Larger U.S. Dairies Could Achieve Net Zero Emissions In Five Years

Dairy emissions could reach net zero within five years. If 10% of dairy in the US met that goal, GHG emissions could drop by 13 million tons

Among livestock, cows are the biggest emitters of methane in the U.S. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential of 80 times that of carbon dioxide. However, there is hope that the U.S. can make big reductions on its greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. dairy industry reduced its emissions by 18 percent from 2005 to 2015 while emissions from the global dairy industry increased by 18 percent during the same period. 

Analysis from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) finds that larger American dairies could reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within the next five years. Investing in dairy farms could yield a possible annual return of $1.9 million or more per farm. If only 10 percent of U.S. dairy production achieved net zero, GHG emissions could be reduced by over 13 million tons. 

“We need to make it easy for Americans to prioritize the planet when putting food on the table—to make all choices more sustainable so the burden isn’t on the consumer,” said Jason Clay, executive director of WWF’s Markets Institute, in a statement. “But we also need to make it feasible for farmers. Through this analysis, we’re showing how, with the right incentives and policies, dairy can get there, and get there quickly. And if it’s possible for dairy, other food sectors—and particularly other animal proteins—won’t be far behind.”

The problem of cow poo and digestion

Although the U.S. dairy industry has reduced emissions, making big reductions depends on dealing with their biggest sources of emissions: enteric fermentation (the cow’s digestive process that produces methane), manure management, feed production, and energy (farm energy use and generation). Manure is the industry’s second-largest source of emissions, but it can be part of the solution to reduce emissions. Using manure as fertilizer reduces the need for commercial fertilizer, whose manufacture is a significant source of emissions. 

Enteric fermentation is responsible for about 35 percent of the emissions produced by the dairy industry. The process refers to how cows, which are ruminants, eat and break down food not fit for humans. The analysis suggests that optimizing a cow’s feed will reduce emissions from enteric fermentation and is a key part of achieving net zero emissions. There is research currently being conducted on feed supplements to reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation. The analysis cites a Dutch product that reported to reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation by up to 40 percent. The supplement and others like it are not yet approved for use in the U.S. 

The unconventional path to net zero

The WWF advocates for sequestering some dairy emissions and mentions a development from the Salk Institute that involves using gene-edited seeds for cover crops to be used for sequestration. The analysis acknowledges that the development “is not sufficiently advanced to include in the estimates presented here.” However, it goes on to state that “such technologies have the potential to reduce loss of carbon to the atmosphere and help dairies achieve net zero emissions.” Such technology may or may not pan out, but if it does, it could prove to be a useful tool for U.S. dairies in achieving net zero emissions.


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The Environmental Impacts of COVID-19

We all know from the daily deluge of news reports how the covid-19 pandemic affects hospitals and the economy. But do we know about the environmental impacts of COVID-19? 

The covid-19 pandemic impacts the environment both positively and negatively. Studies note that with more people at home, there is less air pollution. In some areas globally, the lack of tourists means better  quality for bodies of water. However, there is an increase in medical waste, including disposable face masks. 

The reduction in air pollution

The big drop in human activity that began last March has caused a drop in greenhouse gas emissions, as a study published in September 2020 revealed. New York City, the most populous city in the U.S., is a good example. There has been a 50 percent decrease in air pollution in New York. Other cities around the world experienced a similar drop in air pollution. Nitrous oxide is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and 80 percent of it comes from vehicle exhaust. Nitrous oxide decreased by 25.5 percent in the U.S. this past year. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, nitrous oxide decreased by 54.3 percent and by almost 70 percent in Delhi, India. 

Staying at home means consuming less fossil fuels which decreases greenhouse gas emissions. Oil demand dropped 435,000 barrels globally in the first three months of 2020, compared to the same time in 2019. Coal-based power generation decreased in India by 26 percent and by 36 percent in China. Carbon dioxide emissions in China decreased by 25 percent after two months in lockdown. 

