Posts with «pollution & waste» label

The EPA reveals final auto industry regulations to try to keep the world habitable

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its final pollution emissions standards for the auto industry on Wednesday. The regulations, which include a looser timeframe than those proposed last year, mandate that by 2032, most new passenger car and light truck sales in the US must be electric or hybrid.

Earth is on a disastrous trajectory with climate change, and no amount of baseless conspiracy theories or talking points from the oil and gas industry, Donald Trump or anyone else will change that. Only phasing out fossil fuels and emissions will beat back its worst effects. The Biden Administration’s EPA is trying to do that — while throwing a bone to stakeholders like unions and automakers to navigate the landmines of today’s political realities.

The final rules present a timeline to wind down gas-powered vehicle purchases, making most US auto sales fully electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or advanced gasoline by 2032. The transition begins in 2027 but moderates the pace until after 2030. That’s a key change from last April’s proposed standards, which called for EVs to make up two-thirds of vehicle sales by 2032.

The shift was an election-year compromise for Biden, who has to balance the crucial battle against climate change with 2024 auto union endorsements. Labor unions had pushed for the more relaxed pace out of fears that a more aggressive transition, like the EPA proposed last year, would lead to job losses. EVs typically require fewer assembly workers than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Last year, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain withheld support for Biden’s reelection due to concerns about the EV transition. But (perhaps after hearing assurances about the revised rules) the UAW endorsed his reelection bid in January.

“The EPA has made significant progress on its final greenhouse gas emissions rule for light-duty vehicles,” the UAW wrote in a statement about the new rules published by the EPA. “By taking seriously the concerns of workers and communities, the EPA has come a long way to create a more feasible emissions rule that protects workers building ICE vehicles, while providing a path forward for automakers to implement the full range of automotive technologies to reduce emissions.”

Contrary to what online misinformation or your uncle may tell you, the rules — aimed at the auto industry and not consumers — don't make gas-powered cars and trucks illegal. Instead, they require automakers to meet specific emissions standards throughout their product lines. The rules apply to new vehicle sales, not used ones.

The EPA says the final rule will lead to $99 billion in benefits and save the average American driver $6,000 in fuel and maintenance over the life of their vehicles. Other advantages include avoiding 7.2 billion additional tons of CO2 emissions through 2055 and offering “nearly $100 billion of annual net benefits to society.” The reduction in fine particulate matter and ozone will allegedly prevent up to 2,500 premature deaths in 2055 while reducing associated health problems like heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“Three years ago, I set an ambitious target: that half of all new cars and trucks sold in 2030 would be zero-emission,” President Biden wrote in a statement supplied by The White House to Engadget. “I brought together American automakers. I brought together American autoworkers. Together, we’ve made historic progress. Hundreds of new expanded factories across the country. Hundreds of billions in private investment and thousands of good-paying union jobs. And we’ll meet my goal for 2030 and race forward in the years ahead. Today, we’re setting new pollution standards for cars and trucks. U.S. workers will lead the world on autos making clean cars and trucks, each stamped ‘Made in America.’”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NASA reveals pollution maps gathered by the TEMPO space instrument

NASA has published the first maps from its new space-based pollution instrument, TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution). Although you won’t be shocked to learn it reveals higher pollution rates in metropolitan areas, the tool can help scientists better study North American air quality on an hourly basis. “Neighborhoods and communities across the country will benefit from TEMPO’s game-changing data for decades to come,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson wrote in a press release today.

The instrument, which launched in April and orbits at 22,000 miles above the equator, can help scientists better study the health impacts of pollutants “at the neighborhood scale.” It can take hourly measurements, providing insights into the effects of rush-hour traffic, smoke and ash from forest fires and how fertilizer affects farm country. The tool measures sunlight bounced off the Earth’s surface, atmosphere and clouds. “Gases in the atmosphere absorb the sunlight, and the resulting spectra are then used to determine the concentrations of several gases in the air, including nitrogen dioxide,” NASA explained.

NASA says it will share its data with partner agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since taking the first measurements earlier this month, teams have been busy checking and calibrating the satellite’s systems ahead of regular hourly operations kicking off in October. NASA views the data as a boon in its quest to reach the Biden administration’s climate goals.


The instrument beamed back its first images on August 2nd, showing the I-95 corridor in the Northeast (New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC areas), a slice of the South (central and eastern Texas stretching to New Orleans) and a section of the Southwest (Los Angeles to Las Vegas). As expected, the maps reveal heavy nitrogen dioxide density over cities and their suburban sprawl.

“Detailed views of three regions show high levels of nitrogen dioxide over cities in the morning, and enhanced levels of nitrogen dioxide over major highways,” NASA wrote today. “As the day progresses, the morning pollution often dissipates. Later in the afternoon, it will rise again as the cities enter their second rush hour of the day.”

“This summer, millions of Americans felt firsthand the effect of smoke from forest fires on our health,” said Nelson. “NASA and the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to making it easier for everyday Americans and decisionmakers to access and use TEMPO data to monitor and improve the quality of the air we breathe, benefitting life here on Earth.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Biden administration earmarks $1.2 billion for two large-scale carbon capture projects

The Department of Energy is giving grants of up to $1.2 billion to two direct air capture (DAC) projects that aim to remove more than 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. The agency says that's equivalent to the annual emissions of around 445,000 gas-powered cars. The DOE notes that the projects in Texas and Louisiana will "create 4,800 good-paying jobs" as well.

DAC employs a chemical process to separate CO2 from the air. Facilities can then store CO2 underground or put it into carbon-containing products like concrete that prevent the gas from getting back into the atmosphere.

These are the first commercial-scale DAC projects in the US. They'll each be capable of removing more than 250 times as much CO2 from the atmosphere than the current largest DAC location, according to the DOE. Occidental Petroleum subsidiary 1PointFive and its partners are building the Texas facility. The company's CEO says that, when the project is fully operational, it has the potential to remove up to 30 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

The two projects are the first selections from the Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program, which the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded. The aim of the program is to mitigate the impact of climate change by developing a nationwide group of large-scale carbon removal sites that will work in harmony with other efforts to reduce emissions.

The DOE says that, when it is sufficiently scaled up, DAC technology can help the US meet its target of neutralizing emissions by 2050. However, as Reuters notes, to reach the level of scale needed for DAC to have a big enough impact globally, it's imperative to reduce the costs involved quickly.

To that end, the agency has announced several efforts to lower the costs of DAC to below $100 for each net metric ton of CO2-equivalent by the end of the 2020s. It's funding 14 feasibility studies along with five engineering and design studies for projects that are in earlier stages. There's also a $35 million government procurement program in place for carbon removal credits.

To reach the Biden administration's goal of having a net zero emissions economy by 2050, the DOE estimates that between 400 million and 1.8 billion metric tons will have to be removed from the atmosphere and captured from emissions sources every year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How to understand the Air Quality Index

Air quality levels in parts of Canada and the US have nosedived in recent days as winds have carried smoke from wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia across the continent. Things are bad enough that New York City was deemed to have the worst air quality of any major city in the world.

Several states and cities have issued advisories urging people to stay inside if possible to avoid the dangers of unhealthy air quality. Jurisdictions are typically basing their decisions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI). Metro areas with a population of more than 350,000 have to report air quality data on a daily basis, while other locales simply do so as a public service.

The AQI measures air quality based on five major pollutants that the Clean Air Act regulates: ozone, particle pollution (AKA particulate matter or PM2.5), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The EPA also typically issues AQI forecasts for the next day each afternoon. With smoke pollution from wildfires, particulate matter is the primary air quality concern.

The EPA likens the AQI to a weather forecast that can help you plan outdoor activities. There are a couple things to keep in mind, however. For one thing, the AQI isn't fully transparent on which pollutant is the biggest contributing factor to its values at a given time. The EPA uses a formula to calculate AQI values — it doesn't simply add up the impact of each pollutant.

The AQI uses a scale that typically ranges from zero to 500 to denote air quality. If your area has an AQI of 50 or below, you're in a green zone. You should have good air quality and little or no risk from pollution.

When the index reaches a value of between 51 and 100, that's a code yellow, which is moderate cause for concern. The EPA says that in this range, air quality is acceptable, but there may be a health risk for some people, such as folks who are "unusually sensitive to air pollution."

When the index is between 101 and 150, that's when the air quality may start to impact "members of sensitive groups." These include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, pregnant people and those who spend a great deal of time outdoors. However, the general public is less likely to be affected in orange zones, the EPA says.

