Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects

Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects

SOURCE: The Hill DATE: June 4, 2020 SNIP: President Trump signed an executive order Thursday evening that would waive requirements under a suite of environmental laws, a move the administration says will boost the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. The new order expedites the permitting of construction projects and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies, using emergency authorities to skirt environmental regulations with little public notice. “From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.” The order would slash the requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines. Trump’s order comes on the heels of one signed last month that directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” prompting conservative groups to say the administration should further rollback NEPA. The latest order goes further, directing agencies to use their own emergency authorities and the emergency provisions of environmental laws to skip over standard requirements. Agencies will now have 30 days to report which projects will be expedited under the order, but there is no requirement for that list to be...
Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle

Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 3, 2020 SNIP: Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into a river inside the Arctic Circle. The spill occurred when a fuel reservoir at a power plant near the city of Norilsk collapsed on Friday. The plant is operated by a division of Nornickel, whose factories in the area have made the city one of the most heavily polluted places on Earth. Russia’s investigative committee, which deals with major crimes, announced it had launched three criminal investigations into the accident and detained a power plant employee. Alexei Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund said the environmental group was the one who alerted cleanup specialists after confirming the accident through its sources. “These are huge volumes,” he said. “It was difficult for them to cover it up.” The volume of the spill is vastly larger than the 2007 Kerch spill, which involved 5,000 tonnes of oil, Knizhnikov said. The Ambarnaya River that bore the brunt of the spill will be difficult to clean up because it is too shallow to use barges and the remote location has no roads, officials told Putin. Russia’s environment minister, Dmitry Kobylkin, said he thought burning the fuel, which some are suggesting, was too risky. “It’s a very difficult situation. I can’t imagine burning so much fuel in an Arctic territory … such a huge bonfire over such an area will be a big...
Football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest lost every six seconds

Football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest lost every six seconds

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 2, 2020 SNIP: The amount of pristine tropical rainforest lost across the globe increased last year, as the equivalent of a football pitch disappeared every six seconds, a satellite-based analysis has found. Nearly 12m hectares of tree cover was lost across the tropics, including nearly 4m hectares of dense, old rainforest that held significant stores of carbon and had been home to a vast array of wildlife, according to data from the University of Maryland. Beyond the tropics, Australia’s devastating bushfires led to a sixfold increase in tree cover loss across the continent in 2019 compared with the previous year. Rod Taylor, from the World Resources Institute, part of the Global Forest Watch network that released the analysis, said as the unprecedented fires continued into 2020, this was only a partial picture of the area affected in the southern fire season. While Australia’s eucalyptus trees are generally well adapted to respond to fire, Taylor said this year’s blazes burned more intensely, having followed a severe drought, and spread rapidly due to high winds. The fires killed 33 people directly, an estimated 445 more through smoke inhalation, and hundreds of millions of animals. “Whereas a normal fire might char the bark of a tree, this year’s fires turned many trees into charcoal sticks,” Taylor said. “Australia can expect more extreme fire seasons as fire risk increases due to climate change.” The loss of trees in the tropics was the third worst recorded since data was first collected in 2002, trailing behind only 2016 and 2017. The heaviest reduction continues to be in Brazil, which accounted...
Sixth mass extinction of wildlife accelerating, scientists warn

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife accelerating, scientists warn

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 1, 2020 SNIP: The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists who warn it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation. More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. In comparison, the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Without the human destruction of nature, even this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years, the scientists said. The land vertebrates on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data was available for 77 of the species and the scientists found these had lost 94% of their populations. The researchers also warned of a domino effect, with the loss of one species tipping others that depend on it over the edge. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they said, noting that unlike other environmental problems extinction is irreversible. Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing, scientists said, with the coronavirus pandemic an extreme example of the dangers of ravaging the natural world. Rising human population, destruction of habitats, the wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crisis must all be urgently tackled, they said. The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The researchers identified 515 species with populations below 1,000...
US south-west in grip of historic ‘megadrought’

US south-west in grip of historic ‘megadrought’

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: May 29, 2020 SNIP: When Ken Pimlott began fighting US wildfires at the age of 17, they seemed to him to be a brutal but manageable natural phenomenon. “We had periodic [fire] sieges in the 80s, but there were breaks in between,” said Pimlott, the former head of the California department of forestry and fire protection. But no longer. “That doesn’t really happen any more. Now you can’t even blink” between fires, he said. “We’re seeing the kinds of fires we have never seen before.” A recent study published in the journal Science helps explains why, revealing that the south-western US is in the grip of a 20-year megadrought – a period of severe aridity that is stoking fires, depleting reservoirs and putting a strain on water supplies to the states of the region. “You see impacts everywhere, in snowpacks, reservoir levels, agriculture, groundwater and tree mortality,” said co-author Benjamin Cook, of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. “Droughts are these amazingly disruptive events. Water sits at the foundation of everything.” Researchers compared soil moisture records from 2000-2019 to other drought events from the past 1,200 years. They found that the current period is worse than all but one of five megadroughts identified in the record. Unlike past megadroughts – brought on by natural fluctuations in the Earth’s climate – this current drought has been heavily influenced by human-induced climate change, “pushing what would have been a moderate drought in south-western North America into megadrought territory”, according to the study. “Global warming has made the drought much worse than it otherwise would have been,” said...
Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise

Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: May 28, 2020 SNIP: Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites. As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days. Ice shelves float on the ocean but they are fastened to land and act as stoppers that prevent Antarctic ice sheets that are as big as the U.S. and Mexico combined from sliding into the sea. The shelves are frozen to outcrops on the seafloor, but when they melt away from those anchor points, the flow of ice into the ocean speeds up, accelerating sea level rise. If the rate of retreat estimated by the new study extended across...