Tariffs on solar panels threaten Biden’s climate change goals

Yahoo! News

Tariffs on solar panels threaten Biden’s climate change goals

Ben Adler, Senior Editor – May 26, 2022

An ongoing Department of Commerce investigation into whether China is circumventing tariffs on its solar energy products is slowing the expansion of solar power capacity in the U.S., according to industry and outside experts.

“In the blink of an eye, we’re going to lose 100,000 American solar workers and any hope of reaching the president’s clean energy goals,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA), said in a statement late last month.

On March 25, James Maeder, the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for anti-dumping and countervailing duty operations, announced an investigation into whether crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam that use components from China violate tariffs on Chinese solar imports. Pending the outcome of that investigation, tariffs could be applied — even retroactively, for recent purchases — to solar panels from those four Southeast Asian countries.

Solar panel installers anxious not to run up what could potentially be a huge tax bill are therefore avoiding buying panels from those major suppliers and are often unable to fulfill orders.

A worker wearing a mask, head covering and rubber gloves, leans over a solar battery to assemble it in a bare manufacturing facility, with one other worker visible in the distance.
A worker assembles a solar battery at Irex Energy JSC’s manufacturing facility in Vung Tau, Vietnam, in 2019. (Yen Duong/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As a result, on April 27, after surveying its members on the effect the investigation is having, the SEIA cut by 46% its forecast for new solar installations in 2022 and 2023. A May 10 analysis by Rystad Energy, an independent energy research consulting company, found a potentially even more dramatic contraction in the solar industry, concluding that 64% of the 27 gigawatts of new solar capacity that was to be installed in this year is in jeopardy.

With new tariffs potentially being imposed in August, clean energy advocates and experts say the problems may only grow worse in the months ahead. “Imports have fallen off, projects are being canceled, and projections of growth are being revised radically downward,” David Roberts, host of the podcast “Volts,” said Wednesday. “The tariffs could be anywhere from 30%-250%, which would radically change the economics of big solar projects, and, if applied, will be retrospective over the last two years, which means even existing contracts are in jeopardy. The uncertainty has cast a pall over the entire sector.”

President Biden is publicly committed to expanding solar capacity as quickly as possible to combat climate change. The White House has issued press releases and fact sheets touting its administrative moves to encourage the installation of wind turbines and solar panels on federal lands and waters, and the president has proposed tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for rooftop solar panels in his budget reconciliation package.

Joe Biden, in dark glasses and pursing his lips, in front of a solar array.
In June 2019, while running for president, Joe Biden walks past solar panels at the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative in Plymouth, N.H. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The administration is caught between its climate goals and its desire to protect American manufacturers from unfair trade practices. If China can produce cheaper solar panels, with or without a government subsidy, it benefits American consumers and helps speed up the replacement of fossil fuels that cause greenhouse gas emissions. But allowing a rival to dominate the supply chain of growing U.S. energy sources could be risky, as Europe has seen with its reliance on Russian oil and gas. Every president wants to create domestic manufacturing jobs, which tend to pay relatively well, especially for those without a college degree.

In 2012, the Obama administration imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panel components — increasing the cost by 24% to 36% — when it found that, in violation of trade agreements, Chinese manufacturers were unfairly undercutting American competitors by using loans from the Chinese government to produce more panels at lower prices. (Tariffs have since increased to as much as 250%.)

The measure was supposed to bolster American solar manufacturing, but it didn’t work out that way.

President Barack Obama at the microphone in front of a solar array.
In March 2012, President Barack Obama tours Sempra’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility in Boulder City, Nev. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

“What happened was not that American domestic manufacturing flourished. What happened was: The same Chinese manufacturers decided to locate some of their supply chain in other countries,” Marcelo Ortega, an analyst at Rystad Energy who produced its recent report, told Yahoo News. Those countries include the four in Southeast Asia at issue in this case. As U.S. imports of solar panels from China fell, imports from these other countries rose just as fast.

In February, Auxin Solar, a U.S. manufacturer of solar modules, filed a complaint with the Commerce Department, which is responsible for enforcing the tariffs, claiming that the solar manufacturers in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are making an end run around the tariffs on Chinese photovoltaic cells. Imports from those countries accounted for 85% of all imported U.S. solar power capacity installed in 2021 and 99% of solar imports in the first two months of this year, according to Rystad’s analysis.

Companies that provide solar panels to U.S. customers say their business has been thrown for a loop.

“It makes deploying solar simply just more difficult and more expensive,” Gabe Phillips, CEO of Catalyst Power, a retail energy provider and solar developer, told Yahoo News. “On the distributed solar side, the pricing’s all over the place. They can’t commit to pricing. They’ll give me a price, with the caveat that it’s contingent on the outcome of this case. It’s stymieing the sales process.”

