Equilibrium/Sustainability — What's next for winter highway travel?

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The last of hundreds of drivers who had been stranded in frigid conditions on Interstate-95 South of Washington, D.C., for more than 24 hours were finally able to get home on Tuesday evening, according to The Wall Street Journal.  

The daylong traffic jam, caused by a winter storm that disabled vehicles along 50 miles of this major thoroughfare, called into question the functionality of U.S. highway systems — and how to prevent such situations in the future, as our colleague Alex Gangitano reported for The Hill. 


Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Manchin, Sinema join GOP to sink filibuster change for voting bill Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D-Va.), was stuck on the road for 27 hours, only arriving at the Capitol late Monday afternoon, after sustaining himself on an orange and a Dr. Pepper, as Gangitano reported. Kaine was able to stop in Fredericksburg, Va., early Tuesday to get gas, but immediately headed back into the storm, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. 

“They have to figure out what happened. Was it a weather forecasting issue? Was it inadequate pre-treatment of the roads?” Kaine told reporters on Tuesday, when asked what should happen to avoid such incidents in the future. 

“It was incredibly icy last night,” he added.  

Today we’ll take a look at other individuals who have been attempting treacherous journeys — but for more than 24 hours and across borders. Then we’ll explore the U.S. claim to victory in a treaty dispute over Canada’s dairy trade policies.  

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin 

Let’s get to it. 



A year of record migrant crossings, deaths

The number of undocumented migrants who made the dangerous sea-crossing from Northern France to the United Kingdom tripled in 2021 compared to the previous year, the BBC reported.

This sharp influx is part of a record surge in desperate migrants who, in attempt to circumvent ever-more-fortified borders around the United States and Europe, are making more and more dangerous journeys by land and sea. 

First words: "They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, having lost family members in bloody conflicts, suffered horrific torture and inhumane persecution,” Clare Moseley of charity group Care4Calais told the BBC. 

A more dangerous route: With Britain investing in new high-security fencing and cameras, and stricter enforcement of the commercial trucks that pass each day between Calais and the U.K. — with 11,000 migrants caught in 2020, according to Newsweek — a record 28,431 migrants made the often-treacherous crossing from France, the BBC reported. 

That’s more than three times the previous year, and it’s a journey that’s often proved deadly — particularly last November, when 27 drowned while crossing “in a boat likened by French officials to a children's inflatable pool,” as France24 reported. 

The crossings continue: Sixty-six people arrived in Dover on Tuesday in two small boats — while the French stopped 38 from attempting to cross in one boat, the BBC reported. 

Part of the reason for the migrants’ push may be Brexit. When the U.K. left the E.U., it was no longer bound by the Dublin Regulation, which provided for the return of asylum seekers to the E.U. member they had come from, as the Christian Science Monitor reported. 
With the end of that regime, it is far harder for Britain to send migrants back. 

Political reaction: A revised Nationality and Borders Bill is currently in the House of Lords, having passed through the House of Commons. The bill would open the possibility for life sentences for those who smuggle migrants and establish up to four years in prison for those who enter illegally, according to the U.K. government. 

Another aspect of the bill has been particularly controversial, as it provides a framework for Britain’s Home Office to strip the citizenship of Britons who could claim another nationality without informing them — which the Borders Minister Damon Hinds wrote it would only do “against the most dangerous of people.” 

Anger in another nation of immigrants: “This will further exacerbate the reality that millions of British people, many of African, Caribbean and Asian descent, are second class citizens,” Lord Simon Woolley told The Independent. “I’m a lord of this realm and yet I’d be rendered as such because my mother was born in Barbados. 



It isn’t just the U.K: the combination of tens of millions of people on the move despite the broader covid lockdowns has created “a paradox not seen before in human history,” António Vitorino, director of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement last month. 


Deadly crossings: More than 4,400 migrants have died in the difficult passage from Africa to the Spanish Canary Islands, according to a study by nonprofit group Caminando Fronteras, Reuters reported — twice as many as the previous year. 

This means 1 in 6 people who attempted the journey drowns — although the number of the dead could be an undercount, as boats headed for the Canaries often simply vanish, The Guardian reported.  

Those who make it are often “haunted” by memories of watching their fellow passengers starve or be swept by waves from their boats. 

The U.S.-Mexico border is getting more dangerous too, with climate change both driving migration from Central America and widening the deficit between how much water migrants can carry and the punishing heat of the Sonoran Desert, according to a study last month from the University of Idaho. 

At least 650 people died in 2021 trying to cross the U.S. southern border — more than any year since 2014, according to the IOM.  

Last words: In the 34 years since the first refugee’s body washed up on the shores on Andaluisa, “the idea that people can die by crossing a border has become something that people have accepted as normal,” said Helena Maleno of Spanish nonprofit Caminando Fronteras.  

“It’s not normal,” she added. 


US dairy industry claims victory over Canada 

The United States has claimed victory over Canada in its first dispute under a new North American trade agreement after an international panel found that Canada gave preferential treatment to its own dairy industry. 

Members of the cross-border panel agreed with U.S. assertions that Canada breached the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by earmarking most of its lower and zero-tariff dairy import quotas for domestic processors. 

First words: “Enforcing our trade agreements and making sure they benefit American workers and farmers is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiKatherine TaiTo stabilize Central America, the US must craft better incentives for trade Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal US and UK start formal talks over Trump's steel, aluminum tariffs MORE said in a statement. 

What exactly is this fight about? It stems from a dispute over so-called dairy “tariff-rate quotas” (TRQs), mechanisms to allow low or no duties on imports of a particular good — in this case, certain dairy products. Any imports beyond the quota are subject to higher tariffs. 

The U.S. accused Canada of violating the quotas by restricting most of them to Canadian dairy processors. That leaves U.S. producers — mostly dairy farmers — often priced out of Canada’s market, according to the National Milk Producers Federation. Canada, meanwhile, says its policies are critical to the stability of its own dairy sector. 

What did the panel find? Across more than a dozen categories of dairy products, 85 to 100 percent of the lower tariff rates were reserved for Canadian processors. The rest were available on a first-come, first-serve basis for others active in the Canadian food or agriculture sector. 


The panel’s Dec. 20 decision, released Tuesday, determined that Canada was in breach of its USMCA Treaty commitments and gave Canada 45 days to comply with the panel’s findings. Presiding over the panel was Uruguayan diplomat Elbio Rosselli, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The U.S. argument: Canada’s decision to limit low-tariff access to processors has resulted in the exclusion of the “producer group” — which includes U.S. dairy farmers. 

How much does this matter to U.S. trade? Canada is the third-largest export destination for U.S. dairy products, amounting to $478 million worth of exports from January–October 2021, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said. 

While the office did not make clear how much the U.S. stood to gain if Canada altered its practices, The Wall Street Journal reported citing the International Trade Commission that the implementation of the USMCA would boost U.S. dairy exports to Canada by $227 million. 


The U.S. declared victory on Tuesday, with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announcing that it had “prevailed” in the dispute. 

“This historic win will help eliminate unjustified trade restrictions on American dairy products, and will ensure that the U.S. dairy industry and its workers get the full benefit of the USMCA,” Tai, the Biden administration’s trade representative, said in her office’s press statement. 

The National Milk Producers Federations also lauded the resolution. Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the federation, praised the move in a letter Wednesday, stressing that “dairy farmers are on track to gain greater, well-deserved access to Canada’s dairy market.”  

But Canada also declared victory — asserting that the panel "ruled overwhelmingly in favor of Canada and its dairy industry” by recognizing the country’s supply management system, according to a joint statement from Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. 

The two ministers stressed, however, that they have “taken note of the panel’s finding” and acknowledged the 45-day timeline, defined as Feb. 3. 

Last words: “Our government, as it proceeds with the next steps in the process, will continue to work closely with the Canadian dairy industry,” the ministers said, noting that Canada takes its international obligations seriously, including those with the U.S., its “closest trading partner."  

To read the full story, please click here. 

Wildlife Wednesday

Hidden wolf DNA, hard times for “micro-puffins” and the conservation groups returning wildlands to Native American tribes. 

Ghost wolves haunt Galveston Island with possibility of renewal 

  • Though red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980, biologists have determined that an unassuming population of reddish canines on Texas’ Galveston Island have turned to have sizable red wolf ancestry — 30 percent of their genome, mixed with a substrate of coyote, The New York Times reported. 
  • This has raised the possibility of reviving a captive breeding program, experts told the Times. “They harbor ancestral genetic variation, this ghost variation, which we thought was extinct from the landscape,” Princeton University wildlife biologist Bridgett vonHoldt said. “So there’s a sense of reviving what we thought was gone.” 

Warming planet may be threatening puffin survival  

  • After hunters nearly wiped out Atlantic puffins from the islands off the coast of Maine  in the 1800s, ornithologist Steve Kress orchestrated the population’s revival in the 1970s — resulting today in 1,300 breeding pairs across these same islands, according to Grist.  
  • But over the past decades, warmer waters and altering ocean currents have decreased fish populations in the region, leading puffins to bring in fewer fish and resorting to more moths, butterflies and flying ants to survive, Grist reported. As a result, many chicks have grown so slowly that it has taken six weeks for them to fledge, compared to three — leading scientists to dub them “micro-puffins.” 

Environmental nonprofits are returning land to Indian nations to conserve 

  • “It was, I would say, the best kind of news that we could receive, to get land back,” said Andy Joseph , chair of the Colville Business Council. His people believe, he said, that “as long as we take care of the land, the animals, the foods, the medicines and the water, they’ll always be here for us. It seems like the conservationists feel the same way.” 


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