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Our Daily Planet: Trump to ease environmental regs for cars, Anacostia success story and more
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

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Trump Administration to Ease Environmental Standards for Cars 

Fuel efficiency requirements for cars look like they will be loosened later this week by the Transportation Department.  The agency that sets fuel efficiency standards is set to keep a campaign promise the President made to automakers that he would relax an Obama Administration requirement that cars and trucks become much more fuel efficient by 2025.  Cars, trucks, and planes comprise one-third of the country's carbon emissions, and their share is growing.  The regulations in question deal with how many miles per gallon, on average, a car company's full offering of non-commercial vehicles must achieve.  President Obama negotiated long and hard with the auto companies to get them to an average of 36 mpg by 2025 -- but now that will be lowered substantially.  

Why does this impact pollution?  Because to achieve this average for fuel efficiency, car companies must sell more small cars, and particularly cars that are hybrids or electric vehicles -- those cars raise the rates of fuel efficiency overall.  But there is a twist for the Trump team -- the state of California.  Because of its air pollution problems, California is allowed under the Clean Air Act to set tougher pollution and fuel standards for cars.  And if California sets tougher standards, it will "drive" the entire U.S. market - twelve other states have laws holding them to the higher California standards.  Automakers would really prefer just one standard -- but that would require the Trump Administration and the State of California to agree.  

Why This Matters:  The Obama administration rule was one of the most successful air pollution and climate change reduction programs in the world. If left unchanged, Obama's targets for cars made from 2017 to 2025 would have resulted in avoiding 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2030. That's the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road entirely.  The Trump rule would be a set back for public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while boosting big oil companies (not so much car makers) and climate skeptics.  Moreover, in order to stay competitive globally, the U.S. auto industry needs to keep pace on fuel efficiency with the rest of the world where fuel costs are high.  From a competitive standpoint, it makes no sense to "turn back the odometer" on automotive technology.  

For the Best Explanation:  This is a super complicated area of Clean Air Law.  Vox did a great explanation of it last year when the Trump Administration first proposed changing the standards.  


Tara Morrison, National Park Service Superintendent of National Capital Parks, whose jurisdiction includes the 1,100 acres of Anacostia Park.  Photo: Tyrone Turner, WAMU Radio

DC's Other River Making a Comeback

The Anacostia River, after years of neglect and lack of funding or support from the great Washington, D.C. community, is making a big comeback, as chronicled in a superb story by D.C.'s WAMU.  This is great news for people in poor and minority neighborhoods that border the river, as well as for outdoor tourism operators, nature enthusiasts, and lots of fish and wildlife too.  In the 1950's and 60's, the river and its banks were a dumping grounds, and not just for trash, but also industrial waste, raw sewage, and polluted runoff. But the Anacostia's troubles were historic, dating back more than 400 years to the original settlers who grew tobacco nearby.  By the mid-1600s, what’s now the D.C. region was one of the most productive tobacco-producing areas in the British Empire. 

Then the military came -- the Washington Navy Yard has been a huge industrial facility going back as far as 1799.  During WWII tens of thousands of workers building the Navy’s big guns and ammunition there and toxic byproducts — like PCBs — ended up in the Anacostia River.  By the end of the 20th century, power plants, dumps and incinerators crowded the banks of the Anacostia. And as the river suffered, so did many of the people who lived near it  - with very high rates of cancer and other immune diseases. 

But in the 1990's groups like the Earth Conservation Corps (the same ones who bring us the Eagle Cam!) began a community-led effort to clean up the River. Now the opening of a new $2.6 billion sewer tunnel on the River is expected to make a huge difference -- the tunnel runs for more than 2 miles under the river to the area's large sewer treatment plant. The city has spent lots of money and city officials want their money's worth - they want to bring the river back to the point that it is swimmable.  

Why This Matters:  Urban rivers are making a comeback all over the country.  The National Park Service is entertaining a proposal to make Anacostia Park into a “signature urban park.” The current 1,100-acre park, which runs along most of the Anacostia's east bank, hasn’t seen a major upgrade in decades; basics like bathrooms and benches are few and far between.  But maybe its time has come.  It is fantastic to see crew shells, 
kayakers, and fishermen beginning to enjoy the Anacostia again.  And it shows the importance of water infrastructure projects and how they can transform a community.

To Go Deeper:  We highly recommend reading AND listening to this fantastic story by Jacob Fenston and Tyrone Turner of WAMU.  Just the photos alone will make you smile.  
D.C. Water’s new sewer tunnel is 26 feet in diameter, the largest infrastructure project in D.C. since Metro was built. Photo: Jacob Fenston,WAMU


Blanca's Summit Photo:

Navajo Climber Works to Restore Indigenous Names to Outdoor Landmarks

Dr. Len Necefer is a is a member of the Navajo Nation and CEO of Natives Outdoors, an activewear and gear company that celebrates indigenous artists and donates a portion of all profits to outdoor focused projects taken on by tribes. He's also an avid climber especially of Colorado's Blanca Peak, which is a grueling multi-day trek that many climbers don't realize is a Navajo sacred place. As Sierra Magazine reported, our school history books rarely make references to the native names of famous landmarks such as noting that in the Diné language, the Blanca Peak is called Sisnaajini, and it marks the eastern boundary of the traditional Navajo Nation.