Two women in head coverings, masks, gloves and blue work clothes, bend over a production line.
Employees in Nantong City, in China’s Jiangsu province, work on the solar panel production line at a workshop of Jiangsu Fox Group on April 18. (Zhai Huiyong/VCG via Getty Images)

Apart from the uncertainty in pricing, the process of providing a customer with solar energy has become slower and less reliable.

“Suppliers don’t want to take the risk of being slapped with a potential 100% import tariff,” Ortega said. When the SEIA surveyed its members, 83% reported that purchases had recently been canceled or delayed.

“At the moment, the products we’re seeking to market have been pushed back at least a quarter,” Phillips said. “There’s less expectation of panel availability, and therefore dates for projects are being pushed back.”

The White House declined to comment on the record, noting that it does not get involved in legal proceedings such as the current Commerce Department investigation, but it reiterated the president’s commitment to deploying solar power.

“While we cannot comment on an ongoing, independent judicial investigation, the process cannot factor in policy or our solar strategy,” a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity wrote in an email. “President Biden remains committed to standing up clean solar energy across the country to lower energy bills for families, create good-paying union jobs, and … grow our clean energy economy. As the president has made clear from the earliest days of the campaign, solar power is at the heart of his agenda for cutting energy costs for American families, creat[ing] good jobs, and fight[ing] the climate crisis that is already causing unprecedented harm to our economy and national security.”

A worker in a red hardhat walks across a solar array followed by a colleague carrying a solar panel.
Electricians install solar panels at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, N.Y., in November 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

The solar industry’s answer is to build up American solar manufacturing without resorting to jacking up the price on imports.

“I understand the detriment to American manufacturing that dumping causes,” Phillips said. “However, I’m not sure that I have a problem with the Chinese government subsidizing American renewable energy development. There are other ways that we could support our own domestic manufacturing of solar panels, other than sticking a tariff on someone else’s solar panels. We could do what China does and subsidize [it]. There must be tools that are available.”

Lithuania now fully independent of Russian energy

Euractiv

Lithuania now fully independent of Russian energy

 By Giedre Peseckyte, Euractiv – May 23, 2022

Nord Pool, a pan-European power exchange, decided to stop trading Russian electricity from its only importer in the Baltic States Inter RAO, meaning Lithuania no longer imports Russian energy supplies such as oil, electricity, and natural gas. [Shutterstock/PX Media.

Lithuania on Sunday dropped Russian energy imports including oil, natural gas and electricity, making it completely free of Russian energy supplies.

Nord Pool, a pan-European power exchange, decided to stop trading Russian electricity from its only importer in the Baltic States Inter RAO, meaning Lithuania no longer imports Russian energy supplies such as oil, electricity, and natural gas.

“Not only it is an extremely important milestone for Lithuania in its journey towards energy independence, but it is also an expression of our solidarity with Ukraine. We must stop financing the Russian war machine,” said Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys.

Lithuania will achieve full energy independence when it successfully implements synchronisation, meets its electricity needs through local green energy production and becomes an electricity exporter, Kreivys also stressed.

For liquefied natural gas, the terminal in Klaipėda has received cargoes from the US. At the same time, local power generation and imports from EU countries through existing interconnections with Sweden, Poland and Latvia cover the country’s electricity needs. Meanwhile, Orlen Lietuva, the only oil importer in Lithuania, refused to import Russian crude oil more than a month ago.

Commenting on Lithuania’s decision to stop imports of Russian fossils and electricity, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko tweeted on Sunday (22 May) that it is “a crucial milestone towards energy independence, a great sign of dignity, and a motivating example for the rest of Europe.”

“Ukraine is ready to support you [Lithuania] with our carbon-free electricity,” he added.

   

Michigan profs push ‘pee for peonies’ urine diversion plan

Associated Press

Michigan profs push ‘pee for peonies’ urine diversion plan

Mike Householder – May 13, 2022

University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professor Krista Wigginton applies human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor on Monday, May 9, 2022. The "pee-cycling" effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professor Krista Wigginton applies human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. The “pee-cycling” effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professors Nancy Love, and Krista Wigginton, right, apply human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor on Monday, May 9, 2022. The "pee-cycling" effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professors Nancy Love, and Krista Wigginton, right, apply human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. The “pee-cycling” effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professors Nancy Love, right, and Krista Wigginton apply human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor on Monday, May 9, 2022. The "pee-cycling" effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professors Nancy Love, right, and Krista Wigginton apply human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. The “pee-cycling” effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professor Krista Wigginton applies human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor on Monday, May 9, 2022. The "pee-cycling" effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)
University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professor Krista Wigginton applies human urine derived fertilizer to beds of peonies at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. The “pee-cycling” effort is part of University of Michigan research that promotes human urine-based fertilizer as beneficial to the plants and to the environment. (Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering via AP)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A pair of University of Michigan researchers are putting the “pee” in peony.

