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Keeping your camera off during virtual meetings can help save the environment

There are several ways consumers change their internet use to be more eco-conscious

Many consumers have made the switch from in-person work to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this change has cut down on commuting times, it also has meant that consumers are spending a lot more time on the internet while at home.

A new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University explored how consumers can use all of this extra screen time to benefit the environment. According to the researchers, one of the best ways consumers can cut down on their carbon footprint is to keep their cameras turned off during virtual meetings. 

“Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality,” said researcher Kaveh Madani. “So without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint.” 

Small changes make a big impact

The researchers gathered internet processing data from several countries around the world to better understand how consumers’ internet habits can influence various environmental outcomes. They looked at social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Zoom and explored how usage affected carbon, water, and land footprints. 

“If you just look at one type of footprint, you miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at environmental impact,” said researcher Roshanak Nateghi. 

The researchers learned that streaming services and online video conferences are two of the biggest culprits in terms of negative impacts on the environment. However, by making simple switches, consumers help reduce the effect of such environmental damage. 

They explained that keeping your camera off during a virtual meeting can reduce the carbon, water, and land footprints by 96 percent, and swapping high definition streaming for standard definition can reduce these footprints by 86 percent. Opting against data downloads can also be incredibly beneficial for the environment. Currently, a one-hour video call uses up to 12 liters of water and produces 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. 

While CO2 emissions have hit record lows since the start of the pandemic, the researchers worry about how continued excessive internet usage will continue to affect the environment. If consumers keep up at the current pace, carbon, water, and land footprints are anticipated to increase by the end of 2021.

“There are the best estimates given the available data,” said Nateghi. “In view of these reported surges, there is a hope now for higher transparency to guide policy.” 

Many consumers have made the switch from in-person work to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this change has cut down on co...
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Climate change has led to billions of dollars in flood damages, study finds

More frequent extreme weather events have heightened the severity of flooding

Climate change is a source of stress for many consumers, and findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University may just add to that stress. 

Because climate change has led to more frequent weather events and more severe periods of precipitation, flooding has become a much more serious issue for many consumers. According to the researchers’ findings, flooding due to climate change has led to billions of dollars in damages in the last 30 years. 

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase in the future is well known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said researcher Frances Davenport. “Our analysis allows us to isolate how much of those changes in precipitation translate to changes in the cost of flooding, both now and in the future.” 

Flood damage on the rise

The researchers’ goal was to determine whether rising flood damages were related to climate change or if there were other overriding socioeconomic factors that have come into play in recent years. They used existing economic models to compare climate change data, flood damages, and weather patterns between 1988 and 2017. 

“By bringing all those pieces together, this framework provides a novel quantification not only of how much historical changes in precipitation have contributed to the costs of flooding, but also how greenhouse gases influence the kind of precipitation events that cause the most damaging flood events,” said researcher Noah Diffenbaugh. 

The researchers found that over the last 30 years, flooding has yielded nearly $200 billion in related damages across the United States. They learned that climate change was directly linked to more than 35 percent of those costs, or roughly $75 billion in damages. The team explained that the severity of extreme weather events is mostly to blame in these cases, as flooding has only worsened as the weather has changed. 

“What we find is that, even in states where the long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases, the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation,” said Davenport. 

This study points to just one area of significant cost that stems from climate change. Moving forward, the researchers hope that legislators can utilize these findings as the basis for serious climate-related policy change. Without changes, they believe flood damages will only surge higher as time goes on. 

“Accurately and comprehensively tallying the past and future costs of climate change is key to making good policy decisions,” said researcher Marshall Burke. “This work shows that past climate change has already cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars, just due to flood damages alone.” 

Climate change is a source of stress for many consumers, and findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University may just add to th...
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Hope still exists in the fight against climate change, experts say

Policy-led interventions implemented around the world could lead to lasting improvements

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some positive news in terms of the environment, research shows that pollution is still a very real problem.

Though a lot of work still needs to be done, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter is detailing why hope still remains in the fight against climate change. According to the researchers, efforts put into place in two key areas -- lighter road transportation and power -- will likely benefit the environment for years to come. 

“We have left it too late to tackle climate change incrementally,” said researcher Tim Lenton. “Limiting global warming to well below two degrees Celsius now requires transformational change and a dramatic acceleration process.”

Tipping towards environmental advancements 

Lenton and his team are optimistic about the future of climate change because of what they refer to as “tipping points.” They explained that this happens when several small changes build on top of one another to create one lasting change. When it comes to climate change, the researchers anticipate tipping points to occur in the areas of power and lighter road transportation. In both cases, policy-led interventions have already been put into place to help set the scales in motion that will eventually create long-term change. 

In looking at power, the researchers explained that countries around the world are working to make coal plants a thing of the past. On a global scale, renewable energy sources are proving to be a more cost-effective method of generating power, which is minimizing the benefits associated with coal and fossil fuels. 

As these efforts continue, and renewable energy is utilized more and more, the researchers predict that there will no longer be any financial benefits of using coal or in maintaining coal plants. In time, the widespread use of solar or wind-powered energy will tip the scales and make coal-fueled power obsolete.

The researchers anticipate a similar tipping point to occur when electric cars are more widely used by consumers. Currently, the manufacturing costs of electric cars are making it difficult for them to be more accessible to car buyers. However, offsetting these costs is possible; the researchers explained that legislators in parts of the world that generate the highest car sales -- California, China, and the European Union -- can work together to mass-produce electric cars and lower costs. 

“If either of these efforts -- in power or road transport -- succeed, the most important effect could be to tip perceptions of the potential for international cooperation to tackle climate change,” Lenton said. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some positive news in terms of the environment, research shows that pollution is still a very real problem.Thou...
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Uber to expand ‘Uber Green’ to more cities as part of increased sustainability efforts

The company will also be focusing on electric vehicles and new initiatives in 2021

The new year is officially underway, and Uber is recommitting to some of the green initiatives that it promised to undertake towards the end of 2020.

On Tuesday, the company announced that it will be expanding its Uber Green ride option to over 1,400 more North American cities and towns. The offering allows riders to choose either an electric vehicle or a hybrid vehicle as their mode of transport. Drivers who have an eligible vehicle can earn a small bonus from each completed trip, and some of the money also goes towards greater adoption of electric vehicles. 

Uber is also adopting Uber Green into its Uber Pass membership service. Consumers who are enrolled in that program can receive 10 percent off on Green trips and on standard rides.

More sustainability efforts

Also included in Uber’s announcement was information on two new initiatives it has joined to help fight climate change. The first is its enrollment in the Zero Emissions Transportation Association (ZETA), which is advocating for policies that will allow 100 percent electric vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030. 

“For the first time in a generation, transportation is the leading emitter of U.S. carbon emissions. By embracing EVs, federal policymakers can help drive innovation, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and improve air quality and public health,” Joe Britton, ZETA’s executive director, said in November.

The second initiative Uber has joined is Amazon’s and Global Optimism’s Climate Pledge, which seeks to meet the climate goals outlined in The Paris Agreement on a shorter timeline.

“Uber’s work to have 100% of rides taking place in zero-emission vehicles, on public transit, or with micromobility by 2040,” aligns with this pledge, the company said.

The new year is officially underway, and Uber is recommitting to some of the green initiatives that it promised to undertake towards the end of 2020.On...
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New York state’s pension fund to divest from all fossil fuel investments

Clean energy is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the energy sector

New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its fossil fuel investments.

The fund -- which is the third largest pension fund in the U.S. with a value of $194.3 billion and more than one million members, retirees, and beneficiaries -- decided that selling off its “riskiest” oil and gas stocks is the right action to take due to growing climate concerns. The state’s final goal is to completely eliminate all carbon polluters from its investment portfolio by 2040. 

With a stroke of New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s pen, a clear message was sent that the smart money is on getting out of the fossil fuel game now rather than later.

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday morning. 

“Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investment’s long-term value at risk.”

The shape of things to come?

The Paris Climate Agreement is coming up on its fifth anniversary, but its last couple of years have been a tug of war. Once President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, tech executives from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others came together to voice their concerns. Meanwhile, the world’s five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies fought against governmental measures to curb emissions.

While the consumption side of fossil fuels hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 20 years, renewable energy -- hydroelectric power, geothermal, solar, and wind -- is getting closer in the energy sector’s rear view mirror. At last count, the renewable option was generating 17.6 percent of all electric power.

New York may be the first to come down this hard on fossil fuel, but other states have been working on similar moves. As of late April, 15 U.S. states and territories had taken either executive or legislative action toward a 100 percent clean energy future -- one that includes clean electricity policies and economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution-reduction programs.

What’s the energy future for consumers?

Even more important is the consumer side of the energy consumption equation. While the decrease in gas prices has American consumers moving toward buying more SUVs and trucks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps pushing for exponentially less polluting and more efficient vehicles. 

At home, clean energy, such as solar power, is also getting the reputation as a more environmentally friendly option. 

“Solar energy is most efficient in terms of environmental impact, whereas coal and natural gas are more efficient by reliable applications,” writes ConsumerAffairs’ Kathryn Parkman in her review of how certain energy resources impact consumers in terms of efficiency, cost, and long-term availability.

And, as for cost? “Given the consumption rate of fossil fuels, the world is reaching a point where there will be little choice in the matter. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are extracted at a much faster rate than they're being replenished. Because of this, some fossil fuels, like coal, are on track to be more expensive than solar within the next decade,” Parkman said.

New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its...
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Consumers’ behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic are improving the environment

Researchers have found reduced air pollution levels, less deforestation, and better water quality

Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Center is looking at how the environment has changed since the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

According to their findings, the pandemic could be responsible for a great deal of positive environmental change that has occurred this year. In comparing data between 2019 and 2020, the researchers noted improvements in air pollution, deforestation, and water quality in several parts of the world. 

“But we will need more research to clearly attribute environmental change to COVID,” said researcher Timothy Newman.

Improved environmental outcomes

The researchers used remote sensing data to look at specific environmental outcomes across different parts of the world to understand how things have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, they learned that things are environmentally very different from where they were before the pandemic.  

The study revealed that air pollution levels have improved greatly in India in recent months. Results showed that levels of the pollutant particulate matter (PM) 10 decreased significantly since the start of this year; that could be a result of fewer construction projects happening across the country because of pandemic-related lockdowns. 

Cleaner air in India also had an effect on snow in the Indus River Basin. The researchers learned that snow in this area has been less susceptible to pollutants since they are at reduced levels; that has led to an increase in the amount of time it takes the snow to melt. They explained that the snow was melting slower than it has in the last two decades, which is incredibly beneficial for the environment and the planet’s temperature. It also affects how quickly consumers in the River Basin have access to fresh water.

The researchers also looked at how water quality has changed since the start of the pandemic. They learned that New York City experienced significant improvements in this area. By eliminating millions of daily commuters, the water was less polluted overall, and it was found to be 40 percent clearer than it was at the start of the pandemic. 

In looking at deforestation efforts, the researchers learned that different areas have had different outcomes during the pandemic. While deforestation slowed in parts of Peru and Colombia, large parts of the Brazilian rainforest weren’t as lucky. 

Can the benefits last?

While many of these pandemic-related changes are beneficial to the environment, there’s a good chance that they won’t be long-lasting. 

Though consumers have been forced to change their behaviors in recent months, the researchers predict that once things revert back to how they were pre-pandemic, these environmental advancements won’t hold up.

Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the G...
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Glitter is causing ecological damage to rivers, study finds

Researchers are concerned about how ecosystems will be affected by these microplastics

A new study conducted by researchers from Anglia Ruskin University found that glitter could be polluting rivers and creating ecological damage. In looking at both biodegradable and nonbiodegradable options, the researchers learned that the presence of glitter in rivers can have lasting effects on existing ecosystems. 

“Many of the microplastics found in our rivers and oceans have taken years to form, as larger pieces of plastic are broken down over time,” said researcher Dr. Dannielle Green. “However, glitter is a ready-made microplastic that is commonly found in our homes and, particularly through cosmetics, is washed off in our sinks and into the water system. 

“Our study is the first to look at the effects of glitter in a freshwater environment and we found that both conventional and alternative glitters can have a serious ecological impact on aquatic ecosystems within a short period of time.”

The damages of microplastics

For the study, the researchers observed the effects of different types of glitter on an aquatic ecosystem for five weeks. They analyzed both traditional, nonbiodegradable glitter, and two eco-friendly options: mica glitter, which is typically used in make-up products, and another type that is made of modified regenerated cellulose (MRC). 

The researchers learned that all three glitters negatively affected the aquatic ecosystem. They looked specifically at chlorophyll and root levels, which are responsible for the health and longevity of plant species, and each glitter sample yielded nearly identical results. Chlorophyll levels were roughly three times lower due to the presence of glitter and duckweed roots were half as long. 

The study also revealed that the eco-friendly glitter options attracted an invasive species of New Zealand mud snails. These creatures monopolize food and other resources, and they are more likely to populate an area that has a polluted water source. 

“All types, including so-called biodegradable glitter, have a negative effect on important primary producers which are the base of the food web, while glitter with a biodegradable cellulose core has an additional impact of encouraging the growth of invasive species,” Dr. Green said. 

While the researchers plan to do more work to better understand why glitter has this significant impact on aquatic ecosystems, they hope these findings highlight the dangers associated with microplastics

“We believe these effects could be caused by leachate from the glitters, possibly from their plastic coating or other materials involved in their production, and our future research will investigate this in greater detail,” Dr. Green said. 

A new study conducted by researchers from Anglia Ruskin University found that glitter could be polluting rivers and creating ecological damage. In looking...
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Amazon announces new climate initiative to help consumers shop for sustainable products

Shoppers will see a new label on products that meet the pledge’s standards

Eco-conscious consumers who shop online with Amazon will soon have a better way to pick products that adhere to their high environmental standards. The company announced this week that it is rolling out “Climate Pledge Friendly,” a new initiative that will place a label on products that meet at least one of 19 sustainability certifications. 

To start, Amazon says the initiative will add labels to over 25,000 eligible products. The initiative will cover products from multiple categories, including grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics.

“Climate Pledge Friendly is a simple way for customers to discover more sustainable products that help preserve the natural world,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “With 18 external certification programs and our own Compact by Design certification, we’re incentivizing selling partners to create sustainable products that help protect the planet for future generations.”

Building on sustainable promises

The move builds upon the company’s previous commitment to meet standards set under the Paris Climate Agreement, which would bring the company to net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2040. 

In a press release, Amazon said it has already gone above and beyond those standards by committing to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, using fully-electric delivery vehicles, and donating billions to programs that support reforestation and a transition to a low carbon economy.

“Amazon’s initiative will drive scale and impact for more sustainable consumption by helping customers easily discover products that are Climate Pledge Friendly and encourage the manufacturers to make their products more sustainable,” said Fabian Garcia, President of Unilever North America.

To learn more about the Climate Pledge Friendly, consumers can visit Amazon’s website here.

Eco-conscious consumers who shop online with Amazon will soon have a better way to pick products that adhere to their high environmental standards. The com...
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Uber pledges to hit net-zero emissions by 2040

The ride-hailing giant has pledged to ‘more aggressively tackle the challenge of climate change’

Uber has committed to becoming a zero-emission mobility platform by 2040. On Tuesday, the ride-hailing giant outlined several new initiatives that will help it meet that goal and mitigate its environmental impact.

“The path there will be electric. It will be shared. It will be with buses and trains and bicycles and scooters. These monumental changes won’t come easy. Or fast. But we have a plan to get there, and we need you to come along for the ride,” the company said in a statement.

The pandemic has given people “a glimpse of what life could be like with less traffic and cleaner air,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a virtual press event. However, the executive warned that emissions levels will soon return to normal.

COVID-19 “didn’t change the fact that climate change remains an existential threat and crisis that needs every person, every business in every nation to act,” he added. 

Switching to electric

Uber said on Tuesday that it is committing to getting its drivers in Europe, the U.S., and Canada to switch to using electric vehicles by 2025. To reach that goal, the company has set aside $800 million. Drivers can receive discounts on cars purchased or leased through Uber's auto partners, which include GM, Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi. 

Uber also wants to get its corporate operations down to net-zero emissions by 2030. 

The company also announced that it will launch “Uber Green” in 15 U.S. and Canadian cities. In exchange for paying a dollar more, riders can be picked up in an EV or hybrid electric vehicle. Uber said it expects the program to be launched in over 65 cities globally by the end of 2020.

“You can now tap a button and request a ride in an electric or hybrid vehicle in select cities around the world,” the company said. “Each Uber Green trip in a hybrid or electric vehicle emits at least 25% less carbon emissions compared to the average Uber ride.”

Uber has also released its first Climate Assessment and Performance Report to give people insight into how it’s doing in terms of lowering its emissions. The company found that vehicles on its platform were more efficient than cars with a single occupant, but its carbon intensity was higher than personal cars occupied by an “average” number of occupants. 

The ride-hailing firm said in the report that it hosted 4 billion rides across the U.S. and Canada from 2017 to 2019. However, officials said the current state of its operations is "unsustainable.” 

“It’s our responsibility as the largest mobility platform in the world to more aggressively tackle the challenge of climate change,” Uber said. “We want to do our part to build back better and drive a green recovery in our cities.”

Uber has committed to becoming a zero-emission mobility platform by 2040. On Tuesday, the ride-hailing giant outlined several new initiatives that will hel...
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Pollution could contribute to antibiotic resistance, study finds

Researchers say burning fossil fuels and certain agricultural processes could be to blame

Antibiotic resistance is a widespread issue, as some superbugs have adapted to withstand the antibacterial powers of hand sanitizer. 

Now, researchers from the University of Georgia are looking at how environmental factors could play a role in antibiotic resistance. According to their findings, pollution could increase the incidence of antibiotic resistance nationwide. 

“The overuse of antibiotics in the environment adds additional selection pressure on microorganisms that accelerates their ability to resist multiple classes of antibiotics,” said researcher Jesse C. Thomas IV. “But antibiotics aren’t the only source of selection pressure. Many bacteria possess genes that simultaneously work on multiple compounds that would be toxic to the cell, and this includes metals.” 

Environmental pressures

To understand how pollution can affect antibiotic resistance, the researchers analyzed soil samples from four spots in South Carolina. They evaluated the genetic make-up of the soil in order to determine any present bacteria that could be resistant to antibiotics. 

The researchers also paid particularly close attention to the effect of metals in the samples, as heavy metals aren’t biodegradable. This means that the effects of such contamination can last indefinitely. Ultimately, the team learned that the soil samples that were most contaminated by heavy metals were the most likely to contain antibiotic resistant bacteria. 

The study also revealed that there was a great deal of overlap between antibiotic-resistant genes and metal-resistant genes within the samples. This is important because heavy metals are often associated with antibiotic resistance, so this likely amplifies the resistance to traditional treatment methods. 

Specifically, the researchers found that these soil samples resisted the powers of three commonly used antibiotics that are used to treat infections: polymyxin, vancomycin, and bacitracin. 

Though the researchers plan to do more research on the relationship between metal resistance and antibiotic resistance, these findings are important because they can help identify how actions associated with pollution can contribute to antibiotic resistance. 

“We need a better understanding of how bacteria are evolving over time,” said Thomas. “This can impact our drinking water and our food and eventually our health.” 

Antibiotic resistance is a widespread issue, as some superbugs have adapted to withstand the antibacterial powers of hand sanitizer. Now, researchers f...
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Experts predict plastic pollution in the ocean will triple in the next 20 years

Efforts from both lawmakers and consumers are needed to slow down this worrying trend

Plastics, like straws and contact lenses, have been found to build up in the ocean, and it could take hundreds of years before they ever disintegrate. 

Now, a new study suggests that plastic pollution will likely get much worse over the next two decades if left unchecked. Researchers are predicting that if the current rate of pollution keeps up without intervention, pollution could increase threefold by 2040. 

“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said researcher Tom Dillon. “As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature.” 

Preventing a growing problem

To measure and predict the plastic pollution in the oceans, the researchers created a model that helped them track current pollution progress. After adjusting the model for several potential interventions, they predicted what the oceans could look like in the next 20 years. 

Though the study showed that plastic pollution will multiply if nothing changes, the researchers explained that there are several tangible ways to work to reduce pollution -- and they come with several benefits. 

Improving recycling habits, opting for compostable items when possible, and increasing waste collection are just a handful of ways that real change can be made. And while all these efforts would work in reducing how much plastic lands in the ocean, there are more benefits than many consumers may realize. 

For starters, adopting these habits would create hundreds of thousands of jobs while also providing a huge environmental boost by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, being more proactive about plastic pollution in these ways could ultimately reduce ocean pollution by 80 percent. 

The researchers hope that consumers realize minor actions can add up and that plastic pollution in the oceans isn’t a doomed issue. With consistent efforts, significant strides can be made. 

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable,” said researcher Martin Stuchtey. “It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation. We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80 percent. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” 

Plastics, like straws and contact lenses, have been found to build up in the ocean, and it could take hundreds of years before they ever disintegrate....
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California becomes first state to mandate shift to zero-emission trucks

A landmark regulation will increase sales of these vehicles starting in 2024

California has become the first state to require truck manufacturers to ramp up their zero-emission truck sales. Starting in 2024, the state’s auto manufacturers will be required to gradually increase the percentage of zero-emissions truck sales.

The “Advanced Clean Trucks” regulation, first introduced in 2016 under former Gov. Jerry Brown, received unanimous approval from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on Thursday.

Under the rule, the percentage of light- and medium-duty trucks sales will be increased to 55 percent. The percentage of heavier duty electric trucks sold will be increased to 75 percent by 2035. By 2045, every new truck sold in the state will be zero-emission.

The regulation will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve quality in a state with particularly poor air quality. However, the impact of the regulation is expected to extend beyond state lines. Experts have noted that zero-emissions trucks sold in California engage in commercial travel across the nation, so emissions in other states will likely drop as well. 

A racial justice issue

Toxic air pollution is tied to the nation’s current push to achieve racial justice, since pollution from heavy-duty vehicles has been shown to disproportionately impact communities of color. CARB noted that trucks are responsible for 70 percent of smog-causing pollution. 

In an interview with Gizmodo, Costa Samaras, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, called the regulation a “huge deal” with the potential to promote air quality equity in the state.

“The reduction and eventual elimination of diesel emissions near where people live is an equity issue. It’s an environmental justice issue,” Samaras said. “These pollutants, they cause real health damages. And lots of times, it has been communities of color who have borne the brunt of these types of emissions. Electrifying all segments of transportation and having a very clear electric grid are two issues that we can’t wait on any longer.”

CARB said its goal is to facilitate the creation of “a self-sustaining zero-emission truck market,” similar to the one it has for passenger vehicles. The estimated emissions reduction from the new rule will help the state reach its emissions goals of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. 

“For decades, while the automobile has grown cleaner and more efficient, the other half of our transportation system has barely moved the needle on clean air,” CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said in a statement. “Diesel vehicles are the workhorses of the economy, and we need them to be part of the solution to persistent pockets of dirty air in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Now is the time – the technology is here and so is the need for investment.”

California has become the first state to require truck manufacturers to ramp up their zero-emission truck sales. Starting in 2024, the state’s auto manufac...
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Record levels of humidity and heat predicted to reach across the globe

Researchers worry about the effect this could have on humans

While many studies have reported on the consistently rising global temperatures, it’s still uncertain how such levels of heat will affect consumers

Now, researchers from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that parts of the world could begin to experience periods of heat and humidity that could make it dangerous for human survival. 

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said researcher Colin Raymond. “The time these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow in direct correlation with global warming.” 

Bracing for the heat

The researchers evaluated weather patterns around the world from 1979 through 2017. They learned that extreme periods of heat and humidity became twice as likely over that time period. The primary concern is that the heat will affect nearly every facet of consumers’ lives, including their physical health and finances. 

While most consumers are used to seeing a heat index to measure the heat and humidity in their area, meteorologists use the “wet bulb” Centigrade scale. A reading of 32 C or higher is considered to be extreme heat, and the researchers explained that this threshold can make it nearly impossible for consumers to be outside. In terms of Fahrenheit, 32 C comes out to 132 degrees, making these temperatures dangerous for humans. 

The researchers noted that the number of readings of at least 32 C have doubled over time, and periods of such intense heat and humidity are only expected to increase. “It’s hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s,” said Raymond. 

Eliminating jobs

In addition to the risks to consumers’ health, which are amplified in the humidity, the researchers explained that these frequent high temperatures will have an effect on the economy, as many jobs will become impossible. 

While air conditioning can certainly relieve some of the burden, many regions around the world with the highest temperatures aren’t equipped with air conditioning units, and the effects of staying indoors for long periods of time will be felt around the world. 

“These measurements imply that some areas of Earth are much closer than expected to attaining sustained intolerable heat,” said researcher Steven Sherwood. “It was previously believed we had a much larger margin of safety.” 

While many studies have reported on the consistently rising global temperatures, it’s still uncertain how such levels of heat will affect consumers. No...
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Solar and wind energy companies face project delays due to COVID-19

The health crisis has dealt setbacks to the renewable energy industry

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on renewable energy projects and threatens to hamper efforts to curtail climate change. Thousands of clean-energy workers have filed for unemployment and, as a result, the installation of solar energy systems and other renewable energy projects has been put on hold. 

“There are many smaller companies going out of business as we speak,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association told the Associated Press. “Up to half our jobs are at risk.”

Scientists have expressed concern that the coronavirus-related delay in clean energy projects could hinder efforts to combat climate change. 

Workers benched and projects delayed

Social distancing orders have had the biggest impact on solar panel installation on rooftops and the addition of energy-efficiency measures inside homes, according to the Washington Post. 

“Shelter in place puts limitations on how people can work,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told the Post. “Literally, people don’t want other people inside their houses to fix electrical boxes. And there are no door-to-door sales.”

Wind energy companies also expect progress to be slowed this year as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The American Wind Energy Association said it was “on a roll” right up until the last month or two. Now, projects that would add 25 gigawatts of wind power to the U.S. grid are at risk of being scaled back or even canceled over the next two years due to the health crisis. 

“Pre-pandemic, there were great dreams and aspirations for a record-setting year,” said Paul Gaynor, CEO of Longroad Energy, a utility-scale wind and solar developer. “I’m sure we’re not going to have that.”

Expediting the transition to responsible energy use should be made a priority as the economy reopens, Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer with Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine, which studies climate change and oceans, told the AP.

“My hope is that we would use this as an opportunity to build toward an economy that doesn’t depend on burning coal and oil and that is more resilient to the climate impacts that are heading our way,” Pershing said.

Consumers interested in harnessing the power of solar energy can visit our guide here to connect with an authorized professional. 

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on renewable energy projects and threatens to hamper efforts to curtail climate change. Thousands of clean-energy...
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New technology isn't the answer for fighting climate change

Experts say more work needs to be done on the local level to see considerable change

Climate change has created a great deal of stress among consumers, as there is no shortage of health concerns related to rising temperatures and escalating air pollution levels. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Lancaster University has found that consumers shouldn’t wait around for new technologies to help reduce the effects of climate change. Instead, the team says consumers and policymakers need to work together to make shifts in our daily lives in order to see real change. 

“For forty years, climate action has been delayed by technological promises,” said researchers Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson. “Contemporary promises are equally dangerous. Our work exposes how such promises have raised expectations of more effective policy options becoming available in the future, and thereby enabled a continued politics of prevarication and inadequate action.” 

