The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

It's been a busy news day:

There was also an article on tuple equality in C# 7.3 that, while interesting to me, probably isn't interesting to many other people.

Daily Parker timing: impeccable

Just hours after I posted a Citylab article reciting all the ways the EPA has helped people's lives over the years, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned:

Mr. Pruitt had been hailed as a hero among conservatives for his zealous deregulation, but he could not overcome the stain of numerous ethics questions about his alleged spending abusesfirst-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists.

Mr. Pruitt also came under fire for enlisting aides to obtain special favors for him and his family, such as reaching out to the chief executive of Chick-fil-A, Dan T. Cathy, with the intent of helping Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, open franchise of the restaurant.

White House advisers for months have implored Mr. Trump to get rid of Mr. Pruitt, including his chief of staff, John F. Kelly. Ultimately, the president grew disillusioned with Mr. Pruitt after a cascade of accusations of impropriety and ethical missteps overshadowed Mr. Pruitt’s policy achievements.

In recent days, people who have spoken with Mr. Trump said he sounds exasperated with his EPA administrator’s negative headlines. “It’s one thing after another with this guy,” one person close to Mr. Trunp quoted the president as saying.

Notice that the scandals didn't matter to Trump; only that the scandals "overshadowed...policy achievments."

So the swampiest critter in Trump's new swamp has quit. This is excellent news. But don't get too excited:

The E.P.A.’s deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to dismantle climate change regulations, will act as the agency’s leader until a new administrator is nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

So the policies won't actually change; but at least Pruitt finally got fired.

Ode to the EPA

Before Scott Pruitt and friends destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, it's worth remembering the good it has done over the years:

Whatever happens to the EPA, this might be a good time to reflect on its legacy, especially in urban spaces. Though environmentalism conjures “America the Beautiful” images of purple mountains and unspoiled wilderness, much of the EPA’s heaviest lifting in rescuing this nation from its own filth happened in cities.

Long before fracking made tap water ignitable, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire—a lot. The saga is a well-trod part of the EPA’s origin story, but it’s still worth revisiting. A 1969 river fire caught Time’s attention in an article on American sewage systems, headlined in print as “The Cities: The Price of Optimism.

The EPA also went to great lengths to clean up the Great Lakes. That Time article described Lake Erie as a “cesspool" created by the waste of “Detroit's auto companies, Toledo's steel mills, and the paper plants of Erie, Pa.” More notable city water cleanup projects include the agency’s 1983 project to restore the Chesapeake Bay or the 2002 project to clean up the Hudson River after New York City became the last city to dump sewage at sea in 1992.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, but it was the creation of the EPA, combined with amendments to the law in 1970 and 1977, that added regulatory weight to the law’s mandate of reducing air pollution. The agency worked with companies and set limits on air pollutants and emissions from source like chemical plants, utilities and steel mills. Before the EPA, smog enrobed many U.S. cities in a lethal hydrocarbon haze, none more infamously than Los Angeles.

On that last point, I remember L.A. in the 1970s, and I watched it transform. Same here in Chicago. When Republicans whine about regulations hurting business, what they really mean is they want to pass along all the external costs of industry to us, the way they used to. Environmental regulations do cost industry money—because those are the real costs.

So when Scott Pruitt says he wants to reduce the burden on business, realize that he wants to put that burden right back on you.

A light story

Chicago Public Media's Curious City blog examined the city's plan to replace 270,000 sodium vapor streetlights with LEDs in the next three years:

[C]ity officials are undertaking an ambitious four-year plan to use LEDs for about 80 percent of the city’s streetlights. They hope this plan will save the cash-strapped city $100 million over a decade and improve public safety. This summer, the city will charge forward with the next phase of the plan, which will ultimately replace 270,000 lights around the city by 2021.

But critics say this isn’t a bright idea — or maybe too bright of an idea? — and they point to a growing body of science showing links between some LED lights and health and environmental problems.

Here’s a rundown of those concerns, what experts say, and how the city responded.

1. Light pollution: Will I be able to see the stars in the sky?

What’s going on? Chicago has long been one of the most light polluted cities in the world, hampering citizens’ ability to see stars, according to some scientists. Over the past year, the city has been installing a type of LED light that it says will reduce overall light pollution. Those lights clock in at 3,000 Kelvin, which is the unit used to measure light temperature with higher numbers having more blue light. But critics say those lights give off too much blue light, which can worsen light pollution, and they want the city to use LED lights that are lowered to 2,200 Kelvin with a much more orange hue.

What do the experts say? Professor Martin Aube, a Canadian physicist and light pollution researcher, says the LED lights the city is installing now could actually slightly reduce light pollution compared to the older, non-LED lights they’re replacing. But he says using 2,200-Kelvin LED lights would reduce Chicago’s light pollution by “at least 50 percent” of current levels.

Also interesting is who asked the question and how far he got on his own.

Chicago coyotes: how are they thriving?

Darryl Fears, writing for the Washington Post today, highlights a new study that explains why coyotes have adapted so well to human environments:

As mountain lions and wolf packs disappeared from the landscape, coyotes took advantage, starting a wide expansion eastward at the turn of the last century into deforested land that continues today.

