ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES
The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department.
Latest Environment Posts
By Jacob Morton
Donald Trump has finalized a rollback of the nation’s “Magna Carta” of environmental protection policy, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). NEPA, signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon, requires government agencies to provide an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any proposed federal infrastructure project, such as building a pipeline or highway.
By Jacob Morton
In response to President Trump’s June 2019 executive order for the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency took steps to streamline the process for approving biotech crops, including those produced by gene editing, the USDA has proposed the new SECURE Rule
By Shannon Quinn Elliott
Hawaiian culture is sacred. Hawaiians give much respect to the history and folklore of their state. Forest, streams, oceans and humans are all interconnected creating “Ohana” one family, protecting invaluable resources. Hawaiian mythology tells a tale of Kane and Kanaloa; Gods of Water, who when they desired to drink would dig their hands into the earth calling on the fresh water to quench their thirst.
USRN Corruption Blog Post
The Corruption Blog digs into the details of the all-encompassing corruption of the Trump administration.
Post # 19 The Corruption of Andrew Wheeler
By Sean Gray
July 27, 2020
The Environmental Protection Agency has a wide range or responsibilities related to human health and conservation. With limited time remaining to avert the worst consequences of climate change, its mission has never been more crucial. Donald Trump and many of his allies have long been skeptical of the scientific consensus that the planet is warming at an untenable rate, primarily as a result of human activity. Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist, is the EPA’s current administrator. He serves at the pleasure of the president, and is tasked with ensuring safe land, air, and water in the US. In more than two years on the job, his fealty to the president has influenced a rash of policies that run counter to his department’s stated goals.
Wheeler’s credentials make him a questionable choice for his position. He did work for the EPA in the early 1990’s. Since then his career trajectory has taken a hard left turn. Wheeler was Chief Counsel to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the most ardent and outspoken opponent of climate change science in Congress; the senator once brought a snowball on the Senate floor to disprove global warming. Wheeler would later serve the same role for the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public works. Most of his time was spent reducing regulations on pollutant industries. More recently, Wheeler served as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the fourth largest coal producer in the country. When he was confirmed as deputy director of the EPA, Wheeler was asked whether or not he accepted the scientific consensus on climate change. He acknowledged that human beings have an impact on the environment, but what impact was unclear. A simple ‘’no’’ would have been briefer while expressing the same sentiment. He was confirmed by a 52-47 vote, mostly along party lines.
Rather than focus his agency’s urgent environmental protection agenda, Wheeler has made it his mission to save the coal industry and increase pollution. Upon Trump’s election, Wheeler was present at a closed door meeting attended by his former boss, Bob Murray, of Murray Energy. The eponymous CEO brought with him drafts of six executive orders that amounted to a wish list beneficial to him and his industry. Among them were a repeal of the EPA’s finding that greenhouses gases cause environmental harm and a revocation of tax credits on wind and solar energy. Trump’s signature never found its way onto any of the drafted executive orders, but the meeting, and Wheeler’s attendance are demonstrative of the influences guiding his decision making process.
As one could envisage, given his track record, Wheeler has taken a combative stance towards pollution-reducing regulation. His environmental assaults are too numerous to list, but some of the highlights include:
- Proposing to eliminate an Obama-era rule which restricts the emission of mercury from coal and oil fire power plants. Using cost-benefit analysis the previous administration determined reducing the amount of particulates in the air would prevent 11,000 premature deaths and represent $80 billion in public health benefits. Trump’s EPA distorted the numbers by magnitudes to reach a finding in the opposite direction. 20 states are currently suing to keep the rule in place.
- The Trump administration is in the final stages of weakening emissions standards in the auto industry. The SAFE rule will increase carbon emission standards in the transportation sector by 1.5% annually rather than 5% annually under the previous guidelines. Wheeler said in a statement the move strikes the correct regulatory balance between protecting the environment and setting attainable goals for car manufacturers. The administration’s stance is that the deregulation will result in cheaper vehicles for American consumer. Not only is this unsupported by data (fuel-efficient cars are cheaper over time), but the change is expected to add one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As he has been for most of his tenure, Wheeler is in lock step with his boss and out of touch with relevant scientific data.
- Wheeler has seized on the Covid-19 pandemic to further denigrate the EPA’s work. In March, as he announced the indefinite suspension of all inspections and enforcement related to environmental laws. he informed companies that not only needn’t they meet environmental standards during the pandemic, but that the agency would not seek retroactive penalties for noncompliance.
Under the guise of increased transparency, Wheeler has sought to undermine the efficacy and reliability of his own agency’s data. By law, the EPA is required to use the best available science to inform policy decisions. Wheeler’s paradoxically named ‘’Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science’’ proposal directly conflicts with the law. The rule change would ban the use of all science in which the underlying raw data is not made publicly available. On the surface it seems benign. However much of the information gathered to inform policy, specifically relating to human health, is acquired under strict confidentiality agreements. Precluding data gathered in such fashion would do little to increase meaningful transparency. Worse, it would hinder government scientists by allowing bureaucrats to determine what information influences their policy recommendations. The rule was proposed in April of 2018 and was recently shot down in a vote by the House Appropriations Committee. An amendment banning its passage is included in an upcoming spending bill heading to the Senate. While it appears unlikely to become law, the regressive proposal is antithetical to the work of the Environmental Protection Agency.
At a 2019 rally, Trump bragged that the US had the cleanest air and water anywhere on Earth. He was apparently oblivious to a federal report released earlier in the same day showing an increas in polluted air days over the previous two years, versus the two years prior to his election. According to the State of the Air report, issued by the American Lung Association, nearly half the country’s population live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution. Neither Wheeler or Trump is solely responsible for these conditions, but their agenda has undoubtedly exacerbated the issue and will continue to do so.
Scott Pruitt, another former coal lobbyist, proceeded Andrew Wheeler as head of the EPA. He resigned amid 14 individual conflict-if-interest investigations by the Government Accountability Office. Wheeler may lack ethics violations typical of a corrupt public official, but the damage he’s wrought is more significant than a few military charters on the taxpayer’s dime. Like climate change itself, the only part of Wheeler’s job performance up for debate is how bad the damage will be.
Trump Administration Erodes US Environmental Protection Act Designed to Protect At-Risk Communities
By Jacob Morton
Donald Trump has finalized a rollback of the nation’s “Magna Carta” of environmental protection policy, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). NEPA, signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon, requires government agencies to provide an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any proposed federal infrastructure project, such as building a pipeline or highway. The law requires full disclosure of the extent to which any project would impact the local environment, such as potential wildlife habitat disturbance, pollution of nearby water bodies, greenhouse gas emissions, and impacts on local communities. The law also plays an important role in allowing ample time for members of the public to provide input on how a federal infrastructure project will affect the health and safety of their community. Essentially, NEPA is the environmental law that requires an analysis of how any federal project will impact the environment and allows local citizens to express their concerns.
The Trump administration’s new version of the law is designed to speed up the permitting process for federal infrastructure projects. The new rule now requires a hard deadline of only “two years or less” for any environmental impact statement, shortening the review and public comment process by anywhere from 1-3 years. On average, federal environmental impact statements take 4.5 years to complete. Other revisions to the law now give federal agencies the ability to create their own categories of projects that they feel do not require an environmental impact review at all. On top of that, Trump’s new rule declares that environmental impact statements no longer need to consider a project’s “cumulative effects on climate change,” and instead, require only an analysis of any “reasonably foreseeable” impacts. This means federal projects no longer need to analyze and disclose how residual or secondary impacts resulting from the proposed project, will affect the regional environment or climate change over time.
The oil and gas industry, along with many republican officials, have argued for years about the burdensome approval process required for federal development permits, and complain about the hurdles and delays that routinely result from pushback by environmental groups who claim violations of the NEPA law. Donald Trump himself has complained of his own frustrations as a real estate developer, having to comply with the law, which he calls a “ridiculous process” and “the single biggest obstacle to infrastructure projects.” White House officials say, “The new regulations will modernize, simplify and accelerate the environmental review process necessary to build a wide range of projects in the United States, including roads, bridges and highways.”
Despite the White House’s optimism, others view this to be an extremely dangerous, corrupt, and unethical move. Many consider the new rule to be anything but modern, rather a step backwards. Critics of the law’s revisions say, “it could sideline the concerns of poor and minority communities impacted by those projects and discount their impact on climate change.” Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that NEPA was designed to give communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution from federal projects, such as highways, pipelines and chemical plants, an opportunity to voice their concerns and have a say in the health and future of their communities. “NEPA gives poor and communities of color a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come. Rather than listen, the Trump administration’s plan aims to silence such voices,” says Buccino.
