Trump hotel in Chicago guilty of environmental law violations

February 9, 2021 by  
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This probably won’t shock anybody familiar with former President Trump’s disdain for eco-friendly policies, but Judge Sophia H. Hall ruled last Friday that the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago violated Illinois’ environmental laws. The hotel’s heating and cooling systems sucked almost 20 million gallons a day from the Chicago River with no concern for the 30 types of fish that call the river home. The case started in 2018, when it came to public attention that the Trump hotel was the only downtown Chicago high-rise that had failed to follow regulations to protect fish in the waterway. All large facilities that draw water directly from lakes and rivers are required to follow both state and federal regulations that limit fish killed by changes in temperature or pressure as well as deaths of fish that become pinned to intake screens. The speed at which Trump International Hotel & Tower was siphoning out water could fill an Olympic-sized pool in under an hour. To make matters even more dire for river life, the hotel later pumped the water back into the river 35°F hotter. Related: Local communities want Trump’s border wall torn down At an upcoming hearing on March 11, officials will debate how the hotel will be penalized. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office is going for $50,000-a-day fines, plus an extra $10,000 for every day the hotel continued to violate the law. This could add up to a whopping $12 million. Unfortunately, defendants usually manage to settle with the state for a lot less. “No one is exempt from compliance with the laws that protect Illinois’ environment and most valuable natural resources, and we will continue to seek to hold the defendants accountable for violations of state environmental laws that jeopardized the quality of the Chicago River ,” Raoul said in a statement. In the past, Trump Towers’ representatives have dismissed the lawsuit as politically motivated. The bluegill , white perch, walleye and largemouth bass were unable to comment, as they were busy fighting for their lives against the hotel’s filtration system. Via Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post Image via Ashleigh Nushawg

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Trump hotel in Chicago guilty of environmental law violations

