Private: EPA Prepares to Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner and More Efficient
Climate change, Featured

EPA Prepares to Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner and More Efficient

The Trump administration is expected to launch an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition to potentially roll back industry standards worldwide.

The move — which undercuts one of President Barack Obama’s signature efforts to fight climate change — would also propel the Trump administration toward a courtroom clash with California, which has vowed to stick with the stricter rules even if Washington rolls back federal standards. That fight could end up creating one set of rules for cars sold in California and the 12 states that follow its lead, and weaker rules for the rest of the states, in effect splitting the nation into two markets.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to frame the initiative as eliminating a regulatory burden on automakers that will result in more affordable trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles for buyers, according to people familiar with the plan.

An E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Pruitt had sent a draft of the 16-page plan to the White House for approval.

The particulars of the plan are still being worked out. Those specifics, which are expected this year, could substantially roll back the Obama-era standards, according to two people familiar with the deliberations.

“This is certainly a big deal,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard environmental economics program. “The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”

According to two people familiar with the E.P.A.’s plans, Mr. Pruitt was scheduled to formally announce his proposal on Tuesday at an auto dealership in the Virginia suburbs, but the schedule remained in flux.

Major automakers would welcome the change. They are prepared to participate in making new rules that meet “our customers’ needs for affordable, safe, clean and fuel-efficient transportation,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, which represents many of the world’s largest automakers.

In California, state lawyers said they were expecting a fight. The state has a special waiver under the 1970 Clean Air Act empowering it to enforce stronger air pollution standards than those set by the federal government, a holdover from California’s history of setting its own air pollution regulations before the federal rules came into force. “We’re prepared to do everything we need to defend the process,” said Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, in an interview.

The California waiver gives the state considerable power to require automakers to stick to stricter standards. Not only is California a huge car market itself, but 12 other states including New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have historically followed its lead. Together they represent more than a third of the domestic auto market.

“We’re going to defend first and foremost existing federal greenhouse gas standards,” Mr. Becerra said. “We’re defending them because they’re good for the entire nation. No one should think it’s easy to undo something that’s been not just good for the country, but good for the planet.”

Mr. Pruitt has signaled that he is ready to take on such a challenge. “California is not the arbiter of these issues,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV this month.

Under the Obama administration, the federal government toughened tailpipe pollution standards to match California’s. Mr. Pruitt said the state standards “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

The E.P.A.’s senior clean air adviser, William Wehrum, this week traveled to California and met with the state’s top clean air official, Mary Nichols. Both sides declined to detail what was discussed.

On Wednesday, a coalition of free-market groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute urged Mr. Pruitt to take California on. “It is time for the E.P.A. to act,” the groups said. If the agency did not act quickly, the groups said, “people across the state of California will be facing unrealistic and costly mandates which threaten their basic right to choose.”

President Trump has also spoken about rolling back the efficiency rules, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or Cafe. “I’m sure you’ve all heard the big news that we’re going to work on the Cafe standards so you can make cars in America again,” Mr. Trump said at a Detroit auto research facility in March last year. “We want to be the car capital of the world again. We will be, and it won’t be long.”

The rules, aimed at cutting tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, were one of the two pillars of Mr. Obama’s climate change legacy. Put forth in 2012, they would have required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

If fully implemented, the rules would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations, according to E.P.A. projections.

The rules also would have put the United States, historically a laggard in fuel economy regulations, at the forefront worldwide in the manufacture of electric and highly fuel efficient vehicles. The United States and Canada are the only major nations that have adopted mandatory emissions standards through 2025. The European Union has only recently proposed standards for 2025 and 2030, while China has only started to work on standards for those years.

Less restrictive regulations in the United States could provide an opening for automakers to push for more lenient standards elsewhere as well, leading to the emission of more pollution by cars around the world. While sales of electric vehicles are starting to take off, they still represent barely 1 percent of global car sales. A shift among car buyers toward larger cars and trucks is already impeding progress in fuel economy.

“The concern is that automakers will go around the world basically trying to lobby regulators, saying, look, because the United States has reduced the pace, everywhere else should too,” said Anup Bandivadekar, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, a think tank that focuses on clean car technology and policy. Global carmakers “apply developments in one region to lobby for changes in other regions.”

American automakers initially accepted the plan by Mr. Obama in 2009 to harmonize what was then a hodgepodge of pollution and efficiency standards set by the E.P.A., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California. And the automakers weren’t in much of a position to resist; they had just taken an $80 billion bailout to survive a global economic crisis.

The plan would have spurred automakers to speed their development of highly fuel-efficient vehicles including hybrid and electric cars. But within weeks of Mr. Trump’s inauguration last year, the chief executives of the nation’s Big Three auto companies met with him in the Oval Office to say that the Obama tailpipe standard was too difficult to achieve.

Mr. Trump directed the E.P.A. under Mr. Pruitt to craft a new, less strict set of standards. The announcement expected on Tuesday would represent the first legal step in the process.

While Mr. Pruitt’s proposal to open up the Obama rules to review isn’t expected to include specific targets, “The proposed rollback is going to be quite a significant number,” said Myron Ebell, who led Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. transition team and directs the energy and environment policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization that questions the established science of human-caused climate change. “It will be more than a couple m.p.g.,” he said.

If the legal fight between California and the Trump administration escalates, one possibility is that the federal government might try to revoke the waiver allowing California to set its own rules. Some presidents, including George W. Bush, have considered revoking the waiver, but none have tried.

The announcement by Mr. Pruitt was not expected to include a decision on challenging the waiver.

Mr. Ebell suggested that one possible legal tactic for the Trump administration could be to announce that it will refuse to renew the current waiver on tailpipe emissions, which expires in 2025, rather than to revoke it outright. That would likely delay a court fight until California moves to set standards that go beyond 2025.

But such a move would also likely formalize, at least for the time being, two different sets of rules in the United States — the federal emissions rules, and California’s stricter ones — a logistical headache for the industry.

While California and its ally states have long followed separate smog standards, those have been easier for automakers to meet because a car can be brought into compliance by adding a catalytic converter, for example. Designing for separate mileage standards is more difficult, because fuel economy is dependent on a car’s weight and design.

A divided market could require substantially different car designs, experts say, putting the American auto industry into uncharted territory. It remains unclear how the issue might be resolved. One possibility is that two very different auto markets emerge, one with cleaner cars generally along the coasts, and another with more polluting cars concentrated in Middle America. On the other hand, automakers might also opt to generally adhere to the stricter California standards nationwide, blunting the impact of any Trump administration rollback of federal rules.

The automakers had hoped to avoid these complex scenarios by using their clout with the Trump administration to force California to go along with a relaxation of federal regulations. But “if they thought this would end by California rolling over and giving up its more stringent standards,” said Kevin Poloncarz, a San Francisco lawyer who focuses on air and climate change law, “that was a miscalculation.”

As a result, the automakers’ victory might come with unexpected headaches for them, said Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former counsel to the Obama administration.

For instance, if the rest of the world moves toward stricter rules anyway, the American market could find itself an industry laggard, ceding leadership in clean vehicle technology to markets like China or the European Union. “I don’t really know if the auto industry wants what this administration might be doing,” she said. “It might be like the dog that caught the car.”

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Private: Part of the Great Barrier Reef exposed to more CO₂; results are grim
Climate change, Featured

Part of the Great Barrier Reef exposed to more CO₂; results are grim

Water carrying a dye and added CO₂ is bubbled over the Great Barrier Reef.

Aaron Takeo Ninokawa

Coral reefs are not just pretty and cool—beyond tourism dollars and once-in-a-lifetime diving experiences, they provide real utility to human society. They provide homes to about a quarter of the world’s fish, which many people rely on as a food source. They can act as a barrier to rising sea levels, and they can protect coastlines from eroding.

But thanks to all the carbon we’ve pumped into the air, coral reefs are disappearing. Fast. Part of that is heat stress, but CO2 can also influence coral’s ability to form reefs in the first place. A new experiment gives us our first look at how much this affects a complete reef ecosystem.

When oceans take up atmospheric carbon dioxide, they acidify. This in turn depresses the concentration of carbonate ions in the water. When there is a dearth of carbonate ions in seawater, coral reefs, made of carbonates, dissolve to restore the balance. So it stands to reason that increasing carbon dioxide in the water would spell trouble for the corals.

But tracking the actual effects is remarkably challenging. Experiments have been carried out in controlled laboratory settings on isolated species but not in the open ocean where the effects of CO2 interact with variations in light, temperature, water flow rate, and the availability of nutrients. Only in the open ocean can all of these factors be assessed in unison on the entire coral community. Our ability to deal with any future damage to coral reefs depends upon this knowledge.

Acid washed

A group of marine biologists took advantage of the structure of a reef at One Tree Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef to set up an experiment in an otherwise natural environment.

At low tide, water flows over this reef from a higher lagoon to a lower one. The researchers bubbled CO2 through a tank they placed in the higher lagoon to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the seawater flowing over the reef, bringing it to levels projected to occur later this century. They then measured the rate of coral reef calcification—i.e. the formation of more reef—at several sites after the treated water passed over it. This was compared to rates measured before the experiment.

