Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Salmon disappearing into North Pacific ‘black box’

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Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here.  

North Pacific salmon, which account for most of the world’s wild-caught salmon, are disappearing deep into the high seas, leaving scientists uncertain when they will return, The Washington Post reported.    

These fish typically spend several years in deep waters before returning to coastal areas to spawn. But many are now dying as marine heat waves — driven by climate change — wreak havoc on their ecosystems, according to the Post. Once they leave the coastal region, salmon now enter what fisheries biologist Laurie Weitkamp described as a “black box.”  

“Salmon will go out, in what we think is a really good ocean, and then it collapses,” Weitkamp, who is based in Oregon for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Post. “They don’t come back.” 

The biggest-ever salmon research expedition is now taking place in the North Pacific — where scientists hope to illuminate what has become a lifecycle mystery for this global economic and food staple, the Post reported.   

Today we’ll hear from lawmakers who are strategizing how to ensure the equitable distribution of infrastructure funds to communities in need. Then we’ll take a look at where the U.S. can get the resources necessary to fuel its electric vehicle expansion.  

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.   

Let’s get to it.  

 

Lawmakers: Focus water funds in urban, rural areas

States must ensure that federal funds allocated toward improving drinking water end up in the communities that need them most, with equal consideration for both urban and rural populations, House lawmakers agreed on Tuesday.   

At a hearing focused on overhauling America’s drinking water infrastructure, members of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change discussed how local communities can best use the funds that will soon be available to them through November’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Water as ‘a fundamental right’: “Clean, safe drinking water is, in my opinion, a fundamental right,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.). 

“And the bipartisan infrastructure law provides our nation with the necessary resources to take a long-overdue step towards making safe drinking water a reality for all, including disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental contamination,” Pallone added.   

Infrastructure refresher: Lawmakers and expert witnesses focused Tuesday on two specific parts of the $55 billion investment designated for water infrastructure: 

  • $15 billion allocated toward replacing lead service lines
  • $9 billion toward eliminating “forever chemicals” — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from drinking water systems 

The majority of water infrastructure funds from the bipartisan package will go into State Revolving Fund programs

What are Revolving Fund programs? These are partnerships between the federal government and the states to provide low-cost financing for water infrastructure projects, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  
 
Local water utilities, nonprofits, drinking water providers and others will be eligible to apply for funds, according to the infrastructure bill.   

Disproportionate impacts: “We are all too aware of water systems struggles, frequent main breaks, massive leaks of treated water, PFAS contaminations and an estimated 10 million lead pipes in service, which are overwhelmingly found in low-income communities and communities of color,” said subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). 

“These challenges, on top of a growing backlog of maintenance projects, put financial stress on local governments and water authorities, which then translates to rate increases for water users,” he added. 

Tonko pointed to existing “replicable models,” such as a lead line replacement program in the city of Newark, N.J. as proof that such overhauls “can be done.” 

 

THE URBAN-RURAL WATER RIFT

As urban communities look to upgrade obsolete drinking water infrastructure, Subcommittee Ranking Member David McKinley (R-W.Va.) expressed concern that rural communities could be “left out” of the picture.   

Noting that the Obama administration cut funds available through the State Revolving Fund for rural areas by half, McKinley called upon communities to be vigilant and committee members to “conduct rigorous oversight.”   

Ensuring access: Pallone agreed with McKinley that while the State Revolving Fund program “has been a critical lifeline” in many places, there are “small, rural and underserved communities that face barriers to access this federal funding source.”   

“Those communities, which often have the greatest needs, will benefit from additional resources and assistance, and we should ensure that they can tap into them,” Pallone said. 

Targeting those in need: As states weigh how to bring tangible improvement to drinking water systems, officials will need to “make sure that this money is being targeted well to the disadvantaged communities that need it,” Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Subcommittee members. 

“The state is going to be allocating the money, so we need to make sure that that money is being targeted where it’s needed most — be it a rural community that has an urgent need, or be it a large city that may have a pocket of low income people that really need to get that help,” Olson said.   

To read the full story, please click here

 

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted the national security landscape both at home and abroad. What are the Pentagon’s top priorities today and how are they planning to meet future needs? What emerging technologies and innovations are most vital to securing our strategic priorities? Join The Hill and a standout lineup of defense officials, policymakers, and experts on Wednesday, March 30th. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Robert Gates, James Clapper, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and more sit down with The Hill’s Steve Clemons. RSVP today to save your spot.

 

The countries dominating the EV minerals market

The United States will likely need to massively increase its reliance on imports of foreign metals if it is to meet the Biden administration’s goal of moving the country to mainly electric vehicles.  

U.S. production of the key metals needed to make EV batteries is already only a small percentage of national demand, so increasing sales of electric vehicles to 50 percent of all new car sales by 2030 will require replacing one set of trading relationships — ones built on oil — for another.  

