Heat is the fuel that makes hurricanes big, powerful and rainy. As humans burn fossil fuels and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, the amount of heat trapped on Earth rises steadily. The air gets hotter, and the ocean water gets hotter. When a baby hurricane forms in the Atlantic, all that heat is available to help the storm grow.
That’s what happened to Ian. When the storm first formed, it was relatively weak. But as it moved over very hot water in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, it grew very quickly.
The new RRT will align federal resources, including regional staff on the ground in the Illinois Basin area, toward key communities experiencing recent or imminent economic downturns from coal mine and power plant closures. Federal agencies serving on the RRT will partner with these workers, communities, and public officials to support them with mapping their current assets and opportunities, navigating and accessing federal funding and technical assistance, and leveraging significant new funding opportunities available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to equity in Rural America begins by ensuring that people in rural places receive the same opportunities people in cities receive to build-up their local economies and create jobs, improve their infrastructure, and strengthen their communities with federal resources,” said USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Farah Ahmad. “Today’s announcement is the beginning of an effort that will provide critical on-the-ground technical assistance and lay the framework for better and more diverse economic opportunities for the people living in America’s energy communities in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, USDA is a strong partner to people in rural towns because we know when rural America prospers, all of America prospers.”
Stakeholders interested in partnering with and providing input to the RRT can send an email to Contact@EnergyCommunities.gov. The RRT will reach back out to stakeholders with a compilation of meeting notes, points of contact, and next steps soon.
Today’s announcement comes on the second day of a two-day visit by federal leaders to Carbondale. On Wednesday, federal officials toured energy and manufacturing facilities in the area, including the John A. Logan Solar Project, Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale’s Airport & Automotive Program and the university’s iFERM (Illinois Food, Entrepreneurship, Research, and Manufacturing) Hub. Energy Communities IWG also hosted a public workshop today at SIU engaging community leaders, highlighting relevant federal funding, and identifying opportunities for regional economic diversification and growth in response to coal mine and power plant closures.
Historical investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act present energy communities with a multitude of opportunities to revitalize communities, diversify workforces, and support energy workers.
The Illinois Basin RRT is modeled after similar efforts piloted in Wyoming and the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. The IWG will announce additional regional RRTs in the upcoming months. The RRT effort is part of the IWG’s core goal of creating a national network of assistance for energy communities that is community-driven, in partnership with federal, state, tribal, local, and non-governmental organizations and leaders.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean-energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.
The U.S. Supreme Court opens its new session on Oct. 3, 2022, with a high-profile case that could fundamentally alter the federal government’s ability to address water pollution. Sackett v. EPA turns on a question that courts and regulators have struggled to answer for several decades: Which wetlands and bodies of water can the federal government regulate under the 1972 Clean Water Act?
Under this keystone environmental law, federal agencies take the lead in regulating water pollution, while state and local governments regulate land use. Wetlands are areas where land is wet for all or part of the year, so they straddle this division of authority.
Swamps, bogs, marshes and other wetlands provide valuable ecological services, such as filtering pollutants and soaking up floodwaters. Landowners must obtain permits to discharge dredged or fill material, such as dirt, sand or rock, in a protected wetland. This can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why the case is of keen interest to developers, farmers and ranchers, along with conservationists and the agencies that administer the Clean Water Act – the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Idaho residents Chantell and Mike Sackett own a parcel of land located 300 feet from Priest Lake, one of the state’s largest lakes. The parcel once was part of a large wetland complex. Today, even after the Sacketts cleared the lot, it still has some wetland characteristics, such as saturation and ponding in areas where soil was removed. Indeed, it is still hydrologically connected to the lake and neighboring wetlands by water that flows at a shallow depth underground.
In preparation to build a house, the Sacketts had fill material placed on the site without obtaining a Clean Water Act permit. The EPA issued an order in 2007 stating that the land contained wetlands subject to the law and requiring the Sacketts to restore the site. The Sacketts sued, arguing that their property was not a wetland.
