Recent News

Cleveland’s Plan for Climate Justice Could be a Model for the Rest of the Country

Photo Credit: @fate423 via Twenty20

Conversations around climate justice solutions are getting louder now that the Biden administration is discussing the climate crisis as environmental justice, NPR reports. The big question is what actions need to be taken now in order to best protect heavily-impacted, marginalized communities moving forward.

This new nationwide focus on environmental justice could lead to much-needed jobs in low-income neighborhoods through “low-tech approaches to climate action,” according to NPR. “They include aid for home renovations and upgrades to city transportation infrastructure, including buses.”

“The environmental justice community, and many of our Black and brown communities, have identified the connection between climate change and their own community infrastructure,” Cecilia Martinez, senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told NPR. “They can’t be disconnected.”

The White House in January announced plans to consult with “State, local, and Tribal officials,” as well as other advocates, about potential next steps. Matt Gray, formerly chief of sustainability in Cleveland and current senior vice president of programs at the Student Conservation Association, highlights the significance of this step in an interview with NPR. He made it clear that local communities and cities have been equating climate action with climate justice for several years. “What we’re seeing now at a national level has bubbled up from the cities for a good six, seven years,” Gray said. “A lot of cities have come to realize that climate action and climate justice are one and the same.” Read more

Brian Anderson leads the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Raised In A Coal Mining Family, Now Working On Biden’s Cleaner Energy Future

Earlier this month, Brian Anderson welcomed some special guests to the Department of Energy research laboratory he leads in Morgantown, West Virginia. The state’s pivotal Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, was visiting along with the country’s new Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm.

The two saw demonstrations of the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s work, much of which is focused on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, and how to deal with their many pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions.

Granholm is pushing President Biden’s plan for cleaner energy; Manchin is a key Senate vote on whether that plan becomes policy. Anderson finds himself right in the middle of that.

Not only does Anderson lead NETL, the President has also picked him to lead an ambitious effort called the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. Eleven federal agencies have come together with a mission to help coal mining communities and places that had coal power plants to find a new path forward in a clean energy economy.

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How Climate-Proofing Mass Transit Can Make Cities More Equitable

By taking global warming and demographics into account, transit agencies can better serve vulnerable populations

An MBTA train operator rides over the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston, Mass.

With commuters slowly coming back and Congress considering a major infusion of cash for public transportation, mass-transit operators suddenly have a rare moment to invest for the future. But looking out over a sea of dire problems—including aging infrastructure, a backlog of repairs and the need to rebuild ridership in a Covid-scarred world—how is a system manager to decide what to tackle first?

Researchers using an in-depth case study of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston have come up with an equation to prioritize repairs. Their quantitative formula breaks new ground by adding two variables system managers haven’t always considered: threats from climate change, and making the systems more equitable by protecting the most vulnerable users.

Jon Carnegie, executive director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University and an expert in transit resilience, said that virtually all big-city transit systems have begun to execute on climate plans that go even beyond sea-level rise. “It’s about shade, air conditioning, impacts on the transit workforce,” he said. Many agencies are also making efforts to take marginalized communities into account, using socioeconomic conditions as criteria for prioritizing investments and working with local businesses and institutions to do public outreach. Read more

A local look at air pollution highlights inequalities within cities

High-resolution data on air quality are helping scientists and community groups understand and address disparities in pollution between neighborhoods

When Cesunica Ivey moved to Southern California to start her lab at the University of California, Riverside, in 2018, one of the first things she did was meet with a local environmental advocacy group. An expert in air quality modeling and exposure, Ivey wanted to know what pollution issues the community was concerned about.

Ivey and a representative from the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice drove around San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and the representative pointed out many air quality problems. Ivey saw industrial facilities and heavy-duty trucking close to residential neighborhoods. She wasn’t just relying on her eyes. Ivey wore a particulate matter sensor, and she saw how the readings spiked when she got out of the car in different locations.

Two neighborhoods, both of which have majority-Hispanic-and-Latino populations, stuck out to her in particular. In Bloomington, she saw kids walking home from school down a road with no sidewalks while a dirt hauler careened by, letting off dust and diesel emissions. In Mira Loma Village, Ivey says, “I could have thrown a paper airplane from a residential neighborhood and hit the back of a warehouse.” Heavy-duty trucks idled near the neighborhood’s homes, and toys left outside were filmed with dark soot from traffic emissions. 06-20-21

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Decades after Watts revolted, the Black neighborhood is being ‘revitalized’ — but the cost is steep

Residents wonder how the most environmentally burdened place in California became one of the most vied-for plots of land in all of LA.

An aerial view of Atlas Iron and Metal, a metal recycler adjacent to newly-built subsidized housing in Watts. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles’ future is haunted by its past in the South L.A. neighborhood of Watts. A community that has experienced social, economic, and environmental neglect for decades is now the center of the city’s ambitious plans to make housing and transportation more accessible across the increasingly expensive metropolis.

After Watts erupted in massive street protests and riots in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King declared that the struggle of those living in and around the neighborhood was an “environmental and not racial” problem stemming from “economic deprivation, social isolation, inadequate housing, and general despair.” More than five decades later, those issues persist. The area’s poverty rate has ballooned to 2.5 times higher than the national average, and life expectancy is 10 years shorter than it is in the affluent enclaves of West LA. On top of all that, no other place in California suffers more cumulative environmental burdens, according to the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

These perils are exemplified on the corner of Century Boulevard and South Alameda Street. To the east is the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile long freight rail line leading to the port of Los Angeles, carrying 14,000 trains responsible for thousands of tons of air pollution annually. To the south is Atlas Iron and Metal, a 72-year-old industrial site that is now part of the federal Superfund program to clean up sites of large-scale hazardous contamination. There, 25-foot mounds of shredded metals tower over a wall shared with the local public high school, and sharp metal scraps are known to rain down on students. 06-18-21

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Ford and GM Scale Up EV Ambitions

Two major American automakers are further ramping up their electric vehicle goals. General Motors plans to increase its spending on electric and autonomous vehicles to $35 billion through 2025, a 30% jump over its most recent forecast. Similarly, Ford Motor Company’s luxury Lincoln brand predicts that about half of its sales will be all-electric models by 2026. The company aims to have 40% of its global sales from EVs by 2030.

Why This Matters: Electric vehicles are a rapidly growing market, with many competitors. Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm, suggests that electric vehicles will make up 18 percent of new car sales by 2030, and many companies are fighting to get a slice of this market. In total, U.S. automakers have committed $65 billion to the EV race.

The luxury EV market is particularly competitive. Lincoln’s EV targets fall short of its largest American rival, Cadillac. The General Motors luxury brand has plans to offer only EVs by 2030. Neither Lincoln nor Cadillac offers a fully electric vehicle in their current lineups as they attempt to catch up to EV leader Tesla. 06-17-21

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Miami is the first city in the world with a chief heat officer

It’s about climate change, not basketball.

[Photo: Everaldo Coelho/Unsplash]

Impacts of extreme heat on cities have ranged from disruptive to devastating in recent years. In 2017, planes in Phoenix couldn’t physically take off in 120-degree heat. In Washington, D.C., and London, metro and tram tracks have melted. And during the pandemic, as people spent more time outside, even public health took a hit, as COVID-19 testing was shut down in areas of D.C. and New Jersey because the heat was too dangerous for those lining up in the sun.
While many are aware of heat risks, they’re perhaps not taken as seriously as more visible climate disasters like hurricanes and floods, leading many experts to call heat the “silent killer.” A 2020 study suggests that it contributes to the deaths of 5,600 people every year. Data on such deaths is sparse, since they’re often attributed to other conditions, but severe heatstroke can lead to coma or even death. In an effort to raise awareness and put into place concrete actions on local levels to combat heat’s effect on human health and economies, three cities are appointing chief heat officers, who’ll also share best practices with other cities in their regions.

Miami was an apt place to start: Known for its vulnerability to sea-level rise, the coastal city broke its own heat records last year, reaching a June high of 98 degrees, the hottest ever for that month. “It’s killing more people than any other climate-driven hazard in the U.S.,” says Kathy Baughman McLeod, senior vice president and director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, a nonprofit that works with cities around the world to fund climate-resilience solutions. It’s under the group’s Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance program that the mayors of Miami-Dade, Athens, Greece, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, agreed to appoint CHOs (the organization helps fund the position). Miami-Dade’s mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, was the first to announce the role. Jane Gilbert, who worked for many years on the city’s climate resilience initiatives, is the first person to hold a position of this kind in the world. 06-16-21

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Republicans eye new fees on electric-vehicle owners

A man charges an electric vehicle at an EVgo charging station at Union Station in Washington on April 22, 2021.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

The more Biden pushes for the United States to lead the electric-car market, the more Republicans push in the opposite direction.

When President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress in late April, he appeared especially animated by the idea of creating economic opportunities by addressing the climate crisis. “For me, when I think ‘climate change,’ I think ‘jobs,'” the Democrat said.

Biden added, “The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy-efficient buildings and homes. Electrical workers — IBEW members — installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric-car market.”

The remarks generated applause from congressional Democrats, but there’s a predictable problem: Republicans appear wholly uninterested in the United States owning the electric-car market.

CNBC reported recently that the White House infrastructure plan proposed $174 billion to “boost the EV market and shift away from gas-powered cars in an effort to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” The Republican counteroffer, meanwhile, included “just $4 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.”

Or put another way, GOP officials intended to cut Biden’s EV plan by 98%. 06-14-21

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Keystone XL is history. What about the other pipelines?

Activists say Biden needs to do more on pipelines to uphold his climate promises.

Tim Exton/AFP via Getty Images

TC Energy announced last week that it was finally pulling the plug on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline extension. The project would have carried 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta to Nebraska every day. The company’s announcement was a foregone conclusion after President Joe Biden rescinded a key federal permit for Keystone XL on his first day in office

The project’s 12-year history is a crash course in the importance of executive action on oil pipelines’ prospects. Keystone XL, originally proposed in 2008, was approved, canceled, then re-approved by previous presidents before Biden delivered its death blow. Former President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, but a flood of activism caused him to reject the northern leg. Donald Trump overturned that decision early in his presidency and issued a presidential permit to ensure the pipeline would move forward after construction was halted by a U.S. district judge. It was that presidential permit that Biden rescinded earlier this year.

While Biden acted swiftly and decisively on Keystone XL, delivering a long-fought win to environmental and Indigenous activists, he’s been far more hesitant to use his executive authority to stop other major pipeline projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3 expansion.

CNBC reported recently that the White House infrastructure plan proposed $174 billion to “boost the EV market and shift away from gas-powered cars in an effort to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” The Republican counteroffer, meanwhile, included “just $4 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.”