Rather, they’re putting pee ON peonies.

Environmental engineering professors Nancy Love and Krista Wigginton are regular visitors to the Ann Arbor school’s Nichols Arboretum, where they have been applying urine-based fertilizer to the heirloom peony beds ahead of the flowers’ annual spring bloom.

It’s all part of an effort to educate the public about their research showing that applying fertilizer derived from nutrient-rich urine could have environmental and economic benefits.

“At first, we thought people might be hesitant. You know, this might be weird. But we’ve really experienced very little of that attitude,” Wigginton said. “In general, people think it’s funny at first, but then they understand why we’re doing it and they support it.”

Love is co-author of a study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal that found urine diversion and recycling led to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and energy.

Urine contains essential nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and has been used as a crop fertilizer for thousands of years.

Love said collecting human urine and using it to create renewable fertilizers — as part of what she calls the “circular economy of nutrients” — will lead to greater environmental sustainability.

Think of it not so much as recycling, but “pee-cycling,” Wigginton said.

“We were looking for terms that would catch on but get the idea across, and ‘pee-cycling’ seems to be one that stuck,” she said.

As part of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation awarded in 2016, Love and Wigginton have not only been testing advanced urine-treatment methods, but also investigating people’s attitudes about the use of urine-derived fertilizers.

That is what brought them to the much-loved campus Peony Garden, which contains more than 270 historic cultivated varieties from the 19th and early 20th centuries representing American, Canadian and European peonies of the era. The garden holds nearly 800 peonies when filled and up to 10,000 flowers at peak bloom.

Love and Wigginton plan to spend weekends in May and June chatting up visitors. One important lesson they learned is about the precision of language.

“We have used the term, ‘pee on the peonies.’ And then it grabs people’s attention and then we can talk to them about nutrient flows and nutrient efficiency in our communities and how to be more sustainable,” Love said. “It turns out some people thought that that was permission to drop their drawers and pee on the peonies.

“So, this year, we’re going to use ‘pee for the peonies’ and hope that we don’t have that confusion.”

The urine-derived fertilizer the researchers are using these days originated in Vermont. But if all goes according to plan, they’ll be doling out some locally sourced fertilizer next year.

A split-bowl toilet in a campus engineering building is designed to send solid waste to a treatment plant while routing urine to a holding tank downstairs. Urine diverted from the toilet and urinal were to be treated and eventually used to create fertilizers, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to shut down the collection efforts.

In the meantime, the facility is undergoing an upgrade to its freeze concentrator and adding a new, more energy-efficient pasteurizer, both developed by the Vermont-based Rich Earth Institute.

“The whole idea is cycling within a community, so moving toward that we want to take urine from this community and apply it within this community,” Wigginton said.

EU Must Speed Green Deal to Shut Out Russian Gas, CEOs Say

Bloomberg

EU Must Speed Green Deal to Shut Out Russian Gas, CEOs Say

John Ainger – May 10, 2022

(Bloomberg) — More than 100 companies from Microsoft Corp. to Unilever Plc want the European Union to intensify its focus on renewable energy as the bloc races to end its dependency on Russian fossil fuels.

“At the core of the current energy security and price crises sits an overdependence on volatile, imported fossil gas, oil and coal,” chief executives and other business leaders said in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “This is the time to be bold and double down on delivering the Green Deal,” the EU’s push for carbon neutrality by mid-century.

The EU can accelerate its shift by scaling up investments in renewable energy, improving building insulation and encouraging businesses to choose low-carbon technologies, according to the letter seen by Bloomberg. Tax cuts and income-support measures could help spur the change, said the companies, which include Iberdrola SA and retailer H&M.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February exacerbated an energy-supply crunch already under way in Europe, sending commodity prices soaring to record levels. Now the continent is facing potential fuel disruptions as Russia — the EU’s biggest gas provider — threatens to cut supplies if buyers don’t pay in rubles.

Next week the EU is set to launch its plan to slash the use of Russian gas by two-thirds this year. It’s set to include measures that will speed the permitting process for wind and solar farms, while also creating incentives for consumers to use less energy.

Also See: EU Seeks to Boost Solar Energy to Cut Russian Gas, Draft Shows

Before the war, Russia was responsible for around 40% of the EU’s gas imports, a figure the bloc wants to bring down to zero this decade. While the EU is burning more coal and seeking energy from alternative sources that could temporarily raise emissions, it wants to accelerate the transition in the longer term.

The CEOs called for a strengthening of key pillars of the Green Deal by increasing ambition in areas like the EU’s carbon market, albeit with more support for domestic industry. They’re also seeking to increase the specialized workforce needed for the transition to cleaner energy.

