The Planetary News Radio – Episode 16: EPA Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rollback and Global Forestry Management

Hello. Welcome to the Planetary News Radio Episode 16. The last time I talked about scientific suppression, well more specifically about a specific example of suppression, which was the removal of the TOXMAP database. The TOXMAP database was a collection of environmental databases that allowed scientists and regulators to track, find, and identify places where environmental contamination has occurred on United States soil. These are or sites where the EPA has investigated and officially declared that a contamination event has occurred, and those sites could go back to the seventies [in terms of when the first contamination event occurred]. 

So these could be historical sites where dumping of pesticides had happened before the regulations, and the pesticides are still there. So these areas were tracked. And then these could also be new sites because there could be new spills, new accidents. So, in other words, the TOXMAP database was a way to track accidental contamination of the environment, and that has been removed by the Trump administration. And so while the core databases that went into the TOXMAP database still exist, the the single map system/database [that allowed users] to easily see where these contamination events occur has been removed, and that’s part of something I’ve been talking about in these podcasts – a broader scope of scientific suppression. 

And so, you see, on the climate the Columbia, Columbia Climate Law Tracker, I think they have over 380 instances of recorded scientific suppression. They’re up to 402 now. In February, we have a new series of suppression events that look like they’re mostly around the EPA budget, National Science Foundation budget, NASA, NOAA, Department of the Interior. All of the [federal] budgets that are coming up have in them little pieces taking away science in some ways. So maybe you say, you know, NASA’s budget has increased overall, but they’ve taken away science in some areas. And I haven’t looked at those [new, specific examples,] yet. I’m just giving the number. 

So 402 instances of scientific suppression registered by Columbia Law. Then for Harvard Law, they have what they’ve called the regulatory rollback tracker. That’s just rollbacks in regulation and so Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law program has about 76 instances where environmental rules have been rolled back. So between the two, this is quite a bit there. Sure, there’s some overlap. Harvard is specifically looking at regulatory rollbacks, whereas Columbia Law is looking at scientific suppression, that could be new science being held back. So there’s gonna be a lot more of that between the two of them. [Overall,] that’s a significant amount of a reduction in scientific expression, scientific freedom or in the use of science in policy. 

So we’re looking at this shift away from the use of science in government policy in the United States, which is concerning to me as a scientist. And that’s why I started all of this. So I’m going to talk about two articles today, and so this is a factcheck on one part, because I want to promote these articles and the news sources that they’re from. And so to do that confidently, I have to be able to have done a factcheck, [at least occasionally – I might not always analyze articles to this level of detail]. So I’ve done a fact check on two articles and then expanded on the research in those articles. So I call it a “drill-down”. I’m drilling down to the core topic. I’m checking it, and then I’m expanding on it. The way that I found these articles is from my TruthScore algorithm that I’m using to sort and rank science news articles. I’m looking at hundreds of thousands of RSS feeds and pulling what [should be] some of the best written articles. And so that’s why I’ve chosen these topics, it’s sort of an unbiased way. In other words, I didn’t pick pollution or forestry, I didn’t go in looking for pollution articles and or looking for a forest article. This is just what came to the top [after sorting by TruthScore].

I think my analysis of them will show that these are really well written articles. So if you want to learn more about, that side of this project, the TruthScore algorithm, the the sorting and the ranking side, you can listen to Episode 14 of this podcast where I describe and more detail that TruthScore that I’m calling it, and so you can learn more about that there. But for now, um I will take a look at the first article, and I thought about how to [structure this episode]. I’m pretty much just going to go through my notes, so it might be a little dry, but we’ll try it and see how it goes. 

