Gas flares tied to premature deaths

Read the full story from Rice University.

Engineers suggest that flaring of natural gas at oil and gas fields in the United States, primarily in North Dakota and Texas, contributed to dozens of premature deaths in 2019.

High-profile trial begins for chemical engineer accused of hiding China ties

Read the full story in Nature.

Franklin Tao’s trial is the first since the controversial China Initiative ended, and could set a course for the prosecution of future research integrity cases.

See also ‘I lost two years of my life’: US scientist falsely accused of hiding ties to China speaks out, also in Nature.

Building Energy Education (BEE) Fundamentals Training Program

Energy efficiency index ratings from a-f, Model house, stack of $100 bills, and calculator

The University of Illinois Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) , in partnership with the State Energy Offices of Illinois, Nevada, and Hawaii, is launching the Building Energy Education Fundamentals Training Program.

They are kicking off the launch with a series of webinars in each state, which will target college instructors, industry professionals, and building code officials. They will be introducing the curriculum and providing information about 21st century energy efficiency training needs.

Following the launch webinars, SEDAC will host a special workshop for instructors who plan to utilize the curriculum in their training programs.

Register for the webinars and the Train the Trainer workshop on SEDAC’s website.

SEC proposes far-reaching climate disclosure rules for companies – here’s where the rules may be vulnerable to legal challenges

Idling trucks
The SEC’s proposed rules include some reporting of so-called Scope 3 emissions, in companies’ supply chains and use of their products. AP Photo/Noah Berger

by Daniel E. Walters, Penn State and William M. Manson, Penn State

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission released its long-awaited proposal to require companies to disclose their climate risks to investors, and it’s arguably the most significant action on climate change yet under the Biden administration.

SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee called it a “watershed moment for investors and financial markets.” It is also a win for President Joe Biden, whose other climate efforts have struggled. A year ago, Biden appointed an SEC chairman, Gary Gensler, who supports climate disclosures in principle.

The proposed requirements, once finalized, could help climate-conscious investors more accurately direct their money to businesses that are responding to climate risks, simultaneously strengthening both markets and the nation’s climate response.

But the proposal has a long way to go before it can make the transformative changes it aims for. We study climate regulation and business law and have closely tracked debates over the proposal. Here’s what you need to know.

What the rule would do

If the SEC votes to finalize the rule after a public comment period, it would standardize, extend and mandate disclosure requirements that the SEC encouraged in a guidance document back in 2010.

As the 510-page notice released on March 21, 2022, makes clear, companies would be expected to include a laundry list of items in their regular filings with the SEC: information on the company’s “oversight and governance of climate-related risks,” any expected climate-related risks it faces in the future, any transition plans the business has developed, and data on certain greenhouse gas emissions linked to the company’s operations, among other things.

Gensler said the proposal draws from the approach of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, which several countries have adopted. But the proposal is still noticeably less stringent than the European Union’s regulations.

In the leadup to the release of the SEC’s proposal, supporters and opponents speculated about whether so-called Scope 3 emissions would be required. Under the terms of the proposal, the answer is a resounding “maybe.”

A company’s Scope 3 emissions result from activities of third parties, such as the emissions produced by its suppliers or, ultimately, by its consumers. As the SEC pointed out, these emissions can “represent a majority of the carbon footprint for many companies.”

Lists of examples of Scope 1, 2, 3 emissions sources with an illustration of a factory in the center
What Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions involve. Chester Hawkin/Center for American Progress

While all registered companies would be required to disclose their own direct greenhouse emissions, such as emissions from manufacturing processes, as well as indirect emissions through the use of energy – Scopes 1 and 2, respectively – only some companies would need to report Scope 3 emissions under the proposal.

The proposal would exempt “small reporting companies” from Scope 3 reporting. It would allow large companies to withhold Scope 3 emissions data when the company determines that the data are not “material” to investors or if the company doesn’t have Scope 3 emissions targets or goals.

Public interest groups wanted the SEC to require disclosure of even non-material Scope 3 emissions, while industry groups pushed for the SEC to forgo any Scope 3 emissions mandate. The SEC appears to have split the baby.

It’s not over ‘til it’s over

The SEC’s proposal initiates what can be a perilous process of public vetting before the rule goes into effect.

First, the SEC will take public comments on the proposal for the next 60 days. The agency received about 600 unique comments in its request for information before issuing the proposal. Now, with more details available, there should be substantially more engagement. When the Federal Communications Commission took public comment on its proposal to roll back net neutrality rules, it received almost 22 million comments.

The SEC should expect to receive extensive comments both from opponents of any regulation and public interest groups that want more stringent regulations.

Under standard administrative law principles, the SEC must consider and respond to any important arguments or data presented by public commenters. If it gets even a fraction of the comments the FCC got, this process could easily take half a year.

By design, this process is supposed to allow the SEC to change the terms of the proposal, although it cannot change the proposal so much that the public would not have understood during the comment period what the final rule would do.

The courts lie in wait

Now that the terms of the proposed rule are in place, it is easier to see where legal vulnerabilities might be.

Industries are likely to take issue with the SEC’s estimates of the costs companies will face to comply with the rules. The SEC’s proposal states that the cost could be “relatively small” if companies already provide similar information. The SEC will have to defend that assertion carefully.

In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out an SEC rule on the grounds that it failed to adequately consider economic costs of compliance. Although that ruling has been widely criticized for imposing a cost-benefit analysis requirement that is not required by law, the U.S. Supreme Court seems sympathetic to such a requirement.

Another vulnerability will stem from the SEC’s approach to Scope 3 emissions.

Both industries and public interest groups are likely to argue that the SEC misunderstood its statutory authorization – either because it included Scope 3 emissions or because it believed it was limited to “material” emissions, respectively. Or challengers could argue that SEC failed to fully analyze policy considerations favoring a different approach. How well the SEC responds to critical comments will be important when the courts are asked to decide if the SEC acted in an arbitrary or capricious or unlawful manner.

Finally, it is possible that the matter is out of the SEC’s hands. Some critics have suggested that the regulation of climate disclosures is too important a question for regulators and belongs with Congress. Courts have sometimes shown skepticism toward agency actions that present so-called “major questions,” including those related to climate change.

If the courts view climate disclosure as a major question, they may vacate the rule even if the SEC has strongly supported its approach.

A long way to go

The SEC has taken a major step that could boost the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, but whether it will be able to navigate a treacherous administrative and legal process without changing its approach remains to be seen.

The notice of proposed rulemaking is usually just the opening offer in an ongoing negotiation over the rule.

Daniel E. Walters, Assistant Professor of Law, Penn State and William M. Manson, Law Student, Penn State

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

We need nature-positive solutions to address the climate crisis

Read the full story at Ensia.

“Nature-Based Solutions” and “Natural Climate Solutions” leave too much room for greenwashing

Drinking water can be a dangerous cocktail for people in flood areas

by Ian Wright, Western Sydney University

Parts of south east Queensland and northern NSW have been experiencing what has been called a “rain bomb”. Despite the heavy falls, south eastern Queenslanders in Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and the Lockyer Valley have been asked to conserve drinking water.

Water authorities explained extreme weather and heavy rain forced the closure of two SEQ drinking water treatment plants (Mt Crosby and North Pine Water Treatment Plants) early on Sunday morning. North Pine has since restarted and the Gold Coast Desalination plant is supplementing supply.

People living in areas experiencing flooding, particularly in south east Queensland, can help by using a minimum of tap water. This will help authorities reserve supply as they work to return their water treatment system to normal.

But what could have caused this in a time of excess of water?

Dangerous waters

After an already wetter than normal summer, very heavy rain on saturated catchments has quickly generated dangerous volumes of flood waters.

The high energy and velocity of flood waters is causing erosion of soil and, in turn, river banks. As a result, SEQ Water estimates the cloudiness in raw water has increased by up to 100 times the normal amount.

Pictures and footage of flood waters, show it a milky chocolate brown. This is a dangerous sight to those in the water industry and raises concerns if it enters their water supply.

People should be very wary of wading into flood waters as they are often highly contaminated with disease causing germs from human and animal faecal wastes. Urban sewage systems may also overflow in times of wet weather and flood.

Cloudiness in water causes major problems for drinking water too. Referred to as “turbidity” in the water industry, it is caused by solid particulates in water. This suspended matter might be soil, silt or clay.

The dirty water can create significant problems for treatment of clean and safe drinking water. In particular, dirty water can overwhelm various stages of the treatment system, for example, by clogging filters. It can also reduce the effectiveness of water disinfection.

High standards

A particularly important process in treatment of drinking water is the addition of chlorine, sometimes in combination with other chemicals. This helps ensure water is free of disease-causing germs by the time it travels through pipes to the tap in your home. Effective treatment of drinking water results in water free of any cloudiness. Water has to have “crystal clear” turbidity for disinfection to be effective.

Australian drinking water suppliers are required to meet the highest standards of safe and clean drinking water quality. They need to comply with an extensive series of stringent protocols covered by the Australian Drinking water Guidelines. If they are unable to meet the standards at any time, they need to notify their customers.

For example, after bad storms hit Victoria in June last year, storm damage to water infrastructure allowed potential contamination to enter the system. This led Yarra Valley Water to issue a warning to customers in some suburbs not to drink tap water at all. Unusually, the authorities warned customers that boiling water would “not remove contaminants” to make it safe to drink.

When such suspected water contamination enters the drinking water system, the entire system needs to be flushed. Extensive water testing is then conducted before the “all clear” is given to drink tap water again. In the case of the Yarra Valley Water, this process took two days.

A changing climate

Experts have long warned Australia’s water security is under threat due to climate change.

As with flooding, bushfires too can cause problems for drinking water supply. Heavy rain, storms and flooding after bushfires are a very bad combination. Bushfires can produce burnt residue with high nutrients, metals and many other contaminants.

There were several water quality problems after Australia’s Black summer bushfires, including fears for the quality of water in Sydney’s largest water storage facility: Warragamba Dam.

This was due to high intensity bushfires removing catchment vegetation. Then heavy rains and flooding carried loose ash, soil and debris into the storage reservoir.

Clean-up after such an event can be very difficult. Contaminants may be filtered from streams and containment booms deployed on rivers and storages to collect floating debris.

Be prepared

If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water it pays to think ahead.

Firstly, watch for reports about water quality problems in the media, from health authorities or from your water supplier. If flooding is coming your way, consider filling up some large containers of water from the tap, just in case!

If you live in a low-lying location – that is, on a floodplain, near a river, close to sea or ground-level, where flooding is more likely – be prepared. As well as packing some clothes and food in case of flooding or other natural disaster, pack some containers of clean drinking water. You may not have much warning that a “rain bomb” is coming your way.

Given the already soaked landscape from such a wet summer, flood waters will likely rise far more quickly than expected. Be guided by the helpful list prepared by the SES on the preparations and supplies you should have ready, but hopefully won’t need, in case of flood.

If you are in an area that is already flooded, follow the advice from authorities on safe drinking water, whether it requires boiling or avoiding altogether.

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

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

Update on FDA’s continuing efforts to understand and reduce exposure to PFAS from foods

Read the full story in Quality Assurance Magazine.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new test results that are part of its work to better understand and reduce potential exposure to PFAS from foods. The agency also shared an update on the progress of the voluntary market phase-out of certain short-chain PFAS used in food packaging.

How are the biggest bread players tackling sustainability?

Read the full story at British Baker.

According to some of the biggest names in bread, protecting the environment is written into the DNA of the industry.

New, nature-inspired concepts for turning CO2 into clean fuels

Read the full story from the University of Cambridge.

Researchers have developed an efficient concept to turn carbon dioxide into clean, sustainable fuels, without any unwanted by-products or waste.

A sustainable view of packaging in 2022 and beyond

Read the full story at Label & Narrow Web.

To achieve a low carbon impact, brands must engage the entire supply chain for a life cycle assessment of the carbon footprint for each of their products.