World leaders produce an agreement for reducing carbon pollution. Mexico owes the United States some Rio Grande water. After California drought bill dries up, finger-pointing begins. House passes microbead ban. An Oregon fish is removed from the endangered species list. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes new oil and gas rules for wildlife refuges while the National Academy of Sciences reports on diluted bitumen. Scientists figure out mercury sources in the Great Lakes. Better climate data is needed. Nuclear regulators look at groundwater contamination.
“The world has come together today around an agreement that will not do everything we need to do to deliver on the promise of 2 degrees, but will do everything to kick the process into gear.” — Secretary of State John Kerry speaking about the agreement signed in Paris by 195 countries to limit carbon pollution. Preventing the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-1750 levels has long been a political target in international climate talks. In Paris, however, world leaders were more ambitious, saying that they would attempt to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
By the Numbers
$US 800 million: Money that the United States pledged to spend on climate adaptation in developing countries by 2020. The figure represents a doubling of current levels and is part of the Paris climate agreement, in which at least $US 100 billion per year will be available for adaptation. (U.S. State Department)
263,247 acre-feet: Water deficit in the Rio Grande Basin incurred by Mexico and owed to the United States. According to the treaty that governs the river, Mexico is required to deliver 1.75 million acre-feet from Rio Grande tributaries to the United States, over a five-year period. Mexico did not meet the delivery obligation in the period that ended on October 24 and must balance its books in the next cycle. (International Boundary and Water Commission)
Studies and Reports
Oil Spill Study
Spills of heavy crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands are more difficult to clean than other oils, according to a National Academy of Sciences study. The report also recommends that the federal government strengthen its oversight of pipeline operators that transport heavy crudes.
Mercury Detection Tool for Great Lakes
Most of the mercury in Lake Superior and Lake Huron is deposited by rain drops that pull the toxic chemical out of the atmosphere.
This finding surprised scientists, who now know where to direct their research. It will also help politicians target their policies. The identification of sources — either atmospheric, industrial, or environmental — was possible because of a new tracking tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Better Federal Climate Data Needed
The federal government, though it is taking steps to address the problem, needs a stronger national system of climate information, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. Federal efforts should focus on authoritative data and guidelines for using the data, the report argues. Local partners would help translate the information for use by officials.
House Passes Microbead Ban
The House of Representatives, with bipartisan support, voted to ban the manufacture and use of small pieces of plastics in soaps, toothpastes, and other personal care products. The ban would begin July 1, 2017. Nine states have passed their own ban.
Microbeads, those less than 5 millimeters in diameter, are a significant pollutant in lakes and oceans, where they accumulate in the body tissue of fish and other organisms that mistake the beads as food. A similar bill to ban microbeads is in the Senate.
California Drought Bill in Limbo
The political blame game begins again. Like last year, California’s Republican and Democrat factions in Congress are accusing the other side of obstructing a drought bill. The result will also mirror last year: it is unlikely that any drought legislation is passed, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Fish Taken Off Endangered Species List
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for the second time ever, is removing a fish from the Endangered Species Act list. Because of land conservation practices and safeguards against non-native predator fish, the Modoc sucker, which lives in the Pitt River Basin of southern Oregon and northern California, no longer requires federal protection.
Two tribes live near the sucker’s range. The Klamath Tribes agreed with the delisting. The Pitt River Tribe did not.
On the Radar
Tribal Water Rights Settlement
A deal that settles Hualapai tribal water claims to the Bill Williams River in Arizona and provides water for conservation programs in the lower Colorado River went into effect on December 11 with the approval of the Interior secretary.
Nuclear Contamination of Groundwater
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing new guidance to protect groundwater resources from radioactive contamination. The guide is a technical manual to help nuclear operators assess if leaks of nuclear material pose a threat to groundwater.
Public comments are being accepted through February 9 and can be emailed to Carol.Gallagher@nrc.gov.
Oil and Gas on Federal Wildlife Refuges
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is updating regulations for oil and gas development in national wildlife refuges. There are 1,665 actively producing oil and gas wells at 107 refuges.
Public comments are being accepted through February 9. They can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov using docket number FWS-HQ-NWRS-2012-0086.
Monitoring Unregulated Drinking Water Contaminants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will update testing guidelines for 30 unregulated contaminants in drinking water. Water agencies are required to monitor the frequency and concentration of the contaminants, and the data will be used by the EPA in future regulatory decisions.
Public comments are being accepted through February 9 at http://www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2015-0218.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton