EcoWatch

A feed from EcoWatch, one of the US’s leading environmental news sites at the forefront of uniting all shades of green to ensure the health and longevity of our planet.


18 February 2017. Major Victory for California Cities vs. Monsanto Over PCB Contamination

Monsanto may be looking forward to turning a new leaf with its potential $66 billion mega-merger with Bayer AG, but the agrochemical giant just can't shake its notorious past as the primary manufacturer of highly toxic and banned substances called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs , that were once used for paints, electrical equipment and other products.

Monsanto manufactured about one billion pounds of PCBs for between the 1930s-70s before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the chemical in 1979. PCBs are harmful to humans, wildlife and the environment. To this day, the toxins are dispersed throughout landfills, water bodies and even in the deepest part of the ocean .

In recent years, eight West Coast cities, the Port of Portland as well as Washington state have taken legal action against Monsanto to recover PCB cleanup costs. In Washington, for instance, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the state has spent tens of millions of dollars on cleanup efforts all while the pollutants cause harm to protected salmon and orcas.

Monsanto has been dismissive of the lawsuits for a number of reasons, including "having nothing to do with the company's current business."

But the litigation is gaining momentum. Earlier this month, a California federal judge denied Monsanto's motion to dismiss separate public nuisance lawsuits filed by the cities of San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley. The cities are suing Monsanto for costs associated with PCB cleanup and stormwater system retrofit damages.

The cities also allege that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs were dangerous but continued to sell them anyway. As stated in U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila's Feb. 3 order, an internal Monsanto report identified PCBs as "nearly global environmental contaminants" but urged "a number of actions which must be undertaken to prolong the manufacture, sale and use of these particular Aroclors," which was the trade name of commercial PCB mixtures. Furthermore, an internal memo declared that despite the hazards of PCBs, Monsanto "can't afford to lose one dollar of business."

Judge Davila based his decision on California's new water code that gives cities a right to capture stormwater and put it to use.

"As cities are using stormwater for beneficial purposes, they have a right to recover for stormwater retrofit damages due to these PCBs," plaintiffs' attorney John Paul Fiske explained to EcoWatch . "Prior to the presence of PCBs, stormwater systems did not need to account for PCBs. Now that we have to account for PCBs, we have to spend extra money in order to remove or reduce or just basically manage the presence of PCBs in stormwater."

"What we've alleged is that the presence of PCBs in stormwater and large water bodies is a public nuisance because it disallows or interferes with the public's right to engage in normal public activities like fishing or bathing or swimming," he added.

Judge Davila ruled that the cities could continue to pursue damages against Monsanto. Monsanto may now file a motion to dismiss or stay this case.

Fiske's California-based law firm Gomez Trial Attorneys as well as Texas-based Baron & Budd are also representing San Diego, Long Beach, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, the Port of Portland and Washington state.

EcoWatch spoke with Fiske over the phone about the recent Northern California ruling.

Q. Monsanto has since shifted business operations to agriculture. Why should it be liable for something that they no longer manufacture?

A. Part of it is a factual answer and part of it is a legal answer. The factual answer is that Monsanto was, always has been, and always will be a chemical company. I'm not really sure what it means to be an agricultural company when one of the main products are GMO seeds that are not natural or pesticides such as glyphosate and Roundup. So the idea that Monsanto is not in the chemical business anymore is just not true. They are very much a chemical company and always has been dating back to things like Agent Orange.

The second issue is the legal answer. Corporations can play games all they want but they remain liable and responsible for the chemicals they produce. Companies can spin off, they can merge, they can come together, they can split apart. But so long as we can trace these chemicals back to the original manufacturer, which was old Monsanto then they are liable.

So that's why we're suing Monsanto, Pharmacia and Solutia. Because all companies come from the original Monsanto company and therefore they all maintain the same liabilities for PCBs.


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Q. How did this all start? Which city was the first?

A. The first city to file was the city of San Diego. In that case the city had written a check for $15 million dollars because it was required to dredge PCBs on the bottom of San Diego Bay. And so once we understood that this was a real and practical problem that cities were dealing with, it became very clear to us that other cities would benefit from this type of filing. This litigation was born out of the organic problem—no pun intended—created by the ubiquitous presence of PCBS.

Monsanto, in the news, has tried to focus this case on plaintiffs lawyers such as myself rather than the substance of the issues. But trust me millions of people as taxpayers are dealing with these issues all across the country. Over 6,000 water bodies are contaminated with PCBs.

Q. I'd like to go into that. Scott Partridge, the vice president of global strategy for Monsanto, once said: "PCBs have not been produced in the U.S. for four decades, and Washington is now pursuing a case on a contingency fee basis that departs from settled law both in Washington and across the country ... Most of the prior cases filed by the same contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this case similarly lacks merit and will defend itself vigorously." What is your response to that?

A. It's a classic response to delay, deflect and deny. Delay means you just push it back. Deflect means to blame other people, either the plaintiffs or third parties. And deny means you flat out deny it.

Oh and when that doesn't work, you blame the messenger and that's me. Of course Monsanto is going to try to attack the messenger who is exposing their worldwide contamination. It doesn't surprise us or hurt our feelings. They are worried about this liability especially as they are coming into a merger with Bayer.

Q. About the the merger. This is a major backstory. How do you feel about this and what does it mean for the PCB lawsuits if this merger happens?

A. It's a really good question. We have an American company whose whose headquarters is in St. Louis, Missouri, the Heartland of America. And that company is now being purchased by a company based in Munich, Germany. So my question for Bayer is, 'Does Bayer understand its liabilities and its responsibilities for this PCB contamination? Do they understand that they are acquiring a massive liability that spans the entire nation? And if they do understand that what do they plan on doing about that and do they take responsibility for it?'

About two weeks after Monsanto and Bayer announced its $66 billion merger, Monsanto also announced that they are setting aside $280 million to deal with PCB personal injury cases. So does Bayer think that it's going to have responsibility? Does a German company plan on taking responsibility for American environmental problems? Do they plan on continuing to delay, deflect and deny the problem?

Q. What do you think about the Trump factor? ( Last month , Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant met with the then president-elect to ask him to bless the companies' planned $66 billion mega-merger .)

A. Well if we're going to 'Make America Great Again' we should start by cleaning up our waters. We should make our waters great again.

Q. Have you seen the new study about how PCBs have been detected in the Mariana Trench?

A. Yes, I did see that and that's unfortunate. Monsanto manufactured in America alone close to 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs and they knew that they were toxic and they do not biodegrade and yet they continued to sell them anyway.

So what we're seeing in the deep parts of the ocean or in the fish in our backyard is something that Monsanto had predicted back in the 1950s and 60s.

Q. Are you expecting more cities or states to file PCB contamination lawsuits?

A. We expect more to be filing. A lot of cities and states are starting to take notice of the fact that Monsanto is losing its motions to dismiss. Therefore it's encouraging them to jump into the ring and help find solutions for their cities' PCB problems.

18 February 2017. This City Is Giving Residents $1,200 Toward Buying an Electric Bike

The city of Oslo, Norway is offering grants to help its citizens partially pay for electric cargo bikes through its Climate and Energy Fund. Each grant covers up to $1,200 or 25 percent of an electric cargo bike purchase, which can cost from $2,400 to $6,000.

The funds could potentially put "500 to 1,000 electric cargo bikes onto Oslo's streets" for individuals, businesses and organizations, City Lab reported .

"Unfortunately, subsidy for private individuals" is no longer available, but "it is still possible to apply for funding for pilot projects under the auspices of condominiums, cooperatives, organizations or companies," the Oslo Council bike grant application page states .

Oslo offers this grant partly because of the city's growing issues with air pollution , which also prompted a January ban on diesel vehicles. Similarly, in late 2016, Paris imposed driving restrictions and provided free public transportation.

"Despite considerable improvements in past decades, air pollution is still responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe each year," according to The European Environment Agency, which described air pollution as a persistent problem throughout Europe.

In 2016, Oslo carried out a similar initiative to partially pay for up to 20 percent of the cost of an electric bike. These funds were used in full. This program received criticism when it was discovered that some of the electric bike recipients were among Oslo's wealthiest citizens or were living outside of Oslo.

Oslo's numerous hills and harsh weather conditions have also been called deterrents to electric bike programs, yet the city appears to continue to pursue green solutions at every front. In 2015, Oslo became the first capital city to ban investments in fossil fuels. Additionally, electric cars outsell conventional vehicles in Oslo and the city has dedicated $1 billion to a bike infrastructure fund, reported City Lab.

17 February 2017. These 4 Koch-Funded Congressmen Are Behind the Bill to Abolish the EPA

By Alex Kotch

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz turned heads when he introduced a bill on Feb. 3 to "completely abolish" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ).

"Today, the American people are drowning in rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats," Gaetz told fellow GOP lawmakers in an email reported by the Huffington Post "and the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender."

Rep. Gaetz's bill came the day after a Senate committee voted in favor of confirming Scott Pruitt , the fossil fuel-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA 14 times, to head the agency.

And like Pruitt, Rep. Gaetz and his three fellow sponsors of H.R. 861 have all benefited from campaign donations from oil, gas and coal companies and large electric utilities.

The four GOP representatives have raked in campaign cash from some of the biggest corporations peddling fossil fuels, including Koch Industries , Duke Energy, Chevron and ExxonMobil . What's more, an independent political spending group funded by an oil and gas company stepped in with ad buys to aid in Gaetz's recent U.S. House race.

Over their careers, these legislators appear to have responded in kind, pushing legislation favored by the industries reliant on fossil fuels. Here's who they are, how much they've received from the industry and what they've been up to in recent years.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Since 2010, Gaetz's political campaigns have received $28,000 directly from fossil fuel companies and energy utilities, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics . These donors include the corporate PACs of utilities including Duke Energy, Gulf Power, NextEra Energy, Progress Energy, Southern Company and Teco Energy; oil and gas companies Chevron, Exxon and Koch Industries ; and individual donors including the CEO of Gulf Power and the CEO of Global Industries and Dore Energy.

In 2016, as Gaetz ran for his first term in Congress, a super PAC supporting him received a $100,000 donation from Harness Oil and Gas, a Texas-based company reportedly run by family friends . This super PAC, North Florida Neighbors, spent more than $460,000, the bulk of its total expenditures during that election cycle, supporting Gaetz.

As a Florida state legislator, Gaetz successfully fought the requirement that gas sold in the state contain a minimum percentage of ethanol, something he called "a feel-good attempt to use alternative energy."

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)

Massie, a U.S. representative since 2012, was first elected with the backing of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks , which heavily opposes environmental regulations and regularly questions whether humans are affecting the climate .

In his three congressional campaigns, Massie took in nearly $155,000 from companies working in various parts of the oil, gas and coal industries, including Alpha Natural Resources, Chevron, Duke Energy, Exxon, Halliburton and Koch Industries, as well as from CSX Corporation, a transportation company that operates trains carrying coal, oil, natural gas and frac sand, an essential material used in shale drilling.

From his position in Congress, Massie has attacked and attempted to weaken the EPA repeatedly. He co-sponsored a 2016 bill to shift how the EPA analyzes greenhouse gas emissions in favor of fossil fuel companies—a bill lobbied for by Marathon Petroleum (which has given him $20,000) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which raises doubt about human-caused climate change). Before that, he co-sponsored a 2015 resolution weakening an EPA rule under the Clean Air Act and a 2014 bill lowering EPA ambient air quality standards.

The Liberty for All Super PAC, funded mostly by the young, Texas-based millionaire investor John Ramsey, spent nearly $630,000 backing Massie for Congress in 2012. Unsurprisingly, Ramsey has " oil and gas ventures ," according to his biography on the super PAC's website.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Loudermilk's state and federal campaigns have received more than $60,000 from fossil fuel companies and trade associations, including Duke Energy, Exxon, Georgia Mining Association, Georgia Power, Koch Industries and Valero Energy.

In Congress, Loudermilk has co-sponsored several energy-related bills: a nuclear energy bill for which Duke Energy and Southern Company lobbied; a repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban, which numerous fossil fuel companies, including BP, Chevron, Exxon, Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips, lobbied in support of; and a bill challenging EPA greenhouse gas regulations, another piece of legislation oil and gas companies and utilities favored.

Both Loudermilk and Massie sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology—which has jurisdiction over the EPA, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—and its subcommittee on oversight, key positions that would naturally attract the attention of fossil fuel companies.

Loudermilk's 2015 financial disclosure statement reveals that he received state funding to attend and speak at a " conservative policy summit " hosted by the climate change-denying Heritage Foundation , which has reportedly received $780,000 from ExxonMobil and nearly $6 million from Koch family foundations . Another speaker at the conference was Myron Ebell , the notorious climate change denier who led Trump's EPA transition team. Ebell crafted Trump's plan to hobble the EPA .