CO2 enrichment lowered the coral reef’s net community calcification by 34 percent compared to background. Previous laboratory experiments had estimated the calcification sensitivity of corals to be between 15 and 28 percent. The researchers who conducted this study suggest that their new results might show a larger impact because of the presence of crustose coralline algae in the ecosystem, which can alter the balance of carbonate ions. Alternatively, the calcification rate may increase in sensitivity as the concentration of carbonate ions in the water decreases, and this experiment has revealed a snowball effect that we could eventually see in the wild.

Our challenge, they conclude, is to try to understand first how climate change is going to affect complex ecosystems like coral reefs; then how changes in natural resources are going to affect human lives and societies; and finally how we can mitigate and cope with these effects. “Ultimately,” the scientists note, “only the reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels will address the challenges of ocean acidification.”

Given that won’t happen any time soon, experiments like this can help us at least figure out what exactly we are in for.

Nature, 2018. DOI: 10.1038/nature25968 (About DOIs).

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Also Read: Ocean acidity killing corals

Private: Ocean acidity killing coral reefs: Scripps researchers study effects of fossil fuels on ocean floor
Climate change, Featured

Ocean acidity killing coral reefs: Scripps researchers study effects of fossil fuels on ocean floor

Ocean acidity killing coral reefs: Scripps researchers study effects of fossil fuels on ocean floor

Scripps researcher Tyler Cyronak setting up test chambers in Bermuda. / SCRIPPS INSTITUTE OF OCEANOGRAPHY

Scripps researcher Tyler Cyronak setting up test chambers in Bermuda. / SCRIPPS INSTITUTE OF OCEANOGRAPHY

slideshow

A recent study conducted by Australia’s Southern Cross University, which involved the participation of two Scripps Institute of Oceanography scientists, found that within the next 30 years, sediments that serve as the backbone for coral reef systems will erode due to the increased ocean acidity.

The published study, “Coral reefs will transition to net dissolving before end of century,” was published on Feb. 23 in Science, a scientific journal.

Scripps chemical oceanographers, Tyler Cyronak and Andreas Andersson, were co-authors of this work.

“Ocean acidification is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which form carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which, in turn, is released into our ocean’s via rainfall,” said Cyronak. “This changes the chemistry and, ultimately, the pH level of the water – becoming more acidic.”

In turn, this makes it a problem for organisms that make calcium carbonate shells, such as coral, to create a foundation on which to thrive.

“Coral calcification is a biologically controlled process, whereas calcium carbonate dissolution in the sands is not,” Cyronak added. “Our study showed that dissolution of coral sands is ten times more sensitive to ocean acidification than the process of coral calcification is. This could be because the corals are controlling how they build calcium carbonates skeletons with biological mechanisms.”

“The sediments, which are comprised of calcium carbonate, are already eroding, but within the next few decades this loss will exceed the production of calcium carbonate,” added Andersson. “In this context, erosion refers to the dissolution of the calcium carbonate rock into its individual components of dissolved calcium and carbonate ions in seawater; like when you add table salt into a glass of water.”

For their study, the researchers placed chambers on the seafloor at five different locations throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. One chamber collected samples from Bermuda, while the rest were used in the Pacific in Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Tahiti and Heron Island.

The team is currently comparing their findings with lab simulations as well.

“We expose calcium carbonate sediments from different reefs around the world to different levels of CO2 and acidity levels while we simultaneously measure how fast they dissolve. We do this in custom made beakers under controlled temperature and CO2 conditions,” said Andersson.

So what can be done to counteract our effects on coral reef systems?

“At the global scale, we can slow down the use of fossil fuels and emissions of CO2 to reduce the rate of ocean warming and acidification,” said Andersson. “On the local scale, we can implement practices that promote a healthy reef, including sustainable fishing practices and good water quality. We can do this by preventing runoffs of nutrients, sediments, and waste products.”

With the team currently at work in the lab, knowing that there are people taking steps to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment is a relief to most. As stated previously, the next 30-plus years are crucial to counteract the effects of the ocean’s acidification.

Want to see video footage of Andersson and Cyronak at work on this study? Visit scripps.ucsd.edu, or view it on our website.

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Also areas: Climate change causing dramatic rise in sea levels: NASA

Private: More Sharks Ditching Annual Migration as Ocean Warms
Climate change, Featured

More Sharks Ditching Annual Migration as Ocean Warms

Why Fewer Blacktip Sharks Are Migrating to Florida

WATCH: Each year, thousands of blacktip sharks migrate between Florida and North Carolina, but warmer waters are causing some to skip the trip the Florida.

