Supreme Court Reviews EPA’s Power Plant Mercury Rule; Decision Due in June

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) consideration of cost impacts when developing the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, (MATS) which are set to go into effect next month. At issue in the case is whether the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to consider costs in addition to health and environmental impacts when determining whether (not just how) to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by power plants.

The MATS rule, finalized in December 2011, requires coal-burning power plants to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants by installing control technologies. The EPA estimates the rule would cost industry about $9.6 billion a year but have the benefits of cutting coal and oil emissions by 90 percent and generating $37 billion in savings through “co-benefits.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that it is in EPA’s discretion whether to consider costs when deciding whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by power plants. During Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral argument, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed, asserting that Congress instructed the EPA to use its expertise to decide what was appropriate and did not mandate consideration of costs.

Forbes reports that Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly attacked EPA’s interpretation. He asserted, “I would think it’s classic arbitrary and capricious agency action for an agency to command something that is outrageously expensive and in which the expense vastly exceeds whatever public benefit can be achieved.”

The Supreme Court’s final decision is expected by the end of June (subscription).

Global Warming Imperiling Artic Ice, Slowing Ocean Circulation

This week the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that on Feb. 25 Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its annual maximum extent, “the —> Read More

Exciting New Prospects for Crocodile Conservation in Cuba

By Natalia Rossi

Since 1999, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), where I serve as a program fellow and herpetologist, has worked in Cuba to protect both American and Cuban crocodiles. With air boats unavailable in the isolated island nation, our research frequently has us walking for hours through dark muddy swamps of coastal mangroves, opening paths using machetes, and navigating internal lakes and rivers with small canoes looking for juvenile and adult crocodiles.

President Obama’s decision to normalize U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba has focused attention on a possible end to the two nations’ long political estrangement. Yet despite the enduring diplomatic impasse, for years many of us in the U.S. conservation community have worked hand in hand with our counterparts in Cuba (with the permission of both governments) to preserve that nation’s globally important biodiversity.

A restoration of diplomatic relations now holds out the promise of building upon this important conservation foundation. As the largest archipelago in the Caribbean, Cuba has by far the most area protected for wildlife, the most diverse habitats, and the highest number of endemic wildlife species in the region. Best conserved are the montane forest in the East and the coastal wetlands, offshore keys, and coral reefs along the country’s coasts.

The coastal wetlands are where Cuba’s two crocodile species – the American (Crocodylus acutus) and Cuban (Crocodylus rhombifer) – are found. Each year during June and July, hundreds hatch in nesting beaches along the Wildlife Refuge Monte Cabaniguán (WRMC) in southeastern Cuba. Both crocodile species interbreed in the wild and are of conservation concern. While American crocodiles are distributed widely, Cuban crocodiles occur only on the southwest coast of Cuba in the Zapata Swamp and the Lanier Swamp on the Island of Youth.

As noted above, conducting research on these animals can be demanding. When crocs are —> Read More

Behind the Science of Why Ears Pop On Planes

2015-03-18-1426703710-5749209-scienceofearspoppingmh600x300.jpg

It makes babies howl inconsolably on flights and sometimes during takeoff or landing I have the urge on the plane to just let myself collapse and do the same. That acute pain of ear pressure doesn’t discriminate.

This post originally appeared on Map Happy.

I recently took a flight on the verge of a full-blown cold and my ears just wouldn’t freaking pop no matter how wide I yawned or how hard I chewed my gum. A few years ago one of my ears never popped even after a few days on land and morphed into a dull pain that drove me to visit the doctor. It turned out to be a cold and had “moved into my ear” because of the flight (a great diagnosis).

The doctor went on to tell me that blowing air hard out through my ears by plugging my nose and closing my mouth is pretty dangerous. Dangerous like I could have ruptured my eardrum and caused irreparable damage. Some days of nasal spraying got me back to normal but plugged ears are something I started to pay attention to from then on.

It is time to get things straight on the phenomenon of ear popping.

It’s about what’s happening in the ear.

Pressure differences, right? but let’s really get into it. Our bodies usually adjust to pressure changes smoothly without us noticing but when we’re doing something like plummeting through the air or diving deep into the ocean, our mechanics often can’t keep up as quickly. This is the pressure people often feel on take-off, descent or even if you’re just driving up a mountain. The pressure difference and that uncomfy feeling, if you’re curious, is called barotrauma.

Most of the time, our body can adjust to the differences in the atmosphere. Gizmodo explains:

We’ve evolved to be —> Read More

NASA One-Year Mission Astronauts Get Set For 350 Days In Space

scott and mark kelly

How does the human body respond to long-duration spaceflight? Does radiation present a problem? How about long periods of weightlessness? And what about the isolation?

We’re about to find out.

NASA’s “One-Year Mission” launches at 3:42 p.m. EDT tomorrow, when American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan for the International Space Station.

A new perspective. The pair will spend the next 350 days in orbit, helping the space agency gain a better understanding of the biomedical aspects of long-duration spaceflight as it gears up for a manned mission to Mars.

This won’t be the longest anyone has spent in space. That record belongs to Valery Polyakov, a Russian cosmonaut who orbited the Earth from January 1994 to March 1995–almost 438 consecutive days.

But with typical ISS missions lasting four to six months, the One-Year Mission is giving these astronauts a new perspective on their time in orbit.

“On a six-month flight, your mindset is you’re going to go up there, and you’re going to be up there for a period of time, and you’re going to come home,” Kelly said at a press conference last January, according to Space.com. “When it’s a whole year, I don’t have that same perspective. It’s almost like I feel like I’m just moving there and I’m not coming back. Or, it’s going to be so long that when I come back, it’s almost like I never lived here.”

(Story continues below.)

I’m thinking this is about to get real. #YearInSpace pic.twitter.com/UzRtdxig6B

— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 6, 2015

So far, scientists know that long exposure to a zero-gravity environment can affect eyesight and the immune system, and can even lead to muscle atrophy or bone loss. —> Read More

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