A Belt Made of Plastic Waste Reduces Ocean Pollution

A single belt made of plastic waste will prevent 10 kilograms of plastic from entering the oceans. One solution among many we need to stop ocean pollution.

Ocean plastic is one of the biggest environmental problems our oceans face. One company works to keep plastic from entering the oceans. That company is For Purpose Recycling (FPR), which launched a belt made from certified recycled plastic. Every time a customer buys a belt, the company estimates that 10 kilograms of plastic waste are prevented from entering the oceans.

FPR describes itself as a company comprised of environmental managers, recycling engineers, and action takers. The funds raised by the sale of every belt, which fully launches on June 15, 2021, will go towards waste collection, recycling infrastructure, income opportunities, and other support for Indonesian coastal communities. 

“Many of us live outside the realm of choice. In some countries, the only access to safe drinking water is bottled and the only option for waste disposal is dumping it in nature,” Erik Sumarkho, FPR Founder and Director said. “A solution emerges from this problem: stop making virgin plastic, rescue what’s already here, and revive it into new materials.” 

FPR helps reduce plastic waste from entering Indonesian waters

The plastic used to make the belts comes from Indonesia, a country that is the largest archipelagic state in the world. There are over 17,000 islands, 2.3 million square miles of water, and over 56,000 miles of coastline. Indonesia boasts 75 percent of all known marine life, 23 percent of global mangroves, and 11,583 square miles of seagrass. But the country ranks second in the world for dumping plastic waste into the ocean. Out of the eight million tons of plastic dumped into oceans globally, 16 percent comes from Indonesia. 

Indonesians use a million plastic bags per minute. In just one year, the country generated 3.2 million tons of plastic waste, and 1.29 million tons of it end up in the oceans. According to the Wilson Center, only 10 percent of Indonesia’s 6.8 million tons of annual plastic is recycled. Almost half is either burned or dumped. 

FPR conducts what it terms cost-effective waste collection points in Indonesian coastal communities that lack access to basic waste collection services. This gives members of those communities the chance to sell their plastic waste. FPR also provides environmental education and workshops so residents of coastal communities reduce their waste and improve recycling practices. 

“We work in partnership with local non-profit organizations to create income opportunities for people living in coastal communities that help prevent plastic from entering the oceans,” Sumarkho said. “Community members and workers can exchange the plastic waste for cash, healthcare, school fees, and other essentials.”

FPR will collect plastic waste in West Papua 

FPR will begin collecting plastic waste in West Papua, which boasts the archipelago Raja Ampat Islands, an area renowned for coral and marine biodiversity. Raja Ampat has over 1,500 small islands and cays. Unfortunately, the area’s growing ocean plastic and mismanaged waste is a threat. Sorong is the West Papua province capital. It is known as one of Indonesia’s dirtiest cities. A majority of the city’s waste ends up in rivers and washes out to sea, and 10 to 14 percent of that waste is plastic. 

The gigantic problem of global ocean pollution

More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, and at least eight million tons of that plastic wind up in the oceans each year. Plastic comprises 80 percent of all marine waste. Plastic ocean waste poses a threat to marine animals who ingest it or become entangled in it. Plastic gets into the food chain through the animals who ingest it, which becomes a threat to food safety and human health. 

There is not a square mile of surface ocean on earth that is free of plastic waste. The plastic waste in the world’s oceans may increase as the fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. A study by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ found that plastic ocean waste will increase by almost three times the current amount if nothing is done to stop it.


 Image courtesy of For Purpose Recycling

Dumping Phosphate Wastewater Into Tampa Bay

Have you heard about the environmental crisis in Florida’s Tampa Bay? A former phosphate plant called Piney Points began releasing wastewater on March 31 into Piney Point Creek which leads into Tampa Bay. The company that owns the facility, HRK Holdings, LLC submitted a report on March 26, 2021 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection of process water bypassing the wastewater management system at the Piney Point facility. The DEP approved discharging the wastewater, requiring that HRK take steps to prevent an uncontrolled discharge. 

As you can imagine, disaster struck. Authorities ordered 300 households to evacuate, fearing a catastrophic flood. More than 200 gallons of wastewater was pumped into Tampa Bay, after HRK Holdings, LLC, the owners of the facility, began a controlled release. The DEP authorized the release, which contained process water, a byproduct of phosphate processing that contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. 

Why did authorities allow HRK to discharge any wastewater? The short answer is to relieve pressure on containment walls. However, in 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County could cause a disaster and warned the Manatee County Port Authority, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The state chose to leave the facility open, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein told Florida lawmakers on April 7, leaving “the property still there as a risk,” he said.

The Manatee County Commission’s solution to the problem is to spend $9.3 million on a deep well injection plant that will both treat and dispose of the remaining wastewater at Piney Point. Some people are concerned about it. Joe McClash, a former Manatee County Commissioner, told WFLA News, “We just don’t know what happens when you introduce water to the subsurface of Florida. It’s like holes in Swiss cheese.”

The environmental problems of phosphate wastewater

Researchers recently discovered high concentrations of nitrogen in and around Port Manatee which have created algae blooms. Algae blooms are what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes as an overgrowth of algae in water. Some algae blooms can severely impact human health and aquatic ecosystems because they produce toxins in the water. However, even non-toxic blooms can harm the environment. 

The dangerous toxins produced by harmful algae blooms can sicken and even kill people and animals. They can create dead zones in the water. Accidentally drinking or swimming in water affected by harmful algae blooms can cause rashes, stomach or liver illness, respiratory problems, and neurological effects. All 50 states have harmful algae blooms problems. 

Algae blooms are not the only environmental problem caused by phosphate wastewater. Processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid which is mainly used in fertilizer causes the radioactive waste called phosphogypsum. Phosphogypsum can cause cancer due to its radon emissions. Process wastewater can also contain toxic heavy metals and carcinogens including antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium, and zinc. 

Florida has 27 phosphate mines, that total 450,000 acres. Nine of them are currently active. There are phosphogypsum stacks in four counties in the state, with around a billion tons of the radioactive waste in two dozen stacks. Manatee is one of those four counties. Piney Point highlights the need for American agriculture to widely adopt the use of natural fertilizer, which would eliminate the need for phosphate.


Photo by The Tampa Bay Estuary Program on Unsplash

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.


Photo by David Sjunnesson on Unsplash

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. 


Photo by Cade on Unsplash

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. 


Photo by Ray Aucott on Unsplash

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. 


Photo by Rehan Syed on Unsplash

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. 


Photo by Jose M. on Unsplash

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.


Photo by NOAA on Unsplash