Or put another way, GOP officials intended to cut Biden’s EV plan by 98%. 06-14-21

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Newsletter: Why a California oil workers union is getting behind clean energy

The Chevron oil refinery in El Segundo, Calif., is seen on Jan. 13, 2011.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The dominant narrative about labor unions and climate change is that fossil fuel workers are a major roadblock to action. There’s good reason for that reputation. In California, building trades unions have fought against limiting oil and gas extractionand won industry-friendly changes to climate policies. Nationally, labor leaders have urged President Biden not to block oil pipelines such as Keystone XL (which was just canceled) and Minnesota’s Line 3 (where the Biden administration sand-blasted protesters this week).

That opposition is driven partly by uncertainty about what comes next if traditional energy jobs go away. It makes perfect sense.

So it’s worth slowing down to examine a groundbreaking new report — endorsed by 19 unions, including two representing thousands of California oil workers — that offers a preview of what the path forward might look like.

The report estimates the Golden State could create 418,000 clean energy jobs per year through a program to cut climate pollution in half over the next decade. It could create even more jobs — 626,000 per year — through investments in related areas such as water infrastructure, leaky gas pipelines, public parks and roadways, some but not all of which would also reduce emissions.

This is the first time California has had those kinds of detailed estimates, according to Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the report’s lead author. He and his collaborators calculated the price tag of creating more than 1 million jobs at $138 billion annually, which sounds like a lot until you realize it’s not even 4% of the state’s expected GDP. 06-10-21

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Progressives draw red line on keeping climate provisions in infrastructure bill

Sen. Ed Markey was blunt in a tweet: “No climate, no deal,” he wrote. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Progressive anxiety about sufficiently strong climate change provisions being left out of forthcoming infrastructure legislation burst into public Wednesday with several Democratic lawmakers warning they would not rubber-stamp eventual legislation.

Faced with razor-thin majorities in both chambers and bipartisan negotiations that have languished for weeks, many Democrats behind the scenes worry climate change has faded from center stage — and they worry about sacrificing what the scientific community says is necessary to stave off the worst consequences to claim a bipartisan victory.

“The White House and Democratic Congress need to hold strong on real meaningful bold substantial climate provisions that President Biden proposed in his American Jobs Plan,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said at an event with Climate Power on Wednesday. “There is little appetite in our caucus for an infrastructure plan that ignores the greatest crisis, the most existential crisis that we face.”

Earlier in the day, Heinrich tweeted insufficiently ambitious climate legislation “should not count on every Democratic vote,” and linked to a POLITICO articlein which National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy acknowledged President Joe Biden might not get all of his loftier climate priorities, such as a clean energy standard, in eventual infrastructure legislation.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was even blunter in a tweet: “No climate, no deal,” he wrote. 06-08-21

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Climate Change Has Central Americans Fleeing to the U.S.

A farmer in Guatemala’s Baja Verapaz department. Lower harvests have forced some households to sell their livestock.PHOTOGRAPHER: MIGUEL JUAREZ LUGO/ZUMA PRESS

José Mario Antonio Milla can remember a time when he could count on the rain. In La Laguna, a hamlet of about 60 families in western Honduras, showers used to start at the end of April and continue through November, ensuring a healthy harvest of corn to feed his family. In good years, he sometimes had a small amount left over to sell. Now it’s already June, and not a drop has fallen on his 2 acres or so of land, he says. Forecasters predict a shorter rainy season this year, which has the 52-year-old farmer wondering if his six-person household will have enough to eat.

Families in La Laguna used to produce as much as 8 tons of corn a year but now have to settle for about a third of that, Milla says. “That was in the old days, 15 or 20 years ago. No one harvests those quantities anymore.” Several of his neighbors and relatives have quit trying to wring a living off the land and have moved to the cities, while others hired coyotes to smuggle them into the U.S.

Two of Milla’s sisters are living in Pennsylvania, and a brother has hopped around several states. Says Milla: “When things get bad, people leave. But the coyotes often deceive them, and then they’re right back here again.”

The so-called Northern Triangle is plagued by chronic violence, corrupt governments, and a lack of economic opportunities—factors that send a more than 300,000 thousand El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans fleeing their countries each year, according to estimates by academics at the University of Texas at Austin. Farmers, who in some of these nations make up as much as 30% of the population, are battling another menace: extreme weather. 06-08-21

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Meet 3 Women Working on the Frontline of Ocean Conservation

The earliest iteration of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was founded in 1977 to “defend, conserve and protect our ocean.” Meet three women, featured by Vogue, who are carrying out the organization’s mission:

  • Eva Hidalgo: 31-year-old Spanish scientist who was part of the team that possibly identified a new species of beaked whale last year. She’s concerned about overfishing and in support of creating — and monitoring —marine protected areas.
  • Mar Casariego: 28-year-old captain from the Spanish coast who uses her legal background to work with local law enforcement to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
  • Lamya Essemlali: 42-year-old president of Sea Shepherd France (which she co-founded) and co-director of Sea Shepherd Global has worked on a campaign to prevent dolphins from getting caught by fishing gear in the Bay of Biscay and against the killing of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands. 06-08-21

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With Electric Vehicles, Ohio’s Steel Valley Remakes Itself as ‘Voltage Valley’

Lordstown Motors is just one piece of the puzzle to create Voltage Valley. An electric battery plant and clean energy innovation are also bolstering the region. Photo: Julie Grant / The Allegheny Fron

President Biden is pushing for electric vehicles as a solution to climate change, and a way to create jobs. One test case for this strategy: Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, near the border of Pennsylvania, which includes Youngstown, Warren and Lordstown.

This area lost big when the steel industry collapsed in the 1980s. Just a couple of years ago, General Motors closed the Lordstown Assembly plant, which built cars for Chevrolet. But leaders there now see a future emerging in electric cars and many are touting the region as Voltage Valley.