‘Forever chemicals’ may have polluted 20m acres of US cropland, study says

The Guardian

‘Forever chemicals’ may have polluted 20m acres of US cropland, study says

Tom Perkins – May 8, 2022

<span>Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA</span>
Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

About 20m acres of cropland in the United States may be contaminated from PFAS-tainted sewage sludge that has been used as fertilizer, a new report estimates.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds used to make products heat-, water- or stain-resistant. Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, they have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, liver problems, birth defects, immunosuppression and more.

Dozens of industries use PFAS in thousands of consumer products, and often discharge the chemicals into the nation’s sewer system.

The analysis, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is an attempt to understand the scope of cropland contamination stemming from sewage sludge, or biosolids. Regulators don’t require sludge to be tested for PFAS or closely track where its spread, and public health advocates warn the practice is poisoning the nation’s food supply.

“We don’t know the full scope of the contamination problem created by PFAS in sludge, and we may never know, because EPA has not made it a priority for states and local governments to track, test and report on,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s legislative policy director.

All sewage sludge is thought to contain the dangerous chemicals, and the compounds have recently been found to be contaminating crops, cattle, water and humans on farms where biosolids were spread.

Sludge is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process that’s a mix of human excrement and industrial waste, like PFAS, that’s discharged from industry’s pipes. Sludge disposal can be expensive so the waste management industry is increasingly repackaging it as fertilizer because excrement is rich in plant nutrients.

EWG found Ohio keeps the most precise records of any state, and sludge has been applied to 5% of its farmland since 2011. Extrapolating that across the rest of the country would mean about 20m acres are contaminated with at least some level of PFAS. Faber called the estimate “conservative”.

EPA records show over 19bn pounds of sludge has been used as fertilizer since 2016 in the 41 states where the agency tracks the amount of sludge that’s spread, but not the location. It’s estimated that 60% of the nation’s sludge is spread on cropland or other fields annually.

The consequences are evident in the only two states to consistently check sludge and farms for PFAS contamination. In Maine, PFAS-tainted fields have already forced several farms to shut down. The chemicals end up in crops and cattle, and the public health toll exacted by contaminated food in Maine is unknown. Meanwhile, the state is investigating about 700 more fields for PFAS pollution.

“There’s no easy way to shop around this problem,” Faber said. “We shouldn’t be using PFAS-contaminated sludge to grow food and feed for animals.”

Michigan faces a similar situation as it uncovers contaminated beef and farms, and growing evidence links sludge to public health problems and contaminated drinking water.

The health cost of using sludge outweighs the benefits, advocates say. Many have questioned the sense in spending billions of dollars to pull sludge out of water only to inject the substance into the nation’s food supply, and calls for a ban on the practice are growing louder.

“The EPA could today require treatment plants to test sludge for PFAS and warn farmers that they may be contaminating fields, but it has refused to do so,” Faber said.

The Ocean’s Biggest Garbage Pile Is Full of Floating Life

The New York Times

The Ocean’s Biggest Garbage Pile Is Full of Floating Life

Annie Roth – May 6, 2022

Scientists aboard a ship supporting Ben Lecomte's swim through the garbage patch sampled the water along the way, finding high concentrations of neuston, or organisms living at the water's surface. (Ben Lecomte via The New York Times)
Scientists aboard a ship supporting Ben Lecomte’s swim through the garbage patch sampled the water along the way, finding high concentrations of neuston, or organisms living at the water’s surface. (Ben Lecomte via The New York Times)

In 2019, French swimmer Benoit Lecomte swam more than 300 nautical miles through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution.

As he swam, he was often surprised to find that he was not alone.

“Every time I saw plastic debris floating, there was life all around it,” Lecomte said.

The patch was less a garbage island than a garbage soup of plastic bottles, fishing nets, tires and toothbrushes. And floating at its surface were blue dragon nudibranchs, Portuguese man-o-wars and other small surface-dwelling animals, which are collectively known as neuston.

Scientists aboard the ship supporting Lecomte’s swim systematically sampled the patch’s surface waters. The team found that there were much higher concentrations of neuston within the patch than outside it. In some parts of the patch, there were nearly as many neuston as pieces of plastic.

“I had this hypothesis that gyres concentrate life and plastic in similar ways, but it was still really surprising to see just how much we found out there,” said Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study. “The density was really staggering. To see them in that concentration was like, wow.”

The findings were posted last month on bioRxiv and have not yet been subjected to peer review. But if they hold up, Helm and other scientists say, it may complicate efforts by conservationists to remove the immense and ever-growing amount of plastic in the patch.

The world’s oceans contain five gyres, large systems of circular currents powered by global wind patterns and forces created by Earth’s rotation. They act like enormous whirlpools, so anything floating within one will eventually be pulled into its center. For nearly a century, floating plastic waste has been pouring into the gyres, creating an assortment of garbage patches. The largest, the Great Pacific Patch, is halfway between Hawaii and California and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, according to the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. All that trash turns out to be a great foothold for living things.