This long-standing natural soap company started by accident

February 9, 2021 by  
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Throughout each day, we are exposed to a variety of potential toxins in our home, office and outdoor environments. Making the choice to commit to natural materials and product ingredients within the home is a powerful tool in ensuring minimal chemical exposure. Starting with your morning shower, you have the option to choose fragrant, all-natural and plastic-free soaps while supporting a small business at the same time. April Showers Soaps is a soap line that started by accident. In 1999, owner April Spehar became interested in soap-making as a hobby and gift-giving opportunity. Then the creativity took over, motivating her to experiment with a variety of scent combinations. When it became clear her family of four couldn’t possibly use all of the soap she was producing, she decided to try her hand at selling it. Related: Pela offers biodegradable phone cases and other zero-waste products It’s difficult to simply fast forward 22 years, but in the time between then and now, the business has fed Spehar’s passion and helped support her family as she and her husband, Chaum, raised two children. The 35 or so different soaps are now sold in several retail locations in and around the surrounding community of small university town Corvallis, Oregon, where they live and run their business. Natural ingredients The consistent growth of April Showers Soaps is a result of Spehar’s connection with her customer base early on. While natural ingredients and a concern for the environment are hot topics now, neither were highly en vogue a few decades ago. Regardless, it was important to Spehar to develop products that are good for the health of humans and the planet. With this goal in mind, all April Showers Soaps are scented with pure essential oils instead of fragrance oils. A variety of natural and plant materials such as clays, charcoal, grains, seeds, spices, pumice, coffee , cocoa and herbs add texture, color and skin benefits to the soap. To round out the ingredient list, “The only animal products we use are beeswax and honey. We use sustainably harvested, fair trade , organic palm fruit shortening,” Spehar told Inhabitat. The company also incorporates olive oil, coconut oil and apricot kernel oil. Because experimentation is central to the business, finding the right scent, feel and texture means exploring many options. “Patchouli soap has added hemp oil, our Shaving soap and Shampu bar have added castor oil, and our Vanilla soap has added cocoa butter,” the company’s Etsy site states.  Preparing the soaps for sale Even after 22 years, April Showers Soaps are handmade the old-fashioned way using a cold-process recipe . The soap mixture is stirred and poured into a mold, where it sits for several days. The resulting block is then hand-cut into individual bars and is allowed to cure for three to six weeks before being packaged for sale. The company partners with local suppliers within the state of Oregon , although ingredients come from around the globe. This streamlines material transport and aligns with the company’s goal to minimize driving for supply pickups and product shipments. Special consideration is also given to sustainable packaging. Labels are made from recyclable and compostable paper. Online and in-person sales are packaged using paper bags or tissue paper before going into a cardboard box or bubble mailer. April Showers Soaps reuses clean packing materials whenever possible. The full natural skincare lineup In addition to bar soap, April Showers Soaps offers a salve , soap balls, body butter, bath salts and a custom-made metal soap dish. It’s always fun to anticipate what will come next from the company. Spehar told Inhabitat, “We have a new soap, Bandit Blend, which is inspired by the medieval tale of the four thieves with clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, comfrey root, and French pink & yellow clay.” Overcoming challenges With a lifelong desire to own her own business, Spehar has enjoyed building up her customer base and interacting with customers at community craft fairs throughout the state and in nearby states. The COVID-19 pandemic has added challenges for the business, with nearly every show canceled for vendors. While Spehar reports that sales on her Etsy store have increased, it hasn’t been enough growth to counterbalance the loss from selling directly to the customer. Spehar said, “I miss chatting with customers in person and getting immediate feedback on new soaps.” Even without immediate feedback, it’s clear that customers love these soaps. The store has over 500 reviews and a 5-star average on Etsy. In a rarely-seen American small business success story, the Spehar household is actually supported by two small businesses. While Chaum helps with photography and other aspects of April Showers Soaps, he spends most of his time making jewelry for a second business the duo runs together, Northwest Goods . As a second generation metal worker, Chaum curates ornaments, jewelry, key chains, the custom soap dish and more — all equally focused on quality materials and craftsmanship. Review of April Showers Soaps I discovered April Showers Soaps around 10 years ago, and it instantly became my go-to brand. Like many Inhabitat readers, I enjoy supporting local and small businesses, especially when the products bring me joy. Over the years, I’ve sampled different combinations and spent many hours sniffing the options at April Showers Soaps. I typically go back to one of several mint options, simply because I’m drawn to it. These products are made using Willamette Valley Peppermint essential oil, another local (to me) company. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed some of the oatmeal and spice combinations for both the feel and the scent. Maybe it’s psychological that the oatmeal is soothing to the skin, but I’ve enjoyed using it as a hand and body soap during harsh, dry winter weather. I also really like the bright citrus options such as lemon-lime and geranium-grapefruit. Lemongrass is another traditional option with a pleasant finish. Then, there are some options that will transport you to the forest, the café or the garden, like licorice, spiced mocha, cinnamon-clove (another favorite of mine) and eucalyptus tea tree. I’m a scent-sensitive person, so standing in front of a display smelling soap after soap can be overwhelming for me. But individually, each soap offers a unique interaction with the ingredients. I’m forced to avoid the ever-popular lavender and rosemary combinations due to sensitivity, but I have no doubt they are as lovely as every other meticulously contoured soap that April and Chaum produce. + April Shower Soaps Images via April Shower Soaps and Dawn Hammon / Inhabitat Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by April Showers Soaps. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.

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This long-standing natural soap company started by accident

EPA finalizes rule to make efforts against climate change more difficult

December 14, 2020 by  
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Like an evil troll throwing a curse over its shoulder before being banished from the kingdom, President Donald Trump’s EPA finalized a rule that could make it harder for Biden to address pollution and climate change. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, announced the new rule. “Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we are ensuring that future rulemakings under the Clean Air Act are transparent, fair, and consistent with EPA governing statutes,” said Wheeler, as reported by CNN . But critics say the change ensures that the EPA will continue to put the economy over environmental and public health interests. It allows the agency to disregard positive side effects of decisions, such as saving lives from being lost to air pollution, while fully weighing the economic impact. Related: Exxon’s leaked documents reveal devastating pollution plan During Trump’s four years in office, his administration managed to roll back more than 100 public health and environmental rules, putting the welfare of corporate polluters over that of the people. “For four years, this administration has waged war on public health by kowtowing to polluters,” said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, as reported by Common Dreams . “Now, on the way out the door, this amounts to sabotaging the efforts of the incoming administration to protect Americans from dirty air.” Poor air quality is especially troubling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found an association between air pollution and increased mortality from COVID-19 infection. Individual-level COVID-19 data isn’t publicly available, so the study couldn’t state a definite cause and effect, but the implication is clear. Yet this new EPA rule was proposed in June and passed at a time when COVID-19 deaths are at a high and still rising. New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone tweeted his disgust: “This rule will distort @EPA analysis by discounting the health benefits of air pollution standards & prioritizing the financial costs to polluters above health costs to the public. It’s a betrayal both of the #CleanAirAct and of EPA’s mission to protect human health .” Via Common Dreams and CNN Image via Johannes Plenio