An important part of the public comment process is the opportunity for communities to suggest alternatives to the proposed project, such as a wind or solar system instead of an oil or gas pipeline. However, Trump’s new version of the law allows developers of these projects, who are applying for the necessary permits, “to limit the range of alternatives that can be considered, while communities seeking to challenge a project will now need to offer far more onerous critiques.” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, describes how the new rule makes it harder for local communities to challenge these federal projects. She explains, “It requires comments to be really specific, to cite page numbers and be really technical in ways that can be really challenging for communities. They may need to hire people to write their letters, if they can afford to do that.”
Opponents to the new rule view its elimination of the requirement to consider the cumulative effects of a project, to be particularly dangerous. “Cumulative effects” largely equates to how a project will contribute to climate change over time. For instance, the cumulative effects of building a new highway would include not just the environmental damage from the road itself, but also the impact from all the greenhouse gas emitting vehicles that will drive on it, and how this added pollution will compound upon the pollution already occurring from the existing roadways in the area. “This idea of cumulative impacts is really core to the way NEPA works,” says President Obama’s former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Christy Goldfuss … “and arguably there is no greater environmental crisis that is tied to cumulative impacts than climate change. Because it’s really about greenhouse gases on top of greenhouse gases and other pollution adding up to this global disaster that we’re all experiencing.”
According to Trump’s new rule, only the damage caused by the road itself is required to be considered and disclosed. Not accounting for the cumulative effects of these projects greatly endangers the “poor communities and communities of color that are disproportionately selected as the site for polluting industries and projects.” Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues “People have a right to weigh in before a highway project tears up their neighborhood or a pipeline goes through their backyard. Steamrolling their concerns will mean more polluted air, more contaminated water, more health threats and more environmental destruction.” McCarthy says, “Now more than ever our leaders should be helping people breathe easier, not handing out favors to oil drillers, pipeline developers and other polluters.” Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity says of the new rule, “This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” and Greenpeace USA calls it “a blatant attempt to silence the working-class communities of color [who were] resisting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.”
Hartl expresses the fears many have of the new rule when he says, “NEPA’s dismantling is a win for corruption, a win for polluters, and a win for those that profit off the destruction of our planet. Everyone else loses.” Belinda Archibong, an assistant professor of economics at Barnard College of Columbia University also argues that the Trump administration is doing the opposite of what it should if it really wants to improve the economy. Considering that air pollution makes whole communities more susceptible to the coronavirus, the President should be imposing more environmental restrictions, not less. She says, “Saying ‘We’re going to pull back on regulation’ does not mean that firms are going to start hiring more people. That’s complete nonsense. All that’s going to happen is it’s going to lead to more pollution, period.” Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) says, “With today’s Trump administration rule, fossil fuel corporations will be able to ram harmful projects through without considering the pollution dangers to people in nearby neighborhoods. NEPA gives our very vulnerable communities across the country an opportunity to make our voices heard and stop pollution in our own backyards. President Trump is trying to rob us of our voice. We will not be silenced.” Environmental groups plan to challenge the administration’s revisions in court and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has vowed to reverse such rollbacks if he is elected.
- Documented is a watchdog group that investigates how corporations manipulate public policy, harming our environment, communities, and democracy. https://documented.net/
Natural Resources Defense Council
- Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/
- Greenpeace is a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/
Center for Biological Diversity
- At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/
- Beitsch, R. (2020, July 15). Trump finalizes rollback of bedrock environmental law NEPA. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/507536-trump-finalizes-rollback-of-bedrock-environmental-law-nepa
- Brady, J. (2020, July 15). Trump Overhauls Key Environmental Law To Speed Up Pipelines And Other Projects. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/07/15/891190100/trump-overhauls-key-environmental-law-to-speed-up-pipelines-and-other-projects
- Friedman, L. (2020, July 15). Trump Weakens Major Conservation Law to Speed Construction Permits. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/climate/trump-environment-nepa.html?campaign_id=54
- Newburger, E. (2020, July 15). Trump weakens environmental law to speed up permits for pipelines and other infrastructure. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/15/trump-to-weaken-national-environmental-policy-act.html
- Trump weakens environmental law to speed up infrastructure projects. (2020, July 15). Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://news.yahoo.com/trump-weakens-environmental-law-speed-213046753.html
Two major victories for environmental justice have been served this past week. The Atlantic Coast Natural Gas Pipeline project was officially cancelled as of Sunday, July 5 due to mounting costs and permitting uncertainty. The following day, Monday July 6, the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, three years into its operation, was ordered to shut down by August 5, due to a federal judge’s ruling that the environmental assessment was inadequate and the risk too high to continue operating the pipeline. Both victories are results of grassroots movements opposing the large fossil fuel pipeline projects and fighting for the protection of sensitive natural resources and the rights of the communities adjacent to them.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was a proposed 42-inch-wide underground pipeline intended to carry natural gas 600 miles from the West Virginia mountains to the North Carolina coast. Owners and developers of the pipeline, Dominion Energy Company and Duke Energy Company, had hoped to increase the amount of natural gas they could provide to their customers in Virginia and North Carolina, at a cheaper price. The pipeline would have had to traverse a unique landscape, requiring the removal of trees and “blasting and leveling some ridgetops,” clearing a path which would have “crossed mountains, hundreds of water bodies and other sensitive terrain and burrowed underneath the Appalachian Trail.” Multiple compressor stations would also have been built in various communities along the pipeline’s route (typically, compressor stations are built every 40 – 100 miles along a pipeline).
