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Duke Energy on defense in appeals court challenge to North Carolina regulators slashing solar incentives

Environmental Working Group - Fri, 02/09/2024 - 13:40
Duke Energy on defense in appeals court challenge to North Carolina regulators slashing solar incentives Iris Myers February 9, 2024

RALEIGH, N.C. – Lawyers for monopoly power company Duke Energy were on defense at a February 7 hearing before the North Carolina Court of Appeals over state regulators’ decision last year, at the utility’s behest, to slash financial incentives for residents seeking to adopt rooftop solar.

Attorneys for a coalition of clean energy advocacy organizations hammered Duke Energy and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, or NCUC, highlighting utility regulators’ blatant violation of a state law that bypassed the mandatory independent cost-benefit analysis required for any major rule changes to North Carolina’s energy policy. 

During a post-hearing teleconference, a senior official with 8MSolar, one of the state’s largest rooftop solar installation companies, painted a grim picture. They cited widespread damage inflicted on the rooftop solar industry since the policy decision, known as the net metering rules change, supported by Duke and the North Carolina Utilities Commission, was implemented last October.

“Since October, when net metering was no longer an option for solar customers, we saw on the residential side a 40 to 50 percent decrease in new people signing up to go solar,” said Bryce Bruncati, director of residential sales for 8MSolar. 

“On the commercial side, it’s been even more drastic, with a 70 to 80 percent decrease in commercial operations looking to go solar. And it’s not just our company. We are seeing this across the board among the solar installation industry,” he said.

“Accessibility is now a big problem for working families. The exact people we want to go solar, save money on their electric bills and be a part of the green revolution are not able to do so now because the savings aren't there anymore,” added Bruncati.

Brucanti’s warning echoes sentiments of one solar installer, who told The News & Observer last month that the cuts were “killing” the industry in North Carolina.

Clean energy advocates at today’s hearing emphasized rooftop solar as the swiftest, fairest and most cost-effective method to transition North Carolina away from fossil fuel–generated electricity. They accused the NCUC of disregarding compelling evidence, including that of Attorney General Josh Stein, which demonstrated the benefits of net metering for all customers.

Caroline Leary, Environmental Working Group  general counsel and chief operating officer, slammed the commission for ignoring H.B. 589, a 2017 state law mandating the NCUC order an independent net metering cost-benefit analysis instead relying on Duke Energy's biased calculations.

“The commission deliberately sidestepped H.B. 589, refusing to conduct an independent, thorough cost-benefit analysis over the state’s net metering policy, and chose instead to blindly rely on Duke Energy’s deeply flawed cost analysis,” said Leary.

“This regulatory maneuver is a calculated effort to sustain Duke’s monopoly control over its captive ratepayers statewide, acknowledging rooftop solar as the sole source of competition against traditional utility giants like Duke,” she said.

Pointing to similar detrimental effects in California following net metering changes, Leary highlighted massive layoffs and business closures in that state, where more than 17,000 jobs have vanished, along with numerous companies that have gone bankrupt. 

The clean energy groups called on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to prevent the destruction of the state’s rooftop solar industry, criticizing his silence despite numerous pleas for assistance from solar companies over the past two years.

NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren denounced Duke Energy’s long-standing claim that residential rooftop solar is subsidized by others, pointing out the company's obstruction of a proper cost-benefit analysis to validate this argument.

“Duke Energy and other U.S. utilities have claimed for 12 years that ‘rooftop solar homes are subsidized by others,’” Warren said. “That’s their key argument for killing competition from solar. But Duke vigorously blocked the cost-benefit analysis that would show the truth, and the rubber-stamp regulators agreed – without even conducting a hearing.”  

The clean energy groups say solar power on roofs, parking areas and the ground is still a strong value for most customers, but Duke Energy and the regulators have seriously damaged the most important industry in North Carolina. 

Ziyad Habash, of Sunrise Durham, emphasized the state’s responsibility to combat emissions and challenge Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing, the corporate environmental and sustainability claims that fall short of reality.

“We live in North Carolina, so we’re responsible for truly cleaning up emissions here, and that means challenging Duke Energy’s influence and greenwashing,” he said. Sunrise is a youth-led movement focusing on the climate crisis and a transition to clean energy.

“We should be really working with these solar companies and communities to flood new rooftop solar panels onto every rooftop.” 

The coalition challenging the commission’s net metering order includes EWG, NC WARN, Sunrise Durham, 350 Triangle, 350 Charlotte, N.C. Climate Solutions Coalition, N.C. Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Live, along with retired chemical engineer Donald Oulman.
 

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.


 

Areas of Focus Energy Federal & State Energy Policy North Carolina Leading solar company official says widespread damage already underway; outcome of case is pivotal for clean energy, climate efforts Disqus Comments Press Contact Alex Formuzis alex@ewg.org (202) 667-6982 February 9, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Super Bowl ads: Showcasing snacks and makeup with toxic chemicals

Environmental Working Group - Fri, 02/09/2024 - 06:10
Super Bowl ads: Showcasing snacks and makeup with toxic chemicals rcoleman February 9, 2024

Whether your taste runs to salty or sweet, you probably ate your share of snacks while you watched this year’s Super Bowl – some with potentially harmful ingredients.

The big game is popular with advertisers trying to tempt you into buying their foods, spending enormous sums on spots each year. Some of the products advertised this year score poorly in Food Scores, the EWG database that scores packaged foods on nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns.

Many of the foods touted in this year’s Super Bowl ads can be classified as ultra-processed – industrially produced packaged products made with ingredients unavailable in home kitchens. High in refined carbohydrates and fats, loaded with food additives, they’re typically less nutritious and higher in calories than less-processed foods. The Super Bowl may be a time when you want to indulge a little – just bear in mind what you’re consuming.

Ultra-processed food often includes toxic chemicals, such as artificial flavors and colorants. Or, like Super Bowl advertiser Popeye’s, the food is packed with fat, sodium and calories

It’s important to know the score where food chemicals are involved. Here are some of the products and brands with ads in this year’s Super Bowl:

Mountain Dew

Three types of Mountain Dew soda are among the 20 products in Food Scores with the most page views. 

One in particular, a teal drink called Baja Blast, was featured in the company’s Super Bowl ad. It contains the mystery chemical mixture known as “flavor.” 

Natural and artificial flavors are chemically manipulated concoctions designed to make foods more palatable to the consumer, but companies aren’t required to specify which of thousands of flavors the food product contains. The Food and Drug Administration considers 700 to be safe, but industry groups approved another 2,000 without the FDA’s review. 