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EPA finalizes rule to make efforts against climate change more difficult

Good Days brings sustainable activewear to Hong Kong

December 14, 2020 by  
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Out of yoga studios and into closets all over the world, activewear remains a huge fashion trend. One company in Hong Kong is putting a twist on the trend by cleaning up the planet while making leggings, tops and sports bras. Good Days has created an entire activewear line made from recycled post-consumer plastic waste. Former Lane Crawford brand manager Libby Perry founded Good Days, Hong Kong’s first sustainable athletic apparel brand. The company works with sustainable suppliers and ethical manufacturers to create fashionable, eco-friendly activewear. The brand’s sustainable collection contains 30 pieces so far, available in a variety of colors. Each piece is made from fabrics made with recycled and recovered plastic. TopGreen, one fabric used in the line, comes from FENC in Taiwan, a supplier that repurposes 100% traceable post-consumer plastic and turns it into new yarn. A small portion of the nylon used to make these clothes comes from Varvico JL, an Italian company specializing in turning industrial waste into 100% regenerated yarn. In fact, the only virgin material used in the collection is certified organic cotton. Good Days is dedicated to diverting plastic that would have ended up in oceans or landfills otherwise. The company takes this plastic and repurposes it into usable, high-quality products. The plastic water bottle you drink out of today just may become part of a great-looking pair of leggings tomorrow. The brand uses no disposable plastic packaging, and all Good Days orders are sent in non-toxic and compostable packaging. Additionally, every delivery comes packaged in a reusable tote bag that has been made from repurposed rice sacks. All of this factors into Good Days’ sustainability values. As stated on the brand website, “the Good Days brand ethos is our commitment to keeping sustainable and ethical decision making at the heart of what we do.” + Good Days Images via Good Days

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Good Days brings sustainable activewear to Hong Kong

Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species

November 2, 2020 by  
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Gray wolves are left vulnerable after the Trump administration removed their protections. The species has been listed as endangered for over 45 years; this listing has been instrumental in protecting the animals from hunting and helping to recover dwindling population numbers. But last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to have the gray wolf removed from the Endangered Species Act. Following that proposal , the government took action in delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species last week. “Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said. But the move has been sharply criticized by conservationists. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are about 6,000 gray wolves in the wild in the U.S. This number is alarming to scientists, who say that the wolves are still in great danger of extinction if they are not protected. Related: Washington’s wolf population is down to 122 after a pack is shot by state hunters Gray wolves were once driven close to extinction because of conflicts with farmers and a decline in their prey. Due to such constraints, the once-robust population of the wolves in the northern U.S. shrank abruptly, forcing the government to offer them protection by law. While listed under the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf population has experienced growth in the Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains. But as populations grow, some states have been demanding to have the wolves delisted. Case in point, Wyoming successfully filed a petition that has allowed for the hunting of gray wolves in the state. With the delisting happening just days before the presidential election, the move is seen as a strategy to attract voters from areas where the wolves live. In a statement released by the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, chief political strategist Brett Hartl said that President Trump’s push for reelection is putting more wolves at risk. “Wolves will be shot and killed because Donald Trump is desperate to gin up his voters in the Midwest,” Hartl said. “Secretary Bernhardt’s nakedly political theater announcing the end to wolf protections in a battleground state days before the election shows just how corrupt and self-serving the Trump administration is.” Via CNN Image via Christel S.