Better water quality

Water pollution is common in developing countries such as India and Bangladesh where domestic and industrial waste is dumped into rivers without being treated. The major industrial sources of water pollution have either greatly decreased or stopped. The Ganga and Yamuna rivers in India are far cleaner because of the lack of industrial pollution during lockdown. Water from 27 of 36 real-time monitoring stations on the Ganga met the permissible limit of pollution. The water quality improvement is contributed to the sudden drop in visitors to the river and the reduction in sewage and industrial pollution. 

Developing countries are not the only ones experiencing better water quality. Researchers used satellite images to look at the water clarity of the Hudson River in New York. What they found is that it had a 40 percent decrease in cloudiness or haziness during the lockdown. After New York City imposed a lockdown order in mid-March, many of the city’s 2.1 million commuters either worked from home or left the city. Fewer people traveling to work produces fewer pollutants that end up in the Hudson River. 

The increase of waste

The increase in hospital patients causes medical waste generation to increase, and that waste is a big threat to public health and the environment. Wuhan, China produced more than 240 metric tons of medical waste daily during the outbreak. That is nearly 190 metric tons higher than normal. In Ahmedabad, India the amount of medical waste generation increased from 550 to 600 kilograms a day to 1000 kilograms a day during the first lockdown phase. In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, around 206 metric tons of medical waste are generated daily. Other cities in Asia are seeing 154 to 280 metric tons more of medical waste daily. 

Medical waste is not the only waste increasing because of the pandemic. Municipal waste has increased. Many people globally shop online more due to the pandemic, which increases the amount of household waste from packaging materials. Some places restricted waste recycling activities temporarily to reduce the spreading of covid-19 in recycling facilities. Nearly 46 percent of U.S. cities temporarily restricted recycling programs. Some European countries prohibited infected residents from sorting their waste. Waste sent to landfill globally increased as a result. 

Temporary gains

Any environmental gains achieved due to the pandemic are only temporary. Once people resume normal activity, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will increase. What we can all learn from the pandemic and the environmental impacts of COVID-19 is to be more mindful of the impact our activities have on the planet and look for ways to lessen that impact. 


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11 Threatened Species That Need Protection Under the Endangered Species Act

The legacy of former President Donald Trump is environmental deregulation. Part of that legacy includes delaying protection for 11 species identified as needing endangered status. The Trump administration instead put them on a candidate list. 

In early January, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of its intent to use then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for delaying protection for the 11 species. The Trump administration had the lowest rate for listing species since the Endangered Species Act passed. The Obama and Clinton administrations listed an average of 45 to 65 species a year, respectively. 

A backlog of endangered species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a plan to address the backlog of more than 500 species waiting for listing. Every year since, the FWS failed to make dozens of findings from the plan, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s intent to sue notice. That notice includes 30 species in 2017, 78 in 2018, 46 in 2019, and 58 in 2020. There are perhaps thousands of species in the U.S. that need protection under the ESA to avoid becoming extinct. That includes more than 500 petitioned species waiting for 12-month findings from the FWS. As the formal notice put it, “There is no explanation for the very small number of species that received protection in the last two years.” 

“The Trump administration’s undermining of the Endangered Species Act puts the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, and hundreds more plants and animals at risk of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For newly nominated Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to successfully save these species from extinction, it will require more money for endangered species, new leadership at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a renewed commitment to science and following the law.”

The 11 species need to be the first ones the Biden administration lists

The 11 species cited by the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal notice are the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, Colorado Delta clam, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower, and northern spotted owl. These 11 threatened species need to be among the first the Biden administration lists as endangered. A closer look at each species reveals why they are in desperate need of listing as endangered. 

Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly travels 1,200 to 2,800 miles or more from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico. They have the most evolved migration pattern of any butterfly or moth and maybe any insect. Climate change is a threat to the monarch butterfly’s migration pattern because weather conditions in its wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds could be affected. 

Eastern Gopher Tortoise

The eastern gopher tortoise is native to the Southeast in the U.S. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers) are protected as threatened under the ESA. However, those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina lack protection. 

Peñasco least chipmunk

The Peñasco least chipmunk occurs in two populations in the White and Sacramento mountains in southern New Mexico within the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. They prefer ponderosa pine forests, and logging, livestock grazing, and fire suppression have altered their preferred habitats. 

Longfin Smelt

The longfin smelt is a small fish along the Pacific coast of the U.S. from Alaska to California. Listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act in 2009. The FWS found the San Francisco Bay-Delta Distinct Population Segment needed protection under the federal ESA, but never listed the fish. 

Colorado Delta Clam

Once teeming in the Colorado River estuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado Delta clam has drastically declined due to reduced Colorado River flows from the U.S. The clam has been waiting for protection since 2019.

Texas Mussels

Three Texas mussels (Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback, and Texas fawnsfoot mussels) need protection. Zebra mussels, a non-native species first identified in Texas in 2009, threaten the native Texas mussels. 

Ramshell Snail

Found in freshwater ponds along the North Carolina coast, the magnificent ramshorn snail has existed only in captivity since 1993. 

Bracted Twistflower

The bracted twistflower is the wildflower of Austin, Texas. All but three of the populations of this wildflower are on private land that is either being developed or is likely to be developed. Houses now sit where the wildflower used to live. 

Northern Spotted Owl

The northern spotted owl is one of three spotted owl subspecies. The loss and degradation of its habitat and competition with the barred owl threaten it.

Investing In Oceans is Good Business

Investing in the Blue Economy, or ocean conservation, could yield $2-$5 for every $1 spent. The oceans are our lifeline to the future.

Taking action to protect the world’s oceans not only has environmental benefits but economic ones, according to a report by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. Investing $2 to $3.7 trillion globally in oceans from 2020 to 2050 would generate $8.2 to $22.8 trillion in net benefits, which implies a rate of return of investment (ROI) of 400 to 615 percent. Sustainable ocean-based investments yield benefits at least five times greater than the costs, the report shows.

For every $1 invested in specific areas of ocean conservation, more is yield in benefits. Consider two areas: mangrove conservation and restoration and decarbonizing international shipping and reducing emissions. Every $1 invested in mangrove conservation and restoration yields a benefit of $3. Every $1 invested in decarbonizing international shipping and reducing emissions to net-zero yields $2 to $5 in benefits. Other benefits include: 

  • Every $1 invested in scaling up global offshore wind production generated benefits of $2 to $17. 
  • Every $1 invested in increasing the production of sustainably sourced fish and seafood yields $10 in benefits.

Investing in the blue economy

A Credit Suisse report found that there is interest among investors in investing in the ocean, or what the report terms the blue economy. However, three in four investors responded to a survey saying they have not assessed their portfolios for their impact on the ocean and 21 percent are completely unaware of ocean exposure and risk in an investment context. Nearly a third of asset owners do not address the sustainable blue economy at all in their current investments. 

There are barriers for investors and asset owners when it comes to investing in the blue economy. For investors, they include a lack of investment-grade projects and no internal expertise. For asset owners, the barriers include not offering any products or raising the topic amongst them. There is good news. The blue economy “is poised for an increase in importance over the coming decade, with over a third of investor respondents seeing it as amongst the most important topics in 2030,” according to the report. And there are already early-stage opportunities.

Companies turning ocean plastic into products

Some companies are already capitalizing on the blue economy by turning ocean plastic into products. One of those companies is Adidas which incorporates ocean plastic into their shoes. Adidas is a founding member of the global network called Parley for the Oceans. The company works with Parley to transform ocean plastic waste for use in its apparel and shoes. All of its Parley products contain ocean plastic collected by partner organizations on shores and coastal areas in the Maldives. 

Method is another company that incorporates ocean plastic into its products. It uses a blend of ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic to package its two-in-one dish and hand soap. The company partnered with local beach clean-up groups and volunteers to collect plastic waste from Hawaiian beaches to use in its plastic bottles. 

