Equilibrium/Sustainability — Banning lobster equipment to save whales

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A federal court has restored a ban on lobster fishing equipment in an expansive zone off New England’s coast, with hopes of protecting North Atlantic right whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued regulations in 2021 to prohibit such fishing with gear called “vertical buoy lines” in a 950-square-mile offshore area.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine then responded with a preliminary injunction to block the rules’ enforcement — after lobster fishing groups sued to stop the regulations.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston vacated that injunction on Tuesday, marking the second federal court ruling in favor of the right whale in the past week, The Associated Press reported.

“Although this does not mean the balance will always come out on the side of an endangered marine mammal, it does leave plaintiffs beating against the tide, with no more success than they had before,” the court ruled.

Last week, a U.S. district judge decided that the government hasn’t done enough to protect these whales from entanglement and that new rules are necessary to prevent their extinction, according to the AP.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Sharon Udasin. Send tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start with Democrats’ last-ditch effort to secure a climate deal, followed by a look at a new U.S.-Israel partnership on artificial intelligence and climate tech. Plus: Why federal food assistance might curb incidents of child abuse.

Democrats scramble for climate solution

Democrats are pushing to secure a deal to combat change as their window of time to do so quickly closes, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.

Lawmakers say they’re working to convince Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to sign off on a slate of clean energy tax credits and a fee on methane emissions.

Why the urgency? A recent Supreme Court ruling curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate powers amid warming climate conditions and high fuel prices, Frazin noted.

  • Meanwhile, lawmakers have been discussing terms of a package that would aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among other social and economic measures. 

  • As the August recess approaches, lawmakers risk running out of time to advance that package.

Agreement underway: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters on Tuesday that he and Manchin reached a “pretty good agreement” a few months ago on a plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

“We’re looking at it now, tweaking it a little bit,” he added.

Fossil fuel concessions: The Biden administration is considering authorizing disputed drilling plans in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a West Virginia pipeline, The Washington Post reported.

Such a move would occur in hopes of securing Manchin’s approval of the climate package, according to the Post.

A complex tradeoff: While climate advocates argue that such additional emissions could undercut efforts to slash U.S. emissions, other experts said it may be worth it, the Post reported.

  • The passage of climate package would result in the creation of a variety of related policies, some of which could boost the renewable energy sector’s expansion, according to the Post. 

  • “It’s going to send a much clearer signal to low-carbon industries about where and how they can build,” David Victor, an energy policy expert at the University of California at San Diego, told the Post.

US partners with Israel on AI, climate tech

The U.S. is launching a strategic tech partnership with Israel, focused on addressing climate change, studying artificial intelligence (AI) and curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden announced on Wednesday.

  • The partnership will involve interagency dialogue between the U.S. and Israel, with the first annual meeting between officials set to take place this fall, our colleague Brad Dress reported for The Hill. 

  • Why now: Biden is currently in Israel as part of a trip to the Middle East that is expected to include high-stakes discussions with several world leaders amid rising tensions in the region.

Deepening partnerships: The U.S. and Israel already have a long list of other agreements and partnerships that span a wide range of security and economic issues, Dress reported.

But Wednesday’s announcement promised to “deepen bilateral engagements” and “advance and protect critical and emerging technologies,” according to the White House.

What types of technologies? The partners, per the White House, plan to promote innovations that address specific areas of global concern:

  • Pandemic preparedness: exploring research and development ventures, such as technologies for disease surveillance, early warning and rapid medical responses.  

  • Artificial intelligence: employing “cutting-edge AI” to address planning, implementation and logistical challenges in transportation, medicine and agriculture.  

  • Climate change: cooperating on research and/or deploying technologies that “drive equitable climate solutions,” such as water reuse, solid waste management and renewable energy.

Quantum exchange: In addition to boosting collaboration in these sectors, the partners said they also plan to begin an exchange program in quantum information science, the White House statement added.

Federal food assistance may reduce child abuse

The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) not only allows more than 39 million Americans avoid food insecurity, but it also may help prevent child maltreatment, a new study has found.

  • States with more generous SNAP policies — and therefore more program participants — had fewer children involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) and sent to foster care, according to the study.

  • A 5 percent increase in the number of families receiving SNAP benefits resulted in a 7.6-14.3 percent decrease in CPS and foster caseloads.

The 14-year nationwide survey was published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open.

Solving more than hunger: “Our findings suggest that investments in SNAP may be of even greater value to the health of children than we knew,” lead author Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, a professor of social work at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

About 37 percent of U.S. children undergo a CPS investigation in response to a referral for child abuse by their 18th birthday, while more than 250,000 children enter foster care each year, according to the study.

But some SNAP benefits are in danger: The results of the study are particularly important right now, as federal COVID-19 emergency funds that had boosted SNAP benefits are set to expire this month, the authors noted.

In Ohio alone, about 700,000 low-income households will see reductions in SNAP benefits if the emergency declaration does expire, they said.

State-to-state differences: While the federal government finances SNAP benefits, states have discretion as to how they implement the program and determine eligibility, Johnson-Motoyama noted.

  • The authors found that states that raise income eligibility limits so that low-income working families can qualify experienced a decrease in the number of child abuse reports from 557 to 158 per 100,000 children.  

  • Generous SNAP policies had the most powerful impact, even when the researchers accounted for other factors like the opioid epidemic or other safety net programs.

“What this suggests to policymakers is to pay greater attention to increasing access to SNAP benefits,” Johnson-Motoyama said.

To read the full story, please click here.

Senators push to boost toxic chemical research

A group of lawmakers have introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at improving the government’s understanding of so-called “forever chemicals” and strengthening federal research initiatives.

In doing so, the government would be able to take more effective action when addressing contamination from the compounds, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said in a joint statement.

  • There are thousands of types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — also known as forever chemicals due to their propensity to linger in the body and the environment. 

  • While most commonly found in industrial discharge and jet fuel firefighting foam, PFAS are also key ingredients in waterproof apparel, nonstick pans, makeup and many other household items.

Research is critical: “PFAS chemicals have contaminated our water supplies and are linked to serious health concerns,” Shaheen said in a statement.

“More research is needed to understand the full scope of the impact of these toxic chemicals,” she added.

The Federal PFAS Research Evaluation Act would direct the National Science Foundation to partner with the National Academies to report on a federal research agenda that would expand knowledge about PFAS, according to the bill.

The bill would require four nonpartisan reports that specify the types of research necessary to accomplish several goals:

  • Understanding human exposure impacts 

  • Determining toxicity estimations for PFAS 

  • Identifying management and treatment options for contamination

Wildfire Wednesday

Europeans battle climate-induced blazes, giant sequoias may find friend in fire and rains help quench the flames in Interior Alaska. 

Wildfires rip through Europe

  • Wildfires are blazing through Portugal, Spain and southern France amid a heat wave that officials attribute to climate change, The Associated Press reported. More than 800 firefighters battling two blazes in France’s Bordeaux region on Wednesday, while multiple fires in Portugal forced more than 600 people to evacuate.

Giant sequoias could benefit from Yosemite fire: official

  • A fire raging in Yosemite National Park might benefit some of the world’s oldest giant sequoias, by helping release seeds and clean up debris that could fuel more severe blazes, Reuters reported. The 500 sequoias, in the Mariposa Grove, have survived for thousands of years despite routine fires caused by lightning, according to Reuters.

Rain slows, but doesn’t stop, Interior Alaska wildfire

  • Rainfall this week has helped firefighters combat an unprecedented wildfire in Interior Alaska, where lightning triggered a blaze on June 21, the Anchorage Daily News reported. However, a spokesperson for the fire told the Daily News that “it’s not really like a season-ending type of rain” and more realistically constitutes “a slowing.”

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.


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