Good as news: positive environmental stories you may have missed this week

In this week's roundup of good news stories on the environment, we're highlighting a win for clean water in New Jersey, a transportation investment bill in the House, the rise of commercial electric vehicles, and more. 

 | 
Emma Searson
Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

Author: Emma Searson

Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

(828) 545-7300

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, Washington University in St. Louis

Emma oversees Environment America's national campaign for 100 percent renewable energy, working to deliver a bold vision for a future powered by clean energy one state at a time. Since joining the team at Environment America, Emma has led campaigns building and mobilizing public support for renewable energy and climate action in cities and states across the nation. She has authored reports on energy efficiency, solar energy and other renewable energy policy areas. Originally from North Carolina, Emma now lives in Boston, where she enjoys running, cooking and exploring the great outdoors in her free time.

The Public Interest Network’s Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working on multiple campaigns to help America get through the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. But we're also working to ensure that when the outbreak ends, the United States’ policies and practices ensure a cleaner, safer, better world for all of us. 

This weekly newsletter will highlight recent good news on the environmental front. If you have suggestions or comments, please email Emma Searson (emma.searson@publicinterestnetwork.org) or Josh Chetwynd (josh.chetwynd@publicinterestnetwork.org). 

N.J. sets toughest standards in nation for “forever chemicals”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) published new limits on Monday for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), two types of toxic chemicals known as PFAS. The new drinking water standards, limiting contaminant levels at 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS, are now the toughest in the nation.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, immune system deficiencies, high cholesterol and low fertility, as well as developmental issues in children and infants. These so-called “forever chemicals” are used for a variety of applications, including nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, and don’t break down in the environment, causing concentrations to accumulate.

“New Jersey is the epicenter of water contamination from forever chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, with millions of impacted residents across the state,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “These chemicals are a direct threat to human health, and the NJDEP just finalized the toughest standards in the nation to ensure water utilities are filtering out these dangerous pollutants. This has been a long time coming, and kudos to the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute, which undertook groundbreaking research on the toxicity of PFOA and PFOS and the need to set such strict forever chemical protections.”

House spending bill takes a fix-it-first, carbon-conscious approach to transportation

House Democrats unveiled a nearly half-trillion-dollar transportation spending bill Wednesday, titled the INVEST in America Act. Although the proposed bill would spend more than twice as much on highways as transit and rail, it shifts the spending’s focus toward “fix-it-first” and more sustainable investments, such as expanded transit networks, electric buses and electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as safer streets for walking and biking.

The bill would triple Amtrak’s funding and dedicate more than $1 billion to public transit, including increased funding to support new service as well as maintenance and repair, and funding for reduced fare pilot programs.

“The transportation status quo in the U.S. is unsustainable,” said Matt Casale, Transform Transportation campaign director for U.S. PIRG. “While this bill is not perfect -- it still spends more than twice as much on highways than on public transportation -- it represents a major step forward. It doesn’t continue the status quo, and instead takes a new fix-it-first and more carbon-conscious approach to support a safer, cleaner and greener transportation network.”

U.S. PIRG, coalition of NGOs urge Congress to break free from plastic

As Congress debates additional relief funding in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. PIRG, the Break Free From Plastic movement and a coalition of NGOs and recyclers are urging federal lawmakers to address the plastic pollution crisis rather than using taxpayer money to exacerbate it. In a letter sent to U.S. House and Senate leaders last Friday, the groups expressed strong support for both the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and maintaining local recycling programs.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act would reduce waste and help local recyclers in the long-term by making producers financially responsible for their discarded products. It also expands container deposit laws to fund recycling programs, while encouraging manufacturers to design more reusable packaging and safer products.

“The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act holds producers responsible for their pollution, which in turn helps our local recycling programs across the country,” said Alex Truelove, U.S. PIRG Zero Waste Program director. “First and foremost, it employs proven policies to reduce plastic pollution. We hope Congress takes advantage of this opportunity to do the right thing.”

For more on this issue, see the full news release from U.S. PIRG.

What else we’re celebrating:

  • Medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles are on the rise: The number of models of zero-emission trucks, buses and off-road equipment in North America is on track to rise nearly 78 percent from year-end 2019 to the end of 2020, according to new data released by Calstart on Wednesday. The expansion is driven by stronger regulations in big markets like California as well as demand for zero-emission delivery vehicles among operators committed to electrifying their fleets. 

  • The U.S. consumed more energy from renewables than from coal in 2019: In a milestone announced last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the nation consumed more energy last year from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, than from coal for the first time since before 1885. This news comes as the United Kingdom went without using any electricity generated from coal for the entire month of May, marking its first ever coal-free month. For more on Europe’s shift away from coal power, see David Byrne’s recent piece in Reason’s to be Cheerful. 

  • Germany aims for fivefold increase in offshore wind by 2040: Germany’s federal leadership approved a new target on Wednesday of 40 gigawatts (GW) of installed offshore wind power capacity by 2040. This will be a substantial increase from the current level of 7.5 GW. The bill also increases the interim goal for 2030 to 20 GW, which would help Germany achieve its goal of meeting 65 percent of its gross electricity consumption with renewable energy by that year. 

Looking for even more uplifting environmental content?

Environment America recently launched our Greener Together project. As people are practicing social distancing, the project aims to help us all foster a stronger connection with the natural world and with each other. The initiative includes engaging events, fun activities and helpful guides for both adults and children. The winners of our Greener Together writing contest were announced on Monday -- give them a read here.

###

Environment America is a national network with affiliates in 29 states. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. 

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

U.S. PIRG and Environment America are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.

Emma Searson
Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

Author: Emma Searson

Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

(828) 545-7300

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, Washington University in St. Louis

Emma oversees Environment America's national campaign for 100 percent renewable energy, working to deliver a bold vision for a future powered by clean energy one state at a time. Since joining the team at Environment America, Emma has led campaigns building and mobilizing public support for renewable energy and climate action in cities and states across the nation. She has authored reports on energy efficiency, solar energy and other renewable energy policy areas. Originally from North Carolina, Emma now lives in Boston, where she enjoys running, cooking and exploring the great outdoors in her free time.