As a Georgia state senator, Loudermilk was on the communications and technology task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative bill mill that unites state legislators and big business representatives. ALEC has a history of producing templates for anti-environmental legislation involving climate change denial, promoting gas pipelines and attacking residential solar energy . In addition, ALEC is funded by many of the same fossil fuel corporations that donated to the campaigns of Loudermilk and his fellow legislators hoping to abolish the EPA: Chevron, CSX, Dominion, Duke Energy, Exxon and Koch Industries, to name a few.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

PACs and employees of companies in the energy and natural resources sector have given more than $265,000 to Palazzo's four federal election campaigns, which includes $168,000 from oil and gas companies. The fourth-largest donor is Mississippi Power, an electric utility owned by Southern Company that burns coal and natural gas and has given Palazzo's campaigns more than $34,000. Palazzo has also taken in $24,000 from Chevron, nearly $20,000 from Koch Industries and $19,000 from General Electric.

In 2015 Palazzo voted to oppose an EPA rule that increased emissions standards for coal-fired power plants and the year prior, he voted to halt defense spending on climate change initiatives and cut all funding for the Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy program. In previous years, Palazzo voted to speed up natural gas pipeline permits, allow state laws to supersede federal EPA laws regarding hydraulic fracturing (" fracking ") and cut funding to the EPA, among other measures.

While serving as Mississippi state representative, Palazzo was also a member of ALEC.

Rep. Gaetz's office declined to offer comment, while the other three representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While their bill to kill the EPA has been receiving little support from either political party and is unlikely to pass, its mere existence marks the extent to which fossil fuel funding has the potential to influence elected officials. This bill joins an effort already underway among the GOP-controlled House, Senate and White House to roll back regulations to protect the environment and public health.

Congressional observers likely can expect to see more of the same from these four representatives in the future.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog .

17 February 2017. The Man Who Sued the EPA Is Now Running It

By Ken Kimmell

Voting largely along party lines, Congress just confirmed Scott Pruitt as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—an attorney who has spent his professional career suing the EPA to stop the agency from performing its fundamental mission of ensuring clean air and water for all Americans. This confirmation marks a sharp break with precedent; most EPA administrators from both parties have come to the office with a demonstrated commitment to the EPA's mission.

One might even say that this vote signals the end of an era of bipartisan congressional support for a strong federal role in protecting our environment, as this newly confirmed administrator is likely to dismantle the safeguards that both parties have supported since the 1970s.

What that means for all of us who care about clean air and water and the protection of our environment is this: It is up to us to monitor carefully what happens next and to be prepared to spring into action as needed.

Here are some of the key developments I'm watching for:

Will Scott Pruitt Recuse Himself?

As repeatedly noted in his nomination hearing, Pruitt has represented the State of Oklahoma in numerous lawsuits against EPA. Many of these cases are still active today, directed at major EPA regulations, including the Clean Power Plan (which limits carbon emissions from power plants); national air quality standards; mercury emissions from coal plants; methane limits for the oil and natural gas excavation; and a Clean Water Act rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over bodies of water.

During the nomination hearing, Pruitt did not commit to recusing himself from these cases, but he did say he would rely on advice from the EPA ethics counsel. Common sense tells us that he cannot possibly be impartial on these issues and conflicts of interest abound. For example, the state attorneys general who joined him in the suit against the Clean Power Plan have written a letter to the Trump administration , asking the president to issue an executive order declaring that the rule is unlawful. Responding to this request would, in the normal course of business, require EPA input, since it is an EPA regulation. How can Scott Pruitt possibly participate in any review of that request given that, just a few weeks ago, he himself was one of the attorneys general making this claim?

He must recuse himself, as 30 senators have made clear in a recent letter .

Will Scott Pruitt Cut Federal Law Enforcement?

As a candidate, Trump pledged to dismantle the EPA. He lacks a filibuster-proof majority to change the laws that created the EPA, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. But he could cripple the EPA with budget cuts, which are much harder for a minority to stop.

By wide margins, most Americans favor enforcement of laws that protect our air and water. Cutting EPA enforcement will therefore be unpopular—but Scott Pruitt is likely to argue that we can rely on states to enforce environmental laws, so cutting the EPA's budget won't do any real harm.

This is a dangerous myth.

Having served as a state environmental commissioner, I know from personal experience that state environmental agencies are already strapped. They typically lack the technical experts employed at the EPA and stand in no position to take on additional enforcement responsibilities shed by the EPA.

In Massachusetts where I served, for example, my former agency's staff was cut nearly in half between 2002 and 2012 due to budget cuts, even as the agency's responsibilities grew. That occurred in a state well known for its strong commitment to environmental protection. As a result, my agency was forced to cut back on important and effective programs, such as water sampling to locate sources of bacteria that pollute rivers. If the EPA's budget is cut, it will mean even fewer resources for states, because states now receive a significant share of the EPA's budget to cover enforcement activities.

Second, state environmental agencies sometimes experience political pressure against enforcement that might harm a large employer or impose significant costs on residents. We saw some of this in play in Flint, Michigan, where a state agency did not enforce a law requiring corrosion treatment of pipes to reduce lead contamination; it took an EPA staffer and outside scientists, as well as the residents themselves, to blow the whistle on lax state enforcement.

Third, states are not equipped to deal with the widespread problem of interstate pollution. To cite one of the most egregious examples, the state of Maryland could shut down virtually all in-state sources of air pollution and yet still not be in compliance with health-based air quality standards due to pollution from neighboring "upwind" states. A strong federal law enforcement presence is needed to address the simple fact that air and water pollutants do not honor state boundary lines.

We and others stand prepared to fight crippling budget cuts at the EPA and explain that the protection of our air and water requires both federal and state environmental law enforcement.


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Scott Pruitt Will Likely Gut the Clean Power Plan; What Will He Replace It With?

During the campaign, President Trump called for abolishing the Clean Power Plan, the EPA regulations that limit carbon emissions from power plants. And as noted, Administrator Pruitt sued to block it. It now seems nearly inevitable that he will move to drastically undermine the plan.

The question is, what will he propose to replace it? The EPA does not have the option of doing nothing. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has a duty to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act if it makes a determination that such gases endanger public health and the environment. In 2009, EPA made such a finding (which Pruitt fought, though unsuccessfully).

Thus, EPA remains obligated to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in general and in particular with respect to power plants, which are among the nation's largest source of these emissions.

One predictable approach would be a revised regulation that reduces emissions, but by a much smaller percentage. The current litigation over the Clean Power Plan could serve as a roadmap for a diminished rule. The Clean Power Plan relies on three strategies to reduce emissions—improving efficiency of coal plants, switching from coal to gas and switching to renewables. During the litigation, Scott Pruitt conceded that the EPA had the authority to require improvements to coal plant efficiency, but claimed that the other two strategies, which go "beyond the fenceline" of an individual source, were unlawful.

Thus, one might expect that a revised rule will mirror what Pruitt called for in court. If so, rather than cutting carbon emissions by approximately 32 percent by 2030, the rule would result in barely noticeable emission reductions.

If this happens, litigation will be necessary. The court that mandated the EPA to address greenhouse gas emissions should not be satisfied with a rule that does little to cut one of the nation's largest sources of CO2 emissions.

How About Vehicles?

The second biggest carbon cutting program of the Obama administration is the Union of Concerned Scientists -backed fuel economy standards for cars which, it is estimated, will roughly double fuel economy between 2012 and 2025. Those standards were agreed to by the automakers at the time. They are projected to cut billions of tons of CO2, reduce oil use by billions of barrels and save consumers an average of $8000 over the lifetime of a vehicle.

When the standards were put in place, they included a "mid-term review" provision in which the EPA would assess whether changes in technology, costs or factors might warrant a change to the standards. The review was to be completed by April 2018, but the Obama administration in its closing days completed the review and determined, based on a thorough review , that there was no reason to change the standards, since automakers are ahead of schedule in meeting these standards and at a lower cost than originally predicted.

Some automakers are calling for this determination to be re-opened, presumably so that the rules can be modified and perhaps weakened. And one can justifiably be anxious that they could offer something that the Trump administration is keen to secure—a commitment to increased manufacturing in the U.S.—in exchange for relaxing these standards.

It would be a disaster for these historic standards to be rolled back and we'll fight any such rollback along with many allies.

How About Science?

As I wrote recently, Pruitt's record shows little evidence of deference to scientists. After all, he sued the EPA for relying upon the world's most prominent climate scientists, including many employed by the federal government, in finding that greenhouse gases endangered the environment. And he claimed that the question of climate change and the role of human causes of it are still an open question for debate.

As EPA administrator, he will hear from EPA scientists whose expert judgment will not align with his deregulatory agenda in some cases. Will these scientists' findings be suppressed or disregarded?

We call on Pruitt to declare that scientific integrity is a core guiding principal for the EPA, that he will abide by the existing EPA scientific integrity policy and even look for ways to improve it, as recommended by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Vigilance Required

Scott Pruitt comes to his new position with the heavy baggage of having devoted a good part of his career to opposing EPA, not to mention the apparent antipathy of his boss towards the agency. The Trump transition team, composed of career ideologues, further fueled anxiety over the EPA's fate, with threats of gag orders on agency scientists, deletion of climate data from the website and draconian budget cuts. This is why we see, for example, hundreds of career civil servants risking their jobs by publicly protesting Pruitt's confirmation.

Scott Pruitt has a chance now to push the reset button and position himself as an open-minded and principled conservative, rather than a deregulatory ideologue. Most helpful to him will be to invest significant time in hearing from the agency's talented scientists, engineers, policy analysts and attorneys.

No matter what, we will be watching his actions vigilantly and stand prepared to fight to retain key protections of Americans' health and safety at the agency he now oversees.

Ken Kimmell is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and has more than 30 years of experience in government, environmental policy and advocacy.

17 February 2017. Murder of Environmental Lawyer in Philippines Sparks Outrage

By Maeve McClenaghan

The murder of an environmental lawyer in the Philippines has provoked outrage in a country where environmental activists are increasingly targeted.

Mia Manuelita Cumba Masacariñas-Green was shot dead on Feb. 15 after her car was ambushed by two men on motorbikes in the Filipino capital Bohol. Masacariñas-Green, 49, was driving her three young children home when she was shot in the head and body. Her children, who witnessed the killing, were unhurt.

Activists Targeted

Nearly 100 environmental activists defenders have been killed in the Philippines since 2010. A third of those happened in 2015 alone. Violence is increasingly common in the Philippines where President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called "war on drugs" has led to state sanctioned murders of more that 7,000 people in the last seven months, according to Amnesty International .

Investigators have not yet determined a motive nor found the gunmen responsible for Masacariñas-Green's murder. But activists on the ground fear the lawyer was targeted because of her work.

Late last year, campaigners working to stop illegal fishing reported receiving death threats.

Global Witness has described the Philippines as "one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental or land defender."

Yeb Saño , executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia , condemned the killing:

"Those who cause environmental destruction are resorting to savage measures and deplorable acts to stop communities and people who are standing up to protect our imperiled environment and the very ecosystems that support the lives and livelihoods of our people.

"Let our grief and our outrage at such horrifying acts be heard. Let our actions and people's movements spur our society towards a green and peaceful future."

17 February 2017. Farmer Studies Law for 16 Years to Sue Chemical Company for Polluting His Land

Chinese farmer Wang Enlin and his neighbors sued Qihua Group , a mineral processing and chemical production company, for polluting their homes and farmland. Wang, who spent 16 years studying law to pursue this goal, and residents of the Yushutun village won an initial judgment against the multi-billion dollar state-run company, the Daily Mail reported .

Wang discusses wastewater pollution. Xie Xinyuan

Wang, who is in his 60s, began to pursue this case after his home and the surrounding farmland were flooded with toxic waste from Qihua in 2001. The 2001 Qiqihar Angang River District Council minutes reveal a mayoral determination that the polluted land could not be used for a "long time," the People's Daily said .

The Qihua plant created a "71-acre wasteland with calcium carbide residue and a 478-acre pond with its liquid waste," according to the Daily Mail. It released 15,000 to 20,000 tons of annual waste.

"I knew I was in the right, but I did not know what law the other party had broken or whether or not there was evidence," Wang said.

Though Wang had only three years of formal education, he began to read law books with the help of a dictionary. He spent 16 years hand-copying notes out of books he could not afford to buy in a bookstore. He traded the store owner corn for allowing him to use the books. As he learned about Chinese land management law and environmental protection law, Wang began to educate his neighbors on their legal rights as well.

In 2007, the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims of the China University of Political Science and Law came to the aid of Wang and his neighbors. Liu Jinmei and other lawyers from the center agreed to help the villagers file their suit against Qihua and the case finally began to be processed in 2015.

Wang and the other residents of the Yushutun village won an initial judgement against Qihua in the Angangxi District Court of Qiqihar. This court awarded the victims financial compensation amounting to about $119,000 and Qihua is appealing the ruling.

