Interesting article in The New York Times about efforts to assist laid-off coal mining employees to transition to new, typically higher-tech, jobs in previously coal-dependent Kentucky communities. As Minnesota moves away from fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, and perhaps shifts away from dependence on extractive industries, we need to be ready with plans to do similar things in affected parts of the state.
This week, the EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, adopted new rules governing heavy-duty trucks which should significantly reduce fine particulate emissions. Notably, the new rules close the loophole which has allowed trucking companies to keep using old, dirty diesel engines basically forever by building new cabs around them. Old diesel engines are perhaps the largest single contributor to our ongoing problem with PM 2.5, those particles under 2.5 microns that tend to go deep in the lungs and are associated with poor health outcomes. This is also a significant advance for environmental justice, because disadvantaged communities tend to be located near major highways.
It is now pretty common understanding that "living cover"--making sure that something is always growing and taking up nitrogen on our farm land--will be a big part of the solution to our ongoing ag-related water pollution problem. "Cover crops"--planting something either after the corn/soybean harvest or essentially between the rows--is an old tool that needs to make a major comeback. Happily, research at the U and other places is breaking down whatever technical barriers might exist and even showing how farmers can earn additional profits from certain cover crop choices.
We know, of course, that there will be resistance to change no matter what, but the opportunity for farmers and researchers to work on this together is a reason to be optimistic. Here is an MPR report on that.
That is not to say that, without public policy drivers, the problems will solve themselves. Living cover needs to be a standard that farmers need to comply with to qualify for federal farm bill assistance, it already is a requirement for state certification for water quality, and it ultimately needs to be an enforceable water quality standard for all agricultural producers.
Yet another article calling, in this case, for California to enact a carbon tax to help control emissions. This comes from the Brookings Institution.
Today, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the White House released "final guidance" on how federal agencies should address greenhouse gases in their environmental assessments and environmental impact statements. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/nepa_final_ghg_guidance.pdf. The CEQ put out "draft" guidance several years ago, which prompted substantial opposition and concern from industry, and it was not clear whether "final" guidance would get done in the waning months of the Obama Administration. This is particularly important, because we do not directly regulate greenhouse gas emissions like we might nitrogen oxide, so identifying the likely emissions and considering alternatives and mitigation options is key to reducing GHG emissions in projects that need federal permits or licenses, or receive substantial federal money. There may be lessons to be learned as well as Minnesota revises its own environmental review policies.
Not exactly news: 2015 was hottest year ever, 2016 will be hotter yet.
Latest "state of the climate" report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/02/environment-climate-change-records-broken-international-report.