Top Biden administration officials are preparing a game plan for addressing the growing threat of wildfires, which climate change has made a year-round challenge.

Heads of the departments of Interior and Agriculture as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gathered in Salt Lake City this week to begin crafting a comprehensive national response.

Their mission: To prepare the country for battling fires year-round, instead of during more traditional “seasons,” according to the Interior Department.

In general, climate change is worsening wildfires — and increasing the danger from prescribed burns while also making them more necessary.

“This natural hazard is year-round. There’s no longer a seasonal start and end to wildfire,” Lori Moore-Merrell, the U.S. fire administrator for FEMA, told Salt Lake City’s KSL.

That change puts “wildland firefighters on the front lines of climate change, and they are fighting the devastating wildfires that it is making more severe,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.  

The Agriculture and Interior departments have teamed up in what the agencies described as a quarter-billion-dollar effort to bolster wildfire resilience and provide PTSD treatment for firefighters.

But the problem goes beyond first responders.

The newly aggressive and protracted fires are also forcing “urban, suburban and rural” communities to “rapidly adapt” — particularly those built out into the flammable semi-populated forest zones known as the wildland-urban interface, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

The group of top administration officials met in Salt Lake as part of a federal commission responsible for recommending steps to combat record wildfires. The group must submit a report to Congress on its recommendations by next fall.

“The task before us as a commission is to look for ways to use the tools we have, or invent new tools, to fill the gaps that we’re facing in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from wildland fire,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed of a slate of climate bills. Then we’ll look at how some leukemia patients are grappling with food insecurity and also learn how a leading cryptocurrency slashed its climate impacts. 

Newsom signs sweeping climate bills into law 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a sweeping package of climate legislation into law on Friday, aiming to accelerate the Golden State’s transition to clean energy.  

Addressing air pollution, oil consumption, emissions: Among the long list of initiatives to receive gubernatorial approval were measures to cut air pollution by 60 percent and reduce state oil consumption by 91 percent over the next two decades, according to the governor’s office.    

  • Within the same timeframe, the bills intend to save California $23 billion by avoiding damages caused by pollution.  
  • The legislation also aspires to reduce fossil fuel use in buildings and transportation by 92 percent and slash refinery pollution by 94 percent.  

No one like California: “We could talk about the way the world should be and protest it, or we can actually make demonstrable progress — and we took the latter approach here,” Newsom said at a Friday morning press conference.  

“There’s no other jurisdiction in the world — think about that — that’s doing what the state of California is doing,” the governor added.  

Investing in jobs: The advancement of the bills constitutes “an essential piece” of the governor’s California Climate Commitment — a $54 billion action plan that aims to create 4 million jobs, according to Newsom’s office.  

California state lawmakers passed many of the bills in question just two weeks ago, as their legislative session ticked to a close and amid a brutal heat wave, as we previously reported.

What were some of the bills signed? Among the bills — six of more than 40 in a broad climate package — was S.B. 1020, which focuses on creating a clean electricity grid.  

The bill will require 90 percent of California’s electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035 and 95 percent by 2040 — interim targets toward a 100 percent goal for 2045.  

Drilling distance, carbon neutrality: Another key piece of legislation is S.B. 1137, which will prohibit oil drilling within 3,200 feet of places where residents live, work and learn.  

A.B. 1279, establishes “a clear, legally binding and achievable goal” that urges carbon neutrality as soon as possible, but no later than 2045, according to the governor’s office.  

Advancing carbon capture: S.B. 905 and S.B. 1314 are centered on emerging carbon capture and removal technologies, which aim to take carbon dioxide generated by power plants out of the atmosphere and store it permanently.  

Prioritizing nature: A.B. 1757 focuses on nature, by requiring the state to develop an achievable carbon removal target for natural and working lands, according to the governor’s office.  

Setting global trends: “I think the world is waking up,” Newsom said at the Friday press conference.  

“There’s this great awakening — because if you don’t believe in science, you have to believe your own eyes,” he added.   

To read more about the bills, please click here for the full story. 

Kids battling leukemia — and food insecurity 

Nearly 1 in 4 families of kids with leukemia enrolled in a Boston-based clinical trial were experiencing food insecurity, new research has found.

Impacts on pediatric health: Almost half of the families eligible for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) did not receive benefits, according to the findings, presented on Friday at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting.  

“Food insecurity is connected to worse health outcomes in general pediatrics,” Rahela Aziz-Bose, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a statement.  

Insecurity throughout therapy: The researchers analyzed the prevalence of food insecurity conditions among patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. 

  • Patients were enrolled in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium clinical trial at six U.S. cancer centers from 2017-2022.  
  • An ancillary study collected parent-reported data on income, SNAP receipt and food insecurity at diagnosis and at six months into therapy.    

