Climate 411

During Black History Month, we celebrate 12 environmental leaders

Every day, African American civic leaders across the country are fighting for clean air, safe drinking water, a stable climate and a just world. In recognition of this year’s Black History Month, Environmental Defense Fund is honoring 12 individuals and celebrating their contributions.

The 12 leaders represent lawmakers and activists, professors and entrepreneurs, labor leaders and government officials. They join tens of thousands of others around the country and globe who are dedicated to improving the health of our families, the safety of our communities, and the stability of our climate. We invite you to join us and help lift up these important leaders during this month of celebration and reflection.

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2019: A Major Turning Point for Climate

After many years of inaction, 2019 marked a significant turning point in the global fight for climate action. Today’s youth captured our global attention and brought a renewed sense of urgency to the climate crisis, while businesses, local governments, and elected officials took major steps forward and set the tone for meaningful action in the future.

Businesses Take a Strong Stand Against Climate Change

Across the country, more than 10 major utility companies set goals to steeply reduce their carbon emissions—including Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and DTE Energy who announced targets to achieve net-zero climate pollution by 2050. Joining these major utilities in a push for net-zero are other global business leaders like Danone, Mars, Unilever, and Nestle.

In the transportation sector, electric vehicles are increasing their market share and Ford Motor Company unveiled its plan to produce an electric battery powered SUV—called the Mustang Mach-E.

As the jobs in the coal industry shrunk again,  jobs in wind, solar, and  related clean energy industries grew strongly  in 2019. In fact, a recent study showed that the global race for clean job creation is off and running.

Congress Prioritizes Climate

After years of climate inaction on Capitol Hill, 2019 delivered fresh momentum for change.

Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA) sponsored the 100% Clean Economy Act, a bill that puts the U.S. on a path to achieving net-zero climate pollution by 2050. More than 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsoring the legislation, marking the first time in a decade where nearly the entire House democratic caucus rallied behind an ambitious climate pollution target.

Congressional committees in both chambers of the Capitol held collectively more than 50 climate related hearings—led by the landmark Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the House of Representatives. In the House, 2019 marked the year when climate hearings were back on the docket after a six year drought.

In the Senate, there was a much needed sign of bipartisanship. This fall Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) launched the first-ever bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, which at the close of 2019 has 10 Senators.

Local and State Governments Lead the Charge to Action

While climate action received renewed attention in the nation’s Capital, the real action in 2019 was in city halls and statehouses across the country.

In response to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, a coalition of states and local governments representing nearly 70% of U.S. GDP continued to sign on to “America’s Pledge” on climate.

At the city level, over 200 mayors from across the United States pledged their support to transition their municipalities to 100% clean

After Colorado and Washington signed major climate bills into law, Nevada, Oregon, and other states across the country also took major steps towards climate action in 2019.

Today, according to a November 2019 report, one-third of Americans (about 111 million and 34% of the population) lives in a community or state that has committed to or has already achieved 100% clean electricity.

A Renewed Priority for Change

Lawmakers’ renewed focus on climate action closely correlates with another major 2019 climate milestone: climate change (and action to address the problem) is now a top-tier issue for Americans.

Polling across the country shows that Americans across the political spectrum are rapidly acknowledging climate change is a crisis. In September, CNN became the first major news outlet to hold a Presidential forum specific to the issue.

Millions of people took to the streets this fall to participate in the world’s largest global climate change demonstration in history, and many youth have exclaimed that these protests are just the start.

Just how much has this grassroots action moved the needle? The Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” as the 2019 word of the year and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine Person of the Year.

The Stage is Set for Climate Action

But with more extreme weather events, health risks, and economic hardships caused by climate change on the horizon, it is critically important that we hold public and private sector leaders accountable for more progress and measurable action in 2020.

In a matter of weeks the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is poised to release policy priorities recommendations and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to bringing a major, bipartisan climate bill to the floor in 2020.

There’s no doubt 2019 marked a critical turning point in the climate change fight, but the stakes are raised as we head into 2020. For our children’s future, we must capitalize on this historic momentum for climate action, and push for binding commitments for a 100% clean economy by 2050.

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How Trump’s EPA is leaving Houston and all of America at risk one year after Hurricane Harvey

This weekend marks one year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and wreaked a huge amount of havoc in Texas and other Gulf Coast states. While there are many lessons we can learn from the storm, and much finger pointing that can be done, one fact is clear: Trump’s EPA failed to properly protect children and families in Houston from chemical leaks triggered by the storm.

We now know that Houston’s vast petrochemical industry released at least 8.3 million pounds of air pollution in the wake of the storm, and that many of the area’s toxic Superfund sites were improperly secured and subsequently flooded.

But perhaps worse than these impacts is the fact that one year later, the more than 134 million Americans who live near chemical plants and storage facilities, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color and lower-income, are still at great risk.

Map of US Chemical Manufacturing facilities. Source: EPA

The Trump EPA’s dangerous failures

During and after Hurricane Harvey, as well as Hurricanes Irma and Maria that followed, EPA failed to take important steps to protect families and neighborhoods from health threats:

  • Arkema chemical plant explosion: Neither EPA nor the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) moved fast enough to monitor air quality issues at the Arkema plant when chemical drums caught fire and lids exploded. But a lack of data didn’t stop them from reassuring residents about local air quality. To date, neither TCEQ nor EPA has taken any enforcement action against Arkema, despite the violations (although the company and its CEO and plant manager have been indicted for reckless emissions of dangerous pollutants).
  • Valero refinery leak: Hundreds of families in Houston’s Manchester neighborhood may have breathed in concentrations of benzene that could have damaged their health. But neither EPA nor TCEQ tested the air there until news outlets had published independent air quality monitoring results showing high benzene readings that EDF and Air Alliance Houston paid to do (as did the city of Houston).

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