“We will certainly win. Even if we lose, we will continue to battle," said Wang, according to the People's Daily, which described him as having white hair, “mud-covered rubber shoes" and a faded “old cotton-padded jacket."

China's rapid industrialization over several decades has led to widespread land and air pollution issues that the court system has struggled to manage, China Dialogue explained . Very few of the victims the legal aid center helps choose to pursue legal action or persevere for as long as Wang, Liu told the People's Daily.

17 February 2017. House Passes NRA-Backed Bill Legalizing the Killing of Bear Cubs in Wildlife Refuges

The House of Representatives approved a controversial bill to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects wolves, bears, coyotes and other animals on more than 76 million acres of national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The measure was passed 225-193 on Thursday on a mostly party-line vote.

Animal welfare advocates said that the resolution allows trophy hunters to go to den sites to shoot wolf pups, use painful steel-jawed traps to ensnare animals and even chase down grizzlies with aircraft.

The Republican-sponsored legislation was introduced by Alaska Rep. Don Young and was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a number of hunting groups .

House Joint Resolution 69 (H. J. Res. 69), citing authority under the Congressional Review Act, would rescind U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules enacted in August that are meant to maintain a sustainable population of native Alaskan wildlife.

But on the House floor, Young said his measure was about overturning "illegal" Obama administration rules and ensuring the "right of Alaskans and the right of Alaska to manage all fish and game."

He claimed that special interest groups were spreading "falsehoods" and "propaganda."

"They talk about killing [wolf] puppies and grizzly bears," Young said. "That does not happen nor, in fact, is it legal in the state of Alaska under our management."

Opponents argue that if the measure becomes law, it would allow the use of "inhumane" hunting tactics such as:

  • Killing black bear cubs or mother with cubs at den sites
  • Killing brown bears over bait
  • Trapping and killing brown and black bears with steel-jaw leghold traps or wire snares
  • Killing wolves and coyotes during denning season
  • Killing brown and black bears from aircraft

"This bill allows the use of inhumane tactics such as trapping, snaring, and baiting bears, and killing wolves and coyotes—and their pups. It even allows shooting bears from helicopters," said Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who voted "No" on the resolution. "As a strong advocate for our public lands and natural treasures, I will continue to fight extreme proposals like this that erode bedrock conservation laws and expose animals to abuse."

After Thursday's vote, the bill is now up for possible consideration in the Senate.

Environmental and animal rights groups have strongly condemned the bill.


"Killing hibernating bears, shooting wolf pups in their dens, and chasing down grizzlies by aircraft and then shooting them on the ground is not the stuff of some depraved video game," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society . "It is exactly what Don Young is trying to restore on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. No decent person should support this appalling, despicable treatment of wildlife."

"Rolling back protections for predators defies everything wildlife refuges stand for," said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity . "Refuges are places where we celebrate biological diversity, not where wolves and bears are inhumanely killed for no good reason. It's an outrage that Congress would revoke rules that stop the senseless slaughter of predators, heedless of the important role these animals play in healthy ecosystems."

Born Free USA said that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's rules were meant to protect Alaskan wildlife from "shockingly brutal practices."

"Alaska is the only state that currently allows bears to be caught and killed for commercial and recreational purposes using cruel leghold traps and snares," the group said. "Both steel-jaw leghold and snare traps are barbaric, cruel, and indiscriminate. When triggered, leghold traps slam shut with bone-crushing force on any victim unfortunate enough to encounter it, including endangered species and pets. Once caught, animals suffer immensely from injury, trauma, and stress, and ultimately die an excruciating death. Many even gnaw off their own limb in a desperate attempt to escape, often dying of a painful infection days later."

"Strangulation neck snares have been cited as the cruelest of all trapping devices. The snare is designed to tighten around an animal's neck as she or he struggles. Animals trapped in neck snares may suffer for days, and their heads and necks are frequently swollen with thick and bloody lymph fluid, a condition called 'jellyhead' by trappers. Death is often slow and painful," the group said.

17 February 2017. Trump Completes Pipeline Trifecta, Rubber Stamps Enbridge-Spectra Merger

The White House completed its pipeline trifecta Thursday by rubber stamping the Enbridge-Spectra merger after approving the Dakota Access Pipeline and reversing the blocked Keystone XL pipeline.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the deal without requiring the merged firm to divest a single inch of its 38,000-mile oil and gas pipeline network. The company will be able to exert market power to reduce output and raise prices on consumers. As with other industries, this mega-merger only benefits company shareholders, not communities.

The Trump administration is quickly fulfilling the fossil fuel industry's wish list. The American people will pay the price for gargantuan gas giveaways—higher prices, a dirtier environment and climate chaos. Approving this deal is a bad omen for future antitrust enforcement. It seems as though the White House has pulled the cops off the antitrust beat entirely, much to Wall Street's delight.

17 February 2017. Say Goodbye to Coal-Free Streams

President Trump has officially killed the Office of Surface Protection's Stream Mining Rule, as he signed legislation undoing the Obama era protection Thursday.

Surrounded by lawmakers, coal miners and friendly coal executives , Trump blasted the rule as "another terrible job killing rule" and promised to save jobs "especially in the mines, which, I have been promising you—the mines are a big deal."

A report issued by the Congressional Research Service last month found that the rule would have eliminated a minimal amount of jobs in the coal industry, while generating an additional 250 jobs per year.

"If Central Appalachian legislators really had the best interests of their constituents at heart, they would not have attacked this moderate rule," said Erin Savage of Appalachian Voices . "Instead of doing the bidding of coal industry lobbyists, they should be working to protect the health and well-being of Appalachian communities that depend on clean water."

S igning: The Hill , Bloomberg , InsideClimate News , Politico Pro

Jobs report: CNBC

Commentary: Vox, Brad Plumer analysis , Science, Warren Cornwall analysis

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook , and sign up for daily Hot News .

17 February 2017. Judge Orders Trump's EPA Pick to Release Emails by Tuesday

The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump 's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.

In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.

Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma , filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.

On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.

"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."

Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee— weighed in on the case , urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:

"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."

"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."

Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.

At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony " just doesn't add up ." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.

After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests , Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.

16 February 2017. Colorado Attorney General Sues Boulder County to End Fracking Ban

Colorado's attorney general is suing Boulder County over its fracking ban that has been in place for the last five years.

Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and the state of Colorado are plaintiffs in the lawsuit . The complaint to initiate the lawsuit was received by county officials on Feb. 14, KUNC reported.

The AG's office had been threatening Boulder County with a lawsuit for several weeks over the county's moratorium on oil and gas development in unincorporated areas. The county first adopted the temporary ban back in Feb. 2, 2012 and has extended it several times.

In a Jan. 26 letter to county commissioners, Coffman gave a Feb. 10 deadline to rescind the moratorium as it violates state law. Last May, Colorado's Supreme Court rulings on two cases prohibited local governments from preventing oil and gas development through the use of local bans. In light of the court's decisions, Coffman called Boulder County's continued ban "clearly unlawful."

But Boulder County deputy attorney David Hughes disagrees.

"Our position is that we are complying with state law and if attorney General Coffman just held off and let us complete our process, we think that is a perfectly viable option," Hughes told KUNC. "A lot of the open space that we bought over the years, the mineral rights had already been severed, so the open space doesn't provide protection in those instances."

"In 2012 when the county adopted its regulations, it was looking at smaller well pads and now the trend is for these mega pads, we're looking at 20, 30 40 wells per pad," Hughes added. "Our regulations didn't really look at or address that issue."

As KUNC explains, "after the state Supreme Court rulings, Boulder County rescinded its moratorium on new oil and gas permits that was set to expire in 2018. It was replaced by county commissioners with shorter time-outs, usually four to six months long. Most recently commissioners voted in December 2016 to extend it until at least May 1, 2017, while they revise the county's oil and gas regulations."

But Coffman said in a statement about Tuesday's filing that the county had years to prepare with state law:

"The Boulder County Commissioners responded that they needed yet more time to draft regulations and prepare to accept new applications for oil or gas development. Because five years is more than reasonable time to complete such a project, and because Boulder County continues to operate in clear violation of Colorado law, the Attorney General today is filing suit in Boulder County District Court to compel compliance. It is not the job of industry to enforce Colorado law; that is the role of the Attorney General on behalf of the People of Colorado. Regrettably, Boulder County's open defiance of State law has made legal action the final recourse available to the State."

Incidentally, Coffman's lawsuit came just as the Colorado School of Public Health released a study that found that young Coloradans with "leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in the densest area of active oil and gas wells than those with other cancers."

County commissioners were critical of the lawsuit, saying they are already planning two public hearings next month to discuss the adoption of new oil and gas regulations for unincorporated Boulder County.

A statement from the commissioners reads:

"The Colorado Attorney General sent a special valentine to the oil and gas industry today by filing a lawsuit against Boulder County for our working to safeguard our community from the industrial impacts of oil and gas development.

"Drilling proposals of 20 to 40 wells per site are being proposed near residential neighborhoods, schools, parks and recreational areas up and down the Front Range, and we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the strongest possible protections in place for the residents of Boulder County and the world-class environment we have worked hard to protect and preserve.

"It's a sweetheart deal for the oil and gas industry, but a massive waste of Coloradans' tax dollars for the state to sue us on industry's behalf, and we are prepared to defend our right to safeguard the health, safety, and wellbeing of our constituents.

"As we stated when we first responded to the Attorney General's January 26 letter, Boulder County understands its legal constraints on adopting local bans and lengthy moratoria; however, the current moratorium is of a materially shorter duration and is consistent with Colorado law."

Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry applauded the AG's legal action.

"It's not about drilling, or fracking, or pipelines, it's about the law. And the law is clear: Long-term moratoriums—and this one is over five years now—are illegal," said Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in a statement. "Boulder County shouldn't be surprised that the Attorney General cares about the rule of law in Colorado."

According to the International Business Times , during her 2014 campaign for AG, "Coffman directly received nearly $20,000 from oil and gas interests—including maximum donations from fossil fuel companies' political action committees. She also was boosted in the 2014 election by the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which launched a $1.4 million political action committee that supported her candidacy. RAGA that year listed fossil fuel corporations and trade associations among its largest donors."

Democratic lawmakers in the state have denounced the lawsuit.

"We should all be outraged that the Colorado attorney general has chosen to use public tax dollars to bully Boulder County on behalf of the oil and gas industry," Democrat Rep. Jared Polis said in a statement to Denver7 . "The oil and gas industry is more than equipped to bring their own lawsuits, and I suspect they have opted not to sue Boulder County because they know Colorado law allows for a short term fracking moratorium. What the attorney general has done today is a purely political waste of money, and it is not legally sound."

Democrat State Sen. Matt Jones also accused Coffman of colluding with the oil and gas industry.

"This is disgraceful. After seeing the Attorney General's and Oil and Gas industry's press releases about the lawsuit sent out almost at the same time, I think it's safe to assume the Attorney General is using the powers of her office and using tax dollars to intimidate and sue taxpayers at the behest of special interest industries," he said. "The question I have for the Attorney General is this: how many oil and gas corporations did she consult with before sending out her threat letter to Boulder County on January 26?"'

The fight between local governments versus oil and gas development runs deep. Last year, environmental groups tried to introduce two statewide measures to appear on Colorado's November ballot.

The first initiative would have amended the state constitution to enable local governments the option to enact regulations more protective of health and safety than those required by the state, largely addressing the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to strike down local fracking bans. The other initiative would create 2,500-foot buffer zones between homes, schools and sensitive areas like playgrounds and water sources, and all new oil and gas development. Both measures failed to make the ballot.

Records show that energy companies spent millions of dollars to stop the anti-fracking measures.

16 February 2017. 100 Greenest Cities in America: Where Does Your City Rank?

By Robin Scher

There are many things to fear about Donald Trump 's presidency. From a decline in socially progressive values to deteriorating international diplomatic relations, the political effects alone are cause for conniptions. Then there's the toll on the environment.

Where to begin? In short, protecting the climate isn't as profitable as selling oil. In the past, some governing bodies tried to push back against the influence money had over politics. That was until last November, when the country underwent a corporate coup d'etat. Now, our next potential head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a climate change denier-cum-fossil fuel shill .

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. A recent executive order signed by Trump has ordered federal agencies to repeal two existing regulations for every new regulation issued in the future. Or, as environmentalists describe it , a means to dismantle existing protections. The GOP began its own battle against the environment recently when House Republicans voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule , a measure that protects waterways and communities from the negative effects of unchecked coal mining.

The situation is pretty overwhelming, but this is not the time to give in to apathy. Instead, now more than ever, this is the time for action. And here's the good news: You don't need the national government to help dial back climate change. Federal cooperation would help a lot, of course, but it's vital to remember that your own local community has agency. As Margi Prideaux wrote in an article for AlterNet on this topic , "We need genuine delegation to communities to manage and protect what surrounds them."

