D.C.'s Capitol Power Plant (Photo by Flickr user Apasciuto)
D.C.'s Capitol Power Plant (Photo by Flickr user Apasciuto)

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Warmer weather is finally here! I hope everyone enjoys our few balmy weeks before the humidity and the mosquitos start to hit. 

This month saw lots of exciting environmental events east of the river. Just last weekend, the Anacostia Community Museum opened its new environmental justice exhibit, “To Live and Breathe,” and the next day, hundreds showed up to celebrate the massive Anacostia River Festival. Get caught up quick with three of the biggest environmental stories from the month of May.

EPA Proposes First Limits on Existing Power Plants’ Carbon Pollution

What’s new: On May 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed two new rules that would require existing and future coal and gas power plants to cut up to 90% of their carbon emissions by 2035. The energy sector is the second-largest contributor to national greenhouse gas emissions (just below transportation). 

How it works: Different power plants would have to meet different standards, depending on factors such as how long a plant intends to continue operating, how big the plant is, how much time it spends running and whether it uses coal or gas. 

Why it matters: In addition to mitigating the rapid overheating of our planet, the proposals would cut down on other toxic air pollutants that come from power plants. The EPA estimates that the rules would prevent over 300,000 asthma attacks and more than 1,300 premature deaths in the year 2030 alone. 

Ok, but: The proposals still have to go through a lengthy process to become finalized, and after that, the rules will definitely face legal challenges. Back in 2015, former President Barack Obama tried to regulate the power sector’s greenhouse gas emissions with the Clean Power Plan, but the Supreme Court struck it down before it even went into effect. Biden’s EPA has taken a different tactic—regulating individual power plants rather than setting statewide goals—in order to comply with the court’s rulings. 

National Park Service Control Holds Back D.C.’s Parks, Report Finds 

What’s happening: The D.C. government only owns a fraction of the District’s parks—the National Park Service operates 90% of our public green spaces. A May 8 report out of George Washington University argued that the federal agency’s management exacerbates inequities and hinders the District’s ability to fully utilize its parks. 

Why people are talking: D.C. consistently scores top spots on rankings of the best U.S. urban park systems, for both total park land (almost a quarter of the city) and equal green space access. The study’s authors at the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health argue that those rankings don’t capture the whole picture. 

The issues: According to the report, the NPS division that includes the National Mall gets about 80 times more funding per acre than parks east of the river. The division that includes Rock Creek Park gets about four times more than those east of the Anacostia. Also, NPS is pretty cash-strapped, and has a maintenance backlog of about $2 billion in the District alone. The report argues that these problems persist partly because NPS has little incentive to respond to D.C. residents’ needs since it’s not part of our elected city government. 

World Will Likely Pass a Key Climate Target Soon, But Only Briefly

The basics: The United Nations set a goal of keeping the world from warming more than 1.5 Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above average temperatures pre-1900 (as in, before humans started burning a ton of fossil fuels). Now, researchers at the World Meteorological Organization believe that annual global temperatures have a 66% chance of surpassing that goal before 2027.

The nuance: The chances of overshooting the target in the next five years have risen both because of human-caused climate change and because of an expected El Niño weather pattern. El Niño is a recurring natural phenomenon that causes elevated temperatures that typically last nine to 12 months, but can sometimes last years. 

The point: Passing the 1.5-degree warming limit for even one year should ring major alarm bells. The U.N. set that threshold as a target to avoid some of climate change’s most catastrophic effects. But since this first likely breach would be caused partly by a temporary weather event, the world still has a strong chance to prevent temperatures from remaining that high long-term—if we cut greenhouse gas emissions fast.

Readers: We tried out this new format for May’s environmental news roundup—love it? Hate it? Let us know at kbenjamin@washingtoninformer.com. 

Kayla Benjamin covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine...

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