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Empty Nutrient Standards Rule for Montana Waters Gives Little Chance for Public Comment

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Public hearings aren’t very fruitful if a state agency provides little to comment on in order to dodge a deadline.

Tuesday was the Department of Environmental Quality’s deadline for public comment on Rule 1, a vague outline of an adaptive management program that will eventually use narrative instead of numeric standards to manage Montana’s waters.

But the eight commenters who rose during the public hearing – four in support of the rule and four against – had little new to contribute beyond what has been said for the past several months.

That’s because DEQ was facing a March 1 deadline to publish a rule that would switch the state from numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus concentration in streams and lakes to narrative standards. The 2021 Legislature passed on a party-line vote Senate Bill 358, which forces DEQ to reject numeric limits and set a March 1 deadline for the rule to be finalized.

However, a nutrient working group – diverse stakeholders who’ve been meeting since May – hasn’t been able to develop a narrative standard they can agree on, let alone one that satisfies the Environmental Protection Agency. If the EPA determines the state rule doesn’t go far enough to protect state waters, the EPA will take over.

So the DEQ hedged by coming up with Rule 1, a “framework” for the rule instead of the rule itself, by March 1, which the public was to comment on. DEQ water quality scientist Michael Suplee said the department would provide the final specifics as part of Rule 2 later this year, by Sept. 1 at the latest. Some question whether that meets the intent of SB 358.

“The rules under consideration are only a first step. Substantive rules setting forth specifics of the adaptive management program as well as the required repeal of numeric standards are not part of this rule-making,” Suplee said. “As the rulemaking deadline approached, there remained a substantial amount of work for the department to complete to fully address the concerns of multiple parties. Rather than move forward with a comprehensive rule package, the department opted to adopt new Rule 1.”

But it’s hard to see only the chassis of a vehicle and know if you want to buy it.

Those who spoke in favor of Rule 1 were the same as those who backed SB358: representatives of extractive industries or municipalities, all of which discharge excess nitrogen and phosphorus into streams and require permits to do so. So they like the chassis, regardless of the rest of the vehicle, because they stand to benefit when the state stops using the numerical limits that have been in place since 2014.

But many of Montana’s less-challenged streams still have narrative standards. Narrative or qualitative standards are words used to describe what water should look or behave like. But often, water quality is already compromised by the time people can see a problem.

That’s why most water quality standards, such as arsenic or copper concentrations, are numeric. With numeric standards, once an activity causes the concentration of nitrogen or phosphorus to exceed a safe amount, it needs to be reduced. That’s because an overload of nutrients – nitrogen or phosphorus – causes algae to grow out of control, robbing the water of oxygen and sometimes producing toxins.

Still, only some of Montana’s streams need numeric standards. They’ve taken 30 years to develop and are a good measure of just how much pollution should be allowed before water quality suffers. But numeric standards sometimes require polluters to either reduce their production or install controls that could be expensive.

Kelly Lynch, Montana League of Cities and Towns executive director, said Montana’s 127 incorporated towns have spent millions to remove excess nutrients from their sewage discharge.

“We’re at the point where further improvements are not financially feasible,” Lynch said. “Reverse osmosis is expensive.”

However, the state of Montana already recognized that and provided variances for up to 17 years for 36 sewage treatment plants.

Because Rule 1 provided so few specifics to argue against, Guy Alsentzer of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper only highlighted the fact the plan mentions no method of enforcement if standards are breached. Other opponents cited the overall problem with SB 358 mandating a process that ignores science and could harm state waters.

“SB358 is the tree that’s giving birth to the rules in front of us. We take objection with SB358 itself, and new Rule 1 and its associated definitions are unequivocally fruits of this poisonous tree,” said. “Narrative standards have been recognized by the department, the EPA and expert scientists across the nation as ineffective and inadequate to protect waterways from nutrient pollution.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

Article: missoulacurrent.com

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Like Human Children, Great Apes Are Inclined to Learn From Teaching

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A new study by researchers from Central European University’s (CEU) Department of Cognitive Science, Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE), the University of St. Andrews, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology look at whether apes are similar to humans regarding learning capacities when someone is trying to teach them something. The study, “Learning from communication versus observation in great apes,” was published on February 21, 2022 in Scientific Reports.

Original Source: phys.org

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Missoula Planning Board Approves Rezone Request for River Road Subdivision

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The developers are seeking to rezone 2.3 acres off River Road to accommodate a 19-unit housing project. The parcel is located in the center of this photo.

The consolidated planning board on Tuesday night approved a zoning request for a 19-unit subdivision planned on two acres off River Road, saying it aligned with Missoula’s growth policy and goals around housing.

The project, proposed by Robert and Coleen Anderson and represented by the IMEG Corp., cleared the planning board on an 8-1 vote, despite the concerns of the residents in a neighboring development.

While members of the planning board heard those concerns, they agreed the property was suitable for the project and that it met city policies.

“I think this is a good space for a subdivision, both with access to services, access to parks and the slated improvements to River Road coming down the pipeline,” said board member Ellie Costello. “It does feel like we’re putting the cart before the horse sometimes with subdivisions, but the infrastructure does come to those spaces.”

