Another explanation as to why that SCOTUS decision about EPA was so radical

I have a pretty good idea what happened and why when the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in that West Virginia case.

But even when I think I understand something I will often find something that clarifies or expands on my understanding of a given subject.

This article from The Atlantic by Georgetown University law professor Liza Heinzerling gives me some additional understanding about why that decision was so important — and what it portends for tackling major problems facing our country:

Like many governmental agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has an elaborate process for developing important rules. As I saw during the Obama administration, when I headed the EPA office that oversees this process, getting a major rule over the finish line can take years. Almost every step of the way offers obstacles to addressing any serious environmental problem.

This work just got much harder, if not altogether impossible. In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that Congress may not authorize an administrative agency like the EPA to address an issue of great economic and political significance—in the Court’s parlance, a “major question”—unless Congress speaks extremely precisely in doing so. Broad statutory language, written with the aim of empowering an agency to take on new problems in new ways, will no longer suffice.

The Court’s major-questions doctrine will make effective governance of this country even harder than it has long been. Somewhat ironically, the first victim is Congress itself. Congress has long addressed important problems by empowering agencies to regulate based on newly developed scientific and technical information. That is what Congress did in the Clean Air Act and in the public-health and workplace-safety statutes the Court narrowed in the COVID cases. All laws with a similar structure, passed in at least implicit reliance on a different interpretive framework from the one the Court has embraced, are now vulnerable to severe judicial cropping. So while the Court is purporting to hand Congress the baton, in reality it’s creating a major hurdle that will stand in the way of Congress’s work.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Noted giraffe and lion trophy hunter gunned down in South Africa

Let’s call it rough justice:

Riaan Naude, 55, owner of Pro Hunt Africa, was found dead next to his truck in Marken Road, Limpopo.

Two hunting rifles were among items found in his car in an area which includes part of the Kruger National Park wildlife reserve, local outlet Maroela Media reported.

Naude, from Phalaborwa, Limpopo, had previously uploaded pictures of himself posing next to dead animals, including lions, elephants and giraffes.

Police spokesperson Lt.col. Mamphaswa Seabi said officers found his body after being called to the scene.

He said: ‘The man was lying with his face up and there was blood on his head and face.’

It must have been awful for him to lie there, shot in the hot sun, terrified as the life drained out of him. Sort of like the innocent animals he made a living killing.

You can read the rest here.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is too stupid to know she argues against herself on climate change

Oh, Marjorie. You’re a shining example of how poor science education is ruining public discourse:

Marjorie Taylor Greene has asked why thousands of cattle perished during an extreme heatwave in Kansas just weeks after saying that climate change would be good for food production.

“Why did thousands of cattle all die in a heat wave?” the Republican congresswoman from Georgia wrote on Twitter on June 29. “Usually just the old, sick, or weak die in stressful conditions, not the whole herd. Food security is national security.”

The Newsweek article goes on to note:

“This was a true weather event, it was isolated to a specific region in southwestern Kansas,” A.J. Tarpoff, a cattle veterinarian with Kansas State University, told the Associated Press. “Yes, temperatures rose, but the more important reason why it was injurious was that we had a huge spike in humidity … and at the same time wind speeds actually dropped substantially, which is rare for western Kansas.”

Stop this ride. I want to get off.

Light and sound pollution and their effects on the natural world

Cambridge-educated science journalist Ed Yong wrote the cover story in the current edition of The Atlantic, and it’s all about the disastrous effects that light and sound pollution are having on the natural world.

Just one example from the article:

Every year on September 11, the sky above New York City is pierced by two columns of intense blue light. This annual art installation, known as Tribute in Light, commemorates the terrorist attacks of 2001, with the ascending beams standing in for the fallen Twin Towers. Each is produced by 44 xenon bulbs with 7,000-watt intensities. Their light can be seen from 60 miles away. From closer up, onlookers often notice small flecks, dancing amid the beams like gentle flurries of snow. Those flecks are birds. Thousands of them.

