Andrew Wheeler confirmed as new EPA administrator

March 5, 2019 by  
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Andrew Wheeler is taking over the reigns as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ). Wheeler, who used to work as a lobbyist for the coal industry, became the 15th EPA administrator after a Senate vote confirmed his appointment. Shortly after the vote, Wheeler took to Twitter to post his thoughts on becoming the new EPA administrator. Wheeler thanked several politicians for helping him obtain the appointment and vowed to move forward with President Donald Trump’s agenda . “I am deeply honored, and I look forward to continuing the President’s agenda and the work of the Agency alongside all my EPA colleagues,” Wheeler shared. Related: EPA criminal enforcement crumbling under Trump The Senate approved Wheeler for the spot with a narrow vote of 52-47. According to Grist , several senators who had previously supported Wheeler voted against him, because they do not believe he is committed to improving the environment . This includes Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican who voted against the appointment. Collins later released a statement about how Wheeler is qualified for the post but is not the best option. Collins criticized Wheeler for supporting programs that do not benefit the environment, especially when it comes to climate change initiatives. Given Wheeler’s work history, Collins has reason to worry. Wheeler is now the fourth member of Trump’s cabinet who is regulating an industry in which he used to be employed. Two years ago, Trump appointed Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier this year, Patrick Shanahan of Boeing took the reigns as secretary of defense while David Bernhardt, an oil lobbyist, was nominated for the Department of Interior. With Wheeler’s appointment now confirmed, he is expected to roll back a few Obama-era laws that were put in place to help the environment. This includes the carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan and a reworking of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, which improved water quality around the country. Wheeler was appointed as the new EPA administrator following the resignation of Scott Pruitt, who quit the post amid an ethics scandal last summer. Via Grist Image via U.S. Department of Agriculture ( 1 , 2 )

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Andrew Wheeler confirmed as new EPA administrator

Afghanistans Chihilsitoon Garden is restored with rammed earth architecture

March 5, 2019 by  
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The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has breathed new life and purpose into the Chihilsitoon Garden, a historic cultural destination in Kabul, Afghanistan that was in ruins for nearly three decades. Founded in the 19th century, the Chihilsitoon Garden had once housed visiting dignitaries such as U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but suffered looting and damage during the internecine conflict of the early 1990s. Now restored to its former glory, the Chihilsitoon Garden marks the largest rehabilitation project carried out to date by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has completed over 140 restoration and landscaping projects across Afghanistan since 2002. Spanning an area of nearly 31 acres, the Chihilsitoon Garden is laid out along a longitudinal spine centered on a historic formal axial garden , which is surrounded by informal landscapes ranging from open lawns to densely planted areas. The restoration project reinforced the axial relationship with the restoration of existing open-air spaces, such as family picnic areas, an outdoor amphitheater and a historic formal promenade that includes the original marble fountains. A new recreational zone includes cricket batting areas, volleyball fields and two mini-football pitches as well as an indoor facility with changing rooms and showers. New buildings totaling over 100,000 square feet were also added to the grounds. The contemporary buildings take inspiration from traditional designs and typologies, including the use of rammed earth as an earthquake-resistant structural material. Related: Barefoot solar movement empowers, employs and illuminates in Afghanistan “Found to have been used in parts of Afghanistan as far back as the 2nd century A.D., rammed earth structures are highly suitable to the climatic and ecological environment in the region,” the agency explained an a project statement. “Due to the workability of rammed earth, a range of architectural designs was explored for the various facilities. Reinforced with bamboo trees, steel re-bar and concrete frame structures, buildings constructed with rammed earth were designed to withstand moderate earthquakes.” The 15.1 million-euro  restoration project began in early 2015 and was completed in the middle of 2018. The newly formed independent “Kabul Historic Gardens Trust” will manage the garden. + Aga Khan Trust for Culture Via ArchDaily Images by Simon Norfolk via AKTC

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Afghanistans Chihilsitoon Garden is restored with rammed earth architecture

EPA criminal enforcement crumbling under Trump

February 12, 2019 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criminal enforcement numbers have take a major hit over the past few years. A new study conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found that the agency had the lowest criminal case numbers since the late 1980s. Last year, the EPA only filed 166 criminal referrals. These referrals are sent to the Department of Justice for prosecution, and those numbers were adjusted to account for the latest government shutdown. As a reference point, the EPA filed close to 60 percent more referrals in 2011 and over 72 percent more in 1998. The rate of new criminal referrals for the 2019 fiscal year, which started in November, is already at a slower pace than last year. So far, the EPA has only filed 24 criminal enforcement referrals, and the government shutdown is expected to affect those numbers even more moving forward. Related: Damage to Joshua Tree during the government shutdown could take centuries to repair Even more concerning is the fact that only 62 of the referrals in 2018 ended with convictions. That is less than any year after 1992 and illustrates a dire need for greater efficiency within the EPA. PEER argues that the Trump administration is one of the biggest reasons behind the low numbers of criminal referrals. “These figures indicate that the Trump plan to cripple EPA is working,” Kyla Bennett, the director of science policy at PEER, explained. “Not enforcing our anti- pollution laws steadily transforms them into dead letters.” The decline in criminal enforcement has also led to a drop in the number of agents who are assigned to such cases. In the spring of 2018, the EPA employed 140 special agents to handle pollution cases in its Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and that number has already decreased to 130. According to the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990, the EPA is supposed to have 200 CID agents on staff at any given time. With EPA criminal enforcement at historic lows, the main concern is that the agency lacks effective means of prosecuting polluters, which will likely lead to an increase in violations over the next few years. Via Peer.org Image via USEPA  