As of 2014, 54 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas. This means that cities carry much of the burden when it comes to climate change action. This is a good thing for two main reasons, explained sustainable business analyst Adam Green in his article Why Cities Are Leading the Way in Sustainability . Green emphasized that "cities can act without going through the cumbersome climate negotiations process of reaching consensus and secondly the competition between cities is driving climate performance."

Enter WalletHub's analysis of America's greenest cities in 2016. To help encourage communities to take up the climate change fight, last year WalletHub, a personal finance website, compared data from 100 of the largest U.S. cities to determine which is the greenest of them all.


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The performance of each city was separated into four categories:

1. Environment

2. Transportation

3. Energy Sources

4. Lifestyle and Policy

Within these categories, analysts looked at a set of 20 metrics, such as "greenhouse-gas emissions per capita" and "number of smart-energy policies and initiatives."

San Francisco managed to edge out Honolulu to claim the top overall ranking, but the Hawaiian island city came first in lowest greenhouse gas emissions and highest amount of green space. Some of the other results were unsurprising. New York, for instance, had the lowest percentage of commuters who drive and Las Vegas contained the least amount of green spaces. Minneapolis, it turns out, had the best bike score, while Newark seems to be severely lacking in farmers markets. Overall, California had the most cities in the top ten, while Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio were tied for the bottom bunch.

Unlike other competitions, WalletHub's greenest cities is not really about winners and losers. Rather, it's about identifying the areas where your community can do better. The idea being that one day, all 100 cities will receive top scores. The pertinent question for now is, how to get there?

The answer largely comes down to "public-private partnerships," said Green. Companies that provide urban planning and biomimicry solutions to energy and water efficiency needs are just some of the examples Green lists. Others include businesses focused on "waste solutions, industrial process design and cleaner production," which can work together with cities to "understand, engage and leverage the best of each other."

If done effectively, this sort of collaboration can be profitable. Trump talks a lot about bringing jobs back. Well, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists , "more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels." The explanation for this is quite simple. Fossil-fuel technology is capital-intensive, while renewable energy involves more labor.

Of course, there are a bunch of ways individual people can help do their part. As part of Wallethub's analysis, experts on environmental sustainability practices were asked their opinion on the matter. Some common answers included:

  • Walk or bike to work, use mass transit or drive a gas-electric hybrid vehicle.
  • Buy local, especially locally sourced food.

Some more specific answers and the experts who provided them, include:

  • "The best and most effective improvements come from good old energy efficiency (better insulation at home, thicker windows, energy efficient lights, etc.)" — Ted Loch-Temzelides, professor of economics and scholar of energy studies at Rice University
  • "In the southern U.S., turn up the thermostat a degree or two; use ceiling and/or portable fans; open windows in fair weather. When selecting a home, consider an older neighborhood with an established tree canopy—a shaded roof saves electricity bills." — Robert M. MacLeod, director of School of Architecture & Community Design at University of South Florida
  • "The best approach is to rethink our own consumption and finding out ways to be more efficient and conserve (energy, water, miles traveled, others) as much as we can." — Nabil Nasr, director of the Gosilano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology
  • "The biggest single impact will come from reducing unnecessary air travel, since a single cross-country flight can produce as many greenhouse gas emissions per passenger as created annually by their car." — Stephen M. Wheeler, professor of landscape architecture and environmental design at UC Davis
  • "The most effective way is Community Choice Aggregation, whereby individuals come together to pool their investments in renewable energy on a voluntary basis." — David Auston, director of TomKat Carbon Neutrality Project in the Institute of Electricity Efficiency at UC Santa Barbara

There you have it. If individuals, businesses and local government can all work together in taking up the fight, we can fight the battle against climate change without having to rely on a bunch of suits in conference rooms. Power to the people—renewable power, of course.

Source: WalletHub

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet .

16 February 2017. Trump Administration Sued for Suspending Protections for Endangered Bumble Bee

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the Trump administration Tuesday for illegally suspending the rule to put the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumble bee has lost approximately 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years. It is the first bumble bee ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumble bee from the endangered species list," Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the NRDC, said. "The science is clear—this species is headed toward extinction and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. In this case, the decision to freeze protections for the rusty patched bumble bee without public notice and comment violates the law."

In the case filed in the U.S. District Court in New York City, NRDC asks the court to stop the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing and enforcing the bumble bee delay order. The White House instructed agencies to withdraw or freeze a broad array of rules issued by the Obama administration to protect public health and the environment.

The suit claims the agencies broke the law by freezing the bumble bee's endangered species listing without public notice or an opportunity for comment. In its complaint, NRDC contends the agencies cannot suspend the listing because the rule was final when published in the Federal Register.

This is the third lawsuit NRDC has filed against the Trump administration for its attacks on regulation. In response to the same regulatory freeze directive, NRDC is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year. And last week, NRDC joined Public Citizen and Communications Workers of America in seeking to block a Jan. 30 executive order requiring agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new regulation it puts in place.

16 February 2017. Here's What America Would Look Like Without the EPA

By Brian Palmer

"Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions," said Richard Nixon, the founder of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ), in his 1970 State of the Union speech.

If only. While there was clearly a time when support for environmental regulations transcended politics, the GOP's broad support for EPA antagonist and Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head the agency he so maligns tells us that day has passed.

A collective memory lapse seems to have descended on lawmakers who seek to dismantle an agency that has transformed American life for the better. Since the EPA's founding in 1970, concentrations of common air pollutants, like sulfur dioxide, have dropped as much as 67 percent . The EPA helped mitigate catastrophes like acid rain, leaded gasoline and DDT. The agency bravely classified secondhand smoke as a known carcinogen in 1993, paving the way for successful litigation against the tobacco industry and an incredible reduction in U.S. smoking rates.

Perhaps the EPA has been too successful for its own good. In the same way that vaccines have given parents the luxury of forgetting what measles and whooping cough were like, the EPA has nearly wiped out the national memory of the contaminated environment of the 1960s. But things were so bad then that support for creating the agency and our major environmental statutes was virtually unanimous—nearly everyone recognized the need for an environmental regulator.

"There were debates about the best approach to deal with the problem, but opposition to the EPA was pretty minimal in the beginning," remembers A. James Barnes, who was with the agency at its founding and served as deputy administrator from 1985 to 1988. "Most legislators got themselves personally involved in how to improve the environment."

As we embark on a terrifying new period at the EPA, under a president who called the agency "a disgrace" and promised to abolish it, it's worth looking back at the way we were before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came to our rescue.

Disasters Were the Norm

If you ask people of a certain age about the environmental problems of the 1960s, many describe a series of discrete disasters: the Cuyahoga River fire, the New York City Thanksgiving smog, the Santa Barbara oil spill. Those incidents were shocking indeed, but they weren't one-offs. In most cases they were merely the most salient in a series of increasingly grave problems of the same kind.

Take the New York City smog. "The smog" is New York shorthand for the choking, three-day air pollution event that smothered the city over Thanksgiving 1966. That weekend, the city experienced a heat inversion—a stationary layer of warm air that prevented the normal upward circulation of warm air from the ground. As a result, low-lying pollution simply hung over the city.

New York City veiled in smog in 1973. National Archives

"I was a student at Columbia Law School during the 1966 episode," said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney David Hawkins . "It was frightening, but while that is the best-known event, heavy pollution was an everyday fact of life those days. It was one of the things that motivated me to get a job at NRDC soon after I graduated."

As Hawkins points out, "the smog" wasn't really new. Thirteen years earlier, for six terrible days, a similar heat inversion spiked the sulfur dioxide content of New York's air from a tolerable 40 parts per billion to 860 parts per billion . (The current legal limit is 75 parts per billion.) At the time, American city dwellers hadn't yet settled on the term smog to describe the dark curtain of polluted air that was beginning to descend on them. Many newspapers referred to the disaster as " the smaze " and every day it accelerated the death of 25 to 30 people. Yet another multi-day smog event blanketed Gotham in 1963.


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And New York was far from alone. Air pollution hung over many major American cities and some not-so-major. In Donora, Pennsylvania, a former mill town in the state's steel country, 20 people died during a 1948 air pollution event that was one of the worst in U.S. history. Today, the town maintains a Smog Museum dedicated to reminding people of the tragedy that eventually gave rise to the Clean Air Act.

Cuyahoga River fire, 1952 The Cleveland Press Collection

Similarly, the Cuyahoga River fire typically refers to an incident that took place in Cleveland on June 22, 1969, when sparks from a train landed on oil-soaked debris floating on the river's surface, igniting it. Flames reached five stories in height as the river burned for about 30 minutes.

While it was, inarguably, a terrifying incident, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire at least a dozen other times between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. In fact, the Time magazine photo of the fire that captured so much public attention in 1969 was actually taken during a previous incident in 1952. And many other American rivers were sufficiently polluted to go up in flames around the same period.

The Santa Barbara oil spill is the same story again. On Jan. 28, 1969, a blowout in an offshore well released thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean. We still don't know exactly how much oil leaked in the infamous accident, but we do know that there were plenty of similar-size spills in the years prior. The previous spring, a tanker ran aground in San Juan, Puerto Rico, spilling thousands of barrels of oil. The year before that, the tanker R.C. Stoner grounded on U.S.-managed Wake Island in the Pacific, spilling thousands of barrels of oil and destroying a coral reef. The list goes on. Santa Barbara wasn't an anomaly—it was a regularly occurring event in a world with little environmental regulation and even less spill-response technology.

A Bipartisan, International Issue

Richard Nixon's role in the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is complicated. It wasn't his idea and some believe he founded the EPA with the hope that he could control its administrators. But there can be little doubt that even Nixon—a Republican to his very bones—understood the need for stiffer environmental regulations. Almost all Republicans of his generation did. In that 1970 State of the Union speech, Nixon called environmental preservation a "common cause of all the people of this country." He went on: "It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later. Clean air, clean water, open spaces—these should once again be the birthright of every American."

William Ruckelshaus's swearing in as the first EPA chief, 1970; from left: President Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, Jill Ruckelshaus (wife), Chief Justice Warren Burger

What's more, Nixon understood that supporting our environment would have financial costs. But he viewed those costs as justifiable, even obligatory. He continued:

"We still think of air as free. But clean air is not free and neither is clean water. The price tag on pollution control is high. Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature and now that debt is being called. The program I shall propose to Congress will be the most comprehensive and costly program in this field in America's history."

A year earlier, United Nations Secretary General U Thant had told the General Assembly that the world had just 10 years left to fix the environment before it became unfixable and he'd identified the U.S. as a primary contributor to the problem.

The public overwhelmingly agreed with these mandates. On the first Earth Day , in 1970, New York City closed 40 blocks of Fifth Avenue as 100,000 people turned out to march. (Some 20 million Americans demonstrated across the country). Congress canceled business, as its members felt a responsibility to stand with their constituents and vowed to clean up the mess they had made.

Decades of Progress

The EPA and the laws it implemented changed everything. Although we now drive four times as many miles as we did in 1970, smog no longer chokes our cities as it used to, thanks to a more than 90 percent decrease in emissions per mile. The average American kid is growing up with blood lead levels one-tenth of what her grandparents had as children. And she's far less likely to be exposed to toxic chemicals like asbestos.

The proportion of American homes served by stringent sewage treatment systems has more than doubled since EPA's founding. Municipal solid waste recycling has grown fivefold. More than 18 million acres of land contaminated by hazardous waste have been cleaned up. The rate of wetlands loss has decreased by 96 percent.

Nostalgia is a dangerous instinct. It's easy to remember the historic moments, but the day-to-day problems fade. The America that existed in the 1960s, in the years before the EPA's founding, was dirty, dark and dangerous. The EPA saved us. Let's return the favor now.

Brian Palmer covers daily environmental news for the Natural Resources Defense Council .

16 February 2017. 1,650 Illegal Oil Wells Still Polluting California Aquifers

Gov. Jerry Brown's oil regulators failed to meet their own deadline Wednesday for shutting down 1,650 oil industry injection wells that are violating water-protection laws by dumping toxic fluid into protected California aquifers.

"Governor Brown's administration has decided not to protect our water from illegal contamination by the oil industry," said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity . "By failing to meet their own lax deadline for shutting down these polluting wells, state oil regulators have given Californians another reason not to trust a word they say."

All illegal oil-industry injection activities were supposed to be halted by Feb. 15, according to a promise made two years ago by California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The state could be imposing fines of up to $25,000 a day for every well that continues to operate in a protected aquifer.

But as of Wednesday, the state has shut just a portion of wells operating in aquifers that should be protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. State officials quietly announced the indefinite delay in enforcing the law in mid-January.

In March of 2015, state officials testifying before the California senate pledged to stick to the February deadline and other aspects of a schedule approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). John Laird, the state's Secretary of Natural Resources, told senators that the Brown administration was "fully committed to meeting these deadlines."

