Climate Point: Moms vs. cement, and composting human remains

Mark Olalde, USA TODAY

Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from across the Golden State and the country. From Palm Springs, Calif., I’m Mark Olalde.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Regulations put in place to protect the environment and human health have taken it on the chin this week under President Donald Trump's administration, particularly at the EPA.

That agency is set to announce a proposal that will say it's unnecessary to limit pollution coming from power plants. Julie Eilperin of The Washington Post describes how even the energy industry doesn't think this is a good idea. This week the AP also dug into the Superfund program, which cleans up some of the country's most toxic places. They found that remediation efforts are at a 33-year low.

Here's some other important reporting....

Cattle at the Arbuckle Mountain Wind Farm in Murray County, Oklahoma. The formation is known as a "bovine sundial" When the weather is hot, the cattle line up in the shade of the wind turbine tower, slowly shuffling to the side as the shadow moves with the sun. June 2016,


Farming wind. Income from agriculture has been depressed the past few years, and leasing land to wind energy developers could help farmers stay afloat, Elizabeth Weise of USA Today reports from Kansas. Nationally, leases for wind turbines could dole out as much as $250 million annually.

Moms vs. cement. Just south of Dallas, industrial plants in the so-called Cement Capital of Texas spew a gaseous mixture of "carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter so small it can enter the bloodstream through the lungs," Kristian Hernández and James Hartley at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram report. Area moms worry what the emissions mean for their children's health, and they're taking action.

A fracking fiasco. The Financial Times is out this week with a reality check for the U.S. hydraulic fracturing — or "fracking" — business that's booming in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The industry has been essentially operating on credit for several years, and many observers fear the day when borrowed cash will finally come due. Well, $86 billion in debt is maturing in the near future, and 60% of it is "speculative-grade."


Black gold dropping the green. Ventura County, which occupies a scenic piece of California's coast, is the state's third-most important region for oil and gas extraction. California Resources Corp., one of the state's main petroleum companies, is intent on keeping it that way. The drilling company recently dropped, I learned, nearly $1 million to sway the Ventura County board of supervisors election, a panel of locally elected officials that has been flexing its muscles for environmental protections in recent years.

California Resources Corporation

Fighting tuberculosis in oranges. In a move many farmers didn't ask for, the EPA quietly reapproved the use of tuberculosis-fighting antibiotics to address citrus greening disease, which has been found in Florida and California. Environmentalists and public health advocates are decrying the move for its potential to further worsen antibiotic resistance. For its part, the EPA said it must do what it can to address the disease that has ravaged Florida's citrus industry.

Green future. Elsewhere in the USA Today network, the Citizen-Times is out with a new analysis of the U.S. Forest Service's plans that will guide the future of the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. The public has three months to comment on the management of these huge forests, which cover more than a million acres in western North Carolina.


Can 'public' save 'private' issues? If you're concerned about energy in the West, your eyes are glued to the fight over the future of PG&E in Northern California. Sammy Roth at the Los Angeles Times is out with a new piece that analyzes what a public takeover of the huge utility would mean, including questioning whether it would actually make for a cheaper and safer alternative.

Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his revised 2019-2020 state budget during a news conference in Sacramento on May 9, 2019.

A radioactive proposition. The American uranium mining industry has cratered in recent years as cheaper imports flood the market and planning for new nuclear power plants stalls. Friends of the president and others in his administration have been trying to secure a subsidy in order to prop up an industry that is no longer profitable. Trump's recently proposed budget tries to do just that, calling for a $1.5 billion appropriation that environmentalists and others observing the uranium industry say is effectively a taxpayer-funded subsidy, while supporters argue it's necessary to protect energy independence. The Salt Lake Tribune has more.

Opening the taps. It's been an eventful week here in California, where Trump made his fifth trip as president. After dunking on Los Angeles for its homelessness problem and soliciting donations from the ultra-wealthy in Rancho Mirage, he traveled to the Central Valley. There, Sam Metz and I report, he rewarded several allies with a decision that environmentalists and fishermen view as prioritizing agriculture over all other users. Farmers call it a lifeline. But one of the big winners? Water users who used to pay U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt's law firm for lobbying.

How much is too much? In Nevada, the military's Naval Air Station Fallon, home to TOPGUN, wants to quadruple its practice area by adding about 660,000 acres of mainly public lands, Daniel Rotherberg of The Nevada Independent reports. From members of the public who live nearby to conservationists and even mining interests, the military faces a wide swathe of opposition that wants to know how far the federal government will go in shutting off land access.


Cover me in dirt. Last May, Washington became the first state to legalize composting human remains. As people search for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, including in the chemical-intensive burial process, companies are popping up to efficiently convert us into clean dirt, The Guardian reports. Perhaps the phrase "pushing up daisies" has been talking about organic fertilizer this whole time.

Scientists agree that to maintain a livable planet, we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. We’re above that and rising dangerously. Here are the latest numbers:

That’s all for now. Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter at @MarkOlalde. You can also reach me at You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here. And, if you’d like to receive a daily round-up of California news (also for free!), you can sign up for USA Today’s new In California newsletter here. Cheers.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate Point: Moms vs. cement, and composting human remains