Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations take aim at phasing out hydrofluorocarbons

Earlier this week, the EPA gave the green light on regulation that limits the production and domestic use of hydrofluorocarbons. These compounds are used for refrigeration and in air conditioners but are extremely powerful greenhouse gases, and even small leaks have an outsized effect on the climate.

Image via TexasGOPVote.com / Flickr.

The rules comes as part of the government’s American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020, and aims to slash production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the U.S. by 85% over the next 15 years. In total this would reduce the country’s emissions by an estimated 4.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

Cutting back

“As we move in this direction, we are also opening up a huge opportunity for American industries,” Gina McCarthy, White House climate advisor, said during a briefing on Wednesday. “Reducing HFCs is a huge climate success story.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan explained that the transition towards safer and more energy-efficient methods of cooling and refrigeration is expected to bring in around $270 billion, mostly in public health benefits and cost savings, over the next three decades. HFCs see use in various industrial and domestic applications where cooling or refrigeration are needed, but the new rule deals predominantly with domestic users. The National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute are among the backers of the regulation.

This piece of regulation is backed by industry groups who hope it will launch the U.S. to the forefront of the manufacturing and production of alternative refrigerants. It has also been hailed as the most significant climate change law passed by Congress in the last decade. It draws its roots from a 2016 amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone pollution which calls for the U.S. and other large industrialized countries to reduce HFCs by 85% by 2036.

Besides goals to reduce the production and use of HFCs, the AIM act is intended to also foster technologies in the areas of carbon dioxide capture and storage in order to limit emissions from power generation and manufacturing facilities. It also calls for a shift away from diesel engines in public transport and other vehicle categories.

The regulation enjoyed bi-partisan support, with the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., being two of its main backers. Both represent states that are home to companies producing alternative refrigerants and said that they backed it to ensure regulatory certainty for their states.

The Biden administration adds that it’s also exploring new options to ensure that the new regulations around HFCs are enforced, including the creation of an interagency task force to prevent illegal trade, production, use, or sale of the compounds. This task force will most likely be led by the Department of Homeland Security, and the EPA’s offices of Air and Radiation and Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. It will have jurisdiction to act both against illegal producers on U.S. soil and to “detect, deter, and disrupt” attempts to illegally import these chemicals into the country.

The need for such a task force was made apparent by the European Union’s difficulties in implementing similar policies against HFCs, according to Goffman.

“Unfortunately, [the EU] has experienced a lot of illegal activity [on this issue]” he says. “We’re going to be vigorous and proactive.”

The State Department has been preparing for the formal ratification of the amendment, and the documents are now awaiting submission to the Senate.

New EPA advisor believes air is “a little too clean for optimum health”

Unfortunately, it seems like this administration is hellbent on making the EPA an anti-scientific, destructive organization. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has replaced 22 members of the Science Advisory Board with industry reps and members of state regulatory agencies. Actually, to be fair, one of them is technically a scientist. The one academic member, Robert Phallen, is mostly known for his statement that “modern air is a little too clean for optimal health.”

Yes, pump some more of that sweet air pollution, it’s good for you…

Against science, against common sense

To say that things are going a bit crazy at the Environmental Protection Agency would be an understatement. Instead of applying science-based policies and regulating what corporations are and aren’t allowed to do, the EPA has completely turned against its purpose. The organization’s leadership stands against the scientific consensus on climate change, they want to end clean water regulations, and they have all but turned into a lobby group for fossil fuel companies. To cement the ungodly transition, EPA chief Scott Pruitt has, to the best of his abilities, removed scientists from advisory panels. Instead, new advisers hail from companies such as Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, and the French petroleum company Total.

But without a doubt, the cherry on top of the dark pie is Robert Phallen. Phallen has a bizarre understanding of what air pollution does to human health. Back in 2012, speaking to the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences  (AAAS), he said that children need to breathe a bit more pollution, as this would somehow teach their bodies how to handle it. Plainly put, he said:

“Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Needless to say, this completely goes against what decades of research have found. A recent study concluded that one in six deaths worldwide could be linked to environmental pollution, while in 2015 researchers wrote that air pollution kills 3.3 million people every year. Pollution stemming from automobile traffic has also been shown to have a negative impact on children’s cognitive growth.

The good thing, for him at least, is that he’ll fit right in with the new EPA crowd.

Neutrality is long gone

But for the rest of us, there’s nothing good about any of this. It’s unprecedented for the EPA to replace its advisory boards with industry reps. While these boards have no direct decisional power, they do a great deal to influence the direction the EPA will take and right now, it seems they want to focus on repealing current environmental laws instead of drawing up new ones.

“I have never seen anyone go after these boards. They’ve always kind of been off-limits,” Kyla Bennett, who worked as the head of wetlands enforcement in EPA’s Northeast region for 10 years and now runs Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental watchdog group, told VICE.