Like his father and both his grandfathers, Travis Eastham worked at the General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown. Open since 1966, it employed 8,000 workers for years. Eastham started a few weeks before graduating high school. By 2019, as he was nearing retirement, and only 1,500 workers remained at the plant, GM abruptly closed it.

“It was a scary time. You don’t know what you’re going to do next in life,” Eastham said.

Like many of those whose jobs in Lordstown ended, he could have moved to Kentucky or elsewhere to work at another GM plant, but Eastham didn’t want to leave his family. He started working full-time as chief of the Lordstown Fire Department. But the closure hit the small community hard. Tax revenues were down, and people were worried.


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We Have the Power, New Study Says, to Reach Net-Zero Emissions

This week, Environment America released a report documenting the nation’s vast potential for renewable energy. As the federal government makes moves to build massive commercial wind farms and solar power takes hold in the west, the report emphasizes that maintaining and building on that momentum can rocket the U.S. to net-zero emissions. The report, titled We Have the Power, offers a stroke of optimism and notes that with innovation, impactful policy, and a bit of faith, the U.S. can achieve its climate goals.

Why This Matters: The world has nearly exhausted its carbon budget, and the U.S. is literally feeling the heat, staring down the barrel of what experts say may be record-breaking wildfire and hurricane seasons. Permanent drought has taken much of the west and is now moving further east. All the while, glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates. A rapid shift away from fossil fuels is the fastest way to cut humanity’s carbon footprint and stave off catastrophic temperature rise. Still, for decades, the U.S. has been mired in debates over the efficacy of renewable energy. Now there is no doubt; we have the technology, we have the power, but do we have the will?

Ramping Up: The stage is set for a rapid transition to renewable energy,” reads the report, emphasizing that the nation has enough sun and wind to power the country many times over. 06-04-21

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Biden’s only climate plan is in jeopardy

Congress is pulling apart the president’s mini-Green New Deal

When President Joe Biden unveiled his $2.25 trillion “American Jobs Plan” in early April, many climate activists breathed a (small) sigh of relief. Although the plan was smaller than the $10 trillionprogressive Democrats had proposed spending on revamping the country’s infrastructure, it was, in many ways, a Green New Dealin miniature. It included huge spending on clean energy, a civilian jobs program known as the “climate corps,” and a push to get electric cars on the road all across America. It was without question Biden’s primary plan to cut carbon emissions. The only one. The big one.

Now, however, there is rising concern that the “big one” may not be so big after all. Key features of the bill — like a requirement to produce electricity from clean sources, or hundreds of billions of dollars in support for electric vehicles — are in contention as Republicans and Democrats tussle over the price tag. And without them, the country’s chance of cutting carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 — as Biden recently promised at his international climate summit — is basically zero.

“We need the full American Jobs Plan,” said Lena Moffitt, campaigns director at Evergreen Action, a climate-focused policy group. 06-02-21

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Biden Suspends Drilling Permits in ANWR

Yesterday, the Department of the Interior moved to suspend all oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing a highly contested move made by the Trump administration last year. Interior said it would suspend all leasing program operations “pending completion of a comprehensive analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

As one of the last expanses of untouched wilderness in the United States, ANWRs coastal plain is also home to nearly 200 wildlife species, including polar bears, musk oxen, and caribou, making a spill in this fragile ecosystem unthinkable.

Why This Matters: Since 1977 when Congress first heard testimony on the potential of drilling in ANWR, Republicans and Democrats have been in a battle over whether fossil fuel extraction should occur in the refuge. Though proponents of drilling have previously claimed that it can be done in a safe and measured manner (i.e. opening up small parts of the total refuge acreage to drilling), oil companies themselves have not shown interest in buying permits to drill there. 06-02-21

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Bayer Considers Ending Some U.S. Glyphosate Sales as Environmentalists Urge EPA to Enact Full Ban

After a federal judge rejected a $2 billion class-action proposal from Bayer to avert future lawsuits alleging its popular Roundup herbicide causes cancer, the pharmaceutical and chemical giant announced Thursday that it would consider ending sales of the glyphosate-based weedkiller for residential use in the United States.

In a statement, Bayer said that it “will immediately engage with partners to discuss the future of glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential market” in a move aimed at “mitigating future litigation risk.”

“None of these discussions will affect the availability of glyphosate-based products in markets for professional and agricultural users,” the Germany-based company added.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco rejected Bayer’s $2 billion plan to settle future lawsuits as “clearly unreasonable,” saying that while the proposal would “accomplish a lot for Monsanto” — the Roundup maker acquired by Bayer for nearly $63 billion in 2018 — it “would accomplish far less for… Roundup users.” 05-28-21

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Red knot numbers plummet, pushing shorebird closer to extinction

Migration through Delaware Bay this year was the lowest since records began in 1982

The number of red knots visiting Delaware Bay this spring plunged to a record low, pushing the shorebird’s local population closer to extinction despite a quarter-century of efforts to save it.

Naturalists scanning the beaches on both the New Jersey and Delaware sides of the bay during the May migration found only 6,880 of the birds this year, down sharply from 19,000 in 2020 and even further below the 30,000 recorded in 2018 and 2019. The latest number is now the lowest since records began in 1982.

The population of the bird’s rufa subspecies was already well below the level that would ensure its survival, and the unexpectedly sharp decline this year has renewed biologists’ fears that the numbers are now too low for the bird to survive in the long term.

“The subspecies is now much closer to extinction,” said Larry Niles, an independent wildlife biologist who has trapped, monitored and counted red knots and other shorebirds on the Delaware Bay beaches for the last 25 years. 05-31-21

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The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse

With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.

