Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Climate Change May Be Intensifying China’s Smog Crisis

BEIJING — Chinese leaders, grappling with some of the world’s worst air pollution, have long assumed the answer to their woes was gradually reducing the level of smog-forming chemicals emitted from power plants, steel factories and cars.

But new research suggests another factor may be hindering China’s efforts to take control of its devastating smog crisis: climate change.

Changing weather patterns linked to rising global temperatures have resulted in a dearth of wind across northern China, according to several recent studies, exacerbating a wave of severe pollution that has been blamed for millions of premature deaths.

Wind usually helps blow away smog, but changes in weather patterns in recent decades have left many of China’s most populous cities poorly ventilated, scientists say.

The findings, some of the first to link climate change to smog, may escalate pressure on Chinese leaders to move more swiftly to shutter steel factories and coal-fired power plants amid rising public anger over smog caused by soot and gases like sulfur dioxide.

The research could also push China to assume an even more forceful role in international efforts to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, at a time when the United States, under President Trump, appears to be backing away from the issue.

“Everyone used to think that controlling smog hinged on reducing regional pollution,” said Liao Hong, a professor at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology and the co-author of a climate change study published this week. “Now it’s clear that it will require a global effort.”

As public outrage has grown in China over dirty skies and a rash of respiratory illnesses linked to smog, Chinese officials have redoubled efforts in recent years to fight air pollution. They have sent teams of police officers to inspect factories, closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants and imposed limits on driving and activities like outdoor barbecuing.

Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at the annual session of China’s legislature this month, vowed to “make our skies blue again” and promised to take further steps to reduce the use of coal.

But even if Chinese officials push forward with ambitious plans to cut emissions, they may struggle to offset the effects of climate change, the findings suggest.

Ms. Liao’s study, which examined data on pollution in Beijing from 2009 to 2016, predicted that weather conditions associated with severe smog would become increasingly common in coming decades. The study did not account for possible reductions in carbon emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Scientists point to the so-called airpocalypse that fell on Beijing in January 2013 as an example of the effects of climate change on smog.

During that episode, Beijing and dozens of other cities in northern China were shrouded in toxic haze for days. Despite emergency measures to cut emissions, the concentration of PM2.5, particles of a size that can penetrate the bloodstream, remained dangerously high.

Researchers now attribute the resilience of smog during that period to unusually stagnant air conditions brought on by climate change. The air was the stillest in three decades during the heavy particulate pollution in 2013, according to a study published this month in the journal Science Advances.

The study found that the melting of ice in the Arctic, combined with increased snowfall in Siberia, contributed to changes in wind patterns across Asia that winter that failed to clear the air over northern China.

Yuhang Wang, an atmospheric scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who was a co-author of the study, said the results suggested that Chinese officials would have an especially difficult time curbing air pollution in the winter, when weather conditions are most conducive to smog and more coal is burned for heating.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection pledged this month to put in place stricter policies to curb winter air pollution. Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“In the long run, emission reductions of both pollutants and greenhouse gases are needed to mitigate the winter haze problem,” Mr. Wang said.

Read the full story here

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EnviroPolitics Podcast #15 - Week in Review - Mar 20-24

In this week's Episode (#15), we look back at some of the political and environment stories featured last week in our daily subscription newsletter, EnviroPolitics or its free companion--EnviroPolitics Blog.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

How the overworked, unstable El, Philadelphia’s transportation aorta, just might be saving the city

Mark Dent, Anna Orso and Cassie Owens 
report for BillyPenn:

The creaky, overburdened Market-Frankford Line has as important a place among millennials, immigration, and swanky restaurants as keys to Philadelphia's early 21st century turnaround.

For the next few weeks, the Inquirer and Billy Penn will be teaming up with stories like this to show how important the El has become to the city’s continued growth — and examine why the fruits of that growth have not benefited more stops along the way.


I rode the El from end to end for the first time

Jesse Hein bought a new house with his husband about a year ago in Kensington near York Street. The rowhouse — just a few blocks away from the Berks Street station on the Market-Frankford line — had only been on the market a month. Hein, a communications professional at a Center City healthcare company, said its proximity to the El is one of the main reasons he chose the area.

Today, Hein concedes, he probably couldn’t afford a home like that in his neighborhood because of skyrocketing prices and the flurry of development. Hein, 29, drives only four or five times a year. He realizes he couldn’t operate without the El.

“It was absolutely awful during the SEPTA strike, and it sounds silly, but it really threw everything into chaos,” he said. “When the El is messed up, it really throws my day into a tailspin pretty hard.”

Any time there’s even a minor disturbance on the El, a domino effect can stall riders and overburden platforms along the 13-mile stretch from Frankford to Upper Darby. Buses are pressed into service as ad hoc shuttles — easing the load on the tracks, but clogging already-gridlocked streets of the old city.

If you’re a commuter, a patient headed toward the doctor or a student on the way to class, SEPTA can absolutely ruin your day: When the El goes out, Philly slows down.

But the crises on an overworked, aging infrastructure underscore how valuable the Market-Frankford Line is to Philadelphia. For years, the city shed population and appeared headed toward the fate of Rust Belt cities such as Detroit and Cleveland. Around 2000, this changed. Experts pointed to any number of factors, including immigrants, empty-nesters, and millennials, and civic leaders bragged about a restaurant scene drawing national envy, beer gardens and even Jay Z and his “Made In America” festival.

New numbers from the transit agency tell a different story. The creaky, overburdened Market-Frankford Line has as important a place among millennials, immigration, and swanky restaurants as keys to the city’s early 21st century turnaround. Its cars carry more people than they have in decades. That’s why the Inquirer teamed up with Billy Penn to write about how important the El has become to the city’s continued growth — and examine why the fruits of that growth have not benefited more stops along the way.
Change along the rails

Much of Philly’s resurgence straddles the Market-Frankford Line. Take away the census tracts abutting the El, and Philly’s average annual growth rate the last few years is only about 0.4 percent. Clustered around the El, it’s 1.5 percent, a rate surpassing the performance of most American big cities.

Richard Montanez, chief traffic and street lighting engineer of the Streets Department, called the El one of the city’s “aortas.”

“It is a major lifeline in the city of Philadelphia,” he said, adding, “I don’t think the city could be what the city is without it.”

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NJ Gov. Christie signs $400M transportation spending bill

Gov. Chris Christie signs the $400M transportation funding appropriation (
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill Monday that will give New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund immediate access to a $400 million supplemental appropriation for road and transit projects.
The bill, passed by the state Legislature last week in response to Christie’s recent call for more transportation funding this year, allocates $260 million for projects involving roads and bridges and $140 million for matters related to New Jersey Transit.
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The state Department of Transportation will have 100 days to decide which projects receive funding.
With the appropriation, the Transportation Trust Fund now has access to roughly $2 billion in spending for the current fiscal year.
Christie signed the bill Monday at LiUNA Local 172 in Trenton and emphasized that a bipartisan effort, particularly with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), was needed to advance the measure forward.
“Everybody doesn't get everything they want, but everybody gets some of what they need,” Christie said.
The additional funding comes as a result of Christie’s deal with the Legislature last year to raise the state’s gas tax by 23 cents per gallon in an effort to replenish the then-depleted Transportation Trust Fund with an eight-year, $16 billion plan with matching federal dollars.
Christie said that, although he had given “his word” that he would address the Transportation Trust Fund, he guessed that many in the room Monday didn’t think he would move ahead with the gas tax hike.
“When I say I’m going to do something, I do it,” Christie said. “When I say I won't, I won't.”
Since then, Christie says, states like Alaska, Tennessee and Indiana have all considered proposals to increase their own gas taxes in order to fund infrastructure projects. And still, he maintains, nearby states like New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania continue to have higher-priced gas than New Jersey.
Christie added that his decision to tackle the Transportation Trust Fund last year will be particularly beneficial to whomever is set to replace him, following the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election later this year. Raising taxes, especially at the pump, is not a politically friendly strategy, no matter how pertinent, and there would be no guarantee that the next governor would agree to it, Christie said.
"I'm leaving, and you don't know what you're going to get next,” Christie said.

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Will NJ tighten up fuel standards to keep up with Cali?

