Equilibrium/Sustainability — Thousands in Puerto Rico lack basic services

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Puerto Rican officials are trying to reopen roads blocked by damage from Hurricane Fiona — even as the Category 4 storm itself speeds on toward Bermuda and the Canada’s Atlantic provinces Maritimes, The Associated Press reported. 

“No one comes here to see us. I am worried for all the elderly people in this community,” resident Nancy Galarza told the AP.

Five landslides are blocking the entrance to Galarza’s community, creating natural barriers of mud, rocks and debris that must be traversed on foot, the AP reported. 

About a million people — two-thirds of the island’s population — remain without power, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.

While officials said that the less-affected portions of the island would have power again by Friday, they did not indicate when the hardest-hit areas would have electricity, according to the AP. 

Half a million people on the island also have no drinking water, the AP reported on Wednesday. 

Local bus driver Emayra Veguilla told the wire service that she had waited Tuesday in a queue for an “oasis” — one of 18 water stations set up across the island — only to be told when she reached the front that water was out. 

Near one such line, retiree William Rodriguez — who had moved home from Massachusetts earlier this year — stood filling buckets from a highland stream trickling from the hillsides. 

“I think I’m leaving again,” he told the AP, shaking his head. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll see why both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on a sweeping new Congressional permitting bill. Plus: European farmers are considering scrapping their harvests, and electric vehicle drivers may want to charge in daytime.

Manchin permitting bill takes fire from both sides

Republicans and progressive Democrats alike on Thursday expressed opposition to a new energy permitting bill introduced the prior night by Sen Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). 

While the two factions opposed the bill for different reasons, they are united in their belief that it must not pass, as our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill. 

  • Manchin’s bill would significantly curtail the timeline allowed for environmental reviews of energy projects and would also permit a divisive Mountain Valley Pipeline in the senator’s home state of West Virginia. 
  • But it also doesn’t go as far as a the bill proposed by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) — legislation which prohibits fracking bans and allows states to control energy leasing on federal land.

Something has to give: While the fossil fuel provisions in Manchin’s bill may be troubling to progressives, the current permitting system also makes it impossible to scale up transmission lines for renewables, The Atlantic reported.

  • One 2009 attempt to connect Oklahoma wind farms to the East Coast’s grid failed after eight years of “wrangling over permitting,” the magazine noted. 
  • Another attempt to connect Portland and Seattle to inland wind farms failed after seven years, it added.

Climate groups still say ‘no’: Environmental organizations are concerned that the bill could open a floodgate of new fossil fuel developments like pipelines — and kneecap community efforts to fight them. 

  • Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb tweeted on Thursday that any claims that Manchin’s bill is “a needed tool to build clean energy” are false. 
  • “If you want more clean energy focus on electing more county/state officials who make decisions to grant or deny most permits,” added Kleeb, who is currently leading an attempt to keep two interstate carbon dioxide pipelines out of her home state of Nebraska, as we previously reported. 

More concerns: Environmental and scientific groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, Union of Concerned Scientists and Oil Change International have all released statements condemning the bill. 

The groups expressed concerns that the proposal would weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, which currently requires an extended community review process before projects can be permitted. 

  • Manchin’s bill “includes a slew of changes long pushed by polluting industries,” Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. 
  • “It would allow projects to be approved with little to no public input or analysis of how the project could harm public health and the environment,” she added. 

REPUBLICANS DON’T LIKE THE BILL EITHER 

Republicans are also dissatisfied with the bill — in part because they don’t believe if goes far enough, but also for more personal reasons. 

Bad blood: GOP legislators are still smarting from the role Manchin played in resurrecting the Biden climate plan from the perpetual limbo in which his longtime opposition seemed to have trapped it, our colleague Alexander Bolton reported. 

  • “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do just because of the circumstances surrounding the deal that was made,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). 
  • While Rounds said he might support Manchin’s bill if it more closely matched Capito’s proposal, he thought passage of such a bill would be unlikely to “have the support of Democrats then.” 

I think that it’s going to be a very difficult deal to get done,” Rounds added. 

That means a possible shutdown: A deal that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) made with Manchin ties the passage of the federal budget to the passage of his permitting reform bill, Bolton noted. 

That bill must pass by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown. 

Manchin’s reaction: “I’ve never seen stranger bedfellows than Bernie Sanders and the extreme liberals siding with Republican leadership,” Manchin said at a news conference on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. 

“What I’m hearing is that this is like revenge politics, and basically revenge toward one person: me,” the senator added. 

European farmers face difficult choices 

Farmers growers across northern and western Europe are weighing the idea of abandoning their crops as they struggle to contend with soaring energy prices, Reuters reported.  

Such a move could threaten a global food supply already under strain due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Impending food crisis: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Thursday that the conflict could cause a supply crisis next year due to food and fertilizer shortages, according to The Guardian.  

  • “Simply put, the world will run out of food,” Guterres said. 
  • While the U.N. chief called upon leaders to allow Russian fertilizer exports, U.S. officials said that fertilizer and food are not limited under sanctions, our colleague Laura Kelly tweeted. 

Fruits and vegetables at risk: Rising energy prices — also a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine — will affect crops that require greenhouse heating, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, according to Reuters. 

Others — like apples, onions and endives — need energy for cold storage, Reuters reported.  

Energy-intensive endives: One farmer in northern France told Reuters he’s thinking about scrapping the thousands of tons of leafy green endives he typically produces each year.  

  • After endive bulbs are harvested in the fall, they need to be stored in below-freezing temperatures. 
  • The bulbs are later replanted in temperature-controlled containers for year-round cultivation. 

Southward switch: As farmers warned of potential shortages, supermarkets may switch to sourcing produce from warmer countries, such as Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, according to Reuters.   

Accelerating renewables: With European farmers and consumers alike facing high electricity prices, French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for a domestic solution: a “massive acceleration” of renewable energy development, The Associated Press reported.  

While France relies on nuclear power for about 67 percent of its electricity, the country is also highly dependent on global gas and oil — and is therefore seeking to boost its renewable capacity, according to the AP.  

Moving fast: “I want us to go at least twice as fast for renewable energy projects,” Macron said. 

“Our neighbors often managed to do more, better and, above all, faster,” he added. 

Charging EVs with the power of daylight 

While electric vehicle (EV) drivers tend to charge their cars at night, researchers at Stanford University say that this strategy needs to change.  

Within just over a decade, rapid EV growth alone could raise peak electricity demand by up to 25 percent if residential, nighttime charging remains dominant, the scientists showed in a new study.  

Making a change: To reduce the high costs associated with increased electricity generation and storage capacity, drivers should switch to daytime charging, according to the study, published in Nature Energy on Thursday.  

  • Instead of charging at night at home, drivers should choose to charge during the day, at work or at public charging stations. 
  • Such a switch would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by eliminating the need for new fossil fuel-powered electricity generation at night.  

Optimizing solar and wind capacity: “With less home charging and more daytime charging, the Western U.S. would need less generating capacity and storage,” lead author Siobhan Powell, who recently earned her PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford, said in a statement.  

By swapping daytime for nighttime charging, drivers “would not waste as much solar and wind power,” added Powell, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at ETH Zürich.  

Antiquated rate structures: Once 50 percent of U.S. West cars — about half of which will likely be in California — are powered by electricity, more than 5.4 gigawatts of energy storage would be necessary to maintain current charging habits, according to the study. 

  • That’s equivalent to the power generated by five large nuclear reactors.  
  • Current electricity rates encourage customers to use appliances and charge EVs at night, reflecting a time before significant solar and wind supplies were available during the day. 

Syncing with the sun: California today produces excess electricity during late mornings and early afternoons, largely due to its ample solar capacity, the researchers noted.  

  • If drivers charged their EVs at these hours, then cheap electricity could be used instead of wasted.  
  • But if charging persists at night, the state will need to build more gas-powered generators, and local grids could become unstable due to excess demand.  

Prioritizing ratepayers: “Price signals are not aligned with what would be best for the grid — and for ratepayers,” co-senior author Ines Azevedo, an associate professor of energy science and engineering at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, said in a statement. 

Calling for increased investments in workplace charging infrastructure, Azevedo urged Californians to “move quickly toward decarbonizing the transportation sector.” 

“Let’s ensure that we pursue policies and investment strategies that allow us to do so in a way that is sustainable,” she added. 

Thursday Threats

Wildfires are threatening decades of progress on air quality, plastics recycling work sickens children and warming oceans is making reef fish less unique. 

Wildfires knock down U.S. advances on air quality 

  • Worsening wildfires are reversing a long trend of improved U.S. air quality — with a nearly 30-fold increase in “extreme smoke days” over the past decade, The New York Times reported. The damage can be insidious: “People may be less likely to notice days with a modest increase in fine particulate matter from smoke, but those days can still have an impact on people’s health,” Stanford researcher Marissa Childs told the Times. 

Turkish children sick from work in plastics recycling: report 

  • Children as young as 9 years old are working in Turkish plastic recycling facilities, where they are inhaling toxic dust emitted during the recycling process, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. Some workers and area residents have described respiratory problems, severe headaches and skin ailments, the report stated.  

Warming oceans altering Australian reef fish: study 

  • The fish species that inhabit shallow reefs are changing due to rising ocean temperatures, according to a new study in Current Biology. For example, a loss of coral and kelp has led to the domination of generalist species and reduced the uniqueness of fish populations, the study found.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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