Grist / Alberto Masnovo / VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS / Getty Images

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars.

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 05-26-21

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Who gets a park?

Barry Winiker / Getty Images

Cities are finally being analyzed for the equity of their green space.

For the first time in its history, a national ranking of urban green space in America is not only looking at the number and quality of parks within the country’s 100 largest cities, but also the equity of their distribution — shining a spotlight on the glaring gaps between access to nature along racial and socioeconomic lines.

Historically, the Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore index ranked cities based on four factors: acreage, investment, amenities, and access. But the 2021 index, released Thursday, includes equity components that compare, for example, park space per capita for mostly neighborhoods of color versus white neighborhoods, space per capita for low-income versus high-income neighborhoods, and how many low-income and people of color are within 10 minutes walking distance of a park.

“It’s been something that park systems and cities have asked us about repeatedly over the years,” Linda Hwang, director of strategy and innovation at the Trust for Public Land, told Grist. “We’re really proud to be able to include that category into the index in the rankings this year.” 05-27-21

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Biden administration unveils offshore wind plan for California

Wind turbines stand out in the desert landscape near the Tehachapi Mountains in Rosamond, Calif.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The federal government plans to open more than 250,000 acres off the California coast to wind development, the Biden administration announced Tuesday, as part of a major effort to ramp up the nation’s renewable energy and cut its climate-warming emissions.

Under the plan, the administration would allow wind power projects to be built in federal waters off the coast of Central California northwest of Morro Bay, as well as at a second location west of Humboldt Bay. Officials estimate that the two areas combined could generate 4,600 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1.6 million homes.

The government’s plans represent a “breakthrough,” said Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s senior climate change advisor. “It’s an announcement that will set the stage for the long-term development of clean energy and the growth of a brand-new made-in-America industry.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom praised the plans, noting that California had spent years trying to advance offshore wind power under the Trump administration, with no success. The state, he said, will accelerate its own environmental review process in order to speed up the projects, which he estimated would be built at least 20 miles offshore with enough space for roughly 380 wind turbines. 05-25-21

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ExxonMobil’s Shareholder Meeting Drama — Board Seats Contested By Pro-Climate Hedge Fund

A group of investors is attempting to displace four members of the ExxonMobil Board of Directors in the Board election at the annual meeting to be held on Wednesday — and according to Axios and The Washington Post, this challenge represents a battle for the future of the oil and gas giant.  The “revolt” is being led by a hedge fund called Engine No. 1, which is backed by large institutional investors. They argue in an 81-page PowerPoint that the company is underperforming its competitors because of its “refusal to accept that fossil fuel demand may decline in decades to come,” and the Board is leaving “ExxonMobil unprepared and threatens continued long-term value destruction.”

Why It Matters:  This election campaign is not driven by climate activists or political pressure — it’s about return on investment and long-term financial weakness.  That changes the dynamic.  According to Axios and Bloomberg, the IEA Report issued last week on the path to net-zero last week buttresses Engine No. 1’s financial analysis and gives these large investors ample grounds to vote for the “white card” directors who allegedly have more “relevant” climate experience.   The company must be worried — yesterday they reportedly announced they will add 2 new directors over the next 12 months. 05-25-21

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The red meat issue Biden won’t touch

The administration wants to dramatically shrink farmers’ climate footprint. But Biden’s top officials aren’t talking about serious changes to America’s meat industry.

President Joe Biden is not going to ban red meat. In fact, his administration isn’t doing much to confront the flow of harmful greenhouse gases from the very big business of animal agriculture.

The Agriculture Department’s newly published “climate-smart agriculture and forestry” outline says almost nothing about how Biden aims to curb methane emissions from livestock operations. But environmentalists argue that any effort to shrink the farm industry’s climate footprint is half-baked if it relies on voluntary efforts and doesn’t address America’s system of meat production.

“USDA is setting itself up to fail on its climate and environmental justice goals,” says Chloe Waterman, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth U.S., a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

USDA didn’t respond to several requests for comment on this article. 05-23-21

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Environmentalists continue battle with lawmakers, pork industry over biogas from hog waste

An anaerobic digester at a hog farm near Kenansville in Duplin County that supplies methane to Optima KV. Photo credit: Greg Barnes.

Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy want to proceed with plans to turn hog waste into natural gas at 19 farms in southeastern North Carolina. Environmentalists are trying to block the N.C. Farm Act bill of 2021, which would speed the farms’ progress.

North Carolina’s environmental regulators approved water quality permits last month that will allow four Smithfield Foods’ hog farms in Sampson and Duplin counties to continue their plans to turn hog waste into renewable energy.

Those plans are part of an agreement between Smithfield and Dominion Energy — through a joint venture called Align RNG — to cover swine waste lagoons with anaerobic digesters at 90 percent of North Carolina’s industrial hog finishing farms within the next decade.

On the surface, at least, it sounds like a great plan, one supported by the national Environmental Defense Fund, which is among the world’s leading environmental organizations.

The digesters would trap methane gas from the hog waste and send it to a processing plant, where it would be converted into natural gas before being injected into a Dominion Energy pipeline and used to help power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

Smithfield estimates that its plans nationwide would reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent. The plans would also spur job growth in related fields, such as utility-scale batteries.

What could possibly be wrong with that? 05-21-21

IEA Outline Roadmap for World to Reach Net-Zero by 2050

Yesterday, the International Energy Agency–an international energy forum comprised of 29 industrialized countries under the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation– issued a comprehensive roadmap of what it would take for the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 while keeping to the 1.5C goal.

As the BBC explained, by 2050 the IEA envisions a global economy that is twice as big as today, with two billion extra people but with the demand for energy dropping by 8%.

The authors say their plan achieves this with no carbon offsets and a low reliance on technologies to remove carbon from the air.

Crucially, it sees no place for new supplies of coal, oil or gas.

Why This Matters: These recommendations have been made before, but this is the first time the International Energy Agency has delineated ways to make these emissions cuts.

What’s more, is that in the past the IEA has consistently underestimated the role of renewable energy while overstating that of fossil fuels. Not anymore, the agency raised the growth forecast for wind and solar by another 25%.

Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, an environmental advocacy group told the New York Times: “It’s a huge shift in messaging if [the IEA] saying there’s no need to invest in new fossil fuel supply.” 05-20-21

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Biden Burns Rubber In Ford’s EV F-150 Lightning

Yesterday, Joe Biden visited a Ford Motor electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing plant in Michigan, where he tested the new 2023 F-150 Lightning. The car will be built by United Auto Workers members.  President Biden has aligned himself with unions and is working to pick up votes for his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan. Biden met up with Ford executives and employees — including Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Farley and UAW President Rory Gamble — on a road trip focusing on several aspects of EVs.  Meanwhile, back in D.C., while Biden toured the plant, a team from the White House went to the Hill to have another round of talks on the bill, but appear to have stalled out.

Why this Matters:  The Ford manufacturing plant represents a sustainable future of good-paying union jobs in America, which represents the heart of Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The plan entails building 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and providing consumers rebates and tax incentives to promote electric vehicle manufacturing in the United States and the purchasing of electric cars. The private sector is taking action as well — General Motors will stop selling their gas-powered cars by 2035, and Ford and other car companies have also decided to accelerate electric vehicle production. 05-19-21

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Biden Admin Invests in Green Infrastructure & Research at HBCUs

Howard University Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Biden administration is making an effort to fulfill environmental justice promises by expanding electric vehicle infrastructure into Black neighborhoods and investing in renewable energy research at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the plans aim to bring marginalized groups to the table as the country works toward net-zero emissions by 2050. HBCU leaders say that the funding is unprecedented and may give Black academic spaces the stability they’ve long been seeking.

My first venture out in this COVID environment was to Howard University … it was to announce a $17 million opportunity at DOE [Department of Energy] offering to support college internships and research projects and opportunities and to bolster investment in underrepresented use in minority-serving institutions,” Granholm told theGrio.

Why This Matters: Black Americans are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change and environmental racism. Black communities are more likely to suffer from high levels of lead in their drinking water, air pollution, floods, and rising temperatures. Despite this, the federal and state governments have historically excluded communities of color in infrastructure and community planning decisions–even when it comes to climate change. Even now, Indigenous communities are fighting for a place in the green energy workforce, where 80% of jobholders are white. The Biden administration’s green investments in marginalized communities represent a turning point for federal environmental justice policy, a change that advocates are celebrating. 05-18-21

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Monsanto Loses Another Appeal Over Liability for Roundup Pesticide

Monsanto has lost another appeal — this one a $25 million damages award to a San Francisco resident who suffered from cancer after spraying Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on his property for more than 26 years, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. In the trial, the jury found that Monsanto “intentionally downplayed and ignored calls to test Roundup’s carcinogenic risks,” and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the evidence supported the verdict. One of the judges issued a partial dissent, arguing that the damages were too high and should be reduced to $10.4 million.

Why This Matters:  There are thousands of cases pending against Monsanto for Roundup — a common weedkiller used in residential yards all across the U.S.  The company has not had any luck in court overturning liability verdicts, though they have had damages reduced.  They said they will appeal it to the Supreme Court,where they might get a more favorable look.  While the EPA has maintained that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup is safe and allowed its sale without warning labels, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, concluded in 2015 that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.

Monsanto’s Malice

Lawyers for the plaintiff told The Hill that “The Court ruled that ‘substantial evidence of Monsanto’s malice was presented to the jury, supporting punitive damages.’  Internal emails showed that Monsanto knew of the risk of cancer and failed to warn consumers like Mr. Hardeman.  Today is significant for consumers holding pesticide companies like Monsanto accountable.”  In addition, the Court held that the state law requiring Monsanto to warn consumers of the risks was consistent with and not overridden by federal laws that regulate toxic pesticides.  Indeed, the judges found that federal law did not prevent a jury from finding the herbicide to be a cause of cancer, despite the EPA’s conclusion that it was safe. 05-17-21

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After a Trump-length pause, the EPA is relaunching a major climate change report

Drawing on data from 50 government agencies, the EPA has published 54 indicators of global warming.

Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

From 2010 through 2016, the Obama administration released four editions of a report entitled “Climate Change Indicators in the U.S.” A detailed look at dozens of variables documenting worldwide changes resulting from global warming, the report functioned as a public informational resource, a guiding star for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decisions, and a clarion call to action. The very first report in 2010 was unequivocal about humans’ role in climate change. “Evidence of human influences on climate change has become increasingly clear and compelling,” it declared.

Then, after the fourth biennial report in 2016, Donald Trump assumed the presidency. The climate change indicators website, which was previously updated every six months with new data, languished for years. One staffer told the trade publication E&E News that staff weren’t allowed to update the website and that political appointees were afraid changes to the site would be reported in the news, which could draw the ire of then-President Trump. During all four years of his tenure, the Trump administration didn’t bother to publish any new editions of the report, either.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration resumed the Obama-era practice, and the EPA published a 2021 update to the report. A newly updated website provides a sweeping overview of 54 key indicators of climate change and their effect on human health. Using peer-reviewed sources, the update is the result of a government-wide effort and relies on data collected by 50 different agencies. Many of the changes it documents are already commonly understood to be true: The planet is warming, ice sheets are melting, heat waves are becoming more common, sea levels are rising, flooding is more frequent along the country’s East and Gulf coasts, and both wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer. 05-12-21

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Renewable energy didn’t just survive 2020 — it thrived

But don’t mistake projected growth in renewables for emissions reductions.

P. Steeger / Getty Images

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for renewable energy did not look good. Factory shutdowns in China disrupted the global supply chain for wind turbines and solar panels, delaying construction of projects in the U.S. Clean energy industries across the board started bleeding jobs. Fear spread that the economic recession would put investments in renewables on the back burner.

But it turns out renewable energy has not only survived COVID-19 — it’s thrived. A new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA, found that the world added 280 gigawatts of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables to its electrical grids last year. To put that in perspective, that’s about a quarter of the United States’ total utility-scale electricity generating capacity. It’s also a 45 percent increase in new renewable installations from 2019 — the highest year-over-year increase since 1999.

Ultimately, pandemic-induced supply chain slowdowns affected certain countries more than others. India was hit particularly hard, with construction delays and challenges in connecting new projects to the grid leading to a 50 percent decline in new capacity there. Brazil and Ukraine also saw slowdowns. But in the United States, China, and Vietnam, where developers were racing to complete projects in order to meet deadlines for government subsidies, there was unprecedented growth. 05-12-21

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What do voting restrictions and anti-protest laws have in common?

Both have sponsors funded by fossil fuel companies.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

At a dizzying pace, state legislatures have introduced bills restricting both voting access and the right to publicly protest this year. In response to Republicans’ 2020 election losses — and, in many quarters, in support of the false claim that rampant voter fraud led to former President Donald Trump’s loss at the polls — GOP lawmakers in 47 states have introduced more than 360 billswith restrictive voting provisions such as strict identification requirements, purges of voter rolls, and hurdles to absentee voting. Such bills have passed in Georgia, Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah so far.

Spurred by the massive nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police last year, Republican state lawmakers have also simultaneously introduced bills that restrict the ability of protesters to assemble, including legislation that grants immunity to drivers who strike protesters and that which prohibits public assistance for those convicted of unlawfully protesting. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, a nonprofit civil liberties group that has been tracking anti-protest legislation, more than 80 such anti-protest bills have been introduced in 34 states this year. Of them, at least six have passed. Three of these new laws specifically target environmental protesters by increasing penalties for trespass on oil and gas property.

According to new research out Monday from the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace, the powerful state lawmakers driving both voting restrictions and anti-protest measures are often one and the same — and, despite their controversial legislation, these lawmakers enjoy substantial campaign support from major business interests. Over the past year, 44 state lawmakers sponsored at least one voting access and at least one anti-protest bill. Additionally, of the top 100 corporate donors to state lawmakers who filed voting access bills, more than half also gave money to lawmakers introducing anti-protest bills. 05-11-21

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Why Indigenous women are risking arrest to fight Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota

Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline construction is running into tribal resistance over fears of water pollution, wild rice impacts, climate change, and exploitation of Native women.

Valerie Whitebird harvests rice at the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota. (Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle)

On Dec. 14, Simone Senogles of the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota watched as machines chewed up the forest to clear a path to the Mississippi River where Enbridge plans to bury the Line 3 pipeline.

Weeks earlier, the state and federal government granted its final permits. Her friend’s nephew sat 30 feet above in a tree. A cherry picker rolled forward to extract him.

Senogles, a leadership team member for the Indigenous Environmental Network who fought the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, knew the Line 3 opposition had other strategies in place — court challenges, divestment campaigns — but in that moment she felt “a tremendous sense of responsibility.” She said she locked arms with about 20 other water protectors, hoping to slow the cherry picker, but dozens of police wrestled them to the frozen ground and arrested them.

Senogles was charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing. She said it felt insulting. “It’s Anishinaabe land,” she told EHN, referring to a group of Indigenous people whose traditional homeland stretches from the East Coast through the Great Lakes to the Midwest. “Enbridge is the trespasser, they are the criminal, and they were aided by law enforcement who are supposed to be protecting us, but instead they were protecting a corporation.”

After a six-year-long permitting process, Enbridge contractors in Minnesota are building Line 3, the largest project in the company’s history. If completed, it will carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, at the tip of Lake Superior, the planet’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. Police from the Northern Lights Task Force, Minnesota police officers funded by Enbridge as a condition of state permits, have arrested 72 Indigenous people and allies since construction began Dec. 1, according to task force press releases. Water protectors have put their bodies on the line, building six resistance camps along the pipeline route, chaining themselves to equipment and camping in trees. 05-10-21

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This blanket permit makes it easier to build pipelines. Advocates are suing to stop it.

How the legal fight against an arcane permit could throw a snag in major pipeline projects.

Grist / sarkophoto / Getty Images

Environmental advocacy groups are taking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court over a permit that’s crucial for the construction of oil pipelines. A coalition of environmental advocacy organizations filed the lawsuit on Monday against the Army Corps, the federal agency that oversees civil works projects, over Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

A nationwide permit is a blanket permit — a streamlined alternative for infrastructure projects compared to applying for individual, project-specific permits. NWP12 has been issued every five years since the 70s, but during the Obama administration it started to be used for the construction of almost every major pipeline project, according to Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. The permit has played a role in pipelines such as Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But environmentalists argue that the permit was never meant to be used this way. NWP12 allows developers of pipelines and other infrastructure projects to bypass applying for an individual permit to cross streams, waters, and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, which usually requires extensive environmental analysis and public comment. Blanket permits are intended for projects that would have minimal impact on the environment, says Margolis. The new lawsuit argues that oil and gas pipelines do not fit that description, given the risk of spills and the environmental impacts of climate change. The Army Corps estimates that NWP12 is used 8,110 times per year. 05-07-21

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Biden’s infrastructure plan targets lead pipes that threaten public health across the US

Workers remove water service lines in Trenton, New Jersey, on Jan. 9, 2020. The city is replacing 37,000 lead pipes over five years. AP Photo/Mike Catalini

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes a proposal to upgrade the U.S. drinking water distribution system by removing and replacing dangerous lead pipes. As a geochemist and environmental health researcher who has studied the heartbreaking impacts of lead poisoning in children for decades, I am happy to see due attention paid to this silent killer, which disproportionately affects poor communities of color.

Biden’s proposal includes US$45 billion to eliminate all lead pipes and service lines nationwide. The funding would go to programs administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This effort would affect an estimated 6 million to 10 million homes, along with 400,000 schools and child care facilities. I see it as one of the nation’s best chances to finally get the lead out of the nation’s drinking water, and its children.

Lead poisoning does permanent damage

Lead poisoning is a major public health problem, because lead has permanent impacts on the brain, particularly in children. Young brains are still actively forming the amazing network of neurons that comprise their hardware.

Neurons are designed to use calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, as a transmitter to rapidly pass signals. Lead is able to penetrate the brain because lead molecules look a lot like calcium molecules. If lead is present in a child’s body, it can impair neuron development and cause permanent neural damage.

Children with lead poisoning have lower IQs, poor memory recall, high rates of attention deficit disorder and low impulse control. They tend to perform poorly at school, which reduces their earning potential as adults. They also face increased risk of kidney diseasestroke and hypertension as they age. Research has found strong connections between lead poisoning and incarceration for violent crimes. 05-04-21

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Leaked Docs: Gas Industry Secretly Fights Electrification

Welders work on a natural gas pipeline near Mustang, Texas. The gas industry is pursuing a secretive fight against U.S. efforts to electrify the building sector. Tom Fox/KRT/Newscom

In public, Eversource Energy likes to tout its carbon neutrality goals and its investments in offshore wind.

But officials from New England’s largest utility struck a different tone during an industry presentation in mid-March. Instead of advocating for lower emissions, company officials outlined a defensive strategy for preserving the use of natural gas for years to come.

Natural gas is “in for [the] fight of it’s life,” said one slide presented at the meeting and obtained by E&E News. It also called for a lobbying campaign, saying that “everyone needs to contact legislators in favor of NG.” Another slide asked how the industry could “take advantage of power outage fear” to bolster gas’s fortunes.

Eversource is identified in the presentation materials as the co-leader of a national “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” run out of the Energy Solutions Center, a trade group based in Washington. The slides identified 14 other utilities involved in the effort and said the group’s mission was to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” 05-03-21 Read more

13 U.S. Oil Refineries Release Illegally High Levels of Benzene

A new list from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) shows that last year, thirteen U.S. oil refineries emitted more of the cancer-causing chemical benzene than was permitted by the government. This is an increase from eleven refineries that made the list in 2019.

Why This Matters: These unlawful benzene emissions can cause disproportionate health issues, especially for the nearby communities, which tend to be predominantly poor, Black and Latino. For eight of these thirteen refineries, benzene levels exceeded the EPA guidelines by nine micrograms per cubic meter of air. 2020’s highest benzene emitter was Delek’s Krotz Springs, Louisiana refinery, which, on average, secreted over 31 micrograms per cubic meter, which is over three times the EPA’s standard.

Ultimately, strengthening benzene regulations and punishing polluters lies with the federal government.  Benjamin Kuntsman, a staff engineer at EIP, told Reuters, “If the Biden EPA wants to act on its environmental justice promises, these neighborhoods near refineries are a great place to start.”

The Law: As wrote, A 2015 EPA rule requires oil refineries to install air pollution monitors on their fencelines to measure how much benzene is escaping into surrounding areas. If the annual average exceeds 9 micrograms per cubic meter, refineries must search for the cause and take steps to fix it. 05-04-21

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“Long overdue”: The Senate just passed $35 billion for clean drinking water.

America’s water systems are aging and underfunded. This bipartisan bill might change that.

Image by rachelrose111 from Pixabay

A massive, bipartisan clean water infrastructure bill passed the Senate 89-2 on Thursday. The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act would create a $35 billion fund for states and tribes to improve water systems — 40 percent of which would go to underserved, rural, and tribal communities.

The legislation would fund projects that address aging infrastructure and improve water quality, remove lead pipes from schools, and update infrastructure to be more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. The bill, having passed the Senate, will now move to the House of Representatives.

Such an influx in funding for America’s aging water systems is long overdue, policy experts, environmentalists, and urban planners argue. A 2018 study of 30 years of data found that in any given year, as many as 10 percent of community water systems in the United States have health-based violations, affecting up to 45 million people annually. In addition, more than 2 million Americans live without access to drinking water and sanitation services — such as safe drinking water, plumbing in the home, and wastewater removal and treatment — according to a 2019 report by the U.S. Water Alliance. Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack plumbing than white households; Black and Latino households are nearly twice as likely. Race is the strongest determinant of whether or not a household has access to water and sanitation services, the 2019 report found, the result of a history of racist policies in the planning and construction of water infrastructure. 05-01-21

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