Image credits: Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States.

Pruitt has also banned any scientists receiving grants from the EPA from serving on these boards, which is counterintuitive, to say the least. Here’s why this is so problematic: it completely gives up on neutrality. In scientific advisory groups, you want neutral voices. You want independent scientists presenting their findings. It’s understandable that you want a perspective from the industry, but having only a perspective from the industry gives up on any chance of neutrality and objectivity. EPA grantees are traditionally a group who carries out research that the industry isn’t interested in funding — often, because it would damage its own image.

“The board has always assumed that academicians who have to get money from some source have to get money from the federal government because no industry would be interested in funding them,” Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, told VICE News. She left her post as the director of science and technology in the EPA’s water office in August.

“They wanted a totally neutral, objective look at just the scientific issues that were brought before the board,” Southerland added. “It’s not supposed to be a groupthink.”

There’s also a massive conflict of interest the new boards present.

“Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Centre for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “He claims federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board but industry funding shouldn’t.”

He added: “The consequences of these decisions aren’t just bad for a few scientists. This could mean that there’s no independent voice ensuring that EPA follows the science on everything from drinking water pollution to atmospheric chemical exposure.”

 The bottom line

There’s a term for what’s going on with the EPA: it’s called regulatory capture. As Wikipedia explains regulatory capture is “a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.”

There can be no doubt that the EPA will, under the current administration, focus on promoting the interests of certain corporations and interests groups. Even more, they are doing everything they can to silence real scientists. It’s not clear what will happen to the agency and how big of a negative their actions will have, but it seems very likely that, given the size of the US economy and industry, its shadow will be cast way beyond the borders of the US.

US report says climate change is happening, but US leaders disagrees

The White House released a scientific report Friday saying that climate change is happening and there’s no “alternative explanation” for what we are witnessing. Ironically, the Trump administration is also working hard to deny climate change and undo environmental and climate policies.

Image credits: National Climate Assessment.

It’s man-made climate change

The government’s National Climate Assessment is released every year, as mandated by law. The report’s scientific conclusions should surprise no one, as we already knew that climate change was happening and that humans are causing it.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes in the industrial era, especially over the last six decades (see attribution analysis in Ch. 3: Detection and Attribution),” the report writes.

“Over the last century, there are no alternative explanations supported by the evidence that are either credible or that can contribute more than marginally to the observed patterns. There is no convincing evidence that natural variability can account for the amount of and the pattern of global warming observed over the industrial era.”

Authors continue, stating that there’s really not much debate around these conclusions, echoing what thousands of other papers concluded before them: no matter how you look at it, anthropogenic climate change is happening, and scientists are quite certain of it.

“Highly diverse types of direct measurements made on land, sea, and in the atmosphere over many decades have allowed scientists to conclude with high confidence that global mean temperature is increasing. Observational datasets for many other climate variables support the conclusion with high confidence that the global climate is changing.”

“There is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years,” it worryingly continues.

The report says Americans (like the rest of the world) are already experiencing the effects of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases. Even more worrying, the report warns of the unpredictable, severe climate and weather changes to come in the future. This is also in line with previous predictions, which claim that extreme weather will become more and more common.

An alternate reality

What is surprising — and it’s disheartening to even consider — is that the current administration didn’t try to hide or edit the paper’s findings. Many were expecting Trump and his allies to try and sweep the report under the rug, but this isn’t the case.

“I’m quite confident to say there has been no political interference in the scientific messages from this report,” David Fahey, an atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a lead author of the study, told reporters on Friday.

Unfortunately, the current US administration has shown, time and time again, that it disagrees with scientists — and with science in general. President Trump himself has repeatedly declared that he doesn’t believe in climate change, and he has surrounded himself with other deniers, attempting to undo as many environmental policies as possible. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have both spoken, time and time again, against climate change, and subsequently, against anthropogenic climate change. Ironically, this report speaks against all of them, and pretty much against all environmental policies this government has opted for. It almost seems like the current government is establishing its own parallel reality, without any regard to scientific realities.

“This is a federal government report whose contents completely undercut their policies, completely undercut the statements made by senior members of the administration,” said Phil Duffy, director of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Notably, under Trump, no agency has been as hostile to science and the environment than the Environmental Protection Agency. Under administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA has pretty much turned into a fief for fossil fuel companies, deleting important climate science pages from its website and replacing climate scientists with industry reps.

E.P.A. removes climate science sections from its website

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is acting against its name, deleting dozens of pages helping local governments and policymakers address climate change.

The EPA is turning against what it should stand for. Image credits: Damián Bakarcic.