This annual ritual unfortunately occurs during the autumn migratory season, when billions of small songbirds undertake long flights through North American skies. Navigating under cover of darkness, they fly in such large numbers that they show up on radar. By analyzing meteorological radar images, Benjamin Van Doren showed that Tribute in Light, across seven nights of operation, waylaid about 1.1 million birds. The beams reach so high that even at altitudes of several miles, passing birds are drawn into them. Warblers and other small species congregate within the light at up to 150 times their normal density levels. They circle slowly, as if trapped in an incorporeal cage. They call frequently and intensely. They occasionally crash into nearby buildings.

It’s an excellent article, although it’s probably not surprising that a man would write an article condemning light pollution without apparently thinking about the relationship of women to walking outside in the dark. To be a woman in today’s urban environments is to be crossing streets so that you can walk under streets lights so that you feel safer.

Do street lights reduce crime?

The most often cited 2015 study out of the UK says no. But a subsequent study out of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, U-Penn and the University of Oregon, says yes:

The LIGHTS study found that the developments that received new lights experienced crime rates that were significantly lower than would have been the case without the new lights. Among other findings, the study concluded that increased levels of lighting led to a 36% reduction in “index crimes” — a subset of serious felony crimes that includes murder, robbery and aggravated assault, as well as certain property crimes — that took place outdoors at night in developments that received new lighting, with an overall 4% percent reduction in index crimes.

I am guessing it would be difficult to conduct a well-designed study to measure how much keeping the lights on at businesses at night prevents or reduces burglaries, but it makes sense that burglars would choose to break into dark businesses (and homes) over well-lit ones.

To speak convincingly about light pollution to a wide swath of the population, academics would have to, at the very least, show that they gave real-world issues such as these some thought.

Otherwise, business owners would look at you with disbelief and say, “It’s all well and good that you want to save budgies and bats, and people who want to see the Milky Way at night, but I’ve got a business to run and protect.”

Nonetheless, Yong’s article is interesting and very well done, and suggests avenues for at least beginning to meld light and sound pollution considerations into urban planning.

Flushed wet wipes are changing the course of the River Thames

No matter how many times authorities tell people not to flush personal hygiene wipes, disinfecting wipes or paper towels, they continue to do it.

The problem has become severe in London:

An island the size of two tennis courts has “changed the course” of the River Thames – and it’s made from wet wipes.

Campaigners regularly comb through the muck on the riverbank near Hammersmith Bridge, where they find up to 150 wet wipes per square metre.

The UK uses 11 billion of the “disposable” products every year, according to Labour MP Fleur Anderson, causing untold problems for the environment and wreaking havoc on plumbing to the tune of £100m in blockages.

People are so stupid some times. The houses on my block back-up to a running creek and I see my neighbors out using all manner of noxious chemicals on their lawns and gardens despite the fact that it obviously washes directly into a waterway teeming with life.

Fish navigate through wet wipes pollution.

Tried out this all-natural weed killer and it worked really well

I live at the bottom of a small watershed next to a creek and therefore do not, under any circumstances, want to use noxious chemicals in my yard that could run off into the creek and pollute the stream.

So, except for cutting my grass, I leave the rest of my yard to grow naturally. There are a few places I do not want weeds to grow, particularly next to my foundation and in-between the slabs in my sidewalks and driveway.

I’ve been making my way through organic weed killers without great success. That is, until I tried Earth’s Ally Weed and Grass Killer I got from my local Lowe’s.

It works better than any other organic weed killer I tried. It’s salt-based, so it’s not terribly harmful I suppose in the relatively small amounts I use.

It says it works in one application, and that’s mostly true. But I have to go back and do a second application for particularly stubborn weeds. Most important how-to tip seems to be to use it on a sunny day when it’s not going to rain.

From the manufacturer:

Earth’s Ally is a non-selective, ready-to-use Weed & Grass Killer. Powered by sea salt, the Earth’s Ally formula quickly kills common weeds to the root and offers a safer alternative to harsh synthetic chemicals like glyphosate, when used as directed. Earth’s Ally kills common weeds, including broadleaf, crabgrass, dandelion, clover, ivy, chickweed and many more. It is less effective on weeds with woody stems, such as some ivies. When used as directed, Earth’s Ally delivers visible results in 3 hours and has been proven to kill weeds to the root, so you won’t end up treating the same weed repeatedly.

