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Updated: 54 min 46 sec ago

For the First Time in 40 Years EPA to Put in Place a Process to Evaluate Chemicals that May Pose Risk

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 00:14

By EPA

New chemical law requires the agency to look at chemicals that were grandfathered in under old law

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving swiftly to propose how it will prioritize and evaluate chemicals, given that the final processes must be in place within the first year of the new law’s enactment, or before June 22, 2017.

“After 40 years we can finally address chemicals currently in the marketplace,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Today’s action will set into motion a process to quickly evaluate chemicals and meet deadlines required under, and essential to, implementing the new law.”

When the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976, it grandfathered in thousands of unevaluated chemicals that were in commerce at the time. The old law failed to provide EPA with the tools to evaluate chemicals and to require companies to generate and provide data on chemicals they produced.

EPA is proposing three rules to help administer the new process. They are:

Inventory rule. There are currently over 85,000 chemicals on EPA’s Inventory, many of these are no longer actively produced. The rule will require manufacturers, including importers, to notify EPA and the public on the number of chemicals still being produced.

Prioritization rule. This will establish how EPA will prioritize chemicals for evaluation.  EPA will use a risk-based screening process and criteria to identify whether a particular chemical is either high or low priority.  A chemical designated as high-priority must undergo evaluation. Chemicals designated as low-priority are not required to undergo evaluation.

Risk Evaluation rule. This will establish how EPA will evaluate the risk of existing chemicals.  The agency will identify steps for the risk evaluation process, including publishing the scope of the assessment. Chemical hazards and exposures will be assessed along with characterizing and determining risks.  This rule also outlines how the agency intends to seek public comment on chemical evaluations.

These three rules incorporate comments received from a series of public meetings held in August 2016.

If EPA identifies unreasonable risk in the evaluation, it is required to eliminate that risk through regulations.  Under TSCA the agency must have at least 20 ongoing risk evaluations by the end of 2019.

Comments on the proposed rules must be received 60 days after date of publication in the Federal Register. At that time, go to the dockets at: https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for: HQ-OPPT-2016-0426 for the inventory rule; HQ-OPPT-2016-0636 for the prioritization rule; and HQ-OPPT-2016-0654 for the risk evaluation rule.

Learn more about today’s proposals: https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/frank-r-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act-5

Learn more about the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/frank-r-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act.

Categories: Ecological News

Report Urges Emergency ‘Extinction Prevention Programs’

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 01:03

By The Center for Biological Diversity

Funding Study: U.S. Providing Just 3.5 Percent of What’s Needed to Recover Endangered Species Report Urges Emergency ‘Extinction Prevention Programs’ for Butterflies, Southeast Mussels, Southwest Fish

The amount of money appropriated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery of endangered species is just 3.5 percent of what is needed, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. The federal agency currently receives roughly $82 million per year for endangered species recovery, but based on the Center’s analysis of federal recovery plans for listed species, $2.3 billion per year, or 28 times current funding, is needed if species are going to be fully recovered.

Aside from calling for a dramatic increase in congressional funding for endangered species, today’s report also urges a $125 million infusion into emergency “extinction prevention programs” for Hawaiian plants and snails, butterflies, mussels in the Southeast and fish in the Southwest.

“The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly effective, saving more than 99 percent of species under its protection from extinction and putting hundreds on the road to recovery,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “We expect that rather than provide needed increases in funding, tragically, the Trump administration will move to cut money for endangered species, placing endangered species across the country at greater risk of extinction.”

Currently, roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward their recovery, so any further cuts would be a disaster.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife is required to develop recovery plans for all endangered species that identify the actions needed to recover species and the cost of completing these actions. Bizarrely, these science-based estimates have never been utilized to help determine congressional appropriations for endangered species recovery. Instead congressional appropriations are based on the minimal amount needed by the agency to carry out basic functions, such as developing recovery plans and reviewing species’ status, and generally are not even enough for these critical activities. The Center used federal recovery plans to estimate what is actually needed to recover species and found much more is needed.

