Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Sprouting seeds a quarter-million miles away

Scientists have succeeded in sprouting seeds in lunar soil — a triumph that could be the first step toward one day cultivating crops on the moon. 

The University of Florida researchers said they had just 12 grams — or a few teaspoons — of lunar soil to conduct their experiment. The soil, they explained, was on loan from NASA and collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions to the moon.  

To sow their lunar garden, the scientists said they used thimble-sized wells in plastic plates normally used to culture cells — filling each “pot” with a gram of soil.  

They moistened the soil with a nutrient solution and added a few seeds from the thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plant, which is often used in science due to its fully mapped genetic code.  

The researchers were surprised to see that nearly all the seeds sprouted, publishing their findings on Thursday in Communications Biology.  

“For future, longer space missions, we may use the Moon as a hub or launching pad,” study co-author Rob Ferl, of the University of Florida, said in a statement.   

“It makes sense that we would want to use the soil that’s already there to grow plants,” he added.

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. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll give a rundown of electric vehicles and battery hybrids that you can buy for less than $50,000 — and in some cases, a lot less. Then we’ll look at a bipartisan Colorado bill seeking to ban products that containing “forever chemicals.” 

Affordable EVs

Soaring gas prices and a lack of available new and used vehicles have pushed many consumers to consider electric vehicle (EV) options.

While EVs can carry a higher price tag than traditional gas-powered cars, manufacturers are hoping cheaper models and semi-electric cars will help afford buyers more options. 

Compact EVs for the most price-conscious customers:

Nissan’s Leaf

  • In its 12th year of production
  • A range of 150 miles per charge
  • A reliable EV for in-city driving
  • Rings in just under $20,000 once credits are included

Chevy’s Bolt

  • A range of 259 miles
  • $4,000 more than the Leaf

Two electric SUVs you can buy now:

VW’s ID.4

  • Offers 280 miles per charge
  • Price starts at $41,000

Hyundai’s IONIQ5

  • 300 miles for about $45,000  

Both ID.4 and IONIQ5 are still eligible for the federal tax credits — which are only available for new battery-electric or plug-in electric cars. These can reach a maximum of $7,500 based on the car’s battery size.  

The government offers a complete list of tax credits available for various vehicles here. Many states also offer incentives, and a full list of those can be found here

More e-SUVs come out later this year: Toyota’s bZ4X is a small SUV coming out this summer 

  • Has a range of about 250 miles
  • The first fully electric car from a company best known for gas-powered hybrids
  • Costs between $44,000 and $48,000 — but unlike the Leaf or the IONIQ5, that sticker price is what you get  

That’s because Toyota’s federal tax credits, which only cover the first 200,000 electric vehicles a manufacturer produces, will likely expire around the time the bZ4X hits roadways this summer, because most of them went to the company’s plug-in models. 

That means a better choice for some consumers may be the SUV that Matthew Degen of car review site Kelley Blue Book described as the bZ4X’s “twin” — the Subaru Solterra.

  • Costs about $45,000 but is still eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit
  • Has a range of 220 miles
  • Set to go on sale this summer 

What about the Ford Lightning? The 2022 model of Ford’s new F-150 Lightning EV has long since sold out — but the 2023 model is expected to go on sale in fall of 2022. 

  • That will cost just under $40,000 for the base model — under $33,000 with a $7,500 federal tax credit
  • However, Ford’s credits will soon run out, as Tesla’s did in 2021 and Toyota’s will this summer

BATTERY-ELECTRIC OPTIONS SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE

Options expand, and prices drop, the more gasoline a car can burn, Degen said. 

On the lower end: The Kia Niro plug-in hybrid SUV

  • Gets only 26 miles on a charge but compensates with a 52 miles per gallon in gas mileage
  • The current 2022 model sells for just under $30,000, and the new 2023 model will sell for about $33,000
  • If bought new, either model is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit

On the higher end: Toyota’s plug-in hybrid RAV4

  • Gets 42 miles per battery charge and about 40 miles per gallon when burning gasoline. 
  • That car is also still eligible for the tax credit, at least until Toyota’s supply of the credits run out.
  • Without the credit, the 2023 model price will run in the mid-$30,000 range. 

Added benefits: For some customers, a hybrid may bring added advantages beyond the lower price. 
  

“The truth is, EVs won’t work for everybody,” Degen said. 

Batteries for town, gas for country: “Some people want the flexibility of a plug-in hybrid electric — where they can do their in-town driving on electricity — and then when they want to take a road trip across America, they can do that too, without having to worry about charging up every 300 miles,” he added.

