Climate 411

Coming Soon: Trump EPA is Expected to Sign a Final “Air Toxics Loophole” That Will Increase Public Health Risk

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to soon sign a final rule creating an “Air Toxics Loophole” in the Clean Air Act. That loophole would allow large industrial facilities nationwide to avoid complying with rigorous limits on hazardous air pollutants such as benzene and mercury.

EPA’s own analysis indicates that this radical new policy would affect thousands of major pollution sources, such as refineries and chemical plants, located in almost every state. EPA’s analysis also shows this policy risks increasing harmful air pollution by millions of pounds each year.  Many of the facilities that could take advantage of the Air Toxics Loophole are located in low-income communities and communities of color that are already suffering disproportionate burdens from air pollution and are most vulnerable to the health impacts of poor air quality.

The signing of the final Air Toxics Loophole will be only the latest in a series of outrageous Trump administration attacks on fundamental climate, clean air, and health protections that have taken place just since the coronavirus pandemic began – and one of at least 100 attempted rollbacks of environmental and public health protections that have taken place since 2017. EDF will forcefully oppose any final rule that weakens our nation’s bedrock safeguards against hazardous air pollution from industrial facilities. Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy / 1 Response

COVID-19, protecciones ambientales debilitadas y violaciones a los derechos amenazan los territorios indígenas y las áreas protegidas de la Amazonía

Esta publicación fue corredactada por Bärbel Henneberger.

English version.

Hombre Kichwa cruzando el Río Arajuno, Amazonia Ecuatoriana. Bärbel Henneberger

Los Pueblos Indígenas que habitan en la Amazonía son conocidos como “guardianes de los bosques” debido a su eficacia para mantenerlos intactos. Los territorios indígenas y las áreas protegidas conjuntamente cubren el 52% de la Amazonía y almacenan el 58% del carbono, superando así a las tierras circundantes en términos de almacenamiento de carbono y limitando las emisiones netas de carbono, según un estudio publicado en la revista Proceedings of the National Academy of Science a principios de año.

Aun así, los territorios indígenas y las áreas protegidas se enfrentan a nuevas amenazas. Los líderes indígenas de la Amazonía informan del incremento de casos de violación de sus derechos. Las invasiones por parte de los mineros, ganaderos y madereros ilegales que invaden las tierras indígenas protegidas quedan en la impunidad y, al parecer, todos ellos se sienten alentados por las declaraciones de los líderes políticos y los esfuerzos legislativos para permitir en los territorios indígenas nuevas concesiones mineras.

Las concesiones para la extracción de petróleo y minería otorgados por los gobiernos se superponen a cerca de una cuarta parte de los territorios indígenas reconocidos, lo que aumenta sustancialmente su vulnerabilidad a los impactos adversos.

Al momento el COVID-19 agrava estas amenazas en un escenario en que las autoridades nacionales no han podido patrullar las reservas naturales y territorios indígenas con la frecuencia requerida; situación que las organizaciones criminales y madereros ilegales han estado usando a su favor.

Read More »

Posted in Forest protection, Indigenous People, International / Comments are closed

Environmental remediation and infrastructure policies offer crucial opportunities for fossil fuel communities in transition

This second report in a joint research series by Environmental Defense Fund and Resources for the Future examines U.S. federal environmental remediation and infrastructure policies that can create jobs and restore communities that have been historically reliant on fossil fuels. Daniel Raimi of RFF authored the report described in this blog post. All views expressed here are EDF’s.

When a fossil fuel plant or mine shuts down, jobs and economic prosperity are lost — but often, the pollution stays. Communities across the U.S. reliant on fossil fuels — and those located near them — have dealt with the dangerous air and water pollution that abandoned oil and gas wells, coal mines and coal-powered plants can leave behind. In Montana, for example, residents in the small town of Belt were surprised to discover dissolved aluminum in their local creek that was 144 times the surface water quality standard; it was coming from an abandoned coal mine upstream.

This is just one example of a massive problem: There are millions of sites in the US in need of environmental remediation, and there will be many more as the US transitions to a clean economy in the coming years.

Furthermore, the closure of a local power plant, mine or other high-carbon industry can result in a loss of government revenue that keeps crucial infrastructure that communities rely on, like roads and clean water, safe and intact. And both consequences of this loss — pollution and aging infrastructure — further worsen the potential for new economic opportunities that can revitalize a town.

This next report in our research series on fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities aims to give federal policymakers an understanding of how environmental remediation and infrastructure policies can support communities affected by the transition to a clean economy. Policymakers can also harness some of these policies to immediately create jobs in communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, we summarize Raimi’s key observations from a review of the largest existing federal programs focused on environmental remediation and infrastructure.

Key Findings on Environmental Remediation Policies

First and foremost, federal environmental remediation programs, such as Superfund, Brownfields and oil and gas restoration programs, have a history of cleaning up harmful pollution sites, creating a healthier environment that can give communities the opportunity to thrive. For fossil fuel communities in transition, these programs bring the added benefits of creating near-term job opportunities and restoring sites to economic use where jobs and economic prosperity have been lost:

  • The federal government already plays a large role in addressing polluted sites across the US. In many cases, remediation needs are found in and around regions that have been historically dependent on coal, oil and natural gas production, offering the potential for new investment to support fossil fuel workers and communities. 
  • There is strong evidence that remediation projects increase local employment in the short-term, but it is not clear whether those employment benefits continue after a site has been remediated or restored. It is also unclear whether remediation projects primarily support workers in affected communities or workers from other locations. More research on the long-term employment effects of environmental remediation projects would be valuable.
  • Most evidence suggests that remediating polluted sites increases local property values. This could particularly benefit fossil fuel communities and environmental justice communities, which may experience pollution at greater rates than the broader population.
  • Some evidence suggests that environmental remediation projects may disproportionately occur in white communities, and that remediation programs could lead to “environmental gentrification” (when pollution clean up increases local property values and attracts wealthier residents to a previously polluted or disenfranchised neighborhood). This highlights the importance of considering equity and justice in the design and implementation of environmental remediation policies.

