Tag: Pollution

Can Carbon Farming Truly Curb the Impacts of Climate Change?

by Nakul

Carbon farming has been practiced as a method of addressing excessive greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere today. Many nations have passed acts of legislation that restrict and reduce the quantity of greenhouses gases released by corporations; one alluring method of decreasing these gas emissions is carbon farming, which intends to effectively absorb greenhouse gases from the air through the farming of primarily vegetation. Despite the seemingly straightforward procedure and benefits of carbon farming, the question remains: exactly how beneficial is carbon farming in mitigating the detrimental impacts of climate change?

What Exactly Is Carbon Farming?

Carbon farming is a green technique where farmers address air pollution by typically increasing plant farming and improving soil conditions to in turn increase carbon sequestration in these plants and soils. In exchange for their environmentally conscious efforts, farmers are often granted carbon credits – which place a monetary value on pollution to discourage it- that they can sell to companies for personal profit. For a company, acquiring carbon credits allows it to increase its greenhouse gas emissions: as financial expert Will Kenton explains, if a company buys one carbon credit, it has the right to “the emission of a mass equal to one ton of carbon dioxide”. So, if carbon farming theoretically reduces the amount of harmful gas in the air and likewise benefits the farmers who take part in it, why do people hesitate to implement it on a larger scale?

The Drawbacks of Carbon Farming

There are various limitations to carbon farming, but perhaps the two most important ones are the sustainability and overestimation of results. Regarding sustainability, the foundation of carbon farming relies on increased production of plants, which would ideally absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. New Zealand news site Scoop sums up the issue: “if we are going to pursue this plan of “offsetting” our emissions, then we will inevitably wipe out the entire sheep and beef industry and be left with a countryside that consists largely of dairy farms and pine-trees.” Regarding the overestimation of results, agricultural analysts Alex Smith and Dan Blaustein-Rejto reveal that most of the trapped gases escape “when the farmer decides to till [his land] again, which happens on an estimated 30% of…farms.” They also explain that “some carbon from soils may also be released as global temperatures, and thus soils, warm.”

Overall, carbon farming does appear to be beneficial for the environment. How its alarming limitations are addressed, however, remains to be seen.

Trump Administration Makes Move to completely Roll Back Methane Pollution Regulations

By Kaushal Kumar and Sudhit Rao

The EPA has recently made steps in its work to roll back its methane emissions limits. With the current timelines the rollbacks could be finalized as early as July. Right now the EPA has sent in the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget to be reviewed and possibly accepted. This particular piece of legislation has been worked on by the Trump Administration’s EPA since 2016.

These rollbacks would effectively eliminate  any federal regulation of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines and other forms of energy related infrastructure. It would allow over 800 thousand older coal and oil plants to no longer regulate their pollution of methane into the atmosphere. This action would undo years of climate activism and policy making to help combat the climate crisis, and would also prevent any plant currently affected from ever having to regulate their pollution. Experts estimate that this move could result in the release of an additional 5 million tons of methane released into the atmosphere each year.

Image from the EDF

Methane is a greenhouse gas, and its effect on the planet in such large quantities is catastrophic. When substantial amounts of methane are in Earth’s atmosphere the methane particles absorb the heat from sunlight and contribute to global warming. In simpler terms, the addition of methane to the atmosphere is speeding up global warming. 

The EPA’s reasoning behind this change is rather weak and inadequate. Even though plants have been running for years with the current regulations, the agency claims that the previous methane regulations were superfluous of the VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds regulations. Also by law, before regulating the industry, the EPA must first do research on an industry and confirm a source of pollution. However, the EPA is assessing whether or not to ignore the law and remove the requirement of scientific evidence. Previously, in 2016, the EPA conducted studies on methane gas pollution and concluded that methane had a huge impact on climate change. The EPA is attempting to overlook scientific findings and in effect, ignore the fact that methane is a huge contributor in climate change.

This move is just another taken by the EPA that seems to not only contribute to our world’s climate crisis, but also one that puts the safety and security of the US public at risk. During the following two months, there will be a series of reviews with local governments, organizations and communities. It is up to them to take action and oppose the ruling for the better of the Earth and the public.

