11-12 Weekend Reader: Wilderness, nitrate, news that changed the world

Start the week with a reflection on wilderness, and on President Ronald Reagan's words about the need for environmental protection:


"If we've learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it's common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources."

Then take in Christopher Solomon's essay in the New York Times about development of one of the United States' wildest places, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Three top reads for Sunday

1. America's wildest place is open for business. If you've never heard of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, you're not alone. But it deserves our attention, now more than ever. (New York Times)

2. Scale of 'nitrate timebomb' revealed. Big quantities of nitrate chemicals from farm fertilisers are polluting the rocks beneath our feet. That will cause toxic algal blooms and fish deaths, and will cost industry and consumers billions of pounds a year in extra water treatment. (BBC)

3. Who will pay to fix Louisiana? Devastation wrought by the BP spill is in headlines daily. But decades of oil drilling in Louisiana have done far more indelible damage. (The Nation)

Opinions and perspective

Editorials:

Scott Pruitt's war on science. Rigorous, independent research and analysis should undergird everything the government does. Nowhere is that more true than at the Environmental Protection Agency, which crafts and enforces a wide range of regulations aimed at limiting damage to the environment — and to people — from pollutants. (The Boulder Daily Camera)

Yep, humans are the main cause of climate change. The Trump administration's junk science on global warming has taken another major hit, as a report by 13 federal agencies made crystal clear that human activities are now driving climate change. (The Tampa Bay Times)

Read more of our curated editorials here.

Opinions:

Michael Mann: Let's stop debating climate change and start combating it. Findings from the National Climate Assessment underscore climate change's serious and ever-growing threat, but there's still time to reduce carbon pollution and keep global warming in check. (CNN)

William Becker: The skunk at the climate party. Trump's dismantling of federal climate policies combined with his aspiration to make the United States the world's largest producer of fossil fuels constitute nothing less than a crime against humanity, present and future. (Huffington Post)

Carl Safina, Joel Reynolds: Pebble Mine is a 'poison pill' for Alaska's wild salmon. President Trump's EPA may revive long-opposed plans for a mine near Bristol Bay, threatening the largest remaining salmon fishery in the world. (LA Times)

And of course, plenty more curated opinions are here on our website.

What changed the world this week

Confronting the environmental cost of marijuana. When thinking about agriculture's environmental footprint, the usual suspects jump to mind. (Anthropocene Magazine)

Target selling fidget spinners with high levels of lead. It turns out the wildly popular gizmos aren't marketed as kids' toys, and so aren't subject to lead guidelines. (CBS News)

A behind-the-scenes look at Scott Pruitt's EPA. Career employees at the agency say political appointees are shutting them out of decision-making. They worry that the public will suffer. (Center for Public Integrity)

One of the world's biggest miners is about to go coal-free. Just five years ago it would have been almost unthinkable that one of the world's biggest mining companies would not dig any coal. It's now likely to become a reality. (Bloomberg)

Breathing in Delhi equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes a day. It was early on Tuesday morning when residents in the Indian capital of Delhi first began to notice the thick white haze that had descended across the city. (CNN)

'On life support:' Research shows common pesticides starve, disorient birds. This is really important science. It demonstrates that neonicotinoid pesticides and chlorpyrifos harm more than insects. They interfere with bird orientation and feeding. (National Post, with perspective from EHN.org founder & chief scientist Pete Myers)

What to watch for this week, from the rollback files

We've lapsed a bit in our tracking of Trump Administration rollbacks of environmental regulations. Who has time?

Fortunately, E&E news reporters Hannah Northey and Kevin Bogardus haven't. They took a close look at the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 and came up with this gem:

A little-known law could leave Trump admin's enviro policy decisions legally vulnerable.

From the top of their story:

A little-known law soon could restrict top acting officials across the federal government and possibly leave the Trump administration's coming environmental and energy policy decisions legally vulnerable.

In the crosshairs are acting officials who have been serving in Senate-confirmed positions at agencies like U.S. EPA and the departments of Energy and the Interior that have no nominee waiting in the wings.

Those officials — including the acting heads of the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service — are allowed to serve only 300 days under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act if their positions have been vacant since Inauguration Day.

That clock runs out next Thursday.

One beautiful thing

Lots of beauty in the world today. Take time to notice it. The above, for instance, are cattle tracks in the snow here in Montana.

Chris Boyer is both a pilot and a photographer, mapping and photographing the landscape around Montana with his tiny prop plane, usually for science. He shares that perspective on Instagram, where he's worth following.

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