Your Environment Update for July 30, 2015

  • Maryann Frazier, a researcher at Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is testing the effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies. Photo: Lou Blouin

July 30, 2015

EPA Ordered to Relax Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

It’s back to the drawing board for the EPA in its efforts to prevent cross-state air pollution. This week, a federal appeals court ordered the agency to relax the limits it set on nitrogen dioxide emissions in 13 states—including Pennsylvania—where pollution moves from one state to another. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide create soot and smog when they combine with other pollutants. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. States and industry groups challenged how the rule was applied. This week’s lower court decision sent the rule back to EPA, saying that in its current form, the rule is overly strict.

Reporting by Julie Grant

Honeybee Crisis Sparks Research into Other Bees

So if the honeybeepocalypse happens tomorrow, is it time to panic? Not necessarily. Researchers at Penn State University are finding that, at least in certain crops, other species of bees might be able to pick up the slack. In apple crops, for example, Dave Biddinger is finding that a type of osmia bee called a Japanese orchard bee can pollinate apples just as well—or better—than honeybees.

“The honeybee is a little bit lazy,” Biddinger says. “It will only maybe visit one or two flowers per minute. An osmia will do up to 15 flowers per minute. And we’ve seen with osmia that they can carry up to 100 times more pollen than what a honeybee can.”

In fact, Biddinger says some apple farmers are finding they can forgo renting honeybees altogether—which can save farmers up to $150 per hive. But even with all this excitement over these other bees, experts say we can’t be looking at any one species as a honeybee replacement.

“There are cases, and I think there will continue to be cases, where we might have niches for certains kinds of bees,” says Penn State’s Maryann Frazier. “But in terms of having a bee that is as versatile as honeybees, that bee doesn’t exist.”

Honeybees pollinate about a third of the crops in the U.S—that’s about $15 billion of the agricultural economy. Populations have taken a hit in recent decades due to a combination diseases, stress, parasites, pesticides and colony collapse disorder—a mysterious phenomenon that scientists still don’t understand.

Reporting by Lou Blouin

Fall Bird Migration Could Spread Avian Flu

Many bird species are preparing for the annual fall migration and that has researchers and farmers concerned about a new bout of avian flu. Over 40 million birds have died on Midwestern chicken and turkey farms this year—some of which were killed intentionally in an effort to stop the disease from spreading.

So far Ohio and Pennsylvania have avoided the disease. But infected wild ducks that have been raising their young in southern Canada and the upper Midwest are getting ready for the fall migration. And experts say some might take the eastern flyway through our region.

“Many of these birds from different flyways are all mixing together and breeding,” says Margaret Brittingham, a professor of wildlife resources in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “So there’s the potential that a bird may have become infected while up there on the breeding grounds. Then as they migrate down, they have the potential to bring that disease into a new area.”

Brittingham says it’s likely. The disease has already spread to 21 states and thrives in fall’s cooler, wetter conditions.