California plans to launch its own satellite to monitor air pollution

September 17, 2018 by  
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California has promised to launch its own satellite to track air quality in the fight against air pollution. Governor Jerry Brown announced the major initiative amid President Donald Trump’s bid to decrease NASA’s part in monitoring climate change. Brown has not announced when the state will launch the satellite or how much it will cost taxpayers. Brown has long stood in opposition to Trump’s administration, which has fought California’s tough emissions standards. Following the effort to cut NASA funding for climate research, Brown hopes that the satellite will ensure that California has independent access to data gathering in the long term. “We’re going to launch our own satellite — our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it,” Brown explained. Related: Striking, solar-powered LA roundabout manages stormwater runoff with art NASA has its own climate change program called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). The system gathers data from a collection of satellites and high-altitude aircraft to keep track of carbon emissions around the world. The program came under fire in the latest rounds of White House budget cuts, which were directly aimed at climate change initiatives. Fortunately, the appropriations committee did not cut CMS funding, but the threat left many scientists worried about the program’s future. Brown is collaborating with a company based out of San Francisco called Planet Labs to launch the satellite. The company will work with California’s Air Resources Board to build the satellite and track carbon emissions throughout the state and the world. So far, Planet Labs — backed by companies like Google and DCVC — has a fleet of 150 satellites, all of which take photographs of the earth and transfer the data to various governments, private companies, journalists, agriculture business and hedge funds. Brown hopes the program will lead to better climate monitoring, despite the efforts from the Trump administration. Via Earther and Huffington Post Image via Prayitno

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Trump Tower river violations incur a swift lawsuit by Illinois attorney general

August 15, 2018 by  
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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a lawsuit against the Trump International Hotel & Tower for alleged pollution to the Chicago River and threats to local wildlife. The lawsuit was filed in the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois this Tuesday against the conglomerate, and the suit cites infringements of the EPA’s U.S. Clean Water Act of 1972 . The Clean Water Act protects the waters of the U.S. from being inundated with polluting discharges, and it also sets wastewater standards for industries and residential zones. According to Madigan, this is the issue, put simply, with the Trump Tower building. The structure releases millions of gallons of water from air conditioning and other cooling systems into the river on a daily basis. The residential tower is mandated by the EPA to run studies on the residual impact of its activities to the surrounding river, something it has not done, the attorney general said. Related: Urban Rivers designs a multiplayer Trashbot Game to clean the Chicago River The 92-story tower is posing a threat to aquatic life by destabilizing the ecosystem in the river. “Trump Tower continues to take millions of gallons of water from the Chicago River every day without a permit and without any regard to how it may be impacting the river’s ecosystem,” said Madigan, who has held her position in the Illinois legal system since 2003. Related: Chicago drinking fountains have been running non-stop for months, and the reason why is infuriating The affairs of the building are now under the leadership of President Trump’s two sons since he assumed office in 2016. “We are disappointed that the Illinois Attorney General would choose to file this suit considering such items are generally handled at the administrative level,” representatives of the Trump Organization stated. “One can only conclude that this decision was motivated by politics.” The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River groups have also recently stated plans to sue the Chicago Trump Tower for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act. Via Reuters Image via Daniel Huizinga

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Companies push to start oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

June 1, 2018 by  
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Following Congress’s move to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas production, a long-sought goal of the Republican Party, fossil fuel companies are moving forward with their plans to develop the wilderness and hope to survey the region by winter. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, two Alaska Native companies, as well as one oil company have applied for a permit to begin seismic surveying on the refuge’s coastal plain. However, despite promises that the process would be as environmentally sensitive as possible, documents obtained by the Washington Post indicate that the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the initial plan as “not adequate,” noting its “lack of applicable details for proper agency review.” The area the companies hope to explore for oil is also the location of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, from which the local Gwich’in First Nation community finds food and cultural significance. In fact, the prospective area where two teams of 150 people are proposed to survey isn’t even visited by the Gwich’in people out of respect for its importance. The speed with which the companies have pushed to begin oil drilling has concerned the locals. “Why can’t they just wait to have more information?” Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Dementieff told Earther . “The oil isn’t going anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It makes no sense to rush.” Perhaps the oil companies are concerned that the U.S. may, under a different Congress, return to its long-held status quo of banning oil drilling in the refuge. Related: Spending bill would open the world’s largest intact temperate forest to logging Although the nearby Native town of Kaktovik supported oil and gas drilling in 2005, more recently, the mayor sent a letter to Congress to oppose opening the land to industry. The process has moved forward so quickly since the bill opening the refuge to oil drilling was signed into law that Dementieff was not even aware of the drilling application until she was contacted by Earther. “That is completely insane and disrespectful,” she said. Dementieff believes that Native communities in Alaska will rally together to stop the drilling from ever occurring. “We’ll go to every courtroom. We’ll go to every community meeting. We’re not giving up. We’re not going to allow them to destroy the calving grounds.” Via Earther Images via  Depositphotos and Bob Clarke

