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Our Daily Planet: Kavanaugh is Lord Voldemort of environment; Kombucha is better than plastic and edible too!
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

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Judge Kavanaugh's Dismal Record In Environmental Cases

As a Judge in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Brett Kavanaugh has had many opportunities to rule in cases involving environment and natural resource conservation regulations, and the vast majority of the time he has ruled against federal agencies regulations to enhance environmental protection.  He said last night that he has an open mind on every case, but it seems that when it comes to reigning in agency regulations, his views are pretty well set in favor of industry.  Bill Snape (yes that is his real name), senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity told Grist “I think of him as the Lord Voldemort of the environment."
  • Climate Change:  When his court heard the case challenging the Obama Clean Power Plan in 2016, he was skeptical that EPA has the authority to limit greenhouse gases. During oral argument, according to Climatewire, he said, “[g]lobal warming isn’t a blank check” for the president to regulate carbon emissions....I understand the frustration with Congress,” but he said the rule, rather than Congress, was “fundamentally transforming an industry.”
  • Clean Air Interstate Pollution: Kavanaugh wrote an opinion that overturned the so-called "good neighbor rule" which EPA promulgated to force states to reign in harmful air pollution that blows across state lines because he believed that the agency had “transgressed statutory boundaries” when it allocated emission reductions among upwind states. The Supreme Court later reversed Kavanaugh and upheld EPA's rule in a decision in which Justice Kennedy voted with the majority and Justice Alito was recused.  
  • Biodiversity: In a 2011 Endangered Species Act case, Judge Kavanaugh ruled to limit critical habitat protections for endangered fairy shrimp. A similar issue regarding how much deference should the Fish & Wildlife Service get in determining the geographic scope of critical habitat (in this case for an extremely rare species of frog) is first up on the Supreme Court's docket for the coming term.  This is the very sort of case in which Kavanaugh would likely side with landowners against the agency's expansive view of its authority. 
Why This Matters:  Judge Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will serve for a very long time and likely rule in ways that undercut agency authority to regulate and demand Congressional precision in legislative drafting on the environment.  He won't want to go beyond the "letter of the law" at all -- which will hamstring agencies and force Congress to be ever more prescriptive.  If you have ever seen the detailed language of the Clean Air Act, you know what a nightmare that will be for lawyers and courts.  Current environmental laws will not provide much room for agencies to work either under this approach. It could be a long dry spell for federal environmental law and policy no matter who gets elected to Congress or the White House.  Or as Jody Freeman, a law professor at Harvard put it to Scientific American -- a long "game of keep away from the Supreme Court."

To Go Deeper Into Kavanaugh's Judicial Philosophy:  We recommend that you dive into Edith Roberts' fine summary of his large body of work in SCOTUS blog.   We also recommend that you click on the links above -- there are several excellent articles cited and you can get smart about Judge Kavanaugh very fast by reading them. 

 Climate Change

Data: NOAA, Graphic: Inside Climate News 
Nighttime Lows Reach New Highs

Heat waves smashed summer high-temperature records in the past week in America, with 80 million people remaining under a heat advisory through the 4th of July. But while daytime highs make headlines, increasingly hot nighttime lows deserve just as much attention for their deadly potential. 

As Inside Climate News reported, in 2015, NOAA said that, "As the world warms, nighttime temperatures are slightly outpacing daytime temperatures in the rate of warming." The following year, 2016 ranked as the third warmest year ever in the United States when looking at average temperatures. But when looking at the nation's overnight minimums, 2016's were the warmest ever. As we reported earlier this month, the highest ever recorded nighttime low temperature occurred in Quriyat, Oman where the Middle Eastern town of about 50,000 residents clocked in at 42.6°C (108.7°F) on June 26th and records will only continue to be broken. Take a look at the graph above to see how summer nighttime lows are getting hotter and hotter. 

Why This Matters: Daytime heat takes an enormous toll on human health, even decreasing human brain capacity at a certain point, but when the body cannot cool off and "reset" at night these effects are compounded (especially for children and the elderly). Recent research has also shown that higher nighttime temperatures can inhibit sleep and add additional stress to the body. In cities, that stress can be even greater, especially for people who do not have air conditioning and don't get any reprieve from the heat. Asphalt and concrete trap heat during the day, then release it very slowly at night, meaning urban areas are often much hotter than rural ones.  



Trump's Push for Coal Costs Lives

In the past two months, President Trump attempted to prop up struggling coal plants through the Cold War era Defense Production Act of 1950 and the Federal Power Act. The argument made by the Trump Administration was that these actions would help increase grid resiliency but energy regulators have made it clear that this is little more than a political move to appease Trump's base. "There is no immediate calamity or threat," the Republican chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told Congress. Existing power sources are sufficient to satisfy the nation's energy needs, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre added. Four other commissioners from both parties agreed there is no immediate threat to the grid.