The promises came in the wake of admissions by the Brown administration that state regulators had let oil companies operate thousands of injection wells that have been dumping wastewater into scores of protected underground water supplies in Monterey, Ventura, Kern and other counties (see interactive map ).

But instead of halting most of the illegal injections, state officials have moved forward with plans to exempt as many as 40 of these aquifers from water-protection laws. If these "aquifer exemption" applications are approved by the EPA, the oil industry would be allowed to make permanent use of these water supplies for the disposal of contaminated waste fluid.

"The Brown administration will go down in history for this failure to enforce the law and safeguard our water from oil industry pollution," Kretzmann said. "It's a shocking abdication of the governor's most fundamental duty to the people and environment of this state."

16 February 2017. World's Largest Solar Panel Facade Powers Danish School

Copenhagen International School's new building in the Nordhavn district features the largest solar facade in the world. The 12,000 solar glass panels can generate 300 megawatt hours of electricity per year, more than half of the school's annual energy needs. After much anticipation, the pre-K to 12th grade campus opened last month .

The unique sea-green hue of the panels was created by the research institute Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne (EPFL) after more than a decade of development. By using the process of light interference, the researchers achieved the tiles' distinctive color without using any pigments and without reducing energy efficiency.

Students are excited about the school's environmentally friendly features such as the individually angled solar panels, the numerous windows that let in plenty of natural lighting, as well as the green roof.

"It means so much to me that the school is moving to a new campus that is committed to sustainability," said Copenhagen International School director Jennifer Weyburn. "The kids can learn things about sustainable solutions for the future."

The vegetables and fruits growing in the greenhouses can be eaten and can "teach kids where food actually comes from," said 12th grade student Aoife Sweeney.

The color of the panels are a technological feature in their own right.

The solar facade has a total area of 6,048 square meters, making it "one of the largest building-integrated solar power plants in Denmark," according to the designers at CF Møller Architects .

Here are some of the building's other impressive sustainable features:

  • High performance thermal insulation
  • Daylight photovoltaic cells / solar heating
  • Ventilation
  • Passive solar design
  • Energy efficient design
  • High insulation values
  • Low energy windows
  • Green roof
  • LCA sustainable planning
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Prefabricated components
  • Flexibility
  • LED
  • Healthy building
  • Noise minimization
  • Natural ventilation
  • Low-energy standard (2020)

As stated in Phys.org :

"The researchers' aim was to be able to define the color of their solar panels—such as brick red, royal blue, golden yellow or sea green—by ensuring that only certain wavelengths are reflected. This required a series of digital simulations and a special manufacturing process, and it took 12 years to get from the first sample to the first colored solar facade. The researchers developed special filters, which they applied to the glass panels in nanometric layers. The filter design determines which wavelengths of light will be reflected as visible color. The rest of the sunlight is absorbed by the solar panel and converted into energy."

Denmark's capital, Copenhagen, is one of the world's greenest cities. It aims to become the first carbon neutral capital by 2025. In December, the city announced plans to shed coal, oil and gas from the city's 6.9 billion kroner ($1.1 billion) investment fund.

16 February 2017. Farmers in 10 States Sue Monsanto Over Dicamba Devastation

Farmers across 10 states are suing Monsanto , alleging that the agrochemical company sold dicamba -tolerant cotton and soybean crops knowing that illegal spraying of the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide would be inevitable.

Steven W. Landers, et al v. Monsanto Company was filed on Jan. 26 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division. Kansas City law firm Randles & Splittgerber filed on behalf of Steven and Deloris "Dee" Landers and similarly harmed farmers in 10 states —Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The farmers seek damages for claims including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, conspiracy, disgorgement of profits and punitive damages.

According to a press release from the law firm, Steven and Dee Landers operate their family owned farms in New Madrid County, Missouri, and have been in business since 1976. The Landers claim that their farms have been greatly damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba on Monsanto's Roundup Ready Xtend crops, which are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and Roundup (aka glyphosate ).

Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber told EcoWatch that the Landers' 1,550-acre farm primarily grows soybeans and corn. In 2016, they experienced dicamba damage on more than half of their crops and acreage, resulting in a reduction of their yields in approximately the same percentage, especially with respect to their soybeans.

The farmers in the lawsuit allege that the biotech giant knowingly marketed its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds to farmers without any safe herbicide. The lawsuit claims that the company knew the only option purchasers would have to protect crops grown from those seeds would be to illegally spray dicamba to protect the crops from weeds.

"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," said Randles. "Monsanto's own advertising repeatedly describes its Xtend seeds and its accompanying herbicide as a 'system' intended to be used together. But when Monsanto failed to get approval to sell the herbicide, it recklessly chose to go ahead and sell the seeds regardless."

"The inevitable result was farmers throughout the country used illegal and dangerous herbicides to try to protect the Xtend seeds. That inappropriate use of herbicides, which Monsanto knew would occur and encouraged, decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of crops nationwide," Randles added.

Monsanto's rollout of its Xtend system has been marked by controversy ever since the company sold its Xtend cotton and soybeans several growing seasons before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide.

Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced in 2016. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the corresponding herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, in late 2016. The new weedkiller is a combination of dicamba and glyphosate and is meant to address the proliferation of " superweeds " that have grown resistant to glyphosate.

Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soybean growers were suspected of illegally spraying older versions of dicamba onto their crops and inadvertently damaging nearby non-target crops due to drift.


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Last August, the EPA and state agencies received an "unusually high" number of reports of crop damage that appeared related to the illegal spraying of dicamba.

Missouri seemed to have the worst of it. Since June 22, the state's Department of Agriculture has received 124 complaints over pesticide drift that damaged more than 41,000 acres of non-target crops such as soybeans as well as peaches, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupe, rice, purple-hull peas, peanuts, cotton and alfalfa. Residential gardens, trees and shrubs have been included in the damage reports.

This is the not the only dicamba-drift case Monsanto is facing. The first such case was filed by Missouri's largest peach grower, Bader Farms, on Nov. 23. The farm reported a loss of about 7,000 trees in 2015, leading to a loss of $1.5 million with another 30,000 trees destroyed in 2016 because of suspected dicamba drift. The financial blow for last year has yet to be revealed.

Randles & Splittgerber also filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bader farms. That lawsuit is ongoing as a separate action from the new class action lawsuit.

"The more we learned about the extent of the damage, the more concerned we became for the smaller farmers who lack the resources to seek redress against Monsanto individually," Randles said. "The purpose of this suit is to hold Monsanto liable for its harm to all landowners, regardless of the size of the farms."

"This past year there was an under reported dicamba herbicide drift disaster in Missouri, Arkansas and other states that impacted thousands of acres, damaging fruits and vegetables and farmers' income," Ken Roseboro of the Organic & Non-GMO Report said.

"The largest peach producer in Missouri lost 30,000 trees, and one farmer even murdered another in a dispute over drift. The event that triggered this tragic chain of events was Monsanto selling dicamba-resistant GMO seeds to farmers even though the herbicide designed to go with the crops hadn't been approved by the EPA, leading farmers to use the older, more drift-prone versions of dicamba. Monsanto is ultimately responsible for this disaster and should be held accountable for it."

But Monsanto has repeatedly said that it warned farmers about the illegal application of the herbicide.

"Both prior to and throughout the 2016 season, Monsanto took many steps to remind growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use at the time, and we do not condone the illegal use of any pesticide," the company said in a statement in response to the Bader farms suit.

"While we sympathize with those who have been impacted by farmers who chose to apply dicamba illegally, this lawsuit attempts to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. Responsibility for these actions belongs to those individuals alone. We will defend ourselves accordingly."

Ronnie Cummins, the international director of the Organic Consumers Association , criticized Monsanto's business practices.

"Monsanto has a long criminal record of poisoning farmers, consumers, communities and the environment for profit, and then using the government, regulatory agencies or the military to defend themselves, claiming that what they did was authorized or legal," he told EcoWatch. "They did this with DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, Aspartame, Roundup, and now dicamba-resistant cotton and soybeans."

"If governments won't protect us from Monsanto, then the global grassroots must take matters into our own hands through consumer education, boycotts, litigation, direct action and all forms of marketplace pressure," Cummins added.

Earlier this month, Monsanto broke ground on a $975 million expansion to its Luling plant in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. The facility will manufacture dicamba. The company's bet on dicamba represents a major shift from its former star product, Roundup.

The company said its new dicamba formulation is specifically designed to have lower volatility.

16 February 2017. Pope Francis: Indigenous People Should Have Final Say About Their Land

Pope Francis defended the rights of indigenous tribes at the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome Wednesday. As part of a UN International Fund for Agricultural Development meeting, he spoke in Spanish with 40 representatives of the 300 largest indigenous groups in the world.

“The particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories," must be protected, Francis said, according to Reuters . He stated this was especially true "when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth." He also promoted the full participation of indigenous peoples in local and national government.

"The right to prior and informed consent should always prevail, as foreseen in Article 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," he added , according to US News. "Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict."

The 2007 UN Declaration the Pope referenced was opposed by the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Pope Francis has a record of defending the environment. His 2015 encyclical on the environment and human ecology shared a prayer for the earth: "Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction."

While he didn't specifically mention the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), many news outlets picked up on his suggestive and timely focus on indigenous land rights and reported the connection. Reuters described his actions as backing "Native Americans seeking to halt part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend 'their ancestral relationship to the earth.'"

"Evidently, he's informed of the numerous problems that affect indigenous peoples, but there's no element in his words that would give us a clue to know if he was talking about any specific cases," Paloma Garcia Ovejero, a Vatican representative, told the Catholic News outlet, Crux.

On Jan. 24, President Trump signed two executive orders calling for the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. On Feb. 13, a federal judge denied a temporary injunction against DAPL construction, requested by the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. The judge plans to reconsider this case Feb. 27.

16 February 2017. Toxic Chemicals Banned in 70s Found in Deep Ocean Creatures

English researchers have discovered an alarming amount of toxic pollution in the bodies of amphipods living in the deep sea trenches of the Pacific Ocean . The research team from Newcastle University, the James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen caught and tested small crustaceans in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches, which reach about 30,000 feet deep.

Map of the Mariana Trench Free World Maps

Dr. Alan Jamieson led the team and is lead author of the study , Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the deepest ocean fauna , which was published online in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in February.

"Here we identify extraordinary levels of persistent organic pollutants in the endemic amphipod fauna from two of the deepest ocean trenches … " the study abstract states. The study also explains that the creatures tested contained more pollutants than similar crustaceans from some of the earth's most polluted waters, including China's Liaohe River and Japan's Suruga Bay.

The amphipods held "10 times the level of industrial pollution than the average earthworm," a Newcastle press release stated .

The researchers employed remotely-operated vehicles to trap the amphipods.

"We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth," Jamieson said. The study "really brings home the long term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet," he added.

Some of the chemicals found have been banned since the 1970s, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls ( PCBs ). PBDEs were used as flame retardants and PCBs as electrical insulators and unfortunately, more than one million tons were produced before the ban.

These chemicals are known as Persistent Organic Pollutants and are highly resistant to natural deterioration. The research team speculates that the creatures tested may have eaten plastic debris or polluted animal carcasses that sunk into the trenches.

The team plans to explore what these findings mean for the wider ecosystem and determine how, if possible, to avoid further damage to this deep-sea habitat.

15 February 2017. Desperate to Protect Rhinos, Rangers Shoot Poachers in India

With legal immunity, Rangers at Kaziranga National Park (Kaziranga) in Assam, India can shoot poachers to protect the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. While the number of rhinoceroses killed has now dropped, the human shooting policy—started in 2013— remains controversial.

Local villagers and tribal peoples' rights organizations, including London-based Survival International , feel the poacher-killing program is out of control. In 2015, 16 rhinos were killed compared to 23 people, raising concerns about "extrajudicial executions," according to the BBC .

Rhino horn is highly valued as a medicinal and cultural product in multiple countries including China and Japan, where it can cost more than gold. Poachers come from crime syndicates and poaching gangs, who recruit locals. In response, India's rangers have long been uniformed, with arms, and given license to prosecute offenders in the parks, according to Quartz.

Kaziranga has made great strides in rhino conversation . Only a few of the one-horned rhinoceros were living 100 years ago when the park was established. There are now more than 2,400, or more than 75 percent of their world population. Kaziranga is the area's main tourist attraction, the BBC reported.

Rhino and ranger in Kaziranga National Park Robin Pagnamenta

When the amount of rhinos poached in Kaziranga reached 27 in 2013, M. K. Yadava, then director of the park, penned a report proposing the poacher-shooting initiative. To justify his beliefs, he wrote "Crime against man, an animal which is found in great abundance and one who is largely responsible for destroying nature and ecosystems, must take a back seat when crime against mother nature is on the examination table."

The current park director, Dr. Satyendra Singh, told the BBC, "First we warn them—who are you? But if they resort to firing we have to kill them. First we try to arrest them, so that we get the information, what are the linkages, who are others in the gang?"

Human rights campaigner Pranab Doley is investigating the park's record keeping relating to the poacher shootings and has found it quite lacking. Many of the poachers killed are listed as unidentified and forensic reports are missing. "We don't keep each and every account," a senior Forest Department official told the BBC.

Kaziranga National Park Rangers David Reid

Several cases drew added attention to this policy, including the killing of a disabled man who wandered into the park and did not respond to a verbal warning, the shooting of a child in the leg and the alleged torture of an individual later deemed to be innocent.

In the first case, the family of little means felt unable to pursue a case against the rangers, who have significant government protection against prosecution. The park paid the medical bills and offered other compensation to the family of the boy who was shot, and it denies the torture accusations. An added danger for locals is that in some areas, there are no signs or fences to mark the edge of the park.

This conflict continues to embroil conservationists, government officials, native locals, animals , human rights organizations and poachers . The shooting policy may also be in violation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act , which, in part, "grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities." In related news, plans to dramatically increase the size of Kaziranga entails villager displacement "with little due process" and "documented cases of violence and even death," according to Quartz.

India isn't the only country fighting poaching. Check out this video from the Hemmersbach Rhino Force working to end poaching in Africa:

15 February 2017. Fracking Rule Text Disappears From Interior Department Website

By Alleen Brown

In Donald Trump 's first week as president, text describing two rules regulating the oil and gas industry was removed from an Interior Department website. The rules, limiting hydraulic fracturing and natural gas flaring on public lands, are in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.

The changes were noted by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative or EDGI, which has been monitoring changes to federal web sites since Trump's inauguration.

On Jan. 21, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) page, which describes various regulations for how the oil and gas industry should operate on federal land, still included a section on the Methane and Waste Prevention rule. The regulation was part of the Obama administration's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change . By Jan. 28 , the section was gone.

The rule , which is widely opposed by the oil and gas industry, limits fossil fuel companies' ability to vent and flare gas on public land, which releases methane , a greenhouse gas around 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It was one of the first Obama era regulations to be targeted by a Republican-controlled Congress empowered by Trump. On Feb. 3, at least five days after the site had been updated, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the methane rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 days to eliminate federal regulations legislators don't like. The bill awaits a Senate vote.

Also removed was text within a section on the Interior Department's hydraulic fracturing rule, Obama's primary attempt to limit the impacts of the controversial oil and gas extraction method. The page still notes that the rule exists but it no longer describes what it does. The deleted text stated that the regulation was meant "to ensure that when operations are undertaken on lands where a BLM permit is required, steps are taken to ensure wellbore integrity, proper waste water management and greater transparency about the process, including information about the composition of fracturing fluids."

Reviled by the industry and by Republicans, the fracking rule was struck down in a federal court last June, when a judge ruled that the Interior Department lacks authority to regulate fracking. The Obama administration had been appealing the decision.

Also removed was text noting "ongoing regulatory efforts" to update old rules that have not kept up with the way oil and gas companies operate today.

A BLM website dedicated to the methane rule is unchanged. "The text was updated because the Venting and Flaring rule was no longer a proposed rule as indicated on the old webpage," said BLM spokesperson Michael Richardson. "The BLM is proceeding to implement the rule now that it has changed from a proposed rule to a final rule until directed otherwise."

Richardson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation over the hydraulic fracturing rule.

"It's hard to tell how significant these changes are, but there's certainly a striking congruence with the attacks on the methane rule under the current administration," said Rebecca Lave, who's leading EDGI's monitoring effort.

The group has also been involved in an effort to extract environmental and climate databases from federal sites and preserve them for researchers, in case the Trump administration takes them down. On Tuesday, the Open White House federal data website ceased functioning. A message at the top of the page read: "Check back soon for new data."

Max Ogden, a programmer for the non-profit Dat Data Project tweeted that he had downloaded the data on inauguration day and would redistribute soon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently moved inspection reports offline that include information about animal abuse at various facilities, which will now only be accessible via notoriously slow Freedom of Information Act requests.

So far EDGI hasn't noticed similar removals of entire environmental databases. In addition to changes the group anticipated, such as deletions of references to the previous administration, Lave said, "What we're seeing instead is patterns of changes in wording, we're seeing the removal of links to basic information, we're seeing to some extent the beginnings of reorganizations in federal agencies."

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept .

15 February 2017. Al Gore: Climate Changes Health

Today we face a challenging political climate, but the climate crisis shouldn't be political. It is not only the greatest existential crisis we face: it is also causing a global health emergency, where the stakes are life and death.

Because of the urgency of these threats, several partners and I are hosting a Climate & Health Meeting Thursday at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The event will fill a void left when the Climate & Health Summit, originally to be hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was abruptly cancelled last month.

Experts who had been invited by the CDC felt the conference should definitely go forward because the science shows increasing direct impacts of warming temperatures and more extreme weather on public health. Increasing global temperatures are disrupting the global climate and the earth's hydrological cycle, leading not only to record high air and sea temperatures, but also to more extreme flooding , deeper and longer droughts and more frequent and severe storms. In turn, these effects jeopardize our vulnerable global food system and exacerbate fresh water scarcity and the refugee crisis.

As the planet continues to warm, vector-borne diseases and the environments in which microbes and diseases multiply are also expanding. Mosquitos, ticks and other vectors now have wider ranges as warmer weather permits them to move to higher altitudes, provides them with a longer breeding season, speeds up incubation times for the viruses they carry and increases the frequency of "blood meals."

In some parts of the world, the reemergence of malaria is directly related to increasing temperatures and disruptive rainfall; this is also true for increased instances of West Nile, Dengue and—most recently— Zika . Over the past two years we have heard from doctors and scientists something that we have never been told before: in regions of Latin America, doctors have advised women not to get pregnant for two years. And last year, the CDC advised pregnant women not to travel to Miami, marking the first time Americans have been cautioned not to travel to part of their own country to avoid infectious disease.

These particular manifestations may be new, but scientists have been warning us for many years that tropical diseases, extreme weather and risks to our global food system caused by the climate crisis are posing ever more dire threats to human health.

The need for science and health professionals to explore and discuss the impact the climate crisis is having on global health should not be a political issue. The time to act is now. Make sure to join us tomorrow, Feb. 16 at 9 EST, for live coverage of the event here .

Reposted with permission from our media association Medium .

15 February 2017. Idaho Drops Climate Change Language From K-12 Science Curriculum

Lawmakers in Idaho have approved new K-12 science standards that do not reference the established science of climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment.

The Feb. 9 vote from the House Education Committee came mostly down party lines. According to Idaho Ed News , 11 Republicans on the panel approved the proposed slate of science standards after five paragraphs* mentioning the topics were removed from the initial draft. The committee's three Democrats voted against removing the climate change language.

The omitted language includes, "Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century," and "human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species and climate change."

The language comes from the Next Generation Science Standards , which has been adopted by at least 18 states and the District of Columbia. The standards, which identify the science all K-12 students should know, were developed by 26 states and a number of national science and educational groups.

But Republican Rep. Scott Syme said the initial draft of new state science standards did not teach "both sides of the debate."

"I really didn't want to scrap everything they had done, just some," Syme said. "Actually most of these (rejected paragraphs) deal with three areas and didn't seem to me to present both sides of the picture."

House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel criticized the committee's decision.

"Not only do we owe it to our children to teach them 21st century science, but we owe it to the farmers, foresters and citizens of Idaho to take this issue seriously and not bury our heads in the sand," she said in a statement.

Committee members in favor of removing the language said that local school officials could still teach global warming to students even if there are new state standards.

"This is not about curriculum," Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby explained to the Associated Press . "If a school district wants to teach the dickens out of global warming, have at it."

Only one Republican on the committee, Rep. Paul Amador, favored the standards as originally written.

"While I appreciate teaching both sides, I think this was a very transparent process where we relied on our highly qualified educators," he said.

According to Idaho Ed News, "Technically, the committee approved a temporary rule including the new science standards. When the Legislature adjourns, the new standards will take effect, without the climate change language. Then, SDE and State Board officials will develop a permanent rule. ... [I]t appears likely state officials will draft new language to replace the references to climate change. Legislators would review the standards again in 2018."

*Here is the full text of the rejected paragraphs removed from the science standards:

ESS3-MS-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

  • Further Explanation: Examples of factors include human activities (such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and agricultural activity) and natural processes (such as changes in incoming solar radiation or volcanic activity). Examples of evidence can include tables, graphs, and maps of global and regional temperatures, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and the rates of human activities. Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

  • Human activities have altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth's environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.(ESS3-MS-3)
  • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (ESS3-MS-3, ESS3-MS-4)
  • Human activities (such as the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuel combustion) are major factors in the current rise in Earth's mean surface temperature. Other natural activities (such as volcanic activity) are also contributors to changing global temperatures. Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (ESS3-MS-5)

LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans

  • Biodiversity is increased by the formation of new species (speciation) and decreased by the loss of species (extinction). (LS2-HS-7)
  • Humans depend on the living world for the resources and other benefits provided by biodiversity. But human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, and climate change. Thus sustaining biodiversity so that ecosystem functioning and productivity are maintained is essential to supporting and enhancing life on Earth. Sustaining biodiversity also aids humanity by preserving landscapes of recreational or inspirational value. (LS2-HS-7, LS4-HS-6.)

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

  • Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere. (ESS3-HS-6)

15 February 2017. A Letter From Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Robert De Niro to American Journalists

On the occasion of our announcement of the World Mercury Project's $100K challenge , we want to address America's reporters, journalists, columnists, editors, network anchors, on-air doctors and news division producers.

We especially want to reach out to those of you who have made a point of assuring the public about the safety of the mercury -based preservative, thimerosal . It's our hope that this challenge will elevate this important debate beyond name calling and prompt a genuine examination of the relevant science. The American public is entitled to an honest, probing and vigorous discussion about this critical public health issue—a debate based on facts, not rooted in fear, or on blind faith in regulators and the pharmaceutical industry.

We are both pro-vaccine. We need to say this at the outset to contravene the reflexive public relations ploy of labeling every vaccine safety advocate "anti-vaccine." As the British Medical Journal pointed out last week, that epithet is a derogatory attack designed to marginalize vaccine safety advocates and derail reasoned debate:

"It stigmatizes the mere act of even asking an open question about what is known and unknown about the safety of vaccines."

Both of us had all of our children vaccinated and we support policies that promote vaccine coverage. We want vaccines that are as safe as possible, robust transparent science and vigorous oversight by independent regulators who are free from corrupting conflicts-of-interest.

Despite the cascade of recent science confirming that thimerosal is a potent neurotoxin that damages children's brains, the American media has fiercely defended the orthodoxy that mercury-based vaccines are safe. We believe that even a meager effort at homework will expose that contention as unsupported by science. In just the past month, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review confirmed thimerosal's profound neurotoxicity and a Yale University study connected vaccines to neurological illnesses including OCD, anorexia and tics.

Journalists, we have discovered—even science and health journalists—don't always read the science! On the vaccine issues, many of them have let government and industry officials tell them what the science supposedly says. Instead of questioning, digging and investigating, journalists, too often, have taken the easy course of repeating the safety assurances of the pharmaceutical industry and the regulators at CDC's Immunization Safety Office, which they have good reason to doubt.

For example, in recent years, two federal reports by Congress and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have criticized the CDC for politicization of science and for corrupting conflicts of interest with the pharmaceutical industry (see also: UPI article on CDC corruption ). In August 2014, CDC's senior vaccine scientist, Dr. William Thompson , confessed that the CDC routinely manipulates data to conceal the links between vaccines and a host of neurological disorders. Some dozen other CDC scientists have since come forward to protest pervasive scientific fraud and research corruption at the CDC . Nevertheless, among American journalists, cult-like parroting of the CDC's safety assurances has become a kind of lazy man's science.


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The fact that no major news organization has ever seriously investigated Dr. Thompson's shocking charges since they became public two years ago must be characterized as a kind of journalistic malpractice. But, newspapers and electronic media outlets not only routinely ignore or suppress legitimate debate over vaccine safety or the ongoing corruption scandals at CDC, some of them openly advocate the censoring of questions about these taboo subjects. Instead of informed scientific argument, the debate has therefore deteriorated into "argument by credential" and, its corollary, "argument by insult"; public shaming, vilification, scorn and name calling, often directed toward the parents of injured children and others who question industry orthodoxies.

Financial conflicts with pharma are not unique to the CDC. Knowing that the pharmaceutical industry is by far the largest contributor of money to congressional lobbying, many Americans worry about the vigor of congressional oversight. They see how those political investments have purchased blanket immunity from lawsuits for vaccine makers. With lawyers and courts sidelined as a check and balance against bad behavior, and Congress and the regulatory agencies captured by the industry, many Americans wonder where the oversight of the vaccine program is coming from. They see the cascades of pharma money pouring into the American media—the final redoubt of critical scrutiny—and then wonder if journalistic vigilance has also been compromised.

We understand that the media's silence on this issue is not simply a quid pro quo for the billions of dollars of annual pharmaceutical advertising flooding into our nation's newspapers and network news divisions. Many reporters and media outlets accept muzzling on this issue as a necessary sacrifice for public health. They sincerely believe that even allowing debate about vaccine safety and CDC corruption will cause the public to stop vaccinating. We disagree.

As the late Bernadine Healy, former Director of the National Institutes of Health said, "Americans are smarter than that." Healy believed that a vigorous and open debate would not diminish but rather strengthen the vaccine program. We agree. Studies show that the gravest impediment to broad vaccine coverage is public mistrust of government regulators . Therefore, to maximize vaccine acceptance, we need strong science, and a regulatory agency with unblemished integrity. Guaranteeing these objectives will require aggressive and persistent vigilance of the kind we won't get if journalists and media organizations continue to muzzle debate and mouth talking points promoted by pharmaceutical interests.

Rather than strengthening public support for the vaccine program, the laws that shield the vaccine industry from lawsuits combined with the absence of political and press scrutiny, have emboldened the CDC and the vaccine companies to engage in increasingly reckless conduct.

In 2004, an U.S. Food and Drug Administration official acknowledged in testimony before a congressional committee, that no government or privately funded study has ever demonstrated thimerosal's safety ( Testimony of William Egan before the House Committee on Government Reform, July 18, 2000 ) . On the other hand, there is plenty of science suggesting that thimerosal is NOT safe.

Several hundred studies, available on PubMed, have linked thimerosal exposure to neurodevelopmental and immune system diseases that are now epidemic in the generation of American children born after the CDC dramatically increased childhood thimerosal exposures in the late 1980s. According to the CDC, one in six American children —the so called "thimerosal generation"—now suffers neurological damage. If, as the science suggests, thimerosal is responsible for a portion of this epidemic, its continued, unnecessary, presence in vaccines is one of the great crimes in human history.

Looking at history, Senator Robert Kennedy was fascinated by the way decent honorable people became complicit in great atrocities. He observed that moral devolution was almost always accompanied by an undue regard for an undeserving authority and a willingness to put one's head down and pretend that facts don't exist. Speaking of his own early blunders in Vietnam, he quoted Sophocles: "All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil; the only sin is pride."

It's time now for journalists to either claim our $100,000 reward by producing scientific proof of thimerosal safety, or start digging deep into the facts provided in this letter. We urge you to finally read the science and lift up the carpet at the CDC. The American people expect their media to be a robust and fearless forum for honest debate—even about the most difficult and controversial issues. Americans deserve a perpetually inquisitive press with the courage to inform the public and speak truth to power. Most importantly, our children deserve a vaccine program that is as safe as possible.

15 February 2017. Victory: These Two Cities Just Committed to 100% Renewable Energy

Pueblo, Colorado and Moab, Utah, this week became the 22nd and 23rd cities in the U.S. to commit to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy . The Pueblo City Council approved Monday a measure committing to power the community entirely with renewable sources of energy like wind and solar by 2035. The vote was immediately followed on Tuesday by the Moab City Council approving a resolution committing Moab to 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.

"No matter who is in the White House, cities and towns across the country will continue leading the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "Pueblo and Moab join a growing movement of communities which are charting a course away from dirty fuels."

Cities like Pueblo and Moab have long suffered the consequences of dirty energy and utility reliance on fossil fuels. Pueblo, for example, has a sizable low-income population that has been suffering from the high cost of electricity due to the local utilities' decision to build new gas infrastructure and saddle the cost with ratepayers. More than 7,000 people in Pueblo have had their electricity shut off due to the high cost of electricity.

In Utah, Canyonlands National Park has been marred by haze pollution from two neighboring coal plants, which threatens the local Moab tourism industry—the economic lifeblood of the community. With this week's announcements, both communities are poised to confront these threats by transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

"The climate crisis is a global challenge, but many of our strongest leaders are at the local level," Ken Berlin , CEO of The Climate Reality Project, said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead, but it is encouraging to see more and more communities, businesses and universities understand that renewable energy is not only the right moral choice, but also the right economic choice."

15 February 2017. What Is Scott Pruitt Hiding? Releases Only 411 of 3,000 Emails

By Martha Roberts

Scott Pruitt , President Trump 's pick for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is withholding thousands of emails related to his ties to major energy interests who may have donated to his political causes.

Such stonewalling makes it difficult for senators to vote on his nomination since they can't know if these contacts were appropriate. It is particularly disturbing because Pruitt—who as EPA administrator would be charged with overseeing vital clean air and clean water protections for our nation—has a long history of opposing bedrock safeguards in concert with industry players.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a report Tuesday about the absent emails with an Oklahoma court , the latest chapter in the watchdog group's two-year saga to get a response to its request for records from the Oklahoma Attorney General's office. An emergency hearing before the court has been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16.

Pruitt's absent emails so concerned Senate Democrats that they have asked that voting on Pruitt's nomination be postponed until after the Oklahoma court holds its hearing. Meanwhile, questions surrounding Pruitt's nomination continue to grow.

In January, Environmental Defense Fund filed a Freedom of Information Act request for EPA records relating to development of Pruitt's bare bones ethics agreement with the EPA. Unfortunately, the request to get these records swiftly, in time to inform consideration of Pruitt's nomination, was rejected. We continue to wait for these key documents.

What Else Is Out There?

Pruitt's office has said it identified more than 3,000 emails responsive to CMD's request. But when CMD finally got a response last week—after two years of waiting and a hearing before a state judge—Pruitt's office only provided 411.

Moreover, in at least 27 instances, emails responsive to CMD's request were previously released in a separate open records request—but not turned over to CMD. All this begs the question: What else is Pruitt's office withholding from the public?

Pruitt's Past Professional Behavior is Revealing

In 2014, Pruitt was identified as leading an "unprecedented, secretive alliance " with big energy interests.

He copied and pasted industry requests and sent them to senior federal officials under the seal of the Attorney General's office. And his staff fundraised from oil and gas interests during work hours.

Pruitt also routinely joined with major industry players in 14 lawsuits against bedrock EPA clean air and clean water protections that limit dangerous pollutants such as mercury, smog, arsenic and carbon.

Efforts to roll back such protections endanger children's health. Without these safeguards, our kids would suffer from even more asthma attacks, more brain development risks and other serious health consequences.

Pruitt Even Refused to Answer Senators

Meanwhile, Pruitt is even stonewalling U.S. senators charged with taking his testimony under his confirmation process. In written answers to questions posed by senators, Pruitt told them almost 20 times to file open records requests in Oklahoma rather than answering the senators' questions—the same kind of requests that suffer a two-year backlog in the office Pruitt leads.

In one instance, he even told a senator to file an open records request with his office to get more information—about open records requests in Pruitt's office.

It's already clear from the information we do have on Pruitt that he's entangled in a web of campaign contributions and lawsuits to oppose clean air and clean water safeguards. It's deeply troubling to consider that there's even more out there that we just don't know about.

Martha Roberts is an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Legal and Regulatory Program. She works to support climate change mitigation and secure clean air through policy initiatives and strategic litigation.

15 February 2017. It's Official: Trump Gives Big Gift to Big Oil

President Trump signed his first Congressional Review Act-sponsored bill (CRA) Tuesday, declaring at the signing that "energy jobs are coming back" and "lots of people [are] going back to work now."

The legislation , in fact, doesn't deal directly with jobs, but rather repeals a Dodd-Frank rule requiring extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments—a regulation Trump's new Sec. of State Rex Tillerson lobbied against as CEO of ExxonMobil .

Some in the GOP may have a bit of buyer's remorse about the bill: a group of senators who voted for the resolution sent a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month asking the agency to create a new version of the rule and supporting any "legislative or other solutions" to address limits imposed by the CRA.

"The U.S. had been at the forefront on the transparency issue, with more than 30 countries following in its footsteps to pass similar legislation," said Isabel Munilla of Oxfam International in a statement after the House initially voted to kill the rule. "State-owned companies from Brazil, China and Russia are all now required to disclose their payments. If the Senate follows suit in overturning this rule, the U.S. will go from a leader into a laggard."

For a deeper dive:

News : Washington Post , The Hill

Commentary : Vox, Brad Plumer analysis

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook , and sign up for daily Hot News .

14 February 2017. 13 Powerful Home Remedies for Acne

By Kayla McDonell

Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, affecting an estimated 85 percent of people at some point in their lives.

Conventional acne treatments can be expensive and often have undesirable side effects like dryness, redness and irritation.

This has prompted many people to look into how to cure acne naturally at home. The internet is filled with suggestions, but do natural treatments actually work?

This article explores 13 home remedies for acne that are backed by science.

What Causes Acne?

Acne starts when the pores in your skin get clogged with oil and dead skin cells.

Each pore is connected to a sebaceous gland, which produces an oily substance called sebum. Extra sebum can plug up pores, causing the growth of a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes , or P. acnes .

Your white blood cells attack P. acnes , leading to skin inflammation and acne. Some cases of acne are more severe than others, but common symptoms include whiteheads, blackheads and pimples.

Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including genetics, diet, stress, hormone changes and infections.

Below are 13 home remedies for acne that you might want to try.

1. Apply Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples.

Like other vinegars, it is known for its ability to fight many types of bacteria and viruses ( 1 , 2 , 3 ).

Apple cider vinegar contains several organic acids that have been shown to kill P. acnes ( 4 , 5 ).

In particular, succinic acid has been shown to suppress inflammation caused by P. acnes , which may prevent scarring ( 6 ).

Also, lactic acid has been shown to improve the appearance of acne scars ( 7 , 8 ).

What's more, apple cider vinegar may help dry up the excess oil that causes acne in the first place.

How to Use It

1. Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar and 3 parts water (use more water for sensitive skin).

2. After cleansing, gently apply the mixture to the skin using a cotton ball.

3. Let sit for 5–20 seconds, rinse with water and pat dry.

4. Repeat this process 1–2 times per day, as needed.

It is important to note that applying apple cider vinegar to your skin can cause burns and irritation, so it should always be used in small amounts and diluted with water.

Summary: The organic acids in apple cider vinegar may help kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce the appearance of scars. Applying it to the skin may cause burns or irritation, so it should be used carefully.

2. Take a Zinc Supplement

Zinc is an essential nutrient that's important for cell growth, hormone production, metabolism and immune function.

It is also one of the most studied natural treatments for acne. Research shows that people with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those with clear skin ( 9 ).

Several studies have shown that taking zinc orally helps reduce acne.

In one study, 48 acne patients were given oral zinc supplements three times per day. After eight weeks, 38 patients experienced an 80–100 percent reduction in acne ( 10 ).

The optimal dosage of zinc for acne has not been established, but several studies have shown a significant reduction of acne using 30–45 mg of elemental zinc per day ( 11 , 12 , 13 ).

Elemental zinc refers to the amount of zinc that's present in the compound. Zinc is available in many forms and each one contains a different amount of elemental zinc.

Zinc oxide contains the highest amount of elemental zinc at 80 percent.

The recommended safe upper limit of zinc is 40 mg per day, so it is probably best to not exceed that amount unless under the supervision of a medical doctor. Taking too much zinc may cause adverse effects, including stomach pain and gut irritation.

It is also important to note that applying zinc to the skin has not been shown to be effective. This may be because zinc is not effectively absorbed through the skin.

Summary: Individuals with acne tend to have lower zinc levels than people with clear skin. Several studies show that taking zinc orally can significantly reduce acne.

3. Make a Honey and Cinnamon Mask

Both honey and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants ( 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 ).

Studies have found applying antioxidants to the skin is more effective at reducing acne than benzoyl peroxide and retinoids ( 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 ).

These are two common acne medications for the skin that have antibacterial properties.

The antioxidants studied were vitamin B3, linoleic (omega-6) fatty acid and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), which is a vitamin C derivative.

These specific antioxidants are not found in honey or cinnamon, but there is a possibility that other antioxidants may have a similar effect.

Honey and cinnamon also have the ability to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two factors that trigger acne ( 23 , 24 , 25 ).

While the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties of honey and cinnamon may benefit acne-prone skin, no studies exist on their ability to treat acne.

How to Make a Honey and Cinnamon Mask

1. Mix 2 tablespoons honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together to form a paste.

2. After cleansing, apply the mask to your face and leave it on for 10–15 minutes.

3. Rinse the mask off completely and pat your face dry.

Summary: Honey and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Because of this, they may be beneficial for acne-prone skin.

4. Spot Treat With Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia , a small tree native to Australia.

It is well known for its ability to fight bacteria and reduce skin inflammation ( 26 ).

What's more, several studies show that applying 5 percent tea tree oil to the skin effectively reduces acne ( 27 , 28 ).

When compared to 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, 5 percent tea tree oil did not act as quickly, but it did significantly improve acne after three months of use ( 29 ).

It also resulted in fewer adverse effects like dryness, irritation and burning, compared to benzoyl peroxide.

Tea tree oil is very potent, so always dilute it before applying it to your skin.

How to Use It

1. Mix 1 part tea tree oil with 9 parts water.

2. Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and apply it to affected areas.

3. Apply moisturizer if desired.

4. Repeat this process 1–2 times per day, as needed.

Summary: Tea tree oil has strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying it to the skin has been shown to reduce acne.


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5. Apply Green Tea to Your Skin

Green tea is very high in antioxidants, and drinking it can promote good health.

There aren't any studies exploring the benefits of drinking green tea when it comes to acne, but applying it directly to the skin has been shown to help.

This is likely because the flavonoids and tannins in green tea are known to help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two main causes of acne ( 30 , 31 , 32 ).

The major antioxidant in green tea— epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG)—has been shown to reduce sebum production, fight inflammation and inhibit the growth of P. acnes in individuals with acne-prone skin ( 33 ).

Multiple studies have shown that applying a 2–3 percent green tea extract to the skin significantly reduces sebum production and pimples in those with acne ( 34 , 35 , 36 ).

You can buy creams and lotions that contain green tea, but it is just as easy to make your own mixture at home.

How to Use It

1. Steep green tea in boiling water for 3–4 minutes.

2. Allow tea to cool.

3. Using a cotton ball, apply tea to skin or pour into a spray bottle to spritz on.

4. Allow to dry, then rinse with water and pat dry.

You can also add the remaining tea leaves to honey and make a mask.

Even though there isn't any evidence that drinking green tea can fight acne, some research suggests it may still be beneficial.

For example, drinking green tea has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne ( 37 ).

Summary: Green tea is high in antioxidants that help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. Applying green tea to the skin has been shown to significantly reduce acne.

6. Apply Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is extracted from the bark and leaves of the North American witch hazel shrub, Hamamelis virginiana . It contains tannins, which have strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties ( 38 , 39 ).

That's why it's used to treat a broad range of skin conditions, including dandruff, eczema, varicose veins, burns, bruises, insect bites and acne.

Unfortunately, there aren't any studies on the ability of witch hazel to treat acne specifically.

However, there are several studies that show applying witch hazel to the skin can fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and help with healing ( 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ).

How to Use It

1. Combine 1 tablespoon witch hazel bark and 1 cup water in a small saucepan.

2. Soak witch hazel for 30 minutes and then bring the mixture to a boil on the stove.

3. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the mixture from the heat and let sit for an additional 10 minutes.

5. Strain and store the liquid in a sealed container.

6. Apply to clean skin using a cotton ball 1–2 times per day, or as desired.

You can also buy witch hazel extract at most health food stores, but it is important to note that commercially prepared versions may not contain tannins, as they are often lost in the distillation process.

Summary: Applying witch hazel to the skin has been shown to fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and help heal the skin. It may be beneficial for individuals with acne, but more research is needed.

7. Moisturize With Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a tropical plant whose leaves produce a clear gel.

The gel is often added to lotions, creams, ointments and soaps. It's commonly used to treat abrasions, rashes, burns and other skin conditions.

When applied to the skin, aloe vera gel can help heal wounds, treat burns and fight inflammation ( 44 ).

Aloe vera also contains salicylic acid and sulfur, which are both used extensively in the treatment of acne ( 45 ).

Several studies have shown that applying salicylic acid to the skin significantly reduces acne ( 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 ).

Similarly, applying sulfur has been proven to be an effective acne treatment ( 51 , 52 ).

While research shows great promise, the anti-acne benefits of aloe vera itself require further scientific evidence.

How to Use It

1. Scrape the gel from the aloe plant out with a spoon.

2. Apply gel directly to clean skin as a moisturizer.

3. Repeat 1–2 times per day, or as desired.

You can also buy aloe vera gel from the store, but make sure it is pure aloe without any added ingredients.

Summary: When applied to the skin, aloe vera gel can help heal wounds, treat burns and fight inflammation. It may be beneficial for individuals with acne-prone skin, but more research needs to be done.

8. Take a Fish Oil Supplement

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly healthy fats that offer a multitude of health benefits .

You must get these fats from your diet, but research shows that most people who eat a standard Western diet don't get enough of them ( 53 ).

Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

EPA benefits the skin in several ways, including managing oil production, maintaining adequate hydration and preventing acne ( 54 , 55 ).

High levels of EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease inflammatory factors, which may reduce the risk of acne ( 56 ).

In one study, 45 individuals with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing both EPA and DHA daily. After 10 weeks, acne decreased significantly ( 57 ).

There is no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but most health organizations recommend healthy adults consume a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.

You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseeds.

To learn more about fish oil supplements, check out this article .

Summary: Fish oils contain EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Taking a fish oil supplement may help decrease acne.


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9. Exfoliate Regularly

Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. It can be achieved mechanically by using a brush or scrub to physically remove the cells. Alternatively, it can be removed chemically by applying an acid that dissolves them.

Exfoliation is believed to improve acne by removing the skin cells that clog up pores.

It is also believed to make acne treatments for the skin more effective by allowing them to penetrate deeper, once the topmost layer of skin is removed.

Unfortunately, the research on exfoliation and its ability to treat acne is limited.

Some studies show that microdermabrasion, which is a method of exfoliation, can improve the skin's appearance, including some cases of acne scarring ( 58 , 59 ).

In one small study, 25 patients with acne received eight microdermabrasion treatments at weekly intervals. Based on before and after photos, this helped improve acne ( 60 ).

96% of the participants were pleased with the results and would recommend the procedure to others. Yet while these results indicate that exfoliation may improve acne, more research is needed.

There are a wide variety of exfoliation products available in stores and online, but it's just as easy to make a scrub at home using sugar or salt.

How to Make a Scrub at Home

1. Mix equal parts sugar (or salt) and coconut oil.

2. Scrub skin with mixture and rinse well.

3. Exfoliate as often as desired up to once daily.

Summary: Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. It may reduce the appearance of scars and discoloration, but more research needs to be done on its ability to treat acne.

10. Follow a Low Glycemic Load Diet

The relationship between diet and acne has been debated for years.

Recent evidence suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may be associated with acne ( 61 ).

A food's glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly it raises blood sugar.

Eating high-GI foods causes a spike in insulin, which is thought to increase sebum production. Because of this, high-GI foods are believed to have a direct effect on the development and severity of acne.

Foods with a high glycemic index include white bread, sugary soft drinks, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, candies, sugary breakfast cereals and other processed foods .

Foods with a low glycemic index include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole or minimally processed grains.

In one study, 43 people followed either a high- or low-glycemic diet. After 12 weeks, the individuals consuming a low-glycemic diet had a significant improvement in both acne and insulin sensitivity, compared to those eating carb-dense foods ( 62 ).

Another study with 31 participants yielded similar results ( 63 ).

These small studies suggest that a low-glycemic diet may be helpful for individuals with acne-prone skin, but further research is needed.

Summary: Eating high-glycemic foods may increase sebum production and contribute to acne. More research is needed to determine whether a low-glycemic diet can effectively treat or prevent acne.

11. Cut Back on Dairy

The relationship between dairy and acne is highly controversial.

Drinking milk and consuming dairy products exposes you to hormones, which may cause hormonal changes and lead to acne ( 64 ).

Two large studies reported that higher levels of milk consumption were associated with acne ( 65 , 66 ).

However, participants self-reported the data in both of these studies, so more research needs to be done in order to establish a true causal relationship.

Summary: Some studies found a positive association between drinking milk and acne. Limiting milk and dairy consumption may be a good idea for those with acne-prone skin, but more research needs to be done.

12. Reduce Stress

The hormones released during periods of stress may increase sebum production and skin inflammation, making acne worse ( 67 , 68 , 69 ).

In fact, multiple studies have linked stress to an increase in acne severity ( 70 , 71 ).

What's more, stress can slow wound healing by up to 40 percent, which may slow the repair of acne lesions ( 72 ).

Certain relaxation and stress-reduction treatments have been shown to improve acne, but more research needs to be done ( 73 ).

Ways to Reduce Stress

  • Get more sleep
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Practice yoga
  • Meditate
  • Take deep breaths

Summary: Hormones that are released during times of stress can make acne worse. Reducing stress may help improve acne.

13. Exercise Regularly

Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation. The increase in blood flow helps nourish the skin cells, which may help prevent and heal acne.

Exercise also plays a role in hormone regulation ( 74 , 75 ).

Several studies have shown that exercise can decrease stress and anxiety, both of which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne ( 76 , 77 , 78 ).

It's recommended that healthy adults exercise for 30 minutes 3–5 times per week. This can include walking, hiking, running and lifting weights.

Summary : Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation, regulates hormones and helps reduce stress.

The Bottom Line

Acne is a common problem with a number of underlying causes. However, conventional treatments can cause dryness, redness and irritation.

Fortunately, many natural remedies can also be effective. The home remedies listed in this article may not work for everyone, but they just might be worth a try.

Nevertheless, you may want to consult a dermatologist if you have severe acne.Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, affecting an estimated 85% of people at some point in their lives.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition .

14 February 2017. Incredible Glass House Honors Nature

Forest lovers will appreciate the beautiful modern glass home recently built in a secluded glade near Madrid. Penelas Architects ' Hidden Pavilion was completed in 2016 in a quiet forest just northwest of Spain's capital city.

The Hidden Pavilion is a minimalist but attractive two-story home designed to accommodate human residents and surrounding trees. The second floor is carefully angled to allow room for a 200-year-old holm oak so it can continue its life unimpeded. The structure also includes openings in the roof terrace and veranda that allow younger trees to spread out.

The 753-square-foot Hidden Pavilion has a bedroom, bathroom, patio and large closet on the first floor, and a kitchen and dining area on the second floor. The floors are connected by a spiral staircase. The basic structure of the house is made of steel and the interior areas that aren't glass are cherry wood.

The walls are mostly made of glass to encourage immersion in nature and there are currently no window coverings.

While the forest encompasses much of the house, a trip to the rooftop veranda offers panoramic views of the local environment. In addition to the open roof, there is a spacious second-floor veranda that perches over a small waterfall. Chimney-like tubes in the ceiling encourage light to travel into the home, which is mostly shaded.

The Hidden Pavilion was designed "as a secluded place for meditation," and "to instill a sense of nature ," Design Boom shared .

Construction began on the Hidden Pavilion "some time ago," head architect Dr. José Luis Esteban Penelas told New Atlas. It paused in 2010 and was completed in 2016.

Penelas appears to have achieved a delicate balance between the needs of human habitation and a desire to honor and appreciate the natural environment surrounding the home. Penelas Architects is based out of Madrid and Penelas teaches at the European University of Madrid. His other notable projects include Juan Carlos Park and the plaza for the Reina Sofia Modern Art Museum .

14 February 2017. Massachusetts Might Become America's First State to Commit to 100% Renewables

Clean energy supporters in Massachusetts announced legislation Monday, backed by more than a quarter of the state legislature, committing Massachusetts to get 100 percent of its energy needs from clean and renewable sources by mid-century.

The legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sean Garballey and Marjorie Decker and in the Senate by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, establishes targets for Massachusetts to meet its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2035 and all of its energy needs, including heating and transportation, from renewable sources by 2050.

"The supporters of this bill have joined the growing number of stakeholders and leaders who recognize the need for rapid transition to clean, renewable energy to tackle our environmental challenges," Rob Sargent said. "With a can-do attitude, powering our state entirely with clean, renewable energy is as feasible as it is necessary."

A combination of environmental concerns and declining costs for renewable energy have made it the "go-to" option for many communities and businesses, in part because it is pollution-free, but also because it requires no fuel costs. As a result, dozens of major corporations from Google to General Motors to Walmart have already committed to a complete shift to renewable energy. Similarly, dozens of local governments including San Diego , California, St. Petersburg , Florida and Georgetown, Texas, have plans to go 100 percent renewable.

"The federal government is moving backwards on clean energy. So, the states must lead," said S. David Freeman, a long-time utility executive at Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the New York Power Authority and the Tennessee Valley Authority. "Massachusetts can show the way by enacting the 100 percent renewable bills and by so doing save consumers millions of dollars in the future with a free fuel energy supply."

Given the considerable resistance renewables are likely to face in Congress and the Trump administration , clean energy proponents are looking to state and local governments, businesses and institutions to ensure continued progress. In addition to the campaign in Massachusetts, Environment America and its partners are planning campaigns to get other states to go 100 percent renewable. And, today they will launch an effort to persuade America's colleges and universities to make similar commitments.

"Despite tremendous progress on renewable energy in the past decade, we've got much more to do and leaders in Washington who want to take us backward," Sargent said. "That's why we're counting on our local and state governments, along with businesses, colleges and universities and other institutions to lead the way by setting their sights on 100 percent renewable energy."