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Who is Scott Pruitt, the new EPA head?

On Friday, the US Senate voted 52-48 confirming Scott Pruitt as the 14th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. His nomination and subsequent confirmation surprised many political pundits given the former Oklahoma Attorney General has long waged legal battles against the federal agency that he now heads.

Pruitt’s political career began in 1998 when he was elected to the Oklahoma Senate, representing Tulsa and Wagoner Counties. After 8 years, during which time he served as both majority whip and the Republican Assistant Floor Leader, Pruitt mounted an unsuccessful campaign to become the state’s Lt. Governor in 2006 but was successfully elected the Attorney General of Oklahoma in 2010.

During his tenure and Oklahoma’s AG, Pruitt routinely went to war with the EPA. After entering office he first dissolved the Environmental Protection Unit in the Attorney General’s office, arguing both that “a standalone unit was operationally inefficient” and that the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, rather than his office, should be responsible for implementing and enforcing environmental laws in the state. He then proceeded to sue the EPA a total of 14 times — every one of them unsuccessfully — between 2010 and 2016.

For instance, in 2012, his office sued the EPA over the agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which regulates the amount of mercury, cyanide and other pollutants that power plants can legally emit. More recently, he sued over the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which caps the amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that plants can expel. In 13 of these 14 cases, energy companies operating within the state were listed as co-parties to Pruitt’s suits.

Pruitt is quite proud of his anti-EPA stance. His official bio page as Oklahoma AG states that he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” And when he was not actively suing the EPA, Pruitt did little to hide his support for energy companies like Exxon and Devon Energy (or the $300,000 that they donated to his campaigns).

As the New York Times reports, he once dropped a state lawsuit against companies dumping pollutants into state waterways. Pruitt “has advocated and stood up for the profits of business,” Mark Derichsweiler, head of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality division, told the Times, “at the expense of people who have to drink the water or breathe the air.”

Pruitt has also been party to scandal during his tenure as AG. In 2011, he received a drafted letter from Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, transcribed it to his official letterhead and submitted it to the EPA as an official complaint from his office, a move categorized by the Times as an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” between Pruitt and industry. “That’s actually called representative government in my view of the world,” Pruitt said in his defense.

“Scott Pruitt represents what we environmental lawyers call an ‘imminent and substantial endangerment’ to our health and environment,” Ellen Spitalnik, a former EPA attorney who served from 1980 to 2002, told Quartz. “He threatens the very integrity of EPA and must not be allowed to continue shutting down environmental enforcement, disregarding science, and putting private interests above public good.”

Pruitt’s confirmation hearings were not without scandal. He declined to specify whether he had submitted letters on behalf of companies related to the state’s air quality crisis which has seen the rate of childhood asthma spike in recent years. Currently one in ten Oklahoma children suffer from asthma, though Pruitt could not cite that figure when quizzed about it by Sen. Corey Booker. Additionally, more than 800 current EPA employees signed a petition urging the Senate to vote him down.

Even the timing of his confirmation has raised eyebrows. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called his vote “an epic ram job” given that Pruitt only recently released 3,000 emails he wrote to oil and gas companies as Attorney General. These emails were ordered released by a state judge as part of a public records lawsuit two years ago but Pruitt has been fighting to keep them under wraps.”Emails! Remember emails?” Sen. Chuck Schumer asked during the confirmation hearings. “‘We should get them out!’ they said about Hillary Clinton… If they weren’t worried about them, then why rush?”

Now that he has been confirmed, Pruitt is expected to immediately sign orders beginning the roll-back of Obama-era protections. While the rules can’t be repealed immediately, these initial actions set the stage for replacing the rules with more industry-friendly options within the next two years.

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Existing EV batteries could be recharged five times faster

Lithium-ion batteries have massively improved in the last half-decade, but there are still issues. The biggest, especially for EVs, is that charging takes too long to make them as useful as regular cars for highway driving. Researchers from the University of Warwick (WMG) have discovered that we may not need to be so patient, though. They developed a new type of sensor that measures internal battery temperatures and discovered that we can probably recharge them up to five times quicker without overheating problems.

Overcharging a lithium-ion battery anode can lead to lithium buildup, which can break through a battery's separator, create a short-circuit and cause catastrophic failure. That can cause the electrolyte to emit gases and literally blow up the battery, so manufacturers impose strict charging power limits to prevent it.

Those limits are based on hard-to-measure internal temperatures, however, which is where the WMG probe comes in. It's a fiber optic sensor, protected by a chemical layer that can be directly inserted into a lithium-ion cell to give highly precise thermal measurements without affecting its performance.

The team tested the sensor on standard 18650 li-ion cells, used in Tesla's Model S and X, among other EVs. They discovered that they can be charged five times faster than previously thought without damage. Such speeds would reduce battery life, but if used judiciously, the impact would be minimized, said lead researcher Dr. Tazdin Amietszajew.

Faster charging as always comes at the expense of overall battery life but many consumers would welcome the ability to charge a vehicle battery quickly when short journey times are required and then to switch to standard charge periods at other times.

There's still some work to do. While the research showed the li-ion cells can support higher temperatures, EVs and charging systems would have to have "precisely tuned profiles/limits" to prevent problems. It's also not clear how battery makers would install the sensors in the cells.

Nevertheless, it shows a lot of promise for much faster charging speeds in the near future. Even if battery capacities stayed the same, charging in 5 minutes instead of 25 could flip a lot of drivers over to the green side.

Via: Clean Technica

Source: University of Warwick