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Fiat Chrysler pays millions to settle emissions charges

January 14, 2019 by  
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Fiat Chrysler has reached a settlement with the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the owners of about 100,000 of their diesel-powered Jeep SUV’s and Ram pickups. After facing charges that the company had sold diesel vehicles in the United States that had improper software — allowing it to violate emissions rules —  Fiat Chrysler has agreed to pay $800 million to settle the matter. The automaker will pay different state and federal agencies approximately $400 million in fines, plus $280 million to the car owners — which is up to $2,800 per vehicle. The additional $120 million will go to various efforts to curb emissions and future warranty costs. Fiat Chrysler will need to get at least 85 percent of affected vehicles repaired or risk facing additional fines. The vehicles involved in the settlement are Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 model years and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks that have a 3-liter diesel engine. To receive a settlement payment, car owners will first need to have their vehicle repaired. “Today’s settlement sends a clear and strong signal to manufacturers and consumers that the Trump administration will vigorously enforce the nation’s laws designed to protect the environment and public health,” said Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. He added that Fiat Chrysler , aside from breaking the law, also made the efforts to hide their conduct. However, the deal did not include any admission of guilt or wrongdoing by the company. The settlement is only a fraction of what Volkswagen was forced to pay in 2016 when the company was fined for installing emission deceiving software into a half-million diesel cars. As a result, Volkswagen paid $14.7 billion and the company admitted that they improperly installed the software to vehicles. Fiat Chrysler has continued to maintain that they did nothing wrong, and their software for their diesel engines was a legitimate way to meet emission standards. Via CNN Image via Shutterstock

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Sick of coal yet?

August 29, 2018 by  
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The recent EPA decision doesn’t just fail sustainability professionals — it will trigger a public health crisis.

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Sick of coal yet?

How REMADE could drive innovation in circular manufacturing techniques

August 29, 2018 by  
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Think of it as a multi-disciplined proving ground.

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From plastic straws to a sea change for plastic

August 29, 2018 by  
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It’s time for some big thinking — and concrete action — on plastic waste.

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From plastic straws to a sea change for plastic

It’s time to level with people about climate change

August 29, 2018 by  
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Its impacts are already a part of the story. How will you take charge of the narrative?

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Chicago snags green city spotlight for second year running

August 24, 2018 by  
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A new study has revealed Chicago to be the greenest city to work in within the U.S for the second consecutive year. About 70 percent of the Windy City’s office spaces are certified for energy efficiency, up from 66 percent last year. Other top cities include San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Each year, the U.S. Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE Group) surveys buildings in the 30 largest U.S real estate market areas and evaluates the results in collaboration with  Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Results depend on the amount of square footage of LEED – or Energy Star-certified commercial buildings constructed within a city. This year’s records show an extraordinary total of 4,700 green buildings in these 30 areas. The total square footage now accounts for 41 percent of all office spaces. CBRE Senior Vice President David Pogue revealed that green certification has “become a proxy for good building management,” in recent years. “Particularly in the services sector, a lot of their energy use and environmental impact is in the buildings they occupy, so the tenant base is demanding this, and institutional financiers also believe a sustainable building is a better building,” he said. According to the EPA, commercial buildings account for approximately 19 percent of total energy use in the country. As such, they are often the largest contributors of carbon emissions within cities. To combat this, LEED certification was established by The Green Building Council, which recognizes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) through evaluation of aspects such as water systems and energy efficiency. Similarly, the EPA’s own Energy Star program focuses on strict performance standards in the energy category. “So many buildings have become dependent on this as a way of demonstrating quality to investors and corporate tenants,” Pogue added. “It’s going to cause every building to go back and reconsider what their energy use is — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Chicago is well on its way to reaching its goal of 100 percent renewable energy in city-run properties by 2025. Close competitors include San Francisco, with 64 percent of its office spaces certified as energy-efficient. Also notable is Los Angeles, which has the most Energy Star buildings, 716 in total, compared to Chicago’s 339. Via Bloomberg Images via Alan Stark and Michel Curi

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EPA may attempt to eliminate California’s emissions independence

July 24, 2018 by  
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The U.S. Transportation Department and the EPA are expected to announce a proposal this Thursday to revoke California’s ability to set its own emissions standards . The proposal, revealed by an anonymous source, suggests that the organizations plan to freeze national emission requirements at 2020 levels until 2026. If this plan were to go into effect, experts estimate that national oil consumption after 2020 would increase by half a million barrels of oil per day. Additionally, the proposal would come into conflict with the Clean Air Act waiver that allows California to set its own regulations on emission levels. The levels of environmental damage from the potential increase in oil consumption have yet to be estimated. This news also comes after a January proposal by Governor Jerry Brown to raise the bar on a previous state goal of having five million electric vehicles available by 2030. California representative Jimmy Gomez added that “vehicle emissions standards are a big part of our environmental identity.” Related: The number of electric vehicles on the streets could triple in two years The EPA and the Transportation Department plan to hold public commentary and hearing sessions before finalizing the decision. Other states are also expected to join the conversation as dozens have adopted the same or similar policies on zero-emission vehicles. The organizations will entertain comments on whether U.S. regulators plan to offer credits for autonomous vehicles and air condition improvements as well. + Reuters Images via Shutterstock

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