BP refinery hit with $40 million fine, agrees to spend $200 million on pollution control

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

BP agreed to pay a $40 million penalty and spend almost $200 million on environmental controls to settle government allegations that the company released excessive toxic chemicals at its Whiting, Indiana, oil refinery on Lake Michigan.

The installation of new pollution controls will reduce benzene and other harmful air pollutants, according to federal officials who had accused the Northwest Indiana operation of violating the Clean Air Act. 

Scientists call for chemical pollution monitoring in Antarctica to support global chemical policy

Read the full story from Griffith University.

A horizon-scan of chemical pollution research needs in Antarctica has called for Antarctic Treaty consultative parties to extend their national chemical monitoring programs to their Antarctic research stations and Territories.   

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the ‘Personal View’ paper led by Griffith University’s Professor Susan Bengtson Nash from the Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, highlights that chemical pollution monitoring frameworks were lacking in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region, which acts as barometers for planetary health. 

Tetra Pak kickstarts fibre-based packaging research for ‘paper straws of the future’

Read the full story at Beverage Daily.

The packaging major is collaborating with a synchrotron radiation laboratory to conduct experiments on paper straws, determining how materials respond to different environmental factors, explains Eskil Andreasson, technology specialist, virtual modelling at Tetra Pak.

Biden’s strategy for cutting carbon emissions from electricity generation could extend the lives of fossil fuel power plants

The James H. Miller coal power plant in Alabama emitted as much carbon dioxide in 2021 as 4.6 million cars. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

by Jennifer K. Rushlow, Vermont Law & Graduate School

On May 11, 2023, the Biden administration proposed new regulations to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants. The new rules replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was proposed in 2015 but ran into multiple legal challenges and never took effect. Nonetheless, in a high-profile 2022 ruling, West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Obama administration’s approach exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate power plant carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Jennifer K. Rushlow, dean of the Vermont School for the Environment and a law professor at Vermont Law & Graduate School, explains how the new regulations are designed and the delicate balance they attempt to strike between slowing climate change and avoiding further legal setbacks.

1. How has the Biden administration tailored these regulations in response to the West Virginia v. EPA ruling?

The scent of West Virginia v. EPA is all over the new proposed rules. How could it not be? The Supreme Court accused the Environmental Protection Agency of attempting a “wholesale restructure” of the nation’s energy mix because the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan essentially required existing fossil fuel power plants to either use cleaner fuels or close.

The new proposed regulations attempt to thread the needle between meeting the Biden administration’s climate commitments and avoiding another gutting in court. To do that, they focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from individual power plants with on-site technologies, instead of requiring a large-scale shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

The rules rely on ambitious and relatively new emissions reduction technologies, like carbon capture and storage, or CCS, and low-carbon hydrogen fuel. The EPA proposes to use CCS to reduce emissions from large coal plants with long life expectancies. For large natural-gas-fueled power plants that provide baseload power – meaning that they run continuously – the agency proposes at least partial replacement of natural gas with hydrogen fuel.

2. Do the draft rules indicate that EPA is responding to energy industry critiques of the Clean Power Plan?

There are a variety of strategies built into EPA’s approach in the new rules that I believe aim to secure buy-in from fossil fuel interests and mitigate against conservative backlash. The proposal takes a tiered and staggered approach to which power plants will be regulated, how stringently, and by when.

First, the EPA goes out of its way to accommodate coal plants that are already scheduled to close or anticipate shutting down in the next couple of decades. It proposes much less stringent standards for these plants, since they will not be able to spread the cost of adopting new controls over many years of operation. Since the regulations are so light for those facilities and the plants are already closing due to other economic factors, it will be hard to blame these rules for the loss of coal plants.

Along the same rationale, the EPA is only regulating baseload natural gas plants right now and leaving regulations for smaller plants and peaker plants – those that run only during peak demand periods – for another day.

Second, the rule’s reliance on carbon capture and storage, in my view, ought to be music to fossil fuel companies’ ears. CCS has long been their preferred climate mitigation tool because it is one of the only means of reducing carbon emissions that does not hamper the continued extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.

Even better from their perspective, the captured carbon effluent can be injected into geological formations for underground storage and actually flush out buried crude oil that would otherwise be unreachable – meaning even more oil production.

The EPA solicits very specific comments in these regulations from interested parties, like the energy industry, on questions such as the time frame required to implement a particular technology and what size facilities should be subject to which standards. In addition to genuinely wanting to get the rules right, this deferential approach may be designed to build an administrative record that can withstand judicial scrutiny when the agency is inevitably sued. If the regulated community provides feedback on those items, and the final rule shows that the agency was responsive to that feedback, it will be harder for a court to find that compliance with the rule is not feasible.

3. Do you see legal vulnerabilities in the proposed new rules?

The EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants is derived from the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to set emissions limits using a standard that reflects the “best system of emission reduction” that has been “adequately demonstrated,” taking into account cost and other factors.

For coal plants, the agency identifies carbon capture and storage as the “best system of emission reduction.” The draft rule states that CCS has been “adequately demonstrated” – meaning that some plants are using it – and that the cost is manageable, thanks to tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

This reasoning is a little thin. CCS is an emerging technology that’s not yet widely used, in part because it is so expensive. In fact, the EPA could point to only a handful of existing projects to show that the technology has been “adequately demonstrated.”

However, regulated coal plants won’t necessarily be required to use CCS itself. Rather, they will be required to reduce their emissions to a level that could be achieved using CCS. If they can find other means, they are welcome to use them. But since CCS is expensive and not yet widely used, some observers speculate that the new rules will cause coal plants to shut down or switch to cleaner fuels, as the Clean Power Plan required.