Compressor stations compress the gas to a specified pressure that maintains the flow of the gas to its destination. Each compressor station has diesel, natural gas, or electric powered engines that compress the gas. New stations can have up to six or more engines running, each with its own smokestack. Air sampling around these stations has shown elevated levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, particulate matter, and other volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gasses. Because these stations utilize engines, they inherently pollute whenever they run, and during scheduled or accidental “blowdown” events, “particularly intense” pollution occurs “when pressure builds to the point where gas is vented directly into the air in order to prevent explosions.”
The project was first proposed in 2014 and has faced opposition from environmental groups and local communities who fear its detrimental human health and environmental impacts and effects on endangered species in the area, as well as on the marginalized communities along the pipeline’s route. Those who opposed the development project included “small farmers whose lands were subject to eminent domain, Native Americans, about 30,000, who live within a mile of the pipeline’s proposed route in North Carolina, and residents in Northampton County, North Carolina, where another compressor station for the project was being constructed in a census block where 79 percent of the population is Black.” Activist groups fought in court to halt or slow the release of land development permits for various sites along the proposed pipeline’s path.
Six years later the fight paid off. Investors in the project said, “the project’s estimated cost had risen to $8 billion from the original estimate of $4.5 to $5 billion … owing primarily to legal expenses.” The near doubling in cost and the uncertain delays associated with “other recent court decisions,” presented “new and serious challenges” to the project.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion pipeline, carrying almost 600,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil a day 1,172 miles out of the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota, across South Dakota and Iowa, to a shipping station in Illinois. The pipeline passes beneath the Missouri River which lies just north of and supplies drinking water to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that sits along the border of North Dakota and South Dakota. Permits for development of the proposed pipeline were originally denied by the Obama administration in December 2016. A full environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to analyze the potential for alternative routes for the pipeline and its impacts on the rights of the people of the Sioux Reservation as set forth in their treaty. However, in February 2017, soon after being sworn in, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite the construction of the new pipeline. With that, the Army Corps of Engineers dropped the environmental assessment for the project, granted the necessary permits, and the pipeline was built.
The Sioux Tribe and activist groups continued to challenge the permits that provided the legality for the pipeline, and in June 2017 succeeded in convincing U.S. District Judge James Boasberg that a deeper assessment of the project’s impacts was necessary. Judge Boasberg allowed operation of the pipeline to continue, but ordered further review, stating that the Army Corps of Engineers “did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.” This kind of consideration is the concept of environmental justice; written policy that “aims to ensure development projects aren’t built in areas where minority populations might not have the resources to defend their rights.
The Army Corps of Engineers conducted another environmental review which was completed in 2018, and again, stated that the new study “substantiated its earlier determination that the pipeline poses no significant environmental threats” and declared that their previous analysis was sufficient and no changes need be made. Environmental activist group Earthjustice and the Sioux Tribe again challenged the permits in court, arguing that the tribe was effectively shut out of the latest environmental review process and the evidence of potential environmental impact presented by their scientists and representatives was ignored. In March of this year, Judge Boasberg struck down the federal permits that had allowed for the building of the pipeline, stating that the Army Corps’ issuing of those permits was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, specifically in regards to “unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place.” The Army Corps of Engineers was criticized by the Federal Court for “failing to address the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s expert criticism of its analysis, citing issues like potential worst case discharge, the difficulty of detecting slow leaks, and responding to spills in winter.” The Court also noted that the Dakota Access Pipeline’s parent company’s “abysmal safety record … does not inspire confidence,” and that that fact should have been taken into greater consideration from the start. With the ruling, the Court also asked supporters of the pipeline and its opposers to each “submit briefs on whether the pipeline should continue operating during the new environmental review.”