Baja Blast also contains the food dyes Blue No. 1 and Yellow No. 5. Some artificial food colors can cause behavioral problems in children, leading to attention and behavior problems. They can also harm the hormone system and cause damage to DNA. Blue No. 1 has been connected to headache, digestive problems, skin irritation, and cancer. Yellow No. 1 has been associated with skin irritation, allergies and asthma.

The artificial sweetener sucralose is in the zero-sugar version of Baja Blast. Recent research suggests there may be a link between higher consumption of sucralose and higher risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Candy

It’s not a big surprise that iconic M&Ms get their color from food chemicals – Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6 and Red No. 40. M&Ms also contain “flavor.”

Nerds made its Super Bowl debut this year. This candy is also the most-searched product in EWG’s Food Scores database. They’re hardly a nutritional touchdown, though: Bomb Pop Nerds contain the artificial colors Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, Red No. 40 and Red No. 3. 

The Reese’s candy featured in its ad may be one of its safer choices. Others aren’t as healthy. In their snack-size version, Reese’s classic peanut butter cups contain the ingredient tert-butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, a preservative that can harm the immune system and weaken vaccine effectiveness. It’s also in Reese’s Marshmallow Creme with Milk Chocolate. 

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Whipped Topping is made with Yellow No. 5 and the propellant nitrous oxide, better known as “laughing gas.” When abused, it can harm the nervous system and lead to other health issues. 

Doritos

Frito Lay touted its Doritos Dinamita chips during the big game, all of which rate 6 or higher on Food Scores – the “worst” end of our ratings. The color in at least one type of these chips comes from four colorants, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Red No. 40 and Blue No. 1. They also contain the flavor enhancer MSG and the artificial sweetener sucralose.

Makeup

Two makeup brands bought Super Bowl ads – including NYX Professional Makeup, which scores a 1, the least hazardous rating, in EWG’s Skin Deep® database of personal care products. 

But its other products score 5 or higher – from hazardous to very hazardous – with ingredients such as citrus lemon peel oil, linked to skin, eye and lung irritation and the colorant Blue No. 1, linked to hormone disruption and cancer. BHT, associated with allergies, endocrine disruption and cancer, is in some of the products, and others contain talc, which is associated with cancer.

More than one product from another brand, e.l.f., contains the toxic PFAS “forever chemicalPTFE, better known as Teflon, in addition to artificial colorants. 

Rounding out the advertiser lineup are a couple of fast food companies – watch out for PFAS in their packaging – and food delivery companies.

The government should step up

Consumers – and Super Bowl viewers – are free to enjoy their snacks, and they do. Food Scores searches show they’re also concerned about what’s in those foods. Sometimes those concerns build pressure for companies to reformulate their products, but these efforts often fail.

How expensive is reformulation? Companies often claim the price is prohibitive. But the ads were $7 million – not exactly chump change. 

Facing inaction from many food companies, we need tougher national laws to protect us from harmful ingredients. 

In the meantime, some states are stepping into the gap. Last year, California passed into law a bill banning four harmful food chemicals, including Red No. 3. Illinois, Missouri, New York, South Dakota Washington have just introduced legislation banning four additives. In Illinois, the similar bill may get amended to add one more. Other states may soon follow suit.

Get Your Free Guide: EWG's Guide to Food Additives What you can do

Consumers increasingly are searching for quick healthy snack options. There are plenty of great options, many of them in Food Scores.

Whether you’re watching a big game or just following your day-to-day schedule, it’s best to:

  • Eat whole foods like beans and legumes, whole grains and fresh produce. 
  • Make ultra-processed foods more of an occasional indulgence than a regular standby.
  • Consult Food Scores to find out more about packaged food ingredients. 
  • When brainstorming possible snacks, swap ultra-processed snack foods for healthier options, like fresh fruit and vegetables with hummus, nuts, popcorn made from scratch, deviled eggs, roasted chickpeas or air-fried sweet potato fries.  
Areas of Focus Food & Water Food Personal Care Products Family Health Toxic Chemicals Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Ketura Persellin February 12, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Climate focus: Wildfires and megadrought in Chile

Campaign against Climate Change - Fri, 02/09/2024 - 04:28

In the past days, wildfires have ravaged central Chile with a death toll of at least 131, and more than 300 people still missing at the time of writing. These fires are the most deadly, but not the first in recent years - six of the most destructive fire seasons on record in Chile have occurred in the past decade. Particularly notable are 2017 and February 2023 when fierce fires raged across the country killing dozens, injuring thousands, and leaving many people homeless. 

The fires come on the back of an extreme heatwave. Chile’s capital Santiago reached 37.3C on 31 January, the country’s third-highest recorded temperature in more than a century. This heatwave has affected large parts of the continent

On top of the long-term global heating trend, temperatures have been pushed even higher by El Niño. This summer heatwave was preceded by an extraordinary winter heatwave across much of South America. In August 2023, temperatures in the Chilean Andes rose as high as 38.9C in mid winter. 

The long-term trend is just as worrying. For over a decade, Chile has been grappling with a megadrought. This is a crisis of climatic change and lack of rainfall, but also a social and economic crisis of water management. Huge amounts of water are consumed by monoculture tree plantations to the south of Santiago and the avocado orchards in the north. Meanwhile the glaciers of the Andes continue to shrink. In 2022, water rationing was introduced in the capital, Santiago, the capital.

In 2022, Chile voted on a proposed new constitution. A key focus of the constitution was protection of the environment, water, climate change and biodiversity. But the proposed constitution was rejected in the referendum.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Argentina has also suffered from three consecutive years of drought, causing an agricultural crisis leading in turn to a deepening economic crisis. A spirit of desperation and anger at the status quo propelled the victory of far-right 'excessive and unstable' libertarian and self-described 'anarcho-capitalist' Javier Milei in 2023 presidential elections, with an agenda of deregulation and austerity

Further reading

Photos of fire damage and brief video report (2024)

More Than a Decade of Megadrought Brought a Summer of Megafires to Chile (2023)

Illapel: Chilean city caught in perfect storm of mega-drought and mining (2022)

Extreme fire weather in Chile driven by climate change and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

Climate change fueling warm ocean 'blob' causing Chile megadrought  (2021)

The satellite image above from NOAA shows smoke from the Feb 2023 fires.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Disappointing #SONA2024 – Several Empty Promises About Climate Action But Mum About New Fossil Fuel Legislation

The Green Connection - Fri, 02/09/2024 - 01:44
While it was good to hear President Ramaphosa acknowledge the “disastrous” impact of the many extreme weather events affecting the […]
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

STOP DRAX: EMERGENCY DEMO 5th MARCH 2024

Biofuel Watch - Fri, 02/09/2024 - 01:42

Join us at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to demand an end to tree burning subsidies. Fill in the below form if you want to join this action.