Full blown anti-intellectualism

The EPA was created with the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. The idea is to develop science-based policies and encourage Congress to pass adequate laws. However, under the current administration, the EPA has basically become a front for climate change denial and fossil fuel lobby. Not only are they now ignoring mountains of climate science, but they’re now removing important resources from the EPA website.

A new study Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found that the website called “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments” has been renamed “Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments.” To make things even clearer, they’ve removed most mentions of the words “climate change” and several pages of scientific references.

Having a national agency purposefully withhold information and try to sweep science-based resource under the rug is no laughing matter.

Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the EPA, said that:

“There is no more significant threat than climate change and it isn’t just happening to people in far-off countries — it’s happening to us,” Ms. McCarthy said. “It is beyond comprehension that E.P.A. would ever purposely limit and remove access to information that communities need to save lives and property. Clearly, this was not a technical glitch, it was a planned shutdown.”

A captured agency

This move is a continuation of what the Trump administration started a few months ago when they started removing mentions of climate change from the EPA website, to “reflect the priorities… of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.” The EPA has also dismissed climate scientists and replaced them with industry representatives and went through an effective blackout per Trump’s orders.

There’s a term for what is happening; it’s called Regulatory capture. As per Wikipedia, regulatory capture is “a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.” Whenever this happens, the interest of companies or political groups are advanced at the detriment of the interests of the citizens. Government agencies suffering from regulatory capture are called “captured agencies.” It’s clear that the EPA now falls under this category.

 

*Comment: When we usually publish an article like this, we receive a certain type of comments and emails in the line of “stick to science get out of politics.” Unfortunately, politics can greatly affect science, and it usually does — for better or for worse. No matter what our political views are, we believe that free access to information and science-based policies are vital for a healthy society, and we will continue to stand for that.

Bees get much needed win as US court rules against neonicotinoid pesticide

It’s been a very rough period for bees. Bee numbers have been dropping at alarming rates, and the growing consensus seem to be that only limiting pesticide use (especially for some pesticides) can save them. Now, a US court overturned federal approval for a new formulation called sulfoxaflor, basically banning the pesticide.

Pesticides killing bees

Image via Discover Magazine.

The main problem is with neonicotinoids – a class of neuro-active substances linked with a swarm of negative environmental effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and loss of birds due to a reduction in insect populations. Sulfoxaflor is a neonicotinoid; on May 6, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency approved the first two commercial pesticide products that contain sulfoxaflor, marketed under the brand names “Transform” and “Closer”, to the Dow Chemical Corporation. However, the decision was appealed and now, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling overturning the EPA’s approval of sulfoxaflor, finding that the EPA had relied on “flawed and limited” data, and its green light was unjustified given the “precariousness of bee populations”.

Circuit judge Randy Smith said:

“I am inclined to believe the EPA… decided to register sulfoxaflor unconditionally in response to public pressure for the product and attempted to support its decision retrospectively with studies it had previously found inadequate.”

This decision can also be appealed.

Neonicotinoids have grown popular for protecting crops and orchards from unwanted pests, but in recent years, there has been increasing evidence that they also damage pollinators and disrupt their navigation systems, with major impacts worldwide.

Neonicotinoid pesticides can disrupt bee navigation (Image: Zhang Bo/Getty)

Striking contradictions

The strange thing about the legality of neonicotinoids is that the European Union banned most of them in 2013, as part of an effort to protect bees. An even larger investigation on banning more pesticides will be launched this autumn. However, last month, the EU approved the use of sulfoxaflor, while leaving final decisions on its use to national regulators, despite the European Food Standards Authority warning that “missing information” about sulfoxaflor meant that “a high risk to bees was not excluded”. Meanwhile, in the US, most neonicotinoids are still allowed for use, but sulfoxaflor has been banned. This creates a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

“The public will be justifiably confused and concerned,” says Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, a British group that campaigns against neonicotinoids.

Answering Questions

The lead attorney on the above mentioned lawsuit challenging the EPA’s approval of the pesticide sulfoxaflor took the time to answer some questions on Reddit. Here are some of the most interesting insights:

Question: What can the average person do to help bees?

Answer: First off, when buying ornamental plants for your home garden, make sure that they don’t come pre-treated with neonics. Unfortunately, many big nurseries are still selling flowers that are sprayed with neonics.

Q: Why do you have to say in response the NPR article basically saying everything is fine and the numbers reported don’t really tell the story at all?

A: First, we cannot expect native pollinators to stand in for commercially kept honeybees. Native bees are great, but where are we going to find the 1.5 million colonies it takes just to pollinate California’s almond crop each January? Second, every indication is that native bees have been taking it in the ear as well, and that’s a huge environmental impact in its own right.

Q: Thanks a lot for fighting the good fight, my question is how much other stuff needs to be removed to save bees in your opinion?

