Chicago-area oil refineries among worst water polluters in US, environmental group finds

Read the full story from WTTW.

Oil refineries are discharging toxic pollutants into our waterways and the Great Lakes with little oversight from regulators.

Three of the very worst polluters are refineries right here in the Chicago area —  BP’s Whiting Refinery in Indiana, Exxon Mobil’s Joliet refinery, and Citgo’s refinery in Lemont.

That’s the finding of a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that advocates for enforcement of environmental law that analyzed toxic discharge data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Commercial Building Incentives: Programs for New Construction and Upgrades in the Inflation Reduction Act and Other Recent Federal Laws

Download the policy brief.

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), along with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) from 2021, fund multiple programs and tax incentives to improve the energy efficiency of new and existing commercial and public buildings. The 179D tax deduction is revamped and now includes a new pathway for retrofits. Even larger broad greenhouse gas emission reduction programs under the IRA could be used to reduce emissions from commercial buildings. But the programs use a variety of mechanisms to offer varying incentives with varying goals and criteria. This brief summarizes programs that will or could provide significant resources for energy efficiency in commercial and public buildings. 

Geologic Guidebooks of North America Database

Read the full story from Inside Science Resources.

Geologic field trip guidebooks provide unique kinds of data not readily available from other sources. They often feature detailed coverage on the geology of a specific locale or region. In addition to including geologic maps and stratigraphic columns that convey the scientific details, other geographic information such as road maps and a distance log is generally included to facilitate locating key outcrops or other geologic features of interest. Photographs and supplementary notes are also used to highlight key details for the reader. Because of such attributes, guidebooks can be a useful resource for anyone from an amateur enthusiast to a professional geologist. 

In many cases field trip guidebooks may be issued in conjunction with a geologic conference, university-sponsored excursion, or other special event. Print runs are often small, with limited distribution. All of this can make finding guidebooks and the valuable information they contain difficult. 

The Geologic Guidebooks of North America Database helps address these concerns and provides a way to readily identify geologic guidebooks issued for any region in North America. As noted on the website, the database builds on entries originally compiled and edited by the Geologic Information Society Guidebooks Committee for the print publication The Union List of Geologic Field Trip Guidebooks of North America, last published in 1996. New information is added to the database monthly and over 10,000 guidebooks are now included. 

How to build a better bike-share program

Read the full story at Grist.

When corporate owners ditched New Orleans’s bike share, the community stepped up to rebuild it with a focus on equity.

You’ve heard of mentorship in science, but what about sponsorship?

Read the full story in Nature.

Senior academics need to understand how the two differ and how sponsorship can promote diversity in research.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners: Evidence on effectiveness and considerations for safe operation

Read the full story at the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.

A review of academic and technical literature showed that do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners performed similarly to commercial portable air cleaners in terms of clean air delivery rate (CADR) and energy efficiency under controlled conditions. However, DIY devices were much more cost efficient that commercially available air cleaners. Both types of devices generated >50 dB of noise.

Field evaluations of DIY air cleaners have found they were effective in homes and schools, but there are no long-term studies. There is also a lack of user engagement to understand whether DIY devices are used properly and consistently.

The “best” DIY design will depend on the space to be cleaned, the activities carried out, space available, noise disruption, and other factors. Because CADR can vary substantially depending on material quality, it may be useful to evaluate DIY air cleaner effectiveness post-construction using low-cost particulate matter sensors indoors and outdoors.

DIY air cleaners made with newer model fans are unlikely to pose a fire or burn risk, but should be kept clear of obstructions and operated with common sense precautions. The filters should be changed when soiled; duration of filter lifespan will vary with use and conditions.

Portable air cleaners are only part of a comprehensive indoor air quality strategy. They do not replace the need for ventilation and should be used in conjunction with other appropriate health protective measures.

Why gas stoves matter to the climate – and the gas industry: Keeping them means homes will use gas for heating too

Industry wants to keep people cooking with gas. Jamie Grill, Tetra Images via Getty Images

by Daniel Cohan, Rice University

Gas stoves are a leading source of hazardous indoor air pollution, but they emit only a tiny share of the greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Why, then, have they assumed such a heated role in climate politics?

This debate reignited on Jan. 9, 2023, when Richard Trumka Jr., a member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, told Bloomberg News that the agency planned to consider regulating gas stoves due to concerns about their health effects. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” he noted.

Politicians reacted with overheated outrage, putting gas stove ownership on a par with the right to bear arms and religious freedom. CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric tried to douse the uproar, stating that he was “not looking to ban gas stoves” and that his agency “has no proceeding to do so.” Neither does the Biden administration support a ban, a White House spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, congressional Republicans raced to the barricades, introducing bills with titles like the Guard America’s Stoves (GAS) Act and the Stop Trying to Obsessively Vilify Energy (STOVE) Act.

This skirmish may seem like a tempest in a teapot, but it reveals important contours of the battlefield on which climate politics are waged. As I explain in my book, “Confronting Climate Gridlock: How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future,” gas stoves matter to climate and to the gas industry because they serve as gateway appliances to the dominant residential uses of natural gas: heating and hot water.

Serious health effects

Direct impacts from gas stoves are a much more urgent concern for human health than for Earth’s climate. Gas stoves are a leading indoor source of nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂, which can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses in people who are exposed to it.