Creating cultural change

For their study, McLaren and Markusson evaluated technological promises dating back to the early 1990s. They explained that experts have been working to reduce the harmful effects of climate change in a five-step approach: 

  • Stabilization 

  • Percentage emissions reductions 

  • Atmospheric concentrations

  • Cumulative budgets

  • Outcome temperatures 

In each phase, experts have tried utilizing various technological advances that were believed to be the answer to fighting climate change. The researchers note that some strategies that have been used over the years include nuclear power, bioenergy, emissions technologies, and improved energy efficiency, among several others. 

However, despite these efforts, not much progress has been made. According to McLaren and Markusson, the greatest change will come from cultural shifts as opposed to technological advances. 

“Each novel promise not only competes with existing ideas, but also downplays any sense of urgency, enabling the repeated deferral of political deadlines for climate action and undermining societal commitment to meaningful responses,” the researchers explained. 

Moving forward, the researchers want to put the onus on leaders to make real change happen on the climate change front. If there is a shift in societal behaviors and attitudes, then consumers can expect to put up a solid fight against climate change. 

“Putting our hopes in yet more new technologies is unwise,” McLaren and Markusson said. “Instead, cultural, social, and political transformation is essential to enable widespread deployment of both behavioural and technological responses to climate change.” 

Climate change has created a great deal of stress among consumers, as there is no shortage of health concerns related to rising temperatures and escalating...
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Parents contribute to more pollution than non-parents, study finds

Researchers suggest that having children makes consumers less eco-conscious

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and organizers will be trying to host a massive online event to make consumers more aware about the dangers of climate change. But a recent study shows that there may be one section of the population that is less likely to absorb this information and use it in their everyday lives.

Researchers from the University of Wyoming have found that parents are less likely to be as eco-friendly as non-parents. The team says the finding was surprising because of how important climate change can be to future generations.

"While having children makes people focus more on the future and, presumably, care more about the environment, our study suggests that parenthood does not cause people to become 'greener,'" said researchers Jason Shogren and Linda Thunstrom. 

"Becoming a parent can transform a person -- he or she thinks more about the future and worries about future risks imposed on their children and progeny. But, while having children might be transformational, our results suggest that parents' concerns about climate change do not cause them to be 'greener' than non-parent adults."

Convenience and time constraints

The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing the spending habits of parents and non-parents in Sweden. They found that families with children utilized services and consumed goods that emitted higher levels of CO2. The research team explained that this might be the case because more importance is being placed on convenience because of the time constraints that parents face each day.

“The difference in CO2 emissions between parents and non-parents is substantial, and that's primarily because of increased transportation and food consumption changes," the researchers explained. "Parents may need to be in more places in one day...They also need to feed more people. Eating more pre-prepared, red meat carbon-intensive meals may add convenience and save time."

Shogren and Thunstrom note that these findings are particularly significant because they were conducted in Sweden, which is widely accepted to be more eco-conscious than other nations around the world. This means that the CO2 statistics for other Western countries could be even more pronounced.

The full study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and organizers will be trying to host a massive online event to make consumers more aware about the dangers of climate...
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Consumers and countries with more money waste more food

Researchers say more food is wasted than most people might think

There are many factors that contribute to consumers’ food waste, but findings from a recent study suggest that how much money you earn and spend could play more of a key role than previously thought.

Researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands conducted an analysis that sought to link spending with food waste. They found that relatively low levels of spending were linked with higher levels of waste.

“According to our estimates, annual per capita consumer expenditure of about 2450 (International 2005 USD) or about $6.70/day/capita, is the level at which policy-makers should start paying particular attention to consumer [food waste] in a country and implement consumer awareness and education programs to counter it before it explodes,” the researchers said.

Focus on high-income and developing nations

The team came to their conclusions after analyzing data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). While creating their model, the team found that current FAO estimates focused on food waste were drastically underestimated. 

"Novel research using energy requirement and consumer affluence data shows that consumers waste more than twice as much food as is commonly believed,” the study authors stated. 

To solve this problem, the team suggests that policymakers specifically focus on reducing food waste in high-income countries. Following that, they recommend focusing on countries where affluence is growing so that emerging economies and nations do not follow a similar path.

“If these growing economies follow the same growth paths as the developed regions, we will soon see similar [food waste] patterns evolving,” the researchers warn.

The full study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

There are many factors that contribute to consumers’ food waste, but findings from a recent study suggest that how much money you earn and spend could play...
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Children are most likely to feel the negative health effects of climate change

Researchers say exposure to climate change in utero can lead to health complications

The ways in which climate change affect consumers’ health -- particularly the youngest population -- have been documented at length. But new findings continue to shed more light on this area of study.

Now, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center have found that children are the most likely demographic to experience health complications that arise from climate change. In fact, many could be exposed to those effects before they’re born. 

“It is impossible to predict the scope and impact of climate change in future generations,” wrote researcher Dr. Susan E. Pacheco. “However, the convergence of multiple adverse health outcomes, coming from different pathways of exposure in the prenatal and postnatal life, will likely have a compounding effect that will accelerate or worsen the morbidity and mortality of many health conditions.” 

Children at risk

As temperatures continue to rise around the world and natural disasters become more frequent, Dr. Pacheco explained how the children are at the greatest risk of feeling the effects of living under such conditions. 

She points to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which maintains that a steady increase in global temperatures will lead to three major risk factors for consumers to contend with: 

  • An increase of heat waves and fires, which will lead to greater numbers of disease and increased mortality rates as both food- and waterborne illnesses are likely to increase; 

  • An increase in pollutants that halt food production, which will affect consumers’ overall nutrition; and

  • An increase in diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas.

While Dr. Pacheco is concerned about how these conditions will affect children when they’re young, her research also revealed that it could actually affect them before they’re born. Maternal stress, either from outside factors or due to weather-related disasters, was linked with birth complications that included low birth weight and premature birth. 

Pacheco says it isn’t uncommon for children’s caretakers to struggle mentally and physically in their roles following natural disasters, which can leave young ones lacking basic care and amenities. 

Taking action

Children’s long-term health will continue to be at risk from a health standpoint, as they will not only grow up under these conditions but will experience them getting worse over time. 

“We will continue to see an increase in heat-associated conditions in children, such as asthma, Lyme disease, as well as an increase in congenital heart defects,” said Dr. Pacheco. 

Dr. Pacheco has a very simple call to action for consumers moving forward: avoid complacency. She explained that climate change won’t just disappear without serious intervention, and the youngest population is likely to suffer the most. 

“We cannot act as if we are immune to these threats,” she said. “We can jump to action or stand in complacent indifference.”

The ways in which climate change affect consumers’ health -- particularly the youngest population -- have been documented at length. But new findings conti...
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Americans are wasting nearly a third of all food in their homes

Researchers say this translates to hundreds of billions of dollars per year

Many consumers are making conscious efforts to reduce their food waste, which oftentimes requires a careful reading and understanding of food labels

However, researchers from Penn State have found that despite these sustainability efforts, food waste is still running rampant across the United States, with consumers throwing away nearly one-third of all food in their homes. 

“Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that that 30 percent and 40 percent of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten -- and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water, and labor, are wasted as well,” said researcher Edward Jaenicke. 

“But this study is the first to identify and analyze the level of food waste for individual households, which has been nearly impossible to estimate because comprehensive, current data on uneaten food at the household level do not exist.” 

The food waste epidemic

The researchers analyzed 4,000 responses to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition Survey. 

Because respondents to the survey are required to provide information like height, weight, gender, and age, the researchers could use these factors to most accurately assess food waste. Participants reported on the food they were getting and throwing away, and the researchers were able to calculate the waste by determining how much food the participants’ bodies physically required. 

While food waste was occurring in nearly 32 percent of all participants’ homes, the researchers learned that some participants were more likely to waste than others. 

For example, proximity to the grocery store was a factor in food waste, as those who had a further commute back and forth to the store were less likely to waste food. Conversely, households following specific, oftentimes healthy, diets were throwing away more food, most likely because the shelf life of fruits and vegetables isn’t very long. 

“More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20 percent and 50 percent,” Jaenicke said. “However, even the least wasteful households waste 8.7 percent of the food it acquires.” 

Plan before you shop

According to Jaenicke, planning before going to the grocery store is essential, as those who went grocery shopping with a list were also less likely to waste food. 

“This suggests that planning and food management are factors that influence the amount of wasted food,” said Jaenicke. 

The researchers hope that these findings can inspire further work in this area, as knowing what leads consumers to waste food can hopefully help put plans in place to reduce such waste. 

“While the precise measurement of food waste is important, it may be equally important to investigate further how household-specific factors influence how much food is wasted,” said Jaenicke. “We hope our methodology provides a new lens through which to analyze individual household food waste.” 

Many consumers are making conscious efforts to reduce their food waste, which oftentimes requires a careful reading and understanding of food labels. H...
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America’s investment in renewable energy takes another move up the ladder

Companies are coming up with plenty of cost-saving ways for consumers to make their homes more eco-friendly

America’s renewable energy sector hasn’t let the Trump administration's views on green energy and climate change get in the way for a second. According to research by BloombergNEF, the U.S. invested  $55.5 billion in green technologies last year, a sizable increase of 28 percent.

That $55 billion puts the U.S. second only to China and solidly ahead of Europe. Renewable energy investment in both of those continents slid -- China by 8 percent to $83.4 billion and Europe by 7 percent to $54.3 billion.

Conversely, Brazil’s investments skyrocketed, too -- 74 percent to $6.5 billion -- even though the country is saddled by its own climate-skeptic President, Jair Bolsonaro. 

Could the answer be blowing in the wind?

Bloomberg’s research says the U.S. surge comes out of wind and solar companies that were rushing to qualify for federal tax credits before they are taken off the table later this year.

“It’s notable that in the third year of the Trump presidency, which has not been particularly supportive of renewables, U.S. clean energy investment set a new record by a country mile,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas for BNEF.

All in

“Electricity utilities have begun to note the importance of providing renewable energy, and many have begun to invest in these technologies,” is what T. Wang sees from Statista’s perch

“Using large-scale renewable projects for rural areas or developing countries can also benefit these regions, as electricity in these areas is typically of poor quality, inefficiently used, and unreliably supplied. Using renewable energy can improve the quality of life and economic production, and benefit the environment.”

Getting all the way there will take some time. Nonetheless, some companies aren’t waiting. Apple, for one, is looking to be powered by renewable energy not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

Are you interested in determining if your house is a good candidate for renewable technologies? Are you curious about how you can refit your home with renewable-powered air conditioners, water heaters, and other equipment? If so, ConsumerAffairs has created a guide on the companies offering those services. It’s available here.

America’s renewable energy sector hasn’t let the Trump administration's views on green energy and climate change get in the way for a second. According to...
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Living away from nature can make you less eco-conscious, study finds

The findings explain why it’s important for urban consumers to reconnect with the great outdoors

It can be invigorating for urban-dwelling consumers to get away from the cities they live in and spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that those who don’t get this chance may be more negatively affected than they think.

Researchers from the University of Exeter suggest that those who don’t take time to reconnect with nature are less likely to make decisions that benefit the environment. Conversely, they say that those who are able to experience nature more often are more likely to make eco-conscious choices.

“Over 80 percent of the English population now live in urban areas and are increasingly detached from the natural world,” said Dr. Ian Alcock, lead author of the study.

“The results are correlational so there is always the issue of untangling cause and effect, but our results based on a very large representative sample are consistent with experimental work which shows that people become more pro-environmental after time spent in natural vs. urban settings,” added co-researcher Dr. Mat White.

Creating green spaces

The research team came to their conclusions after looking at survey responses from over 24,000 respondents. Participants answered questions about their exposure to nature, the number of trips they take to green spaces like parks and beaches, and their overall feelings about the natural world. 

Responses showed that consumers who lived in greener neighborhoods or along the coast were more likely to make eco-friendly choices in their day-to-day lives. The finding held true against several factors, such as gender, age, and socioeconomic status. 

To bring urban consumers into a more eco-friendly mindset, the researchers hope that city officials take greater steps when it comes to creating green spaces in cities that consumers can visit. 

“Greening our cities is often proposed to help us adapt to climate change -- for example, city parks and trees can reduce urban heat spots. But our results suggest urban greening could help reduce the damaging behaviours which cause environmental problems in the first place by reconnecting people to the natural world,” said Alcock. 

The full study has been published in the journal Environment International.

It can be invigorating for urban-dwelling consumers to get away from the cities they live in and spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, a re...
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Conservation efforts could be detrimental to farmers, experts find

Some sustainability efforts can lead to big financial losses

Consumers have started taking more eco-friendly measures, including switching up their eating and shopping habits, in an effort to be kinder to the earth. However, a new study discovered how certain conservation efforts could come with some unexpected repercussions. 

Researchers from Michigan State University found that reforestation efforts, which work to transform farmland into forests as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, often come with rather large price tags that the poorest farmers are left to pay. 

“The ignorance of this hidden cost might leave local communities under-compensated under the program and exacerbate poverty,” said researcher Hongbo Yang. “Such problems may ultimately compromise the sustainability of conservation. As losses due to human-wildlife conflicts increase, farmers may increasingly resent conservation efforts.” 

Where do the costs come from?

To understand how farmers can become vulnerable to unexpected costs and other constraints on their general day-to-day tasks, the researchers evaluated the effects of a popular reforestation effort in China known as the Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP).  

In transforming part of their land from cropland to forests, the researchers learned that the farmers' livelihoods were seriously compromised, as they now had smaller plots of land to reap profits from. 

While this alone was troubling, the research also revealed that the transformation process, though beneficial to the environment, proved to be the perfect atmosphere for bugs and other pests. So, the farmers not only had less farmland to work with, but what they did have was compromised by an assortment of critters. 

The researchers worked to estimate how these efforts affected farmers’ bottom lines, and they determined that farmers lost nearly 30 percent of their earnings, while nearly 65 percent of their goods were destroyed by pestering wildlife. 

“Those sweeping conservation efforts in returning cropland to vegetated land might have done so with an until-now hidden consequence: it increased the wildlife damage to remaining cropland and thus caused unintended cost that whittled away at the program’s compensation for farmers,” said Yang. 

Finding better conservation policies

Moving forward, the researchers are concerned with how these conservation efforts could affect farmers, particularly those already struggling monetarily. They hope that new efforts can be initiated that are beneficial to all parties. 

“Conservation policies only can endure, and be declared successful, when both nature and humans thrive,” and researcher Jianguo Liu. “Many of these trade-offs and inequities are difficult to spot unless you take a very broad, deep look at the situation, yet these balances are crucial to success.” 

Consumers have started taking more eco-friendly measures, including switching up their eating and shopping habits, in an effort to be kinder to the earth....
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Consumers could have an inflated sense of how eco-friendly they are

Researchers found that consumers are incredibly confident when it comes to their sustainability efforts

As climate change threats continue to loom, consumers have started taking their own measures to lessen their ecological footprints. 

Now, researchers from the University of Gothenburg have found that many consumers could be overly confident when it comes to the steps they’re taking to better the environment. According to a survey, many individuals believe that they’re practicing more sustainable habits than the average consumer. 

“The results point out our tendency to overestimate our own abilities, which is in line with previous studies where most people consider themselves to be more honest, more creative, and better drivers than others,” said researcher Magnus Bergquist. “This study shows that over-optimism, or the ‘better-than-average’ effect, also applies to environmentally friendly behaviours.” 

Understanding consumers’ mindsets

To get a sense of how consumers view their own environmentally friendly behaviors, the researchers conducted a survey of consumers from different parts of the world -- India, England, Sweden, and the United States. 

The survey required participants to report on how often they completed sustainable behaviors, including anything from opting for eco-friendly products or reducing how often they use single-use plastic. 

The researchers learned that the majority of participants rated themselves as above average citizens when it comes to caring for the environment. This was true when the participants ranked themselves against strangers and people they know in their day-to-day lives. 

This could become troubling, as the researchers worry that this overconfidence will lead consumers to scale back on the activities and actions that are benefiting the environment because they think that they’re already doing more than enough. 

Working harder

The researchers say this attitude among consumers is common for more than just environmental efforts. However, it’s important that consumers look honestly at the ways they’re being proactive about sustainability and work to be more encouraging in future efforts. 

“If you think about it logically, the majority cannot be more environmentally friendly than others,” said Bergquist. “One way to change this faulty opinion, is to inform people that others actually behave environmentally friendly, and thereby creating an environmentally friendly norm. Social norms affect us also in this area, we know this from previous studies.”  

As climate change threats continue to loom, consumers have started taking their own measures to lessen their ecological footprints. Now, researchers fr...
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Tech executives call for U.S. to stay in Paris Climate Agreement

The Trump administration announced plans to begin the withdrawal process last month

In an open letter published Monday, U.S. business leaders pushed for the government to renew its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The letter comes roughly a month after the Trump administration announced that it would begin formally withdrawing from the climate pact. 

Tech executives -- including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and The Walt Disney Company’s Bob Iger, among others -- expressed strong support for the idea of staying in the Paris Agreement. 

"There has been progress, but not enough," reads the United For The Paris Agreement letter. "This moment calls for greater, more accelerated action than we've seen. It calls for the strong policy framework the Paris Agreement provides, one that allows the US the freedom to choose our own path to emissions reductions."

Need for government action 

Beyond signaling their support of the agreement, the company executives urged the United States to reconsider its plan to withdraw from the climate pact. On Twitter, Apple CEO Tim Cook said "humanity has never faced a greater or more urgent threat than climate change."

The agreement, they say, will help counter the effects of climate change as well as pave the way for a “just transition” of the U.S. workforce to “new decent, family supporting jobs and economic opportunity.” 

The joint statement was signed by the heads of 75 companies, along with the AFL-CIO, which represents 12.5 million workers. 

“We the undersigned are a group of CEOs who employ more than 2 million people in the United States and union leaders who represent 12.5 million workers,” the letter reads. “Together, we know that driving progress on addressing climate change is what’s best for the economic health, jobs, and competitiveness of our companies and our country.” 

In an open letter published Monday, U.S. business leaders pushed for the government to renew its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The letter come...
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Rolling back environmental regulations could endanger consumers' health, researchers say

A study warns consumers about the environmental dangers they could face in the near future

As new reports continue to reveal the potential environmental threats consumers could face if real change isn’t made, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have conducted a study that predicts what could happen if regulations designed to protect the environment are reversed. 

The researchers focused on the fight against ozone, which is incredibly harmful to consumers’ breathing and overall respiratory health. They found just how difficult it would be to reverse the effects of perpetuated environmental damages if current regulations were rolled back. 

“Ozone can occur hundreds of miles away, so if controls are loosened in one state to save industry money there, a state downstream may have to spend even more to try to meet ozone targets,” said researcher Ted Russell. “You transfer the problem and the costs. Most U.S. cities are already not in attainment, and this will likely make it harder for them to get there.” 

The wide-reaching effects of ozone

The researchers’ study is thorough in identifying the wide range of effects that increased ozone can have on the environment and consumers’ health more generally. The research team says prominent policy decisions are at the core of these negative consequences. 

For starters, they explain how the struggle between government officials to get on the same page about climate change, and implement policy that reflects those attitudes, has the potential to derail positive efforts. Specifically, they point to attempts by the Trump Administration to pass legislation that would make it easier to burn fossil fuels, while also continuing to fight regulations that would reduce the overall ozone production. 

Moreover, governmental incentives to go green -- like opting for solar panels or using more wind-powered energy sources -- are being cut, which can contribute to an increase in pollution while also making it harder for consumers to do their part for the environment. 

“Incentives are being retired like production and investment tax credits, which have been very influential in solar and wind,” said researcher Marilyn Brown. “The Investment Tax Credit gives a 30 percent tax reduction for investments in solar or wind farms or the purchase of solar rooftop panels by homeowners. The Production Tax Credit for utilities reduces tax liabilities by 23 cents for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by solar, wind, or other renewable energy sources.” 

The researchers used this information to create a model that predicts how different parts of the world would be affected by rising ozone levels. They project that rising temperatures worldwide and the continued production of fossil fuels will cause ozone levels to continue to rise. The cost of caring for such side effects may also increase, while the overall health of consumers is projected to worsen. 

“Additional ozone is tough to control technologically,” said Russell. “The costs would be very high -- tens of billions of dollars. In the meantime, more people than would die than otherwise would have.” 

As new reports continue to reveal the potential environmental threats consumers could face if real change isn’t made, researchers from the Georgia Institut...
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Increases in tourism have led to increases in carbon emissions

Reducing the number of connecting flights can greatly benefit the environment, researchers say

With the busy summer travel season now in the rearview mirror, researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio have analyzed how increased travel is affecting the environment. 

The team found that excessive plane travel, particularly when consumers book flights that require a connection to their final destination, is increasing total carbon emissions. 

“This paper provides one of the first efforts to quantify the carbon emissions associated with tourist air travel in the continental United States,” said researcher Neil Debbage. 

Choosing non-stop flights

The researchers analyzed data from the International Civil Aviation Organization to get a better understanding of how consumers’ travel plans were impacting the environment. 

The study focused on plane routes (both connecting and non-stop flights) to 13 major tourist spots in the U.S. The list included Miami-Dade county and Los Angeles county, as well as 10 of the biggest cities in the northeast, like Boston and New York. 

Ultimately, the researchers discovered that air travel was a major contributor to an increase in carbon emissions, with connecting flights producing worse environmental outcomes than non-stop flights. 

The researchers explained that suggested emission limits have been put in place in an effort to keep pollution under control, with 575 carbon dioxide kg/person per year being the magic number. The study revealed that while many direct flights have been successful in staying under that figure, the same success hasn’t been possible with connecting flights. 

After analyzing all of the flights involved in this study, the researchers found that around half went above suggested limits. The findings emphasize just how widespread this issue is, as most consumers tend not to think past the price tag when booking flights -- especially when fares continue to increase over the summer months. 

While Debbage suggests that consumers “select nonstop routes whenever possible” as a way to cut down on carbon emissions, it’s crucial that lawmakers do their part to ensure that everything possible is being done to combat rising emissions levels. 

With the busy summer travel season now in the rearview mirror, researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio have analyzed how increased travel i...
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Fighting climate change could be good for business

Researchers say ignoring the problem could come with disastrous side effects

While many consumers have started doing more in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia found that businesses should consider increasing their sustainability efforts. 

The study revealed that ignoring the issue of climate change will not only create more problems for consumers, but it will also cost companies more money in the long-run than it would have if they had taken more active steps.

“Acting on climate change has a good return on investment when one considers the damages avoided by acting,” said researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. 

Positive return on fighting climate change

The researchers are concerned about the world at large, but they believe that climate change can be particularly harsh on poorer populations and regions. They want to enlist the help of world leaders to help make a change. 

The team addressed several facets of climate change that could have a devastating effect on people, places, and animals, including rising sea levels, massive animal extinctions, and rising global temperatures. 

“This is not an academic issue, it is a matter of life and death for people everywhere,” said researcher Michael Taylor. “That said, people from small island States and low-lying countries are in the immediate cross-hairs of climate change.” 

Much of the researchers’ findings look at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which focused on reducing the rising global temperature. 

Though experts previously thought that limiting global warming to just two degrees Celsius would be sufficient, Hoegh-Guldberg and his team say that keeping that figure closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius would actually be the best scenario. However, they say it’s up to lawmakers to put the initiatives in motion that will help slow global warming. 

“If such a policy is not implemented, we will continue on the upward trajectory of burning fossil fuels and continuing deforestation, which will expand the already large-scale degradation of ecosystems,” said researcher Rachel Warren. “To be honest, the overall picture is very grim unless we act.” 

The researchers hope that world leaders and policymakers take these warnings seriously and do everything in their power to preserve the environment. 

“Current emission reduction commitments are inadequate risk throwing many nations into chaos and harm, with a particular vulnerability of poor peoples,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. “To avoid this, we must accelerate action and tighten emission reduction targets so that they fall in line with the Paris Agreement.” 

“Tackling climate change is a tall order,” he continued. “However, there is no alternative from the perspective of human well-being -- and too much at stake not to act urgently on this issue.” 

While many consumers have started doing more in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the Universi...
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EPA repealing Obama-era expansion of Clean Water Act

The previous administration enlarged the definition of waterways and wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is repealing a 2015 Obama administration-era rule that expanded the government’s definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. 

EPA, along with the U.S. Army, is recodifying the regulatory text that existed prior to the 2015 rule change, ending what it called a regulatory patchwork.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the move corrects “the previous administration’s overreach” in implementing federal regulations.

“This is a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide,” Wheeler said.

Quick reaction

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the move. The American Fisheries Society was among the first to warn of the impact when the rule was proposed, saying the action would significantly narrow the scope of protections for U.S. waters. 

“The proposal would replace the science-based 2015 rule which includes protections for headwaters, intermittent and ephemeral streams, and wetlands,” the group said at the tiime. “The new proposal (Replacement Rule) would substantially weaken the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s most effective natural resource laws.”

Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says the Trump administration’s action will likely be challenged in court.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” Devine said in a statement. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.”

Complexity of the waterway system

When it implemented the rule in 2015, the Obama administration said it was acknowledging the complexity of the nation’s waterway system and its importance to environmental health. But farmers, ranchers, and developers complained that the expanded definition of what constitutes a waterway was significantly limiting what they could do on their land.

In announcing the final rule, Wheeler said the Obama-era rule had produced numerous complaints and lawsuits from as many as 31 states. The Trump administration announced a review of WOTUS soon after taking office.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is repealing a 2015 Obama administration-era rule that expanded the government’s definition of “waters of the Uni...
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Trump administration moves to undo rules requiring more energy-efficient lightbulbs

Opponents of the planned change say it could lead to higher annual energy costs for consumers

The Trump administration on Wednesday finalized its rollback of requirements for more energy-efficient lightbulbs. Wednesday’s filing by the Department of Energy (DOE) would prevent a set of efficiency requirements from taking effect in January 2020. 

The requirements would have applied to about half of the 6 billion light bulbs used in the nation and “would have avoided millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere,” according to CNBC

Opponents of the rule change say undoing the Bush-era requirements -- which were approved by a bipartisan Congress in 2007 and aimed to phase out inefficient bulbs -- could speed up global warming by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. 

However, the DOE claims the change won’t have significant repercussions since it will only impact a small percentage of the lighting market. 

“A more strict standard would only affect a small slice of the market,” a DOE official told reporters. “This is not a rule that radically affects the lighting market overall.”

The bulbs that would be affected by the change include decorative globes in bathrooms, candle-shaped lights, three-way lightbulbs, and reflector bulbs. If the rule change goes into effect in January as planned, the efficiency requirements for those four categories of bulbs would be eliminated. 

Consumers could pay more

Consumer groups have estimated that less efficient bulbs will also lead to higher annual energy costs for U.S. consumers. 

“The Energy Department flat out got it wrong today,” said Jason Hartke, the president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a group representing industrial, technological, and clean energy companies. 

“Instead of moving us forward, this rule will keep more energy-wasting bulbs on store shelves and saddle the average American household with about $100 in unnecessary energy costs every year. At a time when we need to take aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this is an unforced error,” Hartke said.

The changes are likely to face opposition in the coming months.  

“We will explore all options, including litigation, to stop this completely misguided and unlawful action,” Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“Today’s action sets the United States up to become the world’s dumping ground for the inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs being phased out around the world. Given the worsening climate crisis, this is no time to significantly increase pollution and consumer energy bills just so a few lighting companies can make more money selling inefficient bulbs.”