Trump Administration Denies Limitations on Downwind Pollution in States Affected by COVID-19

By Kunaal and Arun

Despite their ongoing battle with COVID-19, New York and New Jersey, among other states, appeared in Washington D.C. to argue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrongfully denied their petitions to place emission controls on several power plants. The regulations would aim to limit pollution affecting downwind states. While the states petitioned for stronger regulations on power plants, the EPA argued that they were in the right to deny the petition, stating that any findings that link greenhouse gas emissions to COVID-19 deaths don’t justify stronger regulation.

According to the EPA, The “Good Neighbor” Provision “requires EPA and states to address interstate transport of air pollution that affects downwind states’ ability to attain and maintain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). New York’s petition aims to implement limits on 350 different power plants, which are industrial sources of nitrogen oxides. The EPA cites that “Tropospheric, or ground-level ozone… is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).” Tropospheric ozone is harmful to people and can worsen chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma.

COVID-19 is especially detrimental to certain groups, including those with chronic respiratory illness. A Harvard study in April “looked at more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area.” With the findings “that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate” they concluded by emphasizing the “importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

These states now are restricted in their response to the pandemic. State governors are expressing frustration with the EPA over denying reforms that are seemingly obvious. With the effort to “flatten the curve” in the United States, experts and governors alike agree that the EPA isn’t helping the cause.

The decision made by the EPA is in accordance with their other rulings regarding mercury emissions and clean water. Because COVID-19 is worse with respiratory illnesses, the EPA is under heavy criticism from their decisions, commonly citing insufficient evidence and non-justifiable cause as backing for their decisions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA has been under heavy fire, making decisions that have shocked the American public. With the future of the pandemic unknown, only time will tell what the repercussions of these decisions will be.

Trump Administration’s EPA Sued by States due to Waiving Pollution and other Water Regulations

By Ritvik Dutta

Shortly after announcing that COVID-19 is the direct cause of their loosening of strict law enforcement, the EPA received major backlash from many environmental agencies and organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, who petitioned to require all companies to document and disclose when they stop checking their own water and carbon emissions and usage publicly. So far, the EPA has failed to answer these calls to action. 

Instead, Trump’s EPA has continued to hold onto its belief that restrictions on largely fossil-fuel dependent industries are unnecessary. In his willingness to undo all of Obama’s reforms, President Trump has elected to keep all air pollution standards untouched even with multiple studies suggesting that the increase of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) actually increases the transmission rate of the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Given the current situation, many people like Sally Hardin were outraged. Hardin wrote, “At a time when the Trump administration should be doing everything in its power to save American lives, it is instead putting more and more of them at risk through reckless rollbacks of clean air protections.” This governmental obstinacy has been relatively under the radar, with Trump sneaking all of his changes throughout this quarantine period. 

However, some states have had enough of this governmental intransigence. New York and New Jersey have already sought out legal action to solve their issues related to downwind air pollution. These issues were first introduced when the EPA refused to mandate emission controls on the 350 power plants bordering New York and New Jersey, the states that were most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When brought to court, EPA administrators tried to defend their organization, arguing that the multiple studies that corroborate that air pollution is linked to the spread of the coronavirus do not warrant tougher regulations. 

New Jersey has been seen to frequent legal battles with the EPA, with this case being the second in the month of May. The other case was brought up due to the EPA’s exemption of many bodies of water from the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule”, which was enacted by the Obama administration. New Jersey, along with California, New York, and fourteen other states and two major American cities, compiled a 29-page lawsuit suing the EPA due to their dependence on the affected bodies of water for resources. In response, an EPA spokesperson said the agency and Department of the Army “believe that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will stand the test of time […] [and that] Congress, in the Clean Water Act, explicitly directed the Agencies to protect ‘navigable waters.’ The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates these waters and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them.” 

Whether or not the efforts of these states prove useful is yet to be seen. 

Study Shows Novel Bacteria Can Reduce Oil Contamination in the Ocean

By Saarang Kashyap

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, one of the largest marine oil spills in history, released over 4,900,000 barrels into the ocean of which only 800,000 were recaptured. Thousands of birds, mammals, and sea turtles were plastered with leaked oil, decreasing their ability to survive and reproduce. Coral larvae, which were initially mobile, attached to mature corals at much-reduced rates and the toxic components of the oil were fatal to rotifers, microorganisms crucial to the gulf food web. There was one positive discovery, however: bacteria in the ocean that had adapted to consuming naturally occurring gas had decreased the extent of the oil spill.