Such a shift could see new nations — like Indonesia, Congo, Chile, Australia, Argentina and the Philippines — rise to achieve OPEC-like controlling positions over the global energy market. 

The context: Global battery demand could surge fifteenfold by 2030, with 55 percent of that demand going to commercial car batteries, 30 percent going to stationary batteries and much of the rest going to heavy duty transport, according to a study earlier this month from Rystad Energy.  

 The Biden administration says it is aware of the risks posed by depending on other countries for the nation’s energy needs — not least because China currently controls most processing and refining of the raw ores extracted in those countries.  
 
Calls for domestic charge-up: Over the past few months, the White House has announced billions of dollars in investment to source and process more rare earth metals domestically.   

 “We’re going to need a significant increase in battery production to supercharge America’s clean energy future, which means we urgently need to build up our capacity to research, develop, manufacture, and market batteries right here at home,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a February statement.   

Granholm was announcing the results of an Energy Department review of battery supply chains that largely focused on creating manufacturing facilities to make American batteries and supply chains to feed them.   

A major roadblock: Any upgrade to U.S. processing is going to have to consider that most of the raw resources are elsewhere.   

Most electric vehicle batteries require four principal minerals: Lithium makes up 10 percent of the battery, cobalt 18 percent, manganese 25 percent and nickel accounts for 45 percent, according to the scientific journal Nature.  

The U.S. would need to acquire the vast majority of each from outside its borders, as we reported on Thursday.  

 

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE ENERGY POWERHOUSES OF THE FUTURE?

Among the new nations that could gain powerhouse status are Indonesia, Congo, Chile, Australia, Argentina and the Philippines, according to an Equilibrium review of data from the United States Geological Survey.  

Each of these countries is home to a critical EV mineral — serving as a single dominant producer, with competitors trailing far behind:  

  • Australia is by far the dominant world producer of lithium, turning out 55 percent of  the global supply, virtually all of it from two clusters of mines in Western Australia. Chile has the lion’s share of reserves.
  • The vast majority of global supply and reserves of cobalt are in the Congo, at 70 percent; it is followed distantly by Australia.   
  • Most global manganese — 37 percent — comes from South Africa, followed by Gabon and Australia.
  • The lion’s share of nickel —  also 37 percent — comes from Indonesia, followed by the Philippines and Russia, with Australia also a major exporter.  

What about China? China isn’t a principal producer of any of these raw minerals — but it has been proactive in signing contracts that give it inordinate control over global refining, processing and manufacturing, NPR reported. 

“Most of these countries, even if they’re friendly to the U.S., have supply chains that have been captured by Chinese state owned enterprises, that have locked in long term contracts, have invested in them, or bought a major share,” Dave Banks of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions told Equilibrium. 

Escaping dependence: Banks is a co-author of a paper released last week that argues that the U.S. dependence on foreign minerals is a grave threat to the clean energy supply chain. 

While some considerable amount of EV minerals can be sourced from U.S. treaty allies like Australia, “we have a huge gap between the reserves we have and what we actually need,” Banks said.  

Unlike China, he noted, the U.S. government hasn’t secured those supplies from abroad. 

An alternative pathway: Banks said that while China has solved that problem by locking down foreign supply chains, the U.S. can potentially do it through innovation. For example, Tesla is planning to replace lithium and cobalt in batteries with iron, of which the U.S. has ample supplies, TechCrunch reported. 
 
The goal, Banks said, would be to meet our manufacturing goals with the minerals present in the United States, “rather than looking for minerals that we don’t have.” 

You can find the full story here

 

Tuesday Transitions

California adapts to a drier future, Korea purpose-built “smart cities” and expensive gas regulations leave Tesla with a marked advantage. 

Newsom issues order tightening water conservation amid worsening drought 

  • Following the three driest months in California’s state history, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order on Monday calling for stricter local conservation measures. The order calls upon local water providers to prepare for shortages of up to 20 percent, while proposing a ban on decorative turf irrigation. 

A ‘smart city’ — planned to be first of many — rises above Korean wetlands 

  • South Korea is testing a new “smart city” concept in the coastal wetlands outside the southern city of Busan, purpose-built for more efficient use of energy and transport, The New York Times reported. “By building a new city from the ground up we can come out with a more comprehensive city,” deputy smart city director Lee Jae Min told The Times. 

Gas-powered automakers’ loss is Tesla’s gain 

  • U.S. regulators will resurrect Obama-era standards by fining automakers whose vehicles don’t reach government fuel standards — in a benefit to automakers like Tesla, whose cars don’t use fuel, The Guardian reported. 

 

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

Tags Adam Smith David McKinley Gavin Newsom James Clapper Jennifer Granholm kathleen hicks Mike Rogers Paul Tonko

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