The Trump administration on Wednesday finalized its rollback of requirements for more energy-efficient lightbulbs. Wednesday’s filing by the Department of...
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Marriott eliminating single-use toiletry bottles

Like other hotel chains, Marriott is aiming to reduce its plastic waste

In a move intended to cut down on plastic waste, Marriott International has announced that it will no longer be stocking its rooms with travel-sized toiletries. 

The hotel chain said on Wednesday that tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel will be replaced with larger, pump-topped bottles or wall-mounted dispensers. 

Marriott said it tested the swap in some of its North American locations last year. Now, the company says most of its 7,000 locations across the globe will see the change implemented by December 2020. 

With wider implementation, the chain expects to reduce its plastic disposal by 30 percent. Almost two million pounds of plastic will be diverted from landfills as a result of the change, according to Marriott.

"Our guests are looking to us to make changes that will create a meaningful difference for the environment while not sacrificing the quality service and experience they expect from our hotels," Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement.

Others in the industry have also announced efforts to minimize their impact on the environment. Last month, IHG (which owns Holiday Inn) said it planned to eliminate tiny tubes of toiletries and replace them with larger-sized bottles. The Walt Disney Co. has also said it’s in the process of eliminating individual toiletries from its hotel rooms.  

In a move intended to cut down on plastic waste, Marriott International has announced that it will no longer be stocking its rooms with travel-sized toilet...
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Tesla relaunches solar panel business

Consumers can now rent panels for a monthly fee

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is relaunching its solar power program and giving consumers the ability to rent panels. 

Consumers in a half dozen states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico) will be able to rent solar power systems on a monthly basis. 

Prices for a small array of panels will start at $50 a month, or $65 in California. Tesla won’t be implementing a long-term contract, so consumers can cancel anytime. However, the company’s website notes that there is a $1,500 charge to remove panels. 

Decline in solar business

Tesla fueled its solar power business plan through the $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity in 2016, but installations have declined in recent quarters and the electric automaker stopped selling the systems in Home Depot stores. 

Rebooting the program and adding rental offerings could boost sales by appealing to homeowners who are wary of the idea of a long-term contract. 

Musk says solar panels can cut costs so much that it's "like having a money printer on your roof." The initial cost includes panel installation, hardware, and ongoing maintenance.

Last month, Musk said he’s aiming to manufacture about 1,000 solar rooftops a week by the end of 2019.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is relaunching its solar power program and giving consumers the abil...
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Google pledges to use only recycled materials in all hardware products

The promise extends to all ‘Made by Google’ products

Google has become the latest company to promise that it will be improving its sustainability efforts in the coming years. 

In a blog post on Monday, the tech giant announced that it will be using all recycled materials to create its hardware products by 2022. The pledge extends to all “Made by Google” products, including Pixel smartphones, Google Nest, Google Home speakers, and other gadgets and accessories. 

“We’re always working to do more, faster. But today we’re laying the foundation for what we believe will be a way of doing business that commits to building better products better,” said Anna Meegan, Google’s head of sustainability and consumer hardware.

Focusing on sustainability

In addition to making its “Made by Google” products from only recycled materials, Google says that it will ensure that all of its shipments going to or from customers will be carbon neutral by 2020. 

Officials say that the move is inspired by the idea that all of the company’s products eventually be designed so that they can last as long as possible while simultaneously being easier to recycle at the end of their life cycle. In an interview with Fast Company, Google hardware design team head Ivy Ross explains how sustainability came to the forefront of the design process.

“Some people think design is about making things look pretty or look good,” she said. “And really design is about solving problems for humanity...I said to the team, wait a minute, [sustainability] is just another problem and is probably the most important problem of our lifetime. Won’t we feel great as designers if we are taking that on?”

This isn’t the first hint that Google has been leaning towards sustainable practices. Meegan points out that the company was able to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent from 2017 to 2018. It’s also currently looking to provide Nest thermostats to 1 million “consumers in need” in hopes of reducing energy costs.

Google has become the latest company to promise that it will be improving its sustainability efforts in the coming years. In a blog post on Monday, the...
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Inconsistency at the heart of the Paris Climate Agreement struggles

Experts call for greater transparency among the countries involved

In a new study, researchers deconstructed the struggles many nations are facing in trying to gain ground when it comes to meeting the tenants of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

The agreement involves individual countries creating pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs); however, it’s a lack of consistency in the formatting of those pledges that creates the biggest stumbling blocks for progress, experts say. 

“The Paris Climate Agreement was a step in the right direction for international climate policy,” said researcher Lewis King. “But in its current form, it is at best inadequate and at worst grossly ineffective. Our study highlights significant issues around transparency and consistency in the agreement’s pledges, which may be a contributory factor towards the lack of ambition in the pledges from parties.” 

Getting inside the pledges

The researchers analyzed the various pledges by breaking them down into four categories: emission intensity reductions, absolute emission reduction targets, “business as usual” (BAU) reduction, and pledges that didn’t include emissions targets. 

The biggest issue has been clarity. Because the individual countries have so many options when it comes to formatting the pledges, it’s difficult for experts to understand how effective the pledges are in completing what they set out to, which is why there have been so many discrepancies.  

Though the goal of all countries is to reduce emissions, the various formatting options leave many pledges with ambiguous language. Though experts work to put all pledges on the same playing field, some countries end up with emissions increases by 2030, as opposed to decreases. 

“Not only does this make associated pledges difficult to interpret and compare to other pledges without detailed analysis, but may produce a psychological effect of reducing ambition level due to framing the pledge as a percentage reduction even though emissions actually increase,” said researcher Jeroen van den Bergh. 

According to the researchers, absolute emission reduction targets are typically the most effective, as this requires countries to set goals for reducing emissions by a specific percentage, based on a baseline from years’ past -- typically between 1990 and 2014 -- with a target year in mind to reach the goal. Some countries are ambitious enough to shoot for 2025, though the majority are set on 2030. 

“We found that authentic absolute reduction pledges had the highest ambition in terms of tangible emission reduction,” said King. “By contrast, pledges in the other three categories tend to produce low ambitions with significant emissions increases of 29-53 percent at a global level.” 

The researchers hope that countries involved in the Paris Climate Agreement can work to create uniform pledges, so as to minimize confusion, streamline the process, and make it easier for nations to reach their goals and feel good about doing so. 

“Society has the right to be able to clearly understand and compare climate change commitments by countries, including whether they are fair, ambitious, and add up to international climate goals,” said King. “We also know that providing consistent and easily comparable information about national climate goals helps with public acceptance.” 

The fight against climate change

As pollution continues to get worse in the United States, and new studies consistently report on how dangerous it can be to consumers’ health, there are some forces working to fight climate change. 

Companies like Facebook and Lyft have become dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while a group of young Americans have taken up a lawsuit against the Trump administration because of an alleged lack of concern regarding climate change. 

The group, going by the name Youth, believes that the Trump administration has violated consumers’ constitutional rights in not doing more to fight against climate change. 

In a new study, researchers deconstructed the struggles many nations are facing in trying to gain ground when it comes to meeting the tenants of the Paris...
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Shale natural gas development hampers consumer outdoor activities, study finds

Previously protected areas used for hiking and camping are now being threatened by gas development operations

While countless efforts are being made by consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New Hampshire suggests that shale natural gas development are taking away areas consumers commonly enjoy for outdoor recreation.

According to the researchers, outdoor activities like hiking and camping have become severely impacted due to shale natural gas development (SGD) efforts. 

“What most people don’t realize is that a lot of the shale natural gas energy development is happening within or adjacent to public parks and protected areas,” said researcher Michael Ferguson. “So those who love playing in the great outdoors are often encountering anything from heavy duty truck traffic congestion to actual construction and drilling operations while recreating on public lands.” 

What this looks like

The researchers were inspired to start this research project after learning how the Trump administration had given the green light for SGD efforts on land that was previously protected from such projects. 

Areas that have been commonly used by consumers to hike or camp are instead being used for exploration of oil and natural gas, and these digs are impeding the ways that consumers can engage in outdoor activities. The researchers focused their study on recreationists in Pennsylvania, as the state is home to natural gas deposits, as well as countless outdoor options for residents. 

Perhaps the most important finding from this study was that consumers no longer had the freedom of traversing the outdoors. The researchers say many consumers had to switch up their plans or activities because areas they frequented were no longer protected from SGD. 

More specifically, nearly 24 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed for the study reported a direct impact due to SGD, whether it was encountering SGD workers, well sites, or pipelines along their route, or experiencing heavier than usual truck traffic while out. 

Ultimately, around 14 percent of those surveyed were affected in ways that directly impacted their activities, some so much so that it prevented future trips to Pennsylvania for such excursions; others were forced to avoid certain areas because of SGD activity. 

The researchers point out that outdoor activities provide a huge influx of income to the U.S. government, and interfering with such activities will start to interfere with those profits. Moreover, they explained that SGD efforts can do more than just push recreationists off once-protected land, as these efforts can also do permanent damage to the environment. 

“The outdoor recreation industry has quietly positioned itself as a massive economic sector in the United States,” said Ferguson. “As SGD grows in the United States, the number of affected recreationists could increase and current numbers of those impacted could rise. It is important for lawmakers, natural resource managers, and industry representatives to recognize that outdoor recreation is an increasingly critical component of the economy and should have a seat at the table when looking at responsible SGD.” 

Staying safe

As detrimental as SGD can be to outdoor activities, recent incidents have also proven how dangerous the natural gas can be. Late last year, a pipeline in Pennsylvania’s Beaver County exploded, damaging homes and cars up to 500 feet away, and creating a landslide near the site of the landslide. 

Earlier this year, still feeling the effects of the explosion, Pennsylvania suspended the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, from getting new state permits, as the company was unable to properly stabilize the areas affected by the explosion. 

“There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”

While countless efforts are being made by consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New Hamp...
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Pepsi to start selling canned Aquafina water

The move is part of a larger effort to reduce plastic pollution

PepsiCo has announced that it will start selling canned water as part of an effort to curb its plastic use. 

Aquafina water, which is owned by Pepsi, will be sold in aluminum cans at locations around the U.S. Pepsi also plans to use 100 percent recycled plastic for its LIFEWTR bottles and switch to using only cans for its Bubly brand sparkling water instead of plastic bottles. 

The changes, which will go into effect in 2020, will eliminate more than 8,000 metric tons of virgin plastic and about 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company.

"Tackling plastic waste is one of my top priorities and I take this challenge personally," PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said in a statement. "As one of the world's leading food and beverage companies, we recognize the significant role PepsiCo can play in helping to change the way society makes, uses, and disposes of plastics.” 

Pepsi said it’s aiming to make all of its packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable and use 25 percent recycled plastic in all of its packaging by 2025. 

“We are doing our part to address the issue head on by reducing, recycling and reinventing our packaging to make it more sustainable, and we won't stop until we live in a world where plastics are renewed and reused,” Laguarta said. 

Eliminating plastic pollution

Pepsi joins a growing list of companies, restaurants, and retailers that have pledged to reduce their plastic use. Starbucks recently announced that it would begin offering new cold cup lids that do not require a straw. The coffee chain said it’s aiming to eliminate single-use plastic straws at all of its locations worldwide by next year. McDonald’s is also trying to phase out plastic straws

In May, Whole Foods announced that it will stop offering plastic straws at all of its locations in the U.S., as well as in Canada, and the United Kingdom. Pepsi’s rival Coca-Cola has announced that it’s aiming to recycle 75 percent of the bottles it sells by 2020. 

The initiatives come amid predictions that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if current trends continue.

PepsiCo has announced that it will start selling canned water as part of an effort to curb its plastic use. Aquafina water, which is owned by Pepsi, wi...
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Bayer to invest $5.6 billion in developing alternatives to glyphosate

The company says its investment will help create ‘additional methods to combat weeds’

Amid mounting legal claims that the herbicide glyphosate causes cancer, Bayer has announced that it plans to invest $5.6 billion in developing new weedkillers over the next ten years. Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, says the move is intended to address public concerns about the risks of the ingredient.

While Bayer has maintained that glyphosate is safe, thousands of plaintiffs have claimed that long-term exposure to Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup was a factor in their cancer diagnoses.

Last August, a San Francisco jury awarded a former school groundskeeper $289 million after finding that his cancer was the result of years of using Roundup. More recently, a California jury awarded a couple $2 billion in damages after finding that sustained exposure to Roundup led to their cancer diagnoses.

Four years ago, the World Health Organization's cancer agency classified glyphosate as a “probable” carcinogen. The herbicide has been detected in beers and wines, pet food, oat-based cereals and even linked to shorter pregnancies.

To date, more than 13,000 lawsuits claim glyphosate is carcinogenic.

Developing alternative options

In a statement on Friday, Bayer said its multi-billion dollar investment won’t put an end to the use of glyphosate, but it will hopefully expand the number of comparable weed-killing options available to growers.

"While glyphosate will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer’s portfolio, the company is committed to offering more choices for growers," the company said.

Through its research and development investments, Bayer aims to create “tailored integrated weed management solutions” as well as “help develop customized solutions for farmers at a local level.” Additionally, Bayer says it’s aiming to "reduce the environmental impact” of its products by 30 percent by 2030.

Amid mounting legal claims that the herbicide glyphosate causes cancer, Bayer has announced that it plans to invest $5.6 billion in developing new weedkill...
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Poland Spring pledges to use entirely recycled plastic bottles

All still water sold in containers smaller than one gallon will be sold in recycled plastic bottles within the next few years

Amid growing concern about the harmful effects of plastic on the world’s oceans, Nestle’s Poland Spring has announced that it’s transitioning toward the use of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles.

The company said it plans to use recycled plastic bottles across 25 percent of its entire product portfolio by 2021. By 2025, it’s aiming to increase that percentage to 50 percent. The brand’s push to begin using more recycled materials starts this month with its one-liter bottles of non-carbonated water, which will now be made using 100 percent rPET (recycled plastic).

Earlier this year, Poland Spring launched Poland Spring Origin. The 900ml bottles are also made of 100 percent recycled plastic.

"As a company, we've already put our stake in the ground when it comes to taking the 'single' out of 'single-use' plastic bottles," says Fernando Mercé, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nestlé Waters North America. "As we begin to transform Poland Spring, our most iconic brand, to 100% recycled plastic packaging, we will begin to bring this commitment to life for our consumers in a tangible way. Bottles like these, which are made from 100% recycled plastic and are 100% recyclable, are proof that a fully circular economy is within our reach."

Keeping plastic out of oceans

Poland Spring, which has faced lawsuits from consumers accusing the company of selling groundwater, joins other brands who have pledged to use more recycled materials over the next few years.

Back in October, hundreds of organizations vowed to eliminate plastic waste from their operations by 2025 as part of a global campaign led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Other companies have set to curb their impact on the environment by phasing out single-use straws and plastic bags.

Researchers have calculated that if current trends continue, there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s seas by 2050. But using recycled plastic helps keep plastic out of landfills and oceans, according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

Amid growing concern about the harmful effects of plastic on the world’s oceans, Nestle’s Poland Spring has announced that it’s transitioning toward the us...
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Youth’s climate change concerns raise the stakes in a lawsuit against the Trump administration

It’s a ‘moonshot,’ but moonshots have changed the course of history before

Despite the efforts of the Trump administration to divorce itself from the issue of climate change, a group of 21 young Americans, representing themselves under the moniker of “Youth,” are far from giving up. The group has filed a new lawsuit against the administration claiming that climate concerns are being handled so carelessly that it’s a violation of their constitutional rights.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court previously greenlighted the case, the feds are fighting back in a renewed effort to block the lawsuit from ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

Calling the lawsuit "radical" and an "anathema," Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the Trump-nominated United States Assistant Attorney General (AG) for the Environment and Natural Resources Division -- and not exactly a favorite of environmentalists -- argued that the suit should be tossed out for the sole reason that it is a "direct attack on the separation of powers" among the three branches of the federal government” and “would have earth-shattering consequences.”

Youth filed its original constitutional climate lawsuit, titled Juliana v. U.S. (Juliana), against the U.S. government in U.S. District Court four years ago. Partnering with Youth as a co-plaintiff is Earth Guardians, an organization that “trains diverse youth to be effective leaders in the environmental, climate and social justice movements across the globe” through the use of art, music, and civic engagement.

The complaint alleges that because the affirmative actions the U.S. has put in place cause climate change, the U.S., therefore, has breached younger Americans’ constitutional rights to equal protection; their incalculable, inherent, and inalienable natural rights; and their rights as beneficiaries of the federal public trust.

A “moonshot,” but promising

When the lawsuit first appeared, University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood told CNN that the suit was “the biggest case on the planet,” likening it to a moonshot attempt much like Brown v. Board of Education was in an effort to desegregate public schools.

The Juliana case isn’t flying solo on the younger generation’s fight against climate change. It’s also got a peer lawsuit in the Netherlands. Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told CNN that Juliana is the "most promising" legal action on climate change in the world at the moment.”

The U.S., however, seems to have a radically different point-of-view. AG Clark railed against the growing trend of letting policy be decided by those in the scientific community and those he viewed as sympathizers.

“When did America risk coming to be ruled by foreign scientists and apparatchiks at the United Nations? The answer, it would seem, is ever since Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Obama, chose to issue a rule determining that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare,” Clark said.

Despite the efforts of the Trump administration to divorce itself from the issue of climate change, a group of 21 young Americans, representing themselves...
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EPA awards $9.3 million to replace older diesel school buses

Over 140 school bus fleets in 43 states and territories were selected as winners

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded $9.3 million in grants to school districts in 43 states and territories to help replace older diesel school buses. The money will be put towards buying new buses that create fewer emissions to help reduce pollution.

The districts managing the school bus fleets will receive rebates through the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funding. Applicants who applied for the grant money will receive between $15,000 and $20,000 if they are replacing buses that have model year engines that are from 2006 or earlier.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that initiative will help protect the health of young children who use the buses to get to school. A total of 473 older diesel models will be replaced under the program.

“Children’s health is a top priority for EPA, and these grants will help provide cleaner air and a healthier ride to and from school for America’s children,” he said. “This DERA funding reflects broader children’s health agenda and commitment to ensure all children can live, learn, and play in healthy and clean environments.”

Reducing emissions

The EPA points out that it has been working to reduce pollutants from diesel vehicles by implementing stricter environmental standards on new vehicles. However, the agency says that many older vehicles with higher emissions rates are still operating on U.S. roads.

A recent study from George Washington University found that current levels of traffic-related pollution have contributed to millions of cases of childhood asthma across the globe. Dense urban areas are hot spots for these asthma cases, and the researchers caution that cleaner vehicles will be needed to reverse this worrying trend.

“Improving access to cleaner forms of transportation, like electrified public transport and active commuting by cycling and walking, would not only bring down [pollution] levels, but would also reduce asthma, enhance physical fitness, and cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Susan C. Anenberg.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded $9.3 million in grants to school districts in 43 states and territories to help replace older di...
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Los Angeles launches its own Green New Deal

The plan calls for electric vehicles and less driving. But the advocates who popularized the idea nationally aren’t impressed

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday announced plans for a local Green New Deal initiative.

Under the  plan, Los Angeles residents will have to cut their driving by 50 percent over the next three decades and use transportation other than a personal car for at least half of their trips by 2035. The plan also calls for 10,000 chargers for electric vehicles to be installed across the city.

At the municipal level, the initiative will require renovations on all city-owned buildings to make them “all-electric.” The plan also calls for an end to styrofoam and for the planting of 90,000 trees by 2021. Plastic straws and single-use containers will be phased out by 2028. Overall, Garcetti says, the plan will help Los Angeles become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez popularized the idea of a Green New Deal following protests by the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots environmental non-profit.

In a blog post, Sunrise Movement organizers gave a grim assessment of Los Angeles’ local answer to the national proposal.

“That is not a Green New Deal,” the organization said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday announced plans for a local Green New Deal initiative.Under the  plan, Los Angeles residents will have to cut...
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Trump signs order to allow natural gas on freight rail, igniting ‘bomb train’ fears

The oil and gas industry is hopeful that it can transport more natural gas by rail and override authority of states that reject pipelines

President Trump is trying to make it even easier for the oil and gas industry to remain the dominant source of energy. He signed executive orders on Wednesday that the oil and gas industry hopes will strip states of their authority to reject pipeline projects and expand the transport of fossil fuels by rail.

“When states say ‘no’ to the development of natural gas pipelines, they force utilities to curb safe and affordable service and refuse access to new customers, including new businesses,” said the CEO of the  American Gas Association.

One of the executive orders that Trump signed Wednesday will give the president’s office full authority to approve or deny an international pipeline permit. Trump cited “obstruction” in New York when signing the order.

State leaders in New York recently voted to block a natural gas pipeline project that already received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2014. Though any order stripping states of regulatory authority is likely to be fought in the courts, Trump says his move will prevent states like New York from “hurting the economy.”

“President Trump’s executive order is a gross overreach of federal authority that undermines New York’s ability to protect our water quality and our environment,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded in a statement.

For years, the  pipeline regulator known as FERC has taken what tribes, states, environmentalist activists, and others describe as a lax approach to pipeline approval, leaving it to states to decide whether to allow a project after a minimal federal safety review. Many states in the South, Midwest, and Northeast have also been welcoming to pipeline projects, though some are starting to change their tune.

In Pennsylvania, state regulators recently decided to stall construction on a massive Energy Transfer Partners project after a series of environmental violations.  

Risk of train explosions

The second executive order that Trump signed allows the industry to transport natural gas by rail car. Currently, only crude oil can be transported by rail domestically or outside U.S. borders.

The oil and gas industry and freight industry says that using trains to transport natural gas is safe and will help consumers in the Northeast get cheaper energy. But after a 4,000 percent increase in shipping crude oil by rail over the past fifteen years, experts have counted an unprecedented amount of explosive train accidents and deadly spills.

The most famous example of a so-called “bomb train” is the runaway train carrying crude oil that killed 40 people in a small town in Quebec in 2013.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg News about the plan allowing natural gas on trains.  “You’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.”

President Trump is trying to make it even easier on the oil and gas industry to remain the dominant source of energy. He signed executive orders on Wednesd...
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New York bans single-use plastic bags

The state’s plastic bag ban will go into effect next March

Under new legislation passed in the New York state budget, single-use plastic bags will be banned statewide starting March 1, 2020.

The plan gives individual counties in New York the option of charging 5 cents per paper bag, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents to the state's Environmental Protection Fund. The idea is to push consumers toward using reusable bags instead of simply switching from plastic to paper.

“Carve outs” woven into the deal state that consumers can still get plastic carry-out bags for food, have dry cleaned items placed in plastic bags, and put produce in plastic bags at the grocery store.

"I am proud to announce that together, we got it done," Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats said in a joint statement announcing the plastic bag ban and other budget agreements.

New York steps up sustainability efforts

The agreement makes New York the third state, after Hawaii and California, to enact a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The deal is intended to keep plastic bags from damaging waterways and ecosystems.

"With this smart, multi-pronged action New York will be leading the way to protect our natural resources now and for future generations of New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement Friday when the deal was announced by hadn’t yet been finalized.

“Every year, there are billions – billions with a ‘b’ – of bags that are thrown away after just one use. The average plastic bag use is about 12 minutes… we just have this disposable plastic craze and it is adding up,” added state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Island), who sponsored the bill.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he has “long advocated” for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and has vowed to work on a plan to help people get reusable bags.

“These bags litter our streets and threaten our planet,” de Blasio said in a statement. “It is our job to lead the fight against climate change and fossil fuels so that our kids aren't forced to deal with the irreparable consequences.”

Under new legislation passed in the New York state budget, single-use plastic bags will be banned statewide starting March 1, 2020.The plan gives indiv...
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Climate change could lead to financial crisis, Fed researcher warns

Environmental changes and the cost of adapting could adversely affect the economy

A senior policy adviser working with the Federal Reserve says that the negative impact of climate change won’t just stop at the environment; it could also lead us into our next financial crisis.

In an economic letter published on Monday, Glenn D. Rudebusch explained that environmental changes, as well as the way that society prepares for those changes, could have important consequences for the U.S. economy. He urges policymakers to plan accordingly to avoid the worst possible outcome.

“Some central banks...recognize that climate change is becoming increasingly relevant for monetary policy,” he said. “For example, climate-related financial risks could affect the economy through elevated credit spreads, greater precautionary saving, and, in the extreme, a financial crisis.”

The costs of natural disasters

In his report, Rudebusch says that natural disasters and changing conditions could cause great harm to certain industries. Hurricanes, extensive flooding, or droughts could lead to infrastructure damage, agricultural losses, and price spikes for certain commodities that will hurt consumers and businesses financially.

Of course, those risks aren’t just present in the U.S. Rudebusch says that disasters in different areas of the world affect everyone because of the connectedness of the global economy.

“Even weather disasters abroad can disrupt exports, imports, and supply chains close to home,” he said.

Greener technologies and policies

While many nations are exploring options when it comes to converting to a low-carbon, environmentally friendly economy, Rudebusch says that the Fed is not able to tailor all of its policies towards these initiatives. However, he does say that certain government actions, such as introducing a carbon tax, could spur industries to adapt to cleaner technologies.  

“A carbon tax that is set at the proper level can appropriately incentivize innovations in clean technology and the transition from a high- to a low-carbon economy,” he said.

“A comprehensive set of government policies may be required, including clean-energy and carbon-capture research and development incentives, energy efficiency standards, and low-carbon public investment.”

Rudebusch’s full report can be viewed here.

A senior policy adviser working with the Federal Reserve says that the negative impact of climate change won’t just stop at the environment; it could also...
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Top oil and gas producers have spent $1 billion to fight climate policy, report says

The world’s top oil corporations were on board with the Paris Agreement but have spent $1 billion lobbying since then

The world’s five biggest publicly traded oil and gas companies in recent years have fought against measures to curb emissions even as they claimed to support environmental measures like the Paris Agreement, according to new research by InfluenceMap, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks corporate spending.

InfluenceMap analyzed public disclosures that the corporations made in financial filings, as well as donations that the corporations made to outside lobbying and trade groups. The researchers found that ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total spent a combined $1 billion on “misleading climate-related branding and lobbying” since the historic Paris Agreement made headlines in 2016.

“These efforts are overwhelmingly in conflict with the goals of this landmark global climate accord and designed to maintain the social and legal license to operate and expand fossil fuel operations,” InfluenceMap writes.

The lobbying work and branding took various forms. ExxonMobil, for example, engaged in direct government lobbying, as it has for decades. But the oil giant also spent $2 million on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads promoting the benefits of fossil fuels.

In recent years, major oil corporations such as Exxon have stressed that climate change is a real problem that it plans to help solve. But behind closed doors, the oil industry appears to be betting on a future that is increasingly dependent on fossil fuels, as ConsumerAffairs has previously reported.

Meanwhile, the European Union appears to be attempting to crack down on corporate lobbying efforts. Following the release of the InflencueMap report, the EU parliament is reportedly now discussing whether Exxon should lose its lobbying privileges in the EU altogether. A vote on the matter is scheduled for April.

The world’s five biggest publicly traded oil and gas companies in recent years have fought against measures to curb emissions even as they claimed to suppo...
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Investors are making a big play in reversing food waste

Don’t blame restaurants or farmers. Most of the squander happens right in our own homes

Waste not, want not.

