TIME Environment

Obama Administration Plans New Offshore Drilling Rules to Prevent Oil Spills

The goal is to prevent disasters like the BP oil spill

The Obama Administration is planning to announce new safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling to help prevent a major explosion like the one that caused the BP oil spill, according to a report.

The announcement is expected to coincide with the disaster’s five-year anniversary later this month, the New York Times reports.

The new regulations would likely tighten safety requirements on blowout preventers. The devices, seen as a last line of defense, malfunctioned and failed to stop the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010.

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME Environment

The Brief: Who Is Using Up California’s Water?

Three sectors gulp up most of the Golden State’s water supply

California is stuck in one of the worst droughts in its history. In response, the state—which consumes more water than any other in the U.S.—is cutting back on water usage by 25% under a new plan from Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the Golden State isn’t completely out of water, it’s still using far more than it can replenish.The three biggest consumers are urban users, big agriculture and water allocated to environmental conservation. But who uses the most, and where is it all going?

TIME Environment

California Could Become a ‘Dust Bowl’ Like 1930s Oklahoma

Dry earth is seen between rows of grapevines in Napa, California
Elijah Nouvelage—Reuters Dry earth is seen between rows of grapevines in Napa, California April 9, 2015. The state is in the fourth year of one of the worst droughts on record.

Thousands of families were forced to leave areas around Oklahoma because of drought and bad farming. Many went to California

As California enters a fourth year of drought, it’s possible that the state could experience conditions like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

At a presentation by the Assn. of California Water Agencies, climatologist Michael Anderson said, “You’re looking on numbers that are right on par with what was the Dust Bowl,” the L.A. Times reports.

In the 1930s, drought and bad faming methods destroyed 100 million acres of farmland around Oklahoma and forced families to leave, many for California. Their journey was immortalized in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

The organization raised awareness about the impact on the state’s farmers, who have seen a loss of $1.5 billion due to lack of water for cultivating their crops.

[L.A. Times]

TIME India

Greenpeace Has Had Several of Its Indian Bank Accounts Frozen

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Punit Paranjpe—AFP/Getty Images Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace and local farmers from Madhya Pradesh state sit outside the headquarters of India's Essar Group during a protest in Mumbai on Jan. 22, 2014

It's accusing Delhi of trying to silence its opposition to the government's industrial projects

India froze seven bank accounts belonging to Greenpeace’s operations in the country on Thursday, escalating an ongoing conflict between Delhi and the environmental organization.

A government statement asserted that Greenpeace India was misusing funds and violating the country’s financial regulations, Reuters reported.

“We have evidence to prove that Greenpeace has been misreporting their funds and using their unaccounted foreign aid to stall crucial development projects,” an unnamed senior government official told Reuters.

The nongovernmental organization, which has accused the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of relaxing environmental rules to allow large industrial projects to move forward smoothly, dismissed the six-month suspension of its accounts as an attempt to silence dissent.

“We are being repeatedly targeted because we are protesting against government’s unlawful policies,” said Divya Raghunandan, Greenpeace India’s program director.

An earlier attempt by the Indian government to block the inflow of foreign funds to Greenpeace India was denied by a court order in January, soon after activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight to the U.K., where he was to testify against India in front of the British Parliament.

TIME toxins

Rising Levels of Toxic Gas Found in Homes Near Fracking Sites

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Getty Images

Dangerous levels of radon brings EPA to consider federal regulations on fracking

Levels of radon, a cancer-causing, radioactive gas, have been rising measurably in Pennsylvania since the controversial practice of fracking started there, researchers reported Thursday.

The study cannot directly link fracking with the raised radon levels. But whatever is going on, residents need to be aware of the rising levels of the gas and take action to get it out of their homes, the researchers say.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., killing an estimated 21,000 people a year. The odorless, invisible gas is produced naturally from many types of rocks, and many people who have bought…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Environment

Check Out This Photo of a Pet Fish That Grew Into a Feral Aquatic Killer

Photo provided by Murdoch University's Freshwater Fish Group & Fish Health Unit

It's what happens when you ditch little Otto into a local lake

Setting a pet fish free in a local lake or waterway is not an act of liberation — it’s ecological sabotage.

According to researchers at Australia’s Murdoch University, once pet fish are introduced into lakes and rivers they have the potential to decimate an ecosystem.

While a goldfish or koi might remain miniature when housed in a bowl or aquarium, once freed into a larger environment the fish are able to grow at an exponential rate. They also eat up food that native species depend on and introduce exotic diseases.

A study published last year by Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit claims “introduced freshwater fishes are one of the major global threats to aquatic biodiversity.”

“They are eating up the food resources and using up the habitat that our native fish would otherwise be using,” Jeff Cosgrove, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Murdoch University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In addition, once they’ve been introduced into a new ecosystem they can be “extremely difficult to eradicate,” says Cosgrove.

Read next: The Brontosaurus Comes Back from the Dead

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

California Drought Leads to Historic Toilet Policy

The California Energy Commission mandated on Tuesday that new toilets and faucets sold in California must conserve water

California officials working to combat the state’s four-year drought are taking aim at everyday practices that use billions of gallons of water each year: flushing toilets and running faucets.

The California Energy Commission took emergency action on Tuesday by mandating that all toilets, urinals and faucets sold in the state must conserve water. That means only low-flush toilets and low-flow sinks will be allowed for sale after Jan. 1, 2016, regardless of when they were manufactured. The mandate applies to both public places and private residences.

“We’re seeing serious dry spell here in California,” says Amber Beck, a spokesperson for the commission. “And we need to make sure we are not only saving water right now but in the coming years.” These regulations come less than a week after Governor Jerry Brown imposed the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, aimed at cutting the state’s usage by 25%.

The commission’s action will set historic efficiency standards for appliances in the Golden State, which are much stricter than the voluntary standards laid out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense conservation program. As of 2016, all urinals sold in California can use only one pint of water or less per flush; the current standard is one gallon, while the EPA will put its WaterSense stamp of approval on any urinal that uses half a gallon or less.

The commission estimates that the new standards will save 10 billion gallons of water in the first year, and more than 100 billion gallons as old appliances are replaced by new ones over the coming years. As of January, there were more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets and 1 million urinals operating in California.

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

TIME nature

Sardine Fishing Off the U.S. West Coast Could Be Banned As Stocks Are So Low

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Getty Images

The phrase "packed like sardines" could soon sound obsolete

Correction appended, April 10

A rapid decline in sardine populations along the U.S. Pacific Coast may push authorities to impose a widespread ban on harvesting the species soon.

Conservationists argue that chronic overfishing has caused sardine numbers in U.S. waters to fall by an estimated 90% since 2007. However, others suggest the decline is part of a natural fluctuation in biomass.

With fewer sardines in the wild, malnourished sea lions are struggling to find food and washing up on Californian shores in records numbers, while predatory birds, like the brown pelican, are also suffering.

If the ban is enacted, it’s expected to hit West Coast seafood producers hard.

“Most sardine fishermen also fish for other species such as mackerel, anchovy, or squid,” Kerry Griffin, a staff officer with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told Reuters. “But not having sardines available as one of their staples could be difficult.”

The council is set to make its ruling on Sunday.

[Reuters]

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated who blamed overfishing for the reduced sardine populations. It was conservationists.

TIME Environment

Here’s Why Allergy Season Might Be Especially Unpleasant This Spring

Pollen levels are going to be intense this month, experts warn

There’s one more downside to winters that seems to drag on: allergy season is intensified.

Tree pollen levels may reach unusually high levels in the coming weeks because persistent colder temperatures delayed some trees from pollinating last month, according to allergy experts. Since not all trees pollinate at the same time — maple, cedar and elm trees, for example, pollinate early — the delays result in a large amount of trees pollinating at once.

“You may even see clouds of pollen being released over the next several weeks, where there will be almost a green mist,” Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., told CBS New York last week.

Experts say those living in the New England region — which saw its “last hurrah” winter storm in March — might want to pay particular attention to pollen levels, though any region that’s been slow to warm up this year may be affected.

“The general principle is the same: in the spring, wherever you are, whenever it becomes temperate, trees start to emit their pollen,” Dr. Rachel Miller, chief of pediatric allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told TIME.

So what can you do to avoid the runny noses, itchy eyes and headaches? There are the classic over-the-counter allergy pills like Zyrtec and Claritin, but for those that suffer from more severe allergies, this spring might be the perfect time to finally get checked out.

“Certainly people can visit their allergists,” said Dr. Miller, “who can help make sure that they’re doing certain behaviors to try to minimize exposure when, say, they’re exercising or jogging in the park — as well as medical management, or possibly immunotherapy.”

 

TIME Environment

California Water Board Says February Savings Were Worst Yet

The newly released water use levels show the difficulties of changing longstanding habits

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Californians’ efforts to save water in the face of a devastating drought have hit a new low, as statistics released Tuesday showed residents did less to curtail their water use in February than they had in any other month since officials began tracking conservation efforts.

The south coast, home to more than a third of Californians from San Diego to Los Angeles, actually showed an increase in water consumption despite longstanding calls for cutbacks.

“These are sobering statistics and disheartening statistics,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Overall, the numbers indicate that statewide water fell by less than 3 percent in February as compared to baseline data established in 2013, the last year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

The figures mirrored preliminary reports that helped spur Brown last week to demand that urban water users cut back their consumption by 25 percent.

After the release, the water board began to discuss stiffer measures to ensure compliance from local districts, including targeted water reductions based on current usage rates. Large fines for noncompliance are possible, but they’re still considered unlikely.

The newly released water use levels show the difficulties of changing longstanding habits, such as watering lawns, washing cars and taking long showers, board members said. Also, they noted, that water use in February 2013 was low because the weather was cooler that year.

Still, the governor should be able to use the figures to his advantage. His call for a mandatory 25 percent cutback goes beyond his request asking residents to voluntarily reduce their use by 20 percent when he declared the drought emergency in January 2014. Statewide conservation has been about 10 percent since then.

The board credited some already water-conscious communities, including Stockton, Santa Cruz and Mountain View, for slashing use in February.

However, places such as Newport Beach, which cut average monthly water use by nearly 8 percent between July and February, face penalties if they don’t improve.

Newport Beach has reduced lawn watering to four times a week, which is twice as often as state recommendations allow, and it prohibits residents from refilling their pools more than 1 foot a week.

Since July, Newport Beach residents used about 120 gallons a day, compared to about 100 for others who live along the southern coastline.

Newport Beach officials have spent months informing residents about new regulations and ways to cut back, and they’re now seeking new authority to issue fines.

“We liked the friendly approach, and it seems to be working well, but we aren’t afraid to issue citations,” said George Murdoch, the city’s utilities general manager.

The water board has given local water departments discretion to come up with their own conservation rules, but it has established some statewide regulations, such as banning lawn watering 48 hours after rain and prohibiting restaurants from serving water unless customers ask.

The agency also plans to have municipalities penalize overconsumption through billing rates.

Water use along the coast is expected to increase this summer as tourists and seasonal residents flock to beach homes.

Meanwhile, some water agencies are working on more drastic actions of their own. Southern California’s giant Metropolitan Water District will vote next week on a plan to ration water deliveries to the 26 agencies and cities it supplies, according to spokesman Bob Muir.

The cuts, which would take effect July 1, were proposed before the governor imposed the mandatory restrictions and are expected to drive agencies to curb demand and help meet the conservation goals.

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