This got scientists thinking about potential bacteria they could use to clean up oil spills, with recent studies pointing to Alcanivorax Borkumensis as the most viable option. According to SpringerLink, “Alcanivorax borkumensis is a marine bacterium that uses exclusively petroleum oil hydrocarbons as sources of carbon and energy.” This means that this species breaks down long chains of crude oil for energy rather than sugars or carbohydrates. This bacterium is normally present at low levels in the ocean and becomes abundant when a source of oil becomes available.

Much like plants, Alcanivorax needs “fertilizer” in nitrogen and phosphorus to grow properly. Fortunately, Alcanivorax Borkumensis is adaptable to the substantial imbalance of nutrients in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus after oil spills. This bacterium has many transport proteins that allow for the fast uptake of key nutrients from its environment, making it ideal to be used in the tough environment created by oil contamination.

One study highlighting the effectiveness of Alcanivorax involved a research team that purified a few enzymes in the bacteria and used them to treat samples of contaminated soil (ScienceDaily). “The degradation of hydrocarbons using the crude enzyme extract is really encouraging and reached over 80% for various compounds,” said Brar, a professor at INRS who led the study. “The process is effective in removing benzene, toluene, and xylene, and has been tested under a number of different conditions to show that it is a powerful way to clean up polluted land and marine environments.” (Biochemical Engineering Journal)

Through the employment of this novel bacteria, it is plausible that scientists may be able to solve an oil crisis that comes with the mass use and production of fossil fuels. It is only fitting that widespread and large damage to the oceans is solved by something microscopic.

Trump Administration Refuses to Tighten Soot Pollution Regulation Linked to Higher COVID-19 Death Rates

By Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, Kunaal Venugopal, and Sudhit Rao

On Tuesday, the Trump administration decided not to tighten soot pollution regulation despite there being a possible link between soot pollution and higher COVID-19 related deaths. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that there are “still a lot of uncertainties” on the potential relationship and have decided “that the current standard is protective of public health.” 

COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, is a disease that causes respiratory illness. Its effects as a global pandemic have been realized the most following February of 2020, but its origins trace back to November of 2019 in Wuhan, China. Its consequences have sent a ripple throughout the world as it has caused thousands of deaths across the globe as lockdowns have been set in place. What’s more, many factors can influence the spread of the virus.

What does soot pollution have to do with this?

Soot pollution is a common name that refers to black particulate matter, or “particle pollution” which is the outcome of combustion processes in oil refineries, industrial boilers, and manufacturers. Though the pollution caused by these particles is linked to about “45,000 deaths a year,” the EPA still has not introduced reforms to decrease soot pollution. Moreover, in relevance to the prominent COVID-19 pandemic, an independent Harvard study concluded that areas with higher levels of soot pollution had higher coronavirus death rates. With the respiratory illness implications of the novel coronavirus including but not limited to bronchitis and pneumonia, soot pollution is accelerating the development of these illnesses.

The EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was appointed by President Trump in early 2019, was the deciding factor of the denial. Wheeler justified his claim by stating the Harvard study was too new and was not properly vetted or peer-reviewed to be considered in the decision to tighten the pollution standards. Wheeler also attacked the scientists behind the Harvard study claiming that they “seem to have a bias,” because they have publicly spoken out against the choices of the Trump Administration in the past.  

This decision came as a shock to many, as Harvard studies have frequently been used as key factors in the EPA’s decisions and over the years and have prompted them to tighten the standards consistently. 

The EPA’s choice had a very polarizing response. In a letter to Wheeler on Tuesday, a group of 18 Democratic and independent senators blasted the decision. They explained, “The Environmental Protection Agency should be taking actions that will further protect health during this crisis, not put more Americans at risk.” On the other hand, large oil and gas companies and many Republican Lawmakers praised Wheeler for his decision, claiming that the choice would help energy companies survive and bounce back from their struggles during the economic collapse that came with the pandemic.

Clearly, the EPA’s decision was very controversial. The Trump administration is under heavy fire especially with the mounting concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their refusal to tighten regulations allows soot pollution to remain a problem, leading to unforeseen consequences in terms of public health. Soot pollution, more than just influencing a virus, is unhealthy for our climate crisis as well. The situation must be addressed soon by future government bodies or it will be too late to reverse the effects.