Helm and her colleagues pulled many individual creatures out of the sea with their nets: by-the-wind sailors, free-floating hydrozoans that travel on ocean breezes; blue buttons, quarter-sized cousins of the jellyfish; and violet sea-snails, which build “rafts” to stay afloat by trapping air bubbles in a soaplike mucus they secrete from a gland in their foot. They also found potential evidence that these creatures may be reproducing within the patch.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Andre Boustany, a researcher with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. “We know this place is an aggregation area for drifting plastics, so why would it not be an aggregation area for these drifting animals as well?”

Little is known about neuston, especially those found far from land in the heart of ocean gyres.

“They are very difficult to study because they occur in the open ocean and you cannot collect them unless you go on marine expeditions, which cost a lot of money,” said Lanna Cheng, a research scientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Because so little is known about the life history and ecology of these creatures, this study, though severely limited in size and scope, offers valuable insights to scientists.

But Helm said there is another implication of the study: Organizations working to remove plastic waste from the patch may also need to consider what the study means for their efforts.

There are several nonprofit organizations working to remove floating plastic from the Great Pacific Patch. The largest, the Ocean Cleanup Foundation in the Netherlands, developed a net specifically to collect and concentrate marine debris as it is pulled across the sea’s surface by winds and currents. Once the net is full, a ship takes its contents to land for proper disposal.

Helm and other scientists warn that such nets threaten sea life, including neuston. Although adjustments to the net’s design have been made to reduce bycatch, Helm believes any large-scale removal of plastic from the patch could pose a threat to its neuston inhabitants.

“When it comes to figuring out what to do about the plastic that’s already in the ocean, I think we need to be really careful,” she said. The results of her study “really emphasize the need to study the open ocean before we try to manipulate it, modify it, clean it up or extract minerals from it.”

Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, disagreed with Helm.

“It’s too early to reach any conclusions on how we should react to that study,” he said. “You have to take into account the effects of plastic pollution on other species. We are collecting several tons of plastic every week with our system — plastic that is affecting the environment.”

Plastic in the ocean poses a threat to marine life, killing more than 1 million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals, according to UNESCO. Everything from fish to whales can become entangled, and animals often mistake it for food and end up starving to death with stomachs full of plastic.

Ocean plastics that do not end up asphyxiating an albatross or entangling an elephant seal eventually break down into microplastics, which penetrate every branch of the food web and are nearly impossible to remove from the environment.

One thing everyone agrees on is that we need to stop the flow of plastic into the ocean.

“We need to turn off the tap,” Lecomte said.

Climate change is why New Mexico’s wildfire season started early this year

Yahoo! News

Climate change is why New Mexico’s wildfire season started early this year

Ben Adler, Senior Editor – May 4, 2022

SANTA FE, N.M. — The smoke emerges, like a white veil draped across the sky, on the drive up from Albuquerque to this picturesque city of 84,000.

Historically, New Mexico’s wildfire season begins in May or June, but this year, wildfires sprung up in the drought-parched New Mexican desert in April. By April 23, more than 20 wildfires were burning in 16 of the state’s 33 counties. Last week, two of them merged into one megafire, the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. By Sunday, the New York Times reported, it had burned nearly 104,000 acres — more than 160 square miles — and smoke from it and another wildfire had blanketed most of northern New Mexico.

A satellite image of Hermits Peak wildfire.
A satellite image shows a color-infrared view of the Hermits Peak wildfire, east of Santa Fe, N.M., on Sunday. (Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters)

About 6,000 people from 32 communities in the area have been ordered to evacuate, and 1,100 firefighters have been working to contain the blaze.

Scientists say that this is not just a freak occurrence but rather the new normal caused by climate change.

“We’re really seeing an increase in these fires outside the normal summer season, the normal warm season, really across the West,” Kaitlyn Weber, a data analyst at the research organization Climate Central, told Yahoo News.

The McBride Fire in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
The McBride Fire burns in the heart of the village in Ruidoso, N.M., on April 12. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/USA Today Network via Reuters)

Warmer temperatures, which cause more evaporation, dry out the landscape and create the conditions for wildfires to break out. In addition, climate change causes more extreme weather, such as unseasonably warm days in winter, and may even be causing stronger winds — another risk factor for fire — due to jet-stream disruption.

“We had the big Marshall Fire in December in Colorado, we had the Big Sur fires here in California in January. [Fires] have just been happening throughout the year,” Weber said.

“Our risk season is incredibly and dangerously early,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on April 23, by which time 200 structures in her state had already burned.