Mike Segar / reuters

The AQI will reach a code red when the index value surpasses 151. "Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects," according to the EPA.

Between 201 to 300, the AQI is at code purple. This denotes a health alert, the agency says. There's an increased risk of negative health effects for everyone. Once the index reaches 301, the AQI will be at a code maroon. That means the air quality is hazardous and constitutes a “health warning of emergency conditions” as everyone is more likely to be affected.

At code orange, the EPA recommends that everyone keeps outdoor activities light and short and for sensitive groups to go inside if they're experiencing symptoms. In red zones, everyone is encouraged to stay indoors if they have symptoms, while sensitive groups might consider moving all activities indoors.

When the AQI reaches code purple, sensitive groups are advised to avoid all outdoor physical activity, and others should limit outdoor activities. In maroon areas, everyone should stay inside. It's possible for PM2.5 levels to go above an AQI value of 500, in which case you should take extra precautions and steps to protect yourself.

Fine particles from smoke can cause issues such as burning eyes, runny noses and conditions like bronchitis, according to the EPA. The particles may aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases too. The agency says those who are advised to stay indoors due to smoke pollution should try to keep the air as clean as possible inside. It suggests avoiding using anything that burns (such as gas stoves, wood fireplaces and candles) or vacuuming, since this can stir up particles that are already inside your residence. 

If you have an air conditioner, you should run it with the air intake closed and the filter clean, the EPA says. Those who absolutely have to go outdoors might find it helpful to wear a mask that can help filter out particulate matter.

An interactive map shows AQI levels across the US, Canada and parts of Central America. At the time of writing, some areas of New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario are at a code maroon and have hazardous air quality, according to the EPA. Many other regions are under red and purple alerts.


This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NASA launches powerful air quality monitor to keep an eagle-eye on pollution

NASA has launched an innovative air quality monitoring instrument into a fixed-rotation orbit around Earth. The tool is called TEMPO, which stands for Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution instrument, and it keeps an eye on a handful of harmful airborne pollutants in the atmosphere, such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and ground-level ozone. These chemicals are the building blocks of smog.

TEMPO traveled to space hitched to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. NASA says the launch was completed successfully, with the atmospheric satellite separating from the rocket without any incidents. NASA acquired the appropriate signal and the agency says the instrument will begin monitoring duties in late May or early June.

Spacecraft separation confirmed! The Intelsat satellite hosting our @NASAEarth & @CenterForAstro#TEMPO mission is flying free from its @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and on its way to geostationary orbit.

— NASA (@NASA) April 7, 2023

TEMPO sits at a fixed geostationary orbit just above the equator and it measures air quality over North America every hour and measures regions spaced apart by just a few miles. This is a significant improvement to existing technologies, as current measurements are conducted within areas of 100 square miles. TEMPO should be able to take accurate measurements from neighborhood to neighborhood, giving a comprehensive view of pollution from both the macro and micro levels.

This also gives us some unique opportunities to pick up new kinds of data, such as changing pollution levels throughout rush hour, the effects of lightning on the ozone layer, the movement of pollution related to forest fires and the long-term effects of fertilizers on the atmosphere, among other data points. More information is never bad. 


TEMPO is the middle child in a group of high-powered instruments tracking pollution. South Korea's Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer went up in 2020, measuring pollution over Asia, and the ESA (European Space Agency) Sentinel-4 satellite launches in 2024 to handle European and North African measurements. Other tracking satellites will eventually join TEMPO up there in the great black, including the forthcoming NASA instrument to measure the planet's crust.

You may notice that TEMPO flew into space on a SpaceX rocket and not a NASA rocket. This is by design, as the agency is testing a new business model to send crucial instruments into orbit. Paying a private company seems to be the more budget-friendly option when compared to sending up a rocket itself. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

GM says it's ready to power all its US facilities with renewable energy by 2025

General Motors is on track to secure 100 percent of the electricity it needs to power all of its US facilities with renewable energy by 2025. On Wednesday, the automaker announced it recently finalized the sourcing agreements it needs to make that feat a reality. The announcement puts GM on track to meet the most recent renewable energy target it set for itself late last year. Previously, the company had planned to power all of its US facilities with renewables by 2030. GM claims its accelerated transition will allow it to avoid producing an estimated 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions between 2025 and 2030.

As of today, GM’s energy portfolio includes sourcing agreements with 16 renewable energy plants across 10 states. The company is also working on increasing the efficiency of its factories and offices, as well as building out its on-site power generation capabilities.

“Securing the renewable energy we need to achieve our goal demonstrates tangible progress in reducing our emissions in all aspects of our business, ultimately moving us closer to our vision of a future with zero emissions,” said Kristen Siemen, GM’s chief sustainability officer.

While GM is on track toward an impressive feat, it’s worth taking a moment to contextualize what today’s announcement means in the bigger picture. Firstly, the company operates offices and factories outside of the US. Today’s announcement doesn’t cover those facilities. Secondly, even when you factor in all of GM’s buildings, they’re only a small part of the company’s total carbon footprint.

According to its most recent sustainability report, Scope 1 and 2 emissions account for only two percent of GM’s total emissions. For those who aren’t familiar with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, it’s an accounting system many companies use to source and track their emissions. The Scope 1 category includes all pollution produced directly by an organization. Scope 2, meanwhile, encompasses indirect emissions created from the electricity, heating and cooling it buys. The majority of GM’s emissions, a whopping 98 percent, aren’t produced by its facilities. Instead, they come from the company’s supply chain and the consumers using its cars.

To be fair, GM is working on reducing those emissions. In the summer of 2021, the company announced it would invest a total of $35 billion through 2025 toward electric and autonomous vehicle development. That said, the transition is something that will take time. By 2030, GM plans for EVs to account for 40 to 50 percent of the cars its sells in the US.

Mercedes' F1 team used biofuel to cut freight carbon emissions by 89 percent

Formula 1 isn't exactly the most environmentally friendly organization, but it's trying to become much greener. F1 is targeting net zero carbon emissions by the end of the decade and engine makers have been testing sustainable fuels over the last few years. F1 leaders are aiming to only use sustainable fuels in F1 cars by 2026. Race cars are only a small piece of the puzzle, though. Holding two dozen grands prix around the world requires shifting cars, parts and other materials between circuits, which generate more carbon emissions.

The Mercedes-AMG F1 team, however, has experimented with a way to reduce freight emissions. It used hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO 100) biofuel in 16 trucks as it moved operations between Spa, Zandvoort and Monza for the final three European grands prix of the season. Since those circuits are relatively close to each other, Mercedes didn't need to rely on, say, air freight to ship cars and components. That gave the team a good opportunity to test the biofuel, given a total driving distance of around 1,400 kilometers (870 miles). However, the team noted it needed to use diesel fuel for the last 20km (just over 12 miles) due to supply issues.

An analysis found that using HVO 100 reduced freight emissions by 89 percent. Overall, Mercedes saved 44,091kg (97,204 pounds) of carbon dioxide emissions, compared with solely using diesel for both journeys. It noted HVO 100 is derived from vegetable oils, waste oils and fats and that it's entirely free of fossil fuels. The fuel also produces less Nox and particulate emissions.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our operations. Trialing the use of biofuels for our land freight is another example of our commitment to embed sustainability in every decision we make and action we take," Mercedes F1 team principal Toto Wolff said. "We aim to be on the cutting edge of change and hope we can make the adoption of sustainable technology possible as we are all in the race towards a sustainable tomorrow.”

Other biofuels are being tested for use in Formula 1. Teams started using E10 biofuels (which contain 10 percent renewable ethanol) in F1 cars this season as part of the transition to fully sustainable fuels. While that's some distance away from employing fully sustainable fuels, the use of E10 and HVO 100 are positive steps toward making motorsport much healthier for the environment.

GM wants to help shape the EPA's next clean car standard

GM wants to exclusively sell electric vehicles by 2035, and it's now trying to nudge the US government toward the same goal. The automaker has teamed up with an advocacy group, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), to develop recommended principles for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) car emissions standards from the 2027 model year onward. The guidelines are meant to accelerate EV adoption in a socially conscious way — and, of course, help GM's bottom line.

The brand wants standards that ensure at least half of new vehicles sold by are zero-emissions by 2030, with a 60 percent reduction in emissions across a lineup compared to 2021. They need to address multiple pollution sources (such as CO2, nitrogen oxides and particles) and be "performance-based," GM argues. The company also believes there should be an optional pathway to speed up the launch of breakthrough emissions-reducing technology, and that standards should ensure the benefits of reduced pollution apply to everyone (such as vulnerable communities). Not surprisingly, GM hopes for tight coordination between the public and private realms, including complementary investments.

GM and the EDF want a quick decision process. They'd like the standards to be proposed this fall, and completed by fall 2023. The standards should last until 2032 at a minimum, the partners said, but they also hoped the EPA would extend that to 2035.

There might not be much opposition to the basic concept. President Biden already wants half of new vehicles to be emissions-free by 2030, and the EPA reversed Trump-era standards rollbacks in December. Meanwhile, California, Massachusetts and New York State expect to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and frequently push for stricter standards than the federal government. The principles and resulting EPA standards would theoretically help politicians reach these targets sooner by encouraging manufacturers to electrify their fleets quickly.

Whether or not GM and the EDF get their way isn't clear. The EPA isn't guaranteed to take the principles to heart, and a change of presidents could lead to weaker rules. We'd add that GM has altered its stance on emissions reductions depending on who's in office. The firm backed the Trump administration's efforts to revoke waivers letting California set tougher requirements, only to change its tune after Biden won the 2020 election. Still, we wouldn't expect GM to back out any time soon. The company has staked its future on EVs, and it stands to profit if the market shifts to eco-friendly vehicles a little sooner.

Amazon's emissions increased dramatically last year despite carbon neutrality goal

Despite the company's commitment to decrease its carbon footprint, Amazon's emissions grew by 18 percent last year, according to the annual sustainability report it released today. While online shopping increased during the pandemic’s second year, the company also rapidly expanded its number of warehousing operations — faster than consumer demand could support. For the entirety of 2021, the company’s activities emitted the equivalent of more than 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (for comparison, that's one and a half times the amount the U.S. government emitted in 2019.)

But this figure is undoubtedly a drastic undercount. While Amazon does include emissions from its warehouses and logistics network, as Revealreported this year, the company employs a sort of loophole. While other retailers, like Walmart and Target, account for pollution related to any goods they sell, Amazon only counts carbon emissions for Amazon-branded products, which make up around one percent of total sales. Third-party sellers (that is, the entities responsible for the other 99 percent of what's sold through its online marketplace) are left to perform their own carbon emissions accounting independently — regardless of whether those sales are fulfilled through Amazon's warehousing or not. Many of these businesses, however, likely do not meet the minimum threshold for mandatory emissions reporting

Environmental experts have long voiced concerns over the immense climate toll of Amazon’s operations, especially its rush and two-day shipping options. Despite the lack of progress, Amazon’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 was noted in the report.

The company doubled its network of fufillment centers during the pandemic to keep up with the spike in demand, at a rate that outpaced consumer sales. Amazon reported a $3.8 billion net loss in the first quarter of 2022, the bulk of which came from an investment in more warehouses and staff. But the company now appears to be scaling back its building efforts amidst a decline in orders. USA Todayreported today that Amazon has paused or delayed the building of 18 warehouses in 12 states.

Automotive giant Stellantis pleads guilty to diesel emissions fraud

As expected, Stellantis, the parent company of Dodge and Jeep, has pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy charges related to its efforts to conceal the amount of pollution produced by its diesel engines. The world’s fifth-largest automaker agreed this week to pay $300 million in penalties to end a multi-year investigation by the US Justice Department, Reutersreported on Friday.

Federal prosecutors accused Stellantis of violating the Clean Air Act, alleging the automaker attempted to deceive US regulators by selling vehicles it knew did not meet national emissions standards. The Justice Department said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which merged with Peugeot parent company PSA to form Stellantis in 2021, installed illegal software designed to cheat government emissions tests.

According to the agency, the company “purposely” programmed its cars to produce fewer emissions during testing than under normal circumstances. The settlement covers approximately 100,000 vehicles sold in the US between 2014 and 2016, including SUVs and pickup trucks produced by the automaker for its Jeep and Ram brands.

In addition to paying a fine, Stellantis has agreed to submit Clean Air Act compliance reports to the Justice Department as part of a three-year probation period. Additionally, three Stellantis employees are awaiting trial for criminal charges related to the case. The deal comes five years after Volkswagen famously pleaded guilty to its own emissions scandal. “Dieselgate” saw the German automaker eventually pay more than $20 billion in fines and legal settlements.