City planning staff also recommended approval of the rezone with four variances, including a narrower street and a longer block length. The property is a deep but narrow lot, not unlike a number of other subdivisions already established in the same area.

“The housing policy, from the growth policy, links housing affordability to the ability to achieve more compact development,” said Joe Dehnert with IMEG. “It’s one of the driving factors for the developer in this project. The property location is ideal for infill development.”

The layout proposed for the 19-lot development.

Without approval of the rezone, Dehnert said the project would likely be unfeasible, or the housing units would cost far more.

“This aligns with the city’s housing goals and the growth policy while still being economically feasible for the developer,” Dehnert said. “Without the proposed rezone to allow for the higher density development and the proposed variances to accommodate the slightly narrower road, the project would become unaffordable for future residents, or undesirable to developers due to the reduced density.”

The project would set next to the Orchard Homes subdivision, which includes 14 housing units on property of a similar size. Residents there oppose the project and have cited concerns over parking, congestion and the poor condition of River Road.

“We understand that development is necessary for Missoula, but bad development isn’t necessary,” one resident said. “The infrastructure for River Road is so horrendous. To shove 19 houses in an area zoned for 10, I don’t know why we have to keep granting variances for homes that destroy other neighborhoods.”

The request for the rezone will now advance to the Missoula City Council for consideration in March.

Source Here: missoulacurrent.com

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We Reconstructed Britain of Millions of Years Ago to See What Climate Breakdown Will Involve

Kev Gregory

Climate change is a global phenomenon and can often appear to be a bigger issue in places where it is already very hot and humid. But what will the climate crisis mean for the relatively mild UK? To find out, we reconstructed the climate at a specific point in the distant past, an era when volcanoes had pumped about as much carbon into the atmosphere as exists today. We knew it would have been hot – but we didn’t expect it to have been so rainy.

Future changes in climate and their consequences for the UK are difficult to predict, but we do know that humans have already caused an increase in temperature of nearly 1°C in the UK and about a 6% increase in rainfall. Climate models predict a future with more extreme weather, with more rainfall, warmer summers and milder winters. While many might not object to milder winters and some might relish hotter summers, fewer people would want more rain and harsher storms.

To find out how likely these doomsday scenarios are, we can use the past as a natural laboratory. We know that climates have changed throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion year existence (though not at today’s speed) and by reconstructing and studying these changes we can explore climates never experienced by people. We recently published results of one such experiment that looked at the UK.

Back to the Pliocene

One era we looked at is the Pliocene, around 2.6 million to 5.3 million years ago. This was the most recent period when the UK was significantly warmer than it is today, when its landscape resembled the warm and humid forests found in modern south-east China.

About the width of a human hair, this is 12 million year old pollen the authors found fossilised in the Peak District.
Matt Pound, Author provided

Climate modelling studies suggest the world may begin to experience Pliocene climates by the 2030s. To see what this would mean in the UK, we used fossilised pollen from Essex and Suffolk. The type of pollen can tell us what sorts of plants were growing at the time, and these plants can tell us about the climate as a whole. This, combined with more sophisticated computational techniques for reconstructing past climates from plant remains, meant we were able to get a sense of the climate millions of years ago.

Our work reveals that Pliocene Britain would have had slightly warmer winters, but about 25% more rainfall with much of this extra rain coming in the winter.

Further back to the Miocene

If CO₂ emissions do not stabilise in the coming decade, we will be back to climates not experienced since an even earlier period known as the Miocene (between 5 million and 23 million years ago). Back then, atmospheric CO₂ concentrations were somewhere between 400 and 600 parts per million (ppm), very similar to present-day levels of 419ppm and the 500ppm-650ppm predicted by 2070. No wonder this hot era, with its smaller Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, has recently been identified by the IPCC as an “interval of interest” that may contain some clues about future anthropogenic warming.

Where fossilised pollen was gathered in Anglesey, north Wales.
Matt Pound, Author provided

So what would the UK have looked like at that point? Fossil pollen from the Peak District and Anglesey provides insight into climate if CO₂ emissions peak between 2040 and 2080. The pollen from the Peak District is 12 million years old, slightly younger than that from Anglesey (by about 2 million years). It gives us an indication of climates similar to that potentially coming in the mid-21st century, with winter temperature increases of 3°C and summers 2°C warmer.

The fossil pollen from Anglesey was the oldest we studied and reconstructs a remarkably different climate from the present day: winters and summers 6°C warmer than today and a 61% increase in annual rainfall.

More frequent heavy rainfall would raise the risk of floods. Floods are already the most common type of natural disaster in the UK, and extreme flooding is set to cause wide-ranging damage in future to everything from roads and rail, to homes, livelihoods and natural ecosystems.

Higher flood risk combined with rising sea levels will also make storm surges bigger and more likely to breach coastal defenses. Indeed, one study cited in the IPCC’s latest report shows how warming of 3.5°C-4.8°C by 2080 could increase the cost of flooding in the UK almost 15-fold under high CO₂ emission scenarios.

Matthew Pound receives funding from the Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society.

Martha Gibson receives funding from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Original Post: theconversation.com

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