How do families qualify for SNAP? Per federal guidelines, households with incomes lower than 130 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for SNAP benefits. 

Intervention meant more benefits: The researchers found that 21 percent of 262 families at diagnosis and 25 percent of 223 families six months into therapy reported food insecurity. 

  • At diagnosis, 20 percent were SNAP-eligible. Of these, 60 percent reported insecurity but only 53 percent were getting SNAP benefits. 
  • Six months in, 28 percent of families were SNAP-eligible. Of these, 58 percent reported insecurity and 58 percent were receiving SNAP.  
  • Of the 33 families that were SNAP-eligible both times, those getting benefits rose from 52 to 70 percent. 

Dynamic nature of poverty: “It is promising that we could help some of the families who were eligible at diagnosis to enroll,” Aziz-Bose said, noting that some became eligible due to lost income, transportation expenses or the need to give up a job.  

“Poverty is a dynamic state⁠ — families can move from one category to another as they progress through treatment,” Aziz-Bose added.  

The help wasn’t always enough: More than half of the families who received SNAP benefits still experienced food insecurity at diagnosis and at six months — 61 percent and 56 percent, respectively — the authors found. 

Ethereum moves to low-energy standard 

Leading cryptocurrency Ethereum on Thursday completed its long-awaited shift to a new lower-energy form of authentication.

This change, called The Merge, aims to slash the climate impacts of the company’s digital tokens, according to a statement from the Ethereum Foundation, which governs the digital currency.

What’s all this about? Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Bitcoin rely on the steady production of new tokens — essentially units of currency — by their decentralized networks, Reuters reported.

These both serve as a hedge against deflation and pay cryptocurrency “miners” for their work in verifying transactions, similar to the work done by private payment processors, according to Reuters. 

  • The old “proof of work” system — which Ethereum switched away from on Thursday and Bitcoin still uses — required banks of computers to solve complex math problems to verify each transaction.  
  • Each such transaction used as much energy as a single U.S. household might in a week. 

What’s the difference? Very generally, Ethereum’s new “proof of stake” system will require users who want to make money by verifying transactions to simply prove they hold currency on the platform, according to Investopedia. 

The new proof of stake system should cut Ethereum’s energy consumption by around 99.99 percent as compared to the old energy-intensive system, according to the Foundation.

New Orleans to receive sewer upgrade 

Louisiana’s state Bond Commission agreed on Thursday evening to release
$39 million to repair ailing sewage infrastructure in New Orleans — a critical step that had been derailed by a fight over abortion.

  • Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) had twice blocked the funding over New Orleans’s refusal to enforce the state’s near-total abortion ban.
  • Thursday’s decision ended a complex monthslong deadlock between the state and its most populous city.

“For this Bond Commission to hold up flood protection in any form shouldn’t be our position,” Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R) said, according to the Advertiser.

The dam breaks: The majority-Republican committee voted 11-1 to approve funding for a power station that would help bolster the city’s sewer pump infrastructure, according to the Advertiser. 

“We need to quit messing around with this and go ahead and approve it,” state
Sen. Bret Allain (R) said. 

Taking aim: Since July, Landry has targeted New Orleans proposals over city officials’ refusal to enforce a state abortion ban that went into effect immediately after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, CNN reported. 

  • The state ban — which New Orleans has made the lowest enforcement priority — has no exceptions for rape or incest. 
  • This “open defiance of the will of the people” infuriated Landry, who is widely assumed to be seeking a run for the governorship.  

After the Bond Commission voted 7-6 in August to deny New Orleans the funding, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) criticized Landry, local television station WVUE reported at the time. 

“It is a misguided effort from the beginning to ever use the Bond Commission, and any of the work it does, to send a political message to anyone for any reason,” Edwards said, according to WVUE. 

Even Republicans are fed up: While acknowledging that he also disagrees with New Orleans’s policy, Nungesser, the lieutenant governor, took specific aim at Landry, according to E&E News. 

  • “Take it up in the courts and not here interrupting flood protection at a time when our insurance rates are through the roof,” he said.  
  • Landry can “file a suit if he thinks the laws are broken, but that’s not for this commission,” Nungesser added.

Follow-up Friday

Revisiting stories from earlier in the week.  

Germany takes over refineries owned by Russia’s Rosneft 

  • The EU earlier this week unveiled measures aimed at curbing energy prices that have soared across the bloc amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. On Friday, Berlin took control of German subsidiaries owned by Russian oil giant Rosneft — a move that the economy ministry cited as crucial to energy supply security, according to The Wall Street Journal.    

Weather could worsen wildfires this weekend 

Climate stimulus will cut wind and solar costs, speeding adoption 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Monday.


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