A: The hope is that we will eventually find a way to get off the toxic treadmill of evermore reliance on pesticides. It’s a social change, and it’s not going to happen on its own. It’s going to take commitment and real action on the part of government, corporate America, and all of us.

Q: What is going to replace neonicotinoids? Is the alternative better or worse for bees and farmers?

The hope is that we will eventually find a way to get off the toxic treadmill of evermore reliance on pesticides. It’s a social change, and it’s not going to happen on its own. It’s going to take commitment and real action on the part of government, corporate America, and all of us.

Q: What do you think will really happen if bees go extinct?

A: The reality is that commercial beekeepers will go extinct (read, bankrupt) long before honeybees. But the impact on agriculture and our diet will be essentially the same, because many of our most important crops absolutely require commercially kept bees for pollination. Agriculture as we know it just wouldn’t be possible without commercial beekeepers.

 

Texas chief toxicologist: No need for smog regulations, just stay indoor

Dr. Michael Honeycutt, the top toxicologist in the state of Texas argued that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shouldn’t tighten smog rules because there would be little to no health benefit.

“Ozone is an outdoor air pollutant because systems such as air conditioning remove it from indoor air,” he argues on a blog post on the TCEQ website. “Since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, we are rarely exposed to significant levels of ozone.”

I don’t even know where to start – so I’ll try to take it slow. The overwhelming majority of scientists argue that the EPA should tighten ozone restrictions. In 2008, the agency set the current ozone standard at 75 parts per billion (ppb). However, in June this year, the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb. A judge then ruled that the EPA has to draft a tighter smog rule by December, and the agency is expected to do so. However, Dr. Honeycutt, the head of the toxicology division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has a different opinion. He has joined Texas Republicans and others nationwide who firmly oppose imposing tighter rules on pollution.

Downtown Houston in October, 2008. The city has severe smog issues and new research suggests that pollution from fracking contributes significantly to the problem.
CREDIT: AP/DAVID J. PHILLIP

He offers two main arguments – the first one being that ‘people already spend 90 percent of their time indoor’, so why bother reducing smog levels? Well, I’m not gonna bother and explain why that argument is flawed on so many levels, and instead, I’m gonna discuss the second argument. He claims that the slight increase in premature deaths that could result if ozone standards are lowered — due to the fact that lowering levels of nitrogen oxide can temporarily increase ozone levels because nitrogen also helps dissipate ozone. This is indeed true – or at least this is what the accepted models show; but that doesn’t mean that this is a good argument, because in the long run, lowering smog levels would definitely save lives. Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund compared this situation to smokers who quit smoking, and have a higher risk of lung cancer right after quitting smoking.

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t quit smoking,” Craft said. The premature death prediction “does not mean pollution is good for you. It means that you need to double down on the efforts to reduce emissions in the air.”

A recent study suggests that the increasing activity in shale gas and oil drilling in the state of Texas has contributed significantly to an increase in ozone levels.

The App that could fight food waste

According to the EPA, Americans waste some 30-40 percent of all the food they use. Even not considering the poorest areas such as Africa or SE Asia where food is almost a luxury, there are 50 million Americans who don’t have daily access to adequate food; reducing food waste could improve and save countless lives.

Wasted food is a huge problem throughout the entire digital world. Image via Wiki Commons.

Food waste is a huge problem throughout the entire developed world, but a simple app may go a long way to changing that. The PareUp app will be launched in New York City first, where, according to the PareUp website, 6.5 billion pounds of food are thrown away daily; 6.5 billion pounds of food wasted every day, and that’s just New York.

Ironically, the biggest food wasters are those who profit most from food: restaurants and supermarkets – and this is PareUp steps in. Their goal is to connect the individual consumer with these businesses, allowing both parties the opportunity to buy and sell food that would otherwise go to waste. Supermarkets and restaurants would get a chance to make an extra buck from something they would literally throw away, and consumers will get a chance to get good food at discounted prices. They created a simple yet effective win-win scenario for all parties involved.

A big part of the wasted food is food which doesn’t hit the shelves in the first place – like for example vegetables with a weird shape, or simply foods which are just as tasty the others but have some feature that deems them subpar. These would also be spared and end up in someone’s belly, instead of the garbage can. The clear and simple solution would be to directly donate these to local shelters or food banks, but unfortunately, food-safety regulations for many of these organizations disallow them from accepting it. Also, the costs of transportation outweigh the price of the food sometimes. Also, it raises a somewhat ethical discussion – if these foods aren’t good enough for the general consumer, why would they be good for orphanages or homeless shelters?

Personally, I think the simple system this app uses can work out really fine. It’s your choice if you want to eat cheaper food which would otherwise be thrown away. It’s sustainable, and I certainly don’t consider it shameful. Personally, if it comes to my area, I’ll definitely use the app – and proudly.