Federal bank regulator proposes first climate risk guidance

Read the full story at The Hill.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) on Thursday proposed the first-ever federal climate guidance for banks.

The guidance would be used to identify and manage risks relating to climate change or ecological disaster at any national bank or other OCC-governed institution with more than $100 billion in assets.

The US is making plans to replace all of its lead water pipes from coast to coast

Workers prepare to install new water pipes in Walnut Creek, California, on April 22, 2021. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

by Gabriel Filippelli, IUPUI

The Biden administration has released a plan to accelerate removal of lead water pipes and lead paint from U.S. homes. As a geochemist and environmental health researcher who has studied the heartbreaking impacts of lead poisoning in children for decades, I am happy to see high-level attention paid to this silent killer, which disproportionately affects poor communities of color.

Childhood lead poisoning has declined significantly in the U.S. over the past 50 years. That’s largely due to the elimination of leaded gasoline in the 1980s and the banning of most lead-based paints.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 10 million households and 400,000 schools and child care centers have service lines or other fixtures that contain lead. These pipes are ticking time bombs that can leach toxic lead into drinking water if they corrode. As long as they remain in service, children and families are vulnerable.

The same is true of lead paint, which is still present in many homes built before consumer use of lead paint was banned in 1978. Because it tastes sweet, children sometimes chew on paint chips or painted wood.

The Biden administration will spend US$15 billion from the recently enacted infrastructure bill to replace lead service lines, faucets and fixtures over the next five years and is seeking additional money in the pending Build Back Better Act to reduce lead hazards in public housing and low-income communities. I see this as a key priority, since Black children and children living in poverty have average blood lead levels that are 13% higher than the national average.

Lead poisoning does permanent damage

Lead poisoning is a major public health problem because lead has permanent impacts on the brain, particularly in children. Young brains are still actively forming the amazing network of neurons that comprise their hardware.

Neurons are designed to use calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, as a transmitter to rapidly pass signals. Lead molecules look a lot like calcium molecules, so if they are present in a child’s body, they can penetrate the brain, impair neuron development and cause permanent neural damage.

Children with lead poisoning have lower IQs, poor memory recall, high rates of attention deficit disorder and low impulse control. They tend to perform poorly at school, which reduces their earning potential as adults. They also face increased risk of kidney disease, stroke and hypertension as they age. Research has found strong connections between lead poisoning and incarceration for violent crimes.

Today researchers estimate that about 500,000 U.S. children still have elevated blood lead levels. Health experts widely agree that there is no known “safe” blood lead concentration.

Where are the lead pipes?

The Biden administration’s plan calls for replacing 100% of lead service lines across the nation – a goal that the EPA aims to write into regulations by 2024. Step 1 is finding the pipes.

Most U.S. cities have countless miles of lead service lines buried beneath streets and sidewalks and feeding into people’s homes. Utilities don’t know where many of these aging lines are and don’t have enough data to map them. Replacing them will require significant analysis, modeling, data and some guesswork.

Old service lines have caused lead poisoning outbreaks in such places as Washington, D.C.; Flint, Michigan; and Newark, New Jersey. The chemistry is a bit different in each case.

Worker standing in a trench dug in the street hands a piece of pipe to a colleague.
Workers remove water service lines in Trenton, New Jersey, on Jan. 9, 2020. The city is replacing 37,000 lead pipes over five years. AP Photo/Mike Catalini

Lead service lines typically develop a protective “plaque” of minerals on their inside walls after a short time, which effectively separates the toxic lead pipe from the water flowing through it. This coating, which is called scale, remains stable if the chemistry of the water coursing through it doesn’t change. But if that chemistry is altered, disaster can ensue.

In 2002, Washington, D.C., shifted from chlorine to chloramine for treating its water supply. Chloramine is a more modern disinfectant that does not form dangerous reactive chlorinated byproducts as chlorine can.

This rapidly corroded the protective plaque lining the city’s pipes, flushing highly absorbable lead into homes. Tens of thousands of children were exposed over two years before the problem was adequately identified and fixed.

In Flint, state-appointed managers decided to save money during a fiscal crisis in 2014 by switching from Detroit water to water from the Flint River. But regulators did not require enough chemical analysis to determine what additives should be used to maintain the pipe plaque. And they skipped the typical step of adding phosphate, which binds chemically with lead and prevents it from leaching out of pipes, in order to save about $100 per day.

Corrosion chemistry is well controlled in many U.S. cities, but it is not a perfect science. And utilities don’t always have detection systems that adequately alert water suppliers to dangers at the tap. That’s why removing lead pipes is the only sure way to avoid the threat of more water crises.

Households can use some basic tests to identify water pipes that may be made of lead.

Cities will need to innovate

While $15 billion is a big investment, experts agree that it’s not enough to replace all lead pipes nationwide. For example, the estimated cost of replacing all of Flint’s lead service lines is about $50 million – and there are thousands of U.S. cities to fix.

My own city, Indianapolis, has a population of about 850,000 – about 10 times larger than Flint – and officials have only a rough idea of where to find the lead service lines. There are ways to statistically model the likelihood that a given portion of the water system has lead service lines, using information such as water main sizes, locations and construction dates, but they are imperfect.

Cities will need to get creative to make whatever funds they get go as far as possible. As one example, I am working with colleagues to develop a citizen science project that will provide thousands of tests for lead at taps around Indianapolis. This effort, a partnership with the University of Notre Dame funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, may augment modeling with real data on levels of lead in homes, and will increase public awareness of this issue.

In spite of these challenges, I believe more urgency on this issue is long overdue. Every lead pipe that’s replaced will pay off in higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of illness for families that gain access to safer tap water.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 4, 2021.

by Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Resale is making gains in December holiday gift shopping

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

Resale has taken off among those looking to save the planet and spend less on gifts during what can be the most wasteful time of the year — the December holidays. This year’s supply chain delays have provided extra motivation.

The average person’s daily choices can still make a big difference in fighting climate change – and getting governments and utilities to tackle it, too

Reducing household energy use can contribute to slowing climate change. Westend61 via Getty Images

by Tom Ptak, Texas State University

The average American’s everyday interactions with energy sources are limited. They range from turning appliances on or off, to commuting, to paying utility bills.

The connections between those acts and rising global temperatures may seem distant.

However, individuals hold many keys to unlocking solutions to climate change – the biggest challenge our species currently faces – which is perhaps why the fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading and misinforming the public about it.

I’m an assistant professor of geography and environmental studies at Texas State University. My research explores how geography affects the complex relationships between societies, energy and contemporary environmental challenges. I’ve found that the human element is critical for developing creative, effective and sustainable solutions to climate challenges.

There’s a large and growing body of evidence showing that individuals can have a major impact on climate change in a number of ways. Citizen action can compel utilities to increase renewable energy and governments to enact strong climate action laws. When enough individuals make changes that lower daily household energy consumption, huge emissions reductions can result. Consumer demand can compel businesses to pursue climate and environmental sustainability.

These actions combined could bridge the “emissions gap”: the significant difference between the greenhouse gas emissions expected globally and how much they need to drop in the next few decades to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Climate change is outracing government action

People have worked for decades to slow climate change by altering national energy policies. Several states, for example, have renewable portfolio standards for utilities that require them to increase their use of renewable energy.

But 30 years of evidence from international climate talks suggests that even when nations commit on paper to reducing emissions, they seldom achieve those cuts.

The United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is the latest example. Researchers have found that many countries’ pledges have been developed using flawed data.

People are also increasingly talking about geoengineering solutions for climate change. The idea is that over the coming decades, researchers will find ways to manipulate the environment to absorb more carbon pollution. However, some experts argue that geoengineering could be environmentally catastrophic. Also, there’s significant doubt that technological “draw down” interventions can be perfected and scaled up soon enough to make a difference.

So if government, technology or geoengineering aren’t good answers, what are?

Citizen action

Pledges, goals and targets for shifting from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources are only as good as the efforts by utilities and governments to reach them. Citizen participation and action have proved effective at compelling decision-makers to act. For example, scholars studying the economic, political and social dynamics that led five U.S. municipalities to adopt 100% renewable energy found that grassroots citizen advocacy was one of the key factors that drove the change.

According to the Sierra Club, through citizen-driven action, over 180 cities, more than 10 counties and eight U.S. states have made commitments to transitioning to 100% renewable energy. Consequently, over 100 million U.S residents already live in a community with a 100% renewable energy target.

Citizens have also been taking collective action at the ballot box. For example, in 2019, after New York City voters elected a more climate conscious City Council, the city enacted an ambitious emissions reduction law, and has since begun to enforce it. Also in 2019, after voters similarly shook up the state legislature, New York state enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Among the nation’s strongest climate change laws, New York’s measure mandates that the state shift to 100% renewable energy by 2040 and that its emissions from all sources drop 40% by 2040 and 85% by 2050.

Consumer demand

How and where people spend their money can also influence corporate behavior. Companies and utilities are changing their products and production practices as consumers increasingly demand that they produce ecologically sustainable products and lower their carbon footprints. Scholars have documented that consumer boycotts negatively affect the wealth of a corporation’s shareholders – which in turn can create pressure for a firm to change in response.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has reported that thanks to surging consumer awareness and demand, more than 565 companies have publicly pledged to slash their carbon emissions. Some of the world’s biggest brands have responded to this pressure with claims of already being powered by 100% renewable energy, including Google and Apple.

Google put its global economic might behind climate solutions when it announced in 2019 that it would support the growth of renewable energy resources by making solar and wind energy deals worth US$2 billion.

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One drawback to consumer demand-driven action is that it’s often unclear how to hold these firms accountable for their promises. Recently, two impact investing experts suggested in Vox that since around 137 million Americans own stock in publicly traded companies, they could use their collective power as shareholders to make sure companies follow through.

Shifting household energy behavior

A substantial body of research shows that small changes to everyday behaviors can significantly reduce energy demand. This may be the biggest way individuals and families can contribute to lowering fossil fuel consumption and reducing carbon emissions.

These steps include weatherization and using energy-efficient appliances, as well as energy efficiency measures such as turning down thermostats, washing laundry with cold water and air-drying it rather than using a dryer.

So is shifting transportation behavior. Using public transportation, car pooling, riding a bicycle or walking can significantly reduce individual and cumulative emissions.

People ride bicycles across a roadway as cars wait.
Choosing to ride a bicycle, walk or take public transit rather than drive can significantly lower a person’s greenhouse gas emissions. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

So since most governments aren’t acting quickly enough, and many technology and geoengineering solutions are still unproven or come with high risks, emission reduction goals won’t be achieved without incorporating additional strategies.

The evidence is clear that these strategies should include millions of average people factoring climate change into their everyday activities regarding their communities, purchases and personal energy use.

As the environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in 2006 about dealing with climate change, “There are no silver bullets, only silver buckshot.”

Tom Ptak, Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Texas State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How you make a map of the trillions of miles of invisible fungus networks that give our soil life

Read the full story at Fast Company.

A network of mycelium runs through all the world’s dirt, helping plants grow and sequestering carbon. A massive citizen science project to visualize these ‘coral reefs of the soil’ is designed to help efforts to save it.

City claims Google’s water use is a trade secret and exempt from Oregon’s public records laws

Read the full story at Crowell Trade Secret Trends.

In a case pitting Wasco County, Oregon residents and a newspaper against the City of Dalles, Oregon, a court will decide whether a public interest exception in a state law will mandate the disclosure of potential trade secrets. After a reporter from The Oregonian inquired into Google’s water use, the City of Dalles (“Dalles”) filed a Complaint against both the reporter and the newspaper (the “Defendants”) seeking declaratory relief, requesting that the court declare Google’s water use a trade secret under Oregon’s Public Records Law, ORS 192.311 et seq, and the Oregon Uniform Trade Secrets Act, ORS 646.461 et seq. As described below, the issue is whether Google’s water use is a trade secret, and if so, if the public interest exception, which may permit public disclosure of trade secrets, applies.

Hotter summer days mean more Sierra Nevada wildfires, study finds

Read the full story in the New York Times.

The research adds to a growing body of work finding that climate change is increasing fire risk in California and elsewhere in the West.

New Acosta survey shows why sustainability sells

Read the full story at Progressive Grocer.

65% of shoppers want retailers to invest more in climate-friendly practices.

Energy-efficient infrastructure projects hold a key opportunity for contractors

Read the full story at Construction Dive.

The largely underutilized 179D tax deduction rewards building designs and enhancements that will be widespread in environmentally-sound infrastructure projects.

Ikea says it will eliminate plastic packaging by 2028

Read the full story at Fast Company.

As part of the company’s goal to become fully circular, it needs to work to eliminate the 10% of its packaging that still uses plastic.