Necefer is working to provide outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to rename places with their Native American words on Facebook and Instagram (with partners like Joseph Whitson and his Instagram, @IndigenousGeotags)—Mukuntuweap for Zion Canyon, or Babad Do’ag for Arizona’s Mount Lemmon, for example. Through bringing awareness to Native American heritage on social media, Necefer hopes to encourage those who already have a deep connection to a natural place to investigate that peak or landscape’s indigenous significance and history.

Why This Matters: While Necefer doesn’t expect that the European names of cherished outdoor places will be swapped out for their indigenous ones, he does hope that a greater understanding of the Native American histories of these places—places they have cherished, recreated on, and managed sustainably for hundreds or thousands of years—will increase public appreciation for them. And maybe even spur some people to respect those places more.

Recognizing indigenous names, and even officially renaming some landmarks like Mt. Denali, can be important to revitalize the language, culture, and history of indigenous people. Many names don't even need to be changed, as a lot of the names we already use come from native languages. As Smithsonian Magazine noted, Massachusetts is Algonquin for “Great Hill” and Chicago means “Wild Garlic” in the language of the Miami people, who are indigenous to the Great Lakes.



One Strange Rock Trailer
One Strange Rock

Last night was the premiere of Darren Aronofsky's new 10-part
NatGeo docu-series called One Strange Rock. As Wired noted, following her success with Planet Earth, executive Jane Root had been mulling a project that would encompass natural history and Earth science, while taking the viewer to the most extreme locations on the planet. After consulting with Planet Earth colleagues, Root decided on the concept of featuring our planet from an astronaut's point of view. The series' goal is to render Earth as an object of study but from a perspective of authentic human experience--using astronauts to testify the planet's grandeur. 

Why This Matters: As we've seen from the success of Planet Earth and Blue Planet, these types of captivating documentaries create an emotional connection with viewers to the plight of our planet. They have the ability to become worldwide phenomenons and even encourage the Queen of England to change her practices

Our Take: Episode 1 was fast-paced and captivating and featured NatGeo's signature striking visuals. Although, we'd recommend that you DVR if you can to avoid the commercials as they take away from the continuity. There's a lot that's packed into an hour. Some factoids Will Smith et al helped us learn: tears don't work in space, the oxygen that the Amazon creates is used entirely by the plants and animals that live there, when glacier ice hits the sea it sounds like Rice Crispies popping. Will definitely tune in next week. 


A small, female North Atlantic right whale was severely entangled in fishing lines off Miscou Island in northeastern New Brunswick last year. A snow crab fishing trap had to be cut from its body before a necropsy could be performed. Photo: Shane Fowler/CBC
Doing Right by Right Whales

According to a World Animal Protection (WAP) study, every year 640,000 metric tons of fishing nets are lost or discarded in our oceans trapping and slowly killing countless marine animals, including endangered whales, seals and turtles. This "ghost gear" floats around polluting the ocean and disrupting marine ecosystems. This plastic is very lethal too, according to the study, in 79 percent of cases, entanglement causes harm or death. The $75-million Canadian snow crab industry learned recently that its sustainable fishery designation was being suspended until the Marine Stewardship Council is satisfied the fishermen have solved the entanglement problem. As a result, crab fisherman in New Brunswick will begin experimenting with ropeless trap methods in an effort to save endangered North Atlantic right whales. According to the CBC, ten New Brunswick fishermen will be testing two different ropeless trap methods — one based on acoustic release and another that uses an inflatable buoy. Both use sonar to track and communicate with the traps.  These efforts are woefully needed.  

Seven right whales were found tangled up in ropes and buoys in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017 alone. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the North-Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation and no signs of recovery despite protection from whaling since the 1930s.

Why This Matters:  As the WAP reported noted, if we don't do something about fishing ghost gear, "ultimately [it] could mean our oceans simply stop providing for humans in the many ways we now rely on them." 

We have reported previously in ODP that at least 17 North Atlantic right whales were found dead last year — 12 in Canadian waters and five in U.S. waters.   Worse yet, no new right whale calves have been spotted this year off the southeast coast of the U.S. -- a very troubling sign and one that has not happened in the last 30 years.  Scientists believe human activity, including shipping and fishing, was the primary cause. Hopefully, these efforts can be successful as right whales are depending on it.



One Cool Thing

Check out this video of how Rainforest Connection is using TensorFlow, Google’s open-source machine learning framework, and old cell phones to protect the rainforest in partnership with the Tembé tribe from the central Amazon. Who knew old cell phones had such useful afterlives! 
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