Ever since molecular epidemiologist Christopher Wild coined the term “exposome” in 2005 to describe the totality of our environmental exposures, researchers have been discussing how the concept could advance environmental health research.
Now, through a series of virtual workshops this summer, NIEHS is initiating a pivotal shift from defining the exposome to demonstrating its value throughout the environmental health sciences and beyond.
Early-life vulnerability to environmental exposures was explored during a four-day National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) workshop, held Aug 1-4. “Children’s Environmental Health: A Workshop on Future Priorities for Environmental Health Sciences,” sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), featured several NIEHS scientists and grantees who shared their expertise, offered advice, and discussed how environmental health sciences can help inform policy.
New research methods for risk assessment, ongoing and emerging environmental risks to children, and environmental influences across the lifespan were just some of the topics explored by workshop attendees.
There’s no shortage of superlatives when it comes to describing the Inflation Reduction Act. With $369 billion in diverse climate provisions, it’s the biggest climate bill passed in the U.S. during the country’s most politically divided era. And even with all of the dollars and drama, one marvel that hasn’t broken through is that this new law takes a historic approach to using nature to tackle the climate crisis — to the tune of roughly $30 billion.
How did nature-based climate solutions retain such a large role in this climate legislation despite the bill’s severe cutbacks in the final negotiations? Aren’t nature-based solutions the “forgotten solution,” always sure to be the first one on the cutting room floor? What made this time different? Corporate leaders’ five-year embrace of nature-based solutions may have played a big role.
On a warm August day in rural Louisiana, local residents, environmental advocates and utility representatives packed into a courthouse for a controversial summit.
St. James Parish officials were weighing a temporary ban on solar.
The parish, west of New Orleans, is part of what’s known as “Cancer Alley”: the biggest cluster of petrochemical facilities in the state with some of the highest cancer risk in the country.
It’s been deemed a “sacrifice zone” by ProPublica. Across the country, Black, brown, Indigenous and low-income people are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, like the plants in Cancer Alley.
Sharon Lavigne, a Black, retired teacher and longtime activist, has been asking for a moratorium on petrochemical plants for years. She founded Rise St. James, a faith-based grassroots community group fighting for environmental justice in the area.
Two electrifying moves in recent weeks have the potential to ignite electric vehicle demand in the United States. First, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, expanding federal tax rebates for EV purchases. Then California approved rules to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.
The Inflation Reduction Act extends the Obama-era EV tax credit of up to US$7,500. But it includes some high hurdles. Its country-of-origin rules require that EVs – and an increasing percentage of their components and critical minerals – be sourced from the U.S. or countries that have free-trade agreements with the U.S. The law expressly forbids tax credits for vehicles with any components or critical minerals sourced from a “foreign entity of concern,” such as China or Russia.
That’s not so simple when China controls 60% of the world’s lithium mining, 77% of battery cell capacity and 60% of battery component manufacturing. Many American EV makers, including Tesla, rely heavily on battery materials from China.
The U.S. needs a national strategy to build an EV ecosystem if it hopes to catch up. As experts in supplychainmanagement, we have some ideas.
Why the EV industry depends heavily on China
How did the U.S. fall so far behind?
Back in 2009, the Obama administration pledged $2.4 billion to support the country’s fledgling EV industry. But demand grew slowly, and battery manufacturers such as A123 Systems and Ener1 failed to scale up their production. Both succumbed to financial pressure and were acquired by Chinese and Russian investors.
China took the lead in the EV market through an aggressive mix of carrots and sticks. Its consumer subsidies raised demand at home, and Beijing and other major cities set licensing quotas mandating a minimum share of EV sales.
Today, the U.S. domestic EV supply chain is far from adequate to meet its goals. The new U.S. tax credits are designed to help turn that around, but building a resilient EV supply chain will inevitably entail competing with China for limited resources.
A comprehensive national strategy entails measures for the short, medium and long term.
For the U.S. to scale up its own production, it needs to rely on strategic partners overseas. The Inflation Reduction Act allows imports of critical minerals from countries with free trade agreements to still qualify for incentives, but not imports of battery components. This means overseas suppliers like Korea’s “Big Three” – LG Chem, SK Innovation and Samsung SDI – which supply 26% of the world’s EV batteries, are shut out, even though the U.S. and Korea have a free trade agreement.
The Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association has asked Congress to make an exception for Korean-made EVs and batteries.
In the spirit of “friend-shoring,” the Biden administration could think of a temporary waiver as a stopgap measure that makes it easier for Korean battery makers to move more of their supply chain to the U.S., such as LG’s planned battery plants in partnerships with GM and Honda.
A way to avoid cobalt altogether also exists: lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are about 30% cheaper to make because they use minerals that are easy to find and plentiful. However, LFP batteries are heavier and have less power and range per unit.
Since not everyone needs a high-end electric supercar, affordable EVs powered by LFP batteries are an option. In fact, Tesla now offers Model 3s with LFP batteries that can travel about 270 miles on a charge.
The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law set aside $3.16 billion to support domestic battery supply chains. With the Inflation Reduction Act’s emphasis on supporting more affordable EVs – it has price caps for vehicles to qualify for incentives – these funds will be needed to help scale up domestic LFP manufacturing.
Long-term: US critical mineral production
Replacing overseas critical materials with domestic mining falls under long-term planning.
Finally, to build an industrial commons for EVs, the U.S. must continue to invest in research and development of new battery technologies.
Also, end-of-life battery recycling is essential to the sustainability of EVs. The industry has been kicking the can down the road on this, as recycling demand has been minuscule thus far given the longevity of batteries. Yet, as a proactive step, the Inflation Reduction Act specifically permits battery content recycled in North America to qualify for the critical mineral clause.
To make this happen, the federal and state governments could use takeback legislation similar to producer responsibility laws for electronic waste enacted in more than 20 states, which stipulate that producers bear the responsibility for collecting, transporting and recycling end-of-cycle electronic products.
With the new law, the Biden administration has set its sights on a future transportation system that is built in the U.S. and runs on electricity. But there are supply chain obstacles, and the U.S. will need both incentives and regulations to make it happen.
California’s announcement will help. Under the Clean Air Act, California has a waiver that allows it to set policies more strict than federal law. Other states can choose to follow California’s policies. Seventeen other states have adopted California’s emissions standards. At least three, New York, Washington and Massachusetts, have already announced plans to also phase out new gas-powered cars and light trucks by 2035.
Since 1999, more than 9 billion music CDs have shipped in the U.S. That’s not counting worldwide sales, DVDs, software discs or videogames. Sadly, discarded CDs end up in landfills with negative environmental consequences.
Blue-green algae appears in lakes all over the Midwest during the summers and can make both people and animals ill. Few states have routine testing programs to check for the toxic algae, but some local and volunteer groups are stepping in to fill that gap.
States and cities across the country are beginning to embrace trees as critical infrastructure in urban areas. Neighborhoods with tree cover are significantly cooler than exposed areas known as “heat islands,” which can affect human health and utility bills. Urban forests absorb stormwater runoff, filter pollution from the air and sequester carbon.
As climate change threatens to bring increased heat waves, flooding and severe weather to many communities, some leaders are looking to trees as a potential solution. Some regions have been scrambling to restore urban forests that have been decimated by pests such as the emerald ash borer. And much like foresters in the Evergreen State, they may suddenly have more funding to help those efforts take root.
The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law this month by President Joe Biden, includes $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, which supports efforts ranging from big cities to small communities. Agency leaders say the funding, which will be allotted through competitive grants, will be focused on reaching neighborhoods that lack green infrastructure and are bearing the brunt of climate change.