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A Man Was Indicted for Smuggling…Greenhouse Gases

March 10, 2024

All Seven Basin States Hope the Colorado River Impasse Will Pass

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin have been unable to agree on a plan to manage the river’s water, as long-term drought and climate change shrink available supplies. The three states in the Lower Basin—California, Arizona, and Nevada—disagree with Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico in the Upper Basin, on the way mandatory cutbacks should be triggered and then allocated between the two basins. Recent wetter conditions had allowed the states time to come up with proposals to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages reservoirs on the river.

Colorado River in Grand Canyon  |  Credit: SpaceEconomist192/Creative Commons

The Lower Basin states propose that the trigger for cutbacks would be low water levels at the major reservoirs on the river, not just the two largest—Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Then, cutbacks would be shared 50-50 by the two basins. The other reservoirs that would be used to gauge low-water availability are Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, New Mexico’s Navajo Reservoir, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah.

The Upper Basin states contend, however, that because they depend on snowpack for water, they cannot leave more in the river if there’s less snow. Amy Ostdiek of the Colorado Water Conservation Board said at a media briefing, “We don't know how much water we're going to have each year. We can't make promises we can't keep.” Additionally, the Upper Basin states say that, historically, the Lower Basin states have taken more than their allotment.

The two groups each sent separate proposals to the Bureau of Reclamation, which plans to issue new rules for management of the river by the end of this year. Although there is no consensus yet, all involved are hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

Coral Reef Restoration Can Happen and Happen Fast

Coral reefs that have been degraded by human activity and climate change can be restored fast, in just four years, according to new research. Scientists led by the University of Exeter planted new coral in what used to be some of the most diverse, colorful, and vibrant reefs in the world, which had been devastated by fishing practices using dynamite about 30 years ago.

Communities in Indonesia work with Mars Sustainable Solutions to restore coral using Reef Stars  |  Credit: The Ocean Agency

The team attached healthy coral fragments to sand-covered steel frames sitting on damaged reefs off the coast of an Indonesian island. Writing in The Conversation, the researchers describe that these frames, called reef stars, support new coral growth, provide habitat for marine animals, and stabilize the loose rubble.

In just one year, the fragments developed into coral colonies, and after two years had branched with neighboring colonies. In four years, they had overgrown the structures. The restoration sites were almost indistinguishable from healthy reefs. Ines Lange of the University of Exeter said in a release, "The speed of recovery that we saw was incredible. We did not expect a full recovery of reef framework production after only four years."

This good news comes as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia is undergoing a mass bleaching event with widespread damage for the fifth time in eight years. According to Euronews, ocean warming from climate change stresses coral to expel the algae that give them nutrients and color. Reefs across the planet are severely threatened by global warming. Ocean temperatures reached record highs in February, with the average global sea surface warmth at 69.91 F or 21.06 C, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.  

The coral restoration study was published in the journal Current Biology.

Man Charged with Smuggling Greenhouse Gases

A man was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border last week on suspicion of smuggling, not drugs or weapons but greenhouse gases, with the intent to sell them for profit. According to the Department of Justice indictment, 58-year-old Michael Hart of San Diego is alleged to have purchased refrigerants in Mexico, brought them into the United States concealed under a tarp and tools in his vehicle, and posted the greenhouse gases for sale online on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and other websites.

Credit: Ozone Secretariat/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

 

An example of so called “green-collar crime,” this is the first such prosecution in the United States to include charges related to the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020 that prohibits the import of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs—commonly used in air conditioning, insulation, and refrigeration—without the authorization of the Environmental Protection Agency.

HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change and can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. They’ve been increasingly sold on the black market as a substitute for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, which were banned following the ratification of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 by virtually every country. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol was signed in 2016 to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons by 80 to 85 percent by 2047.

In addition to smuggling HFCs, the indictment alleges Hart imported HCFC 22, an ozone-depleting substance regulated under the Clean Air Act. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement that it is illegal to import certain refrigerants into the United States because of their documented and significantly greater contribution to climate change.

Hart pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry potential prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and fines of up to $750,000.

Daylight Saving Time Bug You? Blame a Guy Looking for Bugs

Perhaps you’re a bit bleary-eyed from springing forward to Daylight Saving Time. If the clock-changing ritual bugs you, you can partly blame a guy who was looking for bugs.

Plate XLV Volume 53 of the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute by George Vernon Hudson. Cicadas of New Zealand. Fig 6. Melampsalta cingulata (now known as Amphipsalta cingulata) Date 1920  |  Public domain

George Vernon Hudson was an entomologist living in New Zealand in the late 1800s, who from a young age loved insects. He even published a paper about them in a British journal when he was only 13. But there weren’t enough (bright) hours in the day for his pastime of studying and illustrating his beloved bugs, so when he joined the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1885 and ultimately became its president, he proposed a seasonal time adjustment to reduce the need for artificial light—and allow people like him more leisure time after work in nature.

At first, the suggestion was ridiculed in New Zealand, but it ultimately gained acceptance and led to a trial run in 1927. Other countries, including the U.S., had used the idea to conserve power during the two World Wars. The concept then went dark for several decades in the U.S., until it saw the light of day in the late 1960s when Congress made it permanent.

While perhaps famous for initiating Daylight Saving Time, Hudson is best known for the vast number of insect illustrations he produced and specimens he collected, which are now housed at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Were he alive today, Hudson might say that time is of the essence for the natural world. At least one of the moths he identified nearly 100 years ago, Titanomis sisyrota, is believed to be extinct.