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Union of Concerned Scientists Reveal Future of Extreme ‘Killer Heat’ Across the U.S.

Killer Heat

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report entitled “Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days.” The report, funded in part by the MacArthur and Rockefeller Foundations, sought to estimate the frequency of days in which the heat index would rise above 90°F, 100°F or 105°F in the United States. The report also estimated the distribution and frequency of heat conditions so severe that the National Weather Service (NWS) would be unable to calculate a heat index.

In conducting analysis, researchers relied on eighteen global climate models to estimate fluctuations in the heat index. These models where then simplified to only consider the contiguous United States, and examined in the context of different climate scenarios in which varying action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The three scenarios were based on representative concentration pathways (RCPs), used in the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 2014. The scenarios helped estimate heat indexes for situations in which no action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, slow action is taken, and rapid action is taken.

Researchers used the models to calculate the daily maximum heat indexes during the period from 2006 – 2099, in the months from April-October. This information was then used to estimate the number of days in which the heat index would be above 90°F, 100°F or 105°F in addition to the number of days in which the heat index would not be precisely measured.

Read more on RNRF's blog, the Renewable Resources Report, by clicking here.

Atmospheric Microplastic Found Everywhere (Including the Pyrenees)


The presence of microplastic in oceans has become a growing problem over the past decade. Microplastics, defined as plastic particles less than 5 mm in size, have typically been studied in the context of urban environments, yet it is apparent that microplastics have permeated the world’s most remote waterways.

In late 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its Arctic Report Card in which it noted that microplastics had been found in the most isolated parts of the Arctic Ocean. Moreover, microplastic concentrations in the Arctic were found to be higher than any other ocean basin. Additionally, earlier this year, studies conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences confirmed the presence of microplastics in the deepest parts of the Mariana Trench, over 30,000 feet below the surface. Microplastics have also been found in remote parts of the South Indian Ocean, and on Henderson Island, an uninhabited island lying more than 5,000 km off the coast of South America.

These cases have illustrated the ability of plastics to infiltrate the most remote parts of the world. Moreover, while media coverage has largely focused on the presence of microplastics in oceans, it is becoming evident that microplastics also have the ability to spread to isolated areas via atmospheric transport.

A recent article from Nature Geoscience details the discovery of considerable microplastic deposition in the French Pyrenees.1 While there have previously been findings of atmospheric microplastic in French urban areas, this report is one of the first to document their presence in an uninhabited land area...

Read more on RNRF's blog, the Renewable Resources Report, by clicking here.

Harvard University's Environmental Policy Initiative is tracking the Trump Administration's environmental rollbacks.  Click here to learn more.


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Planning for Coastal Inland Resilience: Keeping Toxic Substances Out of the Water and Avoiding Unwise Development

On June 13, 2019, the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) presented a meeting titled “Planning for Coastal Inland Resilience: Keeping Toxic Substances Out of the Water and Avoiding Unwise Development,” hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers at its Capitol Hill office in D.C. Speakers included Pete Harrison with Earthjustice and Jeff Peterson formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The speakers discussed issues and challenges of planning and developing coastal communities that are at risk from increasingly frequent and devastating storms. In particular, the speakers highlighted the weaknesses exposed by Hurricane Florence, which devastated communities of the coastal Carolinas.

HarrisonPete Harrison, a staff attorney with Earthjustice and an expert on coal pollution, spoke about dangers that coal ash poses to human and environmental health. He also described the regulatory and legal challenges of mitigating those dangers.

Coal ash is the substance that is left over after coal is burned. Coal ash is typically stored in large unlined ponds called surface impoundments and in landfills. These unlined impoundments usually are located next to coal-fired power plants in flood-prone areas adjacent to waterways.

Coal ash is problematic because it contains numerous contaminants that pose environmental and health risks to wildlife and humans. When coal is burned the contents are further concentrated. These contents include heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead and selenium. Selenium in particular is especially toxic to aquatic life.

In the United States, 110 million tons of coal ash are generated every year and much of it is stored in giant impoundment ponds. The current tally of coal ash sites is roughly 1,400 in 47 states. Harrison noted that this estimate is likely far too low since many older coal ash sites have been forgotten and are uncounted. The majority of these sites are located in the Southeast and the Ohio River Valley and are typically located in floodplains, or flood-prone areas.

Regarding regulation of coal ash impoundments in floodplains, Harrison noted that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) contains a provision that could apply to coal ash since it applies to all solid waste dumps (40 C.F.R. 257.3-1). Harrison explained that this RCRA provision is rarely enforced because the language is arguably vague and difficult to implement.

In 2015, the EPA finalized a rule that specifically applied to coal ash impoundments and coal ash landfills. Harrison pointed out that this 2015 regulation excludes any coal ash impoundments or landfills at inactive coal-fired power plants. Meaning, power plants not generating electricity after 2015 are not subject to the regulation. Additionally, Harrison explained that the 2015 rule can only be enforced through lawsuits, either by a citizen or a state, or by state adoption of the rule. A state may adopt the rule and codify it under state law to be enforced by the state. When asked about state regulation of coal ash, Harrison noted that the Illinois legislature had recently passed such legislation. For more information about the Illinois action click here.

Harrison illustrated the dangers of siting coal ash impoundments in floodplains by describing the events that took place at the Duke Energy Sutton Plant on the Cape Fear River, in North Carolina. In 2018, Hurricane Florence brought the most severe flooding in the river’s history. As a result, the flood waters broke through the dams surrounding the Sutton Plant impoundments and released several thousand tons of coal ash into the surrounding waterways, wetlands and a popular nearby fishing lake, Lake Sutton. Harrison noted that effective cleanup of coal ash contamination was difficult and that Duke Energy did not recover any of what was spilled during Hurricane Florence.

Duke University recently released a study on the sediment in Lake Sutton that documented the presence of coal ash solids. For more information on this Duke University study click here. Harrison believes that there has not been an adequate evaluation of the dangers of contaminants in Lake Sutton and that more investigation is warranted...

Read more on RNRF's news page here.

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