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The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

May 10, 2018 by  
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While the news media focuses its attention on the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the scandals related President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, the Trump Administration quietly ended the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). With a $10 million annual budget and administered by NASA, CMS served to track the flow of Earth’s carbon, a particularly important mission as the United States and other nations confront climate change. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, told Science . Gallagher described the administration’s decision to end the program as “a grave mistake.” Much of the work done by the CMS since 2010 has focused on forests and the carbon that they contain. One such project involved a collaboration between NASA and the US Forestry Service, in which the organizations created an aircraft-based laser imaging device to quantify forest carbon stocks. “They’ve now completed an inventory of forest carbon in Alaska at a fraction of the cost,” CMS science team leader George Hurtt told Science . The CMS has also used its capacity to support other countries in their efforts to preserve and study their forest stocks, particularly in tropical locations. Related: Even NASA isn’t quite sure how to explain these holes in the Arctic Sea’s ice Though disheartening for those who work to combat climate change, the Trump Administration’s decision to end CMS fits with its previous policy making on climate change . However, this decision, like others, puts the United States outside of the global climate mainstream. “The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States,” said Hurtt. “But it is almost everywhere else.” The work of carbon monitoring will continue in Europe , though the United States has ceded leadership in the process. “We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology,” president of the Woods Hole Research Center Phil Duff told Science . Via ScienceAlert Images via IIP Photo Archive/Flickr and Joshua Meyer/Flickr

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The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

California becomes the first US state to require solar energy for new houses

May 10, 2018 by  
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It’s official — California is the first state in America to mandate solar for new homes. Yesterday, the California Energy Commission voted unanimously to approve the building standards, which will go into effect on January 1, 2020. The New York Times quoted Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich as saying, “There’s…this real American sense of freedom of producing electricity on my rooftop. And it’s another example of California leading the way.” Homes built in California in a couple of years will have to be equipped with solar energy systems. Called the 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, the requirements “will increase the cost of constructing a new home by about $9,500 but will save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years,” according to a frequently asked questions document from the California Energy Commission. The New York Times quoted commission member Andrew McAllister as saying, “Any additional amount in the mortgage is more than offset. It’s good for the customer.” Related: California to become the first US state to require solar panels on new homes The commission said in a press release the standards would lower greenhouse gas emissions as much as if around 115,000 fossil fuel cars left the streets. They said the standards zero in on four areas; in addition to residential solar power, those areas are “updated thermal envelope standards (preventing heat transfer from the interior to exterior and vice versa), residential and nonresidential ventilation requirements, and nonresidential lighting requirements.” There are people who wonder if California’s new mandate is the best path forward to clean power. MIT Technology Review linked to an email from University of California, Berkeley economics professor Severin Borenstein to commission chair Robert Weisenmiller early yesterday morning; Borenstein said he, along with most energy economists, “believe that residential rooftop solar is a much more expensive way to move towards renewable energy than larger solar and wind installations.” + California Energy Commission Via The New York Times Images via Deposit Photos ,   Wikimedia Commons and mjmonty on Flickr

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A cluster of wooden cabins create a serene weekend retreat in Norway

May 10, 2018 by  
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Norwegian firm Stinessen Arkitektur built this cluster of wooden cabins that peer out over the picturesque fjords of Norway. The weekend retreat is designed to provide the ultimate in relaxation, and it features extra-large glazed facades, minimalist interior design, and a serene spa. The private vacation home is located on Malangen Peninsula and it overlooks a beautiful fjord. The main entrance leads through a sliding oak door into a covered central courtyard , which connects the main building and the annex. This courtyard serves as the heart of the home, and it comes complete with a fireplace and an outdoor kitchen. Related: Cantilevered holiday cabins boast stunning coastal views in Norway According to the architects, the courtyard “functions as a protected and semi-tempered zone (without particular heating) between the main part and the annex . . . It also provides an additional layer to the natural ventilation during summertime, even on windy or rainy days.” The main building consists of two living areas. The master bedroom and bathroom are on one side of the structure, and a bedroom and secondary living room are on the other. The open kitchen, dining and living areas are located between the bedrooms. Various “in-between” spaces, with concrete floors and wood-slatted ceilings, connect the individual cabins . In order to create a cohesive connection to the exterior wooden cladding , the interior walls are covered in knot-free oak panels. Minimal furnishings and bare walls put the focus on the incredible scenery that surrounds the home. Each room has a large glass wall that offers amazing views. + Stinessen Arkitektur Via Dwell Photography by Steve King and Terje Arntsen, via Stinessen Arkitectur

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Nearly all new US energy capacity came from solar and wind in early 2018