Garden State belongs to coalition that has agreed to lower emission standards in step with the Golden State

electric vehicle charging
Tom Johnson reports for
NJ Spotlight:

For the time being, New Jersey is still going to have to figure out a way to begin selling low-emission vehicles in greater numbers.
In a vote on Friday, a California agency moved to press forward with a plan to require car manufacturers to offer cars and trucks with much lower emission standards, a program New Jersey and eight other states have agreed to follow.
The action by the California Air Resources Board sets up a potential confrontation with the Trump administration, which reportedly is considering pulling a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act, which allowed California to write and other states to abide by more stringent pollution standards for vehicles than the rest of the nation.
President Donald Trump already has acted to relax tougher fuel-efficiency standards adopted by the Obama administration for vehicles — a move backed by the auto industry, which also is seeking relief from the so-called California Low-Emission Vehicle program.
If California prevails in the fight, it would mean manufacturers would be required to sell vehicles with much lower emission limits, and zero-emission vehicles, either electric or powered by fuel cells, in the states. By 2018, at least 5 percent of the vehicles would have to be zero-emission, a tough goal to meet given that New Jersey has not built out an infrastructure to fuel or recharge such vehicles.
Still, in a state where clean-energy advocates have long criticized the efforts to shift to less-polluting transportation sector, the action by California was welcomed. Cars, trucks, and other forms of transit make up the largest source of emissions in New Jersey contributing to global warming.
“We have been hoping they would act,’’ said Pamela Frank, executive director of Charge EVC, a coalition promoting electric vehicles. “It lays a good foundation to get the market moving.’’
“It’s the best antidote to the Trump administration’s rollbacks on the environment,’’ agreed Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, referring to the California clean-car program. “For New Jersey, it is so important because over half of our carbon emissions come from cars and trucks.’’
“We’re on the hook beginning next year to start selling more electric vehicles,’’ O’Malley noted.
To some, the market needs a big push in New Jersey, which has fewer than 500 electric-vehicle charging stations, a fact that some blame on the lackluster sales of the zero-emission vehicles.
If the auto industry fails to meet the targets for selling such vehicles, which ramp up as the years pass by, it could face fines that are likely to be passed on to motorists, dealers say.
The auto industry also contends that the California emission standards pose a huge challenge and would likely greatly increase their costs. By 2025, under the program, the average fuel economy for new vehicles would jump to 54.5 miles per gallon.
Clean-energy advocates hope a settlement with Volkswagen over the automaker’s cheating on diesel-emissions tests could provide money to bolster the state’s efforts to usher in electric vehicles. New Jersey stands to receive $65 million from the case; about 15 percent of that could be used to promote zero-emission vehicles.

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Toilet to tap: Recycled water may be New Jersey's future

The Haworth Water treatment plant in Oradell. (Photo: Marko Georgiev/NorthJersey.com)  

With wastewater being treated upriver from drinking water plants, we're already drinking recycled water. Should we be doing it more?

James M. O'Neil reports for The Record:

Turning wastewater into drinking water: the ultimate in recycling.

It's not as unusual -- or repulsive -- as it may sound, and it could be critical for maintaining North Jersey's water supply. In fact, we're already doing it, though not in a planned or intentional way.

As North Jersey’s drought continued through last fall and into the winter, the Wanaque and Oradell reservoirs fell below 45 percent of capacity. Yet when people across the region turned on their faucets, clean drinking water still flowed out -- in part because residents of Fairfield, Lincoln Park and Pequannock kept flushing their toilets.

The sewage from those toilets – and the wastewater from the sinks, washing machines, showers and dishwashers in those towns -- sloshes to a sewage treatment plant on the Pompton River. After treatment, the sewage becomes clear, clean effluent, and is released into the river, mixing with the river flow for about 1,500 feet.

Then some of it gets sucked into a pump station, which shoots the mixture of river water and effluent through a pipe for 11 miles to help refill the Wanaque Reservoir. There, the water gets further treatment before being distributed to water customers across North Jersey. Another pipe, 17 miles long, sends some of the river water and effluent to the Oradell Reservoir, where it receives further treatment to become drinking water for 800,000 residents in Bergen and Hudson counties.