Click here to go to the action network events page

Drax is the UK’s biggest carbon emitter. The UK gov has already approved DRAX’s planning application and is clearly intending to lock us in to dirty tree burning energy for decades to come. Paid for by your energy bills!

The UK gov is now considering giving £billions more in subsidies to tree burning polluters Drax and Lynemouth. Drax is already receiving £1.7m per day from UK bill payers to burn trees whilst making record profits. According to the consultation, the cost of new subsidies to UK bill payers could be anything up to £2.5 billion a year. This is money that will not be available to support a transition to genuinely renewable wind and solar power.

We say: no more. No more wasting our money on dirty tree burning. No more funding of an industry that is driving environmental injustice, wrecking ecosystems and ruining our chances at a liveable future by destroying the very forests we need to absorb carbon emissions.

It’s more important now more than ever to put pressure on our government and let them know that we will not stand by whilst £billions more could be given to polluters! Join us to take action. 

Join us at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to demand an end to tree burning subsidies.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

As farm income returns to normal levels, gaps continue to grow

Environmental Working Group - Thu, 02/08/2024 - 08:30
As farm income returns to normal levels, gaps continue to grow rcoleman February 8, 2024

While farm income is expected to return to normal levels in 2024, the gap between the largest, most successful farmers and their poorer neighbors continues to grow. Increasing farm subsidies, as some members of Congress are proposing, will make these gaps even wider. 

Net farm income is forecast to be $121 billion in 2024, according to the Department of Agriculture. That’s below recent record highs but above the level farmers earned in any year from 2015 to 2020 and close to the 20-year average income.

Despite the dip in profits from farming compared to last year, median farm household income is expected to remain steady at nearly $100,000, significantly above the American median household income of $75,000. Many farmers are also very affluent – 98 percent of all family farms are wealthier than the average American household.

The largest farms will continue to reap extraordinary profits. Large commercial farms with sales greater than $1 million are expected to enjoy farm-level net cash income of $571,000 in 2024, while farm production expenses will likely remain the same. 

Overall, farm equity will set a new record: $3.7 billion. This is mostly due to the value of total farm sector assets also reaching a new peak: $4.2 billion, as a result of increases in farmland values.  

Crop price highs

Rice and peanut farmers are expected to enjoy new record highs for the prices they earn in 2024. Rice cash receipts are expected to increase to $3.8 billion, up from $3.3 billion, and peanut cash receipts will increase to $1.57 billion, up from $1.56 billion.

The price that cotton farmers earn is also expected to increase in 2024, to $6.96 billion, up from $6.85 billion, in 2023. 

The rosy outlook for farmers – especially those growing cotton, rice and peanuts – isn’t stopping some members of Congress from seeking to raise the government price floors for certain crops. Their proposals to increase the price guarantees in the USDA’s Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farmers growing peanuts, cotton and rice in just a few states. 

Since PLC payments are linked to production, the largest producers get the lion’s share of the funding. In 2021, just 10 percent of farmers received more than 80 percent of all PLC payments. 

Most farmers do not grow the crops eligible for these subsidies. Increasing price guarantees will help the largest producers only and speed increases in the cost of buying and renting farmland. Raising price guarantees is especially bad for young farmers, who are smaller and largely do not grow cotton, rice and peanuts.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Jared Hayes February 8, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session #5: Militarism and Climate Justice

Stop the Money Pipeline - Thu, 02/08/2024 - 07:53

 



Thanks for watching Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session #5: Militarism and Climate Justice!

Here are resources for further learning:

From Dr. Patrick Bigger (Climate and Community Project):

From Angel Parker (Dissenters):

Mentioned by Tara Houska:

Statement with the Petro quote that Patrick referred to: https://www.climateandcommunity.org/ceasefire-now 

Shared in Q&A by David Solnit: Nowartax.org is site of long term national war tax resistance campaign, part of which redirect resisted taxes to climate and social justice projects 

Further reading:

The post Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session #5: Militarism and Climate Justice appeared first on Stop the Money Pipeline.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 1: Sacrifice Zones in the Era of Electrification

Stop the Money Pipeline - Thu, 02/08/2024 - 07:44

 

View the slide deck that was shared on the call here.

For further learning and reading on this topic, the following articles, websites, and books were recommended:

The post Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 1: Sacrifice Zones in the Era of Electrification appeared first on Stop the Money Pipeline.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 3: Prison Abolition and Climate Justice

Stop the Money Pipeline - Thu, 02/08/2024 - 07:22

Thanks for watching Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session #3: Prison Abolition and Climate Justice!

Here are more resources: 

Ways to plug in and keep learning: 

Books:

The post Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 3: Prison Abolition and Climate Justice appeared first on Stop the Money Pipeline.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 2: Migrant Justice and Climate Justice

Stop the Money Pipeline - Thu, 02/08/2024 - 07:16

Thanks for watching Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session #2: Migrant Justice and Climate Justice

Here are additional resources:

The post Broadening Our Ideas of Climate Justice Session 2: Migrant Justice and Climate Justice appeared first on Stop the Money Pipeline.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Protein predicament: Health concerns about protein bars

Environmental Working Group - Wed, 02/07/2024 - 11:08
Protein predicament: Health concerns about protein bars Iris Myers February 7, 2024

Protein bars might not immediately come to mind when you think of unhealthy foods, but some aren’t as beneficial as they seem. Many bars sold today contain large amounts of ultra-processed ingredients, artificial sweeteners and added sugars.

A hearty alternative to granola bars, protein bars have ballooned into a $4.5 billion dollar industry, with some analysts predicting the market will grow to $7 billion by 2030. Options in the protein bar aisle at the grocery store keep growing, with flavors like Birthday Cake, Maple Glazed Donut, and Strawberry Creme.

But don’t be fooled by the flashy packaging and high protein count; some protein bars masquerade as “healthy,” despite containing the calories of a candy bar. 

Although people often eat protein bars after a workout or as a meal replacement, those that are heavily processed or contain artificial sweetener do not supply the nutrients your body needs to get from a meal or to recover from exercising. 

What’s the matter with ultra-processing?

