Environment

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The U.S. is producing less air pollution, but smog levels are still rising in the western U.S. because of pollutants released in Asian countries that then drift over the Pacific Ocean. Researchers say their findings show the importance of a global approach to preserving air quality.

"Scientists found Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. "China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders."

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is now the 14th U.S. Secretary of Energy, despite having once pledged to eliminate the Department of Energy.

Or at least, he tried to pledge to eliminate the department — including once when he couldn't think of its name.

Perry was confirmed Thursday by the Senate in a 62-37 vote.

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President Trump this week ordered a review of an Obama-era environmental rule that would have protected streams and wetlands. And in his speech to Congress, President Trump made clear he wants to target other measures.

Remember those pictures of parched lawns and bone-dry unplanted fields when it seemed that Californians could only pray for rain and snow?

Now thanks to one of the wettest winters on record, scientists say that the snowpack along the Sierra Nevada mountain range is a whopping 185 percent of average. And that's important because the runoff from the Sierra snowpack provides one-third of all of California's water.

When Marlene Fowler wakes up in the northern Arizona town of Kaibeto, she can see a yellow-green haze on the horizon. But Fowler's not worried about the pollution. It's her husband's job at the Navajo Generating Station that has her on edge.

"Even though they say the pollution is all this and that, it's been there years," she says.

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Spring is here, sort of.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: That is the warmest temperature we've ever had in the month of February...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Those gas-powered leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and mowers you hear in your neighborhood aren't just annoying — they make a lot of pollution, too.

In California, they're about to pass cars as the worst air polluters, spewing out formaldehyde, benzene and particulate matter. According to Michael Benjamin at the California Air Resources Board, in just three years' time, the biggest single ozone polluter in the state is going to be all this gardening equipment.

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President Trump has ordered a review of the Waters of the U.S. rule. It's an Obama-era regulation that says which waters the federal government can protect. As NPR's Nathan Rott reports, undoing the rule would be a long and difficult process.

Updated 5:35 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is moving to roll back an environmental rule intended to define which small bodies of water are subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act.

It started in late January. At my local grocery store in South London, salad seemed to be just a few pence pricier than usual. But I didn't think much of it.

Later that week, the same market had conspicuously run out of zucchini. I'm not particularly fond of it, but I lamented for the carb-conscious yuppies who depended — and subsisted — on spiralized zucchini spaghetti. How would they cope?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Californians are in shock that after five years of too little water, the problem now is too much.

All eyes in California have been on Oroville Dam, where a broken spillway forced major evacuations. But the damage from winter storms has gone beyond the dam in the northern part of the state. Downstream, rivers are running high and levees have been breaching.

Beyond tax proposals from the Trump administration and the House GOP leadership, there's a long-shot idea that's received recent attention — a carbon tax. Simply put, that means setting a price on carbon to encourage energy efficiency and limit the impact of climate change.

When it comes to climate change, we often think of the cars we drive and the energy we use in our homes and offices. They are, after all, some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But what about the toast you ate for breakfast this morning?

A new study published Monday in Nature Plants breaks down the environmental cost of producing a loaf of bread, from wheat field to bakery. It finds that the bulk of the associated greenhouse gas emissions come from just one of the many steps that go into making that loaf: farming.

Wildfires can start when lightning strikes or when someone fails to put out a campfire. New research shows that people start a lot more fires than lightning does — so much so that people are drastically altering wildfire in America.

Fire ecologist Melissa Forder says about 60 percent of fires in national parks are caused by humans: "intentionally set fires, buildings burning and spreading into the forest, smoking, equipment malfunctions and campfires."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A group of conservative elder statesman has proposed an ambitious carbon dividend plan that could entice bipartisan support, pay families $2,000 a month and cut greenhouse gas emissions more than Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Why It's Been So Warm On The East Coast

Feb 26, 2017

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This is something that listeners on the East Coast know firsthand. This past week felt less like February and more like the Fourth of July. Temperatures were in the mid-70s here in Washington, D.C.

GRACE SUR: Kind of feels like California.

In the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, residential streets dead end at oil refineries. Diesel trucks crawl through, carrying containers from nearby ports. Longtime resident Magali Sanchez Hall says the pollution from all that has taken a toll, right on the street where she lives.

"The people that live here, the mother died of cancer," she says, pointing to a modest one-story home. "The people that live here, three people died of cancer."

On Thursday morning, law enforcement entered the Oceti Sakowin camp to do a final sweep before officially shutting it down, ending a months-long protest against the completion of the nearby Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Oceti Sakowin camp was the largest of several temporary camps on the northern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Protesters have been living on this land for months, in support of members of the Standing Rock Sioux.

For nearly a century, people have reported mysterious epidemics of permanent paralysis in rural regions of Africa. In 1990, Hans Rosling a Swedish epidemiologist and pop-star statistician, who died of pancreatic cancer earlier this month, linked the malady to cyanide in the staple crop, cassava.

Scientists around the United States are getting ready to do an unprecedented experiment: They plan to march en masse in Washington, D.C., and other cities on April 22, to take a stand for the importance of public policies based on science.

Some researchers predict that this March for Science will release much needed energy and enthusiasm at a time when science is under threat; others worry it will damage science's reputation as an unbiased seeker of truth.

Local law enforcement officers have arrested some people who chose not to evacuate federal land near part of the Dakota Access Pipeline north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Most protesters had left earlier. At dusk, police moved back, and said they would not enter the camp at that time.

Flooding in San Jose, Calif., has prompted the evacuation of at least 14,000 residents.

The mandatory evacuation orders began overnight, and will remain in effect for at least another day, reports Peter Jon Shuler of member station KQED.

"Flooding along Coyote Creek came after a series of heavy rainstorms combined with water rushing down the spillway of nearby Anderson Reservoir, which is now filled to capacity," he says. "Emergency crews had to rescue more than 250 people from their homes by boat."

The Dakota Access Pipeline's route takes it over four states and nearly 1,200 miles, from the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and down to a terminal in Illinois.

But one Missouri River crossing just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota has become the focal point of a fight over how the pipeline's route was analyzed and approved by the federal government.

For Michael Childers, ice makes getting around a little easier.

When it's thick enough, the ice on Lake Superior creates a makeshift road between Bayfield, Wis., and Madeline Island, the small resort island where Childers and about 250 others live year-round.

But for the second year in a row, warmer winters have made it necessary for the ferries that usually don't operate during winter to continue to run.

An "atmospheric river" is a colorful term for a sinuous plume of moisture that travels up from the tropics — a single plume can carry more water than the Mississippi River at its mouth. But new research shows that atmospheric rivers are also among the most damaging weather systems around.

The atmospheric rivers that soaked California this winter did some good — they ended an epic drought in the state.

Sitting inside a glass-encased cockpit, two men fiddle with joysticks controlling giant claws outside. They look like they're playing at a vending machine at a mall, where you try to grasp a stuffed animal. But these are engineers. The claws they're manipulating are as big as houses, and they're sifting through hundreds of tons of garbage thrown away by the world's largest consumer class.

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