On Monday July 6, 2020, Judge Boasberg sided with the pipeline’s opposers, and ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline be shut down and emptied within 30 days so as to minimize potential risk while the Army Corps re-performs its environmental assessment per the required guidelines. In the 24-page memorandum put forth by the District Court of Columbia, referencing the question of draining the pipeline or not during the Army Corps’ new environmental impact assessment, the Court stated, “Although mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause, the Court now concludes that the answer is yes. Clear precedent favoring vacatur (the setting aside of previous decisions) during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the thirteen months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take.” Essentially, the Court decided the severity of the potential dangers that the Army Corps’ assessment failed to address would be more costly than the estimated impact of draining the pipeline for thirteen months to up to “several years.” Thus, it is not worth it to continue operating the pipeline until those potential dangers have been adequately addressed.
Energy Transfer, the owner and operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline, however, has yet to halt the flow of oil, arguing, “We don’t believe he [Judge Boasberg] has the authority to do this.” The company claims, “it would take three months to empty the pipe of oil and complete steps to preserve it for future use.” On Thursday July 9, Judge Boasberg denied the request from Energy Transfer to halt the closing of the pipeline during the environmental review, and the case is now going to a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Despite the outpouring of opposition to the two pipeline projects, and the ensuing protest movements that developed, many supporters of the pipelines still argue for their benefits. Supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline argue that the new pipeline would have promoted a cleaner alternative to coal and oil energy sources, as well as reduced fuel costs for consumers while creating thousands of construction jobs and generating new tax revenue for the region. According to the U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, “The well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby has successfully killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have lowered energy costs for consumers.” He continued, “The Trump Administration wants to bring the benefits of reliable and affordable energy of all kinds to all Americans. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the activists who killed this project.”
Though lower natural gas prices and increased tax revenue may have been realized by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Lindsey Gilpin, founder and editor in chief of Southerly, a media organization covering ecology, justice, and culture in the South, said the increased jobs claim may not have proven so fruitful. She claims that in an interview with Dominion Energy Company, she was told that the new pipeline “would create a couple dozen permanent jobs.” That is only 24 permanent jobs. And of the thousands of construction jobs to be created, Gilpin says, “A lot of the construction jobs are very specialized. So many people in places I traveled through were saying these aren’t local jobs. They’re bringing in people from companies outside the region who know how to build pipelines, welders or people of a higher level of education or training. So locals weren’t actually getting those jobs that they were promised.” Environmental groups and many of the public are also aware that despite any economic benefits these fossil fuel infrastructure projects might provide, “it still holds back investment in other renewable energies.”
Proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline also touted the creation of jobs, increased tax revenue, and cited the pipeline’s ability to “meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments.” The decreased demand by the oil industry on the local rail systems as means of transport for the oil, would also, in theory, reduce shipping costs for farmers. However, it seems more people in these regions fear fossil fuel development projects more than they value them. “They’ve seen how the coal industry has decimated [other] communities, how it’s made a ton of wealth off Appalachian communities and then left them high and dry, with high unemployment rates. They left people sick and dying from pollution and black lung disease.” The public’s distrust in the fossil fuel industry, whether it be coal, gas, or oil, has begun to boil over. Gilpin reminds us that these lands that major pipeline projects cut through, have been in the families of these communities for generations. This is their home. “It might just seem like somebody’s backyard to a pipeline company. But to the people, it’s everything.”
The recent decisions to halt these two major pipeline projects is a testament to the power of environmental and cultural activist groups and grassroots movements. With the public’s increased awareness of climate change and the negative impacts that the fossil fuel industry and its infrastructure have on the planet and marginalized communities, “environmentalists and Native American activists, who routinely oppose fossil fuel pipelines because of potential spills and their contribution to climate change” are beginning to feel more “emboldened.” Montana farmer and Keystone Pipeline opponent Dena Hoff, remembers when in 2015 a pipeline next to her farm, running under the Yellowstone River broke, spilling 31,000 gallons of crude oil and spoiling the water supply for 6,000 people downstream. Hoff points out that “the years of protests against Keystone and other lines have made the public listen,” and that “There’s more to this argument than jobs and tax dollars.”
The closure of these two major pipelines illustrates a shifting landscape in regard to large fossil fuel energy projects in the United States. In a joint statement released by the Dominion and Duke energy companies, announcing the cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, they wrote, “This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States.” Furthermore, Dominion Energy Company coupled its decision to abandon the pipeline project, with the announcement that it will be selling most of its gas pipeline business to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Even Rich Redash, head of global gas planning at S&P Global Platts said of the fossil fuel industry, “It’s going to be more challenging to expand, particularly if you’re in an area where the opposition is organized, better funded and supported by state and local elected officials.” Likewise, Jason Bordoff, founding director at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy says, “Courtroom fights and protests against pipelines have only gotten more intense. As that opposition gets more sophisticated, it will mean more delays and higher costs for projects that rely on federal permits.” According to Kelly Sheehan Martin, Director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign at the Sierra Club, “The writing’s been on the wall for a little while now … It’s a new era for how hard it is to build new massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects that would lock us in for decades.”
The cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the ruling to close the Dakota Access Pipeline, together, mark a progressive movement of environmental justice concepts into mainstream policy. Ryan Emanuel, North Carolina State University professor and citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, said of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancelation, “This is a really encouraging outcome for the marginalized communities along the pipeline route.” Emanuel remarks, “this apparent victory comes at an auspicious time in the United States for racial justice and conversations about the disproportionate affect policies can have on communities of color.” Even still, Emanuel believes that legislation “similar to the Clean Water Act of 1972, which set national water quality standards, is necessary to prevent the effects of environmental racism.” He continues, “Environmental justice, for better or worse, is kind of a buzzword in popular culture and we can construe it in different ways. Until we tighten up what we mean in ensuring environmental justice and preventing the impact of structural racism on marginalized communities in terms of what infrastructure we build and where, justice won’t be for all.”
- Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. (The environmental group representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe). https://earthjustice.org/
Friends of Buckingham Virginia
- The mission of the Friends of Buckingham is to preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of Buckingham County. We are a group of Buckingham County citizens united to work with our county leaders to attract economic investment opportunities that benefit all our residents, and that contribute to a sustainable healthy environment. We are dedicated to celebrating our county’s diverse cultural heritage, our rural lifestyle, and to protecting our natural resources and last, remaining, wild places. Towards that end, we are committed to protecting our health and environment from any outside interests that seek to exploit our natural resources, such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. http://www.friendsofbuckinghamva.org/friends/
Natural Resources Defense Council
- works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/
- Associated Press in Des Moines, I. (2020, July 10). Judge rejects Dakota Access pipeline request to stop closure. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/07/10/federal-judge-rejects-dakota-access-pipeline-request-stop-closure/5414067002/
- Associated Press in Fargo, N. (2020, July 06). Judge suspends Dakota Access pipeline over environmental concerns. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/06/dakota-access-pipeline-environment-oil
- Boasberg, J. E. (2020, July 6). Civil Action No. 16-1534 (JEB) Memorandum Opinion (United States of America, United States District Court, District of Columbia). Retrieved July 10, 2020 from https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2016cv1534-546
- Brown, M., & Bussewitz, C. (2020, July 09). Setbacks hamper pipeline industry backed by Trump. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://siouxcityjournal.com/news/state-and-regional/south-dakota/setbacks-hamper-pipeline-industry-backed-by-trump/article_e31c1430-3f13-5be7-895e-7f1c38a0e84f.html
- Carney, J. (2020, July 06). Federal Judge Orders Dakota Pipeline Shut Down. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.breitbart.com/economy/2020/07/06/dakota-pipeline-shutdown/
- Cline, S. (2020, July 8). End of Atlantic Coast Pipeline Reflects ‘New Era’ for Energy Projects. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/end-of-atlantic-coast-pipeline-reflects-new-era-for-energy-projects/ar-BB16p1Lg
- Compressor Stations. (2018, February 05). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://earthworks.org/issues/compressor_stations/
- Fortin, J., & Friedman, L. (2020, July 06). Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Review, Federal Judge Rules. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/us/dakota-access-pipeline.html
- Harris, M. (2020, July 8). Why It Took So Long to Defeat the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/07/atlantic-coast-pipeline-canceled-victory-lawsuits-appalachia-virginia-north-carolina.html
- Kolpack, D. (2020, July 6). Judge orders Dakota Access pipeline shut down pending review. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/06/dakota-access-pipeline-shut-down-judge-sides-standing-rock-sioux/5383821002/
- MacPherson, J. (2020, July 8). Dakota pipeline still moving oil despite shutdown order. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/dakota-pipeline-moving-oil-shutdown-order-71680975
- Ortiz, E. (2020, July 6). Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled after years of delays, accusations of environmental injustice. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/atlantic-coast-pipeline-canceled-after-years-delays-accusations-environmental-injustice-n1232987
- Rankin, S. (2020, July 5). Developers Cancel Long-Delayed, $8B Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2020-07-05/duke-dominion-cancel-contested-atlantic-coast-pipeline
- Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits. (2020, March 25). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/standing-rock-sioux-tribe-prevails-as-federal-judge-strikes-down-dapl-permits
The Trump administration and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler have decided to end Federal regulation of the toxic chemical Perchlorate in America’s drinking water. Perchlorate is a chemical used in explosives, such as rocket fuel, fireworks, and ammunition. When the chemical runs off into our drinking water supply, it is known to inhibit the function of the thyroid gland and can damage the brain development in fetuses and infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, perchlorate can “cause measurable drops in IQ in newborns,” and one study showed that “9 out of 13 breastfeeding infants were ingesting significant levels of the chemical.”
In the early 2000’s, the Bush administration had decided not to regulate levels of the toxin in drinking water. In 2011, the Obama administration determined that “Perchlorate from runoff contaminates the drinking water of as many as 16 million Americans,” and decided the EPA should set a maximum limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of perchlorate allowable in our drinking water. Some individual states have since set their own limits for allowable concentrations of perchlorate; Massachusetts and California setting their limits respectively at 2 and 6 ppb. Andrew Wheeler and the current EPA had originally proposed setting the maximum limit for allowable concentrations to be at 56 ppb, but after analyzing the local water tests of only 15 water systems in a total of 12 states, have decided to drop the federal regulation of the chemical all together.
Wheeler claims new analyses show that perchlorate is not harmful in such low concentrations as we once thought, and that based on this new fact, the federal government no longer needs to regulate the chemical. Wheeler says that state agencies are doing enough on their own and the EPA’s analyses show that the country’s water supply contains low enough levels of the toxin. In a draft final action, the EPA noted that up to 620,000 people may be drinking water that contains perchlorate concentrations higher than “levels of concern” (56 ppb being what the current administration considers a “level of concern” versus 15 ppb of the previous administration or 6 ppb and 2 ppb of California and Massachusetts). The administration has said that it was “not in the public interest” to regulate perchlorate because it is burdensome to business, and the move is part of President Trump’s promise to “pare back burdensome ‘one-size-fits-all’ overregulation for the American people.”
The scientific community and environmental activists have lashed out at this new decision by the EPA. Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “[This] decision is illegal, unscientific, and unconscionable. The Environmental Protection Agency is threatening the health of pregnant moms and young children with toxic chemicals in their drinking water at levels that literally can cause loss of IQ points.” Olson also points out that the EPA had required some nationwide testing for perchlorate in drinking water only from 2001-2005, and thus it is “impossible to determine how severe a problem remains nationally.” Olson believes the decision by the EPA is illegal because it “defies a court-ordered consent decree requiring the administration regulate the chemical.” After the Obama administration in 2011 had decided that perchlorate could not be allowed in drinking water in concentrations higher than 15 ppb, a “legal duty to regulate perchlorate” was issued. The EPA still never issued an official standard to regulate the toxin, so in 2016 the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the EPA in federal court to set limits on perchlorate. The judge hearing the case decided the EPA needed “a fire lit under them,” and so the agency agreed in a “court-approved consent decree to propose a perchlorate drinking water standard by October 2018 and to finalize it by late 2019.” An extension was granted to the EPA for more study and the due date for an established standard was moved to late June 2020. Now, in June 2020, the EPA is claiming perchlorate requires higher concentrations than previously thought to be considered dangerous and so they are not going to set any standard for its concentrations in drinking water, because studies by the agency show that the majority of the country’s drinking water contains perchlorate concentrations lower than 56 ppb. The agency claims its analyses of just 15 drinking water facilities in only 12 states, shows, mostly, perchlorate concentrations are below 56 ppb, and so the rest of the country’s drinking water must be fine and the state agencies can do their own regulating of the toxin.
