• No Sacrifice Zones: Appalachian Resistance comes to DC September 8th!

    In order to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Senators Manchin and Schumer made a deal which introduces a separate piece of legislation that would fast-track permit approvals for fossil fuel projects in September. While no one has seen the official legislation, the leaked one-page summary of the deal limits foundational environmental protections, endangers public health, fast-tracks fossil fuels, and pushes approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and a draft legislation text even bears the watermark from the American Petroleum Institute.  This side deal has been written by and for the fossil fuel industry, and further causes concerns for frontline communities. The summary document released by Manchin’s office would introduce a wide range of changes to the time tables of the decisions made by regulatory agencies reviewing energy projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and other authorities These changes include, among other revisions: Reinstating limitations on state authority under the Clean Water Act that were made during the Trump administration Requiring federal agencies to concurrently review the different authorizations and permits for a project, and limiting NEPA review to two years for major projects and one year for smaller projects Creating loopholes for certain projects to avoid NEPA review altogether Establishing an avenue for the Secretary of Energy to make a determination whether an energy project is in the national interest, as opposed to the Secretary of State. These measures would put a great deal of strain on federal agencies and courts, and possibly force these institutions to take information presented by the companies requesting permits at face value instead of having the ability to do their own due diligence.  Appalachia, and all other sacrifice zones at risk due to this potential legislation, refuse to be sacrificed for political purposes. We must protect the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), tribal sovereignty and frontline communities having a say.  Clean Water for NC joined with 650 groups in a letter to reject Machin’s side deal which fast tracks MVP and limits important environmental protections for energy projects.  Ways YOU can take action: Sign this petition opposing this side deal: Appalachian Voices Petition Send a letter to your representative:  https://tinyurl.com/blockthedeal Attend the September 8th Rally!


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  • Preparing for an Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

    The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1st and lasts until November 30th, with the peak falling around September 10th. The effects of climate change have been felt more deeply in recent years, with wildfires and drought in the West, and rising sea levels and flooding on the East Coast and elsewhere. The climate crisis has also been linked to increased storm frequency and hurricane strength. Just last year, the Atlantic Hurricane Season produced 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), including seven hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater) of…


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  • Climate Change is Pushing Toxic Chemicals into Drinking Wells

    By: Erika Bolstad, Pew Charitable Trust April 28, 2022 Don Myron is probably best known as the guy who survived one of the deadliest fires in Oregon’s history by sheltering overnight in a river with a patio chair. So there was never any question that Myron would rebuild his home in Oregon’s Santiam Canyon after the house was destroyed in the Labor Day wildfires of 2020. The well Myron shared with nearby homeowners was no longer available, which meant one of his first tasks was to drill his own new source for drinking water. “It's hard to rebuild without water,” Myron said. “It's hard to do anything without water. It was a priority.” But with climate change confronting communities across the West, people who rely on wells are at particular risk as wildfires grow in intensity and frequency. Without vegetation, fire-scarred land becomes more susceptible to mudslides that can damage watersheds. Drought can increase the concentration of pathogens and other contaminants in well water. And fires can damage the well equipment and piping, leaching toxic chemicals into drinking water and forcing property owners to consider costly repairs, upgrades and filtering systems even as they rebuild their homes and businesses. Beyond the West, heavier rains and floods threaten well water quality, too. In Oregon, about a quarter of state residents rely on private wells for their water supply, according to the Oregon Health Authority. An estimated 2,000 households that rely on private wells were affected by the Labor Day fires of 2020, which, fueled by severe windstorms, rank among the largest and deadliest fires ever experienced in the state. In response, the state established a free voucher program that pays for people affected by the Labor Day fires to test their well water for some contaminants. Once Myron's well was drilled and operational, he used the voucher to have the water tested. It was “as clean as could be,” Myron said. “I was pleasantly surprised.” As States Prepare for Disasters, They Acknowledge Things Will Get Worse Such testing is increasingly common in Western states. After the 2018 Camp Fire nearly destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California, the Butte County Health Department warned residents that creeks and rivers flowing from fire-affected areas could contain elevated levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, a carcinogen, and lead, a neurotoxin. The fires damaged municipal systems and an estimated 2,438 private wells in what is, for now, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The county also alerted property owners that contaminants could seep into the aquifers tapped by private wells. Butte County not only warned people to test for contaminants, but also advised them to drink pricey bottled water until they knew the full extent of the fire damage to their wells. If a fire burned or damaged the casing or plumbing around a well, officials warned, such breaches could cause bacterial growth, including E. coli, which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Heat damage from the fires also can compromise the plastic components of wells, potentially leaching dangerous chemicals into drinking water. Many of the fire-scarred communities of the West now are using guidelines developed in part by researcher Andrew Whelton, an engineering professor at Purdue University and director of the school’s Center for Plumbing Safety. Whelton studies water safety after wildfires, most recently after the Marshall Fire in suburban Boulder, Colorado. Health departments and state regulators needed a baseline understanding of what they should tell property owners, Whelton said, and in many cases were too overwhelmed by the logistics of disaster management to develop their own. “The people that were most affected by the contamination, the people that were receiving water that may or may not be contaminated, they may or may not have contaminated plumbing,” Whelton said. “They didn't have any single authority to go to, to get advice.” Few States Require Testing Most of the states that require that private wells be inspected or tested for integrity or water quality only do so when they're first drilled or when a property changes hands. It's generally up to an individual homeowner to pay to maintain a well and monitor its water quality. As a result, few wells are tested regularly. Polling shows that many Americans care deeply about water quality. But despite highly visible water crises, including high lead levels in Flint, Michigan, and scarcity within the Navajo Nation, the quality and safety of drinking water often are taken for granted. People turn on their taps and expect it to be fine. A Parched West Remains Divided on Desalinating Seawater In Oregon, only about 200 property owners with private wells have sought testing vouchers following the 2020 fires, said Curtis Cude, manager of the Oregon Health Authority’s domestic well safety program. Public health officials expected more people to apply for the vouchers, though they acknowledge that, because repairs can be expensive, wells may be a lower priority for some families. “One of the things that we were hearing, especially last year, is that people were still buried in ash and debris,” Cude said. “And some of those properties were so extensively damaged that they hadn't the opportunity to even think about getting their well on line.” Nationwide, an estimated 40 million people obtain their drinking water from a domestic well, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. Many of those people are in rural communities not serviced by municipal water systems. In the West, homes with private wells are often in the places most vulnerable to increasingly hot or intense wildfires or the effects of drought. In states prone to wildfire, water quality remains an existential threat. The burden of sourcing uncontaminated water can be particularly stressful on people who've survived a wildfire. For example, Whelton points to a study of attitudes about water safety, which surveyed 233 households in Butte County, California, after the Camp Fire. More than half of respondents, 54%, self-reported that at least one member in their household had anxiety, stress or depression directly related to securing water, or in connection with water contamination issues. Most people who were surveyed said uncertainty about water and plumbing safety prompted them to alter water use in their homes. About 47% installed in-home water treatment technologies; 85% said they sought out alternate water sources. Wetter Storms Worsen Pollution Yet well contamination is a problem all over the country, including in places where climate change means more frequent and more intense rain events. In the Midwest, the intensity and frequency of rainstorms has increased since 1901, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment. It’s projected only to get worse. Heavy rains can overwhelm sewer or septic systems, transporting pathogens to the groundwater drawn up by wells. In 2018, hurricanes Florence and Michael inundated coastal Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some places. The storms affected as many as 730,000 wells in the region, according to estimates from the National Groundwater Association. In North Carolina, the rains from Florence flooded more than 30 hog lagoons full of pig waste. The overflowing toxic muck from floodwaters can seep into the aquifer or make its way down into wells from flooding at the surface. Few Wells Tested for Contamination After Major Flooding From Hurricanes In the wake of the storms, North Carolina tested 1,000 private wells, said Wilson Mize, a regional environmental health specialist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. After Hurricane Florence, 13% of the wells tested were positive for E. coli. Typically, with new wells, only about 3% test positive for it. The results gave health officials a good indication that floodwater was entering the wells, Mize said. The positive results for E. coli dropped to about 3% after wells were disinfected. The numbers provided state health officials a baseline for the effects of flood-related pollution on wells, which is a matter of critical public health concern—about 2.4 million people rely on wells for drinking water in the state. Since 2018, North Carolina has developed a program to get information out to people with wells who face heavy rainstorms. In areas with many wells, county officials place door hanger pamphlets with information about how to care for a well before and after a storm. Along with NASA and a researcher at Northeastern University, North Carolina is developing a well water surveillance and response system. It will create a mapping tool that, after flooding, will pinpoint the areas in the state with private wells. It’s aimed at helping the state determine where to emphasize sampling and disinfection after hurricanes, tropical storms and other heavy rains. Midwest Agriculture Can Threaten Wells In parts of the Midwest, nitrate pollution from fertilizer is especially troublesome after heavy rains, said Scott Laeser, the water program director for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental nonprofit. About a third of Wisconsin residents draw their drinking water from private wells, Laeser said. About 90% of nitrate contamination comes from manure and commercial fertilizer application. When heavy rainstorms dump water, they wash away the fertilizer on farm fields. Nitrates are especially mobile, and, once rainwater saturates the ground, the compounds quickly descend into the groundwater. Then, the chemicals reemerge in people’s well water. Nitrates are most notable for causing what’s known as blue baby syndrome, a condition that results in low oxygen levels in the blood. The threat of well pollution from manure is so severe that the state of Wisconsin operates an online risk advisory forecast to help farmers understand how weather conditions and soil temperatures might exacerbate runoff. It is updated three times a day by the National Weather Service. Laeser said the conservation work conducted by Clean Wisconsin to prevent runoff has been based on the assumptions of past climate patterns, not a present and future in which major rainstorms are increasingly frequent. The group’s conservation measures in the state weren't enough before, he said, but now, they look “increasingly inadequate in the face of the extreme weather challenges that we're facing.” “What we are having to do is kind of toss those out because they aren't relevant anymore,” Laeser said. “Places in western and northern Wisconsin are getting 100- and 500-year storms annually or biannually.” Agriculture has the potential to be a big part of climate solutions, Laeser said. Synthetic fertilizer production uses fossil fuels, in particular natural gas. Heavy fertilizer use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing synthetic fertilizer use helps both the climate and water quality, Laeser said. So does finding ways for farms to be financially resilient and sustainable—including incentivizing growers to set aside wetlands—that don't “solely reward them based on as much cheap food as possible.” “There's a huge opportunity in that we can address so many water and climate challenges simultaneously,” Laeser said. “The connections between our water and climate challenges are becoming clearer by the day.” Read the article on Pew Charitable Trust


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  • North Carolina Hurricanes Linked to Increases in Gastrointestinal Illnesses in Marginalized Communities

    By: Leah Campbell, Inside Climate News March 7, 2022 North Carolina emergency rooms reported hundreds of visits for gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain in the weeks during and after Hurricanes Florence, in 2018, and Matthew, in 2016. A new study released last month in the journal Science of the Total Environment found an 11 percent increase in ER visits during both storms, with the greatest surge among older, Black and Native American patients. The study is one of the first to look at emergency room visits for gastrointestinal concerns after hurricanes and examine how visitation rates vary between different demographic groups. It highlights the potential health effects of climate change as storms like Matthew and Florence become more common, as well as the ways in which those impacts aren’t shared equally. “The issues we saw in terms of difference by race and ethnicity were concerning,” Arbor Quist, lead author of the study and a postdoc at the University of Southern California, said. “We saw a larger increase amongst Black and American Indian patients, populations that have historically been pushed to less desirable, flood-prone land.” Heavy rain and flooding mobilize pathogens that can contaminate drinking water or make people exposed to floodwaters sick. The risk is highest for those with compromised immune systems or inadequate access to healthcare. Eastern North Carolina is one of the soggiest parts of the state, and also among the poorest and most racially diverse. Residents there have higher-than-average rates of chronic ailments like asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The region is also home to the kinds of industrial facilities that the researchers identified as potential sources of contamination, including coal ash ponds and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). North Carolina is the second leading pork producing state in the country, and its hogs create more fecal waste each year than the state’s human population. During Hurricane Florence, the state estimates that at least 50 hog waste lagoons overflowed, contaminating water with fecal bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. “Black residents and Native American residents likely live in closer proximity to some of these sources of bacteria,” said Crystal Upperman, the vice president of social performance and resilience at the consulting firm AECOM. “This is an additional piece of evidence to showcase the adverse impact that people of color have when it comes to disasters.” The study team used a public health surveillance system called NC DETECT, which tracks emergency room visits across North Carolina. Overlaying DETECT records of ER visits for gastrointestinal complications with flood extent maps, the researchers compared the visitation rates in zip codes flooded in the weeks after each storm to the rates anticipated had the storms not occurred. “It’s a fantastic study,” said Julia Gohlke, an associate professor of environmental health at Virginia Tech. “Compared to other studies that just use case reports after flooding events, this is really a step in the right direction.” A Wider Range of Diseases and Regions But these findings aren’t unique to North Carolina, and disasters can create and exacerbate a slew of mental and physical health issues. For example, a recent investigation illuminated the growing risk of infection from Vibrio, a group of pathogens that includes flesh-eating bacteria, as warming water and intensifying storm surges help the bacteria flourish and move inland. In North Carolina, the state health department reported 14 Vibrio infections in the four months after Hurricane Florence, triple the number during the same period in the previous year. Gohlke has also been involved with similar work in Texas, using so-called syndromic surveillance systems like DETECT that collect data such as ER visits or Covid-19 cases to help officials monitor public health in real-time. Those studies found significant increases in ER visits after Tropical Storm Imelda and Hurricane Harvey for various conditions including intestinal issues, asthma and pregnancy complications. “It really shows the power of using syndromic surveillance data that’s being collected by the state to look at health outcomes associated with flooding,” said Gohlke. “When combined with environmental data like flood inundation or precipitation, you can pinpoint areas that are probably going to be in need.” Even with the best data, though, linking acute medical issues to a particular disaster remains challenging. Quist said that they can merely offer “hypothesized pathways” for how flooding-induced water contamination leads to GI distress. The DETECT database doesn’t specify the cause or severity of an emergency room visit. “It’s difficult to draw firm conclusions,” Quist said. “Where were they exposed? Did they come into contact with floodwater? Did they drink contaminated water? We just don’t know.” Previous studies have shown that few people with diarrheal illnesses seek out medical care, and even fewer go to emergency rooms. Quist believes the DETECT database is undoubtedly missing reports of post-hurricane illnesses, but she says that’s a reason to believe their findings are, if anything, an underestimate of the true health risk. This is particularly true in eastern North Carolina, where many residents are uninsured. Another limitation of the research is that people move, said Rachel Noble, a professor of marine science at the University of North Carolina. The DETECT database only includes North Carolina emergency departments and maps cases based on the patient’s billing address. If someone is riding out the storm away from home and gets sick, they’ll be counted in the zip code where they live, not where they were exposed. If an evacuee is treated outside of North Carolina, they’re not counted at all. Once a hurricane hits, it’s also difficult to assess whether an illness was contracted from drinking water contamination, contact with dirty floodwater or even from food spoilage due to a power outage. Despite the shortcomings of available public health data, though, Noble said the study is a “great first effort,” and the evidence to date suggests that flooding is indeed causing acute illnesses, giving those affected by storms and deluges yet another thing to worry about. Health departments need to invest in education to ensure residents understand the risks of water contamination, particularly in communities that rely on well water, Quist said. Private wells are poorly regulated and rarely tested for the kinds of pathogens that make people sick. That’s a problem in a state where almost a third of the residents rely on household wells, she said. Upperman also stressed the need to address how governments regulate facilities like hog CAFOs with waste lagoons that can fail during floods. She said the environmental justice movement, which began in North Carolina, has always been about the inequitable siting and impact of hazardous facilities. North Carolinians, though, should think beyond the impact of hurricanes and consider water contamination an ongoing and increasing challenge, particularly as climate change stresses  water treatment and waste management systems with intensifying storms, Noble said. “As much as this paper is very valuable for us to start to think about public health and preparedness for hurricanes, we have to think about the exposure of people during what we refer to as ‘normal’ conditions as well,” she said. “We have to think about the deterioration of our water quality generally.” Read on Inside Climate News


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  • Why Do Environmental Justice Advocates Oppose Carbon Markets? Look at California, They Say