Other companies incorporating ocean plastic into their products include 4Ocean which makes a dolphin bracelet made from ocean plastic. The salon professional hair care line Kevin Murphy uses ocean plastic in the plastic bottles that house its products, while Solgaard’s backpacks and fanny packs are made from plastic waste collected from beaches in the Philippines. What all of these companies prove is that there is money to be from caring for the world’s oceans. 


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The Restoration of Environmental Regulation

The four long years of environmental deregulation came to an end on January 20 when Joe Biden took office. While the Trump administration’s legacy is one of relaxing and deleting environmental laws as giveaways to the oil and gas industry, the Biden administration has already made it clear it will restore environmental regulation. On the day Biden took office, he restored America’s place in the Paris Climate Agreement. By contrast, Trump signed an executive order within a few weeks after taking office requiring federal agencies to get rid of two regulations for every new regulation. 

Restoring scientific integrity in federal agencies

On January 27, Biden signed executive orders designed to bring back environmental regulation. One of those executive orders is titled the Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. It directs federal agencies to make decisions based on the best available science and data. The memorandum gives the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy the responsibility for ensuring scientific integrity across federal agencies. 

The memorandum corrects one of the Trump administration’s last rules. Dubbed the “anti-science rule,” the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information, limits what research the federal agency can use to set public health policy. The rule restricts the EPA’s use of key scientific studies when it considers taking regulatory action on pollution and toxic chemicals.

Tackling climate change 

Biden signed an executive order declaring net-zero global emissions by mid-century are required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

  • The order affirms that the U.S. will exercise leadership in dealing with climate change. 
  • The order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by the National Climate Advisor and Deputy National Climate Advisor. It will be a central office in the White House with the responsibility to coordinate and implement the President’s domestic climate agenda. 

Instructing the federal government to lead by example

The executive order Biden signed on January 27 directs the federal government to lead by example. It directs federal agencies to procure carbon emission-free electricity and zero-emission vehicles. The purchases must be made in America, following Biden’s Buy American executive order. The order also directs federal agencies to develop a plan increasing the resilience of their operations and facilities to climate change impacts. 

Putting the brakes on new fossil fuel leases on public lands and fossil fuel subsidies

The executive order directs the Interior Secretary to put the brakes on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. It directs the Interior Secretary to launch a review of all existing leases and permitting practices of fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. The DOI must also take steps toward doubling renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. Under the Trump administration, oil and gas leases were granted on public lands across America, including in Alaska’s Arctic area. 

The executive order directs federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. U.S. direct fossil fuel subsidies are an estimated $20 billion a year, and that is a conservative estimate. The oil and gas industry receives 80 percent of the subsidies, while the coal industry receives 20 percent. 


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Trump’s Environmental Deregulation Legacy

No president did more to deregulate environmental protection than Donald Trump. Environmental deregulation started early. At the beginning of his administration, Trump signed an executive order that for every new regulation issued, at least two regulations must be identified for elimination. That was a signal we were in for a long deregulatory ride, one that lasted the entire four years of his administration. 

The environmental laws the Trump administration rolled back included replacing the Clean Power Plan, gutting the Endangered Species Act, and weakening both the Coal Ash Rule and Mercury and Air Toxic Standards. Every rollback represents a giveaway to Trump’s industry cronies. The oil and gas industry and the mining industry came before the environment in his administration. 

Replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy rule 

The Obama administration proposed the Clean Power Plan in 2014 and finalized it in 2015. The CPP created carbon dioxide emission performance rates for two subcategories of fossil fuel-fired power plants. Carbon accounts for 82 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Under the CPP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that carbon emissions from the electricity sector would decrease by 32 percent below 2005 levels. Sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants were projected to drop by 90 percent, while nitrogen oxide emissions would drop by 72 percent. 

In March 2017, former President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the CPP, and in October 2017, the EPA proposed to rescind the rule. In 2019, the EPA finalized the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which rolled back the CPP. While the CPP set nationwide standards to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, ACE allows states to set their own standards. ACE will increase carbon emissions by over 600 million short tons by 2030, according to the EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis

Gutting the Endangered Species Act

The Trump administration issued a new rule in December that weakened the Endangered Species Act by making it harder to protect critical habitat areas for threatened and endangered species. The rule narrows the definition of habitat by limiting it. The problem with limiting the definition is that climate change causes habitat degradation and loss, which is one of the main causes of extinction. 

The new rule amounts to a giveaway to the fossil fuel and mining industries. It allows the oil and gas industry to explore and extract in areas of critical habitat and allows mining industries to set up shop in areas where threatened and endangered species live. 

Weakening the Coal Ash Rule and Mercury and Air Toxic Standards

Coal ash occurs after power plants burn coal to produce electricity. It is one of the biggest types of industrial waste generated in the U.S. According to the EPA, in 2012, 470 coal-fired power plants generated about 110 million tons of coal ash. In 2015, the Obama administration issued a rule to deal with coal ash. In 2018, the D.C. Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to strengthen the national coal ash standards set in 2015. Instead, the Trump administration weakened the 2015 standards. 

The Mercury and Air Toxic Standards require fossil fuel-based power plants to reduce mercury emissions and other pollutants, including arsenic, nickel, and acid gases. Power plants are the biggest emitters of mercury in the U.S. Exposure to mercury is linked to a slew of human health problems, including neurological disorders. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the EPA must consider the costs to public health and industry. The EPA published a cost finding in 2015 before issuing the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards in 2017. 

In 2018, the Trump administration proposed to revise the cost finding. The new cost finding stated that MATS is no longer “appropriate and necessary.”

In addition, the revision found the mercury and other pollutants from power plants acceptable.

In April 2020, the EPA gutted MATS. 


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The New EPA Anti-Science Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the finalization of an anti-science rule that amounts to the last gasp of a failed administration. The rule titled, Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information, limits what research the federal agency can use to set public health policy. It is a rule that the federal agency’s scientists advised against. 

The rule restricts the EPA’s use of key scientific studies when it considers taking regulatory action on pollution and toxic chemicals. The rule requires the federal agency to publish all data they use to craft regulations. The trouble is that some of the best studies tend to not make their underlying data public to protect confidential information about study participants.

Disingenuous reasoning of EPA Anti-Science Rule

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims that the intent behind the rule is to bring transparency. “I fundamentally believe that the American public has a right to know about EPA’s regulations and their scientific underpinnings,” he said in a statement. “Increased transparency has strengthened the Agency’s credibility with the public in the past, and I intend for this rule to do the same as we move forward.”

“The people pushing it are claiming it’s in the interest of science, but the entire independent science world says it’s not,” Chris Zarba, a former director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, told The Washington Post. “It sounds good on the surface. But this is a bold attempt to get science out of the way so special interests can do what they want.”

“That EPA leadership has overruled the input of the scientific community, the voices of environmental justice advocates, and simple common sense to push this rule is beyond disappointing,” said Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s a deliberate refusal to protect people’s lives.”

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) told The Hill the rule is “one last gasp of science denial” before the Biden administration is sworn in.” Indeed, the rule occurred under a president on his way out, who still faces the possibility of being impeached. 

Andrew Wheeler’s giveaway to toxic polluters 

The new rule amounts to a giveaway to toxic polluters by Wheeler, a former lobbyist whose clients included Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S. While working as a lobbyist for Faegre Baker Daniels, Wheeler’s firm earned more than $3 million in income from Murray Energy, according to EcoWatch. Wheeler served as vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a pro-coal nonprofit, while still working at Faegre Baker Daniels. 

Murray Energy created an “Action Plan” on eliminating the Clean Power Plan, eliminating tax credits for solar and wind energy, and eliminating the endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. This occurred while Murray Energy was still Wheeler’s client, and he admitted to knowing about the plan during his confirmation hearing. 

The deregulatory swamp needs cleaning

When Joseph Biden takes office on January 20, he will be handed an environmental deregulation nightmare. It will be up to him to craft regulations and policies overturning Trump’s giveaways to fossil fuel companies. Overturning this new rule needs to be at the top of Biden’s list. As Liz Perera, Sierra Club’s Climate Policy Director, said, “We urge the Biden Administration to quickly work toward overturning it so that the EPA will once again be a science and public health-focused agency.”