This is not a topic that the EPA wants to revisit with the Supreme Court. However, if the court’s conservative majority sticks to its avowed preference for “textualist” interpretations of the law, the proposed regulations provide plenty of room for the court to find in the administration’s favor, on the basis that the new rules stick to much more familiar territory within the Clean Air Act than the Clean Power Plan did.

This video, which aired several months before the West Virginia v. EPA ruling, examines West Virginia’s opposition to broad curbs on power plant carbon emissions.

4. How do these regulations conform with Biden’s focus on environmental justice?

In addition to greenhouse gases, fossil fuel power plants emit deadly air pollutants that contribute to thousands of deaths every year. And they disproportionately harm the health of nearby low-income communities and communities of color.

Carbon capture and storage doesn’t reduce these pollutants at any significant scale, nor does it prevent public health, environmental and cultural damage caused by fossil fuel extraction projects. As a result, some communities view CCS as incompatible with environmental justice principles.

Some of these criticisms surfaced last year, when the White House developed guidance on CCS. For example, the Indigenous Environmental Network – a grassroots coalition of Indigenous peoples and tribal governments – delivered scathing comments that CCS perpetuates fossil fuel extraction and combustion that harm Indigenous communities.

These draft rules may widen the rift between traditional environmentalists, some of whom prioritize curbing climate change at all costs, and environmental justice community advocates who face immediate harm from fossil fuel power plants, as well as mounting and disproportionate impacts from climate change.

Jennifer K. Rushlow, Dean, Vermont School for the Environment, and Professor of Law, Vermont Law & Graduate School

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

Researchers develop carbon-negative concrete

Read the full story from Washington State University.

A viable formula for a carbon-negative, environmentally friendly concrete that is nearly as strong as regular concrete has been developed.  In a proof-of-concept work, the researchers infused regular cement with environmentally friendly biochar, a type of charcoal made from organic waste, that had been strengthened beforehand with concrete wastewater. The biochar was able to suck up to 23% of its weight in carbon dioxide from the air while still reaching a strength comparable to ordinary cement. The research could significantly reduce carbon emissions of the concrete industry, which is one of the most energy- and carbon-intensive of all manufacturing industries.

Over 70% of businesses view ESG as a revenue enabler: IBM study

Read the full story at ESG Today.

The argument that ESG harms profitability is “more than a myth—it’s misinformation that leads to poor business decision-making,” according to a new study released by IBM, which found that more than 70% of executives view ESG as a revenue enabler, and that consumers increasingly focus on companies’ sustainability performance when making purchasing and employment decisions.

For the new study, The ESG ultimatum: Profit or perish, IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV) analyzed results from a survey of more than 20,000 consumers about their attitudes toward sustainability and social responsibility, as well as a survey of 2,500 executives across 22 industries and 34 countries regarding their ESG strategy, approach, and operationalization, expected benefits and business objectives considerations. The study also segmented businesses according to ESG maturity to compare relative performance.

As grocers spotlight sustainability, financial analysts don’t see the connection with the bottom line

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

This story is the first in a three-part series on how sustainability ties into grocers’ bottom lines.

Kroger has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its Zero Hunger, Zero Waste sustainability initiative, yet when the supermarket company’s leaders answer questions from industry analysts about its financial results, the expansive environment-focused program doesn’t typically come up.

Top managers of other publicly traded food retailers that also highlight their sustainability programs, such as Ahold Delhaize and Sprouts Farmers Market, also don’t often field questions during earnings calls about their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives, even as metrics like same-store sales and earnings per share are top topics of discussion.

Environmental nonprofit Canopy secures $60M in funding

Read the full story at Fashion Dive.

Environmental nonprofit Canopy secured $60 million in funding from The Audacious Project to accelerate its commercial-scale production of low-impact and circular clothing solutions derived from what is usually put in a landfill or burned, per a news release.

Canopy focuses on protecting and preserving ancient and endangered forests by partnering with companies including H&M Group, Inditex and LVMH to remove pulp-based materials such as viscose from the supply chain.

The funding — its largest to date — marks a major boost to its campaign, which has seen massive growth as sustainability becomes a more public issue in the fashion space.

An ‘early warning system’ for urban drought is this research team’s goal

Read the full story at Smart Cities Dive.

Four Illinois research institutions announced on Thursday a two-year project that will examine how drought affects urban trees in order to inform how cities nationwide can effectively respond to drier-than-normal conditions made more common in some areas by climate change.

Drought is typically studied in an agricultural context, the researchers said. This project, on the other hand, will “provide useable information for decision makers in charge of urban tree management,” said Trent Ford, who is the state climatologist based at the University of Illinois, in a news release. Other institutions involved with the research are The Morton Arboretum, Argonne National Laboratory and the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois State Water Survey. 

The project is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office, which supports high-priority climate research regionally, nationally and internationally.

How an engagement bike changed one couple’s life

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Last June, Nivi Achanta walked into a Seattle shop to celebrate her engagement. For most of her life, she had imagined slipping a diamond ring onto her left hand to mark the occasion. She had even sent her boyfriend of five years an Instagram-worthy montage of fairy-tale scenes, inspiration for a wedding to whichher parents planned to invite hundreds of guests.

So her friends and family were a bit surprised when she pedaled home on the Avail AR 1, an iridescent purple endurance bike “ideal for venturing further and riding longer.” Her friends mostly embraced the engagement bike, while “my parents are taking it … not amazingly,” she says. “But they’ve become more supportive of who I am.”

Who she is, Achanta realized, is someone happier riding an engagement bike than wearing a diamond ring — putting her at odds with an estimated 85 percent of brides in the United States.