from Republicans and New Mexico’s oil and gas industry. The announcement comes during a week when environmental activists were enraged by the Biden administration’s move to expedite a 300-mile natural gas pipeline in West Virginia as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling. 06-02-23
Amazon workers walk out amid layoffs, citing concerns for climate
Frustrated by job losses, office policies and rising carbon emissions, white-collar Amazon workers are demanding more from leadership
Another target of GOP spending cuts: renewables for farmers
A budget proposal in the House could roll back billions for rural clean energy.
The source of those funds, the farm bill’s Rural Energy for America Program, “helps to reduce input costs for farmers, to cut their energy costs, and to lower their carbon footprints,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
That program, which is voluntary for farmers and rural small business owners, was supposed to get an additional $2 billion through the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, it’s being targeted by House Republicans looking for spending cuts. They’ve proposed clawing back half a billion dollars meant for the program — along with $3 billion for renewable energy projects run by rural electric cooperatives, and eliminating funding for the Department of Agriculture’s climate research. The proposed cuts, under discussion amid tense debt-limit negotiations between House Republicans and the White House, are sure to encounter resistance if they make it through the House of Representatives and get sent to the Democrat-led Senate. But the development signals that turning this year’s farm bill into a historic climate law might be harder than advocates have hoped. And it has put a bullseye on a rural energy program that had, until recently, a history of bipartisan support. 05-30-23
The Supreme Court Just Gutted the Clean Water Act
The U.S.’s highest court has ruled, counter to science, that it’s not important to protect all wetlands from unfettered pollution.
The Supreme Court has ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency in a decision that significantly narrows the Clean Water Act’s protections. The majority, 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Samuel Alito and supported by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett—all conservative judges, two of whom were Donald Trump appointees.
Technically, the decision was unanimous, with all nine SCOTUS judges agreeing that the EPA did not have the authority to intervene in the plaintiff’s case. However, the minority opinion credited to the remaining four justices used reasoning that handed a victory to the plaintiffs, but would have triggered fewer changes to the scope of the decades-old Clean Water Act had it been accepted by the majority.
Regardless, it’s an odd and confusing decision that will have widespread implications for wetlands and streams nationwide, Mark Ryan, a retired former EPA lawyer who is an expert in the Clean Water Act, told Gizmodo in a phone call. “It’s a mess,” Ryan said. This is a “very significant haircut of the Clean Water Act,” he added.
During oral arguments at the Sackett v. EPA SCOTUS hearing last fall, it seemed that even the conservative court might side with the federal regulators. But instead, today they opted to favor industry and development over defending unpolluted waterways. 05-25-23
Democrats unveil bill to provide hazard pay during climate disasters
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Summer L. Lee (D-Pa.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) will introduce legislation today to boost hazard pay and implement better safety measures for health-care workers during extreme weather events fueled by climate change, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.
The Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act would empower Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to issue hazard pay grants of up to $13 per hour, or $25,000 per year, to health-care workers who provide patients with uninterrupted care during emergencies and extreme weather disasters. The bill would also help provide these workers with additional personal protective equipment and alternative transit.
The measure comes after a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that a simultaneous heat wave and blackout in Phoenix would cause nearly half of the city’s residents to need emergency medical care for severe heat-related illness. 05-25-23
Plastic bottles harm human health at every stage of their life cycle
A new report says beverage companies like Coca-Cola must be “held accountable for the supply chain impacts of their plastics.”
In 1973, a DuPont engineer named Nathaniel Wyeth patented the PET plastic bottle — an innovative and durable alternative to glass. Since then, production has skyrocketed to more than half a trillion bottles per year, driven by beverage companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé.
It’s no secret that most of these PET bottles, named for the polyethylene terephthalate plastic they’re made of, are never recycled. Many end up on beaches or in waterways, where they degrade into unsightly plastic shards and fragments that threaten marine life. But blighted beaches are only the tip of the iceberg. According to a new report co-published by the nonprofit Defend Our Health and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign, PET plastic bottles cause hazardous chemical pollution at every stage of their life cycle.
“Plastics have a terrible health burden on the population,” said Mike Belliveau, Defend Our Health’s executive director. He urged the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to place more stringent limits on the use of toxic chemicals, and called on beverage companies like Coca-Cola — named the number one plastic polluter for five years running by the Break Free From Plastic coalition — to replace at least half of their plastic bottles with reusable and refillable container systems by 2030.
“The beverage industry has to be responsible and held accountable for the supply chain impacts of their plastics,” Belliveau said. 05-23-23
Oil executive will lead world climate talks. Lawmakers are trying to oust him.
Members of Congress and the European Parliament are urging the removal of Sultan Al Jaber as president of the next U.N. Climate Change Conference
A coalition of members of Congress and the European Parliament on Tuesday called for the ouster of the oil executive leading the next U.N. Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates this fall.
Both climate and human rights activists say the integrity of the climate gatherings are at stake.
“It’s pretty straightforward: The head of a national oil company should not be the president-designate of a climate conference,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who signed the letter along with 34 other congressional Democrats, said in an interview. “It’s a slap in the face to young climate activists.”
While often mired in controversy, the annual COP negotiations remain the leading global forum for nations to address climate change, and pressure is mounting on them to deliver on past promises. 05-23-23
How an energy giant helped law enforcement quell the Standing Rock protests
New documents show Energy Transfer spent big on police gear and worked with a cadre of spin doctors to fight an information war against protesters.
Their protest encampment razed, the Indigenous-led environmental movement at North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation was searching for a new tactic. By March 2017, the fight over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline had been underway for months. Leaders of the movement to defend Indigenous rights on the land — and its waterways — had a new aim: to march on Washington.
Native leaders and activists, calling themselves water protectors, wanted to show the newly elected President Donald Trump that they would continue to fight for their treaty rights to lands including the pipeline route. The march would be called “Native Nations Rise.”
Law enforcement was getting ready, too — and discussing plans with Energy Transfer, the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Throughout much of the uprising against the pipeline, the National Sheriffs’ Association talked routinely with TigerSwan, Energy Transfer’s lead security firm on the project, working hand-in-hand to craft pro-pipeline messaging. A top official with the sheriffs’ public relations contractor, Off The Record Strategies, floated a plan to TigerSwan’s lead propagandist, a man named Robert Rice.
“Thoughts on a crew or a news reporter — or someone pretending to be — with a camera and microphone to report from the main rally on the Friday, ask questions about pipeline and slice together [sic]?” Mark Pfeifle suggested over email. 05-22-23
Shorebird Species Along the Atlantic Are in Decline, Study Finds, Telling the Story of a Planet in Peril
Each summer, like clockwork, thousands of whimbrels, an elegant shorebird with a long, thin beak, hatch along the Arctic tundra. Their parents soon depart, and when the hatchlings are old enough, they make their way, too — guided by intuition to stop on Cape Cod to feed and rest before continuing on to Brazil.
It’s a migration as steady as the tide. No one tells them where to go, they just go. Which is why it’s so disturbing that, like dozens of other shorebird species, the whimbrels are not showing up like they used to.
In a new study, researchers from the United States and Canada analyzed nearly four decades of observations of shorebirds along the Atlantic coast, finding that almost every species is in decline — some experiencing more than 50 percent losses since 1980. Whimbrels are among the most affected, with a nearly 80 percent population decline.
“When we start to lose birds, it should be a really big warning sign — a really big red flag for us that something is wrong,” said Lyra Brennan, director of Mass Audubon’s coastal waterbird program, who was not part of the study. The findings are sobering, even for those who aren’t necessarily bird people, she said. “If you could take or leave the birds, that’s fine. But when we think about how everything is connected, that’s when we start to worry.” 05-18-23
The EPA’s proposed PFAS regulations ignore a major source of drinking water contamination
A new study suggests unregulated “precursor” compounds account for half of total PFAS pollution at sites around the country.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drew praise earlier this year when it proposed long-awaited drinking water standards for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. But the agency is missing a major source of these so-called “forever chemicals,” according to researchers at Harvard University.
A study published Monday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology finds that PFAS “precursors” from firefighting foam can make their way into the soil and groundwater, where they slowly transform into the carcinogenic substances the EPA targeted. At a military site in Massachusetts — the focus of the study — these precursors accounted for roughly half of all groundwater contamination by those chemicals. But on a national scale they are infrequently monitored, and none are regulated.