The fact that consumers are focusing on reducing food waste isn’t lost on the investment community. A new report by non-profit coalition ReFed says that companies fighting food waste have pulled in some $125 million in venture capital and private equity funding in 2018.

And, like most everything else these days, consumers have technology to thank for the forward movement on keeping food products fresher for longer.

As an example, ReFed points to Walmart. In its perishables supply chain, the big box retailer recently experimented with smart labeling technology where electronic devices are attached to produce shipping containers and crates in an effort to monitor spoilage. While the technology wasn’t part of its existing bailiwick, Walmart saw enough long-term potential in reducing inventory loss to make the investment.

“Investors are seeing that food waste is a big business opportunity,” Michelle Masek, head of marketing at Apeel Sciences, told Bloomberg News. Apeel recently formed a partnership with a major European supplier of avocados that will use a water-based solution that the company says extends the ripeness for another four days or so.

The environmental challenge

“Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen how climate change and resource utilization are closely linked, and food is one of the most important resources in that equation,” wrote ReFed in an analysis of the study.

“This puts food waste squarely at the center of many global challenges. Reducing food waste would have a game-changing impact on natural resources depletion and degradation, food insecurity, national security, and climate change. As one of the largest economies and agricultural producers in the world, we believe the United States has a major role to play in setting an example and contributing to significant food waste reduction.”

Any way you look at it, food waste is a crisis. Today, the United States spends over $218 billion growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.

Each and every year, more than 50 million tons of food ends up in landfills. On top of that, an additional 10.1 million tons remains unharvested at farms. An even sadder fact is that 49 million Americans have a hard time putting food on their table.

Clean up your own backyard

While having garbage pickup is a nice thing for the consumer to have, ReFed estimates that cities actually lose money on the deal. As an example, the coalition cites Baltimore.

“If it were possible to reduce the cost of collection for composting in the Baltimore area by 10 percent, an annual systemwide net cost of $700,000 to collect and process 140,000 tons of food waste could become a net benefit of $230,000. If it were possible to reduce the cost of collection in the Los Angeles area by 15 percent, an annual system-wide net cost of $5 million to collect and process 800,000 tons of food waste could become a net benefit of $1.2 million.”

While you might think that farms, manufacturers, and restaurants are to blame for most of that, think again. In the U.S., about 43 percent of all the waste happens at the end of the food chain -- in the kitchen at home, according to an earlier ReFed report. A study from the Natural Resources Defense Council found two-thirds of the food wasted at home is edible.

ReFed says that consumers are fully aware of their shortcomings. They feel guilty, but just not guilty enough to try to make a difference.

Waste not, want not.The fact that consumers are focusing on reducing food waste isn’t lost on the investment community. A new report by non-profit coal...
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Survey says millennials would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally conscious company

The big question is who’s going to take responsibility for making America greener?

Let’s talk trade-offs…

Would you take a cut in pay to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible? If you said yes, you’re in good company (pun intended) -- and, more than likely, a millennial.

A new survey by Swytch -- a blockchain-based clean energy platform -- examined workforce sentiments as they relate to employers’ corporate sustainability pursuits.

In that study, almost 50 percent of all respondents and 75 percent of millennial workers said they would make that trade-off. As a matter of fact, 10+ percent would take a cut in pay between $5,000-$10,000, and slightly more than three percent said they’d be willing to go even further and take a pay cut of over $10,000 a year if they believed the employer had a “green” frame-of-mind.

Age matters when it comes to making that large of a trade-off, though. The survey found that fewer than 25 percent of Gen Xers (now between 40 and 53 years old) would make the change and that number drops to 17 percent for baby boomers.

Are we green enough for you?

Swytch’s study demonstrates that it’s not good enough just to say a company is green -- it needs to demonstrate that time after time, year after year.

Close to 70 percent of the respondents said that a strong sustainability plan would affect their decision to stay with a company long term.

And, they mean it. Nearly 30 percent said they’ve left a company because of its absence of a corporate sustainability plan. Eleven percent said they’ve pulled up and left over that factor more than once.

“As a growing number of employees are eager to see corporations take a stand on environmental responsibility, employers will have to respond accordingly in order to attract and retain top talent,” Evan Caron, co-founder and managing director of Swytch told Medium.

Red state, Blue state, Green state?

If you’re thinking that being environmentally proactive is more of a liberal than a conservative thing, you’d be wrong, albeit slightly.

A formidable number on both sides -- 95 percent of liberals and 89 percent of conservatives -- said that companies should be rewarded for producing and/or consuming renewable energy.

However, finding the right party to step up and make that forward motion happen is a big question. More than 30 percent of respondents feel that the national government should be in charge of tackling climate change, while only about 25 percent think that large corporations should be responsible.

Let’s talk trade-offs…Would you take a cut in pay to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible? If you said yes, you’re in good company (pu...
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Pipeline company behind infamous Standing Rock protest accused of blowing up a house in Pennsylvania

Energy Transfer Partners enjoyed support from Pennsylvania's state government until recently

The Pennsylvania state government says that a major oil and gas pipeline company, currently building a network of pipelines in the state to transport fracked gas and chemical byproducts from the fracking, has failed to take responsibility for an explosion that destroyed a house and other property last year.

Energy Transfer Partners is the Texas-based pipeline magnate that built its crude oil pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes who descended on the reservation in late 2016 famously convinced the Corps of Engineers to halt a key construction permit, though the move was only temporary. The Dakota Access Pipeline went back online under Trump and has been in operation for two years.

Energy Transfer Partners has also kept busy building new pipelines in Louisiana, Texas, and Pennsylvania over the past few years. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere had been welcoming of the projects, granting permits even over the objections of local activists who cited environmental concerns similar to those that the Standing Rock Sioux raised.

But things went downhill in Pennsylvania on September 11 last year. The Revolution Pipeline, a project run by Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary Sunoco, had only been in operation for a week when a fire erupted in Beaver County, destroying a home 500 feet away from the blast.

“An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline,” a Sunoco spokesman told a local newspaper.

Failure to meet state laws

Because oil and gas pipelines are known to cause landslides, state officials said that it was up to Sunoco to find a way to stabilize the areas that had been disturbed during construction. Sunoco needed to prevent further erosion, per state government instructions. The state even gave Sunoco an October 29 deadline to fix the erosion problems.

But Energy Transfer Partners failed to meet the deadline, the state says. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced last Friday that the company had failed to control erosion or stabilize the problematic areas.

As a result, Energy Transfer Partners is suspended from obtaining new permits in the state, though its projects that are already permitted remain unaffected for now.

“There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Governor Tom Wolf said in an uncharacteristically critical statement. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”

Energy Transfer Partners spokesman Lisa Dillinger responded with a statement to the Daily Local newspaper that the company is “committed to bringing this project into full compliance with all environmental permits and applicable regulations.”

“This action does not affect the operation of any of our in-service pipelines or any areas of construction where permits have already been issued,” she added.

The Pennsylvania state government says that a major oil and gas pipeline company, currently building a network of pipelines in the state to transport frack...
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Researchers call for more sustainable materials in protective clothing

The study reveals the harm behind fluorochemicals

Researchers from the University of Leeds are calling for dangerous fluorochemicals to be phased out of consumers’ waterproof and protective clothing.

According to the researchers, more eco-friendly options are available, especially for waterproofing purposes. However, clothing worn by emergency personnel and paramedics needs to be protected by more than just water.

“Environmentally-friendly and biodegradable solutions are available, but are being resisted by some manufacturers and retailers,” said Dr. Richard Blackburn, head of the Sustainable Materials Research Group at the University of Leeds’ School of Design.

“Non-fluorinated alternatives are a viable option in all cases where stain repellency is not an essential function. These alternatives provide excellent rain protection, and there are long-term ecological benefits from phasing out the highly fluorinated chemicals.”

Finding what works

While the researchers’ work showed that the majority of consumers are only looking for their clothes to be waterproof -- and not stain resistant -- making it possible to switch to more eco-friendly choices, medical professionals and military personnel rely on the fluorochemical repellents to stay free of stains, infections, and chemicals.

In an effort to be more innovative with sustainable alternatives, researcher Philippa Hill created a new testing method that allowed her to test various waterproof finishes and their effectiveness in protecting wearers against various liquids and stains.

“Currently, only non-fluorinated chemicals can provide the high levels of protection needed from other types of liquids, such as oils, chemicals, and bodily fluids, so there is a major opportunity for future innovation in that area,” Hill said.

The researchers tested regular household items -- like orange juice, water, olive oil, and red wine -- and then moved on to more field-specific items, like cough medicine, synthetic gastric fluid, and blood.

The experiment showed that non-fluorinated repellents didn’t work for gastric fluids or any oil-based stains, but they showed some promise with the cough medicine and blood and were very successful with the red wine and orange juice.

The researchers want the clothing and textile industry to understand how harmful fluorochemicals are to the environment, as they are major contributors to pollution, and strive to utilize sustainable materials in the future.

“We want to help textile producers and retailers to develop better garments that also have minimal environmental impact,” said researcher Ian Cousins. “It is important to look into the necessary functionality and durability, otherwise people won’t buy the greener alternatives.”

Money could be at stake

While many corporations have decided to go green with various sustainable initiatives, a recent study found that not going green could affect some companies’ bottom lines down the road.

Researchers found that if companies -- particularly those that produce the highest levels of carbon emissions -- don’t try to reduce their carbon footprint, the stock market could start to dip in less than 10 years.

“It is of the best interest of the companies in the financial, insurance, and pension industries to price this carbon risk correctly in their asset allocations,” said researcher Tony Wirjanto. “Companies have to take climate change into consideration to build an optimal and sustainable portfolio in the long run under the climate change risk.”

Researchers from the University of Leeds are calling for dangerous fluorochemicals to be phased out of consumers’ waterproof and protective clothing.Ac...
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Proposed bill would curb use of paper receipts in California

The measure would enforce the use of electronic receipts

New legislation proposed on Tuesday would make California the first state to require businesses to offer electronic receipts unless customers specifically request paper copies.

The push to begin phasing out printed receipts in the Golden State has already begun, according to Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, who introduced the bill. However, the proposed measure (Assembly Bill 161) would ensure that consumers are fully aware of the health and environmental impact of paper receipts.

For example, most paper receipts aren’t recyclable, are coated with chemicals that aren’t allowed in baby bottles, and can contaminate other recycled paper because of the chemicals known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS), Ting said.

Transitioning to e-receipts

Under the bill, businesses would be required to provide proof of purchase receipts electronically starting in 2022 unless a customer asks for a printed copy.

“There’s a negative impact on the environment with these receipts and the inability to recycle them,” Ting said. He also cited studies by the Environmental Working Group and the CDC showing that retail workers have higher concentrations of BPA or BPS than those who do not have regular contact with receipts.

If passed, the measure would be similar to another recently enacted piece of legislation in California -- one which requires restaurants to provide straws only at customers’ request. Similar to the straw bill, infractions would be subject to two written warnings followed by a fine of $25 a day for subsequent violations, with an annual $300 cap.

Privacy concerns

While phasing out paper receipts would undoubtedly have environmental benefits, some say the use of electronic receipts raises privacy concerns. Businesses would “have your email, then they'll be marketing to you or selling your information or it can get into privacy issues," noted Republican Assemblyman Brian Dahle.

But Ting countered by saying that consumers can still ask for paper receipts if they’re worried about giving out their email addresses. An additional benefit of the proposed bill would be its potential to save businesses money.

But at its core, the bill is intended to cut down on the environmental burden of paper receipts. The advocacy group Green America estimates that millions of trees and billions of gallons of water are used annually to make paper receipts in the United States.

New legislation proposed on Tuesday would make California the first state to require businesses to offer electronic receipts unless customers specifically...
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Cutting back on beef is necessary for human health and the planet, study says

The world’s growing demand for beef is unhealthy and unsustainable, the World Economic Forum says

Fungus, peas, and a plate of beans. It’s what's for dinner. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but replacing beef with those plant-based alternatives could extend the average person’s lifespan by as much as 7 percent, according to a new study by European thinktank the World Economic Forum (WEF).  

The fungus Mycoprotein is the healthiest and most sustainable dietary beef alternative, according to the WEF study, though most people likely haven’t heard of it. Mycoprotein is found in soil and used by some fake-meat frozen food brands.

Luckily, there are plenty of other options that might sound a little less depressing to people who aren’t keen on imitation meat.

Replacing beef with nuts, pork, chiken, tofu, or jackfruit would also be superior to current trends, which show that beef consumption is growing at an unhealthy pace.

“It would be impossible for a global population of 10 billion people to eat the amount of meat typical of diets in North America and Europe” without breaking sustainability goals, the WEF report says. “It would require too much land and water, and lead to unacceptable greenhouse‑gas and other pollutant emissions.”

Demand for meat continues to grow

Despite climate concerns, a meat-intensive diet is where much of the world is heading. The Texas Cattle Feeders Association visited Mongolia last August and reported back that even threats of tariffs or a trade war weren’t tampering Chinese demands for American beef.

“The poorest countries, their primary protein sources are plant-based,” the group’s chairman Levi Barry told a local newspaper shortly after his visit. “As they increase their fortune, they typically move into some sort of meat in their diet. We see that in a lot of the developing markets.”

Demand for American beef “continues to climb in nearly every region of the world,” according to the US Meat Export Federation, which says that the value of exported American beef reached record levels in 2018.

But that good news for the cattle export industry may be coming at the expense of the planet. Researchers and environmentalists, not to mention vegan groups, are quick to point out that meat and dairy are especially intensive to produce, requiring huge amounts of land and water. The environmental and health concerns have led to growing interest in alternative sources of proteins.

Ranking the best alternatives

Teaming with researchers from Oxford University, the WEF set out to compare the planetary and human health benefits of different beef alternatives and analyze which alternative is best for human diets and the planet.

Though investors and start-ups are touting lab-grown meat made from tissues as a promising choice, the WEF says that old-fashioned plant-based food is better. Lab-grown meat may not be environmentally sustainable to produce, and “its health benefits compared with traditional beef are marginal,” the WEF says.

Overall, cultured beef ranked at the bottom of WEF’s suggested beef alternatives.

Microproteins, peas, and beans ranked at the top. They were followed respectively by wheat, jackfruit, insects, nuts, alga, chicken and pork.

The report is careful to say that people don’t need to cut beef out of their diet entirely, and it notes that millions of people around the world make their living raising cattle. Many people may not have access to meat alternatives, and following the WEF’s guidelines would require a massive change not just in consumer behavior, but in how food is subsidized and produced.  

“For many people living in the poorest countries, there are no alternatives to meat and restricting access would be detrimental to their health,” the report notes.

Fungus, peas, and a plate of beans. It’s what for dinner. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but replacing beef with those plant-based alternatives...
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Energy efficient homes can result in big savings, study finds

Consumers and builders have shied away from zero energy homes over concerns that they are more expensive upfront

Americans buying new solar panels may now be paying millions more on their initial purchase thanks to new tariffs, but that’s no reason to shy away from energy-efficient home technology.

New homeowners and builders are avoiding energy efficient homes over the mistaken belief that they are prohibitively expensive, according to a new report by an environmental think tank.

The Rocky Mountain Institute analyzed the cost and savings linked to two types of energy efficient homes -- zero energy homes and zero energy-ready homes. The former produces more renewable energy than it uses, and it is only attainable for homes that capture enough sunlight, while the latter can be be built anywhere.

Zero energy-ready homes, according to the Department of Energy, are certified as such if they have airtight construction, non-toxic construction materials, good air quality, energy-efficient appliances, and higher levels of insulation and window performance.

These homes are also built in such a way to allow for solar panels to be installed at a future date, if the homeowner cannot afford to install the panels initially. When that happens, the homes would then have the potential to be zero energy.

Sales of homes that are under construction or have yet to be built represent a major market for developers, but only a small fraction of those homes are slated to be energy efficient.  

Most home builders believe that green homes will be a tough sell and that they will add more than 5 percent to total costs. Consumers have also avoided buying green homes over cost concerns.

“These perceptions are preventing or disincentivizing stakeholders from acting in their own long-term interests,” the Rocky Mountain Institute says.

Saving money over time

According to the non-profit’s research, building a zero energy-ready home actually only adds somewhere between .9 to 2.5 percent to total housing costs. A zero energy home costs more, an average of 6.7 to 8.1 percent higher than a regular home.  

But living green will eventually save homeowners thousands of dollars over a home’s lifecycle, the institute says, pointing to research that the typical consumer keeps their home for 12 years before selling it.

The benefits vary from region to region, but they are most obvious to homeowners in the midwest. In Detroit, for example, a zero energy-ready house without solar panels costs $1,574 more than a typical house, and the energy savings would be reaped in less than two years.

InsideClimate news recently toured energy efficient homes under construction in Michigan. The builder said that such homes are also more comfortable because they have better temperature control.

Houses currently account for 10 percent of carbon emissions in the United States.

Americans buying new solar panels may now be paying millions more on their initial purchase thanks to new tariffs, but that’s no reason to shy away from en...
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Public health is already worsening due to climate change, new report says

Heat stroke and other related conditions are already on the rise. Researchers say the time to act is now

At the heart of the U.S. government's two-year National Climate Assessment report, a group of researchers are now warning that climate change is already harming public health.

A total of 150 experts from 27 different universities and institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO), published their findings in the journal The Lancet on Wednesday.

Heat strokes, dengue fever, and lack of access to clean drinking water, clean air, and food supplies are likely to become growing problems if no action is taken on climate change, the report says.

“These are not things happening in 2050 but are things we are already seeing today. We think of these as the canary in, ironically, the coalmine,” Nick Watt, the Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change project, told the Guardian.

Raising awareness, but action still needed

The only silver lining comes in the form of awareness. The researchers say that reporting on the human health effects of climate change may make people more inclined to act.

“Individual engagement and action contributes to a growing wave of change,” an introductory paper to the report says. “This does not negate the need for engagement at international policy level and for governments to better use their powers, but this can be accelerated and complemented by harnessing the collective voice of individuals.”

But action at the policy level still appears to be a hard-fought battle. The United Nations says that governments must triple their current efforts at tackling climate change to prevent catastrophic warming in the near future.

The researchers at The Lancet note that hospitals may not be prepared to take on a growing amount of heat stroke patients. The team interviewed officials from 500 global cities and found that much of their public health infrastructure, such as hospitals, were vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Some lawmakers in the United States are currently drafting a Green New Deal proposal that they hope will aggressively address the problem.

At the heart of the U.S. government's two-year National Climate Assessment report, a group of researchers are now warning that climate change is already ha...
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Nespresso aiming to use sustainable aluminum in all of its coffee pods

A new partnership may help the company reduce the environmental impact of its coffee capsules

Nespresso is teaming up with mining and metals company Rio Tinto to work toward the goal of using 100 percent “responsibly sourced” aluminum in all of its coffee pods by 2020.

The companies announced on Monday that Rio Tinto will supply aluminum with renewable power and respect for biodiversity to Nespresso as part of a larger effort to reduce the negative environmental impact of the coffee giant’s coffee pods.

“This is an important step towards the use of responsibly sourced aluminium across manufacturing industries, which Rio Tinto is the first to supply,” said Alf Barrios, the company’s chief executive of aluminium, in a statement.

“It’s addressing a preference that consumers and society are clearly articulating … but it’s also good commercial sense,” Barrios added.

Sustainable aluminum

Under the partnership, Nespresso will work with its capsule manufacturers to ensure they use exclusively metal certified by the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative.

“Nespresso is proud to have been a driving force in creating and implementing the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative,” Nespresso chief executive Jean-Marc Duvoisin said. “Together, we have made responsibly sourced aluminium a reality, and the ASI traceability mechanism will enable us to meet our commitment to customers to reduce the impact of their consumption.”

The partnership will help Nespresso, which currently holds almost a third of the coffee pod market, compete with companies that market themselves as sustainable. Last week, rival Halo claimed to have created the world’s first fully compostable coffee capsule and packaging.

Nespresso critics have said the company's coffee pods are a waste of resources since they are not biodegradable. Millions of used coffee pods end up in landfills each year.

The company has tried alternatives to aluminum, but none of them have sufficiently protected the coffee from exposure to the air, nor have they been able to withstand the pressure of the Nespresso machines.

Nespresso says it’s working with its manufacturers to ensure that all capsules are ASI-certified, a process that will take some time The Nestle-owned company is also aiming to make recycling as easy as possible.

Nespresso is teaming up with mining and metals company Rio Tinto to work toward the goal of using 100 percent “responsibly sourced” aluminum in all of its...
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Supreme Court allows kids' climate change lawsuit to proceed

Both the Trump and Obama administrations have sought its dismissal

The Supreme Court has refused to stop a lawsuit filed by a group of young people who claim the climate is changing and the U.S. government isn't doing enough to stop it.

In a motion, the Trump administration asked the high court to block the litigation from moving forward, arguing that it is misguided and represents a “radical invasion” of the separation of powers.

The Supreme Court informed the administration that, in the court's opinion, it had not presented a convincing enough argument to stop the lawsuit. It said the case should proceed and the government could remake its argument before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals at the appropriate time.

The lawsuit was filed in Oregon in 2015, naming 21 children as plaintiffs, claiming U.S. and state government agencies were knowingly doing nothing to stop global warming. The suit says that such inaction is in violation of the constitutional rights of younger generations, specifically “their right to 'life, liberty, and property' as enshrined in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment."

President Trump asked the court to block the suit, but he wasn't the first chief executive to do so. The Obama administration filed a motion in 2016 asking federal court to dismiss the case, but the judge refused, sending it on to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has refused to stop a lawsuit filed by a group of young people who claim the climate is changing and the U.S. government isn't doing enou...
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Hundreds of organizations pledge to eliminate plastic waste

A new campaign aims to eliminate plastic pollution at its source

This week, 250 major organizations -- including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Colgate, SC Johnson, and H&M -- pledged to eliminate plastic waste from their operations by 2025 as part of a global campaign led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The pledge is part of a larger goal to curb plastic waste pollution, which has become a dangerous concern. Researchers calculate that if current trends continue, there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s seas by 2050.

The 250 companies, businesses, and governments that signed on to the "New Plastics Economy Global Commitment" pledged to eliminate plastic when it’s problematic or unnecessary, and in some cases, switch to reusable packaging.

Eradicating plastic pollution

All of the organizations plan to make 100 percent of their plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable, or compostable within seven years. Individual targets within the commitment were set, and the collective ambition among signatories will grow with time.

"We will continue to review the ambition level of the commitment and, over time, raise it, and we also call for many more businesses and governments around the world to join this effort so that we also continue to scale up in numbers of companies and governments involved," said Sander Defruyt, who leads the New Plastics Economy Initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Plastic entering the oceans “is one of the most visible and disturbing examples of a plastic pollution crisis,” Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said in a statement. “The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is the most ambitious set of targets we have seen yet in the fight to beat plastics pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur, the record-breaking British sailor who is behind the campaign, said cleaning up plastics from oceans and beaches is vital, “but this does not stop the tide of plastic entering the oceans each year. We need to move upstream to the source of the flow.”

PepsiCo announced this week that it’s aiming to reduce its use of plastic packaging and increase its use of recycled plastic. The company said it’s heading toward the goal of using 25 percent recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025.

This week, 250 major organizations -- including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Colgate, SC Johnson, and H&M; -- pledged to eliminate plastic waste from their operati...
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Pepsi parent company pledges to increase use of recycled plastic

The goal calls for 25 percent recycled plastic in packaging by 2025

PepsiCo has announced a new goal to reduce its use of plastic packaging and increase its use of recycled plastic.

The food and beverage manufacturer said it aims to use 25 percent recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025. The pledge comes at a time when businesses are under increasing pressure to curb the use of plastic, which often ends up in the world's oceans.

The company said it will collaborate with suppliers and partners and try to increase consumer education about curbing plastic pollution. It also said improved recycling infrastructure and regulatory reform are needed to achieve its goal.

Specifically, PepsiCo has a goal of using 33 percent recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) content in beverage bottles by 2025.

'Where plastics never become waste'

"PepsiCo's sustainable plastics vision is to build a PepsiCo where plastics need never become waste," said Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo's vice chairman and chief scientific officer. "We intend to achieve that vision by reducing, recycling and reusing, and reinventing our plastic packaging."

But to help reduce plastic pollution, Khan said improvements in global waste collection and investments in recycling infrastructure are needed.

As we reported in May, the recycling industry is going through some tough times. China, which has been a major importer of U.S. recyclables, has significantly reduced its purchases because it says there's always too much trash mixed in with the products to be recycled. Ongoing trade tensions aren’t helping matters either.

With the collapse of the market for recyclable bottles and cans, jurisdictions have begun to charge consumers more to recycle. In some cases, The Wall Street Journal reports these recyclables end-up in a landfill anyway.

“Recycling as we know it isn’t working,” James Warner, chief executive of the Solid Waste Management Authority in Lancaster County, Pa., told The Journal back in May. “There’s always been ups and downs in the market, but this is the biggest disruption that I can recall.”

Banning plastic straws

The latest front in the corporate effort to curb plastic pollution is to not use it at all. Many restaurants have begun to phase out plastic straws in favor of paper ones, although straws make up a small part of plastic pollution. In a fast food restaurant that has banned plastic straws, consumers who order salads will still discard containers, utensils, and other packaging made of plastic.

PepsiCo, meanwhile, says it has already begun to rely more on recycled plastic. Earlier this month, it said it had signed a supply agreement with Loop Industries to incorporate Loop PET plastic, which is 100 percent recycled material, into its product packaging by mid-2020.

PepsiCo has announced a new goal to reduce its use of plastic packaging and increase its use of recycled plastic.The food and beverage manufacturer sai...
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Electric grid could increase pollution without appropriate policies, study suggests

Researchers say the grid will need to be transitioned to clean energy

The electric grid will need to be changed in order to keep self-driving cars from having a negative impact on society’s sustainability goals, a new study suggests.

Researchers Peter Fox-Penner, Will Gorman, and Jennifer Hatch analyzed a large body of academic and industry research on autonomous vehicles and found that they will likely greatly increase overall transportation demand.

“With more options available, more people will take advantage of these autonomous vehicles and ride services,” the researchers noted. The authors say autonomous vehicles could exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions if appropriate policies aren’t put in place before this technology starts taking over.

Transportation shift

By 2050, the net increase in electricity demand from converting the light duty vehicle fleet (which currently accounts for 90 percent of motor vehicle travel in the U.S.) to electric, autonomous vehicles will be between 13 percent and 26 percent more than today's total electricity demand, according to the study’s estimates.

“In the best case, where 95 percent of the electric sector decarbonizes by that time, this scenario would result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 80 percent from 2015 light duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions,” the researchers said.

In their paper, Penner-Fox and his colleagues assert that society “can only achieve dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by making the electric grid dramatically less polluting.”

Carbon-free grid

The researchers conceded that transitioning the grid to 95 percent to 100 percent clean energy won’t be easy.

“Currently only 37 percent is from wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear. Nor will ensuring that almost all of our light duty vehicles are electric. That’s partly because EVs are not yet cost-competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles,” the authors wrote. “Also, there are a number of infrastructure challenges to updating the grid for a major shift to electric transportation.”

However, the study suggests that “rapid and complete transport electrification and a carbon-free grid should remain the cornerstones of transport decarbonization policy” in the near-term, while a long-term policy should aim to ensure that autonomous vehicles are electric and “mitigate autonomous vehicles’ potential to increase driving mileage, urban and suburban sprawl, and traffic congestion.”

And policymakers should not delay. The rise of Uber and Lyft have already dramatically upended business models that have existed for decades, and autonomous vehicle technology, which still has a few years to go before replacing human drivers, is already impacting cities around the country. The question now is whether these trends will reduce or increase our country’s emissions.

The electric grid will need to be changed in order to keep self-driving cars from having a negative impact on society’s sustainability goals, a new study s...
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Trump wants Supreme Court’s help from kids suing to stop climate change

Brett Kavanaugh may help decide whether kids and young adults demanding government action on global warming can get a trial

For the second time in four months, the federal government is asking the Supreme Court to toss a lawsuit demanding it act on climate change for the sake of younger generations.

The youth climate change lawsuit, as it is known, was originally filed by a group of 21 children and teenagers in Oregon in 2015. The group alleged that the United States government and state agencies were knowingly doing nothing to stop global warming. The suit says that such inaction is in violation of the constitutional rights of younger generations, specifically “their right to 'life, liberty, and property' as enshrined in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment."

While former President Barack Obama has long said man-made climate change is a real phenomenon, numerous oil and gas projects requiring federal permits continued under his watch, and climate scientists and activists said he was not doing enough to curb emissions.

Sure enough, his administration filed a motion trying to toss the kids’ case in 2016, only for a U.S. District Justice in Oregon to side with the kids and send the case to the Supreme Court.

Despite President Donald Trump’s tendency to undo any action put in place by his predecessor, the youth climate change lawsuit appears to be the one of the few areas where the two administrations are in agreement.

After the Supreme Court decided on July 30 that the case "presents substantial grounds for difference of opinion” and refused to toss it, the Trump administration on Thursday once again filed a motion requesting a stay.

The decision is now up to Chief Justice John Roberts of the Ninth Circuit, and he can either rule on his own or send the case to the Supreme Court, potentially kicking Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court career off with one of the country’s most high-profile environmental lawsuits.

Kavanaugh has previously said that “humans are contributing” to the earth’s warming temperatures, but he has also argued that it should be up to Congress, not the Environmental Protection Agency, to do something about the problem.

The plaintiffs, now ranging in age from 11 to 22, could see the case go to trial on October 29 if the courts do not intervene before then.

For the second time in four months, the federal government is asking the Supreme Court to toss a lawsuit demanding it act on climate change for the sake of...
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As UN warns of climate threat, oil lobby responds that it is already solving the crisis

The trade group that represents Exxon and others says that pollution in the United States is lower than ever thanks to natural gas

The oil and gas lobby long ago abandoned its campaign of climate denial and is now promoting the idea that Americans are on their way to solving the global warming crisis thanks to its efforts.   

“The natural gas and oil industry is actively addressing the complex global challenge of climate change through robust investments in technology innovation, efficiency improvements, and cleaner fuels,” the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade group that represents Exxon and dozens of other major oil and gas companies, tells ConsumerAffairs in an emailed statement.

The API issued the statement in response to a dire new warning from the United Nations. The organization says emissions must be cut drastically within twelve years to avoid ecological disaster, according to a report published on Monday.

While the world governments participating in the Paris climate agreement have set a goal of keeping the earth’s temperature at 2℃,  the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said Monday that 1.5℃ is the better choice. Lowering the limit to 1.5℃ would have “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems,” the report says.

Instead, however, the world is going the opposite direction and is on track to reach between 3 and 5 degrees, according to the authors.

Using the year 2010 as a benchmark, the IPCC says that humanity must cut its emissions 45 percent by 2030 to meet the 1.5℃ goal.

“Any increase in global warming is projected to affect human health, with primarily negative consequences,” they write.

Industry points to natural gas as the answer

The report does not identify the specific industries or countries that have contributed disportionately to the disaster. But research last year by the Carbon Dislcosue Project, a UK-based think tank, identifies 25 corporations or government-backed energy entities as being responsible for 51 percent of the world’s emissions. A total of 100 companies were identified as contributing to 71 percent of the world’s emissions.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) represents several companies listed in that study, including Exxon (#5), Shell (#9), and Chevron (#12). Asked if the companies would make a stronger effort to reduce emissions in light of that and the UN’s more recent research, the API pointed to its investment in natural gas.

“While global CO2 emissions have risen 50 percent since 1990, U.S. CO2 emissions are at 25-year lows due in large part to clean and abundant U.S. natural gas powering homes and businesses as the number one source of U.S. electricity generation today,” the API’s statement to ConsumerAffairs continues in response.

The IPCC, meanwhile, says that just 8 percent of the electricity grid must come from gas by 2050 to meet the 1.5℃ goal. An additional 8 percent can come from coal; the remainder must come from renewables, the report says. Currently, gas and coal each hover around 30 percent of the electricity grid in the U.S..

U.S. is getting lower -- but compared to what?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, the federal agency that tracks energy sources and emissions, has also said that U.S. C02 emissions are at a 25-year-low due to natural gas replacing coal on the grid. But a study published in June in the journal Science claims the EPA has underestimated methane leaks from natural gas operations by 60 percent.

The API declined to address that specific study in its statement or answer follow-up questions. Instead, spokesman Reid Porter forwarded over links to articles on the API website.

“There’s talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and then there’s taking steps to produce measurable results,” one such API article says. “The United States is in the second category, with the natural gas and oil industry playing the leading role.”

The U.S. may be reducing its emissions more than we otherwise would thanks to the industry efforts, but environmental scientists say that much more drastic action is needed.

China, the United States, and the European Union play an outsize role in contributing to climate change, according to World Bank data. And while the gas industry says that a domestic drilling boom is necessary to achieve energy independence, the oil industry’s own lobby also acknowledges that it is fast becoming one of the world’s leading exporters.

High-profile industry campaigns

Exxon several weeks ago agreed to join Shell, Occidental Petroleum, and others in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative -- an oil industry group devoted specifically to investing in technology to combat climate change.

The industry coalition says it is focusing its efforts on reducing methane emissions, though it claims that the industry is not responsible for methane leaks in all parts of the production chain.

“Our target for our own upstream production facilities is important, but our aim is to work towards near zero methane emissions from the full gas value chain, including transport and distribution to final customers (downstream),”  the industry group says on its website, “which in most cases we do not own or control.”

Exxon, Shell, and BP have also thrown their support behind the Paris accord, despite the United States’ backtracking, and last year joined a dozen major corporations and Republican Senators in proposing $40 tax on each ton of C02 emissions. That industry group said the tax would allow for a “free-market, limited government” response to climate change. And in response to investor pressure, Shell has promised to cut the amount of oil that it will sell in half by 2050.

Numerous other companies and industry groups are similarly promoting voluntary, market-based measures to reduce emissions, an idea supported by some politicians on both sides of the aisle. But industry critics argue that the only full-proof solution is to make fossil fuels increasingly expensive -- and to effectively discourage companies from drilling, rather than encouraging them to drill more responsibly.  

Drilling ahead

Oil and natural gas production continues to break records in the United States, surpassing records set in 1970, and people raising questions about new oil and gas projects say that they have been confronted by an increasingly shadowy regulatory system, even before Trump took office.

“As long as oil and gas production and output continue to increase, it is very hard to argue that there will be any decline in emissions, because a barrel of oil and gas eventually will turn into an emission at some point,” investment analyst Dr. Henrik Jeppesen told ConsumerAffairs last month.

It’s for that reason that a leading climate researcher and former NASA scientist has accused world governments and both the Obama and Trump administrations of failing to take any meaningful action to cut emissions and address the crisis.

“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” he recently told the Guardian.  “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”

The oil and gas lobby long ago abandoned its campaign of climate denial and is now promoting the idea that Americans are on their way to solving the global...
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EPA looks to roll back regulations governing radiation

The agency is relying on an expert who says a little radiation is fine

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently trying to overhaul the way that chemicals are regulated and is reportedly relying on the expertise of a toxicologist who argues that small amounts of radiation are beneficial.

The Associated Press reports that Edward Calabrese, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts, is set to testify before Congress today as the EPA’s lead witness over proposed new rule changes that the federal government claims will bring more “transparency” to the regulation of toxic chemicals.  

Calabrese has argued for years that the current standard for evaluating radiation risks, referred to by scientists as the linear no-threshold model, is overly cautious.

As the site Phys.org reported last year, “Calabrese has for many years advocated for hormesis,” an alternative approach to evaluating the risk of radiation exposure. It’s a model that Calabrese says “provides evidence that low-dose exposure of some chemicals and ionizing radiation is benign or even helpful,” according to Phys.org.

Arguing for radiation

Currently, federal laws regarding radiation exposure operate on the principle that no amount of radiation is safe. While plenty of research has linked health risks to low doses of radiation, some researchers have tried to make the case that, when it comes to radiation, the dose makes the poison.

Calabrese is among the researchers in the latter group in promoting his alternative hormesis model. In a 2016 interview, he reportedly said that it “would have a positive effect on human health as well as save billions and billions and billions of dollars.”

In statements to the Associated Press, the EPA said it has no intention of changing the way that radiation exposure is currently regulated. Its “transparency” proposal does not name any substance or chemical specifically. However, the Associated Press notes that Calabrese is quoted heavily in an EPA news release announcing the proposed rule changes.

In a news release that the EPA issued in April, Calabrese is quoted as saying that the agency is making a “a major scientific step forward” in the field of "chemicals and radiation” with its proposed new methods for evaluating health risks of certain substances.

Strengthening transparency or protecting companies?

At issue is a proposed regulation that the EPA claims will “strengthen transparency in regulatory science.” The proposal, introduced when Scott Pruitt was still leading the agency, would require that all researchers investigating the health effects of substances make their data public if they want the research to be considered by federal regulators.  

Numerous researchers say that such a proposal is simply a backhanded way to protect industries that work with toxic substances from facing any regulations. Researchers say that when it comes to studies on humans, for instance, they never make the data completely public because doing so would violate the privacy of their subjects.

“If EPA excludes studies because the data cannot be made public, people may be exposed to real harm,” a coalition of 69 professional doctors’ associations and health organizations warned in a statement they released in July.

Industry groups, meanwhile, are throwing their support behind the EPA’s proposal. The American Chemistry Council, the industry trade group that has long defended the safety of synthetic chemicals commonly used in consumer products, says that the “EPA’s proposed rule is a major step toward enhancing the public’s understanding of the science used to support regulations issued by the agency and increasing public confidence in agency decisions.”

The EPA says they are currently reviewing nearly 600,000 comments that people have submitted in response to the proposal.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently trying to overhaul the way that chemicals are regulated and is reportedly relying on the expertise o...
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Global what? The world may be burning, but there’s never been a better time to drill

​Production is through the roof. Offshore drilling could make a comeback. And anti-pipeline protesters risk felony charges.

During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavators and constructed “sky pod” tents among the trees, part of an attempt to stall construction on yet another crude oil pipeline underway in the United States.

Energy sources of the future are “not going to be oil,” activist and organizer Cherri Foytlin said by phone in July, making time for an interview before she had to bail some protesters out of jail in New Orleans.

“Very clearly, we can see that one of the fastest growing industries in the world is renewable energy,” she added, sounding optimistic despite the legacy of influence stacked in the pipeline operator’s favor.

As weather grows more extreme, over half of Americans and even major oil companies that do business here now say they think that man-made climate change is a real problem that needs to be fixed.

"We believe climate change is real," Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told National Public Radio last year. Shell, like other oil corporations, has made some high-profile investments in renewable energy and is vowing to “prevent a very significant rise in global temperatures.”

That oil companies want to solve the global warming crisis is a nice message, but it’s not one in line with reality. Across the United States, the fossil fuel industry appears to be betting on a future that is increasingly dependent on oil and gas, regardless of any climate concerns that could get in the way.

A banner year

For the fossil fuel industry, 2018 was a year worth celebrating when it came to business in the United States, or in their words, the “year of American Energy.”

Crude oil production last January reached 10 million barrels a day, shattering a record previously set in 1970. By next year, analysts predict that number will reach 11 million barrels.

“This would push the U.S. into first place among the world's oil producers,” industry engineer and investor Robert Rapier said in March.

Natural gas production is on a similar track, estimated to reach record production levels of 81.3 billion feet per day this year. The industry is now eyeing talent in Silicon Valley to help them digitize their land records.

Going high-tech will create “marginally more profitability at the corporate level,” Kate Richard, the president of Warwick Energy Group, a firm with investments in 5,000 wells across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming, tells ConsumerAffairs. “We should be able to be more efficient and make money go further.”

Meanwhile, offshore drilling is poised for a recovery of its own, thanks to a Trump proposal to overturn the offshore drilling ban enacted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to investor Matthew DiLallo, “recovery in the offshore drilling sector is right around the corner.”

The news is overwhelmingly positive, as long as industry firms ignore the depressing field of climate research.

“We are doing worse,” says Henrik Jeppesen, an analyst with Carbon Tracker, a financial think-tank that urges shareholders and investors to consider the threat of climate change. Jeppesen, who heads Carbon Tracker's efforts in North America, compares the fossil fuel industry to a drug dealer that is all-too-happy to feed society’s addiction to oil.

“As long as oil and gas production and output continue to increase, it is very hard to argue that there will be any decline in emissions, because a barrel of oil and gas eventually will turn into an emission at some point,” he tells ConsumerAffairs.

An unbalanced system

No single advocacy group or agency is calculating the entire country’s carbon footprint, but advocacy groups currently track different pieces of the puzzle.

When the federal government invited even more oil and gas companies to drill on public land in Wyoming in 2014, conservationists hoping to stop the rampant development in a state known for picturesque frontiers knew they needed to act quickly. So they sent a fax.

The federal government “is approving record numbers of large oil and gas development projects in Wyoming,” said the fax from the WildEarth Guardians, one of half a dozen conservation groups that protested the sale.

The Wilderness Society, another conservation group, had similar concerns, but a technical problem somewhere along the way delayed the message. Two months later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sent them a letter saying that their protest fax had arrived 12 minutes late and could not be counted.

Oil and gas leases on federal land have rapidly picked up in recent years, according to conservation groups that track federal mineral leases. But protesters who want to fight the development must deal with the indignity of a fax machine or post office; the BLM refuses to accept protests via email.

"It's a really unbalanced system. When the industry wants to nominate parcels for lease they can do it online in a click of a button,” says Juli Slivka, a policy analyst with The Wilderness Society, which tracks oil and gas leases on federal land.

Since Trump took office, the BLM has since opened up millions more acres for drilling -- while cutting the time available to protesters down by a third. The agency still refuses to accept email from people filing complaints.

Other battles pitting environmental groups against the federal government tell a similar story of a bureaucracy that miraculously acts quickly when it is in service of the industry. In 2012, the Corps of Engineers introduced a fast-track permitting process for new oil and gas pipelines, allowing projects to be approved at a rate unlike any environmentalists said they had ever seen.

Emissions worsening

Companies like Shell have put natural gas at the front and center of their sustainability initiatives. They say that its “clean-burning” properties are a key tool in the fight against global warming. But years of research suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas and a component of natural gas, leaks throughout the drilling process, essentially undoing any climate benefits the domestic fracking boom responsible may have brought.

In June, a study led by the Environmental Defense Fund said that natural gas operators are leaking methane at rates 60 percent higher than current EPA estimates. The leaks occur across the process, from drilling to transmission, according to the research. 

The industry remains unconvinced.

On drilling sites, methane leaks are “not a concern that we hear people talk about very much,” says Kate Richard, the president of the investment firm Warwick Energy Group.

Indeed, the industry doesn’t have much reason for concern. The Trump administration this month announced a new proposal to roll back what methane emission regulations did exist and save the oil and gas industry $75 million in the process. Natural gas companies celebrated the move.

"By fixing the numerous technical problems with the original rule, EPA will enable industry to continue its four-decade success record of reducing methane emissions,” industry firm Western Energy Alliance's President Kathleen Sgamma told InsideClimate News.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, lawmakers recently enacted a new state law that makes trespassing on pipeline construction sites a felony, part of a nationwide trend intended to tamper environmental protests.

The law had only been in effect in the state since August 1. But by mid-September, the environmental activists organizing and camping out estimated that at least ten pipeline protesters had been arrested under the measure.

A separate group of opponents is battling pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners in court. However, because the litigation isn’t stopping construction, the protesters are acting as human placeholders.

Whether they will face felony charges for doing so remains an open question. "I hope to God no more felonies," Foytlin said. "But if there is, then they will be righteous ones."

During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavat...
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Landslides may pose another risk for people in the path of natural gas pipelines

Shell is going forward with plans to construct a new natural gas pipeline, and even dangerous landslides may not get in the way

It didn’t take long for a project financed by oil and gas pipeline magnate Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco to literally blow up.

The Revolution Pipeline, apparently named to honor its historic location in the state of Pennsylvania, exploded on September 11 a little after 5 a.m. A fire erupted shortly after, forcing dozens of homeowners in nearby Beaver County to evacuate.

No one was injured, but cars and garages were damaged. And one home 500 feet away from the blast was completely destroyed in the fire.

Construction on The Revolution was completed in February, and it had only been in operation since September 3. Investigators pointed to landslides in the region as a possible cause of the explosion. Company officials agree with that assessment.

“An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline,” a Sunoco spokesman told a local newspaper.

During a time when millions of people in the East Coast face record-breaking precipitation and hundreds of resulting landslides, that message isn’t exactly comforting. State lawmakers in Pennsylvania are now calling for oil and gas pipeline construction to be halted completely.

But they face an uphill battle. Energy Transfer Partners is currently constructing another pipeline in the state called the Mariner East Pipeline. And Shell, a competitor, has major plans to build a new ethane cracker plant that would require more pipelines.

“Today’s pipeline explosion in Beaver County was a graphic illustration of my worst fears – and the fears of many local residents – related to the construction of the Mariner East pipeline,” State Rep. Chris Quinn told the Daily Local.

Plastics plant in the works

Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would build a plastics plant in Pennsylvania back in 2016. The project, set to be constructed in an abandoned manufacturing plant outside Pittsburgh, was initially hailed as a potential job-creator that could help people in northern Appalachia.

But producing those plastics requires a new network of pipelines delivering ethane, a flammable mixture of natural gas and petroleum. The Shell Pipeline Company is now trying to win approval to construct a 100-mile ethane pipeline through northern Appalachia for that very purpose.

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline, as Shell is calling the project, would be constructed through 25 different areas that are prone to landslides, Shell recently acknowledged in a permitting application.

Environmental Health News is reporting that Shell identified 14 “landslide risk” areas along the route in southwestern Pennsylvania and nine others along the route in Ohio and West Virginia. Several of those “landslide risks” areas are near residential neighborhoods.

Shell did not respond to the publication’s request for a comment, but researchers quoted said that the findings were troubling.

"According to our analysis, the blast radius for the Falcon pipeline [in one town] is about 900 feet, so if there were an accident, all those homes are in the impact radius near the landslide area," Kirk Jalbert, a researcher at Arizona State University, told Environmental Health News.

Local activists in the state have already been protesting and urging Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection to reject permits for the pipeline, pointing to concerns that pipeline leaks may also contaminate local reservoirs.

The state has told Shell that it needs to provide more environmental impact information in its application, but the project is still under review.

It didn’t take long for a project financed by oil and gas pipeline magnate Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco to literally blow up.The...
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Oil and gas industry will be free to leak methane under Trump proposal

An Obama-era effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions is once again on the chopping block

The oil and gas industry has long touted “clean-burning” natural gas as one of its most important weapons in the fight against climate change.

But a huge domestic fracking boom that yielded a record amount of natural gas in the last decade failed to curb emissions in the United States, and researchers and environmentalist say they know why: methane.

Though the industry is not keen to admit it, researchers have documented how leaks at fracking sites that emit methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, could effectively undo any efforts to stop global warming.

The Trump administration is now predictably going after an Obama-era proposal intended to force the industry to get tougher on methane leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule this week that it says will save the oil and gas industry $75 million each year. The EPA also acknowledged that the changes will cause methane emissions to increase by a minimum of 380,000 tons by 2025.

During the Obama administration, the EPA said that new regulations targeting methane emissions would reduce pollution by as much as 510,000 tons by 2025. The regulations had only been in effect for a year when Trump took office and tried to undo them; a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council stopped the earlier effort.

The public has 60 days to comment on the more recent proposal.

The oil and gas industry has long touted “clean-burning” natural gas as one of its most important weapons in the fight against climate change.But a hug...
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California legislature pledges to bar fossil fuels by 2045

The measure is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk

California has followed Hawaii in pledging to stop using all forms of fossil fuel in the state by 2045. The California legislature has passed a bill to that effect and sent it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk to be enacted into law.

The bill would require all electricity sold to consumers to be generated by solar, wind and other renewable energy sources within three decades. The measure passed over the protests of California utility companies, which told lawmakers the goal isn't practical.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) fossil fuels generated more than 62 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017 while nuclear energy contributed 20 percent. Renewable energy provided just over 17 percent of U.S. electricity.

The EIA reports California currently gets about a third of its energy needs from renewable sources. Natural gas provides nearly half the state's energy and it gets 9 percent from nuclear.

'100 percent clean energy'

“When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down, ” said State Senator Kevin de León, who sponsored the measure. “We have taken another great stride toward a 100 percent clean energy future.”

California lawmakers approved the measure after statewide polls showed widespread support for phasing out fossil fuels. One poll showed 72 percent of state residents were in favor.

The measure passed the legislature on a 43 to 32 vote. Opponents warned supporters of the economic consequences.

"We pass all these goals for renewables, but at the same time our families back home will pay the cost with an increase in the electric bills every year as we try to achieve this,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, who cast one of the no votes.

Scientific debate

Scientists have long debated whether it is feasible to produce all of the nation's energy needs from renewable sources.

Writing in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, researcher Benjamin Heard and colleagues cast doubt on the ability to produce all needed energy from renewable sources, citing extreme weather events with low sun and low wind.

Scientists supporting the idea counter that it will be possible, arguing there are technical solutions to all of the drawbacks Heard and his colleagues raised.

California has followed Hawaii in pledging to stop using all forms of fossil fuel in the state by 2045. The California legislature has passed a bill to tha...
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Facebook ramps up its greenhouse gas reduction goals

The tech giant has new greenhouse gas reduction targets and a 100 percent renewable energy goal

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it’s committing to slashing its greenhouse emissions by 75 percent and powering global operations with 100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2020.

The company had previously set a goal of having 25 percent of its power sourced from renewable energy in 2015 and then 50 percent by 2018. The latter target was hit in 2017, when Facebook reached 51 percent clean and renewable energy.

Facebook said in a statement that it is “on track to be one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy.” The tech giant revealed that it has signed contracts for more than three gigawatts of solar and wind energy, all on the same grid as its data centers.

Combating climate change

Facebook’s new pledge is part of its ongoing effort to fight climate change. Last year, the company supported the Paris Agreement through the We Are Still In initiative.

The social networking platform joins other tech giants who have made commitments on renewable energy. Earlier this year, Apple announced that 100 percent of its global operations are powered by renewable energy. Google achieved the same milestone last year.

Facebook's new commitment was praised by environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace.

"CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reaffirmed Facebook's place among business leaders in the race to be coal-free and 100 percent renewable-powered," Gary Cook, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace, said in a statement.

"If we are to stay within the 1.5-degree threshold that scientists say is crucial to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need many more companies stepping up to adopt aggressive renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals," Cook added.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it’s committing to slashing its greenhouse emissions by 75 percent and powering global operations with 100 percent rene...
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Kroger to eliminate plastic bags by 2025

America’s largest grocer will be phasing out plastic bags to become a fully sustainable business

Kroger announced today that it will begin gradually phasing out plastic bags and transitioning to reusable bags at its nearly 2,800 locations. Doing so will eliminate 123 million pounds of garbage that’s sent to landfills every year and will quadruple the amount of plastic the company currently recycles.

“We’re the first major retailer in the U.S. to do this,” said Jessica Adelman, Kroger’s vice president of corporate affairs.

The company is the country’s largest grocer, as it owns a number of supermarket chains, including Ralphs, Harris Teeter, and Fred Meyer. QFC, a Seattle-based supermarket that Kroger owns, will be the first store to eliminate plastic bags, and they’ll be gone by 2019.

“As America’s largest grocer, we realize we have a responsibility to cut down on unnecessary plastic waste that contributes to litter, harms the environment, and in some cases, endangers wildlife,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen wrote in an editorial.

“Collectively, we use 100 billion plastic bags a year in the U.S. That’s a lot for something that’s almost always used once before being tossed into a landfill. You could take all those bags and fill three Houston Astrodomes from top to bottom, year after year, with nothing but plastic bags.”

Reusable bags

Kroger currently sells reusable bags in its stores for $1 each; under the new plan, Kroger will begin ramping up the availability of those bags. As it stands right now, shoppers will still have the option to ask for plastic bags.

“There are less wasteful ways to ensure shoppers can safely and conveniently transport items back to their homes, and Kroger is committed to presenting better options to our customs,” McMullen wrote. “Our ultimate goal is to shift completely over to reusable bags.”

McMullen also noted this change cannot happen overnight.

“More than nine million people walk through our doors every day, and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another,” he wrote. “That’s why we’re giving our customers plenty of time to adapt to a new way of shopping.”

Company-wide policies

Kroger’s long-term goal is to be a completely sustainable company.

To help it achieve that mission, the company plans to implement new training procedures for employees who are responsible for bagging in an effort to reduce the need for bags. Additionally, stores will continue to have recycling services for plastic bags and other plastic films, so customers can be active participants in the company’s recycling efforts.

“We want to be a trusted recycling partner for our customers, but we recognize merely offering such services is not enough,” McMullen wrote. “Kroger is committed to making a difference that cannot be measured.”

Kroger announced today that it will begin gradually phasing out plastic bags and transitioning to reusable bags at its nearly 2,800 locations. Doing so wil...
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New EPA coal rules could lead to 1,400 more deaths per year

Officials at the EPA say that rules governing pollution can help to reduce those numbers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 289-page report yesterday detailing the impact of President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

The new rule effectively reverses President Obama’s efforts to cut power plant carbon pollution under the proposed Clean Power Plan. The Obama administration was working to instate federal regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions and use less coal in favor of clean energy sources. The Clean Power Plan was blocked by court battles in 2016, as many Republican attorneys general thought the federal government was overstepping its power.

While the Trump administration touts ACE as a way to create new jobs and eliminate government regulations, the EPA has found that it could lead to 1,400 premature deaths every year by 2030, in addition to up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.

The agency also noted that the new regulations would “increase emissions of carbon dioxide” and “increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health.”

By contrast, the EPA previously reported that the Clean Power Plan would have helped avoid up to 300,000 missed school and work days, 3,600 premature deaths, and 90,000 child asthma attacks by the year 2030.  

The Affordable Clean Energy rule

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed ACE into effect earlier this week and reported that the rule allows each state to make its own regulations regarding their emission standards for coal-fired plants. One of the main goals is to have less involvement from the federal government. According to Wheeler, ACE would allow “the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance.”

Critics were quick to comment on the rule, as many see it as a step backwards in the fight to tame global warming.

“The Trump administration sees political value in this rollback, but our health and the economic promise of clean energy is at stake,” said former Vice President Al Gore.

In the report, the EPA did not address the numbers previously reported regarding the Clean Power Plan. Instead, it focused on comparisons to today’s levels -- which are in a downward trend.

“Compared to the world as it stands now, the ACE rule will result in dramatic reductions in emissions, including CO2, mercury, and fine particulate matter precursors, as well as any resulting mortality and morbidity effects (like asthma hospitalizations),” the statement said.

The plan

In the ACE proposal, the Trump administration has detailed several different ways states can go about regulating coal-fired power plants, as well as what the health-related consequences would look like in each scenario.

It is in the situation the agency considers most likely to occur where the premature death toll would increase, as would heart and lung disease and chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis. The Trump administration’s analysis found that 48,000 new cases of what it describes as “exacerbated asthma” would occur each year by 2030.

According to Mr. Wehrum, a former coal industry attorney, there would be “collateral effects” on pollutants compared to the Obama administration’s proposed plan.

“We have abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly, and we have aggressive programs in place that directly target emissions of those pollutants,” Wehrum said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 289-page report yesterday detailing the impact of President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule...
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Scientists sequence wheat genome to produce heartier wheat and combat food shortages

The accomplishment was once deemed impossible by scientists

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a study in the Journal of Science describing the genome of bread wheat.

Through a 13-year collaboration involving scientists from around the world, the group was able to achieve a task -- sequencing the wheat genome -- that many scientists considered to be impossible for years.

“Wheat is one of the major sources of food for much of the world. However, because bread wheat’s genome is a large hybrid mix of three separate subgenomes, it has been difficult to produce a high-quality reference sequence,” the scientists wrote.

“Using recent advances in sequencing, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium presents an annotated reference genome with a detailed analysis of gene content among subgenomes and the structural organization for all the chromosomes.”

What this means for consumers

An organism’s genome is a detailed roadmap containing all the information needed to build and maintain it. Scientists and farmers are now privy to the genes and factors responsible for traits including grain quality, wheat yield, tolerance to environmental stress, and resistance to fungal diseases. With this information, they will be able to create stronger wheat varieties.

This goal of sequencing the wheat genome was of particular importance because of food security. Wheat is the most widely-grown crop around the world, and with recent heat waves in northern Europe, Asia, and Canada, the wheat production for 2018 will be compromised. Additionally, pests, climate change, and salinity have been known to destroy crops.

“It was ambitious but it was important for me that wheat wasn’t seen as being the poor cousin in the area of genome sequencing,” said Professor Rudi Appels, Agriculture Victoria honorary research fellow and IWGSC contributor. “I was always hopeful it could be done.

“I thought wheat deserved to be as well-defined as the human genome and then the technology really developed enormously. Suddenly, what was once literally impossible looked achievable, and I wanted to be there and capture new technologies as they came through. Things that used to take years can now be done overnight.”

Appels also noted that this advancement could eventually be used to help treat and diagnose wheat-related allergies and diseases. It could also produce wheat crops that contain lower levels of the proteins known to make people sick.

“I am really thrilled, because after 13 years of efforts with the whole wheat community we have reached our major milestone,” said Dr. Catherine Feuillet, co-author of the article and chief scientist at Inari Agriculture. “The vision we had is now becoming concrete, we have a high-quality reference sequence that can be used to accelerate wheat research and breeding.”

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a study in the Journal of Science describing the genome of bread wheat.Through a...
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Faced with rising threat of antibiotic overuse, FDA promises to ‘launch some new programs’

The FDA is promising to do something about the rampant overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responding to criticisms that it has failed to reign in the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. In a new statement, the agency is calling for “stewardship” and the creation of “some new programs.” What those programs may actually entail remains unclear.

Warnings that antibiotics will lose their potency if they are overused date back to the scientist who invented penicillin, though even he likely couldn’t have predicted that the meat industry would one day dose entire herds with the drugs on a routine basis.

Researchers say that thousands of people already die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections, which they link to overuse in both medical and agricultural settings.

The FDA now claims that combating the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly referred to as superbugs, is “a top priority.” The agency acknowledges that “overuse or misuse of these drugs promotes the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.”

“For all of these reasons, it’s critical that we implement good antimicrobial stewardship practices in human healthcare and veterinary settings,” the FDA’s Scott Gottlieb said. “We must continue to take new steps to slow the development of resistance and extend the usefulness of these lifesaving drugs.”

New plan coming soon

Specifically, Gottlieb says that the FDA will publish a blueprint “shortly” that will detail more specific plans that the agency will take over the next five years.

The language in Gottlieb's statement suggests that he will avoid pushing for more regulations, with a focus instead on existing programs and the “progress” he says his agency has made.

“We’ll expand on the FDA’s existing actions, and launch some new programs,” Gottlieb said “Our aim is to reduce overuse of antimicrobial drugs and combat the rising threat of resistance.”

“We are also developing and advancing new strategies for promoting antimicrobial stewardship in companion animals,” he added.

Whether companion animals are over-prescribed antibiotics has never been a focus for environmentalist and public health groups. Instead, they have pointed to the agriculture industry, where years of research has suggested that antibiotics are routinely used to fatten-up herds. (The meat industry has countered that they use the antibiotics for “disease-prevention” purposes).

In 2013, the Obama administration announced it was taking “the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years” by requiring farmers to obtain what is essentially a vet’s prescription before purchasing antibiotics from the animal feed store.

Despite the new law mandating veterinary oversight, little has changed since then, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC). A report that the group recently published found that 27 percent of all medically-important antibiotics, or antibiotics that humans use, went straight to pigs last year.

"What constitutes veterinary oversight is a huge grey area,” NRDC researcher Dr. David Wallinga said.

Advocacy groups call for greater action

Another report recently published by the Environmental Working group describes an increase of antibiotic resistant-bacteria in samples of ground beef and pork chops they tested.

In a statement, the NRDC called on Gottlieb to take more concrete action.

“To keep these miracle drugs working when sick people and animals need them, FDA must end the widespread practice of using these drugs for so-called ‘disease prevention’ and set clear targets for antibiotics reduction in the industry,” the group said.

The FDA’s announcement comes shortly after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that it would not follow the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines that similarly call for stringent  cutbacks of antibiotics on factory farms.

“The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science,” the USDA’s acting chief scientist said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responding to criticisms that it has failed to reign in the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. In a new sta...
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Adidas will only use recycled plastics by 2024

The global sportswear company is joining the fight against plastic

Adidas reported on Monday that it will be committing to only using recycled plastics by 2024.

The company pledged to stop using “virgin” plastic in all of its stores, warehouses, offices, distribution centers, and retail outlets, saving an estimated 40 tons of plastic per year starting this year. Eliminating “virgin” plastic also includes polyester, a material popular in tons of Adidas products -- everything from sports bras to t-shirts -- because it absorbs sweat.

Adidas also reported that its spring and summer 2019 apparel lines will contain over 40 percent recycled polyester. Additionally, the company is expecting an uptick in its Parley shoes -- shoes made out of plastic waste that’s been saved from ending up in the ocean. Despite representing only a small portion of global sales (with only one million pairs sold in 2017), the company is expecting sales to jump to five million pairs this year.

Adidas continues the fight for sustainability

The decision to use strictly recycled plastics shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to consumers, as last month Adidas made strides in the sustainability arena with the launch of its Parley Z.N.E. hoodie.

“Parley is a global network where creators, thinkers, and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction,” the company wrote in a statement last month.

“Adidas and Parley joined forces in 2015 and among the many activities supporting the implementation of the Parley AIR strategy, the two work together to transform plastic intercepted from beaches and in coastal environments into high-performance sportswear. Collectively, they spin the problem of marine plastic pollution into a solution, the threat into thread.”

The fight against plastic

Adidas is the latest company joining the global fight to reduce plastic waste.

Earlier this month, Starbucks announced it would be eliminating plastic straws entirely by 2020. The coffee chain will begin phasing plastic straws out of all of its stores, with the transition expected to be complete by 2020. The initiative will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year.

Instead of straws, the company will be using strawless lids for many of its cold beverages. While some beverages --including  many blended drinks -- will have dome lids, customers will be able to use straws made out of paper or compostable plastic, but only upon request.

“Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species,” said Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at World Wildlife Fund. “We hope others will follow in [Starbucks’] footsteps.”

Additionally, McDonald’s will be eliminating plastic straws from its U.K. and Ireland stores by next year. Earlier this year, the fast food chain announced it would be using paper straws at many of its U.K. and Ireland locations.

The company said it would begin moving straws behind the counter and only offering them to customers upon request. The fast food giant has also set a goal to source 100 percent of its food packaging from renewable or recycled sources in all of its locations by 2025.

Adidas reported on Monday that it will be committing to only using recycled plastics by 2024.The company pledged to stop using “virgin” plastic in all...
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California way ahead of schedule for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

The state has already hit its goal for 2020

California, the most populous state in the nation, has hit its 2020 target for cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.

The California Air Resources Board released data this week that showed greenhouse gas emissions dropped to 424.9 million metric tons in 2016 -- below the target of 431 million metric tons for 2020. In 2015, the total was 441.4 million metric tons throughout the state. The greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2.7 percent in 2016 and is on the right track to meet its goal of 40 percent reduction by 2030.

These numbers are less than the 431 million metric tons the state produced in 1990. When California’s greenhouse gas emissions levels peaked in 2004, regulators passed a law requiring  the state’s emissions to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Since the peak in 2004, emissions have dropped 13 percent.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress, and delivered results,” said Governor Jerry Brown.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in 2006 that committed California to setting such rigorous goals for 2020.

“Surpassing our 2020 emissions goal ahead of schedule while our economy grows by a nation-leading 4.9 percent and our unemployment rate is at a historic low should send a message to politicians all over the country: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel -- just copy us,” Schwarzenegger said.

How California did it

When looking at the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the data has been broken up into seven different categories: transportation, industrial, agriculture, electric power, high GWP, commercial and residential, and recycling and waste.

Industrial and electrical power dropped the most since the state enacted its green initiative. The combination of an uptick in solar electricity and hydroelectric power led to a 15 percent decrease in using natural gas for electricity.

However, despite the positive steps, some categories continued to rise. Greenhouse gas emissions increased from passenger vehicles. Drivers in California are buying more gas-powered cars, despite the benefits and incentives of buying electric-powered vehicles, which is likely due to the higher prices of electric-powered vehicles.

Regulators say the report shows that states are capable of pursuing their own paths towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In order for California to reach its 2030 goal, greenhouse gas emissions must continue to drop as much as they did in both 2015 and 2016.

California, the most populous state in the nation, has hit its 2020 target for cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.The California Air Resources Bo...
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Elon Musk pledges to fix Flint water contamination

Tesla’s founder says he will cover the cost of adding filters to houses that still have contaminated water

Tech billionaire Elon Musk has pledged to fund the securing of clean water for any homes in Flint, Michigan that still have contaminated water.

“Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination,” the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said in a tweet Wednesday. “No kidding.”

Musk followed up with another tweet acknowledging that many homes in Flint have safe water; however he said he would organize an effort to add filters to houses that are still dealing with foul water.

“Most houses in Flint have safe water, but they’ve lost faith in govt test results,” he said. “Some houses are still outliers. Will organize a weekend in Flint to add filters to those houses with issues & hopefully fix perception of those that are actually good.”

The Flint water crisis

Musk called on Flint residents to reply to his tweet with test results showing contamination above the recommended limits. "Creating email flint@x.com, but I'm in China so that won't be working until tomorrow," he added.

The Flint water scandal unfolded four years ago when lead leached from old pipes after the city began using the Flint River without adding corrosion-control chemicals.

Earlier this month, Musk supported a program to give bicycles to children in Flint. Musk’s latest effort to help residents of Flint with lead-tainted water comes days after his attempt to help a Thai youth soccer team that was trapped in a cave.

On Thursday morning, Musk tweeted that he will call Flint’s mayor on Friday to discuss the city’s specific needs.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk has pledged to fund the securing of clean water for any homes in Flint, Michigan that still have contaminated water. “Please...
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Starbucks to eliminate plastic straws by 2020

The coffee chain joins other companies that are seeking to curb plastic pollution

Starbucks announced on Monday that it intends to phase out plastic straws at all of its stores. The transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids with a raised lip is expected to be completed by 2020.

The initiative will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year, the company said.

"For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways," said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

Strawless lids

A strawless lid, designed and manufactured by the company, will take the place of plastic straws in all of the coffee giant’s iced beverages. The new lids -- which have drawn comparisons to “adult sippy cups” -- will be introduced to stores in Seattle and Vancouver this fall; they will be rolled out gradually to additional locations in the U.S. and Canada next year.  

The chain’s Frappuccino beverages will still come with dome lids, but with straws made from more environmentally friendly materials. Straws made of paper or compostable plastic will be available to customers who need or prefer one, but only upon request.

Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered, recently banned plastic straws and utensils at all of its bars and restaurants. Starbucks said it has poured more than $10 million into developing recyclable, compostable cups for its hot beverages.

Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced that it would start phasing out straws in 1,300 of its U.K. restaurants and replacing them with paper straws. The company announced in June that it plans to test the use of paper straws at select U.S. locations later this year.

The initiatives come amid expert predictions that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

"Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species," said Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at World Wildlife Fund, US, in a statement. "We hope others will follow in [Starbucks'] footsteps."

Starbucks announced on Monday that it intends to phase out plastic straws at all of its stores. The transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids with...
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Seattle bans plastic straws and utensils

The city’s plastic straw ban follows efforts made by others to curb plastic pollution

Seattle has become the latest city to crack down on the use of single-use plastic products.

On Sunday, the city implemented a ban on plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks at all food service businesses -- including restaurants, grocery stores, delis, coffee shops, food trucks, and institutional cafeterias.

Businesses that violate the order could face a $250 fine. The ban states that food service businesses can opt for straws and utensils made from more environmentally friendly materials.

“Compliant options include durable or compostable utensils, straws, and cocktail picks. Compliant straws include those made of compostable paper or compostable plastic,” Seattle Public Utilities said in a letter. “Utensils banned include disposable plastic forks, plastic spoons, plastic knives, and plastic cocktail picks.”

The city also suggests that businesses only provide approved utensils upon request.

Fighting pollution

About 500 million straws are used by Americans each day, according to the National Park Service. Single-use straws are a major contributor to marine water pollution, since a majority aren’t recycled.

A number of businesses and cities have set out to reduce their negative impact on the environment through banning one-time use straws.

In March, the City Council of Malibu, California voted to ban single-use plastic straws and cutlery within city limits by June 1. In May, a legislation was proposed that would ban plastic straws and stirrers in all venues across New York City.

McDonald’s announced earlier this year that it would start phasing out straws in 1,300 of its U.K. restaurants and replacing them with paper straws. The company followed that up in June by announcing plans to test the use of paper straws at select U.S. locations later this year.

The initiatives come amid expert predictions that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Seattle’s new ban on plastic straws and utensils follows other efforts made by the city to reduce the amount of waste it produces. In 2009, Seattle banned Styrofoam. The following year, the city made it a requirement that "food service items" -- with the exception of straws and utensils -- be either recyclable or compostable.

“Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world’s oceans, and I’m proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban,” Mami Hara, the general manager of Seattle Public Utilities, told KOMO News.

Seattle has become the latest city to crack down on the use of single-use plastic products.On Sunday, the city implemented a ban on plastic straws, ute...
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Judge dismisses lawsuit against five major oil companies

Two cities believe the companies should pay for costs related to climate change

A San Francisco federal judge has ruled in favor of five big oil companies in a lawsuit brought by two California cities, Oakland and San Francisco, over the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility in paying for the cost of climate change.

Judge William Alsup didn’t dispute the science of climate change, but he said it was a matter of the law. “This order accepts the science behind global warming,” Judge Alsup said in his order. However, “the issue is not over science. The issue is a legal one,” he said.

Judge Alsup ruled in favor of the defendants -- Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP. The companies argued that the case should be dismissed because the courts were not the proper venue to address climate change.

“The court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches,” Alsup wrote.

Public nuisance law

The lawsuits said that Big Oil created a public nuisance and that the companies should pay for sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against the damage from global warming and sea level rise.

However, if the courts determined that oil and gas production was a public nuisance, it would “invade the prerogatives of Congress and the executive branch,” Theodore Boutrous, the lawyer representing Chevron, said in a hearing.

“Earlier attempts to use nuisance claims in lawsuits about climate change have been heard under federal law in cases such as American Electric Power v. Connecticut, but none have succeeded,” the New York Times reports.

“In a unanimous 2011 decision, the Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act displaced the federal common law of nuisance, leaving enforcement and regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Alsup said that although it's "true" that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has contributed to global warming, we have all benefited from fuel and coal. “Development of our modern world has literally been fuelled by oil and coal,” he wrote.

"The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case," Judge Alsup concluded.

A San Francisco federal judge has ruled in favor of five big oil companies in a lawsuit brought by two California cities, Oakland and San Francisco, over t...
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Bayer and Monsanto merger wins regulatory approval

The deal will create the world’s biggest seeds and pesticides maker

Bayer has won U.S. antitrust approval for its $66 billion takeover of Monsanto on the condition that it sells about $9 billion in agricultural businesses and assets, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

The deal, which the companies first announced in September 2016, has already received approval from regulators in the European Union, Russia, and Brazil. The DOJ approval was the last major regulatory hurdle in creating the largest seed and agricultural-chemicals provider in the world.

The $9 billion divestiture package is the largest in a U.S. merger enforcement case, said Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

Addresses antitrust concerns

In its original form, the Bayer-Monsanto deal would likely have led to "higher prices, lower quality and fewer choices" for many seed and crop protection products, the DOJ said. It would also have "threatened to stifle the innovation in agricultural technologies that has delivered significant benefits to American farmers and consumers.”

The revised deal "preserves competition in the sale of these critical agricultural products and protects American farmers and consumers," Delrahim said. “We commend the parties for working with the Antitrust Division to resolve our concerns on behalf of American consumers.”

Under the proposed settlement, Bayer will sell its canola, soybean, and vegetable seed businesses, as well as its Liberty herbicide business, which competes with Monsanto’s Roundup. The company will also sell its digital farming business, as well as "certain intellectual property and research capabilities, including 'pipeline' R&D projects," according to the Justice Department.

“Receipt of the DOJ’s approval brings us close to our goal of creating a leading company in agriculture,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement. “We want to help farmers across the world grow more nutritious food in a more sustainable way.”

Corporate power

Critics of the merger argue that the deal will place too much power in the hands of one agribusiness giant.

“The Trump DOJ just waved through a merger that will consolidate the world’s food supply and agriculture industry into fewer hands. I hate to imagine the control Bayer-Monsanto will have over every farmer in the United States,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Ill).

Bayer has defended the deal by saying Monsanto’s expertise in agriculture and seeds will help to increase agricultural productivity as the world’s population grows.

"Farmers will benefit from a range of new, superior solutions aimed at helping to advance the next generation of farming and to address some of society's most pressing challenges," the company says on a website advocating for the settlement.

Bayer has until June 14 to close its purchase of Monsanto. The company has said that it’s confident the deal will go through.

Bayer has won U.S. antitrust approval for its $66 billion takeover of Monsanto on the condition that it sells about $9 billion in agricultural businesses a...
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New York City to consider a ban on plastic straws

The growing issue of plastic pollution has led to the proposed legislation

On Wednesday, Democratic City Council Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would ban plastic straws and stirrers in all venues across New York City. Everywhere from coffee shops and bars to restaurants and stadiums would no longer provide customers with plastic straws.

Plastic pollution has been a growing concern in New York, as well as in other parts of the country, and under Espinal’s legislation, plastic would be replaced with metal. People with disabilities or medical conditions would not be subject to the proposed law, but for all others, breaking the law would result in a $100 fine.

“One place in Brooklyn reported using 1.5 million straws throughout the year,” Espinal said. “It’s important for New Yorkers to understand that the plastic straw is not a necessity; it’s more of a luxury, and our luxury is causing great harm to other environments.”

If the law passes, New York would join Malibu, Seattle, and Miami Beach in other states that have already banned plastic straws. Internationally, Vancouver has voted to ban plastic straws, while Scotland and Taiwan aren’t far behind permanent bans. Additionally, New York would become the largest city in the world to ban plastic straws thus far.

Environmental consequences push the bill

According to Eco-cycle, Americans use approximately 500 million straws per day - which is roughly 1.6 straws per person per day. On that same note, up to 12 million metric tons of plastic end up in oceans each year.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) supports Espinal’s bill, with Executive Vice President John Calvelli reporting that plastic straws are one of the top ten sources of beach litter. “The sad thing is that probably by 2050 there will be more plastic, by weight, in the ocean, than fish,” he said.

WCS has created its own campaign -- Give a Sip -- to highlight the environmental damages of disposable straws.

“Through local field research, policy initiatives, and public outreach, our team seeks to protect and restore threatened species and critical habitats, encourage smart ocean planning to ensure a safe place for wildlife in our busy waters, and build ecological resilience in nearshore and river habitats,” the Give A Sip website reads.

The Give A Sip campaign reports that 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. In Spain this past April, a dead whale washed onto shore with over over 60 pounds of garbage -- primarily consisting of plastic -- in its body.

“I’ve become more concerned about single-use plastic, when we have a federal government rolling back any environmental progress that we’ve made in the last eight years,” Espinal said. “It’s important that our cities take the lead. All plastic, whether it be a bag or a straw, is having a detrimental impact on our environment. It’s easy to drink your iced coffee or cocktail at night without a piece of plastic in it.”

Other attempts to curb plastic

Straws are the latest piece of plastic legislators are going after in an attempt to reduce pollution; however, efforts have been far more successful abroad than here in the U.S.

In February, the government of Taiwan announced that it will be banning most single-use plastic items -- such as straws, bags, and cups -- by 2030. Similarly, Scotland announced that it will be banning cotton-tipped plastic ear swabs and straws by 2019. The UK recently banned microbeads -- the small plastic beads commonly found in exfoliants and other body washes.

Stateside, two Hawaii hotels -- the Modern Honolulu and the Hilton Waikoloa VIllage -- stopped serving guests drinks with plastic straws. The hotels will now be serving drinks straw-less, unless guests request a straw, in which case it will be a paper straw. Portland farm-to-table restaurants have followed suit, as did restaurants in Davis, California.

Perhaps the biggest name to ban straws as of late is McDonald’s. The fast food giant will start phasing out straws in 1,300 of its U.K. restaurants starting this May and replacing them with paper straws. Moreover, the company will not be handing out straws to every customer; instead workers will keep them behind the counter and give them to customers upon request.

In regards to banning straws in NYC, Espinal is confident his bill will prove to be beneficial for New Yorkers, unlike Governor Cuomo’s April 2017 proposal to instate a five-cent charge on each plastic bag used by consumers throughout the state.

“I don’t believe there are any huge obstacles,” Espinal said. “It’s not like plastic bags, where consumers felt it was important for them to carry out their groceries. A straw is not a necessity for most New Yorkers, so I think this is more of a change of thinking.”

On Wednesday, Democratic City Council Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would ban plastic straws and stirrers in all venues across New York City. Every...
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Lyft announces plan to go completely carbon neutral

The ride-hailing service says it will invest millions in carbon offsets

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer announced Thursday that all Lyft rides are now carbon neutral thanks to the transportation service’s multimillion-dollar investment in carbon offset programs.

Lyft will balance out its vehicles’ emissions by investing in an undisclosed number of environmental and sustainability efforts. The company anticipates neutralizing “over a million metric tons of carbon” in just the first year of utilizing carbon offsets.

"Lyft rides are now carbon-neutral through the direct funding of emission mitigation efforts, including the reduction of emissions in the automotive manufacturing process, renewable energy programs, forestry projects, and the capture of emissions from landfills," Zimmer wrote.

Combating climate change

The decision to go carbon neutral is rooted in the fact that Lyft is aware of transportation’s harsh impact on the environment.

“The stark reality is that transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the company’s co-founders wrote. “As a growing part of the transportation ecosystem, we are holding ourselves accountable to being part of the solution.”

“This action is not the full solution, but a real step forward,” Zimmer and Green added.

An expensive endeavor

The company will invest millions in balancing out its carbon footprint. Lyft says it will be teaming up with an organization called 3Degrees, which oversees the registration and independent verification of carbon-offset projects.

“The majority of these projects will be in close proximity to our largest markets, and all projects will be US-based,” the co-founders wrote.

Lyft’s eco-friendly aspirations were initially born of President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord. After the decision was made, Lyft hired its own climate advisor and joined “We Are Still In” -- a coalition of businesses and local governments who pledged to continue to uphold the agreement.

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer announced Thursday that all Lyft rides are now carbon neutral thanks to the transportation service’s multimillion-dollar invest...
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Plastic-eating enzyme could help solve the world’s pollution problem

Researchers believe the accidental discovery could be adapted at the industrial level

An international team of researchers may have accidentally engineered an enzyme that could help mitigate the global plastic pollution crisis.

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, of which hundreds of millions of tons are produced each year in the form of plastic bottles. PET plastics, which were first patented in the 1940s, can linger in the environment for centuries.

However, researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory say they may have serendipitously discovered an enzyme that can eat PET plastic.

How the enzyme was discovered

The discovery was made while examining the structure of a natural enzyme believed to have come of age in a Japanese recycling center. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic.

When the team tweaked the structure of the enzyme by adding some amino acids, tests showed that it made the molecule even better at breaking down PET plastic.

“What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said lead researcher John McGeehan, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The enzyme’s plastic-eating abilities were enhanced by the slight alteration, which McGeehan says is “really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimize the enzyme even further.”

The discovery could be a step toward eliminating the huge swaths of plastic waste often found floating in oceans or washed up on beaches all over the world, the researchers said.

Speeding up the enzyme

The researchers are currently working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to quickly break down plastics.

"Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception," said McGeehan. "Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics."

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An international team of researchers may have accidentally engineered an enzyme that could help mitigate the global plastic pollution crisis.The enzyme...
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Study says most tap water contains plastic particles

Researchers say the environment is now filled with plastic

An international study has claimed that 83% of tap water samples tested contained tiny particles of plastic.

The study, published by Orb Media, says the health implications are not clear, but probably aren't good. It notes that microplastics -- the name given to these tiny particles -- have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals.

While the world-wide average of water samples containing plastic was more than 80%, the U.S. and Lebanon had the highest rate -- 94%. Europe was among the lowest, at 72%.

How it gets in the water

So, how does this plastic get into our water? The authors say it's not that surprising, given how prevalent plastic is in the world. They say synthetic clothing like fleece, acrylic, and polyester shed thousands of microfibers with every wash. An estimated million tons of these microfibers are discharged into waste water each year, the authors contend, making their way into the environment.

And that's just one source. The researchers say styrene butadiene dust from rubber tires are constantly released into the environment as cars and trucks are driven. There are even microplastics in paint.

And then there is all the plastic that is simply discarded. Plastic doesn't degrade but it does get smaller and, over time, can break down into smaller and smaller particles. The authors contend the world has produced more plastic in the last ten years than in the entire 20th century.

Orb Media describes itself as an organization that produces journalism covering eight core issues, many of which are environmental in nature.

An international study has claimed that 83% of tap water samples tested contained tiny particles of plastic.The study, published by Orb Media, says the...
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'Clean meat' start-up corrals some big-time investors

Food industry behemoth Cargill sees the potential to produce meat without killing animals

Mempis Meat isn't in Memphis and the meat it manufactures doesn't come directly from animals, but that hasn't stopped it from landing $17 million from such well-known investors as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and food industry giant Cargill. 

The beefy investment was announced yesterday, setting off a burst of excitement in "clean meat" circles. 

"Today is a watershed day for our environment, for sustainable food production, for global health, and for animals," said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute.  

What is this clean meat anyway? It's sort of a way to have your meat and eat it too -- it's meat that has the same chemical composition as dead-animal meat. The difference is that instead of being raised on the hoof, so to speak, clean meat is made in the lab, using self-reproducing cells identical to those found in living animals.

The process is touted as beneficial because it reduces the pollution produced by large herds of animals. Also, in a world increasingly populated by consumers who want to promote kindness to animals, it doesn't require raising and slaughtering living creatures. Of course, it also means that fewer animals will get to experience life on earth, but that's perhaps a question for another day. 

“We’re going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way,” said Uma Valeti, M.D., co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, in a press release. “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions.

"Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health," Valeti said.

"Protein market"

For its part, Cargill says the investment "is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market."

You won't find clean meat at the supermarket quite yet, though. Memphis Meats is very much a start-up and is still working towards bringing down the price of its product and clearing regulatory hurdles.

Valeti says it now costs the company less than $2,400 to make a pound of meat -- still a pretty hefty price but a lot less than the $18,000 it cost last year.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department will have to sign off on the process. Before doing that, they'll need to be convinced that clean meat is fit to eat.

Mempis Meat isn't in Memphis and the meat it manufactures doesn't come directly from animals, but that hasn't stopped it from landing $17 million from such...
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Solar eclipse blamed for salmon farm bust-out

Thousands of farmed fish escaped, putting native Washington State salmon at risk

The solar eclipse didn't cause the mass havoc some had feared. There were no massive traffic pile-ups, unruly sun-watchers, or epidemics of damaged retinas. Ah, but then there are those salmon.

Washington State officials are urging the public to catch as many salmon as they can after it was discovered that high tides resulting from the eclipse damaged a net pen holding 305,000 farm salmon at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island, allowing an unknown number to escape, the Seattle Times reported.

The prison pen bust-out was discovered by fishermen over the weekend when they pulled up spotted, silvery salmon instead of the chinook they were expecting.

No one knows how many fish made the big break, but officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) say it's at least 4,000 to 5,000. The fish are about 10 pounds each. 

"High tides and currents"

Cooke is blaming the escape on “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” although the pen apparently collapsed on Saturday, a few days before the eclipse.

“It appears that many fish are still contained within the nets,” Cooke said in the statement. “It will not be possible to confirm exact numbers of fish losses until harvesting is completed and an inventory of fish in the pens has been conducted.”

Fishermen and wildlife officials are worried about the effect the farmed salmon will have on the native Atlantic salmon that inhabit the waters in the area.

WDFW officials are urging licensed fishermen to catch as many of the farmed salmon as they can. 

“Catch as many as you want,” the WDFW's Ron Warren said. “We don’t want anything competing with our natural populations. We have never seen a successful crossbreeding with Atlantic salmon, but we don’t want to test the theory.”

The solar eclipse didn't cause the mass havoc some had feared. There were no massive traffic pile-ups, unruly sun-watchers, or epidemics of damaged retinas...
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Scientists calculate the amount of plastic on earth

Most of it goes into landfills or the environment

You go into a fast-food restaurant and order a salad. It comes in a plastic bowl, covered by a clear plastic top.

The salad dressing is in a plastic bag and the utensils to eat the salad are made of plastic. They are encased in a clear plastic wrapper. When you're finished eating, all of that plastic goes into the trash.

And that's just one example of how nearly every consumer product produces some kind of plastic waste, waste that for the most part either ends up in landfills or the natural environment and doesn't break down over time.

Writing in Sciences Advances, researchers from several different universities point out that large-scale of production of plastic has only occurred since around 1950. Since then, production has surged, fueled by what is known as "single use" plastic -- material used in packaging or to produce the forks and spoons at fast-food restaurants.

8.3 billion metric tons

In that time, we've produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, the researcher write. They say their analysis is the first to look at global plastic production, how it's used and where it goes.

Of the 6.3 billion tons of plastic that becomes waste, the researchers say only 9% was recycled and 12% was incinerated. Seventy-nine percent, they say, ended up in landfills or the natural environment.

“Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, study co-author and associate professor of engineering at UGA. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.”

12 billion tons by 2050

Jambeck and her colleague say that if current trends continue, 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills or the environment by 2050. To put 12 billion tons in perspective, that's about 35,000 times as heavy at the Empire State Building.

Researchers say part of the problem is in how plastic, an incredibly durable material, is used. They point out that steel is also durable, but once it is produced it usually goes into buildings and other structures, where it stays for decades.

An increasing amount of plastic, however, falls into the "single-use" category. The plastic elements in the fast-food salad mentioned above are used just once. Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper, says half of all the world's plastic becomes waste after four or fewer years of use.

The researchers say they aren't suggesting a total removal of plastic from the marketplace. Instead, they say there needs to be a more serious examination of how plastic is used and what happens to it after.

You go into a fast-food restaurant and order a salad. It comes in a plastic bowl, covered by a clear plastic top.The salad dressing is in a plastic bag...
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How paper waste could lead to a boom in the U.S. economy

Researchers say turning lignin into carbon fiber could create jobs in rural America

Companies often talk about reducing their carbon footprint by cutting down on waste, but could all that extra carbon that’s out there actually fuel American industry?

Researchers from Texas A&M seem to think so. Dr. Joshua Yuan and his colleagues say that waste material from the paper and pulp industry could be repurposed to make all sorts of products, from tennis rackets to entire cars. The secret, they say, is collecting and repurposing a substance called lignin that is found in all that waste.

"People have been thinking about using lignin to make carbon fiber for many years, but achieving good quality has been an issue,” said Yuan. “We have overcome one of the industry’s most challenging issues by discovering how to make good quality carbon fiber from waste.”

Carbon fiber production

In basic terms, lignin is a class of organic materials that helps form the tissues and structural walls in certain plants and algae. The researchers say that about 50 million tons of lignin is thrown away each year in products disposed of by the paper and pulp industry.

Initially, the research team found some initial success in making fuel and bioproducts from lignin, but the processes involved still led to a lot of waste. That’s when they started thinking outside the box and considered making other products.

“We separated lignin into different parts, and then we found that certain parts of lignin are very good for high quality carbon fiber manufacturing,” explains Yuan. “We are still improving and fine-tuning the quality, but eventually this carbon fiber could be used for windmills, sport materials, and even bicycles and cars…Carbon Fiber is much lighter but has the same mechanical strength as other materials used for those products now. This material can be used for a lot of different applications.

Creating U.S. jobs

The researchers believe that the process they’re developing makes complete use of lignin and dramatically cuts down on waste. They say that certain parts of the substance could be used to make anything from bioplastics to asphalt binder modifiers that are used to make roads.

Perhaps best of all, Yuan points out that the sustainable nature of lignin allows for an economic return that would create jobs and fuel economic growth in rural areas of the U.S. where production would most likely take place.

“The entire supply chain is in the United States, which means the jobs would be here. The biomass is grown, harvested and transported here. It would be difficult to ever ship that much waste to another country for production. It all stays here…It would put agriculture production and industry together in a bioeconomy making renewable products,” he said.

The full study has been published in Green Chem.

Companies often talk about reducing their carbon footprint by cutting down on waste, but could all that extra carbon that’s out there actually fuel America...
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Feds deny bid to ban agricultural pesticide

Environmentalists say chlorpyrifos poses hazard to consumers and farm workers

As environmentalists are learning, the Trump administration takes a very different approach to environmental matters than its predecessor.

At midweek, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide in agriculture. Under the Obama administration, the EPA had planned to impose a rule that would have effectively banned its use, citing research linking it to damage to the central nervous system.

Because of a court order, the current administration said it had until the end of this week to decide whether or not to ban the chemical, as environmental groups had filed suit to force it to do. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency would not ban the pesticide as he issued an EPA Order.

“In this Order, EPA denies a petition requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos under section 408(d) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act,” Pruitt wrote. “The petition was filed in September 2007 by the Pesticide Action Network North America (P ANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).”

The petition was never formally acted upon during Obama's two terms, but in 2015 the administration announced its intentions to impose rules that would not allow for any trace residues of the chemical on food. In announcing his decision to deny the petition, Pruitt said it was based on science rather than “pre-determined results.”

Environmental groups react

“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Senior Scientist at NRDC.

Kristin Schafer, policy director at PANNA, accused the EPA of caving to corporate pressure and of failing “to follow overpowering scientific evidence of harm to children’s brains.”

According to a pesticide information network, established by Cornell and several other universities, Chlorpyrifos is known as a broad spectrum insecticide. It was introduced in 1965 and used primarily to kill mosquitoes, but it's no longer approved for that use.

It is effective at controlling a variety of insects and is currently used on both food and non-food agricultural products.

The network also notes the chemical is “moderately toxic to humans.” It says studies have show that poisoning from chlorpyrifos may affect the central nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system.

As environmentalists are learning, the Trump administration takes a very different approach to environmental matters than its predecessor.At midweek, t...
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Warm temperatures, not just drought, are shrinking the Colorado River, study says

The lifeblood of the Southwest is losing its flow

The American Southwest as we know it today would not exist without the Colorado River. Spanning 1,450 miles through the region, the river irrigates farms, creates hydro-power, provides drinking water to millions and is a source of fun and beauty in federally-recognized recreation areas and parks along the route.

“We couldn’t inhabit the Southwest, with its large areas of desert, without a big river running through the middle of it,” according to to the author of a two-year-old report which found that the river is responsible for $1.4 trillion worth of economic activity.

All of which is to say, government agencies need to act fast if they want to preserve the economy of the Southwest. New research from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University shows that warming temperatures are causing the Colorado River to shrink.

A 21st-Century Decline

In the 21st century, from 2000 through 2014, the river’s flow reached only 81 percent of its 20th century average, the researchers found. They attributed that change in flow to warming temperatures, saying this is the first study of its kind to trace a direct link between global warming and the decreased Colorado River flow.

"The future of Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed,” co-author Bradly Udall told ScienceDaily. “A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows." 

Not that previous assessments of the Colorado River have actually been rosy. A longtime drought has diminished water in the region since 2000. Government officials and researchers have warned that the agriculture industry will need to dramatically cut back on its water usage in the years to come as a result. And the Bureau of Reclamation this month forecast that there is a 34 percent chance the river will not be able to fulfill the needs of all the states depending on it in 2018.

But the drought has only accounted for two-thirds of the river’s decline, according to the latest research from the Colorado and Arizona researchers. The remaining third of the loss, they say, is literally caused by climate change.

Warmer temperatures have been causing the moisture in the river basin’s waterways to evaporate, according to their research. The findings mean that even an end to the drought may not restore the river to previous levels. “We can’t say with any certainty that precipitation is going to increase and come to our rescue,” Udall explained in another interview.

Conservationists sue to prevent drilling

Yet even as farmers, the real estate industry, and consumers anticipate cutbacks, conservationists worry that other industries may want to build new infrastructure along the Colorado River Basin and get their share. The Bureau of Land Management’s resource management plans currently allow for oil and gas drilling in the Colorado Basin area.

Last fall, the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue the BLM if the agency would not promise to block all new oil and gas development in the upper basin of the river. Part of the concern, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Wendy Park tells ConsumerAffairs, is that fracking or drilling in the basin would require companies “to use tremendous amounts of water,” water she worries would likely come from the Colorado River.

But there have been some hopeful developments. Since being threatened with the suit, the BLM has agreed to do a new evaluation into the effects of industry in the region, called a programmatic biological opinion, which Park anticipates will be ready in the spring. 

The American Southwest as we know it today would not exist without the Colorado River. Spanning 1,450 miles through the region, the river irrigates farms,...
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Witnesses describe heavily-armed police presence invading Standing Rock protest

One officer is heard asking another to pose for a photograph with a protester who says his hip is broken

Numerous law enforcement agencies descended on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation Thursday to evict the self-styled water protectors who had camped out for months in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The target of the federal and local agencies is the Oceti Sakowin camp, which is directly next to the reservation but on land that authorities claim belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers. While many protesters have agreed to cross the frozen Cannonball River to the reservation side, others have pledged to passively resist the federal orders and remain at Oceti Sakowin until the end.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which late last year promised to open a new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline and began that review process this month, has since abandoned those plans, and on February 7 granted Energy Transfer Partners its necessary easement to drill under Lake Oahe. At the same time, the Corps also issued a February 22 deadline for people to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, citing spring flooding. 

Arrests began Wednesday as promised, but police left before the Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared, reports on the ground indicate. Late Thursday afternoon, heavily armed police entered Oceti Sakowin again and finished their raid. Footage posted by protesters and independent media shows law enforcement pointing guns at a tipi and at a person kneeling in prayer. Witnesses say that veterans, reporters, and water protectors are all being swept up in arrests.

“The people are unarmed, singing and praying in front of police with guns drawn,” writes Ruth Hopkins, who has been covering the #NODAPL environmental and spiritual movement for Indian Country Today. 

Citizen journalist says officers broke his hip

On Wednesday afternoon, one person filming from the front lines of the police raid, from a public Facebook account called Eric Poemz, captured himself getting tackled by law enforcement officers.

Before his arrest, Eric Poemz was filming officers as they blocked the road. Facing the line of officers, Poemz tells them he is unarmed and repeatedly tries convincing them to join his cause. He notes that they do not have identification badges on. "By law, you're supposed to have a badge on, and none of you do."

Later, one officer in particular captures his attention. "You're an honorable man,” Eric Poemz tells the officer. “I know you have a job to do and a family to provide for. But why do it protecting oil? That’s all we're trying to do, sir, is protect the water. I know you're looking at me and you just shook your head, ‘Yes,’ because I know you have a heart you have a soul.”

"Why don’t you be honorable and set down your badge now, in front of 6,100 people,” Poemz adds, referencing the number of people watching his live stream. 

But whatever perceived connection he finds with the officer vanishes as people are suddenly seen running, and the phone appears to land roughly on the ground. Suddenly, the video’s narrator is screaming in pain and telling the officers on top of him that he has a broken hip. 

The officers agree to call an ambulance for him but reprimand Poemz for being there. “You had a deadline and you violated it,” one cop says, referencing the federal eviction deadline. 

"Nice and comfy"

Another cop then sounds as if he is taking a photograph of Poemz, and asks a fellow officer to pose with him. A voice is heard saying: "I’m going to get a picture of you two, you want to lay down nice and comfy next to him or should we get him up? He says he has a broken hip."  

The officers later promise to get him help but not without lecturing him, revealing yet again a deep ideological divide between the protesters and law enforcement. "Listen, if you quit playing games, we're not here to hurt you, just cut your stupid shit,” an officer says. 

"My hip is probably broken, sir, I’m not playing,” Poemz responds. 

"If that’s the case you’ll get medical attention, you’ll be treated with respect, so why don’t you start treating us with some respect? You've been disrespecting this whole area, you've been disrespecting your state and us for six months. Knock it off."

On the telephone, Morton County Sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller tells ConsumerAffairs he does not know why an officer would pose for a picture next to an injured person being arrested, but he would not comment on the specifics of the video because he says he had not yet viewed it.

In an email, Morton County spokesman Maxine Kerr offers this explanation: “It is very difficult to tell who is being told to lie down and be comfy. It is typical for LE (law enforcement) to try to make injured arrestees comfortable until the ambulance arrives. Sometimes LE does have a picture taken with an arrestee if it is a mass arrest to help document arresting officers. However, photos like this were not done yesterday because there were not that many arrests and LE clearly knew who was doing the arrests.” 

It's not clear whether the officers came from Morton County or a different local agency, as officers from other municipalities and neighboring states were also participating in the raid. 

Limited coverage of casino arrests and raid

Mainstream news presence at the raid itself appeared to be minimal, as any person who remains at the Oceti Sakowin camp risks arrest. A small, nonprofit news site called Unicorn Riot was live-streaming the raid. Mainstream news networks, however, have for the most part remained in a separate staging area that is approved by law enforcement, reporters on the ground say.

“They had little tents set up in their microwave trucks [trucks that broadcast television news],” says Dennis Ward, a reporter with Canada’s Aboriginal News Network, describing the media staging area. “By the time people actually did anything yesterday all of those microwave trucks were gone.”

Ward says his own network also had media credentials which would have allowed him and his coworkers to report from the protected staging area. But they instead opted to report from the camp itself, sleeping in their news truck over the course of eight days.  

The Standing Rock Sioux’s Prairie Knights Casino, where people for months have huddled in the lobby to take a break from the cold, has become another unlikely battle ground between protesters, media, and police. On Wednesday night, after eight days of reporting from the Oceti Sakowin camp, Ward says he and his crew booked a hotel room at the casino. As they enjoyed a warm dinner, Ward says, a group of law enforcement suddenly approached a table of people eating next to them and escorted them all outside to make arrests.

“It looked like the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs],” making the arrests, Ward says, though, with so many agencies swarming, “it’s getting hard to tell who’s who down here.” Why the diners next to him were getting arrested remained unclear, Ward says. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which had announced earlier this month that it was sending agents to evict protesters from the encampments, has not yet returned a message from ConsumerAffairs.

In another confrontation in the casino lobby Wednesday, captured and posted on Facebook, a group of officers surrounded two men and accused them of passing something to each other. "We got a call from security and surveillance saying we've seen you guys passing something around,” an officer says. The officers order one of the men, who claims to be a veteran, to turn around so they can arrest him. The vet raises his arms but hasn’t yet turned his back when the officers suddenly shoot him with a Taser gun.

Federal authorities and local police promised to return to the Oceti Sakowin camp Thursday morning to finish their so-called clean-up. By the afternoon, water protectors watching the camp from across the Cannonball River, safely on the reservation side, reported that authorities had entered Oceti Sakowin and were making more arrests of the protesters who remained in passive resistance.

“They have entered camp.. Sound cannon, weapons, helicopters, snipers, heavily armed (LIVE ROUNDS),” says one post.  “Many arrest are happening. I stayed as long as I could & hold it down for the people.” The Seattle Times reported on Thurday that a total of 39 hold-outs had been arrested. 

Numerous law enforcement agencies descended on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation Thursday to evict the s...
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Is recycling really the best way to keep plastic out of the oceans?

Op-ed suggests that landfills keep plastic where it belongs -- in the earth

Confession time. I throw plastic into the garbage.

What? Don’t you recycle plastic?

No. I most certainly do not. You see, I care about the environment.

Coming soon to an alternative theatre near you, the eco-documentary "Midway" invites you to take a journey “across an ocean of grief, and beyond.” Sea birds die agonizing deaths after ingesting bits of plastic that collect in gigantic oceanic whirlpools called gyres. For years this has prompted environmentalists to ask, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time?”

Before we get to that reality, can I first ask, is there a shortage of sea birds I’m not aware of? There must be billions of them along the coastlines of the United States alone. But all right… I don’t want animals to suffer. And besides, the plastic debris is also fatal to fish. So, here’s the reality.

The notion that recycling plastic will prevent sea birds from dying is false. It turns out recycling is the source of the problem here, not the solution.

Trash discarded into landfills is perfectly safe, buried under layer upon layer of tons of soil. Very little plastic trash escapes a landfill, thus protecting sea birds everywhere. And besides, plastic originates in the soil from fossilized plants, so it’s best to put it right back in the soil when we’re done with it.

By contrast, there are many points in the recycling process where recyclables escape into the environment, beginning right at your curbside, followed by the sorely imperfect processes of transportation, handling, and storage, all of which occurs outdoors since it would be extremely cost-ineffective to handle and store plastic trash indoors. It’s just trash, after all.

Wind blows plastic trash for miles, literally… into waterways and hence right into the world’s oceans. Then there’s the biggest breakdown in the whole recycling system. Fraud.

Since it does not pay to recycle most materials, especially plastics, subsidies keep the nation’s “green” recycling systems running every step of the way. And once such “green” subsidies are paid, is it such a leap to imagine the odd recycling tycoon choosing to avoid the expense of actually recycling all the plastic he receives? Government inspectors aren’t going to check. What would they check for? A few hundred tons of plastic missing out of thousands of tons? It’s not as if recyclable material is traceable; it’s not labelled.

Of course, if a recycler dumps a few tons of plastic into the ocean every now and then, he’ll have less recycled plastic to sell. But subsidies are paid to move plastic INTO recycling facilities, while the amount leaving is left to the whims of the open market. Meanwhile, the raw material from which new plastic is made, fossilized plants, also known as oil, costs ten times LESS than the actual expense of recycling used plastic! So, who in his right mind is bothering to pay anything close to the production cost for recycled plastic anyway?

The more plastic a recycler recycles, the more money he’s losing.

As long as the public sees government officials supporting the recycling industry, most of us remain blissfully ignorant in the belief that millions upon millions of tons of plastic are being chipped-up, melted down, and made into new plastic products somewhere by someone. It MUST be true, because recycling is good! The result, we assume, is a bit less plastic in our landfills, but the reality is more plastic in the ocean.

And for those who refuse to believe there’s fraud in the sacrosanct recycling industry, the fact remains that nothing escapes a landfill. Nothing, except maybe a few plastic bags here and there, but certainly not any of the heavy plastic bits found in the carcasses of dead sea birds.

And besides… what are all those millions of birds that live off our nation’s landfills? Oh yeah… sea birds.

Landfills are the solution here, not the problem.


Mischa Popoff is a Policy Advisor at The Heartland Institute, and is the author of "Is it Organic? The inside story of the organic industry."

Confession time. I throw plastic into the garbage.What? Don’t you recycle plastic?No. I most certainly do not. You see, I care about the environmen...
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North Dakota lawmakers prematurely celebrate approval of Dakota Access Pipeline

Authorities say pipeline completion is inevitable, but the Corps of Engineers has not yet granted a key easement

To say that North Dakota's authorities do not appreciate the Standing Rock Sioux-led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline would be a gross understatement.

The pipeline was originally slated to cross under the Missouri River near Bismarck until federal regulators expressed concern that the location was a “high consequence area” and too close to Bismarck’s municipal water supplies. The pipeline is now all but ready to cross under Lake Oahe, a dam that still connects to the Missouri River but is located next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation forty miles south of Bismarck.

Workers and equipment have been on the contested drill pad above Lake Oahe for months. The only thing standing in the way from Energy Transfer Partners finishing the job is an easement from the Corps of Engineers, which had announced in December that it was considering "alternative routes" and is now subjecting the project to further environmental review, or an Environmental Impact Statement, as it is officially called.

Local bills target protesters, federal reservation system

Literally standing in the way of the pipeline are protesters, though a bill proposed at the state level could fatally change that. North Dakota Representative Keith Kempenich has received much attention for the bill he introduced that would grant legal protection to people who “accidentally” run over protesters with their cars, should those protesters be blocking roadways.

But that’s only one of the numerous bills he has helped sponsor this legislative session pertaining to pipeline protesters. Other bills listed under Kempenich's name would do the following; order North Dakota to ask Congress "to return lands and mineral rights underlying Lake Oahe in North Dakota to the state of North Dakota," file a lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers "for an amount not less than seventeen million dollars to recover damages as a result of anti-Dakota access pipeline protests," increase penalties for criminal trespassing offenses, and ask the federal government to hand control of all American Indian polices to the states in order “to improve the failed Indian reservation system.”

On the lighter side, Kempenich has also co-sponsored a bill asking state lawmakers to make January 27, 2017 an official holiday celebrating cowboys, to be called "Day of the American Cowboy.”

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies continue to try to end the Sioux’s resistance movement head-on. Late Wednesday, heavily-armed officers from local and federal agencies raided a new encampment that protesters organized near the Lake Oahe drill site, leading to the arrests of a reported 76 protesters. Dozens of protesters have already been arrested in previous confrontations between the camps and police, with some protesters now facing felony charges.

Pro-pipeline lawmakers say easement is imminent 

President Trump’s recent memo asking for an expedited review of the pipeline didn’t change the fact that the Corps had already agreed to conduct a new Environmental Impact Statement considering alternative routes for the project back in December. Neither did the recent claims from two lawmakers that the pipeline’s necessary easement had been granted.

Senator John Hoeven, a Republican representing North Dakota, has invested in sixty-eight different oil wells in his state and has also invested in Energy Transfer Partners, as the DeSmogBlog reported last year.

A staunch supporter of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, Hoeven was also recently elected chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. On January 31, Hoeven released a statement claiming that the Dakota Access Pipeline operators received all the approval they needed to finish their project.

“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Rober Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Hoeven’s office wrote on his website. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.”

Congressman Kevin Cramer, who represents North Dakota in the House, released a similar statement assuring his constituents that the “Department of Defense is granting the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and Congressional notification is imminent.”

Still legally bound

But the reality is that the Corps is still legally bound to follow the environmental review process it initiated in December, as the Standing Rock tribe and its attorneys have argued. In fact, the Corps just this week opened up its public comment period for the pipeline, the next step in its Environmental Impact Statement process. Members of the public have until February 20 to send their thoughts on the project to the Corps. 

"The Army has initiated the steps outlined in the January 24th Presidential Directive” that asks for an expedited review of the pipeline, Corps spokesman Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost writes in an email to ConsumerAffairs, but he adds that “these initial steps do not mean the easement has been approved. The Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the pipeline once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the directive."

The reason or motivation behind the lawmakers’ premature celebrations claiming an easement had already been granted are unclear, as neither office returned messages left by ConsumerAffairs. 

Meanwhile, the NODAPL protesters, or water protectors, as they call themselves, aren’t the only environmental group to see their efforts potentially thwarted by a GOP-controlled House and Senate. 

Cramer is among the 228 congressmen in the House who recently voted to overturn a so-called stream protection rule that was implemented by the Obama administration. The rule, opponents argued, kills jobs in the coal industry. “North Dakota does not need the Stream Protection Rule and neither does the nation,“ Cramer said on the House Floor Wednesday. 

To say that North Dakota's authorities do not appreciate the Standing Rock Sioux-led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline would be a gross understateme...
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If Trump wants to fast-track oil and gas pipelines, he can thank Obama

The Obama administration issued quick permits for massive oil and gas projects

Luc Novovitch remembers being taken by surprise when he learned that a new, 148-mile natural gas pipeline was coming to the Texas county where he had served on the Commissioner’s Court, whether locals wanted it or not.

Brewster County is a rural west Texas county, the population hovering around 9,000, that is popular among tourists for its scenic views and relative short drive to the Big Bend National Park. The desolate region had no massive natural gas pipelines until last year, when Energy Transfer Partners began constructing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. 

As locals learned in 2015, swaths of land in Brewster County fall in the path of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project. The pipeline, according to operator Energy Transfer Partners, is expected to deliver 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to Mexico. Originating in Texas’ northern Pecos County, the pipeline makes its way through Central West Texas before finally terminating at the United States-Mexico border.

"The Trans-Pecos pipeline will provide new market outlets for domestically produced clean-burning natural gas, thereby encouraging continued production in the U.S. energy sector," Energy Transfer Partners says on their promotional website.

A done deal

By the time Energy Transfer Partners executive Rick Smith made a presentation to the Brewster County Commissioner’s Court about the project in April 2015, Novovitch remembers it was all but a done deal. 

“I tried to bring the attention of the feds about what was going on, and it didn't really help,” Novovitch, who is no longer on the Brewster County Commissioners Court, now tells ConsumerAffairs. 

With incoming President-elect Donald Trump expected to dismantle whatever environmental protections he can come January 20, environmentalists are concerned about what health and ecological dangers the new administration may bring.

But if Donald Trump’s agenda includes fast-tracking as many oil and gas pipelines as possible, he can thank the Obama administration. Regulations that President Barack Obama used his executive authority to enact in 2012 have allowed for expedited reviews of oil and gas pipeline projects, setting what environmentalists warn is a dangerous precedent. 

Obama counters Republican attacks with faster pipeline permits 

In March 2012, as Republicans accused Obama of dragging his feet on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline amid objections from environmentalists, the president took a trip to Cushing, Oklahoma. It was there, in the heart of oil country, that companies like Keystone XL’s Transcanada aimed to build more pipelines to transport all of the oil and gas produced by the domestic fracking boom.

“We are drilling all over the place. Right now that's not the challenge. That's not the problem. The problem in a place like Cushing is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas, in places like North Dakota and Colorado, that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needed to go," Obama told the crowd.

At that time, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum, calling for, as his memo described it, “Expedited Review of Pipeline Projects from Cushing to Port Arthur and Other Domestic Pipeline Infrastructure Projects.” The executive order sounds innocent enough, calling for public government agencies to “coordinate and expedite their reviews, consultations, and other processes as necessary" so as to create "a more efficient domestic pipeline system for the transportation of crude oil."

But people and groups that have attempted to challenge pipeline projects describe the order as little more than a gift to the oil and gas industry. “It is downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline,” National Resources Defense Council’s program officer Susan Casey-Lefkowitz warned in a blog post, shortly after Obama enacted the expedited review process. 

At the same time, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began giving the green light to oil and gas pipeline projects that pass waterways under a quick process called Nationwide Permit 12.

“While the Corps’ use of NWP [Nationwide Permit] 12 is not new,” wrote a coalition of nearly two dozen environmental groups in a recent legal objection, “it is only since 2012 that the Corps began using NWP 12 to approve massive pipeline projects." 

“To the best of our knowledge, prior to 2012, the Corps had never before used NWP 12 to permit hundreds or thousands of water crossings to approve a major pipeline project," the environmental groups added.

Complicated permitting breaks massive pipeline projects into small parts

The trick behind expedited permitting reviews is that they break up what should be one single regulatory action, evaluating the environmental impacts of a massive pipeline project as a whole, into piecemeal parts, according to Coyne Gibson, a volunteer with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. Gibson and the alliance have been trying to fight the Trans-Pecos pipeline in the courts.  

The Trans Pecos pipeline, Gibson explains, is expected to make 135 water crossings. “They claim that each of those in isolation has no significant impact," Gibson tells ConsumerAffairs. But regulators did not examine the bigger pictire, Gibson says, evaluating the impact of a natural gas pipeline making 135 waterway crossings as a whole. 

Federal energy commissioners give green light

Soon after Trans-Pecos made its presence known in Brewster County, locals like former County Commissioner Novovitch learned how limited federal involvement would be. Even though the pipeline crosses into Mexico, it flows only through one state in the United States. Federal regulators therefore classify the project as an “intrastate” pipeline.

As an intrastate project, the pipeline is subject to limited federal review, as feds claim most of that burden falls onto the state of Texas. In fact, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that only one small section of the 148-mile pipeline--just over 1,000 feet--should be subject to federal review, because that is the one section crossing the Texas border into Mexico. Otherwise, the feds and pipeline operator alike say it is merely an intrastate project. 

"From [the Texas border town of] Presidio, magically it becomes international, so they have to apply for a presidential permit, just for this section,” Novovitch tells Consumer Affairs.”This is ridiculous. It’s an artifice. I kept asking FERC to consider the cumulative impacts.”

The calls from Novovitch and other pipeline opponents to federal regulators were not heeded. “We have determined that if constructed in accordance with its application and supplements,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wrote about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline January 2016, “approval of this proposal would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” FERC officially granted the company its presidential permit in May 2016.

Pipes dot the hills of the Big Bend region, but much of the project is already buried. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline, according to Energy Transfer Partners, is expected to be in service by March 2017.

Luc Novovitch remembers being taken by surprise when he learned that a new, 148-mile natural gas pipeline was coming to the Texas county where he had serve...
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ExxonMobil, facing investigations over climate denial, says it is being discriminated against

Environmental groups hit with subpoenas as Rex Tillerson and company go on the offensive

In 1997, ExxonMobil’s then-chairman Lee Raymond told the World Petroleum Congress that fossil fuels are not causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Fifteen years later, ExxonMobil’s CEO (and soon-to-be Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson began acknowledging that man-made climate change is real, but he argued that mankind still shouldn’t cut back on fossil fuels, describing global warming as a problem that can be solved with adaptation and engineering.

“You'd save millions upon millions of lives by making fossil fuels available to parts of the world that don't have it," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012.

It’s assertions like those that have attracted scrutiny from state government officials who are currently investigating ExxonMobil over its decades-long public relations campaign casting doubt on global warming. Earlier this year, a group of Democratic state Attorneys General formed the group AGs United for Clean Power. Several have also launched civil investigations into ExxonMobil, demanding a long list of documents and records pertaining to public statements that company executives like Tillerson have made about climate change.

Exxon Sues AGs investigating it

ExxonMobil has responded by going on the offensive. Most recently, ExxonMobil filed a motion in court arguing that clean power-loving Attorney Generals are discriminating against the world’s largest publicly traded oil company. “ExxonMobil asserts a First Amendment interest to be free from viewpoint discrimination,” ExxonMobil and its team of attorneys wrote in December 19 court filings.

Who is behind the supposed discrimination? Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York AG Eric Schneiderman. Both are evaluating whether ExxonMobil violated their states' consumer protection statutes. “Specifically, the investigation seeks information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon's business,” Healey’s office writes online.

ExxonMobil countered the civil investigations by filing a lawsuit earlier this year against Healey and Schneiderman, demanding its own stack of records and depositions from the AGs and the environmental groups that they have possibly allied with.

"Content-based discrimination"

In its December 19 filing, ExxonMobil argues that it should not have to turn over its communications or records, especially records relating to think tanks that have minimized the risks of global warming. “The CID [civil investigation demand] requests ExxonMobil’s documents and communications with 12 named organizations, all of which have been identified by advocacy organizations as, at times, opposing the views and policies favored by those advocacy organizations with respect to climate change science or policy,” the corporation writes in its December 19 motion.

“A state official’s targeting of speakers based on their views is improper content-based discrimination,” Exxon adds. The filing neglects to mention that ExxonMobil has a well-documented history of funneling millions of dollars into think tanks that subsequently cast doubt on global warming.

Exxon subpoenas green think tanks

As part of its lawsuit against the AGs, ExxonMobil has previously filed subpoenas demanding records from several environmental advocacy organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and 350.org.

“They’ve hired a team of expensive lawyers to try and intimidate us into handing over all of our internal emails, documents, and communications,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve wrote to website subscribers earlier this month, in a mass email asking for $15 donations. “Not long after we got the Exxon subpoena, we learned that the company's CEO Rex Tillerson was being considered for the position of Secretary of State. “

Attorneys for the Union of Concerned Scientists fired back to ExxonMobil’s subpoena in November with a letter pointing out that, according to the Union’s own research, “ExxonMobil and other companies had learned of the serious risk of climate change by 1988 at the latest...the fossil fuel companies then publicly denied or minimized the risks and secretly funded purportedly independent, contrarian climate research.”

"You need to contact our government and public affairs hotline," a person who answered the telephone at the office of ExxonMobil's in-house attorneys said when we called.

Exxon Recent Motion by Amy Cranks on Scribd

In 1997, ExxonMobil’s then-chairman Lee Raymond told the World Petroleum Congress that fossil fuels are not causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Fiftee...
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An oil pipeline leaks in North Dakota and experts aren't surprised

More than 176,000 gallons of crude oil recently leaked into a North Dakota creek, keeping up a troubling pattern

On December 6, as protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation celebrated a victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline and vowed to continue fighting the project, North Dakota state health workers were about 200 miles away, cleaning up oil leaked from another pipeline.

A landowner in Belfield, North Dakota noticed the spill the previous day, according to the Bismarck Tribune, as the pipeline operator Belle Fourche Pipeline Co, said its own equipment had failed to detect the leak. Officials estimated that spill affected 2.5 miles of the Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary that feeds into the Little Missouri River.

So far, more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil have leaked from the pipeline, North Dakota officials announced on Monday.

The timing might seem fateful, given that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s primary concern about the Dakota Access Pipeline is that it would be built under a body of water, one that similarly feeds into the Missouri River. But people who study energy infrastructure say such news is unfortunately not a surprise or a rarity. It’s simply the cost of doing business with fossil fuels, and part of the reason why the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline protests have gained widespread support from environmentalists and green think tanks.  

"Pipelines are like every other piece of physical infrastructure in the world, which means that they fail, and they fail surprisingly often, definitely more often than people think,” Eric de Place, policy director for the think tank the Sightline Institute, tells ConsumerAffairs. "It drives home the fact that over time, we know, just from observed evidence in the world, that physical pipelines corrode, leak, decay, and the monitoring equipment that companies use is not foolproof."

Documenting the risks of oil spills and pipelines

Researchers are still trying to determine the full cost of such leaks. One study authored by Duke University researchers this past April found that toxins linked to oil development were present in North Dakota’s soil and waterways at levels above what the federal government has deemed safe. The researchers linked the contamination to oil spills. "We found even if you take away the spill water," Avner Vengosh, the study’s lead author, told InsideClimateNews, "you still left behind the legacy of radioactivity in the soils.”

Nationwide, the research on pipeline safety and oil spills is equally troubling. An analysis two years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity, using publicly available data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says that there have been nearly 8,000 “significant” pipeline incidents since 1986, resulting in $7 billion in damage, 500 deaths, 2,300 in injuries and an untold long-term impact on the nation’s waterways.

“Pipeline leaks are common and incredibly dangerous, and the Dakota Access pipeline will threaten every community it cuts through,” Randi Spivak, a program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a recent press release.

Oil surplus

De Place, the Sightline Institute policy director, who documents the risks of fossil fuel extraction in his own research, points out that the United States is already awash with crude oil. In fact, a worldwide surplus of crude has sent oil prices tumbling and recently lead members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to agree to production cuts, the first deal of its kind in eight years.

"We don’t have a problem where we're running out of oil and we don't know what to do next. We've got the opposite,” de Place says. "My view is that there is no need for additional crude oil infrastructure. We have all of the crude oil infrastructure that we will ever need in this country. What we need to do is make sure the infrastructure is safe, well-regulated and well-protected.”

On the other hand, de Place joins the chorus of other environmental researchers who say that the only real long-term solution to concerns about oil spills is to phase out production of fossil fuels altogether. “The whole nature of crude oil transport involves risk...there’s going to be spills, there’s going to be environmental impacts, which is why I think the protest at Standing Rock was so on point.

"You cannot build this and guarantee it will operate safely. You just can’t."

On December 6, as protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation celebrated a recent victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline and vowed to continue...
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At Standing Rock, a mighty fortress grew

People of all faiths, ethnicities, tribes, and beliefs came together to work as one

From Palestine to Standing Rock We Are United. Juntos Protejamos. Mni Wiconi. Artwork and signs of solidarity from all over the world decorated the fence and the main entrance, where volunteer security guards welcomed a line of cars that grew increasingly longer each day. At nightfall, Sioux elders invited anyone who wanted to join in prayer around a sacred fire. But the Suburbans, stadium lights, and police could still be seen in the distance, tiny figures on a hill called Turtle Island, which the Standing Rock Sioux say is a sacred site where people are buried.  

Directly outside the camp, four Humvee vehicles and one large military troop carrier, like something you would see on the nightly news from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, were parked at a barricade on the highway road to the north, cutting people off from the only direct route to the state capital. In the southern direction, the rural road stretched for eight miles before the nearest convenience store and hotel, frozen over after a recent blizzard.

Even as a makeshift city rapidly grew on this swatch of federal land next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and garnered worldwide support and donations, people were isolated. Nobody who chose to camp in this desolate, freezing tent city in North Dakota had anything but each other.

No emergency services

Shortly before a blizzard hit western North Dakota in early December, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple announced that no state emergency services would be sent to the encampments on federal land where thousands of people vowed to stay through winter. Piling on threats that everyone here was trespassing, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said they would fine anyone who attempted to bring in supplies.
For the people at Oceti Sakowin, the most populous of the three camps that the Standing Rock Sioux had organized to fight construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, their source of drinking water, that only meant there was more work to do at the camp. People weren’t leaving, and many "weekend warriors" were only more inspired to come.
“There’s one thing the Governor of North Dakota forgot about...you’re dealing with indigenous people, bro,”  said Shiye Bidzil, a water protector, as the protesters call themselves, in a public video he posted to the thousands of people who follow his coverage of the pipeline standoff on Facebook. "We have survived for millennia, for centuries, and we never needed that technology that you guys rely on for so much.”

At Oceti Sakowin, volunteers unloaded U-Haul moving trucks full of 2x4 studs for framing the structures that they'll use to get through the harsh North Dakota winter. People at the donation camps sorted through blankets and canned food, while others split massive amounts of firewood brought in by logging trucks, keeping the sound of chainsaws running throughout the day. Medics worked all night at an emergency tent lined with linoleum floors, part of an encampment that also offered midwife services, mental health, an herbalist, and cots for people who were injured or in need of massages.

Women from Wisconsin assessed people’s temporary shelter for construction crews and housed anyone who was unprepared for the weather in communal tents or the public food kitchens, which doubled as free-for-all sleeping areas at night. Young people dug snow and used firewood to build barriers around the many Tipi tents at the camp so that the elderly people inside would not have piles of snow at their feet when they stepped outside. Helicopters swarmed low above the land as an Indigenous activist group taught new visitors how to peacefully protest.

Several drone photographers said they captured photographs of what appeared to be snipers in the hills. Federal informants were likely embedded in the camp and recording anything being said, attorneys who camped at Oceti Sakowin's legal tent warned. A street medic taught people how to remove tear gas from someone’s eyes should they get gassed, and an army veteran shooting photographs at the barricade out on the main highway road insisted that anyone still here on Sunday would be shot with rubber bullets.

Eviction Day

Eviction day, or the day when the United States Army Corps of Engineers said everyone had to leave, was coming the following Monday. "Whatever happens, happens. We’ll see,” said a 26-year-old man from the Pueblo nation in Arizona, standing outside of a warm makeshift house in Oceti Sakowin complete with a solar panel and shingles on the roof.

Late Sunday afternoon, with eviction day looming, clergy from over a dozen faiths shared a stage with Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Sioux tribe, and took turns leading people in prayer. A Catholic priest apologized for all the pain his religion had caused. A Muslim imam recalled how oil prices were the driving force behind the CIA’s decision to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953. Thousands of military veterans wandered the camp and listened. After the prayers, Sioux leaders asked the estimated 10,000 to 16,000 people there to join hands around the entire perimeter of Oceti Sakowin, a difficult task given the camp’s size.

As the army vets, clergy, hippies, American Indians, medics, cooks, and others slowly formed a massive hand-holding circle, the tension that had been building up that weekend broke into an unexpected celebration. Energy Transfer Partners’ application to build  underneath Lake Oahe had been denied, word quickly spread. The United States Army Corps of Engineers said the company would need to explore another route for the crude oil pipeline, one that didn’t impact the Standing Rock Sioux’s water. Many people broke down in tears and hugged.

What happens next is unclear, and many water protectors say they will not leave. But the announcement symbolized a hopeful victory at an environmental standoff that American Indians say has grown bigger than any other they have seen in their lifetime.

A melting pot at the local casino

All rooms are booked at the reservation casino and hotel eight miles south of the Oceti Sakowin. Christmas songs blare on the loudspeakers in the parking lot, and the stench of cigarettes grows stronger the closer to you get to the hotel lobby. Due to excessive loitering, says a sign taped to the front door, anyone who isn’t a registered guest may be kicked out. But young people in dreadlocks huddle by the casino bar anyway, taking a break from the harsh weather.

Curtis Muhammad, a longtime civil rights activist from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is in the lobby, waiting to make a presentation for the Sioux. Joined by the Asian American Alliance, Muhammad says he wants American Indians to make refuge space available for minorities, the way they did years ago when blacks escaping slavery from the Underground Railroad needed a place to hide. “We expect that Trump is going to make a lot of us criminals just for being black, and we’re going to need a place to go,” he says.

Levi Medicine Horn, a cultural preservation specialist from South Dakota whose job is to survey sites for the Sioux nation, is thrilled to see all of the outsiders who have descended on the reservation. American Indians have been fighting oil pipelines for years, he says. Foreshadowing the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota set up a “spirit camp” along the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline several years ago. The camp is still there, he says.

Keystone XL united Native Americans and farmers against the project, leading to the creation of an environmental group called the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. But even that unifying campaign hasn’t attracted the international following that the #NODAPL fight has.

Horn leases part of his own land to farmers, and he says he recently lost a client who was angry to learn that he had occasionally joined the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline when his work brought him to North Dakota. The farmer criticized him for depending on fuel to power his truck while fighting an oil pipeline. He argues back to such criticisms: Between fuel or clean water for your children, you choose fuel?

The Origins of #NODAPL

The Standing Rock Sioux leaders and tribal elders say they tried to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from passing under Lake Oahe several years ago, but the #NODAPL movement in its current  form began last spring, when Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard invited people to set up a prayer and resistance camp on the land she owned, a site now called the Sacred Stone Camp. The Oceti Sakowin camp, on land below Sacred Stone, is the easier of the two to access by car and is the location that has drawn thousands more to the cause, by some estimates as many as 16,000 people on a given weekend. 

Opposite the river of Oceti Sakowin is the Rose Bud camp, a smaller tent city where the United States Army Corps of Engineers has deemed people are allowed to protest in a “Free Speech” zone.

“I was asked, When do you consider this pipeline issue to be over?” Allard wrote online, shortly after the Corps said it would not grant Energy Transfer Partners an easement under Lake Oahe. “I said, when every pipe is out of the ground and the earth is repaired across the United States. I am not negotiating, I am not backing down. I must stand for our grandchildren and for the water.”

Daily life at a tent city in the snow

Every night on the land, people fall asleep to the sound of drums and songs from the Sacred Fire, a plaza that functions as the downtown of the functional if sometimes disorganized city that Oceti Sakowin has become. Tribesmen invite everyone to the prayers and offer messages of unity. Mni Wiconi, Lakota for “Water is Life,” is the camp’s primary rallying cry. Tribal elders say they will not tolerate any racism, misogyny, or anything else that will divide the people here. One man sings a song by the fire on Sunday afternoon about the women at the camp: “Legal Girls, Media Girls, Medic Girls, Teacher girls, Dog-bitten and Maced girls, I love No DAPL Girls.”

When there are no prayers, the sacred area becomes a spot where day-to-day needs are taken care of. Whoever drives the black Ford Fusion needs to move their vehicle; a woman needs a ride to Bismarck to catch a bus at 3 in the morning; we have found a pair of lost keys; and if you have been arrested please meet with the attorneys at the central dome today; are just some of the nonstop announcements made on the microphone in between sermons and prayers.

The line for coffee around the prayer circle is slow, but people are in good spirits while they wait. One man in line says he was not planning to drive to North Dakota until he saw a woman crying outside of the grocery store in Montana where he works. She wanted to come to Oceti Sakowin but needed a ride. He will probably lose his job whenever he makes it back, he cheerfully says. A Unitarian minister from Wyoming, also waiting for coffee, says she is not afraid to get arrested for civil disobedience, considering such an arrest the mark of a true minister.

Many of the so-called weekend warriors who come here briefly are not used to cold weather, or do not fully understand what they are getting into when they set up summer tents on the frigid North Dakota land. So Fawn Youngbear Tibbetts, an environmental activist and organizer from the Anishinaabe Nation in Wisconsin, works every day to assess the sleeping arrangements and will not let anyone sleep in a simple summer tent if she can help it. “We have some experience lasting the winter,” she says while taking a brief break from work. “So we came out here to establish our camp and also help everybody else get winterized.”

Tibbetts is not exaggerating. She recounts how several years ago, a mining company expressed interest in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, land that environmentalists warned was home to a complex ecosystem and also culturally significant to the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. To protest the mining operation, Tibbetts and others set up a tent city called the Penokee Hills Harvest Camp and stayed there for four years, surviving the bitter winter in wigwams and other weather-proof outdoor housing. Much like today, the protesters in 2014 were warned that they could not camp on public land. They ignored the government's demands to leave.

Finally, iron ore company Gogebic Taconite abandoned its plans last year. “We inhabited the site,” Tibbetts says.

While many people stay warm in Tipis, it takes up to eight weeks to fulfill an order for the appropriate liner for these traditional tents. And yurts, another tent structure that can survive brutal winters, cost as much as $3,000. To respond to the growing need for warm tent housing, a Seattle carpenter named Paul Cheyok'ten Wagner invented the Tarpee, a Tipi-like structure that only costs $650 and is kept warm via a wooden stove, designed with a steel plate at the top to radiate more heat.
“It’s actually really quite ingenious,” Tibbetts says. She houses people in her camp's own Tarpee but also lists the many other communal tents where people can stay if necessary. The huge influx of people requires her to stay vigilant about checking on people’s temporary shelter. “It’s powerful to be in a big group like this. Yeah, there are all these little camps, but we are all working together. We’re all supporting each other.”

A slippery hill by the main entrance is "Media Hill," where journalists register to get laminated press passes and people can actually get a cellphone signal. Young children ride their sleds down Media Hill as their parents watch them from the top.

Next to the warm media registration tent, a musician from Seattle rides a stationary bicycle, which is attached to a generator so that people can charge their cell phones by riding the bike. He came here with a group of friends but opted to stay when they left, he says through short breaths. Like many others at the camp, who are technically trespassing by staying here, he has asked not to be named.

Not far from the sacred fire, Winona Kasto, a woman from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, cooks two 50-gallon pots of soup every day, made from buffalo meat that she prefers to leave unseasoned.

Her soup is popular because it is made with love, she says, and because the buffalo are pickier eaters than other mammals, eating flowers and other "medicine" from the ground. Her camp has doubled in size as people realized that Kasto needed a larger kitchen to accommodate all of the people who want to eat buffalo soup from Winona’s Kitchen, as a sign posted on her camp’s main Tipi calls the site. At a fire around Winona’s Kitchen on Saturday night, young doctors talk about the impressive medical care that they have witnessed here at Oceti Sakowin.

"What they're trying to do here is community medicine really,” says Revery Barnes, a Cuba-trained doctor from San Francisco who now works at a hospital in South Los Angeles. She has come to drop off supplies and help people at the medic camp for a few days. Being a doctor at a hospital is like working in an assembly line, she says, but the unpaid doctors and medics at Oceti Sakowin give patients the kind of care she would like to see in the real world.

“They’re trying to decolonize medicine. They’re trying to give patients options. This is what we think you have, and we have this herbalist to talk to, we have these herbalist services, we have a pill for you in Western medicine, but if you just want to sit here and talk, we can do that too,” she says.

The visiting doctors ask for a picture with Kasto before they must return home in several days. “Winona is Lakota for gathers people woman,” Kasto tells the group, getting a big laugh from everyone.

Preparing for eviction day 

Even though many people say they are inspired about what the resistance camp has become and are happy to be here, concerns about the police and National Guard presence hang over the camp. Over Thanksgiving weekend, when thousands of people came for the holiday, a group of activists organized a "direct action" protest on the front lines to remove burned-out trucks that authorities had set up as a barricade. “Folks have a right to be on a public road,” Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told reporters at the time.

Officers responded by shooting the protesters with high-pressure water hoses. The Morton County Sheriff’s office also shot tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, and other weapons into the crowd, causing a 21-year-old woman named Sophia Wilansky to suffer devastating injuries to her arm. Vanessa Dundon, another water protector on the bridge, was shot in the eye with a tear gas canister and will likely be blind in that eye as a result, according to a page trying to raise money for her surgery.

Over the course of the standoff, the Morton County Sheriff's office has repeatedly used violent, heavy-handed tactics to clamp down on peaceful protestors, according to a lawsuit filed by The National Lawyers Guild this month. (Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has denied the allegations that his officers' actions were unwarranted, telling the local news channel that “we will continue to enforce the law and urge those lawful protesters to isolate those who are unlawful.")

Concerns about police violence are what inspired thousands of veterans to descend on Oceti Sakowin last weekend, setting up military tents that will be left for people staying at the camp to sleep in once the vets leave. During their brief stay, thousands of the veterans were housed in a local community center to stay warm.

“Never, in my 81 years, [have I] seen police treat protesters like this,” says Byron Jolly, a former police officer and sheriff as well as a Korean war veteran. He gets through the snowy, slippery Oceti Sakowin campgrounds on an all-terrain tracked wheelchair called a TracFab. “And then they said they want protesters to leave here for their own protection so we don’t freeze. But they’ll sprinkle them with water in sub-zero temperatures, eh? So you figure it out. Do they mean that? Hell no. They just want us gone.”

The campgrounds are crowded on Sunday afternoon with veterans of all ages and clergy who answered a call for support from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the Sioux spiritual leader. Wearing a traditional headdress with a black leather jacket and boots equipped with snow chains, Chief Looking Horse says he has asked people from all nations and religions to stand with the Sioux in solidarity.
“It’s the responsibility of the people to say water is life,” he says. For the following three hours, clergy from the Unitarian, Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist churches, and Jewish and Muslim temples, give speeches and prayers. Leaders of tribes that used to be at war with the Sioux now speak about solidarity and protecting water for everyone. 

“We want to be on the love train and the justice train with them as they struggle against these corporate foes,” said Dr. Cornel West, the Baptist preacher, Princeton professor, and civil rights activist. “I call them foes, not enemies, because they’re human beings, too. They’re just too greedy. They’re just too short-sighted. They’re just too narrow in their spirits and cannot embrace the land and the people and the air, and in the end they could destroy the very planet itself.”

After the prayers, the Sioux elders say that they had originally planned to perform a direct action, or a civil disobedience protest, along the police barricade. But, they say, they have changed their minds. To keep the mood prayerful and peaceful, they instead tell everyone to join hands and make a circle around the entire camp.

People are trying to close gaps in the large circle and are slowly making their way around Oceti Sakowin when news spreads that the Corps has rejected Energy Transfer Partners’ application for an easement under Lake Oahe. (Because Lake Oahe is a dam that the Corps created from the Misssouri River, the Corps requires companies to seeking to build under its project to get additional permits).

The young veteran next to me breaks down crying as she hugs a friend. The Sioux leaders return to the stage where the solemn praying took place and now play celebratory music on the drums as reporters crowd around and shoot photographs. Many people pack up their cars, so they can leave before the next snowfall, and they honk and cheer at the new line of cars waiting to enter Oceti Sakowin. Military veterans lead a march along the road outside, where the barricade still stands but the Humvee vehicles have left. But even this celebration will be short-lived. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners released a statement Sunday night suggesting that they planned to drill under Lake Oahe anyway, describing the Corps’ decision as purely political.

A long road ahead

Reaction to the news has been mixed. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II went on NPR to say that protesters achieved their goal “and it is time now for them to enjoy this winter with their families.” But other leading activists -- people like Sacred Stone Camp founder Dona Brave Bull Allard -- have vowed to stay. On Tuesday, as another blizzard hit the camp and temperatures dropped into