The first article is in from The Guardian, and the title of the article is the Trump administration strips pollution safeguards from drinking water sources. And so this event is a rollback of protections for ephemeral streams and wetlands. An ephemeral stream is a temporary stream. And a wetland in this sense are either wetlands that are themselves temporary or wetlands that are fed by ephemeral streams. So this ends up being quite a bit of streams in the United States. In general, we have a very ephemeral stream system. I’m from the West Coast, [so I’m used to seeing ephemeral streams.] Or in other words, where I’m from, we don’t have rivers year round. I’m from Los Angeles County. You know, if I saw a river, I [would have been] amazed, I’m in Oregon now. Here I live next to a river that’s always there, but growing up in Southern California. We knew that if it rained, we might see rivers. After the snowmelt, we might see streams and waterfalls. Those were rare events, but we knew that they were there once a year, I knew, “Look, this area there’s gonna be a stream here. That’s a riverbed.” So I learned growing up how to spot, a riverbed, because I know what a riverbed looks like when it’s too dry, which turned out to be useful in college, when I had to find riverbeds when I had to find streams and collect samples.

So to me, I know what it’s ephemeral streams or a temporary stream, I suppose, growing up on the East Coast maybe that people might not know what that is. Streams and rivers run year ‘round there. So maybe, you know, I could understand how there’s a lack of education or a lack of knowledge here just because of the different geography of the United States. And so I could see how this [loss of designated streams and wetlands] might not really immediately jump out to someone as being really bad. But to me, this jumps out as really bad because as a kid, I knew innately that there are temporary streams, temporary rivers. I didn’t know how important those were until I went to college. I didn’t know there’s thousands of species of insects that live in those streams, and you know, that stream might only be active for two or three months. But all that wildlife uses those streams for those three months. So if you lose the stream, you lose the wildlife.

And so that’s why in 2015 when the Barack Obama administration had enacted an expansion of the original Clean Water Act (1972), and expanded the federal protections for these temporary streams, [it was] because of their ecological importance. And I think it’s true that, scientifically, we really only learned about the ecological importance of those streams recently. So I think the fact that this expansion happened in 2015 yeah, it’s part of Barack Obama’s overall shift towards expanding environmental protections. But it also is a reflection of our science and how our science has progressed. And it would have been a new scientific discovery in 2015 that we need to protect these streams, [at least in terms of policy implementation]. And that would have been under the recommendations of the U. S Geological Survey and working [in conjuction] with the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Clean Water Act in 1972 gave the power for defining waters, [specifically] “navigable waters” in the United States, or [other types of] protected waters in the United States. It gave that power to the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, so it’s a joint power there., but the problem there is, now, which it is clear to me, is that these are still both executive branch entities, the EPA and the Army. So in terms of policy, the executive branch decision could change any of those policies in a heartbeat – from one day the next day. Now, this has been debated for a long time, since 2015, so that the Obama administration made the rule change in 2015, but it didn’t just end there. You have the U. S. Geological [Survey], collecting data through 2017 and, um, what they had found is that this expansion had accounted for 18% of streams nationally, streams and rivers and 51% of wetlands nationally. 

So if we had 100 rivers in the United States, 18 of them were now under this protection. So we got 18 more streams, and if we had 100 wetlands, 51 of them were protected under this rule. The Trump administration’s response to this expansion was basically that this is a “very destructive, destructive and horrible rule”. That’s a quote from Donald Trump. The idea is that because of this expansion, because you said, well, “this temporary stream is now federally protected”, all that means is you have to have a permit to operate by it. So now, [the argument from the Trump administration is that], because these streams and wetlands required permits, it has damaged the industry, farmers and things like that. Anything that might pollute into water, which could be farm agricultural runoff [would have caused a slow-down of development. It could be power plants. Any type of industry that has some type of run off potential into a stream would have been affected by this. 

So from a deregulation standpoint, which is the focus of the Trump administration, [the existence of this rule] has been seen as a big problem. And so they’ve been talking about changing this rule since 2017 when the US geological Survey pulled those numbers they created. They identify that 18% in the streams and 51% count of wetlands. But now, today, the EPA says they I don’t know how many streams there are. So again, I see a suppression element there. “You can see that we had done the science and now we’re saying we didn’t do it or we can’t”, so basically the EPA is saying they can’t count streams. Well, I see that as a problem, because your job is to protect the streams, so you should be able to count the streams. So anyways, I’ll keep going down my notes. The other interesting thing about this, which goes back to my introduction of the topic, is that this disproportionately affects the Arid West, along the West Coast, which includes parts of Nevada, Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming, in Washington. So that’s [at least] 9 states on the West Coast are disproportionately affected by this And so if you look just within those states, this expansion actually accounted for 35% of the streams in those states. 

So you’ve lost [federal] protection there for a big chunk of the states. And again, where those areas are where streams were temporary [are typically in] mountains, mountainous areas, in dry areas, [basically] in areas where water is already lacking. So in the driest parts of Southern California, this is in the most sensitive areas. So again, like I said, the current administration claims there is no data or they’re incapable of estimating the number of streams and wetlands affected by the rollback. Nationally, we have the data from USGS. 

The idea is that this new rule makes it easier for farmers and other types of industry industrial entities to develop, [but what is the overall ecological impact?]. The economic report that has been put out by Donald Trump says that the rollback is claiming to be the “most economically significant deregulatory action for energy”. This is expected to create a boom in terms of [industrial] development. Specifically, this weakens rules for regulation of mercury contamination. If you previously had to get a federal permit because your power plant has a process that creates some level of mercury and run-off, whatever that level was before, you don’t have to report it or there’s no federal regulation anymore, [because the stream isn’t even registered as a “stream”]. So now it’s a state rule, and maybe at the state level, they might not even have a rule on the books.

And so that brings me to the next big point here is that historically, this type of regulation has been done by the EPA and done by the US Army Corps of Engineers at a federal level, so half of the states in the country don’t have a system for this in place right now. This kicks the regulatory process to the state level, which isn’t necessarily inherently bad. But again, we’re looking at administrations that are refusing to use science to make state policy decisions. And so, if you say at the federal level, we have to use science to make a policy decision, then you get that benefit throughout the whole country. What if you say it’s up to the States? Well, you could have states, say Kentucky, Virginia, who have a history of refusing science, [or passing anti-science legislation], and you could have those states interpret the law differently and say, “Well, we don’t believe this data on mercury contamination,” and end up with a much more relaxed law in one state. And then maybe in California, who historically uses more science, California, New York, and Massachusetts, these states who have historically used more science in their policy decisions, they might have more stringent rules. So it creates a landscape in the country’s differential pollution landscape. [To summarize, states that are already environmentally responsible, will likely remain so. For states that aren’t environmentally responsible, this takes off even more pressure for them to enforce clean water regulations, and increase development.]

It also hurts the mitigation industry. So again, one of the things that’s been reported by environmentalists, and it’s not necessarily a Democratic perspective. We’ll just say its from an environmentalist perspective. There could be a capitalism element in the ability to trade mitigation credits for developing in an area in a sensitive area. [For example,] “Yeah, you can build a power plant here, but you have to buy this land here, and you’ll be able to sell that or get a loan from the bank to do that at a reduced interest rate.” It turns this mitigation industry into a trade and sell industry to offset environmental damage, and that’s a $9 billion industry. But because [the rule change] removes [the protections from] those streams and rivers at a federal level for that federal designation, now that land is no longer eligible for mitigation credits. 

So it hurts that industry, which from a deregulation standpoint, is the goal of the Trump administration. So again, it’s the strike at this blossoming industry and $9 billion is not something to ignore, but again, in terms of other industries, that is small, so maybe this [change has] just hamstrung the mitigation industry. And why? What is the reasoning for this again? They say deregulation, but also they say that they want to make it easier for farmers and such to develop in terms of permitting. But again, now you have a situation where you have a very vague, ambiguous federal law, and then you’re also going to have a state interpretation of that law. And so now you’re dealing with two interpretations of the law, which means that, for people who don’t have lawyers just sitting around on hand, ready to work for them, this could be a problem. So for a very small farmer, this might actually be worse than before because before you had a very clearly defined single federal rule across the board. Then you were working with the EPA with the Army Corps of Engineers. But now you’re working with three entities. You’re working with the state as well.

So now there’s more ambiguity in the laws. And so this actually might make it more difficult to get a permit, which could be good or bad. It might mean people will just stop trying to get permits and in terms of EPA enforcement, with a relaxed enforcement regime, maybe they won’t [need to get permits]. Maybe, you know, nobody will care. So we might just see people forget about the rule [and say], “this is too complicated” or “I don’t feel like I need a permit”. And so, overall, we’re probably looking at an increase in pollution in these streams. There’s another component to this as well, not just mercury contamination. Mercury contamination is always one of the most present contaminants for fresh water. There’s another type of chemical called a non-stick chemical, which is used in non-stick cookware. 

I’ll try to say the word here – polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. The interesting thing is that the EPA has adopted a recommendation for these substances that says that 70 parts per trillion is safe, which is about 10 times higher than the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is a branch of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. So the EPA is adopting a more relaxed policy on these PFAS chemicals, which can cause birth defects, cancer, affect immune function, and disrupt thyroid function. The EPA is adopting a more relaxed enforcement policy on these toxins than the US Federal Department of Health. And that’s concerning to me because it’s demonstrating another example where you have multiple federal agencies at odds with each other. The end result here is that you have the EPA kind of at odds with both the US Geological Survey and the Human Health Service. So that’s that’s kind of concerning. And so I won’t say more about that right now because that, you know, could just be part of a bigger pattern that hasn’t really manifested yet. But it’s definitely clearly there in an early stage. And so that was kind of my big climate, um, regulation story, 

And then I’ll just talk about one more story as well. This article is from Wired magazine, which again is one of my consistently highly ranked science news articles. The title of this article is “We might not be planting the right kinds of forests”. This is interesting because the collaboration between and, which I don’t know much about. But I do know that the author of this article, Isabella Kaminsky, is a freelance environmental writer, and I really love this article, so I recommend reading it. It’s one of the best popular science articles I have ever read. To start my notes, So what’s the problem [with global reforestation efforts]? We might not be planting the right kinds of forests. It’s an interesting question because we look at forests as a way to offset carbon. We want to extract carbon from the atmosphere, and we want to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it somewhere. We could store it in a box [(using advanced technology that isn’t routine yet)]. We could store it in a tree. We could store it in algae or [fast growing switchgrass]. Those are all different types of carbon sinks.

You think of forests as really good natural carbon sinks because they already exist, they grow on their own, they have animals in them. They have lots of plants in them. In terms of carbon sinks, in a global perspective, forest growth is really kind of the best thing we could hope for. And it’s one of the biggest things we’ve lost, right? That’s why we have so much carbon in the atmosphere now, it’s because of deforestation [and other burning of fossil fuels]. I think going back again to the last 30 or 40 years, people started to realise climate change is going to happen, and that we need to have a plan to try and mitigate the carbon shift. Plant trees anywhere you can just, you know, planting as many pine trees as possible, whatever. [They had this kind of attitude like,] “Just, you know, we just got to get trees back”. And a lot of that comes from kind of a naive understanding of ecology. And again, which goes back to the first article learning more about science. We learned about the importance of ephemeral streams, temporary streams and wetlands. And maybe now we’re learning about the importance of a naturally regenerated forest.

So a major problem that we’ve seen is well, we kind of see in some places, we see total forest cover. So the total area of land covered by forests might see that increasing in some areas on the planet. However, the question is, what’s the quality of those forests? We think that a natural forest might function 40 times better as a carbon sink than a plantation or a timber farm. A plantation in this sense is basically a managed timber farm where the company of person and entity has gone out and planted hundreds thousands of trees, but they’re all the same species. It’s not really a forest because there’s no biodiversity, so that’s part of the problem. In a plantation scenario, you have a single timber type. It might be a non-native species or misplaced ecologically, because again, if you’re if you’re in a plantation, the purpose of growing a plantation is to eventually [harvest the timber]. [Typically] plantations will have 10 or 20 year plans, and you have different sections of it being sold a lot of different times. So overall you are maintaining the carbon sink, but the end goal is to sell some of that timber off or use the timber for something economically, so it might not be a native species.

I can’t think of any good examples other than eucalyptus trees from California. In Southern California, you see eucalyptus trees, [which are native to Australia], everywhere, but ecologically, they’re useless. They create these really dense eucalyptus forests that have no other type of tree because the leaves fall and grow in a way that prevents other plants from sprouting up. Oak trees do something similar, but the oak tree has a multifaceted ecological niche of its own, with acorns and the leaves and [parts of the tree/bark itself]. So an oak tree might dominate a forest patch, but again has its own little ecosystem. Squirrels and birds and things like back and live in the oak forest, [which increases the overall biodiversity]. Whereas a eucalyptus forest might be kind of devoid of life, maybe only some types of birds can eat the eucalyptus seeds. 

[In general], plantations are going to have low biodiversity. Additionally, the soil quality is going to be determined by biodiversity of what’s going into that soil. If only one type of plant is going in, you’re not going to have a lot of nutrients in that soil. Now, a natural forest is going to have multiple timber plant types, multiple native species, high overall biodiversity, and high quality soil. That’s why the function of a natural forest as a carbon sink is 40 times [better than a timber plantation]. It’s not just the trees, it’s the whole ecosystem that the forest is creating. One of the big points about this article, and [that was why] I wanted to fact check it, was that they made the claim the amount of carbon absorption historically estimated by forests has been overestimated, which is bad because in our climate models, if we say “Well, look, if we if we create forests at this rate [“Rate A”] then we can reduce carbon in the atmosphere at this rate [“Rate B”] and we can curb climate change. But if you overestimate how useful a forest is [(in terms of its carbon absorption rate and capacity)], it’s going to throw off your climate model, and it might actually make us think that we’re better off than we are. That’s kind of what these studies were saying now is that we overestimated the current way, [or at least, the way that has been historically used in scientific studies]. We’ve been doing [mostly single-timber, plantation] forests, and so the forest we have right now that we’re currently making might not be as useful as we thought they would be at curbing climate change.

So here’s a study from the University of Birmingham, and the title of the study is “The role of forest regrowth in global carbon sink dynamics”. Here’s some main points from the article. 1. Estimates of carbon uptake vary widely. 2. The geographical distribution of where carbon uptake is uncertain. 3. The primary source of uptake is a shift in pioneer species following demographic change. What does that mean? So in the forest we see right now, the primary source of carbon uptake is this shift from old growth forest, right, cause you go in, you clear an old growth forest. That old growth forest has been saturated in terms of carbon. Think for maybe 100 years. Clear it. And what grows there are really fast growing species, [and those] could be fast growing trees. It could be fresh going grass, plants, shrubs. The point is, pioneer species are really fast growing. So you clear that land. It goes in, boom. You get this big carbon sink, but those plants don’t live for long. They might only live for six months. They might die during the summer, so you might get a burst of carbon absorption that then immediately is lost. You might have a slow transition to different types of trees. Again, pioneer trees, as opposed to like old growth types of trees like pines and oaks. I should apologize too, I’m not an expert at forestry. I’m just using my best examples from California Coastal Sage Scrub, which again is not a really great forest example. 

But the point is, you still see this idea of pioneer species [in Coastal Sage Scrub], and also in regrowth stands in [“regular”] forests. The stand is “a contiguous community of trees, sufficiently uniform and composition, structure, age, size, class distribution, spatial arrangement, site, quality condition or location to distinguish it from adjacent communities” – ( For a stand, that’s just a unique group of trees, a segment of a forest, and so regrowth stands benefit more from increased CO2 levels, which is called CO2 fertilization more than old growth stands because the old growth stands are already saturated. So you have a clearing event and then you get a bunch of pioneer species. And those pioneering species love the really high carbon dioxide levels that we see right now because we’re in you know what, over 400 parts per million (ppm) in terms of carbon dioxide and so these pioneering species go in, they love it, they absorb all this CO2, and then they die and they release it again. And so you didn’t get a good carbon sink

[But it’s potentially] worse than that. Let’s say you have a medium regrowth forest. But it might be subject to other types of degradation effects again, like I’ve seen they die because, probably the biggest one is an edge effect. So edge effects are, imagine a patch of forest with open space in between them. Those edges [surrounding the forest with open space], they’re not protected from, either wildlife [(grazing, wildlife paths)], or other types of ecological phenomenon. So instead of growing outwards, you actually lose forest in, other words, [edge effects might cause a regrowth stand to] keep losing habitat. [If a regrowth stand can overcome the degrading effects of edge effects,] those regrowth forests will shift towards old growth forest. But then you have a second problem, because even though the CO2 in the atmosphere is saturated, you’re lacking soil nutrients. So in these areas, they’re going to have a hard time becoming full old growth forests, which are permanent carbon sinks.

There’s one more point, and that is that CO2 saturation isn’t necessarily a good thing. So having all this excess CO2 to gain in a regrowth forest, or even an old growth forest, it causes plants to move through their lifecycle quicker. Imagine having access to food all the time. You’re just eating all the time and you’re growing all the time. There’s no rest period. So the trees are never resting, never stopping growing, just grow, grow, grow as fast as they can. And then boom, they die. Maybe they lose their canopy structure. Something like that. 

So, overall, forestry mediation is still a great way to create a carbon sink, but we have to think about how we are doing this. And again, the methods that have been used to estimate how these forests uphold carbon have probably been wrong. So we need to shift to a more stochastic model approach, which this paper has done. And future estimates might be reversed revised further down. So as we get better estimating the carbon sink of a forest, the actual amount of carbon that’s been absorbed might continue to go down. Let’s talk about what’s going on in terms of mediation globally. The United Nations has sought to implement this system of reforestation in the REDD program, which is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. 

This creates a financial value to reduce emissions and for developing countries this creates an incentive for them to invest in carbon solutions to sustainable development. Going back to that mitigation economy, [the REDD program is] trying to create this mitigation economy, trading carbon credits and things like that in order to incentivize people financially to engage in these sustainable activities. Its primary focus is on reducing deforestation and forest degradation. But it also seeks to financially reward conservation efforts, the implementation of sustainable management practices, and generally enhancing carbon stocks in any way. The REDD program was adopted as a [mitigation] method in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which the United States has withdrawn from, and another global effort, called the Bonn Challenge was launched in 2011 by Germany. It was a global challenge to restore 150 million hectares, which is 1.5 million square kilometres of deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, but unfortunately, most of the land, about half the land that was dedicated to this Bonn challenge is this plantation, timber [forested land]. So I think that’s bad. 

Just looking forward, how can we make better carbon sinks [as a part of these global restoration programs]? This brings in the idea of a naturally regenerating forest. The problem that we saw is that about close to half the forest pledged under the Bonn challenge will be planned timber plantations. And not just in the Bonn challenge, but in general, we’ve seen a global shift towards these plantations. So what can we do? The idea of a managed natural regeneration technique. So probably one of the biggest things that goes into [developing a naturally regenerating forest], is that we need to understand the native environment [(in terms of plant and tree species)], and the native soil environment as well. So humans and sustainability managers can go in and we could modify the environment [so its more suitable to regrowth stands]. We could help the environment [based on our ecological knowledge], but we want to do that in the context of what that environment should be. In other words, I don’t want to create an oak forest where there used to be a peat bog. That wouldn’t make any sense. So you want to match the soil type with what should be there and think about the biodiversity that should be there. 

So the example that was given in this article is that in the United Kingdom there might only be in total 20 different tree species on the whole island. Whereas in Tanzania, there might be 20 tree species in a single acre, and that’s all going to go into the soil and the area management success. So in the UK, maybe a timber plantation actually isn’t that bad of an idea, because that’s all that you would have [there in terms of biodiversity]. In other words, you’re matching the natural habitat that used to be there. But in Tanzania, that might be a really bad idea, because that ecosystem, [if it were identical to the one designed in the UK using UK native species], might collapse after 10 or 20 years because of the lack of biodiversity. 

[In order to trigger natural regeneration of a forest, the idea is to] help a forest, so you want to find a forest that already exists and expand it. You want to clear land next to that forest and then maybe help plant trees, but in a way that’s diverse. So understanding that diversity means that you’re going to have to engage the locals. You can’t just come in and say, “Oh, you know, I’m forest manager. This is Tanzania. I don’t know anything about Tanzania. I’m going to start planting pine trees everywhere.” Well, that’s not a good idea. You have to go in and understand the native species that should be there and develop a plan to expand those species. Maybe that just involves planting seeds and seeing what grows naturally. [That would be an example of a natural management technique.] One of the examples of that is in Myanmar where sustainability managers have started using drones to disperse seeds, and then the seeds can naturally take their course. So you go out, you drop a diversity of seeds and whatever grows, it grows. You’re not spending a whole lot of time transplanting trees that shouldn’t be there. In other words, it might take longer to regenerate, but it’s going to be a more natural regeneration process. 

Overall, you’re going to have a better carbon sink, or a more long term carbon sink, [from a naturally regenerating forest]. It’s going to be less likely to be transient, and you will have the local population will be more engaged because you’re using that local knowledge to create a diverse forest that ultimately should be seen as an economic benefit for the local population. And that’s the way. That’s the only way that this will be sustainable, if you engage local populations, because then they see the forest as a benefit is the economic benefit. And so they’re going to be more likely to help with the restoration efforts. And that’s Bryan White with the Planetary News Radio signing off.


Trump administration strips pollution safeguards from drinking water sources

  • Trump administration rolls back protections for ephemeral (temporary) streams and wetlands.
  • DJT called the 2015 expansion of the Clean Water Act (1972), which made it illegal to pollute “navigable waters”, “a very destructive and horrible rule”.
  • U.S. Geologic Survey has estimated this expansion to include ephemeral streams & wetlands had accounted for 18%% of streams and rivers, and 51% of wetlands, nationally.
  • In the Arid West, the percent of ephemeral streams and rivers accounts for closer to 35% of total streams, meaning that these states will be disproportionately affected by the rollback.
  • Arid West region includes:  Nevada and Arizona, and parts of California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming and Washington
  • Current EPA administrator claims no data, or they are incapable of estimating the number of streams and wetlands affected by the rollback nationally (USGS data is from 2017 during initial discussions of the rule change, prepared by the former administration).
  • In the 2019 Economic Report by Donald Trump, the rollback is claimed to be “the most economically significant deregulatory action for energy”.
  • Specifically, weakens rules for regulation of mercury contamination.
  • Kicks the regulatory process to the state level, where many states have inadequate resources, for example, only 10 states have funding in place for this. Most with less than 20 employees.
  • Guts the mitigation industry ($9 billion industry) by removing eligible lands that could have been traded for carbon/environmental credits with banks.
  • Does not simplify or grant clarity to the rule (DJT reasoning for the rollback), makes it more complicated, and more ambiguous, meaning low-income farmers will need to hrie consultants to interpret the rule.
  • Additionally, further deregulation of non-stick chemicals, AKA. polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), is at odds with health department recommendations.
  • EPA recommends 70 parts per trillion as safe, which is 10 times higher than the recommendation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • Side effects of PFAS toxicity include low birth weight (affecting pregnant women), negatively affects immune function, cancer (some types of PFAS), disrupts thyroid function (some types of PFAS).
  • Finally, Upcoming budget cuts $410 million for projects protecting waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Great Lakes


EPA head says clean-water access is ‘biggest environmental threat’ — despite regulation rollbacks

Debunking the Trump Administration’s New Water Rule

EPA falsely claims ‘no data’ on waters in WOTUS rule

EPA head says clean-water access is ‘biggest environmental threat’ — despite regulation rollbacks

Basic Information on PFAS

The Latest: EPA bars AP, CNN from summit on contaminants

We Might Not Be Planting the Right Kinds of Forests

Author: Isabella Kaminski is a London-based freelance environmental writer specializing in climate justice, environmental policy, and nature. 

  • Major problem is a shift from natural forests towards plantations, in addition to overall forest loss and degradation (Question/Problem: are we rebuilding the right forests?)
  • Natural forest functions 40 times better as a carbon sink than a plantation/timber farm
    • Plantation: Single timber type, could be non-native species or misplaced ecologically, low biodiversity, low soil quality
    • Natural Forest: Multiple timber/plant types, multiple native species, high overall biodiversity, high quality soil
  • Historically, the amount of carbon absorption estimated to be filled by forests has been overestimated, but to what degree is still uncertain. Why?
    • From a study out of the University of Birmingham and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States
    • Title: Role of forest regrowth in global carbon sink dynamics
    • Estimates of carbon uptake vary widely.
    • Geographical distribution of where carbon uptake is uncertain.
    • Primary source of uptake is a shift in pioneer species following demographic change (e.g., immediately following deforestation, the first wave of new growth is fast-growing, transient species – big carbon-absorption burst that might disapear).
    • Regrowth stands 
    • What is a forest stand? “A forest stand is a contiguous community of trees sufficiently uniform in composition, structure, age, size, class, distribution, spatial arrangement, site quality, condition, or location to distinguish it from adjacent communities.” –
    • Regrowth stands benefit more from increased CO2 levels (“CO2 fertilization”) than old growth stands – they are already saturated.
    • Regrowth forests might also be subject to additional degradation effects (e.g., edge effects) that might further reduce long term CO2 absorption efficiency.
    • Even though atmospheric CO2 is saturated (excess CO2 in the air), the limiting factor will still be soil nutrients.
    • CO2 saturation isn’t necessarily a good (or neutral) thing, causes plants to move through their life cycle quicker, increasing biomass turnover and decreasing long term sink potential.
    • Overall, forest remediation can act as a major carbon sink and help mitigate climate change, but ultimately this source (excluding naturally regenerating forests) is largely transient in nature.
    • Overall, current estimated CO2 uptake is substantial but less than previously thought -> due to a shift from “bookkeeping estimation” methods towards a stochastic modeling approach.
    • Future estimates might be revised further down.
  • United Nations sought to implement this system of reforestation in the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation)
    • Creates a financial value to reduce emissions in developing countries and invest in low-carbon solutions to sustainable development.
    • Primary focus is on reducing deforestation and forest degradation, but also seeks to financially reward conservation efforts, the implementation of sustainable management practices, and generally enhancing carbon stocks in any way.
    • 2015 Paris Climate Agreement formally recognizes the utility of the REDD method in the form of the UN-REDD programme.
    • Additionally, the Bonn Challenge, launched in 2011 by Germany, is a global challenge to restore 150 million hectares (1.5 M km^2) of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million hectares (3.5 M km^2) by 2030.
  • In some cases, even the private sector has noted the benefit of forest restoration as a carbon sink/carbon offset, with Shell pledging $300 million in forest restoration project funding (although not in the U.S., the projects are located in the Netherlands and Spain).
  • But the important question is: Are these global efforts producing the right kind of forests?
  • Problem: Close to half the forests pledged under the Bonn challenge are due to planned timber plantations.
  • More problems: The global shift towards plantations is problematic, but so is an overly aggressive aforestation strategy (new forest development where there was never previously a forest, as opposed to reforestation, the restoration of previous forests)
    • Aforestation in unsuitable habitats might actually cause lower carbon sink production than other types of natural habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, peatlands, and bogs.
    • These habitats might have specific nutrient requirements (e.g., bogs have a diverse array of species adapted to low-nutrient environments such as carnivorous plants and mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Reforestation efforts might be stalled by a lack, or loss of, local knowledge of what types of species should have been living there. For example, the entire UK might only have less than 20 native tree species, whereas Tanzania might have that much tree diversity in a single acre.
  • In some cases the soil might be so degraded that it is no longer capable of hosting a forest.
  • This suggests a managed natural regeneration technique is the best option. For example, mangrove trees have been planted in Myanmar using drones to disperse seeds – the seeds can naturally take course (if they land in a place where soil/swamp is valid).
  • Ultimately the forest economy should be designed to benefit the local population, which will make it more likely for local residents to stay engaged in the development of the forest.


Role of forest regrowth in global carbon sink dynamics


Achieving the Paris Agreement through REDD+ and FLR

Bonn Challenge