The annual migration of blacktip sharks from southern Florida to North Carolina has begun—and researchers who track this amazing ritual say there are seeing only about one-third the usual number.

The sharks—all male—swim south during the coldest months of the year and head north when spring arrives to mate with females. But for the past two years, many sharks are staying north, thanks to the East Coast’s warming waters.

That could be a problem. These traveling sharks keep Florida’s coastal ecosystem healthy by weeding out weak and sick fish, and thereby helping to preserve coral reefs and seagrasses.

Stephen Kajiura, a marine biologist at Florida Atlantic University, has been tracking blacktips for 15 years, climbing into a single-engine Cessna 172 and flying low over Florida’s crystal-clear waters with a camera poking out the window.

He and his crew then jump in a boat to tag some sharks with a small acoustic device, or a longer-lasting satellite receiver. In past years, they’ve counted as many as 15,000 sharks in a single group. But not this season. (See our favorite shark videos of all time.)

“This year has been strange,” Kajiura says. “Last year was unusually warm all winter: The water temperatures never got below 73.4 Fahrenheit. This year, the temperatures have risen dramatically to 78.8 Fahrenheit. It’s now even hotter than this time last year.”

Heading North

The underwater heatwave is the result of seasonal variability—just like there are cool summers and warm winters on land.

But over time, Kajiura believes this migrant shark population will permanently shift northward in response to long-term rising ocean temperatures, which are linked to global climate change. Many of these changes are already underway.

In fact, the waters off the northeastern U.S. have warmed faster than more than 99 percent of the world’s oceans in the past decade, according to Vince Saba, a marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

“We are seeing a northern shift in most of our fish stocks: winter flounder, summer flounder, herring, and mackerel,” Saba said. “Some of those species are part of the coastal sharks’ diet.”

Since 1960, the patch of ocean from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to the Gulf of Maine has warmed by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. While that might not seem like much, to fish and other marine life, it’s the difference between life and death. (Read about a new species of shark discovered in Florida.)

“We can put on a coat, or if you are a lizard you can bask in the sun; but fish don’t have that option,” said Malin Pinsky, a marine ecologist at Rutgers University. “Fish can’t escape temperatures. Even half a degree or a degree can be a lot for their ability to survive and reproduce.”

That’s why the blacktip sharks, just like cod, dogfish, and a host of other fish species, are moving north to get more comfortable—and follow their food supply.

Dangerous Catch

Swimmers and surfers might see more of these sharks along the northeastern coast. Although they’re not aggressive, some people have been bitten by sharks that mistake their legs or feet for food. (Read the psychology behind our fear of shark attacks.)

Fishermen are affected by the shift in fish populations, too.

Commercial boats based in North Carolina used to spend a day at sea catching valuable summer flounder, returning home at night. Now they are forced to sail hundreds of miles north to fill their hold—which is more expensive and makes for a more dangerous catch.

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Private: Climate change driving dramatic rise in sea levels: NASA study
Climate change, Featured

Climate change driving dramatic rise in sea levels: NASA study

IANS

Washington, March 3 (IANS) The sea level may rise twice as high by 2100 as previously estimated as a result of climate change, a new NASA study says.

According to the findings detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, rise in sea level may increase by up to 65 centimeteres in the next 80 years, enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities, Space.com reported on Friday.

“This is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” said Steve Nerem, Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, who led the NASA Sea Level Change team that conducted the study.

This acceleration has been driven mainly by increased ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica, the study said.

The findings are based on 25 years of NASA and European satellite data.

“Our extrapolation assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years. Given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that is not likely,” Nerem said in a statement.

Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere increase the temperature of air and water, which causes sea level to rise in two ways.

First, warmer water expands, and this “thermal expansion” of the ocean has contributed about half of the seven centimetres of global mean sea level rise that has been observed over the past 25 years, Nerem said.

Second, the water from melting land ice flows into the ocean, which also increases sea level around the world.

The rate of sea level rise has risen from about 2.5 millimetres per year in the 1990s to about 3.4 millimetres per year today, the researchers said.

These increases have been measured by satellite altimeters since 1992, including the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 missions, which have been jointly managed by NASA, France’s Centre national d’etudes spatiales, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The researchers said that the speed of the acceleration can be affected by geological events such as volcanic eruptions or by climate patterns such as El Nino and La Nina.

They used climate models and other data sets to account for the volcanic effects and to determine the El Nino /La Nina effects, ultimately uncovering the underlying rate and acceleration of sea level rise.

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Update: 03-March-2018

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