An aircraft dumps fire retardant near the Hermit Peak Fire in New Mexico.
An aircraft dumps fire retardant near the Hermit Peak Fire and homes in Las Vegas, N.M., on Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal via ZUMA Press Wire)

In August 2021, Climate Central released a report showing that the number of “fire weather days” — hot, dry, windy days that are ripe for wildfires — has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Analyzing data from 225 weather stations in 17 states across the West since 1973, Climate Central found that these days have become much more common, especially in New Mexico.

“Parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Southern California have experienced some of the largest increases in fire weather days each year,” the report’s summary stated. “Areas of New Mexico are now seeing two more months of fire weather than was the case nearly a half century ago.”

A resident prepares horses to evacuate.
A Las Vegas, N.M., resident prepares horses to evacuate as authorities battle the nearby Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon wildfires on Monday. (Adria Malcolm/Reuters)

“As climate change continues to warm our Earth, it increases temperatures across the landscape,” Weber said. “It causes this drying trend that’s really happening throughout the Southwest. So we’re seeing warm temperatures, drier days and, if the winds pick up, really dangerous conditions.”

The drying out of New Mexico — a February study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the last 20 years were the driest two decades in at least 1,200 years — is largely responsible.

“As it gets warmer, then it increases evaporation, things gets drier, plants get drier, basically setting up fuels for these big fires. So when they happen, they burn longer, more severely,” Weber said.

Smoke rises in the distance from wildfires in New Mexico.
Smoke rises from the nearby Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon wildfires on Monday. (Adria Malcolm/Reuters)

Along New Mexico State Road 518, part of which runs along the scenic route known as the High Road to Taos, one can see the pale, dead grasses and pine trees, sitting like kindling along the roadside. Some stretches of intersecting roads are blocked, to keep traffic from getting too close to the ongoing blazes.

Living near nature, with the desert in sight, is central to the charm that has drawn tourists and new residents to the state. As a result, Climate Central estimates that more than 1.4 million people in New Mexico, approximately 70% of its population, lives in an area at-risk from wildfires, the so-called “wildland-urban interface.”

Right now, smoke comes and goes in Santa Fe and other nearby towns, depending on the winds. At best, the sky overhead is clear and the smoke to the west creates a startlingly magenta sunset. At worst, the smoke settles in around you, creating a fog-like haze, and it can be smelled and tasted in the air. On those days, the Air Quality Index (AQI) — the Environmental Protection Agency’s measure of air pollution — spikes well into the “unhealthy” range. Taos experienced those conditions on Sunday, and Santa Fe did on Monday.

Smoke is seen at sunset in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
Smoke is seen at sunset in Sante Fe, N.M., on April 30. (Ben Adler/Yahoo News)

“This morning, I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t see the mountains when I left my house. I couldn’t see any of the vistas or any of the landscapes, so there was no point in going hiking today,” Whitney Joiner, a resident of Taos, N.M., told Yahoo News on Sunday. “Not only could you not breathe, it hurt to breathe and people were wearing masks. And then a friend of mine who I go hiking with, she has asthma and she said she was inside with the air purifier and she was still coughing.”

“The Air Quality Index was 159, and when I looked up ‘Should I go outside at 159?’ it was like, ‘No,’” Joiner added. “I don’t really know anything about AQI, but that’s a new way of looking at my life.”

Climate change has also made it harder to perform routine forest maintenance — in which overgrown areas are deliberately burned with controlled fires — to reduce the risk of wildfires that can spin out of control and threaten communities.

A man wearing a face mask is seen spraying water on his property.
David Lopez hoses down his property as the authorities battle the wildfires nearby on Monday. (Adria Malcolm/Reuters)

“One of these fires was actually a prescribed burn fire that actually burned out of control when the winds picked up,” Weber noted. “As we see more of these fire weather days, we’re going to see a decrease in the number of days where you can do prescribed burns, which is really helpful, but you need the right conditions to do that.”

Other states throughout the West have also experienced megafires in recent years. A 2016 study from Climate Central found that “across the Western U.S., the average annual number of large fires (larger than 1,000 acres) burning each year has more than tripled between the 1970s and the 2010s.” Last summer, wildfires ravaged Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada.

An American flag on a fence blows in the wind as heavy plumes of smoke billow in the distance.
An American flag blows in the wind along State Road 22 in New Mexico as the Cerro Pelado Fire burns in the Jemez Mountains in the distance in April. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal via ZUMA Press Wire)

In February, a United Nations report declared a “global wildfire crisis” is developing due to climate change, pointing to recent extreme fire outbreaks in countries such as Australia and even in Russian towns north of the Arctic Circle.

“As long as we keep emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can expect that we are going to keep seeing this warming trend, we are going to keep seeing this drying trend — at least out here in the Southwest and the West, and so we’re going to see more of these fire weather days per year,” Weber said.

As climate-change-fueled drought worsens, California issues water restrictions for millions of residents

Yahoo! News

As climate-change-fueled drought worsens, California issues water restrictions for millions of residents

David Knowles, Senior Editor – April 28, 2022

Officials in California, now in its third year of drought that scientists have linked to climate change, have issued unprecedented water restrictions for millions of residents.

In the southern part of the state, where the start of 2022 was the driest in recorded history and average temperatures continue to rise at a faster pace than other parts of the country, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) has issued restrictions on roughly 6 million customers. The cutback, which begins on June 1, prohibits residents from watering lawns and plants more than one day per week.

“We are seeing conditions unlike anything we have seen before,” Adel Hagekhalil, the district’s general manager, told the Los Angeles Times. “We need serious demand reductions.”

The MWD sources its water from the State Water Project, which funnels water from rivers in the northern part of the state southward to 27 million residents, and from the Colorado River. Approximately 40 million people in the Southwest rely on the Colorado for water, and with extreme drought worsened by climate change showing no signs of easing, supplies from the river have been stretched thin.

Earlier this month, the federal government declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, one of the Colorado’s biggest reservoirs, that triggered water supply cuts. In March, California’s State Water Project announced that after a promising start to the state’s rainy season, the bone-dry first few months of 2022 meant it would limit its anticipated allocation of water to just 5% of normal.

Aerial view of Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, shown at 30% capacity on Jan. 11, 2022, near Boulder City, Nevada.
Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, is shown at 30% capacity on Jan. 11. (George Rose/Getty Images)

“We are experiencing climate change whiplash in real time, with extreme swings between wet and dry conditions,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a written statement.

Water restrictions are also being issued in the northern part of the state, which typically supplies water to Southern California. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the East Bay Municipal Utility District board voted Wednesday to immediately begin water restrictions for 1.4 million residents, following its declaration of a Stage 2 Drought Emergency. Homeowners in the district, which includes Oakland, Berkeley and many other areas east of San Francisco, will now be prohibited from watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and can report others who are not adhering to the new rules. The overall goal, EBMUD said, is to cut water use by 10% in the district.

Late-season snowstorms in the Sierra Nevada in recent days have boosted what little had remained of the snowpack, giving ski resorts a welcome reprieve, but an annual April 1 survey conducted by the Department of Water Resources found that snow levels were just 38% of the annual average.

Sprinklers spray water onto grass as a jogger runs through a city park in San Diego.
Sprinklers spray water onto grass as a jogger runs through a city park in San Diego. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Numerous scientific studies have established the connection between drought and climate change, with warmer temperatures speeding up evaporation, drying out soils and plant life.

“Drought — a year with a below-average water supply — is a natural part of the climate cycle, but as Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm due to climate change, droughts are becoming more frequent, severe, and pervasive,” NASA says on its website. “The past 20 years have been some of the driest conditions in the American West on record.”

Warmer temperatures and extreme heat waves are also exacerbating drought in places like SomaliaIndia and Pakistan, threatening crops and posing health risks for residents.

Best, worst cities for air quality: California ranks among worst, East Coast is cleaner

USA Today

Best, worst cities for air quality: California ranks among worst, East Coast is cleaner

Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY – April 22, 2022

A report released by the American Lung Association revealed millions of Americans are breathing unhealthy levels of air pollution across the country.

State of the Air 2022, based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2018 to 2020 also revealed which cities had the best and worst air quality.

The rankings are based on three categories: ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term exposure particle pollution over 24 hours.

The report, released Thursday, listed climate-change-driven wildfires as one of the biggest contributors for the rise in air particle pollution, a factor reflected in the rankings. Western cities have been plagued by historic wildfires in recent years.

Most of the cities with the cleanest air quality were on the East Coast.

Here are are the best and worst cities for air quality, according to the American Lung Association:

Los Angeles ranked poorly in multiple categories in this year's State of the Air report.
Los Angeles ranked poorly in multiple categories in this year’s State of the Air report.

‘Very unhealthy’: US air quality remains ‘hazardous’ for millions of Americans, new report says

Worldwide: These countries have the most polluted air in the world, new report says

Worst air in the United States

It isn’t West Coast best coast when it comes to air.

California dominated the worst-air rankings, with three of the state’s cities topping each of the categories for worst air. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area had the worst air by ozone, Bakersfield had the worst year-round particle pollution, and the Fresno-Madera-Hanford area had the worst air by short-term particle pollution.

The top 10 cities in each of the three categories were in Western states; the most eastern city was Houston. Here are the worst air cities:

Worst air by ozone:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Visalia, California
  4. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
  5. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
  6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, California
  7. Denver-Aurora, Colorado
  8. Houston-The Woodlands, Texas
  9. Sacramento-Roseville, California
  10. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah

Worst year-round particle pollution:

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
  3. Visalia, California
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  6. Medford-Grants Pass, Oregon
  7. Fairbanks, Alaska
  8. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
  9. Chico, California
  10. El Centro, California

Short-term particle pollution:

  1. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Fairbanks, Alaska
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
  5. Redding-Red Bluff, California
  6. Chico, California
  7. Sacramento-Roseville, California
  8. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  9. Yakima, Washington and Visalia, California
Best air in the United States

While the Pacific states had the worst air, the East Coast and some Midwest cities are breathing better.

But Cheyenne, Wyoming, is an outlier from the West. The Wyoming capital ranked first in cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution, despite being roughly 95 miles away from Denver, which had the seventh-worst ozone air pollution. Casper, Wyoming, also made the top 10.

Another exclusion from the Pacific is Hawaii. Two areas – Honolulu and the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina region – were in the top five.

Best cities in year-round particle pollution:

  1. Cheyenne, Wyoming
  2. Wilmington, North Carolina
  3. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii
  5. Bangor, Maine
  6. Casper, Wyoming
  7. Bellingham, Washington
  8. Bismarck, North Dakota, Elmira-Corning, New York, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and St. George, Utah

Numerous cities were tied for first in ozone air (64) and short-term particle pollution (80). Here are some of the biggest cities in each category:

Best cities for ozone air

  • Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Eugene-Springfield, Oregon
  • Jacksonville-St. Marys-Palatka, Florida-Georgia
  • Lexington-Fayette-Richmond-Frankfort, Kentucky
  • Lincoln-Beatrice, Nebraska
  • Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden, Louisiana
  • Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Virginia-North Carolina

Best cities for short-term particle pollution

  • Boston-Worcester-Providence, Massachusetts-Rhode Island-New Hampshire-Connecticut
  • Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
  • Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, North Carolina
  • Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut
  • Knoxville-Morristown-Sevierville, Tennessee
  • Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, Wisconsin
  • Montgomery-Selma-Alexander City, Alabama
  • New Orleans-Metairie-Hammond, Louisiana-Mississippi
  • Richmond, Virginia

Climate change: ‘We are not backing down,’ White House climate advisor says

Yahoo! Finance

Climate change: ‘We are not backing down,’ White House climate advisor says

Akiko Fujita, Anchor/Reporter – April 22, 2022

White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy defended the Biden administration’s policies to ease record energy prices, even as the president struggles to balance the immediate threat of inflation with long-term challenges posed by climate change.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live, McCarthy said the president’s commitment to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels remains “absolute.”

“We’re not backing down,” McCarthy said. “Nor are we giving up on our targets. They are aggressive. But we are on target domestically to do what we need to do.”

McCarthy’s comments come amid growing unease among environmentalists that the White House is backing off of ambitious climate pledges set one year ago in the face of public frustration over rising energy costs.

President Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
President Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

The president rejoined the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, and vowed to lead global leaders in putting countries on path to carbon neutrality by 2050.

At the White House’s first Leaders Summit on Climate last year, Biden announced the U.S. would nearly double its commitment to reducing emissions, while aiming to eliminate fossil fuels from the country’s electric grids by 2035.

However, higher energy prices brought on by pandemic-related supply shortages and the Russia-Ukraine War have threatened to derail those policies. Gas prices have climbed nearly 20% between February and March, though they have moderated in recent weeks.

Under pressure to act, the president has publicly accused oil companies of holding back production to keep prices high. In March, Biden announced a record release of 1 million barrels of oil a day by tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He followed that by issuing an emergency waiver to allow for the year long sale of fuel with higher ethanol content, typically banned during the summer because of higher smog levels.

Last week, the Interior Department announced it would resume selling leases to drill in 145,000 acres of federal land across nine states, reversing his campaign pledge.

White House Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy speaks at a news conference about the American Jobs Plan on April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
White House Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy speaks at a news conference about the American Jobs Plan on April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“The problem is that we have a Putin war that has actually created an emergency, which the president is making sure he takes control of,” McCarthy said. “We believe we can still get [to the climate targets] but we need Congress to help.”

Biden’s key climate and social spending bill, Build Back Better (BBB), remains stalled in Congress amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a crucial swing vote. McCarthy said lawmakers are looking to break up the $500 billion in climate initiatives tied up in BBB to ensure passage of policies that are critical to keeping the administration’s policies on track.

Manchin has held informal talks with the administration, and told staff that the legislation must be voted on before the August recess, according to the Washington Post.

“We know that Congress is interested in moving,” McCarthy said. “What we want to make sure we do is have enough conversations with Senator Manchin that we can be assured that we can move this forward in reconciliation.”

McCarthy has faced speculation about her own future within the administration as the climate agenda she helped craft sputters. Earlier this week, she released a statement amid reports she was planning to step down next month. McCarthy, who previously led the National Resources Defense Council, said she had no plans to return to the private sector just yet.

“I’m sticking around because there’s still so much more work to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t be staying around if I didn’t think that work was available to us.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance.