Biden revisions to the NEPA regulations now in effect

Read the full story in the National Law Review.

The Biden Administration is amending the federal regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to reverse certain changes made by the Trump Administration. The first set of amendments took effect last Friday on May 20, 2022.

U.S. DOE offers targeted technical assistance for manufacturers in former coal communities

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the launch of the Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program. Funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program will help small- to medium-sized manufacturers employ carbon-reduction retrofits, convert their facilities, or build new facilities to produce or recycle advanced energy technologies. The Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program is the start of an enhanced investment in regions where coal mines or power plants have closed.  

Today’s announcement sets the stage for potential applicants to receive technical assistance before applying to the grant program. Resources from the new grant program will boost employment opportunities for underserved and overburdened communities and workers impacted by changes in the energy economy—including closed coal mines, power plants, and manufacturing facilities—crucial to the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to an equitable clean energy transition.   

The Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program will provide technical assistance and grants to small- and medium-sized manufacturers in former coal communities, with priority given to minority-owned manufacturers. The program provides $750 million for grants to expand or establish manufacturing or recycling facilities for the production or recycling of advanced energy technologies (including clean electricity, industrial decarbonization, clean transportation, and clean fuels), or to re-equip existing manufacturing facilities with equipment designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

As a first step, DOE is providing tailored technical assistance to eligible manufacturers interested in seeking a grant under the program. DOE experts are available to help manufacturers assess what types of assistance would be most impactful based on an individual company’s priorities and challenges. Assistance opportunities focus on assessing eligibility, enhancing the impact of projects that may be supported under this new grant program, and connecting manufacturers to existing programs and resources.     

Interested entities can submit a short form for initial consideration and to determine eligibility. Significantly expanded technical assistance, grants, and other new resources focused on retooling existing manufacturing facilities and establishing new facilities to make clean energy products will become available in later stages. 

Manufacturing is a key driver of the U.S. economy and a large factor in the prospect for economic growth. Leveraging billions of dollars in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and existing agency efforts, DOE is committed to supporting high-paying jobs for low-income communities and dislocated energy workers by making transformative investments in new manufacturing infrastructure for advanced energy technologies, as well as helping existing manufacturers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Visit DOE’s website to learn more.

Using excess heat to improve electrolyzers and fuel cells

Read the full story from MIT.

Reducing the use of fossil fuels will have unintended consequences for the power-generation industry and beyond. For example, many industrial chemical processes use fossil-fuel byproducts as precursors to things like asphalt, glycerine, and other important chemicals. One solution to reduce the impact of the loss of fossil fuels on industrial chemical processes is to store and use the heat that nuclear fission produces. New MIT research has dramatically improved a way to put that heat toward generating chemicals through a process called electrolysis. 

Linking protected areas from Yellowstone to the Yukon shows the value of conserving large landscapes, not just isolated parks and preserves

Fresh grizzly bear tracks in Yellowstone National Park. Jacob W. Frank, NPS/Flickr

by Charles C. Chester, Brandeis University and Mark Hebblewhite, The University of Montana

As human development spreads ever farther around the world, very few large ecosystems remain relatively intact and uninterrupted by highways, cities or other human-constructed obstacles. One of the largest exceptions is the Yellowstone to Yukon region, or Y2Y, which stretches more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) northwest from Wyoming into Canada’s Yukon territory.

For the past 30 years conservationists have worked to knit this huge stretch of land together under the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Y2Y seeks to make room for wildlife in connected landscapes that give animals the ability to move across large areas – whether they are following age-old migration patterns or responding to a changing climate.

Throughout this huge region, hundreds of partners – conservation groups, private landowners, businesses, government agencies, tribes and scientists – have worked to knit landscapes together and make it possible for animals to move across it. Participants have constructed wildlife road crossings, conducted “bear aware” campaigns to reduce clashes between people and animals, placed conservation easements on private lands and supported Indigenous efforts to protect sacred spaces.

Map showing protected areas in the Y2Y region
The Y2Y Initiative envisions an interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to the Yukon, harmonizing the needs of people and nature. Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, CC BY-ND

Thanks to these efforts, grizzly bears range farther in the areas near Yellowstone National Park than they did 30 years ago. Animals are wandering across 117 new wildlife road crossings safely instead of getting killed. And Y2Y is consistently highlighted as an example of how large-landscape conservation can work.

We study wildlife ecology and international cooperation for conservation and have both served on Y2Y’s board of directors. One of us, Charles Chester, serves as the U.S. chair of the Y2Y Council, which advises the Y2Y Initiative. We both have long worked to assess how large-landscape conservation initiatives such as Y2Y make a difference. Although the answer can be hard to quantify, we have identified a number of ways in which Y2Y has expanded the scale and effectiveness of conservation.

Inspired by a wolf

Y2Y was conceived by Canadian conservationist Harvey Locke in 1993 as nations were looking for ways to carry out their commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Signed by 150 nations at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, this sprawling document addressed conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, global equity and other goals related to protecting life on Earth.

Locke was inspired by the wanderings of a single wolf. On a rainy morning in 1991, Canadian biologist Paul Paquet captured and radio-collared “Pluie,” or “Rain” in French, near Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies – the first time that a scientist had put a satellite radiocollar on a wolf. Over the next two years, researchers were astonished by Pluie’s wide-ranging movements over some 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) in Canada and the U.S. before she was killed by a trapper in British Columbia.

This lone journey clearly showed that conservationists needed to think beyond creating individual protected areas, like parks and wildlife refuges, for wide-ranging species and take larger landscapes into account. This approach aligned with the principles of the emerging field of conservation biology – the science of protecting and restoring all forms of life on Earth.

Yellowstone to Yukon’s conservation scientist, Aerin Jacob, explains why large mammals need ways to move across many miles in order to survive.

Assessing Y2Y

With several collaborators, we have worked to measure Y2Y’s conservation effects for the past five years. We used a counterfactual approach to compare trends in protected areas before and after the formation of Y2Y, and to compare Y2Y to regions without similarly broad visions in two areas of North America. Our analysis asked what would have happened without Y2Y by comparing the rates at which protected areas have expanded in the Y2Y region to other areas of North America without similar conservation visions.

We found compelling evidence that Y2Y has greatly increased wildlife protection across its region. From 1993 through 2018, habitat protection increased from 7.8% to 17.6% of the Y2Y region. Elsewhere in North America, protected areas grew by only 2.5% during the same period.

We also found that:

  • Federally endangered grizzly bears expanded their range in the U.S. portion of the Y2Y region.
  • Private land conservation in the region grew substantially; and
  • Building at least 117 wildlife crossings gave the Y2Y region the highest number of such structures in the world, helping wildlife move around and making roads safer for people.

Y2Y is one of the world’s earliest and largest landscape conservation initiatives. Conservationists view it as a model of how conservation can work for all creatures, great and small.

In our view, perhaps Y2Y’s most significant accomplishment has been expanding the conservation community’s conception of how to do large-landscape conservation effectively and equitably. Through connecting and partnering with hundreds of organizations and individuals who are working on focused conservation projects throughout the region, it shows how people and wildlife can thrive together.

The future of Y2Y

There is still much to do. In an internet-enabled economy, people can work from anywhere. Many are moving to the Y2Y region for its natural beauty, abundant wildlife and outdoor activities. Ironically, Y2Y’s success is generating development concerns.

Logging, mining and fossil fuel production also present major challenges for protecting land. And climate change is altering conditions for people and wildlife throughout the Y2Y region. Y2Y and its partners have recognized this threat, but it remains to be seen how land conservation will play out in a highly altered landscape.

One key Y2Y priority is recognizing the rights of Indigenous groups, who often are pushed off of lands they have managed for years when outside groups come in and turn these sites into protected areas. This approach has become known as fortress conservation, because it seeks to protect places by building walls around them.

The Y2Y movement acknowledged the rights of Indigenous groups from the start, and is collaborating with them to establish several new Indigenous-led protected areas in the Y2Y region. These additions were led by and will be co-managed with Indigenous governments.

An international model

In the fall of 2022 international negotiators will meet in Kunming, China, for the second part of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention. One of this meeting’s key goals is to finalize a working draft of a strategic plan for conserving global biodiversity for the next decade or more.

The current draft calls for protection of 30% of lands and seas worldwide by 2030, based on the growing science of area-based conservation. Achieving this goal would more than double the targets that nations agreed to in 2011 – 17% for land, 10% for seas.

Such goals might once have seemed out of the question, but initiatives like Y2Y show that they are attainable. As we see it, Y2Y is the right scale for effective conservation on a changing planet.

Charles C. Chester, Lecturer in Environmental Studies, Brandeis University and Mark Hebblewhite, Professor of Ungulate Habitat Ecology, The University of Montana

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

McDonald’s plastic cups use advanced recycling, bioplastics

Read the full story at Plastics Today.

McDonald’s is testing a new type of clear drinking cup that’s a move away from fossil fuel petrochemical sources to a circular economy model. The cups will comprise an equivalent of 50% post-consumer recycle (PCR) content and 50% biopolymer resins. The latter includes collecting and reusing the restaurant chain’s own cooking oil to create a closed-loop circular system. The chain refers to the dual blend as a “power couple” of sustainability.

Smart Circular Bridge for a circular built environment

Read the full story at Civil + Structural Engineer.

An old material is being rediscovered: flax has been with us for thousands of years in the form of clothing, sacks, and robust ship’s ropes. Now the plant fibres are experiencing a renaissance and could become the building material of the future. Combined with a special bio-resin, it can be made into a light and highly stable material with properties comparable to aluminum or steel. The EU project “Smart Circular Bridge” shows what is possible with this innovative new material: via the development of three bridges from this so-called bio-composite. A first one has now been built, and two more will follow.

In times of climate change and dwindling raw materials, bio-composites offer a great opportunity for the construction industry with its huge CO2 footprint and immense consumption of resources. They hold enormous potential for a bio-based circular economy, especially since flax, unlike wood for example, is a fast-growing plant.

Mango industry stresses sustainability

Read the full story at The Packer.

Most mango importers say few buyers make specific demands for sustainability, but many suggest or encourage sustainable practices. Even if not called for by buyers, most suppliers say they have implemented or encouraged sustainable practices at field level, as well as in packinghouses.

These are the products that shoppers will pay a sustainability premium for

Read the full story at Winsight Grocery Business.

Most consumers say they’re willing to pay more for cleaned-up cleaning products.

Payments for Pollution: How federal conservation programs can better benefit farmers and the environment

Download the document.

In IATP’s 2021 report Closed out: How U.S. farmers are denied access to conservation programs, we showed that for years, farmers have been turned away from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) two flagship conservation payment programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Between 2010 and 2020, only 42% of CSP applicants and 31% of EQIP applicants were awarded contracts.1

This new report examines how EQIP in particular pays for agricultural practices that are not environmentally beneficial or in some cases actively make the environment worse. Specifically, this report examines the implementation of the program in the 12 states most frequently classified as “The Midwest:” Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

We look at 2020 USDA data by state, analyzing number of contracts awarded, dollar amounts awarded and which practices are most popular. We also incorporate data gathered by others examining whether or not EQIP serves farmers of color well.

This report finds that current resources are being misdirected to large, polluting operations while thousands of farmers are being turned away from contracts that could help them pay for conservation improvements and help their bottom lines. Reforms are needed to ensure that EQIP funds only go toward truly environmentally beneficial practices. USDA can better allocate finite resources to those who need it most, including those who integrate more climate friendly, agroecological practices and systems.

A primer on composting cannabis residuals

Read the full story at Biocycle. [Part 1][Part 2]

The rapid legalization of cannabis in the U.S. has created a new urgency to compost cannabis residuals versus disposing of them in landfills and incinerators.