“We know the majority of species are recovering with protection under the Endangered Species Act, but if we want to take them over the finish line, much more money is needed,” said Greenwald. “The amount of money needed to do the job right is a fraction of the federal budget — roughly the same as subsidies given to the oil and gas industry for extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”

The report recommends increasing the annual appropriation for endangered species recovery from $82 million currently to the $2.3 billion needed over 10 years.

In the meantime the report recommends expanding two existing “extinction prevention programs” for Hawaiian plants and land and tree snails, and creating three more for North American butterflies, Southeast mussels and Southwest fish. These are some of the most endangered species groups in the country (see more below). The current programs are partnerships between the Fish and Wildlife Service, state of Hawaii and University of Hawaii, and have been very successful. Expansion of these programs, along with the three new ones, would help ensure the survival of some of the most endangered species in the country while funding is increased to help all species. Today’s report recommends funding each of these programs at $25 million per year for a total of $125 million.

Needed Extinction Prevention Programs

Southeast freshwater mussels. North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, but unfortunately much of this diversity is threatened. Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in the United States, with nearly 70 percent being at risk of extinction. Thirty-eight species of mussel have already gone extinct, and another dozen are likely gone. Many additional species survive only in small isolated populations that will be lost without intensive captive-breeding and reintroduction efforts. The scientific expertise now exists to save these species, but the Service lacks the funding to collect and propagate the surviving individuals of all the species that are spiraling toward extinction. In 2014 total expenditures on 85 species of endangered freshwater mussels was approximately $11.4 million, or just 0.8 percent of total expenditures, and some critically endangered mussel species received only $100 in recovery funding.

North American butterflies. Of all the endangered species in the United States, butterflies are one of the fastest declining groups, with several species on the verge of extinction. The Mount Charleston blue butterfly, Miami blue butterfly and Lange’s metalmark, for example, all have worldwide populations of fewer than 100 individuals. These and other species would benefit from captive propagation and habitat restoration well beyond what is currently occurring. In 2014 total expenditures on the 21 protected butterfly species were only $5.3 million, or just 0.4 percent of all expenditures.

Southwest freshwater fish. The unique and highly endemic fish fauna of the Southwest and greater Colorado River Basin have been decimated by a century of habitat degradation and non-native fish introductions. Presently 42 fish species are either endangered or threatened, and most have experienced drastic abundance and range reductions. At least one species is extinct. Non-native fish species dominate most fish communities, and include at least 67 introduced species. Controlling and removing these nonnative species and addressing widespread habitat degradation, even in just those areas necessary for recovery of the many endangered fish and other aquatic species, would be a massive effort requiring substantially more funds than currently allocated. In 2014 just $9.2 million was spent on these 42 fish, or 0.6 percent of all expenditures.

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Categories: Ecological News

Robust Technical Analysis Supports Leaving Carbon Pollution Standards for Cars and Light Trucks in Place Through 2025, EPA Administrator Finds

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 23:10

By U.S. EPA

Automakers on track to meet standards at lower than expected cost

Based on extensive technical analysis that shows automakers are well positioned to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for model years 2022-2025, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy today proposed leaving the standards in place, so the program that was established in 2012 will stay on track to nearly double fuel economy, dramatically cut carbon pollution, maintain regulatory certainty for a global industry, and save American drivers billions of dollars at the pump.

“Given the auto industry’s importance to American jobs and communities and the industry’s need for certainty well into the future, EPA has reanalyzed these clean car standards and sought further input,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “It’s clear from the extensive technical record that this program will remain affordable and effective. This proposed decision reconfirms our confidence in the auto industry’s capacity to drive innovation and strengthen the American economy while saving drivers money at the pump and safeguarding our health, climate and environment.”

Today’s proposed determination is based on years of technical work, including an exhaustive technical report released earlier this year, and the agency’s thorough review and consideration of comments received on that report. This extensive body of analysis shows that manufacturers can meet the standards at similar or even a lower cost than what was anticipated in the 2012 rulemaking, and that the standards will deliver significant fuel savings for American consumers, as well as benefits to public health and welfare from reducing the pollution that contributes to climate change. Full implementation of the standards will cut about 6 billion metric tons of GHG emissions over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025. Cars and light trucks are the largest source of GHG emissions in the U.S. transportation sector.

Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment.

Today’s announcement builds on years of success under EPA’s vehicle emission standards. Auto manufacturers are innovating and adopting fuel economy technologies at unprecedented rates. Car makers have developed more technologies to reduce GHG emissions, and these technologies are entering the fleet faster than expected. These technologies include gasoline direct injection, more sophisticated transmissions, and stop-start systems that reduce idling fuel consumption. At the end of 2015, all large automakers were in compliance with the standards. In fact, automakers on average out-performed the model year 2015 standards by seven grams per mile. These gains are happening at a time when the car industry is thriving, and domestic vehicle sales have increased for six consecutive years, while maintaining consumer choice across a full range of vehicle sizes and types.

As part of the rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA committed to conduct a Midterm Evaluation of standards for model years 2022-2025. The public comment period for this action begins today and will end on December 30, 2016. After the comment period has ended and consideration of the input, the Administrator will decide whether she has enough information to make a final determination on the model year 2022-2025 standards.

For more information on today’s announcement, go to: https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/midterm-evaluation-light-duty-vehicle-greenhouse-gas-ghg.

To provide comment on today’s proposed determination, go to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0827 at www.regulations.gov.

Categories: Ecological News

Taking the Pulse of Underwater Forests

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 19:16

By UC Santa Barbara News

A new study from UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis finds
kelps are doing better than other key coastal ecosystem-forming species

Kelp Forest – Photo Laura Francis, NOAA

Like all marine ecosystems around the world, kelp forests are threatened by human activities. However, a new study reports that kelp ecosystems are in fact faring relatively well in the face of those dangers.

A working group from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological
Analysis and Synthesis collected nearly all of the existing kelp-monitoring data sets from
around the world and analyzed them to identify long-term trends. The researchers,
including UCSB marine ecologists Jennifer Caselle and Daniel Reed sought to determine
whether kelp forests — like corals, sea grasses and other key coastal ecosystem-forming
species — are in decline. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences.

“We were surprised to discover that while one-third of the kelp regions for which
we had data are in decline, one-quarter of them are increasing in size,” said Caselle, a
research biologist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute and lecturer in the Department of
Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology. “For the remainder we were unable to detect a
signal. This shows that we simply cannot understand how global change will affect
globally distributed taxa without understanding how global stressors interact with local
human pressures and environmental conditions.”

The international team of 37 scientists analyzed trends in kelp abundance from 34
regions of the globe, representing 1,138 sites that had been monitored over the past half
century. Despite amassing such a comprehensive database, the scientists found little to no
data for many regions of the globe, making it impossible to determine whether kelp
abundance is on an increasing or decreasing trajectory in those areas.

The investigators reported that while kelp in 38 percent of the analyzed regions
showed clear declines, 27 percent of regions posted increases and 35 percent had no net
change. However, the range of trajectories seen across regions far exceeded a small rate
of decline — 1.8 percent per year — at the global scale.

The research team suggests that this variability reflects large regional differences
in the drivers of local environmental change and that global factors associated with
climate change vary by region, depending on the kelp species, the local environmental
conditions and other sources of stress. This contrasts with many other species, such as
corals and seagrasses, whose abundances are declining on the global scale. According to
the scientists, this difference is likely in part due to the unique capacity of kelp to recover
quickly from disturbances.

“Kelp is a rock star of resilience; in many places, it’s managed to hold its own
against environmental change,” said co-author Jarrett Byrnes, a former postdoctoral
associate at NCEAS, now at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Kelps may well
not be the canary in the coal mine for the effects of global environmental change for our
oceans. Rather, their loss may be a sign that we have finally tipped over the edge of a
precipice.”

The team’s findings highlight the importance and opportunity for managing kelp
forests on a local scale. Indeed, regions where declines were documented were often
those experiencing multiple local and global stressors acting together to harm forests.
These sometimes included the combination of fishing and climate change.

“Kelp forests support an incredible diversity of species and are of rich economic
and cultural value to humans,” said lead author Kira Krumhansl of Simon Fraser
University in British Columbia. “Our study highlights that maintaining the health of kelp
forests relies on understanding what is happening on local scales. Each region is unique.
In fact, each forest is unique. Managing stressors on local scales has a key role to play in
maintaining the health of kelp ecosystems in the face of increasing global pressures.”

Categories: Ecological News

California Votes to Ban Plastic Shopping Bags

Fri, 11/11/2016 - 01:26

By Teresa Bui
Californians Against Waste

Proponents of Plastic Bag Ban Declare Landmark Victory

Californians have voted to enact a state law to ban plastic shopping bags, the first state in the nation to do so.

Proposition 67, the referendum on the state law (Senate Bill 270) passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014, is leading by 52-48 percent. The law had been challenged by the out-of-state plastic bag industry, which spent more than $6 million to defeat it. The plastic bag manufacturers have issued a statement conceding.

Proposition 65, another measure put on the ballot by the plastic bag industry, was defeated by a 10-point margin, 55-45%.

“California voters have taken a stand against a deceptive, multi-million dollar campaign by out-of-state plastic bag makers,” said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, co-chair of the campaign. “This is a significant environmental victory that will mean an immediate elimination of the 25 million plastic bags that are polluted in California every day, threatening wildlife.”

“This is a tremendous victory for California,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “We were pleased to stand in support of Proposition 67. Despite the millions of dollars that out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers spent to defeat the measure, Californians stood together and prevailed. Now, California can finally implement its first-in-the-nation law to reduce a source of plastic pollution—and protect our ocean, coast and marine wildlife.”

“This is a victory for our oceans and marine life, and for communities all over California dealing with the blight of plastic pollution in their neighborhoods,” said Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, Founder of Azul. “Latino/a communities have a culture of conservation, and a long tradition of using reusable bags. We are excited to see voters’ support for banning plastic bags once and for all.”

“The passage of Prop 67 sends a powerful message to out-of-state plastics manufacturers that California’s environmental protections are not for sale,” said Sarah Rose CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “Once again Californians voiced their strong support for bold environmental leadership to move our state and our country forward.”

The law will take effect immediately. It was originally designed to take effect on July 1, 2015 for grocery stores and July 1, 2016 for other retailers.

More than 151 California communities already have local plastic bags in place. The passage of Prop 67 extends the ban to the remainder of the state.

The Yes vote on Prop 67 was backed by a diverse coalition of more than 500 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to business organizations and dozens of cities and counties. They included: Environment California, Heal the Bay, the NAACP, Save the Bay, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the California League of Cities, Azul, and the California Labor Federation. The Yes campaign also received the support of more than 40 newspapers.

“This is also an important victory for the grass roots, said Murray, who noted the Yes campaign was outspent by more than 4-1 ($6.1 million to $1.5 million). “Special interests are losing their ability to use big money to deceive California voters at the ballot box.”

More than 40 percent of California communities are already living without plastic shopping bags through local ordinance.

“Consumers have demonstrated they love this policy,” said Murray. “In the 12 California Counties that have already banned plastic bags, support was most overwhelming, with better than 66% of voters saying yes to Prop 67, and an end to polluting plastic shopping bags.”

More than 70 percent of the Yes on 67 campaign’s funding came from environmental contributors. More than 4,000 individual contributors donated to the campaign. The plastic bag industry had just four contributors.

Categories: Ecological News

Leonardo DiCaprio Premiers “Before the Flood” Climate Change Documentary

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 16:52

Environmental activist and Academy Award®-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens premier their documentary film, Before the Flood, a compelling account of the powerful changes occurring on our planet due to climate change.

Before the Flood will appear in theaters in NYC and LA starting October 21, and air globally on the National Geographic Channel starting October 30.

Leonardo DiCaprio, President Barack Obama and Texas Tech University climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe discuss climate change, prior to a premier screening of “Before the Flood”.

Categories: Ecological News

New EPA Web Portal Helps Communities Prepare for Climate Change

Fri, 10/07/2016 - 00:48

By The EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today launched a new online portal that will provide local leaders in the nation’s 40,000 communities with information and tools to increase resilience to climate change. Using a self-guided format, the Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X) provides users with information tailored specifically to their needs, based on where they live and the particular issues of concern to them.

Recent statistics from the Office of Management and Budget show the federal government has incurred more than $357 billion in direct costs due to extreme weather and fire alone over the last 10 years. Climate change is also expected to pose significant financial and infrastructural challenges to communities in coming decades. EPA designed ARC-X to help all local government official address these challenges – from those with extensive experience and expertise dealing with the impacts of climate change, to those working in underserved communities who are just beginning to meet those challenges.

“From floods and droughts to dangerous heat islands and other public health effects, communities are facing the very real impacts of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “ARC-X is a powerful new tool that can help local governments continue to deliver reliable, cost-effective services even as the climate changes.”

Building on climate adaptation training for local governments EPA launched last year, ARC-X provides another important resource for building climate resiliency.  The system guides users through all steps of an adaptation process, providing information on the implications of climate change for particular regions and issues of concern; adaptation strategies that can be implemented to address the risks posed by climate change; case studies that illustrate how other communities with similar concerns have already successfully adapted, along with instructions on how to replicate their efforts; potential EPA tools to help implement the adaptation strategies; and sources of funding and technical assistance from EPA and other federal agencies.

To access ARC-X: www.epa.gov/ARC-X

For climate adaptation training: www.epa.gov/communityhealth/local-government-climate-adaptation-training

Categories: Ecological News

First Bee Species Added to Endangered Species List

Thu, 10/06/2016 - 01:21

By Lauren McCauley
Common Dreams

Listing comes amid a national crisis of declining bee populations, which is attributed to an array of causes, including habitat loss, and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, Kauai, Hawaii. Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, CC

Marking a troubling development in the crisis of pollinator decline, the first species of bees were added to the Endangered Species List.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the determined status on Friday for seven types of yellow-faced bees found in the Hawaiian islands.

It comes after a multi-year effort by the invertebrate conservation organization The Xerces Society to gain federal recognition and protection for the threatened bees.

Xerces communication director Matthew Shepard hailed the development as “excellent news for these bees,” but added that “there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive.”

“Unfortunately,” he lamented, “the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”

The endangered genus, Hylaeus, commonly called yellow-faced, are the only genus native to Hawaii. Their failure comes amid a national crisis of declining bee populations, including colony collapse disorder, which is attributed to an array of causes, including habitat loss, infection, and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

As Shepard wrote earlier, “Hawai’i’s yellow-faced bees face many threats, from the loss of habitat due to land conversion, development, and recreation…to the negative impacts of nonnative species, such as wild pigs, bigheaded ants, and invasive plants. Climate change also poses a threat to small populations of these bees.”

He further noted that the bees are “critical pollinators of many endangered native Hawaiian plants and the decline of these bees could lead to the extinction of the plants that rely upon them.”

The announcement came a week after the USFWS proposed for protection the first bee in the continental U.S., the rusted patched bumble bee, typically found in the upper midwest and northeast.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News