April 25, 2018 by  
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In the first two months of 2018, the United States installed 1,568 megawatts of wind and 565 MW of solar — which accounted for a whopping 98 percent of all new power generation capacity. Meanwhile, only 40 MW of natural gas capacity was installed in the same time period. These findings are detailed in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) latest “ Energy Infrastructure Update ,” which arrives even as the Trump administration attempts to align federal policy with the interests of the fossil fuel industry. Despite administration resistance to renewable energy, several states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election are benefiting from the installation of major clean energy projects within their borders. This includes the 170 MW Beaver Creek Wind Project and the 168 MW Prairie Wind Project in Iowa , as well as the 81 MW Stuttgart Solar Project in Arkansas . As the cost of solar and wind energy continues to drop, the fundamental economics of the situation encourage further investments in clean energy. Related: Solar outshined all fossil-fuels sources combined in 2017 The recent FERC report projects that renewable energy will continue to dominate new power generation capacity installed over the next several years. FERC estimates that 147,000, or 69 percent, of the 212,000 MW power generation capacity expected to be installed between now and March 2021 will be from renewable energy sources. It also predicts that coal plants, despite a more industry-friendly administration, will continue to close without replacement, shrinking the number of active coal plants over time. Net coal power generation is expected to fall by 15,000 MW over the next several years. Via Think Progress Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Nearly all new US energy capacity came from solar and wind in early 2018

Arctic sea ice is filled with record levels of microplastics

April 25, 2018 by  
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Even the Arctic can’t escape plastic pollution . Scientists gathered ice samples from five distinct regions in the Arctic Ocean , and some of those samples contained over 12,000 microplastic particles per liter of ice – a record-breaking amount. All told, they uncovered 17 different kinds of plastic , including paints and packaging. A team of 9 scientists at Alfred Wegener Institute recorded record levels of microplastics, or plastic fragments between a few micrometers to under five millimeters big, in sea ice collected in the Arctic. They gathered these samples aboard the research icebreaker Polarstern in 2014 and 2015. They utilized a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer to scrutinize the ice samples layer by layer to light up microparticles; particles reflect varying wavelengths depending on their ingredients so the scientists could determine their substances. Related: New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected Their methods helped them discover minuscule particles. Scientist Gunnar Gerdts, who runs the laboratory where the researchers carried out measurements, said in a statement , “In this way, we also discovered plastic particles that are tiny 11 microns in size. This is roughly a sixth of the diameter of human hair and was also the key reason why, with more than 12,000 particles per liter of sea ice, we were able to detect two to three times higher plastic concentrations than was the case in a previous study.” 67 percent of the particles in the ice samples fell in the 50 micrometers and below category: the smallest one. Biologist Ilka Peeken said, “We found out in our study that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were smaller than one-twentieth of a millimeter and thus easily eaten by Arctic microorganisms such as crayfish, but also copepods.” This is concerning, she said, because “so far no one can say to what extent these tiny plastic particles harm the sea dwellers or end up even endangering humans.” The journal Nature Communications published the research this week. + Alfred Wegener Institute + Nature Communications Images via Tristan Vankaan , Mar Fernandez , and Stefan Hendricks

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The EPA wants to limit what science can be used to create regulations

April 25, 2018 by  
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Just weeks after this year’s March for Science ,  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt is taking a shot at science — “secret science,” in his words . Pruitt recently proposed a rule that would limit the kinds of research the agency could draw on in crafting regulations. Reuters described the move as “an apparent concession to big business” which has angled for the restrictions for a long time. Pruitt’s proposal would mean the EPA wouldn’t be able to use scientific research based on confidential data. That means the agency would only be able to draw on studies that make all their data publicly available for everyone to scrutinize, according to NPR . The administrator said in a statement, “The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an end. The ability to test, authenticate, and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of rulemaking process. Americans deserve to assess the legitimacy of the science underpinning EPA decisions that may impact their lives.” The EPA’s statement said the proposal is consistent with scientific journals like Nature and Science ‘s data access requirements. Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science But some scientists are worried — the move could place crucial data off limits. NPR quoted Sean Gallagher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science ‘s senior government relations officer, as saying, “Our concern with this is they are quite literally limiting the best available science that can be used by the EPA.” Epidemiological studies are often utilized in the agency’s regulatory decisions, and Gallagher said, “Those studies involve people like you and me, signing confidentiality agreements that the scientists doing the studies won’t reveal my personal health information, like my vital statistics, or my death certificate, if I die during the course of the study. This is the kind of science that the EPA relies on, whether it looks at chemicals or particulates and their mortality or health effects. It involves private data.” The proposal won’t enter into force yet; Reuters said there will be a 30-day comment period and the proposal would need to be finalized. + Environmental Protection Agency Via Reuters and NPR Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and NRDC pix on Flickr

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Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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