New ‘forever chemical’ bans

Coloradans would no longer be able to sell or distribute a long list of products that contain so-called “forever chemicals” under a bill approved by the state’s legislature this week. 

The bill, which would restrict some products as early as Jan. 1, 2024, passed both chambers with bipartisan support and is now headed to Gov. Jared Polis’s (D) desk. 

What would be prohibited? According to the bill:

  • Carpets or rugs
  • Cosmetics
  • Fabric treatments
  • Food packaging
  • Juvenile products
  • Oil and gas products
  • Textiles, furnishings and upholstered furniture  

Cookware that contains such compounds “in the handle of the product or in any product surface that comes into contact with food” would also need to disclose these ingredients on their product labels. 

Popular in products: Forever chemicals — also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are most notorious for their presence in jet fuel firefighting foams and industrial discharge, but they are also key ingredients in household products like those included in the Colorado ban. 

There are thousands of types of PFAS, some of which are linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer and a host of other illnesses. They earned the epithet “forever chemicals” due to their propensity to endure long-term in the human body and in the environment. 

Bill would also target firefighting foam: In addition to restricting certain consumer products, the Colorado bill would also require those who use PFAS-based firefighting foam to “fully contain the firefighting foam during its use, safe store the firefighting foam” and report any spills to a designated hotline. 

Bipartisan support: While the bill had sponsors on both sides of the aisle in the state Assembly, it received only Democratic sponsorship in the state Senate. However, the legislation passed with bipartisan support in both chambers. 

ONE OF THE MOST ‘COMPREHENSIVE PFAS RESTRICTIONS’ 

Environmental activists applauded the Colorado bill’s advancement, with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) describing the bill as “one of the country’s most comprehensive PFAS restrictions on consumer products, oil and gas production.” 

“These are dangerous chemicals and there is no reason to allow them in our consumer products,” Danny Katz, CoPIRG executive director, said in a statement

“Colorado is continuing to act in a bipartisan way to stop the exposure to these chemicals that can leach into our waters and bodies, and cause serious health problems like cancer and impairing immune systems,” Katz added. 

How do other states compare?

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) in May signed into law a bill banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of various items containing intentionally added PFAS, in a gradual manner over the next two years. 
  • Last July, Maine became the first state to pass an all-inclusive PFAS product prohibition — legalizing a 2030 ban on most products with intentionally added PFAS as an emergency measure, without the governor’s signature.
  • In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed two laws banning the use of forever chemicals in children’s products and food packaging, as The Hill reported.   

‘A really good start’: Liz Rosenbaum, a longtime PFAS activist from the Colorado Springs region, described the Colorado legislation as “a really good start.” She expressed disappointment, however, that certain measures were eliminated from the bill. 

Of particular concern, Rosenbaum told Equilibrium, was the removal of ski wax from the list of banned products. 

“If it has PFAS, doesn’t it get in the snow and melt into the rivers and then go into the water?” she asked. 

A national model: Nonetheless, Rosenbaum hailed the legislation’s advancement. 

“Some other states are really, really looking at it, which is great,” Rosenbaum said. “We get to be a groundbreaking state.” 

To read the full story, please click here.

VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE

The Opioid Crisis & the Criminal Justice System, Wednesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET

According to SAMHSA, nearly 20 percent of incarcerated individuals have reported regular opioid use. Yet only a small percentage of them are receiving medication-assisted treatment in jails and prisons. How do we improve access to addiction treatment within the criminal justice system? What efforts are needed to ensure a safe and successful return to society and the workforce? The Hill hosts a discussion on improving addiction treatment and recovery across the criminal justice system with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and more. RSVP now.

Thursday Throwdowns 

A survey of newsmakers talking tough and starting fights. 

Biden administration nixes oil and gas lease sales in Alaska, Gulf of Mexico 

  • The Biden administration is nixing planned oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, due to conflicting court rulings and insufficient industry interest, respectively, Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.  

GM wasn’t first with EVs, but aims to win: CEO 

  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra says her company — which has only released a trickle of new electric vehicles — can sufficiently ramp up production to flood out competitors at Ford and Tesla, according to The New York Times.  

Elon Musk takes aim at hydrogen-storing competition  

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk criticized the idea that hydrogen fuel — potentially pulled from water by clean energy — could be a cost-effective alternative to batteries, saying it is the “most dumb thing I could imagine for energy storage,” CNBC reported on Thursday. 

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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