For example, scientific studies show that living in a home with a gas stove increases children’s risk of asthma by nearly one-third and contributes to pulmonary disease in adults.

The climate doesn’t care what fuel we use to cook. Gas stoves account for just 0.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, even accounting for recent findings of larger than expected household methane leaks. They aren’t a big share of fuel sales either, burning just 3% of the natural gas consumed in homes.

Some experts say health risks from gas stoves could be comparable to living with a smoker.

Impeding home electrification

The significance of gas stoves for the climate becomes clearer in the context of the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net-zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This target can only be achieved by curbing fossil fuel use across the economy, including in homes.

Installing more-efficient furnaces, better insulation and smart thermostats are helpful first steps, but getting close to zero will require switching to electricity for space heating and water heating. In the U.S., 46% of homes use natural gas as their main source of heat, 40% use electricity, 10% use other fuels such as heating oil or propane, and 4% are unheated. For water heating, the percentages are 47% gas, 47% electricity and 6% other fuels.

Today, electric and gas heating have similar carbon footprints, since roughly 60% of U.S. electricity is generated from fossil fuels and many homes use inefficient electric resistance heaters. But the emissions intensity of electricity is rapidly declining as coal plants close and solar and wind power expands.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 100% clean electricity nationally by 2035. Although current federal policies fall short of that target, a growing number of states have committed to 100% clean electricity by 2050 or sooner.

Natural gas is far harder to decarbonize than electricity. Lower-carbon fuels such as biogas and hydrogen that could be blended in with natural gas are likely to remain scarce and costly.

Furthermore, advanced technologies enable electric heat pumps to heat both air and water far more efficiently than traditional electric or gas furnaces and water heaters. That’s why various scenarios for decarbonizing energy all envision a major shift to electric heat pumps. This transition is well underway in Europe and starting in the U.S.

Replacing existing gas furnaces and water heaters with electric heat pumps can be costly and complicated, though incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act can help. But if new homes are built fully electric from the start, they avoid the cost of installing natural gas hookups, and emit far less air pollution and fewer greenhouse gases throughout the homes’ lifetime.

Graphic showing house with features including solar power, heat pumps and high-quality insulation.
This schematic shows key components of a net-zero house that generates as much electricity as it consumes, using renewable energy. Efficiency Vermont, CC BY-ND

New York City and more than 50 California towns, cities and counties have already banned gas hookups in new buildings. Elsewhere, 20 states have barred the enactment of natural gas bans.

Gas stoves are a big reason why.

The power of a slogan

“Most people don’t care how their water is heated or how their heater works, but the Viking stove in the kitchen, people have this visceral emotional attachment,” Michael Colvin of the Environmental Defense Fund told me in an interview for my book, “Confronting Climate Gridlock.”

That emotional attachment makes stoves a flashpoint in battles over climate policy.

“Cooking is the hill that the gas industry wants to fight on,” Bruce Nilles of Climate Imperative told me in a 2020 interview that foreshadowed the current skirmish. “They’ll say, ‘Do you want the government to take away your gas stove that makes you a great chef?’”

The American Gas Association has promoted the notion that gas stoves make skilled cooks since the 1930s, when it introduced the advertising slogan “Now you’re cooking with gas.” An AGA executive planted the phrase with writers for comedian Bob Hope. Soon it was picked up by comedian Jack Benny, and even by Daffy Duck. The phrase has also appeared over time in social media endorsements and hashtags.

‘Cookin’ with Gas,‘ a 1988 commercial produced by National Fuel Gas.

Gas burners do provide more control than many stoves with electric coils, especially older models, which can be slow to heat up and cool down. Today, however, many chefs, consumers and experts say gas is no longer the obvious choice. Magnetic induction cooktops, which cook using electricity to generate a magnetic field, heat faster, control temperatures more precisely and use less energy than other stoves.

“There’s this big misconception that electric ranges don’t cook as well as gas,” Shanika Whitehurst, a member of Consumer Reports’ research and testing team, said in a recent article. “But the technology has improved to the point where electric and especially induction ranges and cooktops cook every bit as well, if not better than gas.” Consumer Reports ranks induction and some traditional electric stoves among its top-rated models.

Homes built today will endure far beyond Biden’s 2050 net-zero target. And the longer the gas-is-better myth persists, the harder it will be to fully electrify new homes from the start. As I see it, if “cooking with gas” keeps us tethering new homes to natural gas grids for decades to come, our health, climate and wallets will pay the price.

Daniel Cohan, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University

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

Satellites can be used to detect waste sites on Earth

Read the full story from PLOS.

A new computational system uses satellite data to identify sites on land where people dispose of waste, providing a new tool to monitor waste and revealing sites that may leak plastic into waterways.

What’s driving re-burns across California and the West?

Read the full story from DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Seasonal temperature, moisture loss from plants and wind speed are what primarily drive fires that sweep across the same landscape multiple times, a new study reveals. These findings and others could help land managers plan more effective treatments in areas susceptible to fire, particularly in the fire-ravaged wildland-urban interfaces of California.

New recycling bin design discourages people from tossing in trash

Read the full story at The Japan News.

Vending machine and beverage manufacturing organizations have come up with a peculiar plastic bottle recycling bin. The receptacle’s opening points downward as part of efforts to prevent people from tossing other waste into the bin.

The idea is now attracting attention for promoting PET bottle recycling.