A new report from the non-partisan economic research group, Resources for the Future indicates that keeping these coal plants afloat would have deadly consequences. As Grist reported, the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions could lead to the deaths of more than 800 Americans. The researchers analyzed what Trump’s bailout policy could mean for emissions, public health, and jobs, given that struggling plants stay open for two more years, as reports have suggested the plan would do. The plants would churn out some serious emissions in that scenario — over two years, we’d see an additional 22 million tons of CO2. That’s roughly equal to the amount emitted by 4.3 million cars in a year. The report found that the bailout would “support” an estimated 790 jobs. But for every two to 4.5 coal mining jobs that Trump’s plan sustained, one American would die from air pollution. 

Why This Matters: Despite the GOP's best efforts to breath life (bad pun) into the sputtering coal industry (which goes against every principle of market economics), plants keep shutting down as America's abundance of natural gas and growing renewables industry put them out of business. To make matters worse, the Trump Administration has suppressed research studying the negative human health effects of living near mountaintop removal sites in Appalachia. 


NYU Video of Iceberg Calving
Seeing Sea Level Rise -- Day 2

If you want to literally watch the sea rise due to Arctic melting, check out this time-lapse video captured by a researcher at NYU's and Abu Dhabi's Center for Global Sea Level Change in late June of a 4-mile section of an iceberg in Greenland break off or "calve."  "This process is very violent, very dramatic, and very one-way," one of the researchers told The Verge. "It raises sea level, and it does it very abruptly."  According to the research team lead, David Holland, “Global sea-level rise is both undeniable and consequential. By capturing how it unfolds, we can see, first-hand, its breath-taking significance.”

Meanwhile, a startup in the President's backyard in Florida is also making waves.  The AP profiled over the weekend Coastal Risk Consultants, which was co-founded by the former director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, and has raised $2m in its first funding round.  The company sees a market in consulting on climate change-related challenges that traditional property inspectors and building codes don’t consider — hurricane storm surge, flooding rains, and extreme temperature changes.  One recent homebuyer was surprised to learn from his report by Coastal Risk that the flood risk was higher for a home along the Intercoastal Waterway than an ocean-front condo.

Why This Matters: Yesterday we brought you the story or an artist helping the public visualize the impact of sea level rise in Venice.  Now you can see it happening in Greenland in real time. Seeing is believing.  Climate change is making a market play beyond the energy sector.  This is a good thing -- the federal government will be increasingly reluctant to bail out people who purchase property right along a coastline -- the property market is beginning to adapt.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg -- bad pun -- of climate data that will drive important decisions about where to build, plant or restore going forward.  



Photo: Wikipedia

Mountain Gorillas Making a Comeback

Conservation groups working in the dangerous Virunga National Park of Rwanda have some good news to report -- the number of mountain gorillas there is approaching 1000, and growing, according to a blog by Jason Bittel in the NRDC's publication onEarthThese critically endangered animals were once thought to be goners -- their numbers down to about 250 animals in the early 80's.  The population went into freefall in the 60's due to habitat loss for charcoal and agriculture, plus poachers who were increasingly targeting gorillas for meat, trophies, and even the exotic pet trade.

These gorillas were made famous by conservationist Dian Fossey in her book, Gorillas in the Mist,  and then the subsequent 1988 film about them.  Fossey championed the species but she herself was murdered at her Rwandan research camp, and the circumstances surrounding her death remain an unsolved mystery.  The area is still quite dangerous -- in April, five rangers and their driver were ambushed and gunned down in Virunga in the deadliest attack in the park’s history.  Over the past 20 years, more than 170 rangers have lost their lives there as the poachers and militia groups are increasingly better armed than the rangers.

Why This Matters:  The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund continues the work of the conservation heroine.  One of the reasons for their success is that the Foundation has involved local communities in recovery efforts.  According to Tara Stoinski, president and CEO of the Fund, what works is to ensure that "people are directly benefiting from the gorillas."  In Rwanda, ten percent of park entrance fees go directly toward improving the lives of local communities, which is an important model for other conservation projects looking to succeed in the developing world.

Closer to Home:  Here is an update from the Smithsonian National Zoo about the mountain gorilla recently born there.  Watch the adorable video below as baby Moke attempts his first steps.  And don't miss the full article with fantastic pictures of mother and child.

Two-month-old Moke, born at the National Zoo, takes his first tentative steps!


One Cool Thing: Plastic-Free Packaging Made from Kombucha

Polish design student Roza Janusz has created Scoby, an eco-friendly alternative to plastic packaging that is easily grown with the same methods used to make kombucha. Created from fermented bacteria and yeast, the organic membrane can be used to store a variety of lightweight foods like seeds, nuts, or even salads. The zero-waste food packaging is completely biodegradable and can also be eaten after use. Eating our way out of plastic pollution is totally cool!
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