For best results, use Earth’s Ally on a dry, sunny day. Shake the bottle to thoroughly mix the ingredients and saturate the weeds you want to eliminate using the stream setting, not mist. Apply generously to both the leaves and base of the weed so the sea salt makes its way to the root. Do not use during rainfall or when weeds are wet. Avoid overspray on desirable plants.

The one-gallon refills are pretty cheap.

Manufacturer video.

You might live in an awful place, but at least it’s probably not Mississippi

You probably already know that Mississippi ranks near (or at) the bottom of most state-by-state quality-of-life indicators.

So it might not surprise you that when given $750 million by oil giant BP as compensation for that gigantic oil spill a few years back, the state’s mostly right-wing legislature is wasting the money due to fraud and incompetence:

But Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Restoration Fund is failing to meet any conventional measure of success for an economic development program, a joint investigation by the Sun Herald and ProPublica found.

Legislators put the power to spend the money in their own hands, and they’re doling it out without an overall plan. They’re using the cash to fill gaps in local government budgets and funding projects with few metrics for success. They’ve disregarded input of an advisory board made up of local business leaders, a committee lawmakers created when outlining how the money should be spent. In grant agreements, recipients have committed to creating few jobs, even fewer of them high-wage jobs.

Just 33 full-time equivalent jobs have been promised by the 24 projects for which Gulf Coast Restoration Fund grants have been finalized, according to grant agreements. Those projects have received $53.3 million — an average of $1.6 million per job. Economic development experts say that’s high.

“Experts say that’s high.” I nearly spit my coffee out when I read that part.

“Gee, do ya think $1.6 million per job is too high?”

“I dunno. Let’s ask some economic development experts.”

You can read the rest here at ProPublica.

An oily marsh in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.

“Vegan leather” in the apparel industry turns out to be a bit of a scam

The New York Times has an article more or less exposing the “greenwashing” of the fashion industry that uses the “Higg Index” to rate the eco-friendliness of its products, all while using nonsense terms such as “vegan leather.”

It’s soft. It’s vegan. It looks just like leather.

It’s also made from fossil fuels.

An explosion in the use of inexpensive, petroleum-based materials has transformed the fashion industry, aided by the successful rebranding of synthetic materials like plastic leather (once less flatteringly referred to as “pleather”) into hip alternatives like “vegan leather,” a marketing masterstroke meant to suggest environmental virtue.

Underlying that effort has been an influential rating system assessing the environmental impact of all sorts of fabrics and materials. Named the Higg Index, the ratings system was introduced in 2011 by some of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers, led by Walmart and Patagonia, to measure and ultimately help shrink the brands’ environmental footprints by cutting down on the water used to produce the clothes and shoes they sell, for example, or by reining in their use of harmful chemicals.

But the Higg Index also strongly favors synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural ones like cotton, wool or leather. Now, those ratings are coming under fire from independent experts as well as representatives from natural-fiber industries who say the Higg Index is being used to portray the increasing use of synthetics use as environmentally desirable despite questions over synthetics’ environmental toll.

“The index is justifying the choices fashion companies are making by portraying these synthetics as the most sustainable choice,” said Veronica Bates Kassatly, a fashion industry analyst and critic of the industry’s sustainability claims. “They’re saying: You can still shop till you drop, because everything is now so sustainably sourced.”

The article goes on to say:

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which runs the index and counts among its members almost 150 brands, including H&M and Nike, as well as retail giants like Amazon and Target, said the index uses data that is scientifically and externally reviewed.

“This is years of work to compile and put together the best available most up-to-date data,” said Jeremy Lardeau, vice president of the Higg Index at the apparel coalition. “We’re not actively pushing for the synthetic numbers to be low. We’re just collecting the data in one place.”

Critics counter that some of the data underpinning the index comes from research that was funded by the synthetics industry that hasn’t been fully opened up to independent examination. Other studies incorporated into the Higg Index are sometimes relatively narrow in scope, raising questions about their broad, industrywide applicability.