The Continued Attacks On Environmental Protection By Lame Duck Trump

As the Trump administration winds down, the environmental rollbacks continue and even seem to increase. The air, water, soil, human health, and animals are not exempt. What matters most to the people running the federal agencies charged with protecting the environment is industry, namely the fossil fuel industries. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt worked as an oil lobbyist. Many of his decisions serve as handouts to his former clients or others in the industry. 

Ignoring the Marine Mammal Protection Act

Environmental groups continue to fight for environmental protection. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a notice of intent to sue to the Interior Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not updating population analyses for polar bears, walruses, sea otters, and manatees, as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The notice letter asks for immediate updates for expired stock assessments of polar bears, Pacific walruses, three stocks of northern sea otters in Alaska, the southern sea otter stock in California, and two stocks of West Indian manatees around Florida and Puerto Rico.

The MMPA requires the FWS to do stock assessment reports for all marine mammals within its jurisdiction, and that includes polar bears, sea otters, walruses, and manatees. Some of the stock assessments have not been updated in over a decade. Stock assessments are key to managing marine mammal populations. With them, threats to marine mammals are analyzed and guide management actions for industries, including commercial fisheries and oil and gas. Failure to update stock assessments harms the very animals the FWS serves to protect. 

“It’s no accident this administration refuses to update stock assessments for polar bears and other species highly vulnerable to oil spills. Trump is again ignoring his legal obligations as a favor to Big Oil,” said Lalli Venkatakrishnan, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is about good science. The feds must know how marine mammal populations are doing before allowing any harm to these animals from oil and gas activity and other threats.”

Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to the oil industry

The notice comes as the Trump administration rushes oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration takes handouts to the oil industry to a new level, making the George W. Bush administration look like one that protected the environment. Recently, the Trump administration issued a “request for nominations” to oil companies, asking them to identify their preferential areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to lease for oil drilling.

The Arctic Refuge is considered sacred land to indigenous groups. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is sacred land that sustains not just the Gwich’in and Iñupiat Peoples but is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world,” said the director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA), Siqiñiq Maupin, in a statement

Five of the six major U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have announced that they will not fund any new oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. President-elect Biden stated he will make permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge and other federal areas impacted by the Trump administration’s policies a day one priority. In other words, expect Biden to issue executive actions regarding federal lands.


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The Trump Administration Roll Backs of Migratory Bird Protection

Rolling back protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an example of the corruption and obsequious deference to Big Oil by Trump & Co.

How do you change environmental laws to favor fossil fuel and mining industries without Congress? You gut regulations by having federal agencies issue a new rule. It is a move President Trump loves to make. In four years, the Trump administration has rolled back more than 125 environmental protections. Even now, dozens more are in the works. 

The most recent new rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involves migratory birds. On February 3, 2020, the FWS published a new rule to clarify the ban on the “take” of birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The proposed rule states that the scope of the MBTA applies only to intentional injuring or killing of birds, but conduct that results in the unintentional injury or death of migratory birds is prohibited. The FWS published an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June and in November and announced the publication of the final EIS

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Doing the Bidding of Big Oil

The new rule is a major rollback of the MBTA just two months before Joe Biden takes office. Big Oil drives the move gutting the MBTA. Tellingly, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist. At least 17 of Bernhardt’s former clients received handouts from the Trump administration during his time as Interior Secretary, according to research by Western Values Project. Excluding incidental killings of birds from the MBTA shields oil companies from liabilities and penalties. The rule would “likely result in increased bird mortality,” as the final EIS acknowledges. But that does not matter as long as Bernhardt’s oil industry cronies are happy. 

Western Values Project obtained a request by Western Energy Alliance, submitted to the FWS “suggesting statutory changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” The Independent Petroleum Association of America, Berhardt’s former client, had inside knowledge of the pending rollbacks, the documents also revealed.