Ultra-processed foods are those that have been engineered so they no longer resemble the raw ingredients they derive from. They contain added ingredients you won’t find in any home kitchen. The industrial processing involved usually means they offer far less in nutritional benefits – fewer vitamins, less fiber, and more fats and carbohydrates. 

Ultra-processed foods have been linked to a slew of health issues, like obesity, several forms of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular issues. They have been described as interacting with the body in the same way as an addictive substance like nicotine

A Harvard study published last October collected data from more than 30,000 participants over the course of 10 years and found that people with diets high in ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of developing depression.

Another study found that just a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 15 percent, regardless of the person’s weight.

Added sugars and artificial sweeteners

While a protein bar isn’t as nutritionally empty as a bag of ultra-processed potato chips, many brands contain added sugars, artificial sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup, and fatty oils like canola or palm that keep the bar from falling apart. These sweeteners have been linked to an abundance of health harms, including fatty liver syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes. 

Most protein bars contain added sugar, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Americans monitor and limit when possible. On average, adults consume two to three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day, an amount that has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, obesity, diabetes and even cognitive decline

The same Harvard study that found an association between depression and ultra-processed foods found a similar association between depression and artificial sweeteners. Study participants in the top fifth of artificial sweetener consumers had a 26 percent higher risk of developing depression than those in the bottom fifth.

An artificial sweetener may be listed as the second or third ingredient on the label of a protein bar. Some common ones include sucralose and erythritol, which has been linked to serious heart risk. These aren’t naturally occurring ingredients and are made in chemical processes.

The body can’t easily digest these food additives – they may cause bloating or indigestion, or have a laxative-like effect as the body struggles to absorb them.

Tips for safer protein power

Not all protein brands contain potentially harmful food additives. Certain brands of protein bars can still be a healthy snack or helpful energy boost. Just remember to:

  • Read the label. Studying the list of ingredients is the best way to get an idea of what’s in your protein bars. Take special note of how much sugar, fats and artificial ingredients there are in the bar. 
  • Avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, when possible. The amount of added sugar in a product will be displayed in grams. Artificial sweeteners are often not highlighted in the same way and may just be listed as one of the bar’s ingredients.
  • Try to choose protein bars with minimal processing. One rule of thumb is to look for products with as few ingredients as possible – with names you recognize. Or consult EWG’s Food Scores database to identify products with fewer harmful food chemicals.
  • Consider buying organic. These products have fewer ultra-processed ingredients and additives. 

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Areas of Focus Family Health Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors JR Culpepper February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Conservation groups initiate legal action against feds for failing to protect wolves

Western Environmental Law Center - Wed, 02/07/2024 - 06:54

Today, 10 conservation groups filed their 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“the Service”) for its failure to list western wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The groups outlined the reasons why the Service’s “not warranted” finding, formally published in today’s Federal Register, ignores obvious threats to the species, runs contrary to the best available science, and relies on flawed population models for its determination.

“The Service’s finding seems to give the green light for states hostile to wolves to follow suit with Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming’s aggressive killing regimes if they are eventually delisted and transferred to state management West wide,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “But wolves have yet to recover across vast portions of the West, and they exist in only small populations in the West Coast and Colorado habitats they are slowly reinhabiting. We will continue to fight for the protections this iconic species needs to be rightfully restored across the West’s wild landscape—protections that some states have shown only the Endangered Species Act can really provide.”

The finding confirms that a western U.S. distinct population segment, or “DPS,” is a valid entity for listing consideration, but then argues on the basis of a modeling exercise that there is no risk of extinction for wolves in the West either now or in the foreseeable future.

“The current killing regimes in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming put wolves at obvious risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, and this core population is key to wolf survival in the West,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Even if the states’ population estimates were defensible–and they aren’t, according to recent scientific analyses–the feds are underestimating the extinction agendas of anti-wolf state governments and the small and tentative state of recovering wolf populations elsewhere in the West.”

At present, wolf populations in California and the Cascade Range of western Oregon and Washington are far below minimum viable population thresholds, and Utah, Nevada, and northern Arizona, all of which have historic gray wolf habitat, have no wolves at all.

In 2023, a study by wolf geneticist Dr. Bridgett vonHoldt and others found that wolf populations in the northern Rockies are losing genetic variability and below genetic minimum viable population levels at today’s populations.

“Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have become the poster children for what happens when politics trumps science,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “They are cruelly driving wolves in the northern Rockies to extinction via wanton shooting, trapping, snaring, even driving over them with a snowmobile. Science shows us the importance of intact pack structures. Each family member has a vital role to play and they grieve each loss.”

A second 2023 study by Dr. Robert Crabtree and others found that the Montana state population model was badly biased, overestimating total wolf populations by as much as 50 percent. These researchers found that this flawed population model constitutes a “precariously misleading situation for decision-makers that threatens wolf populations.” In an earlier analysis, Dr. Scott Creel found that data input into both the Idaho and Montana population models violate the assumptions of the models, meaning that population estimations generated by the models are unreliable. Yet the Service relied on these flawed population estimates in concluding that wolves in the West are not at risk of extinction.

“The public trusts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be the backstop for imperiled species like the gray wolf,” said Lizzy Pennock, carnivore coexistence attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “The Service has an obligation to rely on the best available science in decision-making and should have seen through Montana’s use of flawed population modeling, not heedlessly accepted it as true. We deserve better from this agency.”

“It’s deeply concerning to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list gray wolves, A sacred species to Native Americans in the western U.S. under the Endangered Species Act, while ignoring traditional sacred religious beliefs of traditional Native Americans,” said Roger Dobson with Protect The Wolves. “It’s important to protect these intelligent and family-oriented predators to maintain ecosystem health, and to protect Native American sacred religious beliefs. Hopefully, the Service will take steps to address the problems with their determination before it’s too late for these native wildlife species, before violating Indigenous religious beliefs.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed to ‘immediately pursue’ emergency Endangered Species Act listing of wolves if any state allowed unlimited and unregulated killing of wolves, which Idaho has done since July 1, 2021,” said Suzanne Asha Stone, director of the Idaho-based International Wildlife Coexistence Network. “The Service has failed to honor their delisting plan just as the state of Idaho has failed to manage wolves ‘like mountain lions and black bears’ as they publically swore to do before wolf delisting. Aerial gunning of animals, killing pups for bounties, and widespread traps and deadly snares have no place in responsible wildlife management today.”.

“The Service acknowledged the unethical and unfair chase means and measures that are slaughtering wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, but just gave them a get out of jail free card for it to continue and worsen,” said KC York, president and founder of Trap Free Montana. Furthermore, they base their dreadful decision on flawed population models overestimating wolf numbers and ignore research warning of the wolves in the region’s genetic decline.”

“The Biden administration has once again let down wolves and those Americans who care about them,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “It has rejected every request to step forward when states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have implemented egregiously cruel and inhumane wolf eradication plans. Idaho proposes to kill 90 percent of its wilderness wolves, and that doesn’t alarm the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? It seems that like their state counterparts, federal officials have lost all reverence or respect for these iconic wilderness animals. It’s really a sad day.”

Contacts: 

Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center, 575-613-8051, nokes@westernlaw.org

Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, 307-399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org

Suzanne Asha Stone, International Wildlife Coexistence Network,  208-861-5177 suzanne@wildlifecoexistence.org

Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, 541-937-4261, brooks@predatordefense.org

Roger Dobson, Protect the Wolves, 714-750-6878, roger@protectthewolves.com

KC York, Trap Free Montana, 406-218-1170, info@trapfreemt.org

Lizzy Pennock, WildEarth Guardians, 406-830-8924, lpennock@wildearthguardians.org

George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048, gnickas@wildernesswatch.org

Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936, wildrockies@gmail.com

Paul Busch, Friends of the Clearwater, 208-882-9755, foc@friendsoftheclearwater.org

Julian Matthews, Nimiipuu Protecting Our Environment, 509-330-0023, protectingnimiipuu@gmail.com

The post Conservation groups initiate legal action against feds for failing to protect wolves appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Understanding Forest Dieback In The US South

Dogwood Alliance - Wed, 02/07/2024 - 05:07

Have you ever looked at a forest and noticed a patch of dead trees amidst a sea of green? It’s a concerning sight, isn’t it? You might be wondering, “What causes some forests to suffer and die?” Imagine standing on top of a majestic mountain. You’re gazing at the surrounding landscape. But it’s not vibrant […]

The post Understanding Forest Dieback In The US South first appeared on Dogwood Alliance.
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EPA reveals more evidence of widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

Environmental Working Group - Tue, 02/06/2024 - 14:08
EPA reveals more evidence of widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water rcoleman February 6, 2024

WASHINGTON – On February 1, the Environmental Protection Agency posted data confirming 70 million people have drinking water that has tested positive for the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. That number is based on the latest test results from only one-third of public water supplies.

EPA’s new data release adds urgency to the Biden administration’s overdue effort to establish first-time drinking water standards for PFAS. President Joe Biden promised in 2020 to set a PFAS drinking water standard as part of his campaign’s plan to secure environmental justice.

The latest PFAS results reflect tests conducted in 2023 at 3,700 water systems as part of the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR5. The rule requires water utilities across the nation to test drinking water for 29 PFAS compounds. More systems will be tested this year and in 2025.

Representing the third round of data from 2023, the new results showed PFAS were present in 33 percent of systems tested. 

The sheer scope of the PFAS contamination problem underscores why the Biden administration must quickly finalize national drinking water standards for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or SDWA. The EPA proposed such limits in March 2023.

“There are many other steps we must take to reduce PFAS pollution, including ending non-essential uses of PFAS, ending industrial discharges of PFAS into the air and water, cleaning up legacy PFAS pollution, and properly disposing of PFAS waste,” said Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group senior vice president for government affairs.

“But the single most important step we must take is to finalize a drinking water standard for all 50 states,” he said.

Regulating PFAS in water

The proposed PFAS drinking water standard will set science-based limits for six PFAS in drinking water. These chemicals have been studied extensively and are linked to serious health harms, including cancer and damage to the reproductive and immune systems. 

Some states have set their own drinking water standards for PFAS, but people in 40 states are depending on Biden to set a national drinking water standard that will apply across the U.S. 

The latest test results released by the EPA tell only part of the story – the full scale of PFAS contamination is likely much more widespread.

Tell Congress: Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

We need your help to protect our environment from toxic PFAS chemicals.

Tell Congress PFAS contamination crisis

A 2020 study published by scientists at the EWG estimated more than 200 million Americans are served by water systems with PFOA or PFOS – two of the most notorious PFAS – in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or ppt, or higher. The EPA tests report only PFAS detections at 4 ppt or higher for these chemicals.

EWG’s interactive PFAS contamination map, which we update frequently, shows public and private water systems known to be contaminated with toxic PFAS at thousands of locations. As of February 5, the map shows PFAS are known to contaminate 5,021 locations in 50 states, the District of Columbia and four territories. 

The EPA plans to release additional data on PFAS in drinking water as more systems conduct tests between now and 2025. The agency collects data through the UCMR for contaminants suspected to be in drinking water and for which SDWA health-based standards do not exist. 

Risks of PFAS exposure

PFAS are known as forever chemicals because once released into the environment they do not break down and they can build up in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected PFAS in the blood of 99 percent of Americans, including newborn babies

Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system. Studies show exposure to very low levels of PFAS can also increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness

“Every week new research highlights the detrimental effects of PFAS on human health and the environment and underscores the need for immediate action to protect drinking water,” said Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. 

If you know or suspect PFAS are in your tap water, the best way to protect yourself is with a filtration system at home. EWG researchers tested the performance of 10 popular water filters and measured how well each reduced PFAS detected in home tap water. 

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

Areas of Focus Food & Water Water Toxic Chemicals PFAS Chemicals Disqus Comments Press Contact Monica Amarelo monica@ewg.org (202) 939-9140 February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Increasing crop reference prices would hurt young farmers

Environmental Working Group - Tue, 02/06/2024 - 10:43
Increasing crop reference prices would hurt young farmers rcoleman February 6, 2024

Increasing price guarantees for major crops, as some farm groups and legislators are proposing, would make it harder for young farmers – those aged 35 or younger – to compete against larger, legacy farmers. 

Price guarantees for major crops like cotton and rice are paid only on lands with a crop production history, or on lands with “base acres,” a limited number of acres set by the Department of Agriculture where farmers can receive price guarantees for covered crops. Younger farmers are less likely to grow these major crops and much less likely to own lands with the coveted base acres, making it even harder for them to compete.

Young farmers also tend to have smaller farms. Because crop subsidy payments are tied to production, even those who grow “covered commodities” like cotton and rice on base acres receive smaller payments than their larger neighbors. While the average farm is 445 acres, the average farm run by a young farmer is less than 50 acres. 