Key Findings on Infrastructure Policies

Infrastructure programs for highways, public transport, and clean water also have the potential to support employment and economic growth in communities heavily dependent on fossil fossils:

  • Transportation infrastructure projects create local construction and related jobs, and they can also induce longer-term economic development by making transportation easier and cheaper. Improving transportation networks in rural energy communities can enhance their physical access to markets, providing a stronger foundation for future economic growth.
  • Affordable access to clean water is essential for any community. If fossil fuel communities experience declining tax revenue and/or population, it may become difficult for local governments to finance water system maintenance and upgrades. In addition, these communities may be at greater risk due to the legacy of pollution that sometimes accompanies fossil fuel extraction, processing and combustion.
  • The design, implementation, and enforcement of infrastructure policies will shape whether, and to what extent, future infrastructure spending reduces or exacerbates historical inequities. Low income and communities of color have experienced environmental injustices often related to the siting, maintenance or administration of public infrastructure.
  •  It’s also important to note: Economists have debated whether infrastructure investment increases overall economic activity or simply redistributes that activity. While the former outcome is clearly preferable across society, the latter may also be valuable in the context of moving to a clean economy, if new infrastructure serves communities negatively affected by a shift away from fossil energy.

What’s next?

Environmental remediation and infrastructure policies can offer crucial opportunities for fossil fuel dependent communities and regions in addition to cleaner air and water, including near-term jobs, increased property values and longer-term economic growth. The design and implementation of these programs must be designed to lead to equitable and just outcomes.

Beyond environmental remediation and infrastructure needs, there are plenty of other challenges these communities face in the transition to a clean economy that may warrant federal policy support. This is our second report exploring approaches for ensuring fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities: the first, on federal economic development policies, was released last month. Over the coming months, we will publish additional reports, blogs and materials in this series to address other key policy mechanisms, including investments in workforce development programs, labor standards and public benefits, such as unemployment compensation and health care.

Read the full environmental remediation and infrastructure report here.

Learn more about the full series on ensuring fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities here.

Posted in Jobs / Comments are closed

COVID-19, weakened environmental protections, and rights infringements threaten the Amazon’s Indigenous territories and protected areas

This post was coauthored by Bärbel Henneberger.

Versión en español.

Kichwa man crossing Arajuno River, Ecuadorian Amazon. Bärbel Henneberger

Indigenous communities living in the Amazon rainforest are known as the ‘guardians of the forest’ because of their effectiveness in keeping forests intact. Indigenous territories and protected areas, which cover 52 percent of the Amazon and store 58 percent of the carbon, outperform surrounding lands in terms of storing carbon and limiting net carbon emissions, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science earlier this year.

But now Indigenous territories and protected areas are under threat. Indigenous leaders in the Amazon are reporting increasing instances of a violation of their rights. Miners, ranchers and illegal loggers who encroach on protected Indigenous land face impunity, and are apparently encouraged by statements from political leaders and legislative efforts to open territorial land to new mining concessions.

Further, government concessions for oil extraction and mining overlap almost a quarter of all recognized territorial land, substantially increasing their vulnerability to adverse impacts.

COVID-19 is compounding these threats, as authorities haven’t been able to patrol nature preserves and Indigenous territories as often— a situation that criminal organizations and illegal loggers have been using to their advantage.

Read More »

Posted in Forest protection, Indigenous People / Comments are closed

Is the media making the connection between wildfires and climate change?

With entire towns in Oregon and Washington razed, ash raining down on Denver and the skies over San Francisco an apocalyptic orange, the unprecedented wildfire season in the Western U.S. is getting plenty of coverage. But much of it seems to ignore a central fact: This devastation — more frequent, bigger wildfires, and a longer fire season — is largely a consequence of climate pollution produced by burning fossil fuels.

The way it works is easy to understand. Rising temperatures, a key component of climate change, evaporate more moisture from the ground, drying out the soil and making vegetation more flammable. At the same time, winter snow-packs are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time. Meanwhile, shifting meteorological patterns can drive rain away from wildfire-prone regions, a phenomenon scientists previously discovered in California and have linked in certain cases to human-made climate change.

Even before this year’s devastating season, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the damage caused by wildfires. The average wildfire season in the West is three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, and the number of annual large fires has tripled — burning six times as many acres. Read More »

Posted in News / Read 1 Response

Our new report shows the importance of “accelerating to 100% clean” vehicles

Drone photo of busy highways over Denver’s Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods and schools. Credit: Chance Multimedia

Air pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world. In the U.S. almost half of all people live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution. More than 20,000 Americans die prematurely every year as a result of the motor vehicle pollution on our roads and highways, according to a new peer reviewed study by EPA  experts. Pollution from our roadways disproportionately harms people of color and lower income communities. Transportation sector pollution is now also the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S.

A new EDF report includes these facts and other comprehensive information about the dangers of transportation sector pollution and about strategies to address it. The report, Accelerating to 100% Clean: Zero Emitting Vehicles Save Lives, Advance Justice, Create Jobs, compiles the best and most recent information on the issue.

Here are a few key findings. Read More »

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Green Jobs, Health, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed