Selected category: Health

Annual festival reinforces strong Latino connection to the environment

By Gabriela Zayas del Rio

To kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from September 15th to October 15th, Americas Latino Eco Festival convened for its fifth year in Denver, Colorado. The festival, organized by the Americas for Conservation and the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is a weekend-long gathering focused on the many ways in which Latinos and Latin Americans practice and promote environmental awareness.

This year’s festival focused on a call for unity and perseverance among environmental advocates to work together during challenging times. This idea is especially important as a swath of public health safeguards are under attack and as the Environmental Protection Agency faces steep budget cuts.

These actions would put Americans’ health and safety at risk and be felt by all, but Latinos in the U.S. and other minorities will be disproportionately impacted from weak environmental standards and enforcement. Already, nearly one in every two Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate the standards for ground-level ozone, also known as smog, and Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites.

The festival’s activities covered a range of topics but a few key themes stood out to me as they reinforced Latinos and Latin Americans’ inherent connection to nature as a source of life, healing, and community:

  1. Sustainability is in our heritage and conservation is our legacy

For centuries, Latino communities have lived in sync with the land to prosper and to preserve resources for future generations. The festival devoted a session to the “acequia,” a system of communal irrigation canals to sustainably manage water distribution across vast, desert-like areas. We can learn immensely from this model of cooperation to more efficiently meet our needs while allowing nature to thrive.

Latinos are also the people who envisioned a zero-waste society long before it became a “modern” solution. Seven centuries ago, the Aztecs saw food waste as a resource that could be used productively in manufacturing and agriculture. They eliminated waste and found creative ways to incentivize recycling and reusing.

This unique take on sustainability is an ethic that continues in our culture today; for instance growing up in my household we reused everything, including repurposing butter containers as tupperware.

Moms Clean Air Force enjoying Americas Latina Eco-Festival

  1. Together we are stronger

The Latino community works tirelessly to bring communities together, to educate ourselves, and to demand equal access to a healthy environment. In the process, we try to be inclusive of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality, demonstrating that we all have an indispensable role to play in environmental conservation.

The festival elevated this principle through an event organized with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that brought 400 kids from Title 1 schools together to learn actionable ways in which they can be citizen scientists and environmental stewards.

  1. Just transitions must be center stage

The need to acknowledge that environmental progress will not be achieved without equity and without empowering front-line communities was embedded throughout the festival.

Whether transitioning to clean energy, providing disaster relief, or advocating for any environmental policy, all must seek to be done justly, keeping the vulnerable communities in mind.

As a Puerto Rican entering her seventh year in the Diaspora, I was reaffirmed about my role in the environmental movement, especially now as my home and the Caribbean grapple with recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hearing from water protectors and commemorating the legacy of activist Berta Cáceres and the likes, all heroes who risked or lost their lives protecting nature, I felt triumphant and convinced that we have the right voices and tools to shatter all misconceptions about Latinos and the environment.

The festival was a testament to the strong commitment of Latinos and Latin Americans to conservation issues. Along with prioritizing a strong economy, we place water conservation and reducing air pollution as the most important issues that should be addressed by our government. We also disproportionately support action to address climate change, see the value in protecting national parks to strengthen the economy, and believe that outdoor activities, such as hiking and fishing, are an integral part of our culture and community.

Our culture and heritage have persevered for centuries, and have left an indelible mark in the environmental movement and this country. Likewise, I fully expect Latinos and Latin Americans will continue to demonstrate their resilience in the face of climate change.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Latino partnerships, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

Puerto Rico a tragic reminder of why climate action cannot wait

Source: FEMA

The disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico is heartbreaking – and a call for action.

Our focus as a nation must be to help our fellow citizens as quickly as possible, but also to do what we can to prevent similar catastrophic events in the future.

With three Category 4 hurricanes – undoubtedly worsened by climate change – making landfall and wreaking havoc in the United States in just a few weeks, we’ve had three wake-up calls. Climate change is an urgent issue that must be addressed now.

By continuing to ignore the fundamental threat that global warming poses today, however, the Trump administration is setting up Puerto Rico and the rest of the Hurricane Alley region for more disasters and tragedies.

It’s akin to a doctor who treats the symptoms of a patient while ignoring a dangerous, underlying disease. It makes for a bad doctor – and America expects more than that.

Puerto Ricans are living climate change

Considered a “canary in the coal mine” for climate change, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been feeling the consequences of a warming world for some time already.

Its beaches are retreating with some homes in the capital of San Juan and in Rincón, a popular surfing town, actually falling into the ocean amid rising seas – and coastal flooding is getting worse.

That’s not all: The island is also challenged by intensifying tropical heat, heavier downpours and – as we just saw with Hurricane Maria – its location in the path of stronger hurricanes.

When rebuilding Puerto Rico, we need to help the island become more resilient to such impacts of climate change – while doubling down on curbing emissions that cause the problem in the first place.

Roofless homes in Puerto Rico after the storm. Photo: FEMA

Island’s economy hangs in balance

A vast majority of the Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million, more than 85 percent, lives within five miles of a coast that is threatened by the rising ocean.

Like islands in the South Pacific, it’s seeing sea level rise of about half a foot on average from melting land ice and warmer ocean waters. This trend, which is accelerating, has made roads, ports and other infrastructure that are key to Puerto Rico’s economy more vulnerable.

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, sea level rise compounds the impacts of hurricanes when worsened storm surge causes flooding in communities along the coast. The resulting damage from this and other climate impacts has a direct effect on Puerto Rican daily life as well as on tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of the island’s economy.

Climate impacts are getting worse

Scientists predict Puerto Rico will see a sea level rise of 22 inches by 2060. That translates into a lot more storm surge, more destroyed property and even bigger hits to the nation’s tourist economy.

Research also suggests more heat, rainfall, and stronger hurricanes are in the future [PDF] for Puerto Rico.

The science is clear: Rising temperatures and heavier rainfall both play a key role in intensifying hurricane strength and destruction.

Ninety percent of excess heat is absorbed by the oceans and this warming water energizes hurricanes and evaporates more water into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of rainfall in storms – just like we’ve seen in recent weeks.

All these challenges will escalate in coming decades.

These fellow Americans deserve our help

As we see in Puerto Rico today, it’s the most vulnerable among us who feel the impacts of climate change the most. They need our help to build a better and stronger future.

Treating the symptoms of climate change is absolutely essential. We must come together quickly as a nation and help our fellow Americans through this crisis.

But treating the underlying disease – heat-trapping gas emissions – is equally essential. Or the devastation we’re witnessing in Puerto Rico will keep happening.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments are closed

The Trump Administration outlines its plans for EPA – and it’s bad news for our health

Across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly identified and shared with the public a detailed list of the agency’s upcoming priority policy actions – safeguards that will help protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, assure the safety of chemicals in everyday products, and provide for proper handling of hazardous wastes.

But the Trump Administration unveiled its first such blueprint last week – and it takes dead aim at fundamental public health and environmental safeguards that are essential to protecting our communities and families. It’s an agenda that would lead to more pollution, fewer common sense safeguards, and more asthma attacks and premature deaths in communities across the country.

Here are a few key targets in the Trump Administration’s plan to dismantle vital public health and environmental safeguards:

Imperiled: the Clean Power Plan. The blueprint reiterates the Trump Administration’s intention to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. The agenda indicates no intent to provide a replacement program to limit dangerous climate pollution from existing power plants – one of America’s largest sources of this harmful pollution – despite the growing urgency of climate disruption, and despite three separate Supreme Court decisions underscoring EPA’s duty to protect Americans from this harmful pollution. The agenda’s justification for rolling back the Clean Power Plan rests on faulty legal reasoning that has been forcefully rejected by legal experts and is at odds with EPA’s past practices.

  • What’s at stake? The Clean Power Plan is one of the most significant actions America has ever taken to combat climate change. EPA estimates that when fully implemented, it would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and up to 90,000 asthma attacks per year.

Imperiled: limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. The Trump Administration also underscored its plans to end existing limits on carbon pollution from new power plants – an important complement to the Clean Power Plan. Yet again, this announcement includes no intention for a replacement safeguard.

  • What would be the result? New fossil fuel-fired power plants, which have lifespans in the decades, and emit staggering quantities of carbon pollution over their lifetimes, could be built with needlessly outdated, lower performing technologies.

Imperiled: pollution controls for oil and gas facilities. The Trump Administration’s plan also commits EPA to review pollution limits on new oil and gas facilities. These limits include measures for leak detection and repair – measures that save otherwise wasted natural gas, reduce pollution in surrounding communities, and create well-paying jobs. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has already taken steps to suspend these protections. His actions meant that more than 18,000 natural gas wells across America were no longer required to fix pollution leaks. While Administrator Pruitt’s suspension was recently found unlawful by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the threat remains that EPA may fully revoke these important safeguards.

Imperiled: protections for Americans from smog. The Trump Administration’s plan also highlights Administrator Pruitt’s decision to suspend his duty to identify the regions that are failing to meet national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases. EPA analysis indicates that Administrator Pruitt’s announced one-year suspension alone will lead to as many as 230,000 more asthma attacks among children.

Imperiled: protections for downwind communities from interstate air pollution. EPA has a long-standing responsibility to ensure that upwind facilities are good neighbors and do not discharge pollution that imperils public health in downwind states. The Trump Administration’s blueprint recognizes that there are six separate petitions pending before EPA in which downwind states are seeking the agency’s assistance to protect themselves against pollution drifting into their communities from dozens of upwind power plants. It is crucial that EPA carry out this responsibility to ensure that all Americans can breathe easier – but the agency is currently failing to act, and its blueprint provides no commitment to act despite clear legal responsibility under our nation’s clean air laws.

Changes to underlying EPA transparency protections

At the same time that the Trump Administration’s blueprint outlines a host of rollbacks for important pollution controls, it also identifies that the administration will be moving ahead with changes to underlying, fundamental EPA procedures and operational practices.

Here’s just one example:

  • Under review: EPA’s open records requirements. Under the Freedom of Information Act, EPA is required to share public records with the public. The Trump Administration’s agenda notes that EPA will be updating its own policies for implementation of the agency’s requirements under this vital transparency law. During Administrator Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General, he had an extensive, troubling record of stonewalling these types of open records requests.

These changes are just as important to watch carefully, to ensure essential transparency and rigor in the administration’s conduct. So far, Administrator Pruitt has given ample reason for concern: shutting the public out of key decisions; refusing to share how he spends his time and with whom he meets; and a long history of intertwined relationships with the industries he’s supposed to oversee.

Are more rollbacks possible? President Trump and Administrator Pruitt signal yes

The above summary is hardly complete. The Trump Administration’s blueprint also highlights a host of harmful potential rollbacks for important protections for water, hazardous waste, and beyond.

Moreover, this blueprint may not reflect the full scope of future attacks. In other contexts, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have taken aim at even more EPA protections against air pollution. For instance, President Trump has signaled his willingness to reconsider standards for emissions from cars and trucks – despite their record of saving consumers money, driving auto innovation, and reducing pollution. And Administrator Pruitt’s EPA has moved to pause litigation over mercury protections while the agency evaluates its position. (In the past, Pruitt even expressed doubt about mercury pollution’s well-established harmful impacts on brain development in kids.)

These risks are critical. But together we can turn back these threats, ensure healthier lives for all Americans, address dangerous climate pollution, and grow our clean energy economy.

Here at EDF we will be working to stop these rollbacks. Please join us, and take action! Click here to let EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt know that you support America’s public health and environmental protections.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

Scott Pruitt keeps Americans in the dark on his activities

In the few months of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure, we’ve already seen ample cause for concern when it comes to how he spends his time – a steady stream of meetings with major industry, together with rollbacks that harm communities and put children’s health at risk.

Last week, we learned that Administrator Pruitt gathered with the American Petroleum Institute board of directors at the Trump Hotel early in his tenure, just weeks before carrying out a host of actions to benefit oil and gas polluters. Just one of those actions — delaying implementation of a national smog health standard — will alone will result in 230,000 more asthma attacks for kids.

These actions have been taken with no meaningful public input or engagement. Meanwhile, the intermittent information we glean about Administrator Pruitt’s calendar and his schedule underscores his extensive meetings and visits with major industry.

Underlying these distressing developments, there’s something even more fundamental at play. How has the American public learned how Administrator Pruitt, a taxpayer-funded public servant, spends his time? How have we gotten information on the company he keeps?

Under past EPA Administrators, the calendars of senior managers — including the Administrator — were released to the public via accessible, concurrent platforms.

Troublingly, Scott Pruitt has ended this practice. We’ve only gotten information about his activities through intermittent information shared with the press, or months after the fact through time-consuming, burdensome Freedom of Information Act requests.

EDF calls on Pruitt to follow long-standing EPA practice and make his calendar public

EPA has an important job to do on behalf of the American public — protecting our health and welfare from dangerous pollution. Without timely information on the activities and schedule of Administrator Pruitt and his senior staff, members of the public cannot have full confidence that EPA’s leadership is working on their behalf.

Administrator Pruitt’s lack of transparency raises serious questions about potential abuse of EPA’s limited resources for activity that contravenes or is in serious tension with important legal and ethical requirements.

That’s why today EDF called on Pruitt to make his schedule, and that of his senior officials, available to the public on a widely accessible platform. Administrator Pruitt should immediately carry out this fundamental transparency practice, followed by EPA administrations of both parties. EDF is simultaneously submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain this information — a public record — in order to assure that the public at least obtains more up to date information on Pruitt’s activities.

EPA is supposed to operate “in a fishbowl”

The important transparency practice of sharing senior policy leaders’ schedules has a long history at EPA.

In 1983, William Ruckelshaus — the first EPA Administrator — was brought back to lead EPA by President Ronald Reagan in order to restore public trust after the scandal-plagued tenure of Administrator Anne Gorsuch. One of Administrator Ruckelshaus’ first actions was to issue was his “Fishbowl Memo,” which vowed that EPA would “operate in a fishbowl” and “attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those we regulate and we will do so as openly as possible.”

Ruckelshaus’ Fishbowl Memo adopted as EPA policy a number of specific activities that are the hallmark of fair and transparent government. In particular, Ruckelshaus included a commitment to share senior leadership schedules as the Memo’s very first transparency directive:

In order to make the public fully aware of my contacts with interested persons, I have directed that a copy of my appointment calendar for each week be placed in the Office of Public Affairs and made available to the public at the end of the week. The Deputy Administrator, and all Assistant Administrators, Associate Administrators, Regional Administrators, and Staff Office Directors shall make their appointment calendars available in a similar manner.

This commitment to transparency and public access to EPA calendars has continued across administrations. For example, Administrator Lisa Jackson echoed this commitment upon her arrival, writing that “[t]o keep the public fully informed of my contacts with interested persons,” she would make available to the public, every day via the EPA website, “a working copy of my appointment calendar, showing meetings with members of the public.” She directed her senior staff to do the same. Administrator Gina McCarthy and Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe similarly continued this practice.

Yet Administrator Pruitt has ended the foundational transparency measure of making his and his senior policy leaders’ schedules readily available to the public. The policy change is illustrated by these two snapshots of EPA’s website from six months apart.

EPA’s website on January 19, 2017:

And the same page today:

A true back to basics approach

Pruitt has recently made a show of focusing on “EPA Originalism” and getting EPA “Back to Basics.” We suggest he follow long-standing EPA practice and the guidance of EPA’s original Administrator, William Ruckelshaus. Pruitt should make his calendar, and those of his senior leadership, widely and promptly available to the public.

Also posted in News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 1 Response

Delaying smog standards risks lives, jeopardizes Americans’ health

Twenty-six. That is how many smog-related air quality alerts were forecast across our country for one single day earlier this week.

From Pennsylvania to Rhode Island, “action days” were called urging “sensitive groups” (including children, people who are active outdoors, older Americans, and people with heart or lung disease) to reduce their time spent outdoors.

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases.

Smog forms when industrial emissions from power plants, factories, cars, and other sources react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere.

There have already been many alerts across the U.S. this year for smog pollution, and “smog season” has just begun. That shows we have more work to do to clean the air and protect our families and communities.

That is why it is disturbing to hear that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has decided to delay implementation of the updated smog standards by one year.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air Report [PDF], more than one-third of all Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of smog. More than 116 million people live in counties that received a grade of “F” for smog levels.

A one-year delay in the implementation of anticipated pollution from the smog standards would mean:

  • 660 more deaths
  • 230,000 asthma attacks among children
  • 180,000 missed work or school days

These are real lives being affected by Administrator Pruitt’s irresponsible actions.

The smog standards are driven by medical science. Here are some of the medical and health associations that supported strengthening the ozone standards:

  • The American Thoracic Society
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Heart Association
  • American Lung Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Children’s Environmental Health Network
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • Trust for America’s Health
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • National Association for the Medical Direction of Respiratory Care
  • Society of Physicians for Social Responsibility

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt’s decision to delay the smog standards runs counter to that bi-partisan, four-and-a-half decade mission. It also runs counter to the recommendations of leading medical and public health associations.

The successful history of implementing the Clean Air Act shows that states have the flexibility to design tailored solutions to address smog pollution, and that dramatic pollution reductions go hand-in-hand with a strong economy.

We need to reduce the amount of smog in our air – and to achieve that goal, we need EPA to lead.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Partners for Change, Policy| Read 1 Response

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Also posted in Extreme Weather, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed
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