The USDA defines a young farmer as someone 35 years old or younger, and a new and beginning farmer is anyone who has farmed for 10 years or less. USDA estimates that 80 percent of new and beginning farmers are also young farmers.

The USDA and many members of Congress have warned that the average age of farmers is going up, so it’s important that policymakers support the next generation.

How the current system works

Farmers growing cotton, rice and other covered commodities get a payment that covers the difference between the price guarantee in the farm bill and the market price. Farmers can only receive a payment on base acres.

In 1996, Congress originally linked base acres to crops planted between 1981 and 1985. But it used subsequent farm bills to change how base acres are calculated. The idea of payments for base acres was designed to encourage farmers to make their planting decisions based upon market conditions, not government programs. 

Most young farmers do not have base acres 

Eligibility to collect subsidies on land with base acres makes farmland with these acres more expensive, so young and other “limited resource farmers” often cannot afford to buy or rent farmland with base acres. Almost 60 percent of young farmers said finding affordable land is “very or extremely” challenging in a recent survey.

Some farm groups and legislators have proposed increasing price guarantees for major crops. But the higher price guarantees would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farms in a few states, EWG has previously found.

Most new and beginning farmers – 88.1 percent – don’t farm commodities that would benefit from increased price guarantees, as this pie chart shows:

Source: USDA Agricultural Census

Only 2,300 young farmers grow cotton, peanuts, rice or tobacco according to USDA data, and few of these young farmers have land with base acres. Raising reference prices would send more farm subsidies to farmers that are not young farmers.

Unlike subsidy programs, USDA conservation programs are available to all farmers, including all young farmers. Some members of Congress have proposed to cut funding for conservation programs in order to increase reference prices. This would further hurt not just young farmers but many other types of farmers, too.

Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Climate & Agriculture Conservation Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Jared Hayes February 7, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Community stakeholders support NM Senate oil, gas setback memorial

Western Environmental Law Center - Tue, 02/06/2024 - 06:21

A broad range of public interest advocates today applaud New Mexico Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and Sen. Brenda McKenna for introducing SM 8, requesting the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to study the risks to humans and the environment from proximity to oil and gas facilities (fact sheet here). The memorial asks the department to evaluate how to mitigate those risks by requiring oil and gas companies to locate new wells beyond a minimum distance (“setbacks”) from homes, schools, businesses and the surrounding environment and to recommend legislation addressing setbacks in the 2025 long legislative session.

Public interest groups were disappointed by the removal of setback provisions from HB 133 at the behest of oil and gas interests more concerned with profits than improving public health. In public comments before the legislature on HB 133, speaker after speaker lamented the removal of setbacks from the bill, emphasizing the importance of having space between polluting oil and gas infrastructure and homes, schools, hospitals, water resources, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

“Everyday Southeast New Mexicans see and feel the impacts of our state leadership choosing to put profits over people. Setbacks aren’t simply an issue that is out of sight out of mind for us when the legislative session ends, like they seem to be for many state leaders,” said Kayley Shoup, community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future. “Thirty-four thousand children in New Mexico go to schools surrounded by oil and gas facilities. When those children grow up and leave our education system, they not only leave with an education but also with health problems such as asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, reproductive issues, increased risk for chronic disease, and sometimes even cancer. It’s clear that the majority of the state can quite callously ignore that reality if they live in an area where their child doesn’t have to sacrifice their health for their education and the education of others. It’s time leaders make robust setbacks a priority as oil production in the Permian continues to soar and more people are put at risk. We need leaders that actually live by the beliefs they claim to espouse.”

“We advocated for strong setbacks this year, and they were weakened. We advocated for keeping reduced setbacks in HB 133 as a step forward, and they were removed. Communities near oil and gas operations risk exposure to hazardous pollutants, and frontline communities and our most vulnerable—children and the elderly—are especially at risk,” said Tannis Fox, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The state needs to stand up for its people and not let oil and gas companies build health-harming infrastructure right outside our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.”

“Earthworks strongly supports updating the Oil and Gas Act to include setbacks to protect New Mexico’s people, sensitive wildlife habitat and water resources, and the environment,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson of Earthworks. “Oil and gas facilities are toxic, health-hazardous industrial facilities that are known to cause severe health issues, both acute and chronic, ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to increased risks of serious cancers. Our field advocates have filmed pollution from these facilities across the state, and no one should be forced to live with an oil well in their backyard or in their school’s playground. The state needs to put people over polluters, and keep these toxic, polluting facilities away from where we live, work, learn, and recreate.”

“People of faith and many faith leaders in New Mexico are very concerned for the health of communities, elders, children, those to be born, and our sacred creation around oil and gas facilities,” said Sr. Joan Brown, osf, executive director of New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light. “We have an ethical responsibility to care for the common good and our neighbors. New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light works with faith leaders and communities in the Permian Basin and many express concerns and share stories of health impacts. Society is measured by how it cares for children and elders. We pray and work for protections.”

“As New Mexico is the second largest oil-producing state in the nation, we must do all we can to protect our communities from dangerous pollutants,” said Demis Foster, CVNM chief executive officer. “Ample research has shown that pollution from the oil and gas industry causes cancers, respiratory illness, and more. Enacting setbacks that create a buffer zone is a common-sense next step that will ensure our most vulnerable populations, especially children and the elderly, are protected from direct and harmful exposure to toxins. Additionally, setbacks must be in place to protect our watersheds, threatened and endangered wildlife, and fragile ecosystems from development and industrial pollution harm. We urge the legislature to pass Senate Memorial 8 so essential studies to establish setback distances can be conducted.”

“As we know, water is life,” said Amigos Bravos Deputy Director Rachel Conn. “In 2023 the Sackett v EPA  U.S. Supreme Court decision stripped federal Clean Water Act protections from the vast majority of New Mexico’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Like other Western states, a large portion of New Mexico’s waters, those which lose protections under the decision, run seasonally or only in response to rainfall or are wetlands not connected to larger water bodies. The health of these smaller streams determines what happens in our larger rivers that provide drinking water, irrigate our fields, and provide recreational opportunities. As the December Shiprock spill demonstrated, oil spills can travel long distances through these smaller waterways and impact downstream communities. It is crucial that as federal regulations are stripped away, we as a state adopt common sense safeguards, such as water setbacks of oil and gas wells (minimum distance wells must be from waterways), to protect New Mexico’s waters and people.”

Research on the demographics of people living near active oil and gas wells finds that nearly 18 million individuals live within one mile of a well site, including disproportionately large numbers of communities of color, people living below the poverty line, older individuals and young children in certain communities across the U.S. and in New Mexico,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs with Environmental Defense Fund. “EDF supports efforts to protect communities from exposure to health-harming pollution caused by living in proximity to oil and gas operations.”

“Oil and gas development causes spills, leaks, and other incidents that adversely impact New Mexico’s environmental resources, including precious freshwater resources and wildlife habitat,” said Sally Paez, staff attorney for New Mexico Wild. “The federal Bureau of Land Management already requires operators to locate oil and gas facilities away from waters and sensitive wildlife habitat. New Mexico should meet or exceed these federal guidelines to protect our irreplaceable natural resources.”

Background resources:

  • Senate Memorial 8 fact sheet
  • Summary of science California relied on to pass setback laws (full report here)
  • More than 34,000 children live or attend school near oil and gas wells in New Mexico.
  • A nationwide study on 2016 data (before the Permian Basin oil and gas surge) found that oil and gas pollution worsened asthma for more than 410,000 people, induced asthma in more than 2,000 children, and caused 7,500 excess deaths. The pollution cost people $77 billion in health-related costs.
  • Another study found an increase in congenital heart defects in babies whose pregnant parent lived near oil and gas wells.
  • In 2023, the State Land Office banned new oil and gas drilling within one mile of schools on state trust land and ordered review of all existing oil and gas mineral leases within one mile of a school or other educational institution.
  • This study found that a child living within a mile of a gas well was 5-7 times more likely to develop lymphoma than a child living at least five miles from a gas well. Children diagnosed with any of the four studied cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumor, bone tumors) were four times more likely to live within half a mile of a gas well.
  • This study found children living near oil and gas drilling at birth were 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia between the ages of 2 and 7 than those who did not live near this oil and gas activity.
  • This study found a positive correlation between proximity to oil and gas development and birth defects in Ohio, which has experienced a large increase in oil and gas extraction, similar to that in the Permian.
  • Earthworks built this Oil and Gas Threat Map showing proximity of New Mexico residents and facilities to oil and gas infrastructure.
  • EDF built this map of people’s proximity to oil and gas infrastructure in New Mexico.
  • State data on oil and gas spills are available here.
  • Earthworks and Citizens Caring for the Future, a Carlsbad nonprofit, recently published videos illustrating the proximity of oil and gas infrastructure to homes, schools, and medical facilities in southeastern New Mexico (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, also embedded below).

Contacts:

Tannis Fox, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-629-0732, fox@westernlaw.org

Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson, Earthworks, 507-421-9021, andrewfg@earthworks.org

Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-832, rconn@amigosbravos.org

Sr. Joan Brown, osf, NM Interfaith Power and Light, 505-264-9966, joan@nm-ipl.org

Earthworks Video 1: Unmasking the Technology: Less Emissions, More Impact

Earthworks Video 2: Sparking the Change for Kid-Safe Schools

Earthworks Video 3: Health Impacts Unveiled: The Unseen Dangers in Our Neighborhoods

The post Community stakeholders support NM Senate oil, gas setback memorial appeared first on Western Environmental Law Center.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Replacement flame retardant chemicals linked to preterm birth, new study finds

Environmental Working Group - Mon, 02/05/2024 - 12:03
Replacement flame retardant chemicals linked to preterm birth, new study finds rcoleman February 5, 2024

A new study finds a link between premature birth and exposure to organophosphate ester flame retardants, or OPEs, used in furniture and foam for mattresses and more. The study also found the risk of preterm birth was greater for pregnant people who gave birth to female babies.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity. Reducing environmental factors that increase risk of prematurity, like OPE exposure, can improve children’s health. 

The peer-reviewed study, published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, was led by a large team of scientists from the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program. It included 6,646 pregnant people from across the United States, the largest health study of OPEs to date. 

Some flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants were phased out of use in furniture, mattresses and baby products in the mid-2000s, due to concerns about their toxicity. Companies started to use replacements, including OPEs.

OPEs are commonly used as flame retardants in furniture and electronics. OPEs can also help make plastic more flexible and are used in vinyl flooring, children’s toys, and in personal care products, including nail polish. These chemicals are not chemically bound to the products they are added to and leach off into the air and dust. 

Greater risk of preterm birth

The authors looked at the association between nine different OPEs measured in urine and the risk of preterm birth. They reported that three of these OPEs were found in 85 percent of participants – meaning that exposure to these chemicals is common in pregnant people. 

The risk of preterm birth differed by the type of OPE. For one of the highly detected OPEs, a composite of dibutyl phosphate and di-isobutyl phosphate, a doubling in the amount of this OPE in a person’s urine was associated with odds of preterm birth that were 7 percent higher.

Health risks from one exposure

Hazardous chemicals in furniture and foam have come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to concerns about how they harm human health.

Furniture manufacturers are not required to disclose the materials they use in their products to comply with U.S. flammability standards. The Environmental Protection Agency pledged to phase out two brominated flame retardants. Now, as an interim step, new manufacturers must disclose when importing these chemicals. But they are not explicitly banned.

Despite these types of flame retardants being phased out due to concerns about their toxicity, their replacement, OPEs, were not evaluated for safety before they were used. 

After OPEs enter our body, they are quickly excreted, usually within hours. Although they do not stay in the body long, OPEs have still been associated with several health harms, including infant health and reduced child neurodevelopment and impaired thyroid function.

In December 2023, the EPA noted that one of the OPEs evaluated in this study “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health and the environment.”

These chemicals are not the only harmful substances being used as flame retardants. Fiberglass has also been used as a flame retardant in mattresses and upholstered furniture. It can enter the air, creating a potential inhalation hazard, as well as causing irritation to the skin and eyes. Last October, California banned fiberglass for use in mattresses and other upholstered furniture. The bill was sponsored by EWG.

Safer alternatives can take the place of these hazardous chemicals in furniture. These include wool, rayon and polylactic acid batting, which can be used to meet fire safety standards. The need for flame retardants in electronics is less clear, though New York has banned some of these chemicals from being used in electronics. 