    By: Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News February 25, 2022 California’s carbon market could be hurting the state’s chances of meeting its ambitious climate goals, while at the same time exacerbating pollution in already overburdened communities, two new reports warn. Environmental justice advocates are calling the reports the latest evidence that market-driven solutions make for poor climate policy. In a report released earlier this month, a state-appointed panel of experts, known as the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, warned that California could miss its legally binding target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, largely as a result of the design of the state’s complex “cap-and-trade” market. A second report, published Feb. 15 by University of Southern California researchers, found that communities with a higher concentration of people of color and more households that fall below the federal poverty line were less likely to see reductions in pollution and more likely to live near polluting plants that participated in cap and trade. The reports are the latest in a growing body of research that suggests that while cap-and-trade programs can reduce emissions overall, they can also inadvertently maintain or even worsen environmental disparities by allowing polluting industries, which are often located in Black and Brown neighborhoods, to essentially buy their way out of reducing their emissions. California’s cap-and-trade program, which began in 2013, provides incentives for private companies to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by making the price of releasing those emissions more expensive over time. The state sets an emissions limit—or “cap”—requiring companies to either keep their emissions within the limit or alternatively buy pollution “allowances.” As the cap becomes stricter, those allowances become scarcer and more expensive over time. The allowances essentially tell the state that while a company may not have reduced its emissions, those emissions were reduced somewhere else. That could be because some companies reduced their emissions well below the threshold and then sold—or “traded”—their extra reductions as credits to other companies. Or it could be because a company invested in a carbon offset project that, at least in theory, reduced emissions elsewhere, for example, by planting trees in the Amazon rainforest. California requires that at least 35 percent of the investments made from cap-and-trade revenue go to disadvantaged communities. Still, the trading aspect of the program has allowed some industries to not only avoid reducing their emissions but in some cases to increase them, said Amee Raval, the research and policy director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. For example, California’s total greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by at least 30 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent since the state’s cap-and trade program began, according to state data. But at the same time, emissions from the oil and gas industry have gone up, the USC study says. That finding tracks with a 2018 study published in PLOS Medicine, which found that greenhouse gas emissions rose for 52 percent of cap-and-trade regulated facilities from 2013 to 2015. The USC study’s finding also tracked with a 2019 investigation by ProPublica, which found that carbon emissions from California’s oil and gas industry have risen 3.5 percent since the cap-and-trade program began. The oil and gas facilities’ operations also produce harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and soot, which have been tied to increased risk of asthma and cardiovascular and lung diseases, and an increased risk of premature death. That’s an especially big deal for environmental justice communities, which are disproportionately located near those facilities, Raval said. As an example, Raval pointed to the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California. The refinery is the state’s single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is located in a city where people of color make up more than 60 percent of the population, and nearly 15 percent of households fall below the federal poverty line, according to census data. “The reality is cap and trade is really letting California’s business polluters off the hook, concentrating pollution in working class communities of color and undermining the credibility of our climate policy,” Raval said. The California Air Resources Board, which manages the state’s cap-and-trade program, said in an email that the board appreciates the work done by the USC researchers, but added that a separate analysis done by the state came to a different conclusion. That report, published Feb. 3 by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, found that communities of color and disadvantaged communities—determined by the state’s screening tool—were the “greatest beneficiaries of reduced emissions” from facilities subject to the cap-and-trade program, resulting in a shrinking of California’s environmental disparities. The report, however, noted that the disparities remain large and more must be done to address them. The air resources board also said California’s program was designed to anticipate times of low and high demand for allowances and had mechanisms built in to help ensure that allowances don’t jeopardize the state’s climate goals. That could mean taking some allowances off the market, though that idea has received strong pushback from industry. But the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee made clear in its report that it believed allowance trading could hinder California from reaching its 2030 climate target. One allowance equals 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, or roughly the amount released into the atmosphere by driving a car 2,500 miles. But according to the committee’s report, “some 321 million allowances were banked into the market’s post-2020 period, equal to more than the emissions reductions expected from the program over the coming decade,” with most of those allowances coming from forestry offset projects. That means that instead of reducing their emissions, many of California’s biggest companies stockpiled allowances by paying for projects that planted or protected trees—the idea being that those trees would help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. But many climate activists have criticized that approach, saying there’s no way to guarantee that offset projects actually do what they intend to do. For example, an estimated 153,000 acres of forests that are part of California’s carbon-offset program burned in wildfires last summer, but companies can still claim those forests as allowances. The recent reports sparked renewed calls from activists, urging California officials to review how cap and trade impacts the state’s climate goals. But at a legislative hearing Wednesday, the state’s top regulator said California wouldn’t be making changes to the program anytime soon. Environmental justice activists have long warned governments not to rely too heavily on carbon markets in their efforts to fight climate change, saying they could jeopardize long-term emissions reduction goals and increase the burdens on vulnerable communities. Instead, activists say, governments should pass stronger regulation that requires direct emissions reductions from industries before relying on market incentives. Last year, activists in New York and New Jersey helped contribute to the death of the Transportation Climate Initiative, a proposed regional carbon market that would have put a limit on tailpipe emissions and forced fuel producers to reduce pollution or similarly buy allowances. That program was intended to mirror the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and its crafters hoped to recruit New England and Mid-Atlantic states to participate. Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. all tentatively agreed to implement the project. But the program was heavily lobbied against by a coalition of environmental justice organizations in states like New Jersey and New York, which argued the fuel companies would pass the extra cost on to low-income drivers who were less likely to benefit from pollution reduction and had less access to electric vehicles. “Folks with access to cleaner cars are not going to be paying those gas taxes much, and then those gas taxes go to pay for cleaner cars and electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Melissa Miles, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “That’s a problem if the structural issues, such as high front-end costs remain a barrier for low-income people as they continue to get shut out of the benefits while still paying the entrance fee.” Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island all pulled out of the proposal last year, as public pressure from environmental justice groups grew and as governors expressed concern about the program raising the price of gasoline in their states. By December, the initiative was effectively dead. Some in the environmental community say they still believe carbon markets can be operated equitably, especially if they’re paired with regulation that directs the revenue generated by the programs to vulnerable populations. For example, a 2018 report from the Tax Policy Center and Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy found that while a carbon tax alone could be regressive, adding a rebate could offer low-income households an average annual tax cut of about 4.4 percent. In line with that view, Washington state passed its first carbon market legislation last year, despite a decade of infighting among environmental justice activists. The state’s Climate Commitment Act established what its proponents call a cap-and-invest program, since it includes a provision that—similar to California—requires at least 35 percent of the revenue raised by the program to be spent in vulnerable communities, with an additional 10 percent for tribal lands. In California, activists have pushed state officials to use those revenues on things like installing solar panels on affordable housing, boosting energy efficiency programs and increasing access to public transit and ridesharing. But those benefits don’t make up for the fact that pollution is rising in poor communities and California is on track to blow its climate goals, Raval said. “Cap and trade will not generate the emissions reductions we need, and the stakes are too high to double down on a failed policy,” she said. Read the article on Inside Climate News


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  • Democrats’ climate hopes are riding on a new environmental justice bill

    By: Yvette Cabrera, Grist February 16, 2022 With the Build Back Better Act frozen in Congress, Democrats now see their best hope in tackling environmental disparities lies in the Environmental Justice for All Act. On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona pushed the bill forward in a hearing held by the House Committee on Natural Resources, which he chairs. In more than three hours of testimony, Republicans on the committee pushed back on the bill, groundbreaking legislation that aims to address environmental disparities in vulnerable communities across the country. Grijalva and his co-author, Representative A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, drafted the bill to prioritize environmental justice in federal policy and reintroduced the Act in the House of Representatives last March. The bill was created with the help of an extensive network of stakeholders — including representatives from grassroots organizations that focus on everything from climate justice to industrial pollution in communities that have experienced the health effects of toxic emissions and industrial pollution for decades. Despite Republican protests that the bill will harm communities reliant on the oil and gas industry for work and taxes levied on these industries to pay for municipal services, Grijalva told Grist it’s time for action to protect the health and well-being of these communities. He said the plan is to move forward in what’s known as the mark up phase — receiving input from congressional members, including amendments — while simultaneously receiving feedback from affected communities. “The input from my Republican colleagues to do nothing is not going to happen,” said Grijalva, noting that they have a choice to either strengthen the bill or kill it. His hope is that Republicans collaborate to strengthen the bill given the lives at stake from ongoing pollution. “It’s an issue that is not going to go away, it’s an issue that potentially affects 40 million people in this country directly,” he said. During the hearing, Republican Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota criticized the act for creating more red tape, opportunities for “radical special interest groups” to file more lawsuits, and for requiring federal agencies to develop more reports and studies. His concern, he said, is that all of this will keep affected workers in these industries on the sidelines. “When it claims to speak to so-called environmental justice, it plainly misses the mark,” said Stauber during the hearing. It’s those studies and the accompanying data that Laura Cortez, a co-executive director with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles says are necessary to ensure that the cumulative impacts of pollution in disadvantaged communities are considered before more polluting industries are allowed into communities like hers. “There is no single, evil villain polluter in EJ communities. What I see as one of the largest issues is that municipalities and agencies currently treat polluters on a case-by-case basis without assessing cumulative impacts,” Cortez told the committee on Tuesday. Democratic U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona is a co-author of the Environmental Justice for All Act. Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images A life-long resident of Bell Gardens, she noted that she grew up next to railroad tracks with trains that rumbled past at 3 a.m., within five minutes of an oil refinery, a block from warehouses, and attended school next to the 710 freeway, which she said sees 40,000 to 60,000 truck trips daily. Cortez’ community has worked to address soil, air and water quality issues throughout the region, and has found success when partnering with scholars that can quantify the effects of cumulative pollution. But a comprehensive federal approach to examining these impacts is needed, she said. Grijalva pushed back on his Republican colleague’s claims that the Environmental Justice for All Act jeopardizes economic security, specifically jobs, noting that the critics presented no quantitative facts to support their arguments. On the other hand, he noted, there is extensive research showing the disproportionate effects of environmental contamination — from petrochemical facilities, landfills, waste incinerators, oil refineries, smelters, and freeways — on low-income residents and communities of color. “That’s just the reality and it’s far from coincidence, and I hope my Republican colleagues are not trying to rewrite history,” said Grijalva. “We’re trying to correct history and make sure it doesn’t happen again, and that’s what the bill is about.” The Environmental Justice for All Act aims to: Amend the Civil Rights Act to allow private citizens and organizations that experience discrimination (based on race or national origin) to seek legal remedies when a program, policy, or practice causes a disparate impact. Provide $75 million annually for research and program development grants to reduce health disparities and improve public health in disadvantaged communities. Levy new fees on oil, gas, and coal companies to create a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund, which would support workers and communities transitioning away from greenhouse gas-dependent jobs. Require federal agencies to consider health effects that might accumulate over time when making permitting decisions under the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts. While the Biden administration has made some strides over the last year to address the concerns of environmental justice communities through executive orders and via EPA funding to prioritize long-standing contamination in vulnerable communities, legislation is critical to ensure that these priorities are codified into law, said Grijalva. Read the article on Grist


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  • Celebrating EJ Victories! New ‘Clean Currents’ Newsletter!

    “Clean Currents” is our organization’s quarterly newsletter featuring our current campaign work, drinking water news and opportunities to get involved!


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  • The Most Detailed Map of Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution in the U.S.

    By: Al Shaw and Lylla Younes, ProPublicaNovember 2, 2021 It’s not a secret that industrial facilities emit hazardous air pollution. A new ProPublica analysis shows for the first time just how much toxic air pollution they emit — and how much the chemicals they unleash could be elevating cancer risk in their communities. ProPublica’s analysis of five years of modeled EPA data identified more than 1,000 toxic hot spots across the country and found that an estimated 250,000 people living in them may be exposed to levels of excess cancer…


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  • MVP Southgate & Continued Resistance

    This article is by CWFNC volunteer James Lopez Residents throughout the Appalachian states of Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina have united in protest against Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the proposed MVP Southgate extension. MVP is a proposed natural gas pipeline that, if constructed, will be built through West Virginia and Virginia, with the Southgate extension cutting through southern Virginia and Rockingham and Alamance counties in North Carolina. The MVP pipeline was first announced in 2014, with construction expected to be complete by 2019. The coronavirus pandemic, loss of required…


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  • Will property owners who lost land to scuttled Atlantic Coast Pipeline get it back?

    By: Lisa Sorg, NC Policy WatchOctober 28, 2021 Advocates cry foul as future of thousands of easements in North Carolina and Virginia remains uncertain  Dominion Energy laid claim to 3,100 tracts of private land along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, including hundreds in North Carolina, but the company is not immediately returning that acreage to property owners, even though the project has been cancelled. Now property rights and environmental advocates, as well as landowners themselves, are asking federal officials to formally intervene. Under the name…


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