Trump Pushes For Further Environmental Deregulation During Final Weeks in Office

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Nicole Welle | November 19, 2020

The Trump administration is using its final weeks to push through dozens of environmental rollbacks that weaken protections for migratory birds, expand arctic drilling and increase future threats to public health.

One proposed change would restrict criminal prosecution for industries that cause the deaths of migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 currently protects over 1,000 species of bird including hawks and other birds of prey, and it is used to recover damages in situations like the BP oil spill in 2010 that killed more than 100,00 seabirds, according to an AP article. The Trump administrations wants to ensure that companies face no criminal liability for preventable deaths such as this in the future. Officials advanced bird treaty changes to the white house two days after news organizations declared Joe Biden’s win.

Another recent proposal put forth by the Trump administration would set emission standards for dangerous particles of pollution emitted by refineries and other industrial sources. Others would allow mining and drilling on public lands around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico and in Alaska.

Most of these proposed changes directly benefit gas and oil industries, and some of them could be difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to reverse once he takes office. Biden could easily reverse some with executive action, but others, like putting protected lands up for sale or lease, could pose a bigger challenge.

Most of the proposed changes will go quickly through the approval process. It is not unusual for presidents to push rule changes through at the tail end of their terms, but many environmentalists and former officials believe this environmental deregulation reflects a pro-industry agenda taken to the extreme. It could have serious negative impacts on the safety of imperiled wildlife, climate change and human health.

Trump Administration Auctions Land in Wildlife Refugee

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Maxwell Bernstein | November 18, 2020

As of Tuesday, the Trump administration auctioned off development rights for land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to allow oil and gas companies to drill, according to NPR.

The Bureau of Land Management will receive all nominations and comments on the tracts of land before Dec. 17, 2020, according to the official “Call for Nominations and Comments for the Coastal Plain Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale.”  

The Arctic refuge’s coastal plain, the region that is being auctioned, is about 1.6 million acres of land where caribou migrate, polar bears den, and migratory birds feed. 

In 63 days president-elect Joe Biden will take office on Jan. 20, 2021, making this auction a last push for the Trump administration to benefit oil and gas companies.  

Are We Already Past the Point of No Return for Climate Change?

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Nicole Welle | November 16, 2020

A new study found that global temperatures may continue to rise for hundreds of years even after humans completely cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Authors of the study, which was published Thursday in the British Journal Scientific Reports, wrote that the only way to stop global warming would be to eliminate human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and find a way to extract huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, according to an article in USA Today.

The scientists used a model to study the effect of greenhouse gas emission reductions on the Earth’s climate from the year 1850 to 2500. They then created projections of global temperatures and sea level rises. The model showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions at any point in the future will not be enough if it is the only tool humans employ to combat rising temperatures and sea levels.

As the burning of fossil fuels release gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, global temperatures increase. This causes Arctic ice and carbon-containing permafrost to melt, a process that releases even more carbon into the atmosphere and reduces the ability of Earth’s surface to reflect sunlight. Human action triggered these processes, and they will continue to warm the earth unless humans capture carbon in the atmosphere and make the Earth’s surface brighter, according to the study’s authors.

This study was an important thought experiment, but some environmental experts are skeptical about the accuracy of its results. Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann said that the computer model used was too simple and failed to accurately represent large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns that could affect the results.

Regardless of the results’ accuracy, this study still reflects on the importance of finding ways to combat climate change even after global emissions reach net zero. The authors also urge other scientists to follow up and expand on their work.

Diversifying Crops Benefits Environment and Farmers

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Maxwell Bernstein | November 13, 2020

new study from an international team of researchers found that diversifying crops, “enhances biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and water regulation without compromising crop yields.”

Midwestern agriculture is heavily reliant on soybeans and corn. Diversification practices include crop rotations, planting prairie strips along and within fields, creating wildlife habitats near fields, reducing tillage, and using organic matter to enrich soil.

These practices can improve water quality, pollination, pest regulation, nutrient turnover, and reduce sequestered carbon in the soil, according to AG Daily.

Showing that these practices might increase crop yields might encourage farmers to take up these practices Matt Liebman, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State, said in AG Daily.  

Environmentalists Hope Biden’s Win will Improve Iowa’s Renewable Energy Industries

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Nicole Welle | November 12, 2020

Iowa environmental advocates are celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win and say that his presidency could boost Iowa’s renewable energy industry and environmental protection efforts.

The Iowa Environmental Council is interested in seeing the Biden administration increase federal opportunities that expand solar and wind development, promote the construction of transmission lines to deliver clean energy from Iowa to the rest of the U.S., and push policies that promote sustainable farming practices. Iowa has been heavily impacted by storms and flooding events in recent years, so the council also hopes to see policies that will encourage the adoption of a more resilient infrastructure, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Angelisa Belden, a council spokesperson, says that she expects the Biden administration to reverse the Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation efforts from the last four years. The council is also focussing closely on who Biden will appoint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They disapprove of Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the EPA, because of his close ties to the coal and oil industries.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club also endorsed Biden during the presidential race. They, along with other environmentalists across the state, believe Biden’s bold plans to address climate change will aid them in their own efforts to transition the state to clean energy and protect natural resources, and they look forward to his first days in office.

President-elect Joe Biden Gets to Work

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Maxwell Bernstein | November 11, 2020

After Joe Biden’s election victory with a 4.3% margin on the popular vote, president-elect Joe Biden began to form a coronavirus task force to deal with the pandemic after his oath of office on Jan. 20.  

The president-elect will spend the first 100 days in office working on the pandemic, police reform, racial inequality, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and fixing environmental issues, according to an in-depth look into Biden’s first 100 days from NPR.  

When it comes to environmental issues, Biden will reenter the Paris climate accord of 2015 on day 1 of his presidency and begin his $2 trillion climate plan. Biden’s $2 trillion plan to create job growth through investing in green infrastructure and businesses could very well be implemented in Biden’s coronavirus economic stimulus. 

Quick Things President-elect Joe Biden Could Do for the Environment Once He Takes Office

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Nicole Welle | November 9, 2020

The AP announced Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner of the 2020 presidential race on Saturday, and the early days of his presidency will likely see a lot of positive climate action.

Biden campaigned on an ambitious climate platform, promising to spend $2 trillion during his first term on reducing fossil fuel emissions and converting to clean energy. Some of his more ambitious plans could be stalled if the senate remains in republican control, but his first days as president are likely to see a number of executive actions and strong pushes to put clean energy provisions into legislation, according to the New York Times.

Here are some actions Biden is likely to take during his first 100 days as president.

  1. Rejoin the Paris climate agreement

Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement immediately after taking office. The United States officially withdrew from the agreement on November 4, over three years after Donald Trump first announced the move in June of 2017. However, the U.S. will be able to rejoin the agreement 30 days after Biden submits a formal letter to the UN. Biden also plans to assemble a “climate world summit” to press leaders of the world’s top industrial countries to more aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Reverse Trump’s executive orders

Biden will likely reverse most or all of the executive orders Trump signed that rolled back environmental regulations. This could include reinstating fuel economy standards, revoking the permit authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project, and reversing Trump’s “America First” strategy that aimed at opening up U.S. waters to energy and gas drilling, according to a National Geographic article. Biden also promised to sign an executive order on his first day in office to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030.

3. Create an environmental justice advisory board

Environmental justice became a central part of Biden’s platform during his campaign. Addressing the effects of pollution and climate change on low-income and minority communities would involve a multi-step process, but Biden could quickly create an environmental justice advisory board tasked with coordinating decisive action and policies. These could include establishing pollution monitoring in vulnerable communities and creating mapping tools to better understand current disparities.

4. Add clean energy to coronavirus relief

Biden is likely to add clean energy provisions to any new economic stimulus measures he puts before congress. These could include funding clean energy research and development, supporting continued renewable energy expansion for states, and extending tax credits for renewable energy industries.

Truck Carrying 40,000 Pounds of Fertilizer Rolled Over

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Maxwell Bernstein | November 6, 2020

On Tuesday, a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of fertilizer rolled over about two miles south of Wadena in Fayette County, killing fish in a tributary of Brush Creek, according to the Iowa DNR

The truck was operated by Nutrien Ag Solutions of West Union, according to the Des Moines Register. DNR investigators found dead fish and high levels of ammonia in the water. 

Nutrien Ag and DNR worked to clean up the spill after damming the tributary to diverted clean stream water. The DNR is monitoring the cleanup while fisheries staff are checking downstream. 

Iowa DNR said that they are continuing to investigate and will consider appropriate enforcement options against Nutrien Ag if needed, according to the DNR and KCRG.

United States Formally Withdraws from Paris Agreement

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Nicole Welle | November 5, 2020

The United States became the first nation to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement on Wednesday, the day after election day.

Trump announced the plan to withdraw back in June of 2017, but there are UN regulations in place that prevented the decision from taking effect until this week. Previous attempts to create a global pact for climate change failed because of internal U.S. politics, so President Obama’s negotiators worked with the UN to agree on a set of regulations that would prevent the U.S. from withdrawing too early in the case of a change in leadership. The rules stated that no country could leave the agreement until three years had passed since the date it was ratified. Once those three years had passed, countries needed to submit a 12-month notice to the UN. Because of these rules, Trump could not submit a formal notice until November of 2019, according to a BBC News article.

The Paris agreement requires participating nations to set their own targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and they must increase those goals every few years. The accord does not determine what those goals have to be, but countries are required to accurately report on their efforts. The overall goal is to keep rising average temperatures globally below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a euronews article.

While Donald Trump made leaving the Paris agreement part of his election platform in 2016 and many of his supporters agree with the move, a large percentage of Americans are deeply disappointed by the decision. The U.S. currently represents about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The decision to leave the agreement has hurt the country’s reputation globally, and Many Americans believe that the U.S. should be leading the fight against climate change because it is such a large contributor.

The results of the 2020 presidential election are not yet decided, but Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement on his first day in office if he is elected.

“Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it,” Biden said in a Tweet on Wednesday.

National Stress Awareness Day

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Maxwell Bernstein | November 4, 2020

The first Wednesday in November is Stress Awareness Day, and it happens that this year’s National Stress Awareness Day is occurring during a close election and a once in a century pandemic. 

Whether your stress is induced by COVID-19, the election, environmental issues, or any other factor, the Cleveland Clinic has a list of stress-relieving tips that you can apply during stressful situations. 

The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people, eat and drink to optimize health, exercise regularly, stop using nicotine products, practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation, reduce triggers of stress, examine your values and take action that reflects them, say no when necessary, set realistic goals and expectations, and remind yourself of what you are doing well. 

If getting out of the house is a way to destress, you can check out the Iowa DNR list of state parks and go on a hike in the trails. For further resources, check out the CDC’s guide for coping with stress during the pandemic.