In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the Sacketts had the right to challenge EPA’s order and sent the case back to the lower courts. Now, after losing below on the merits, they are back before the Supreme Court. The current issue is whether the Sacketts’ property is federally protected, which in turn raises a broader question: What is the scope of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act?
The Supreme Court has previously recognized that the “waters of the United States” include not only navigable rivers and lakes, but also wetlands and waterways that are connected to navigable bodies of water. However, many wetlands are not wet year-round, or are not connected at the surface to larger water systems, but can still have important ecological connections to larger water bodies.
In 2006, when the court last took up this issue, no majority was able to agree on how to define “waters of the United States.” Writing for a plurality of four justices in U.S. v. Rapanos, Justice Antonin Scalia defined the term narrowly to include only relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water such as streams, oceans, rivers and lakes. Waters of the U.S., he contended, should not include “ordinarily dry channels through which water occasionally or intermittently flows.”
Acknowledging that wetlands present a tricky line-drawing problem, Scalia proposed that the Clean Water Act should reach “only those wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own right.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy took a very different approach. “Waters of the U.S.,” he wrote, should be interpreted in light of the Clean Water Act’s objective of “restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
Accordingly, Kennedy argued, the Clean Water Act should cover wetlands that have a “significant nexus” with navigable waters – “if the wetlands, either alone or in combination with similarly situated lands in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of other covered waters more readily understood as ‘navigable.’”
Neither Scalia’s nor Kennedy’s opinion attracted a majority, so lower courts have been left to sort out which approach to follow. Most have applied Kennedy’s significant nexus standard, while a few have held that the Clean Water Act applies if either Kennedy’s standard or Scalia’s is satisfied.
The court’s ultimate ruling in Sackett could offer lower courts, regulatory agencies and landowners clear direction on the meaning of “waters of the United States.” And it will likely affect the government’s ability to protect the nation’s waters.
A broad interpretation could include many agricultural ditches and canals, which might obligate some farmers and ranchers to apply for Section 404 permits. It could also ensure oversight of polluters who discharge pollutants upstream of federally protected waters.
In my view, this court’s anti-regulatory bent – and the fact that no other justices joined Kennedy’s concurring Rapanos opinion – suggest that this case will produce a narrow reading of “waters of the United States.” Such an interpretation would undercut clean water protections across the country.
If the court requires a continuous surface connection, federal protection would no longer apply to many areas that critically affect the water quality of U.S. rivers, lakes and oceans – including seasonal streams and wetlands that are near or intermittently connected to larger water bodies. It might also mean that building a road, levee or other barrier separating a wetland from other nearby waters may be enough to remove an area from federal protection.
Congress could clarify what the Clean Water Act means by “waters of the United States,” but past efforts to legislate a definition have fizzled. And today’s closely divided Congress is unlikely to fare any better. The court’s ruling in Sackett could offer the final word on this issue for the foreseeable future.
The Chicago City Council last weekpassed the 2022 Chicago Energy Transformation Code, which requires that new buildings are constructed in alignment with stronger energy efficiency and electrification standards to advance decarbonization. Most changes will apply to new building permit applications starting Nov. 1.
Changes include requirements related to energy-efficient lighting; designing certain commercial building roofs to support future solar panel installations; constructing residential buildings with infrastructure that enablesa future switch to electric-powered appliances; and incentives for smart HVAC and water appliances that integrate with the power grid to reduce demand during peak use.
Cars and wildfires contribute to Utah’s air pollution, but the Great Salt Lake is a less obvious but important contributor. Sitting just northwest of Salt Lake City, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere is drying up because of water use and drought amid a changing climate, sending dust with toxic metals — including arsenic — in the air of a metro area with approximately 1.2 million people.
Particle pollution in the air has been linked to asthma, heart attacks, worsened lung function and premature death.
Cooks love their gadgets, from countertop slow cookers to instant-read thermometers. Now, there’s increasing interest in magnetic induction cooktops – surfaces that cook much faster than conventional stoves, without igniting a flame or heating an electric coil.
