New Legislation Introduced to Reduce Vehicle Emissions,
Increase Biofuels Demand
Legislation that would leverage greater fuel octane to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, improve air quality by reducing the use of harmful aromatics and increase demand for biofuels, has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
The sponsor of the Next Generation Fuels Act, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said the measure “looks toward the future to make sure we bring an environmental lens to biofuels production, in order to increase demand while reducing carbon emissions.”
The measure may see little action in the time left in this, the 116th
session of Congress. But legislation introduced this late can give a strong indication of bills that will be pursued in the next session of Congress, beginning in January.
The measure promotes fuels with greater levels of octane, which are more stable and have the potential to make engines more fuel-efficient. Bustos’ legislation establishes a minimum octane standard for gasoline and requires sources of the added octane value to reduce carbon emissions by at least 30 percent compared to baseline gasoline. The legislation would also limit the use of harmful aromatics in meeting the new higher-octane standard, as well as in current-market gasoline.
“For the last three and a half years, we have been forced to fight battle after battle and face [the Trump] administration’s broken promise after broken promise to ensure our country is meeting the full potential of biofuels,” Bustos said in explaining her motives for introducing the bill.
The bill has generated support from biofuel-related trade groups.
“Congresswoman Bustos has been a real champion for agriculture and the benefits of low carbon ethanol,” said Kevin Ross, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). The legislation “builds on the success of the Renewable Fuel Standard in advancing corn growers’ commitment to providing the lowest cost, most efficient, and environmentally friendly fuel available.”
“There has never been a more urgent need to adopt higher octane, low-carbon ethanol blends in America’s fuel supply, as they are key to achieving clean, healthy air,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor. “We applaud Congresswoman Bustos for charting a path forward that will unleash clean, affordable ethanol to drive decarbonization in our nation’s transportation fleet and save consumers money at the fuel pump.”
“The Next Generation Fuels Act of 2020 provides a bold and innovative approach to reducing carbon emissions, improving engine efficiency and performance, protecting human health, and removing the arcane regulatory roadblocks that have hindered the expansion of cleaner, greener liquid fuels,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “By establishing the roadmap for an orderly transition to high-octane, low-carbon fuels, this landmark legislation begins an exciting new era in transportation fuels policy.
“As the world’s top supplier of clean, affordable, low-carbon octane, the U.S. ethanol industry proudly and enthusiastically supports this legislation.”
Database Offers More Accurate Modelling
Of Climate Change on Water Resources
To better document the repercussions of climate change on regional water resources, researchers from around the world now have access to HYSETS, a database of hydrometric, meteorological and physiographic data created by a team at Montreal, Canada’s École de Technologie Supérieure (ÉTS).
The database contains 70 years’ worth of data on 14,425 North American watersheds.
“Given the diversity of its data and the number of regions documented, HYSETS will allow you to develop models for virtually any type of climate,” said Richard Arsenault, professor of construction engineering and a member of the Hydrology, Climate and Climate Change Laboratory (HC3), at ÉTS, who spearheaded the project.
The ready-to-use data are offered free of charge and can be downloaded from HERE.
“Normally, we have to draw the data we need from several different databases, then filter them before being able to use them to create a reliable model. This task must be repeated each time we want to create a model. We thought it would be a good idea to create a huge database with ready-to-use data that could serve the entire scientific community,” explained Richard Arsenault.
HC3 officials say HYSETS differentiates itself from other databases with the huge number of watersheds its covers, the wide variety of data provided for each watershed, and its reach across three nations.
Officials also say HYSETS contains hydrometric, meteorological and physiographic data – a diversity that is highly useful, if not necessary, to better understanding the propagation of uncertainties in water resource management chains.
Another notable factor cited by officials is HYSETS inclusion of data that covers a long period of time, from 1950 to 2018. The database will be augmented annually with data from the previous year, making it highly useful for studying past and more recent changes in hydroclimatic variables across different regions of North America.
The HYSETS database can also be used as a test environment for a wide range of applications, including hydrological modeling. With multiple datasets on temperatures and precipitation, the database can assist in correcting biases in worldwide and regional climate models.
Arsenault says the database is an “undeniable” asset for researchers in hydrology, environment and climate sciences, because it’s easier to develop models using a significant number of regions. In addition, current studies rely more and more on large scale data in order to take into account the instabilities created by climate change.
One-Two Punch: The Effects of Repeated Droughts
On Different Kinds of Forests
Drought is endemic to the American West along with heatwaves and intense wildfires. But scientists are only beginning to understand how the effects of multiple droughts can compound to affect forests differently than a single drought alone.
A team comprised of researchers from the University of Utah, University of California – Santa Barbara, Stanford University and the U.S. Forest Service – investigated the effects of repeated, extreme droughts on various types of forests across the globe.
They found that a variety of factors can increase and decrease a forest’s resilience to subsequent droughts. However, the study, published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that successive droughts are generally increasingly detrimental to forests, even when each drought was no more extreme than the initial one.
Droughts usually leave individual trees more vulnerable to subsequent droughts. The team found that compounding extreme events can be really stressful on forests and trees, comparing the experience to a person battling an illness who’ll be harder hit if they get sick again while still recovering.
But lead author William Anderegg, an assistant professor at the University of Utah, also said there could be variables, noting that “[T]heoretically, responses to subsequent droughts could be quite varied depending on a wide range of tree-level and ecosystem-level factors.” So, while a drought may place a tree under considerable stress, it could also kill off some of its neighbors, leaving the survivors with less competition for water should arid conditions return.
The researchers used a variety of data sources to investigate this effect on a broad scale. Tree ring data spanning more than 100 years enabled them to see how trees that survived an initial drought grew afterward. Data from the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis gave them access to metrics on tree mortality for more than 100,000 forest plots from 2000 through 2018. They combined these sources with satellite measurements of the water content in forest canopies.
Anderegg said two clear trends emerged:
- Trees seem to become more vulnerable to stress after multiple droughts, especially conifers
- Conifers and their kin may sustain more damage in an initial drought and be at a disadvantage compared to broadleaf trees due to different vascular systems.
Broadleaf trees “have much more flexible anatomy and physiology, and this seems to help them recover faster and more fully after initial droughts,” Anderegg said.
The researcher says he was particularly surprised by the impact repeated drought had on the Amazon Rainforest, noting that society tends to “think of these forests as not very impacted by drought and, due to their high tree diversity, able to recover quickly. “But,” he added, “our results indicate the Amazon has been hit hard by three very severe droughts in the past 15 years.”
Forests are complex systems, and a variety of factors ultimately dictate how they respond to extreme events. Trugman said that damage has to be considered at both the individual level and the forest level as. Although surviving trees will need time to recover from an extreme drought, they will face less competition for water resources than they had before – an outcome that could leave them in a better situation if drought returns to the area.
The researchers also say natural selection will drive the forest as a whole to transition toward more resilient individuals, or even to more drought tolerant species overall. Repeated droughts affect forest pests and pathogens as well, and their response to these conditions will also influence how forests behave.
Scientists say they are still working to sort out the conditions under which each of these factors rises to the top, with the next pressing step being a close look at the underlying mechanisms at a physiological level and ecological level.
Researchers can use the insights to improve computer models and make more accurate forecasts about the future of forests in a changing climate, which is expected to bring more frequent droughts.
“We have to understand and be able to forecast how forests will respond to multiple droughts,” Anderegg said. “These results are especially crucial in the western U.S., where we’ve had a number of major droughts in the past 20 years.”
New Global Temperature Data Will Inform Study
Of Climate Impacts on Ag Health
A seemingly small one-to-two-degree change in the global climate can dramatically alter weather-related hazards. Given that such a small change can result in such big impacts, it is important to have the most accurate information possible when studying the impact of climate change. This can be especially challenging in data-sparse areas like Africa, where some of the most dangerous hazards are expected to emerge.
A new data set published in the journal Scientific Data provides high-resolution, daily temperatures from around the globe that could prove valuable in studying human health impacts from heat waves, risks to agriculture, droughts, potential crop failures, and food insecurity.
Data scientists Andrew Verdin and Kathryn Grace of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota worked with colleagues at the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California Santa Barbara to produce and validate the data set.
“It’s important to have this high-resolution because of the wide-ranging impacts – to agriculture, health, infrastructure. People experiencing heat waves, crop failures, droughts – that’s all local,” said Verdin, the lead author.
By combining weather station data, remotely sensed infrared data and the weather simulation models, this new data set provides daily estimates of 2-meter maximum and minimum air temperatures for 1983-2016. Named CHIRTS-daily, this data provides high levels of accuracy, even in areas where on-site weather data collection is sparse. Current efforts are focused on updating the data set in near real time.
“We know that the next 20 years are going to bring more extreme heat waves that will put millions or even billions of people in harm’s way. CHIRTS-daily will help us monitor, understand, and mitigate these rapidly emerging climate hazards”, said Chris Funk, director of the Climate Hazards Center.
Additionally, the people who are most vulnerable are often located in areas where publicly available weather station data are deteriorating or unreliable. Areas with rapidly expanding populations and exposures (Africa, Central America and parts of Asia, for example) can’t rely on weather observations. By combining different sources of weather information, each contributes to provide detail and context for a more accurate, global temperature dataset.
“We’re really excited about the possibilities for fine-scale, community-focused climate-health data analyses that this dataset can support. We’re excited to see researchers use it,” said co-author Kathryn Grace.
EPA Signs Pact with MD, PA to Expand Efforts
Supporting Clean Water, Healthy Farms
The EPA has signed five-year, first-of-their-kind agreements with officials in Maryland and Pennsylvania to expand joint activities supporting what the agency says are shared goal of cleaner water and sustainable farms.
In separate events, EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder in Caroline County, and a Letter of Understanding (LOU) with Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding in Lancaster County, the agency announced Oct. 2.
The MOU in Maryland and the LOU in Pennsylvania both formalize a partnership between the EPA and the states’ Departments of Agriculture, and expands activities to prioritize funding, coordinate on regulatory programs, recognize farmers for environmental stewardship, and enhance opportunities for a dialogue with the agricultural community.
The agreements build “on the actions our agencies are taking together and with the broader agricultural community to promote a vibrant farm economy and clean rivers and streams,” said Servidio. They formalize “our work together in the pursuit of solutions that are good for both agriculture and the environment.”
“Maryland farmers are known across the nation as leaders in conservation practices like cover crops and no-till,” said Bartenfelder. “Living in such close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, protecting the environment and improving water quality is top-of-mind for Maryland farmers. This agreement between MDA and the EPA strengthens the commitment our agriculture industry has to environmental stewardship.”
“These past few months have made it crystal clear to the public that having food on their tables depends on having farms that are functioning at the top of their game and ready for whatever nature throws at them,” Redding said at the signing at Worth the Wait Farms. “The Landis family farm models soil and water conservation practices that ensure a healthy farm that will keep producing food now and in the future. We’re pleased to cement this agreement on just such a farm in Lancaster County, where what happens on the farm affects healthy food, healthy water and healthy communities for our whole Mid-Atlantic region.”
In the agreements, the agencies commit to the goal of “well-managed, sustainable farms that produce food for our communities and a clean environment for everyone to enjoy.”
Under the MOU, and LOU, the agencies intend to:
- Coordinate and leverage federal, state and private funding to support agricultural conservation practices and environmental protection.
- Advance opportunities to provide EPA grant funding directly to the states’ respective Departments of Agriculture, particularly when it can improve the timely expenditure of federal funds.
- Convene annual meetings with state and federal leaders on priorities and activities, as well as joint trainings to ensure effective implementation of federal and state regulatory programs.
- Co-host Agriculture Roundtables and farm tours to foster a dialogue with the agricultural community on successes, challenges and opportunities to work together.
- Participate in state program assessments to identify best practices and opportunities, and further compliance.
- Collaborate on an annual report to highlight achievements under the agreements.
CO2 Emissions Mapped for Entire U.S. Landscape
To Help Improve Policy Making
A NASA-funded researcher has published results he says details greenhouse gas emissions across the entire U.S. landscape at high space- and time-resolution, with details on economic sector, fuel and combustion process.
Northern Arizona University Professor Kevin Gurney, who specializes in atmospheric science, ecology and public policy, has spent several years developing a standardized system, as part of the Vulcan Project, that quantifies and visualizes greenhouse gases emitted throughout the entire country. The measurements can be taken down to individual power plants, neighborhoods, areas of land and roadways, identifying problem areas and enabling better decisions about where to cut emissions most effectively.
Leading up to the nationwide study, which is now published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Gurney produced emissions maps of several different large cities, including the Los Angeles megacity, Indianapolis, the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gurney developed the high-resolution emissions map as an effective tool for scientific and policy applications. He says his goal is to provide policymakers throughout the nation with a means to strategically address problem areas instead of taking an inefficient and costly approach.
“We’re providing U.S. policymakers at national, state and local scales with a scalpel instead of a hammer,” he said. “Policies that might be relevant to California are possibly less relevant for Chicago or New York. They need to have information that reflects their unique conditions but follows a rigorous, standardized scientific approach. In this way, they can have confidence in the numbers which, in turn, will stimulate smart investment in reducing emissions.”
A strength of Gurney’s approach is validation by atmospheric monitoring of CO2 from ground-based and satellite instruments.
“By synthesizing the detail of building and road-scale emissions with the independence and accuracy of atmospheric monitoring, we have the best possible estimate of emissions with the most policy-relevant detail,” Gurney said.
Data from the Vulcan mapping project is available on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Data Archive. Additional imagery is available on the Vulcan website.