Sunday, September 27, 2020

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered all passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035 to fight climate change and smog-fouled air

The transportation sector causes more than half of California’s carbon pollution, and parts of the state are vexed by some of the most toxic air in the country, according to the governor’s office.

“For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe,” Newsom said in a release.

“Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

The order was described as an aggressive effort to move the state further away from reliance on climate changing fossil fuels.

Regulations will be developed to mandate that all in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks be zero-emission by the year 2035, and that all medium- and heavy-duty trucks be emission-free by 2045 “where feasible.”

The order won’t prevent California residents from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling used models, according to the governor’s office.

It does call for partnerships with private businesses to speed up creation of charging networks for electric cars and stations for non-polluting fuels such as hydrogen.

California is a major car market, but devastating wildfires have become frequent occurences as climate change leaves trees and brush tinder-dry.

Infernos across California, Oregon and Washington states have burned more than five million acres (two million hectares) this year, killed dozens of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

California-based Tesla on Tuesday said it is slashing battery costs to speed a global shift to renewable energy, and could have a $25,000 self-driving model available in three years or so.


The long-running debate over greening the land

The BBC has learned that cash could be diverted away from funding ambitious conservation projects in the UK and towards protecting farm businesses. But how should farmers be rewarded for tending the land?

The EU’s farm policy has been no stranger to controversy.

Under this system, farmers have been collecting taxpayers’ money according to the amount of land they own.

The government promised that after Brexit, farmers would only be rewarded if they tend the land in a way that’s good for society.

But that’s proving a challenge. How does one assess the relative value of, for example, reducing water pollution vs connecting fragmented habitats?

To understand the background to the current debate over farm payments, it’s useful to go back in time to World War Two.

The UK’s farm subsidies system started after the war, which had cruelly exposed the vulnerability of Europe’s food supplies to German U-boats.

Those subsidies paid farmers to increase food production, so that’s what they did. And in the EU, an aggressive farmers’ lobby fought to keep them that way.

Farmers, being business folk, followed the money. Production of crops and livestock soared, but before long food production outstripped demand.

Huge quantities of produce had to be stored in so-called wine lakes and butter mountains.

The EU off-loaded cut-price food to countries in the global south – but farmers there complained they were undercut by Europe’s subsidised food.

How did the subsidies affect the countryside?

Subsidies transformed the countryside. Wetlands were drained, rivers polluted with fertiliser and fields expanded as hedges disappeared.

Insects were wiped out by pesticides, and this contributed to a 57% decline, on average, in the farmland birds index between 1970 and 2018.

The EU changed the system of payments. Instead of being encouraged to grow extra food, farmers were paid directly according to how much land they manage. So, the bigger the farm, the bigger the subsidy.

What is the government’s plan to improve the countryside?

The former Environment Secretary Michael Gove said farmers should only get paid if they provided a public service. He coined the phrase “public money for public goods”.

Those goods would include helping wildlife, catching flood waters on fields, planting woods to soak up carbon emissions and improving the soil.

The reform will be delivered through the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) – and pilot projects are due to start next year.

But ministers are also drawing up a parallel grants scheme called the Sustainable Farming Incentive to reward farmers for basic activities like conserving their soil.

This scheme has proven controversial with environmentalists, who argue that improving farmland soil makes good business sense and so shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayer.

How will the improvements be delivered?

Three tiers of grants are planned through ELMS, according to the level of ambition. Tier One will improve air quality by curbing gas from livestock, reducing water pollution and tending to hedges and grassland.

Tier Two will pay for new ponds and woodlands. Tier Three will deliver landscape changes by connecting fragmented habitats and planting new forests – or re-wilding.

Is it all going smoothly?

Of course not. This is a problem of mind-numbing complexity.

How, for instance, will ministers strike the right balance between payments for re-introducing grey partridge, or capturing heavy rainfall, or increasing organic matter in the soil?

What is the value of a tonne of stored carbon versus an increase in the number of rare small blue butterflies? And how many butterflies are enough, anyway?

Does that mean it’s getting delayed?

Farmers and environmentalists alike are frustrated that the scheme is held up with the environment department, Defra. Farmers need clarity to plan for the future.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, fear that the department is leaning too far to please farmers in Tier One of the scheme.

They say it’s looking as though farmers may be paid for basic activities like improving soil health which, they argue, are good business practice anyway.


Protecting Wetlands: Environmental Federalism and Grassroots Conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region


Wetlands provide a multitude of benefits including flood protection, clean water, carbon sequestration, and critical species habitat. Given that wetlands are valuable natural resources, it is important to better understand the extent to which federal regulation impacts optimal wetlands conservation.

Where federal regulation under the 2015 Clean Water Rule abrogated the ability of the states to make certain regulatory decisions over their waters, the recently promulgated Navigable Waters Protection Rule—that narrows the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS)—may create new opportunities for alternative wetlands conservation strategies.

This Article examines five states in the Prairie Pothole Region to evaluate the integral roles the federal government, state governments, and private organizations have in wetlands conservation. Environmental federalism considers the optimal balance of federal and state regulation in achieving complementary environmental protection.

Insofar as scaling back federal regulation over isolated wetlands reduces conflict between federal regulators and private landowners, private organizations can more effectively align economic incentives with voluntary conservation objectives.

This Article concludes with an examination of Ducks Unlimited, the world’s largest waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization, as a case study for private conservation and public-private action in the region.


Australia: Leftist State government suppports copper miner

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday scored a trifecta — a high-vis jacket, a hard hat and a marginal seat.

The setting was a copper refinery in southern Townsville, and the announcement was an undisclosed “one-off incentive” payment to global resources company Glencore.

The 2020 state election campaign is indeed ramping up.

The reason for handing over taxpayers’ money to a global company is to “secure the jobs of more than 1,000 people”, but the public is given no opportunity to scrutinise this.

In effect, we’re being asked to accept Glencore’s assertion it needs the money to continue its Australian copper operations and to accept the Government’s word it has secured the best deal possible.

But in the context of the looming election, the Government’s bargaining position doesn’t look strong, with hundreds of jobs at stake in some of the state’s most marginal seats.

Glencore has been threatening to shut down its Mount Isa copper smelter and Townsville copper refinery for the best part of a decade.

A planned closure in 2016 was staved off when the Queensland Government agreed to amend environmental-licensing conditions — a deal which ensured the smelter and refinery would stay open until at least 2022.

With that deadline approaching, Glencore this year announced its copper operations were again under review, with a final decision to be made just before the state election.

The Glencore refinery is smack bang in the middle of the electorate of Mundingburra, and a short drive to the nearby electorates of Townsville and Thuringowa.

All three seats are held by Labor by the smallest of margins, and given Labor only has a majority of two seats in Parliament, it’s impossible to underestimate the refinery’s political importance.

Government ‘leaving Queenslanders in the dark’
At a media conference on Tuesday, the Premier said the “investment” in the copper operations was “commercial in confidence”.

Ms Palaszczuk argued it was about “securing the jobs of more than 1,000 people in Mount Isa and Townsville for the next three years”.

Treasurer Cameron Dick would only go as far as revealing it was a “multi-million-dollar” deal.

“We enter into a number of arrangements with corporations and companies which support jobs, and we don’t make any apologies for that,” Mr Dick said.

Glencore Australia provided more detail in its public statement, describing the Government’s contribution as a “one-off incentive”.

“In addition to this incentive, Glencore will invest more than $500 million for the continued operation of the copper smelter and refinery,” the statement said.

“This incentive will partially mitigate the negative cost of continuing these assets which face high costs and struggle to compete internationally.”

Professor of economics at the University of Queensland John Quiggin said it was “pretty striking” this deal was announced as global copper prices had surged.

The business news service Bloomberg reported the global copper market could be “on the cusp of a historical supply squeeze as Chinese demand runs red hot”.

Professor Quiggin said the Mount Isa smelter had repeatedly been on the brink of closure since 2011.

“So, this decision isn’t really related to the pandemic or the global market,” he said.

Economist Fabrizio Carmignani from Griffith University said a subsidy from the Government made sense if the operation was facing some temporary difficulty.

“[However] from the statement of Glencore, it would look like their problems are structural — high fixed costs, unable to compete,” he said.

While he understood the need to protect jobs, Professor Carmignani said structural problems needed to be tackled by longer-term plans.




Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life — as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together — which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here


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