The United States passes the Inflation Reduction Act!
We’re starting off with the most obvious, yet possibly the most exciting, piece of news here. On Tuesday, August 16, US President Joe Biden officially signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 into federal law! This legislative package has been hailed as a big win for the environment - it’s the largest climate investment in the history of the US - but it’s really a triple threat, providing for health care and taxes as well. I won’t get too much into the latter 2 since the focus is on the environment here, and for good reason. (The IRA is primarily focused on mitigating global warming - check out my blog post about it for more information.)
The bill allocates $369B for reducing carbon emissions around the nation, aiming to cut them down by 40% by 2030. Additionally, the production and purchasing of clean energy products, such as electric cars, will be monetarily incentivized in hopes of a widespread shift towards clean, renewable energy. Some extra money has also been designated for restoring the national forests and coasts, along with promoting eco-friendly methods of agriculture.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the bill, however, is the explicit definition of fossil fuel-emitted carbon dioxide as an “air pollutant”. This may seem unnecessary, but this language was included in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling, West Virginia v. EPA, which forbade the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions - according to the SCOTUS, Congress had never given the EPA permission to do so, but now the IRA has!
While the act does fall a bit short of Democrats’ original plan (due to necessary compromises that had to be made with Republicans - speaking of which, every single GOP Senator voted against it, but are we surprised), it marks a new era in the United States for the environment. I’m looking forward to the changes that come with it!
The United States is pausing all coal leases on federal lands!
In more less-known news, on Friday, August 12, a federal judge ordered that the US Department of Interior pause issuing coal leases on all lands belonging to the nation for the time being, leaving the Biden administration to decide whether to release a new environmental analysis if the order were to be overturned. Such a sales freeze already existed under the Obama administration, but President Donald Trump lifted the ban to promote American coal, one of his campaign promises.
This is an important step towards combating climate change for the US, as coal is one of the most notorious and widely-used greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming. “This decision is a victory in that it prevents the administration from continuing to lease coal from our federal public lands. But it’s a small step in the big picture of what this administration needs to do to make good on its commitments to confront the climate crisis,” commented Jenny Harbine, a senior attorney for the Earthjustice group. But of course, the mining industry is less than pleased - the National Mining Association plans to appeal the ruling. Hopefully, the ban will stay in place!
California plans to ban all sales of gasoline-powered cars by 2035!
It looks like it’s not only the federal government that is passing eco-friendly legislation, but the nation’s states as well! California, a long-time pioneer in such legislation, recently enforced a plan to terminate all purchasing and selling of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, making it “the only government in the world to mandate zero-emission vehicles”, said Margo Oge, the former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. And if this plan couldn’t get better, interim goals have also been set - for example, 35% of California-sold vehicles must produce zero emissions by 2026. It is predicted that when the ban goes into effect, at least 12 more states will follow suit. This is a big win for mitigating climate change; if you’ll remember, the transportation sector is a primary contributor to global emissions (check out more information about that here), so with it out of the way, focus can be shifted to other environmental problems as well.
Massachusetts has signed the “Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind” into law!
California’s not the only state working towards that net-zero goal, as it looks like the East Coast is now home to some pretty comprehensive legislation as well! On Thursday, August 11, MA Governor Charlie Baker signed the aforementioned bill into law, cementing the state’s legacy as a “national leader in combating climate change”, as Gov. Baker himself put it. This new legislation aims to reach MA’s goal of obtaining 5.6K megawatts of offshore wind energy (one of the cleanest and most renewable forms of energy to exist) by the end of the decade, regardless of the financial costs associated, and, similar to CA, seriously crack down on decarbonizing its transportation sector. Not only will this all benefit the environment, but it will also be a major boost for the state’s economy as well!
To make matters even better, Boston is looking to join Washington, D.C., New York City, and Seattle, as one of the pilot American cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a very large scale by banning all usage of fossil fuels to power new buildings. While this measure may seem insignificant, it turns out that these types of emissions account for over a third of the city’s entire emissions! And, usually, the easiest way to create eco-friendly buildings is not to convert already-existing ones, but to ensure that new ones are already converted. As the city’s governor, Michelle Wu puts it, this policy is extremely beneficial as “We need a policy that will provide cleaner air, lower energy costs, less carbon emissions, a better quality of life, and so much more.”
An efficient and cheap method for destroying “forever chemicals” has been discovered!
Last week, in the Science journal, scientists published an article describing a simple and cost-effective way to destroy per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), more commonly known as “forever chemicals”. As the name suggests, these man-made chemicals are engineered to remain stable and not naturally break down or react with other substances. While this property is beneficial for the industry, such chemicals become very dangerous when they enter the environment.
As “forever chemicals” accumulate in the air, the water we drink, and the soil plants use to grow, they become incorporated into a variety of organisms’ tissues and blood (even us!). This has been linked to many different health issues, including reduced immunity, increased risk of cancer and liver damage, and low birth weight, according to Times. If this all seems unlikely to you, let me inform you that studies estimate that about 97% of Americans’ bloodstreams already contain these chemicals, and if not eliminated, they can continue to accumulate and cause even further health issues.
Scientists have long been experimenting with different ways to destroy PFAs, including incinerating them and filtering them, but they have not been 100% effective. But now, the new article has found that when mixed with a common solvent, water, and a soap ingredient, and then boiled, many of the tested PFAs broke down within a matter of hours, with others being destroyed after a few days. This is a major breakthrough in the field - despite not being able to eliminate all types of PFAs, the process is one of the first to actually be successful, and it’s much simpler and cheaper to execute than other already-tested methods.
Well, that’s all for today! Hopefully some of this news has inspired you to support local causes and see even your own town, state, or nation be featured on such a list! See you all next time!