Bridger Ruyle, the study’s lead author and a former doctoral student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the results raise concerns about ongoing PFAS pollution at hundreds of military locations. Regulators are “missing the big-picture chemistry at these sites,” he told Grist. 05-18-23
Democrats, environmentalists clash over a bill to save California’s sequoias
Does the Save Our Sequoias Act live up to its name? Democrats and activists disagree.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is pushing to pass a bipartisan bill aimed at saving California’s giant sequoias, which have been burning up in massive wildfires.
Yet the legislation is sparking internal divisions within the Democratic Party and the environmental movement.
Some Democrats and activists say the Save Our Sequoias Act would fast-track environmental reviews for fire-prevention activities like forest thinning and controlled burns at the expense of bedrock environmental laws. But others say it’s imperative to act quickly before the world’s largest trees disappear forever.
Similar disagreements have flared in the ongoing debate over how to speed up the nation’s permitting process for energy projects — and whether to include permitting provisions in an emerging deal to raise the government’s debt ceiling. 05-17-23
Study: A third of the West’s burned forests can be traced to fossil fuel companies
The research could advance court cases seeking to hold polluters accountable for climate-fueled disasters.
The American West has always had forest fires — just not like this. Blazes are spreading further and burning longer, incinerating towns and exposing millions of people to noxious smoke. While a century of fire suppression and other land management choices contribute to the severity, climate change is a key factor fueling these fires, roughly doubling the acreage burned over the last 40 years. A new study takes this connection one step further, making the case that a significant chunk of burned forests — nearly 20 million acres — can be traced back to major fossil fuel companies.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters on Tuesday, is the first to quantify how corporate emissions have made wildfires worse. Experts say the new research could help advance growing efforts to take polluters to court.
“These companies should be held accountable for their fair share of the damages that they’ve caused,” said Carly Phillips, a coauthor of the new study and a research scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They lied and engaged in this orchestrated campaign of deception for years, and it didn’t have to be this way, right?”
A simple way to prevent heaps of methane pollution: Composting
A new study says the practice could slash landfill emissions by as much as 84 percent.
The global food system is a climate mess, from the widespread use of greenhouse gas-emitting fertilizers to the methane-spewing livestock to all the food that gets tossed into the trash. In the United States, a staggering one-third of all food — something like 130 billion meals annually — gets thrown out. Each year, that discarded stuff represents an estimated 170 million metric tons of carbon emissions — the equivalent of 42 coal-fired power plants.
But there’s a simple solution, beyond simply reducing waste. According to a new study in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, composting food scraps results in 38 to 84 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than tossing them in landfills. Unlike trash in landfills, compost heaps are watered and turned, which aerates the decomposing waste and prevents bacteria from churning out as much methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
“Composting still has some methane emissions, but it’s much, much lower because most landfills aren’t turned as frequently,” said Whendee Silver, an ecologist at the University of California Berkeley and a co-author on the study. 05-15-23
Lawsuit: Oil and gas pollution violates New Mexico’s constitution
“Schools are surrounded by oil and gas wells and fracking sites.”
A coalition of Indigenous and environmental groups filed a lawsuit this week against the state of New Mexico, alleging the state has failed to protect the earth, air and water against pollution, as spelled out in the New Mexico constitution.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state district court, is the first time the 1971 amendment to the constitution that stipulated such protection has been used for a legal claim, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups in the suit.
“Indigenous people and frontline community members in New Mexico have been seeking assistance to control oil and gas pollution because they live in areas where there’s fracking all around their homes, livestock and on ancestral lands,” said Gail Evans, an attorney with the center. “They’ve been looking for legal tools on how to hold the state accountable for this pollution.”
New Mexico is the nation’s second largest producer of revenues from oil drilling and its southeastern corner is home with West Texas to the Permian Basin, one of the largest oil fields in the world. 05-12-23
This Fund Is Investing $20 Million to Help Black Farmers Thrive
Farmer-activists Karen Washington and Olivia Watkins created the Black Farmer Fund to boost Black farmers, agricultural businesses, and food entrepreneurs in the Northeast with tools, training, and cash.
For the past decade, Afro-Puerto Rican farmer Rafael Aponte and his family have been running Rocky Acres Community Farm in Freeville, New York, just outside Ithaca. The South Bronx native focuses on sustainably producing vegetables, eggs, and meat for low-resourced communities as well as creating a space for transformational healing through agriculture. But when the pandemic hit, his community needed something else from him. That’s when Aponte applied for additional support from Black Farmer Fund.
Founded by farmer-activist Karen Washington and social entrepreneur Olivia Watkins in 2017, this nonprofit organization acts as a racially just investment fund created explicitly to support Black farmers, agricultural businesses, and food entrepreneurs in the Northeast, with the goal of building community wealth and local food sovereignty through collective power. Rocky Acres was among the first cohort of eight agricultural businesses that received support through the organization’s 2021 $1.1-million pilot fund.
The money helped Aponte shift his direct-to-consumer business model to include a home delivery service and a small on-farm store or bodega. “It allows me to aggregate products from other farmers of color who don’t have the time to spend at the market,” he says. “Being from the Bronx, I’ve always come at things from a food justice lens and really look to make sure folks have sufficient access to their foods.” 05-10-23
Shell chemical plant that burned near Houston had a record of nearly 2,000 violations
The Shell chemical plant east of Houston that caught fire on Friday had a record of 1,946 environmental violations over the past decade, according to state records.
Of these violations, 95 at the Shell Deer Park Chemicals plant are still considered “active,” meaning the company has not yet resolved the problem, according to the records of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These violations include the company’s failure to properly control gases venting from its equipment. Others had to do with paperwork problems, including “failure to provide documentation to evaluate compliance.”
Shell Deer Park has been hit with $1,643,690 in fines by environmental regulators since January 2012, according to TCEQ. Those fines came from 37 enforcement orders, including for the release of more than 40,000 pounds of a dangerous carcinogen (1,3-butadiene) from vents and a relief valve at the olefins plant over a nearly 24-hour period in January 2013.
A long track record of noncompliance at an industrial facility can indicate a culture that does not prioritize investments in plant safety and protections for the local community and environment.
The most recent incident unfolded at about 3 p.m. on Friday. Flames erupted from the plant at 5900 Highway 225 in Deer Park, beside the heavily industrialized Houston Ship Channel. The plumes of inky black smoke billowing over nearby neighborhoods were so large they were visible on weather radar. 05-09-23
Environmentalists urge DeSantis to veto ‘radioactive roads’ bill
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faces a big decision in the coming weeks.
No, we’re not referring to whether he’ll challenge Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, although the governor is preparing to launch his campaign. Rather, today we’re looking at what DeSantis will do with legislation that would allow the use of radioactive fertilizer waste in road construction across Florida.
The state Senate gave final approval to the bill last week. Environmental groups are pressuring him to veto it, saying the measure would cause contamination of air, water and soil and would increase the risk of cancer among construction workers.
DeSantis hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill, although he vetoed a measure last year that would have increased costs for Floridians with rooftop solar panels.
The governor’s choice will offer important clues as to how he would approach environmental issues in the White House — issues that reach far beyond Florida’s borders. 05-09-23
A landmark investigation brings environmental justice to rural Alabama
Federal investigators found that Alabama neglected a Black community’s sewage and sanitation needs — then punished them for the results.
For as long as anyone can remember, the lack of a sanitation system in Lowndes County, Alabama, and resulting reliance on piping human waste directly into septic tanks and local creeks, has made life in the community miserable. After years of organizing and calls to action by the residents of this rural, low-income, and largely Black community, Earthjustice and Alabama grassroots leaders submitted a civil rights complaint, alleging racist neglect by Alabama public health officials. In response, federal authorities launched an investigation.
The 18-month inquiry found the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department acted with neglect and discrimination toward the county’s residents by not only denying them access to basic sanitation, but imposing fines and even liens against them while ignoring the grave health impacts the situation created.
“Today starts a new chapter for Black residents of Lowndes County, Alabama, who have endured health dangers, indignities, and racial injustice for far too long,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said Thursday in a statement announcing the agreement. “Our work in Lowndes County should send a strong message regarding our firm commitment to advancing environmental justice, promoting accountability, and confronting the array of barriers that deny Black communities and communities of color access to clean air, clean water, and equitable infrastructure across our nation.” 05-08-23
After a four-year campaign, New York says yes to publicly owned renewables
The state has set ambitious climate targets. Now it’ll build the clean energy it needs to meet them.
On Tuesday, New York lawmakers passed a law that, for the first time, authorizes the New York Power Authority — the largest state public power authority in the U.S. — to build renewable energy projects to help reach the state’s climate goals.
The new Build Public Renewables Act, passed as part of New York’s annual budget, is a culmination of four years of organizing by climate and community organizations, and has been heralded as a major win by energy democracy, environmental justice, and labor groups.
“This will enable us to build renewable energy projects with gold-standard labor language, ensuring that the transition to renewable energy benefits working people and their families,” Patrick Robbins, an organizer with the grassroots Public Power NY Coalition, told Grist.
The new law directs the New York Power Authority to plan, construct, and operate renewable energy projects in service of the state’s renewable energy goals. Under New York’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state aims to generate 70 percent of its electricity from renewables and cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. 05-04-23
A California bill could help make EVs a blackout solution
The state might require every electric vehicle to be capable of powering your home — and the grid – through a process called bi-directional charging.
Chris Bowe was preparing for his daughter’s ninth birthday party in February when a drenching storm knocked out power to his neighborhood in Hayward, California. Minutes before the party began, Bowe connected his electric Ford F-150 Lightning to a panel in his garage, sending electricity from the pickup truck to his house.
“It was dark out, parents were dropping off their kids, and our house was lit up,” said Bowe, who works as a FedEx manager in the Bay Area. “They were like, ‘How do you have power?’”
Bowe kept the lights on using bidirectional charging, which allows electric vehicles to not only receive electricity but discharge it as well. It’s a feature that a proposed California bill would require that all EVs sold in the state offer by model year 2027.
Making an EV bidirectional capable is a matter of equipping it with the right software and hardware, and some, like the Nissan Leaf, Kia EV 6, and the Lightning, already provide the feature. Other manufacturers have been slower to roll out the technology. Tesla, for example, says its cars will be bidirectional by 2025. 05-04-23
Not-in-my-backyard opposition threatens Biden’s wind energy goals
The future of wind energy clashes with a painful past in Idaho
JEROME COUNTY, Idaho — This rural, wind-swept basin carpeted with golden grass and littered with dark lava rock is the kind of spot the Biden administration sees as the future of energy in America.
Close to high-voltage transmission corridors, it’s well-situated for installing a massive wind farm to feed the nation’s growing need for renewable power.
But this stretch of sagebrush country in southern Idaho, where a developer is proposing to erect hundreds of windmills, is also the site of one of the darkest chapters of America’s past, where thousands of Japanese Americans were unjustly detained during World War II.
“I understand the climate crisis,” said Janet Matsuoka Keegan, a descendant of detainees who opposes the wind project. But President Biden’s renewable energy push, she added, is “not well-thought-out.”
To wean off fossil fuels and stave off climate change, the nation needs renewable power. The Biden administration wants to run the grid entirely on clean energy by 2035, aiming to get much of that power from wind and other renewable sources on federally controlled lands and waters. Polls say most Americans want to see their electricity come from zero-emissions sources.
But finding places willing to host towering wind turbines? That’s another matter. 05-03-23
What a pending Supreme Court ruling could mean for Biden’s new clean water protections
The fate of millions of acres of wetlands hinges on five vague words in the Clean Water Act.
Before a bipartisan Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, cities pumped raw sewage into lakes, mining companies discharged acid waste into streams, and factories poured chemicals into rivers, which occasionally caught on fire. The Clean Water Act made such pollution illegal and expanded the federal government’s authority to regulate waterways across the country.
half the country’s wetlands. 05-01-23
Flooding study reveals factors NOAA forecasts don’t include
Beaufort’s historic Front Street is a bustling hub for local businesses, and strolling around the area is a must-do for tourists. But all this activity is disrupted when the town experiences flooding.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this has been happening more frequently over the past 20 years and will become increasingly common as sea levels continue to rise.
Thoroughly understanding flood dynamics is important for protecting people and property along the North Carolina coast.
A new study from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University researchers, led by former UNC Institute for the Environment researcher Adam Gold, has illuminated a hidden aspect of flooding not captured by NOAA’s flood observations. Gold currently is with the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
The researchers, who work together on the Sunny Day Flooding Project, used Beaufort’s Front Street as a case study to test a new, real-time sensor framework for detecting and measuring coastal flooding.
NOAA flood observations are based on data from tide gauges, which measure changes in water levels due to the tides, storm surge and river flow. But, the researchers found, they don’t capture flooding caused by rainfall, which accounted for 25% of the 24 flood events they observed in Beaufort during the five-month study period from June to November 2021. 05-01-23