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Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species

EPA loosens restrictions on methane emissions

August 18, 2020 by  
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As President Trump’s term comes to an end, his administration has busily rolled back Obama-era environmental protections. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) has loosened standards governing how much methane oil and gas facilities can release into the atmosphere. Methane is a serious threat to the environment because the gas is so good at absorbing heat, making it 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Defense Fund . While methane comes from many places, the oil and gas industry is its largest source. Related: Trump waives environmental laws amid national crises “Trump’s EPA has given the oil and gas industry a green light to keep leaking enormous amounts of climate pollution into the air,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate & Clean Energy Program. In 2018, the oil and gas industry released an estimated 15 million metric tons of methane into the air. The American public isn’t happy about this. A recent NRDC poll found that 75% of respondents strongly support strengthening controls on methane pollution. The NRDC proposed a solution in 2015. If federal standards for oil and gas infrastructure were adopted nationwide, methane pollution could be halved in less than a decade. Unfortunately, Trump’s new rollback pushes us further in the wrong direction. The rollback allows companies to bypass installation of detection equipment, nor do they have to fix methane leaks. Lax emission standards are especially dangerous to fence-line communities, lower-income neighborhoods that have the misfortune of being close to polluting facilities. According to the NAACP website, Black communities are disproportionately affected by methane, benzene, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde and other toxic and dangerous emissions released by industries in their neighborhoods. Among other health effects, these pollutants cause more than 138,000 asthma attacks in children per year. “We cannot protect the health of our children and grandchildren, especially in the most polluted and endangered communities, if the EPA lets this industry off scot-free,” Doniger said. “We will see EPA in court.” Via NRDC Image via Pixabay

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EPA loosens restrictions on methane emissions

Trump waives environmental laws amid national crises

June 8, 2020 by  
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While the world focuses on a global pandemic and brutal racial discrimination, President  Trump  is sneakily squashing environmental laws. The Trump administration has directed federal agencies to waive many environmental requirements as a way to light a fire under the pandemic-strained economy. Under the president’s directive, federal agencies are now seeking workarounds in the usually time-consuming processes of getting approval for building highways, fossil fuel export terminals, pipelines and other energy and transportation infrastructure. Usually, large projects like these require applying for approval under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Signed by President Nixon in 1970, this law requires agencies to assess the environmental consequences of their planned actions and sometimes seek better alternatives. NEPA also gives people a voice in new projects and considers whether these projects affect any endangered species. Related: Trump administration rolls back fuel efficiency standards “Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national  emergency ,” Trump wrote in his executive order. Many industries and developers cheered. But environmentalists pounced on the new order. “Instead of trying to ease the pain of a nation in crisis, President Trump is focused on easing the pain of polluters,” said Gina McCarthy, a former  EPA  administrator who now heads the Natural Resources Defense Council. She characterized this move as “utterly senseless” and an abuse of emergency powers. Agencies will have 30 days to provide the president with a report of expedited projects. Some environmentalists say the new order is unlawful and will likely end up in court. Those who stand to lose the most are  endangered species  and humans in lower socioeconomic brackets, including many people of color. “These reviews are required by law to protect people from industries that can harm our health and our communities,” McCarthy said. “Getting rid of them will hit those who live closest to  polluting facilities and highways the hardest—in many of the same communities already suffering the most from the national emergencies at hand.” + NPR Via NRDC Image via Gage Skidmore

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Trump waives environmental laws amid national crises

States sue over Trump administration’s fuel efficiency rollback

June 1, 2020 by  
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Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have sued the Trump administration over rollbacks in fuel-efficiency standards, citing poor science and threats to public health . While the world has focused on the novel coronavirus pandemic, President Trump has been busy easing environmental regulations. His undoing of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, the country’s biggest effort so far to fight climate change, has been especially bitter to environmentalists. Trump says lower standards are better for the auto industry and the economy in general. Related: Trump administration rolls back fuel efficiency standards California is leading the lawsuit. According to Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, the pandemic is a whole other reason — besides destroying the planet we live on — not to lower efficiency standards. “Vehicles are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in America, and pollution-related respiratory illnesses make people more susceptible to COVID-19,” Becerra told The New York Times . Under Obama’s plan, U.S. vehicles would be required to average 46.7 miles per gallon. Trump’s policy dials it down to 40.4 miles per gallon. According to the Trump administration’s estimates, this will result in Americans consuming 2 billion additional barrels of oil and releasing 867 to 923 more metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel costs will average about an extra $1,000 over the lifetime of a single vehicle. The auto industry is split about Trump’s efficiency rollback. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation supports it. But four member companies — Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen — declared they will uphold higher standards than the government mandates. “The Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Car Standards will hurt Americans, increase harmful pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, and cost consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump,” Peter Zalzal, lead attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, told The New York Times . “The rollback is deeply and fundamentally flawed, it is inconsistent with the agencies’ legal duty to reduce harmful pollution and conserve fuel, and we look forward to vigorously challenging it in court.” Via The New York Times Image via Pixabay

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States sue over Trump administration’s fuel efficiency rollback

Energy-efficient light bulb production could take a major hit

March 28, 2019 by  
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The production of energy-efficient light bulbs could be hurt by a new proposal. The Trump administration is looking to get rid of Obama-era laws that encouraged companies to make energy-efficient bulbs. If the regulations are rolled back, experts warn that less-efficient bulbs will increase energy bills and lead to additional pollution. The bulbs in question were not originally included in President George W. Bush’s 2007 law, which pushed for more LED bulbs . These products include decorative globes, often put on display in bathrooms, three-way bulbs and candle-shaped light sources. In total, these products make up around 2.7 billion bulbs on the market today. Related: This high-tech LED lighting could grow veggies in space The Obama administration attempted to place these specialty items under the 2007 regulations. But companies objected to the move and sued the government. According to  NPR , President Trump hopes to reverse the Energy Department’s position on the matter by not requiring specialty companies to follow the same energy standards as other bulbs. Experts, like Alliance to Save Energy’s Jason Hartke, believe the move does not make sense. Not only do these energy wasting bulbs drive up utility costs, but they are also terrible for the environment. In order to produce these specialty items, companies will have to waste enormous amounts of coal-powered energy for products that are inferior. “I just don’t understand the rationale behind trying to turn back the clock,” Hartke shared. “There aren’t many people out there clamoring for outdated light bulbs that use four or five times as much energy.” At the end of the day, the issue will likely end up in court, where a panel of judges will decide if rolling back energy policies is legal. Opponents of the move argue that the Department of Energy cannot reverse policies when it comes to energy standards. While the government and environmentalists battle it out in court, people within the lighting industry claim that they have no interest in producing bulbs that are not energy-efficient. The industry knows that efficient light bulbs are the future and that consumers want products that are both good for the environment and their pocketbook. + Department of Energy Via NPR Image via Geoffrey A. Landis and Kotivalo

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Energy-efficient light bulb production could take a major hit

160-square-foot off-grid Elsewhere Cabin invites us all to live a little simpler

March 28, 2019 by  
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When it comes to tiny dwellings, we’ve seen everything from luxury homes to floating abodes, but when it comes to truly minimal living, the Elsewhere Cabin is the epitome of simple, functional design. Designed by Seattle-based architect Sean O’Neill , the Elsewhere Cabin is a 160-square-foot tiny cabin that is completely off-grid, and features a 10 inch folding wooden wall that allows the living space to expand out into an open-air porch. O’Neil designed the cabin at the request of Austin-based vacation rental company, Elsewhere. The company was looking to expand their property offerings with minimalist cabins for guests that were looking for a serene place to disconnect from urban life. As per Elsewhere’s request, the cabin can operate completely off-grid. Solar panels generate enough power for lighting, hot water and wifi. Related: A remote, off-grid cabin is elevated off the forest floor with log columns Using the company’s location as inspiration, O’Neil’s inspiration behind the cabin design was to recreate the feeling of sitting on a Texas porch. Long used to cool down during the searing hot days of summer or finding protection from the rain, porches are magnets for entertaining guests, dining al fresco or simply sitting and soaking up the beautiful views. To bring this inspiration to fruition, the architect created a 10 inch wall that folds out from the main structure to create a large open-air porch. The rest of the tiny cabin is a minimalist design. Clad in charred cedar siding, the jet black exterior blends into any natural habitat. On the inside, natural Chilean pine plywood line the walls, ceiling and flooring. Behind the folding wall is the main living space, comprised of custom-made furniture that was designed to be space efficient and multi-functional. For example, in the living room, one singular surface transitions easily from a desk to a sofa to a kitchen counter. The home has all of the basic amenities including a small kitchen that is equipped with all of the basics, a sink, countertop, stove top burners, etc. There is a bathroom, complete with a waterless toilet , as well as a shower and sink that draw water from an on-board water tank. The sleeping loft is located on the upper level, made possible by the pitched roof. + Elsewhere Retreats Via Dwell Photography by Sean O’Neill

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160-square-foot off-grid Elsewhere Cabin invites us all to live a little simpler

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