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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

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Moloaa Organicaa, a family operated organic farm on Kauai.  Photo: Moloaa Organicaa
EPA Won't Ban Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos, But Hawaii Did

On June 13, Hawaii Governor Bill Ige signed legislation that will protect farmworkers, children and native communities from exposure to this dangerous nerve agent.  Chlorpyrifos is derived from a chemical used by the Nazis during WWII, but Dow Chemical later modified it for agricultural use. Scientists recommended it be banned because it has been firmly linked to reduced IQ and attention deficit disorder in children. Moreover, for farmworkers, chlorpyrifos causes convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and, in extreme cases, death. When sprayed, the chemical drifts from fields into schools and homes. Chlorpyrifos will be banned in Hawaii in 2023 and until then, can only be used with a temporary permit from the state and is immediately banned from being used within 100 feet of schools during normal school hours.

Despite all these health dangers, the EPA refused in 2017 to ban chlorpyrifos, after a decade of study by the agency and going against the recommendation of its scientists.  The Nation reported that Pruitt's 2017 decision occurred 20 days after Pruitt had met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos.  After the decision, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “[w]e are deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women at risk,”  in a joint letter to Administrator Pruitt with the Environmental Working Group.

Why This Matters:  This is a particularly important move in Hawaii because companies there have been "ground zero" on the development of genetically engineered crops and many companies have frequently used pesticides like chlorpyrifos in that development process, plus it has often been used on the state’s fruit and vegetable crops. But other states are following suit -- California, Minnesota, New Jersey and Maryland are all exploring similar bans.  States will be carrying this work forward since the federal government will not.
Earth Justice's video: Chlorpyrifos: Trump's Pet Poison

 Climate Change

Photo: Sam Ribble
Sea Level Rise Could Put 300,000 US Homes at Risk 

More than 300,000 homes along the United States coastline could face severe impacts from high-tide flooding within the next three decades, according to a new study. The report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that flooding resulting from sea level rise could impact coastal homes 26 times a year, or once every two weeks, by 2045 if greenhouse-gas emissions aren’t severely reduced. Florida is the most at risk of any other state and nearly 40 percent of the state’s property tax base is expected to be "highly exposed" to such flooding within the next 30 years. By 2045, nearly 64,000 residential properties in the state — worth about $26 billion— are at risk for constant flooding. By 2100, about 1 million properties — worth $351 billion — will be at risk, the report said.

As the Weather Channel explained, the study's authors drew their conclusions after an in-depth study of NOAA's sea level rise projections, combined with Zillow property data. It's important to note that the conclusions were drawn from NOAA's worst-case scenario projections, so limiting climate change's impacts or better flood-mitigation infrastructure could lead to less extreme consequences.

Why This Matters: This is a wake-up call for political leaders to make a serious commitment to reducing emissions and moving us to a low-carbon future. Residents of coastal states stand to lose an immense amount of value in their homes and could be forced to walk away from their mortgages and homes. The scientists also released an interactive graphic so residents can see the impacts of sea level rise in their communities; it can be seen here.


Photo: Xcel Energy 
Colorado's Clean Power Revolution

Xcel Energy Colorado is changing the face of energy in Colorado by retiring coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and electricity rates at the same time. Speaking yesterday at the AREDAY Annual Conference, David Eves, Executive Vice President of Xcel Energy, said that in the next eight years they will be investing $2.5B and creating "1150 megawatts of new wind power, 700 megawatts of large-scale solar power, and 275 megawatts of large-scale battery storage," with the storage being the largest in the U.S.  

Xcel is Colorado’s largest electricity provider, and as part of their new plan they will retire two coal-fired units a decade early, and by doing that nearly double the share of power it gets from renewable sources.  The two power plants they will close are in Pueblo, Colorado, but they will be adding two large solar projects nearby and are working hard to ensure minimal job loss in the community.  According to Xcel, this will result in a reduction of its carbon pollution in the state by 60 percent and increase its share of renewable energy to almost 55 percent, up from about 28 percent now.  The Seattle Times reported, “Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan is a true testament to how fast the cost of clean energy is dropping,” said Zach Pierce of the Sierra Club. “This plan makes clear that we can power our communities with reliable, affordable, and clean power made in Colorado for Colorado.”
Why This Matters:  The Xcel job estimates for the new renewable energy facilities in Colorado will not be available until later this week, however, the Jon Goldin-Dubois of Western Resource Advocates believes that the 25%  share of the Colorado energy supply that is renewable is responsible for 60,000 jobs, while coal represents only 2500 jobs now.  And consumers will benefit -- Xcel went to bid out the new facilities' construction and the bids came in so low that they can build and operate the new plants more cheaply than keeping their old, coal-burning power plants going.  Clean energy is the future.  More companies should be like Xcel and make the transition -- the sooner, the better.  

To Go Deeper:  This op/ed in The New York Times is excellent.  


Satellites Help Researchers Track the Spread of Infectious Diseases 

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have been using a variety of data to better track the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria, and chikungunya. A team, led by Sara Del Valle of LANL’s epidemiological forecasting team, began pairing slow-moving data like that from the census or examinations of the spread of climate change with social media signals, Google Health Trend searches, and satellite imagery. For the remote sensing technology, LANL teamed up with predictive intelligence company Descartes Labs which analyzes public domain satellite imagery like that available from NASA, the European Space Agency, and others.

As F&C reported, satellites are ideal for determining, at scale and in close-to-real-time, things like vegetation health, climate-based changes in temperature and precipitation, and urbanization. Those are all keys for helping to spot potential hot zones for mosquito-borne diseases like dengue. Satellites can also help researchers analyze patches of healthy vegetation which is a proxy-measure for standing water (a major indicator of mosquitos). Del Valle says that the existence of healthy vegetation provided as much as five weeks of advance warning of a dengue outbreak. The initial project focused on these diseases in Brazil and the LANL team hopes that its success can help attract more funding to help analyze additional regions of the world. 

Why This Matters: Forecasting the spread of disease isn't nearly as simple as forecasting the weather. The human component of disease makes it messy to track and predict so hopefully analyses like LANL's can help public health officials respond more quickly to outbreaks and help save lives. This technology will be increasingly in demand as climate change is pushing tropical diseases further north and expanding mosquito season in temperate climates. 



Celebrating National Pollinator Week!

June 18-24 is National Pollinator Week. Eleven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and beetles. While bees are the pollinator people think of most frequently it's worth noting that there are nearly 20,000 known bee species in the world, and 4,000 of them are native to the United States. From the tiny and solitary Perdita minima, known as the world’s smallest bee, to the large carpenter bee, to the brilliant blue of the mason bee; native bees come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.  

Native bees pollinate plants like cherries, blueberries, and cranberries, and were here long before European honeybees were brought here by settlers. Honeybees are well known for pollinating almond and lemon trees, okra, papaya and watermelon plants. But native bees are estimated to pollinate 80 percent of flowering plants around the world. According to the USDA, bees of all sorts pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States, and one out of every four bites of food people take is courtesy of bee pollination. In sum, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year.

Why This Matters: We've written before about the peril that honey bees face through colony collapse disorder but bumblebees, and a variety of other pollinators are also facing extinction (and climate change isn't helping). 

Go Deeper: Want to discover pollinators in your own backyard this summer? Try mothing


Rainbow Bridge National Monument at night. Photo: Brent & Dawn Davis, National Park Service
One Wondrous Thing: A Second U.S. Celestial Park 
Utah’s Rainbow Bridge National Monument recently became the fourth International Dark Sky Sanctuary (and second in the U.S.) -- a protected area on land that provides spectacular views of the stars that are greatly obscured by lights for 99% of Americans. As Earther reports, one of the coolest things about this is that this area is of great cultural significance to Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni.

“We’re thrilled to be the first National Park Service unit to receive this specific designation, as this will only fuel our night sky preservation efforts,” Rainbow Bridge National Monument superintendent William Shott said in a statement. And that's no wonder. A recent study out of Missouri State University found that over a 10 year period, protecting the night skies of the Colorado Plateau from light pollution will add $2.5 billion to local economies in the region. So the designation will benefit the economy of the local community as well.  

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