MAKING SEWAGE CLEAN: Long process to clean water

ENVIRONMENT: Pollution police on patrol in North Jersey waters

ENVIRONMENT: Staggering cost of repairs lets sewage befoul NJ rivers

WATER: Recent rain, river pumping help replenish reservoirs

“I’m a huge fan of reuse – taking the water we already have and making it go farther,” said Robert Glennon, a water policy expert at the University of Arizona College of Law and author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It.” “We reuse water all the time.

"We’re drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank.”

The water's circle of life comes amid growing concerns about North Jersey's drinking water supply. As the dry weather of last summer and fall illustrated, the area is vulnerable to the ravages of drought. The region’s relatively small reservoirs can quickly become depleted. And though indoor water use has declined thanks to more efficient toilets and appliances, outdoor use is on the rise as residents water their lawns and landscaping. In effect, people are taking water that has been treated to meet stringent drinking water standards, and dumping it on the ground.

Meanwhile, the region’s population continues to grow, as former industrial sites are converted to high-rise residential developments, adding pressure on the water supply. And because the region’s pipes are so old, as much as 25 percent of treated drinking water leaks out before it ever reaches customers.

And given how developed the region is, there’s really no space for additional reservoirs, experts say.

Read the full story and related video here

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nominations sought for Sustainable Raritan Awards

Sustainable Raritan Awards by Nick Romanenko (c)2016 Rutgers University"
The Sustainable Raritan River Initiative is accepting nominations for the 2017 Sustainable Raritan Awards to recognize outstanding achievement in efforts to revitalize, restore and protect the Raritan River resources and promote the area as a premiere place to live, work and raise a family.  Nominations are due May 15.
The awards will be conferred at the 9th Annual Sustainable Raritan Conference and Awards Ceremony at Rutgers’ Douglass Student Center on Friday, June 9, 2017.
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"The purpose of these awards is to recognize some of the more creative and impressive accomplishments by genuine leaders throughout the Raritan Watershed,” said Michael Catania, Executive Director of Duke Farms Foundation and a member of the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative and the 2016 Awards Committee.
The Sustainable Raritan Awards were established in 2010 to promote innovation and energize local efforts to restore and protect the rivers, streams and habitat of the Raritan River, Basin and Bay.
There were originally six categories of awards.  Due to the breadth of nominees, additional awards have been added over the years.  This year, nominations will be accepted for achievement in Government Innovation, Leadership, Non-Profit Innovation, Public Access, Public Education, Remediation and Redevelopment, Stewardship, and Sustainable Business, as well as for a new category – Citizen Action.
The awards have highlighted extraordinary accomplishments and inspired other groups across the watershed to achieve comparable levels of excellence.
"We noted last year that there had been an increase in citizen involvement in projects throughout the watershed, and we received several nominations for those actions, which did not fit neatly into the existing award categories. So, beginning this year, we are adding a new award category – Citizen Action – in order to encourage and recognize these types of individual commitments to projects such as stream clean ups, water quality monitoring, and similar critical citizen actions," said Bill Kibler, Director of Policy for Raritan Headwaters and a member of the 2016 Awards Committee and the Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative.
Nomination submission guidelines and information about past Award recipients can be found on the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative Website at www.raritan.rutgers.edu.
Rutgers University launched the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative in 2009 to bring together concerned scientists, environmentalists, engineers, businesses, community leaders and governmental entities to craft an agenda that meets the goals of the U.S. Clean Water Act to restore and preserve New Jersey’s Raritan River, its tributaries and its bay.

The Initiative, a joint program of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, partners with other Rutgers schools, centers and programs to ensure the best contributions from the sciences, planning and policy.

The Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative is a growing network of over 130 organizations, governmental entities and businesses in the Raritan River region working together to balance social, economic and environmental objectives towards the common goal of restoring the Raritan River, its tributaries and its estuary for current and future generations.  Each member organization in the Collaborative contributes to the overall restoration and preservation of the River.
To learn more about the Sustainable Raritan Awards, the conference, or the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, visit www.raritan.rutgers.edu, or contact Sara Malone, Facilitator, Sustainable Raritan River Initiative, raritan@ejb.rutgers.edu
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Now serving green fried chicken in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

 DNREC Secretary Sean Garvin
Chris Flood reports for
Cape Gazette:

At its core, the new Royal Farms on Route 1 in Rehoboth is still the gas-selling, chicken-frying chain it’s become famous for.
Dig a little deeper though, and the property is now home to one of the Cape Region’s most environmentally conscious buildings.
During a brief March 20 ribbon cutting, Brittany Eldredge, Royal Farms spokeswoman, said the building is LEED certified, but beyond that, chicken frying oil will be converted to biodiesel fuel and plantings surrounding the building require little to no water.
In addition the building itself, contaminants in the soil on the property were removed during construction.
Tom Ruszin, Royal Farms fuel and environmental leader, said Exxon, the site’s previous inhabitant, left them with a mess to clean up. Now, he said, the property is being utilized and more jobs are being added to the area.
DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin was at the ribbon cutting, making his first public appearance after being sworn in three days earlier. He said Royal Farms committed to cleaning up the site through the state’s Brownfields Program, which encourages cleanup and redevelopment of vacant, abandoned or underutilized properties that may be contaminated.

He said the state contributed $155,000 into rehabilitating the site, which, he said, had contaminants that had begun to leak into local drinking water.
A project like this protects the environment, increases public health and stimulates the economy, said Garvin. It shows that these things go hand in hand.
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Former Penn State president guilty in Sandusky abuse case

    Graham B. Spanier, the former Penn State president, walking to courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa.,
    on Friday.
  Credit Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Jess Bidgood reports for The New York Times:

A jury in Harrisburg, Pa., on Friday delivered a split
verdict in the trial of the former president of
Penn State, convicting him of child endangerment for his handling
of a sex abuse complaint involving an assistant football coach, but acquitting him of a charge of conspiracy and
a second endangerment count.

The former president, Graham B. Spanier, showed no emotion while the verdict was read, according to media reports. Jurors deliberated about 13 hours.

The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison
and a $10,000 fine, but prosecutors declined to say
whether they would seek jail time. Mr. Spanier’s lawyer
told The Associated Press that he would appeal.

The coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 young boys whom, prosecutors
said, he met through his charity work and drew in with
gifts or trips to football games. He was sentenced to
30 to 60 years in prison.

The revelation of the abuse — and its extent — shocked
the State College, Pa., community and upended a
university that has long revered its football program.

The fallout was swift and far-reaching, touching both
the football program and the administration. The Penn
State coach, Joe Paterno, an icon on campus and the
most victorious coach in major college football,
was forced to resign. Much of his coaching staff was dismissed.

Mr. Spanier, once a well-liked leader who oversaw a 
period of expansion, was among the several officials
harshly criticized by investigators who reviewed the university’s actions in a 2012 report. He has challenged
its findings.

He was charged along with two other former
administrators. the athletic director, Tim Curley, and 
a vice president, Gary Schultz. Both men made 
last-minute plea deals and testified for the prosecution.

In 2013, Penn State agreed to pay $59.7 million 
to 26 sexual abuse victims in exchange for an end
to their claims against the university.

The scandal was one in a series of recent cases 
sending a message that campus crimes — particularly
sex crimes — cannot be kept as quiet, or treated as
lightly, as they once were. Administrators have been
fired from several colleges and universities that failed
to report 
assaults or treat them seriously, including
Ken Starr, 
who was removed last year as president
of Baylor

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Climate change? Major TV networks ignoring the story

Kate Yoder writes for Grist:

Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

That’s a dramatic, 66-percent drop in coverage from 2015 across evening and Sunday news programs airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, according to a new study from Media Matters. ABC, for one, spent just six minutes on climate issues in 2016.
Media Matters
The networks can’t claim there was a shortage of important climate stories to cover. Hurricane Matthew, the Great Barrier Reef’s continued slow deathrecord-shattering heat, and the official beginning of the Paris climate deal all took place last year.
Interestingly, the coverage drop doesn’t seem to be an election-year phenomenon. In fact, climate coverage increased by 43 percent during the previous election cycle, between 2011 and 2012.
Media Matters
Other insights from the study:
  • Together, the networks aired five segments of climate science denial from Trump and his team — without rebuttal.
  • No network covered climate change’s impact on national security or the economy.
  • And none of them aired a single segment on the effect a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on the climate — until after the election.
Great to know that TV news is taking the defining issue of our time so seriously.
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