The index rates polyester as one of the world’s most sustainable fabrics, for example, using data on European polyester production provided by a plastics-industry group, although most of the world’s polyester is made in Asia, usually using a dirtier energy grid and under less stringent environmental rules. The Higg rating for elastane, also known as Lycra or spandex, draws on a study by what was at the time the world’s largest elastane producer, Invista, a subsidiary of the conglomerate Koch Industries. (Invista sold its Lycra business in 2019.)

The SAC said in response to the data issues brought up in the article:

What is crucial is the pressing need across the industry to close the data gap, which can only be done through collaboration. We strongly appeal to all parts of the materials industry to invest in deeper data on materials’ environmental impact – and to share that data across with each other. Collaboration is the only way we can accelerate progress on climate issues and provide the best possible data to enable businesses, policymakers and customers to make informed decisions.  

While we of course recognize the need for data sets to continuously evolve and grow – this will always be an ongoing task – we are confident the tools we provide to members are effective in achieving what they have been designed to do – enable a benchmark for continuous improvement and the lessening of environmental impacts. 

We will continue to work to find common ground with all parties, because our focus, like theirs, is ultimately to improve the environmental impact of our industry. We live in a climate emergency and it will take all actors from across the value chain to drive change. This is what we were set up to achieve, and what we remain ardently committed to.  

Until we come up with alternatives to real or plastic leather, I will just avoid both when I can.

Phoenix is suffering weather where it remains 100 degrees at midnight

Phoenix is hurting not just during the day, but even during nights which offer little in the way of relief:

After a record-breaking daytime temperature in Phoenix last Friday, the onset of night offered little relief from the sweltering heat. As the clock struck midnight it was still a staggering 100F (38C) outside and just a few degrees cooler inside 60-year-old Sarepta Jackson’s home.

Jackson lay naked and as still as possible on the bed next to an old portable air conditioning unit in the bedroom window, but couldn’t relax or get comfortable. She eventually got up around 2am to make rice and beans for the following day because the air conditioner and electrical appliances won’t run together, so it’s too hot to cook during the day.

“This heat is miserable, my body can’t take it,” said Jackson, who has high blood pressure and diabetes, and last year suffered a stroke after overheating.

The overnight low on Friday was a suffocating 90F – the first time it stayed so hot so early in the season according to the national weather service (NWS) . This broke the previous overnight record for 10 June by a staggering 5F.

Temperature records are being smashed time and time again, said Matthew Hirsch, meteorologist at the NWS in Phoenix. “The changing climate means that every year the records get easier to break. This heat is very dangerous if you can’t get any relief.”

For Jackson – and many others – the daytime heat of the current wave is grueling enough, but it is the nights that are truly intolerable.

It’s really too bad we can’t take all the fossil fuel CEOs, and all the Republicans who enabled their climate-denying, and ship them all off to Arizona to live without air conditioning in windowless rooms for a few weeks each summer. They could all have a box fan and that is all.

What happens if the Great Salt Lake dries up?

Less press has been given to this body of water than to Lakes Mead or Powell, but the famous lake near Salt Lake City is disappearing and that could be a disaster:

Last summer, the water level in the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest point on record, and it’s likely to fall further this year. The lake’s surface area, which covered about 3,300 square miles in the late 1980s, has since shrunk to less than 1,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The salt content in the part of the lake closest to Salt Lake City used to fluctuate between 9 percent and 12 percent, according to Bonnie Baxter, a biology professor at Westminster College. But as the water in the lake drops, its salt content has increased. If it reaches 17 percent — something Dr. Baxter says will happen this summer — the algae in the water will struggle, threatening the brine shrimp that consume it.

While the ecosystem hasn’t collapsed yet, Dr. Baxter said, “we’re at the precipice. It’s terrifying.”

Much of the American West and Southwest should have stopped their relentless development long ago. It’s reaching the point where much of it may soon have no choice about the matter. You can’t build if there is no water.

I have friends who, every year while the Midwest and Plains are suffering through winter, post snarky pictures of themselves lolling around pools and greenery in Southern California and Arizona.

And I always think the same thing: “Enjoy it while you can. It won’t last much longer.”

BTW, great photography accompanies this story.

The Great Salt Lake in 1987 (left) and in 2021 on the right.