Reducing exposure to flame retardants

Some steps you can take to reduce your potential exposure to flame retardants:

  • Support legislation that bans harmful chemicals in your furniture. A 2021 study by EWG authors found that the bans on flame retardants in upholstered furniture in California and other states help to reduce flame retardant levels in the home.
  • Shop for a mattress or crib mattress that uses safer alternatives. Look for a mattress from a company that’s transparent about what it uses to meet fireproofing requirements and the other materials in their products. Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Living for tips to healthy purchases and look for our new EWG VERIFIED® mattresses for the highest level of confidence. 
  • Regular cleaning can help reduce chemical exposures in the home. Flame retardants dissociate from products they are added to and can end up in household dust. See EWG’s Guide to Removing Household Dust
Areas of Focus Family Health Reproductive Health Toxic Chemicals Flame Retardants Disqus Comments Authors Alexa Friedman, Ph.D. February 5, 2024
Categories: G1. Progressive Green

Bellona meets with Arctic Council officials on black carbon and alternative energy in the polar region

Bellona.org - Mon, 02/05/2024 - 11:52

As new environmental priorities fill the agenda of the Arctic Council under Norway’s leadership, Bellona met last week with its chair, Morten Høglund, to discuss battling climate change in the earth’s most vulnerable and rapidly heating region.

Reducing ongoing pollution from black carbon, carving out green shipping corridors, using cleaner shipping fuels and pursuing an overall zero-emissions policy were among the priorities for Sigurd Enge, Bellona’s senior shipping and Arctic , during the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the Thursday’s Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø.

Enge was joined in the meeting with Høglund by Sian Prior, lead advisor of the Clean Arctic Alliance, of which Bellona and a number of other international environmental groups, is a member. Together, the organizations have campaigned for new Arctic emissions targets for black carbon, a particularly potent pollutant that accelerates Arctic melt.

“Black carbon emissions from ships have a particularly damaging impact on snow and ice in the Arctic and we are conscious that the Norwegian Chairship have made it one of their priorities for progress and action,” said Prior.

She emphasized that Council member must work to reach new black carbon emissions targets. While nations are on track to reduce emissions by 25-30% from all sectors by 2025, based on 2013 levels, shipping emissions have doubled during the same time.

“This is because currently there is no global or Arctic regulation of ship emissions of black carbon,” she continued. “Plus shipping in the Arctic is increasing  — up 25% between 2013 and 2019 — and ships are spending longer at sea in the Arctic (75% increase in same period). A new ambitious target will update the existing target, but it will be important that shipping emissions are highlighted as a sector in need of urgent action.”

Enge said that, as a Norwegian environmental organization, it was impingent upon Bellona to advance these goals while the council’s two-year rotating presidency was in Norway’s hands.

In the meeting with Høglund, Enge said: “In the alternative energy sector there is a lack of knowledge about production potential, environmental impact, and the future need for alternative energy for the arctic green shift, especially for shipping. Do the different alternative fuel types have a worse impact in arctic’s condition? One of the Arctic Council’s core tasks is to establish a common fact base for the Arctic nations’ challenges. Energy is a main driver for a fossil free arctic shipping sector.”

Enge and Prior also said it was critical for the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates international shipping, to commit to taking action against black carbon and enforce fuel standards particularly in the Arctic.

“IMO has spent over a decade prevaricating on action to reduce black carbon emissions from ships,” she said. “It has decided what black carbon is, it’s agreed to three different ways to measure emissions but apart from a voluntary resolution it has not yet agreed on any action which will reduce emissions.”

An IMO directive demanding cleaner fuels in the Arctic, enforcement of an Arctic fiuel standard, and the creation of black carbon control areas would, said Prior form the backbone of such regulation.

“A coordinated Arctic Council Member initiative at the IMO could achieve this, as the rest of the world should respect that the Arctic States know what is needed and achievable in the Arctic,” she added.

Black carbon is composed of small light-absorbing graphite particles produced by diesel engines such as those found on cargo ships and tankers that ply Arctic waterways, and they are a major cause of climate change.  In the Arctic, the accrual of these emissions is visible as soot coats the polar icecap, absorbing rather than reflecting solar radiation.

Yet, that very melting has also caused a spike in maritime traffic through the Northern Sea Route — a 5600-kilometer navigation artery running along Russia’s Arctic coast — leaning to yet more soot deposits on the polar ice cap. Unless an agreement is reached among Arctic nations to cap soot emission in shipping, the cycle will continue.

Soot is also distributed across the Arctic by jets, burning wood and forest and tundra fires – the last of which are an ever-increasing problem emanating from Russia each summer as increasingly hot and dry seasons foster long burning and geographically enormous forest fires, which emergency service workers there are finding increasing difficult to cope with.

Black carbon has been known to warm the atmosphere for many years by absorbing sunlight and speeding the melting of ice and snow.  Studies have shown that these soot emissions are a far larger contributor to global warming than has been though, and reductions in these emissions would have a positive effect on slowing warming.

Norway assumed the two-year rotating chairship to the council in May of last year. Prior to that, the eight-nation council — comprised of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States, who each have an Arctic coast — had effectively been frozen for the past two years following Russian’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

During that time, Russia held the Council’s rotating presidency of the organization. But a freeze in cooperation among Moscow and the other countries on the council made agreement on an environmental agenda for the Arctic sphere a tough prospect. Research involving Russia on issues ranging from climate change to polar bearswas been put on hold, and scientists lost access to important facilities in the Russian Arctic.

As for Russia’s continuing role in the Council, senior Norwegian officials told the Arctic-base news site High North, that Russia’s participating in the council remains important.

“We are not the Arctic 7. We are 8. We are the Arctic” Solveig Rossebø Norway’s current senior Arctic official, told the site. “Russia is, and has always been, a constructive member of the Council.”

The Arctic Council, which doesn’t deal with security issues but makes binding agreements on environmental protection and gives a voice to the Indigenous peoples of the polar was one of the few settings where Western countries and Russia worked together closely.

In a recent open letter to the Arctic Council, Bellona and the Alliance requested that a concrete zero-emissions policy be established for Arctic shipping, and that all Arctic nations implement the IMO resolution that requires the use of distillate or cleaner alternative fuels in or near the Arctic.

The Alliance and Bellona also ask that the Arctic Council consider the indigenous population in the Arctic and ensure that their way of life is protected through a reduction in soot emissions.

The Clean Arctic Alliance is a global alliance consisting of over 20 international organizations with the aim of protecting the Arctic from pollution by the use of heavy fuel oil in the region. Among its members aside from Bellona are Greenpeace, Alaska Wilderness, Clean Air Task Force, the WWF,   Pacific Environment, the European Climate Foundation and the Council for Green Transition.

The post Bellona meets with Arctic Council officials on black carbon and alternative energy in the polar region appeared first on Bellona.org.

Categories: G1. Progressive Green

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