“Trump just keeps solidifying his legacy of the worst environmental, public lands, and wildlife presidency in history. This is yet another gift to Big Oil by corrupt Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on his way out the door. Bernhardt puts yet another favor for Big Oil before the needs of small businesses and workers during a pandemic, illustrating “everything that is wrong with the Trump administration and its priorities,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. 

The rollbacks of the MBTA extend protections to industry activities that kill birds. If the rollback was in place in 2010, BP would not have faced consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP paid $100 million in fines thanks to the MBTA protections recently weakened. 

Why so many oppose the rollbacks

There is bipartisan opposition to the MBTA rollback, including from congressional members, more than 25 states, tribal governments, scientists, and 250,000 people who submitted comments opposing the rollback. 

One reason for the opposition is that the Trump administration sped up the environmental review process by minimizing the comment period and did not do a thorough analysis of environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives. “This environmental review process has made a mockery of the public engagement and scientific review required under the law,” as David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society stated.

Another reason for the opposition is that migratory birds need full protection. Three million birds in North America have been lost since 1970. Climate change threatens two-thirds of North American birds. Oil waste pits kill 500,000 to one million birds a year, which means the Trump administration extended protections to an industry responsible for so many bird deaths. 


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EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Leaves the Environment In Worse Shape

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will leave environmental damage as his legacy. His latest decision causes harm to both human health and the environment. He chose to ignore his own scientists and keep a 2012 standard for particulate matter pollution. An EPA report recommends a standard for nine micrograms per cubic meter, 25 percent stronger than the current limit of 12 micrograms. The current standard results in more than 52,0000 premature deaths a year.

Wheeler claimed that the EPA under the Trump administration “has continued America’s leadership in clear air.” He also claimed that “maintaining these important standards will ensure Americans can continue to breathe some of the cleanest air on the planet.” Perhaps he should read the EPA report that contradicts his statement. 

Lower-income communities and people of color bear a greater burden

Particulate matter pollution affects low-income communities and communities of color more. as studies show. A 2015 study found that low-income communities experience higher concentrations of air pollution. Those in poverty had a 1.35 times higher burden than the overall population while blacks had a 1.54 times higher burden, according to a 2018 study of particulate matter pollution. A 2016 study found that racial isolation is associated with long term pollution exposure. People of color have more exposure to particulate matter pollution than do whites, a 2012 study found.

“Low-income communities and communities of color will bear the brunt of Wheeler’s heartless decision,” said Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Federal Campaigns, in a statement. “The people most in need of strong science-based standards are the ones who will suffer.”

The health and environmental effects of particulate matter pollution

There are two types of particulate matter: PM10 (10 micrometers or smaller) and PM2.5 (2.5 micrometers and smaller). Both types can cause a slew of health problems, including nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease. An estimated three percent of cardiopulmonary and five percent of lung cancer deaths are attributable to particulate matter globally. People with heart or lung disease, children, and elderly adults are the ones most likely to be affected by particulate matter pollution.

Particulate matter also causes environmental damage. Particulate matter can be carried over long distances and can settle on the ground or water. Lakes and streams can become acidic as a result of particulate pollution. The nutrient balance in large river basins and coastal waters can change. Nutrients in the soil can be depleted. Sensitive forests and farm crops can be damaged, while the diversity of ecosystems is affected. Particulate matter can also contribute to acid rain effects.

Andrew Wheeler, the fossil fuel lobbyist 

Before Wheeler took the helm of the EPA, he worked as an energy lobbyist. His clients included Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal mining company in the U.S. Wheeler is the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a federation of over 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders, and policy experts. He loves coal. 

Before working as a lobbyist, he worked as a legislative aide to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress. Inhofe referred to climate change as “the greatest hoax” ever perpetrated and said in a radio interview that teaching children about climate change is “brainwashing.” When Wheeler’s nomination was announced, Inhofe praised the choice of the fossil fuel lobbyist. 

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a man who puts profit above people, companies above nature. It should come as no surprise that one of his last acts as the head of the EPA is one that demonstrates no regard for human health.


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