For reasons biologists do not quite understand, coyotes prefer open land over forest. It could be that bigger predators that kill them over territory and competition for food could better sneak up on them in forests, [Roland Kays, a research associate professor at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences] theorized. But now, cameras have caught coyotes in forests where the apex predators have largely been removed, opening the prospect that coyotes could continue to move into territories where they have never been, such as into South America.

Unlike mountain lions, wolves and bears that were hunted to near-extinction in state-sponsored predator-control programs, coyotes do not give in easily, Kays said. “Coyotes are the ultimate American survivor. They have endured persecution all over the place. They are sneaky enough. They eat whatever they can find — insects, smaller mammals, garbage,” he said.

I've reported on coyotes before, in part because I'm happy they've found a home in Chicago. I've even seen them on my street, no more than 50 meters away from me.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District has some FAQs on coyotes, including what to do if one takes an interest in you.

Peace in our time, canid edition

Coyotes and red foxes seldom interact in the wild, as foxes tend to give coyotes a wide berth. In urban areas, however, they seem to get along just fine:

Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. It’s not uncommon to see them scampering across their neighborhoods. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

[A recent] study has found instances where the two species forage for food at roughly 90 m from one another without incident. And in a rarely seen moment captured in Madison by PBS for their documentary, “Fox Tales,” a vixen remains alert as a pair of coyotes scavenges alarmingly close to a den with her pups inside. Drake said the interaction happened weekly for over a month, and yet there was no attempt for the mother to move her den.

Both species seem to live pretty close to me in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I've seen more than one coyote on my street. (Fortunately, while foxes may not bother them, they still run away from humans.) I'm also seeing fewer rats. So, hey, foxes and coyotes are both welcome in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad they're not competing.

Lunchtime links

Too much to read today, especially during an hours-long download from our trips over the past two weeks. So I'll come back to these:

But more seriously:

Lunch break is over.

Cheers for the humble disposal

A 1990s study by New York City showed that in-sink garbage disposals punch above their weight in environmental benefits. So why are they so rare in the city? Misconceptions, apparently:

The city installed more than 200 of the devices in select city apartments for a 21-month trial run; they then compared apartment units that had disposers with disposer-less units in the same building. Careful analyses from this study and others formed the basis of DEP’s report: the projected impact of citywide disposal legalization was minimal, and the Department estimated a $4 million savings in solid waste export costs.

Waste disposal is a thorny problem even in small towns, but for New York City, the trash pile continues to mount: The Department of Sanitation handles nearly 10,000 tons per day of waste generated by residents and nonprofit corporations, and the cost of disposal in Manhattan has grown from $300 million in 2005 to about $400 million today. Commercial establishments are serviced by private carting firms who also collect about 10,000 tons per day. All of that trash must be transported to landfills—often hundreds of miles outside the city—where it is converted into methane gas.

[L]andlords may still be reluctant to install the fixtures because of first-time installation costs (which can exceed $600), concerns about maintenance, or because they simply aren’t aware disposers are permitted to begin with. Perhaps the greatest block to in-sink disposal adoption, however, are our own misconceptions about them. Water and electricity use are minimal (according to InSinkerator, disposers account for less than 1 percent of a household’s daily water usage, and the total energy cost is about $0.50 per year); the devices don’t require much maintenance and often last a decade or more; clogged pipes are rare because scraps are entirely pulverized; almost everything can go down the disposer (veggies, fruit, meat, pizza), and newer models are nearly silent (and not deadly).

They also help your kitchen garbage smell better. But that's nothing compared to recapturing millions of tons of methane.

Nature's assholes

Red wing blackbirds continue to menace people in Lincoln Park:

"Red-winged blackbirds are protecting their nests, and they can be pretty mean about it," said Kate Golemblewski, spokeswoman for the Field Museum.

"They don't get aggressive until they are well into the breeding season and have a nest to protect. They are highly territorial, aggressive to almost anything that comes too close, especially things that are bigger than they are and that they see as a threat, including hawks, crows, cats and people."

Fortunately for Chicagoans who like to stroll around outside when the weather is agreeable, the territory red-winged blackbirds prefer to occupy is relatively remote in the city. "Peterson First Guides" to North American birds says they like "marshes, swamps and hayfields." 

Of course, those areas include the lakefront, including around the bike path.

Longing for the halcyon days of James Watt

Trump has outdone himself with this doozy of a cabinet nomination:

Donald Trump intends to select Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a senior transition official confirmed to NBC News Wednesday — the clearest sign yet the president-elect will pursue an agenda that could undo President Obama's climate change legacy.

An ally to the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt has aggressively fought against environmental regulations, becoming one of a number of attorneys general to craft a 28-state lawsuit against the Obama administration's rules to curb carbon emissions. The case is currently awaiting a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which heard oral arguments in September.

Pruitt, who questions the impact of climate change, along with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, penned an op-ed in the Tulsa World earlier this year that called criticism they've received "un-American."

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall raises the alarm that having four (or five) recently-retired generals in top national security positions is not normal, for very good reasons. He concludes, "as a pattern, a government dominated by recently retired generals is a very negative development. Even if the nominees in question are not part of his thinking, there's little doubt that Trump's decision to nominate so many generals is rooted in a mix of his own lack of military service and his instinctive inability to think of relations between people or nations as anything but ones of domination."

It just keeps looking more and more like 1933.