Some of this attention is overdue: Induction has long been popular in Europe and Asia, and it is more energy-efficient than standard stoves. But recent studies have also raised concerns about indoor air emissions from gas stoves.
The gas industry’s position is that gas stoves are a minor source of indoor air pollutants. This is true in some homes, especially with respect to exposures averaged over months or years.
But there are many homes in which gas stoves contribute more to indoor nitrogen dioxide levels than pollution from outdoor sources does, especially for short-term “peak” exposures during cooking time. For example, a study in Southern California showed that around half of homes exceeded a health standard based on the highest hour of nitrogen dioxide concentrations, almost entirely because of indoor emissions.
How can one gas stove contribute more to your exposure than an entire highway full of vehicles? The answer is that outdoor pollution disperses over a large area, while indoor pollution concentrates in a small space.
How much indoor pollution you get from a gas stove is affected by the structure of your home, which means that indoor environmental exposures to NO₂ are higher for some people than for others. People who live in larger homes, have working range hoods that vent to the outdoors and have well-ventilated homes in general will be less exposed than those in smaller homes with poorer ventilation.
But even larger homes can be affected by gas stove usage, especially since the air in the kitchen does not immediately mix with cleaner air elsewhere in the home. Using a range hood when cooking, or other ventilation strategies such as opening kitchen windows, can bring down concentrations dramatically.
Methane and hazardous air pollutants
Nitrogen dioxide is not the only pollutant of concern from gas stoves. Some pollution with potential impacts on human health and Earth’s climate occurs when stoves aren’t even running.
A 2022 study estimated that U.S. gas stoves not in use emit methane – a colorless, odorless gas that is the main component of natural gas – at a level that traps as much heat in the atmosphere as about 400,000 cars.
Some of these leaks can go undetected. Although gas distributors add an odorant to natural gas to ensure that people will smell leaks before there is an explosion risk, the smell may not be strong enough for residents to notice small leaks.
Some people also have a much stronger sense of smell than others. In particular, those who have lost their sense of smell – whether from COVID-19 or other causes – may not smell even large leaks. One recent study found that 5% of homes had leaks that owners had not detected that were large enough to require repair.
This same study showed that leaking natural gas contained multiple hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, a cancer-causing agent. While measured concentrations of benzene did not reach health thresholds of concern, the presence of these hazardous air pollutants could be problematic in homes with substantial leaks and poor ventilation.
Reasons to switch: Health and climate
So, if you live in a home with a gas stove, what should you do and when should you worry? First, do what you can to improve ventilation, such as running a range hood that vents to the outdoors and opening kitchen windows while cooking. This will help, but it won’t eliminate exposures, especially for household members who are in the kitchen while cooking takes place.
If you live in a smaller home or one with a smaller closed kitchen, and if someone in your home has a respiratory disease like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exposures may still be concerning even with good ventilation. Swapping out a gas stove for one that uses magnetic induction would eliminate this exposure while also providing climate benefits.
Moving away from gas stoves is especially important if you are investing in home energy efficiency measures, whether you are doing it to take advantage of incentives, reduce energy costs or shrink your carbon footprint. Some weatherization steps can reduce air leakage to the outdoors, which in turn can increase indoor air pollution concentrations if residents don’t also improve kitchen ventilation.
In my view, even if you’re not driven to reduce your carbon footprint – or you’re just seeking ways to cook pasta faster – the opportunity to have cleaner air inside your home may be a strong motivator to make the switch.
You might have seen Land O’Lakes’ dairy products on store shelves without giving much thought to how they got there, but that’s something CTO Teddy Bekele thinks about every day. While the farmers and agricultural retailers of Land O’Lakes work to produce the cooperative’s products, starting from the seeds used to grow animal feed, Teddy Bekele is focused on supporting agriculture’s “fourth revolution” — one that’s embracing technologies like artificial intelligence. On this episode of the Me, Myself, and AI podcast, Teddy explains how Land O’Lakes uses predictive analytics and AI to help farmers and other agricultural producers be more productive and make better decisions about the business of farming.