The NRDC points out that the 15 ppb health advisory established by the Obama administration for perchlorate concentrations was based on a 2005 study from the National Academy of Sciences. Wheeler, on the other hand, now claims that “a level of 56 ppb would be safe, and perhaps even 90 ppb would be fine.” The EPA has even admitted “that a standard of 56 ppb would allow those kids exposed to perchlorate in drinking water at above this level to have an average IQ loss of two points. People at the lower end of the IQ spectrum could lose far more IQ points.” The NRDC says that “In concluding 56 ppb is safe, the agency would allow an unprecedented level of adverse impact on children’s brain development.” The council also points out that the EPA “has decided to ignore all other health effects of perchlorate that scientists say can occur at lower doses, rejecting its own previous analysis. EPA’s new supposedly “safe” level is nearly 10 times higher than California’s standard for perchlorate of 6 ppb. It also is 28 times higher than Massachusetts’s standard of 2 ppb.”
Based on a report from the National Research Council on the effects of ingesting perchlorate, some California experts now recommend the standard for concentrations of the toxin be brought down to 1 ppb to protect bottle-fed infants. A “blue-ribbon” panel of scientists from New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute recommend “a maximum safe level of 5 ppb.” The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) even put out a statement saying, “It should be noted that this decision [by the EPA] was not reviewed by the peer reviewers of the U.S. EPA’s approach for the risk assessment of perchlorate.” The NJDEP further noted that even “using traditional EPA assumptions and analysis, a standard of 8 ppb would be called for.” What this means is that the EPA’s claim that 56 ppb or less of perchlorate is a safe concentration according to the latest health risk assessment, is not true. The NJDEP is saying that if the EPA conducted its health risk assessment the way the peer review boards said they should, then according to their calculations, the EPA should have recommended 8 ppb be the maximum allowable concentration of perchlorate in drinking water, not 56 ppb.
The NJDEP also points out that not all states have the laws in place to set their own regulations for perchlorate concentrations and thus rely on federal regulations for protection. So, for the EPA to justify no federal regulation based on the premise that states like California and Massachusetts have been able to successfully regulate the chemical, is not a valid argument. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges “the strongest possible” federal limits. The AAP states that for the EPA to not regulate perchlorate “would set a precedent inconsistent with EPA’s stated mission to protect public health.” This statement rings particularly true when it appears that the EPA is providing the American public with a faulty analysis of the collected data.
- Natural Resources Defense Council works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/
- American Academy of Pediatrics an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. https://www.aap.org/en-us/Pages/Default.aspx
- Environmental Defense Fund one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, with more than 2.5 million members and a staff of 700 scientists, economists, policy experts, and other professionals around the world. https://www.edf.org/
- Agnarone, K. (2019, September 3). Regulations.gov (United States of America, State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection). Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0780-0266
- Frazin, R. (2020, June 18). EPA declines to regulate rocket fuel chemical tied to developmental damage. The Hill. Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/503359-epa-declines-to-regulate-rocket-fuel-chemical-tied-to-developmental
- Friedman, L., & Davenport, C. (2020, June 18). E.P.A. Won’t Regulate Toxic Compound Linked to Fetal Brain Damage. The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/climate/trump-epa-perchlorate.html
- Knickmeyer, E. (2020, June 18). EPA drops regulation for contaminant linked to brain damage in babies. Abc 7 Eyewitness News. Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://abc7.com/perchlorate-obama-era-president-donald-trump-epa-rolls-back/6254106/
- National Research Council. 2005. Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/11202.
- Olson, E. D. (2020, May 14). EPA Refuses to Protect Children from Perchlorate-Contaminated Tap Water [Web log post]. Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/erik-d-olson/epa-refuses-protect-children-perchlorate-contaminated-tap-water
Shannon Q. Elliott Thursday, June 11, 2020
In 2012, President Obama made historic changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. The intention was to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse emissions caused by roadway traffic. By the year 2025, cars and light duty trucks would have an average of 54.5mpg which would nearly double the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Not only did this revision aim to save consumers upward of $1.7 trillion dollars at the gas pump, cutting emissions meant less exposure to toxins for communities. President Barack Obama’s commitment to protecting the environment, and his environmental legacy, have been challenged, and overturned by the Trump Administration, who recently revoked the changes to CAFE and implemented the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency Vehicle Rule (SAFE) which, in lament terms, rips the rug from underneath CAFE and regresses any environmental progress made by the United States.
The Trump Administration rule replaces the Obama -era mandate that automobile makers were required to improve their fuel economy performance by 5% annually. The new rule only requires that vehicles have to improve their performance by 1.5% a year. SAFE standards are implemented to save lives, create jobs, and maker safer, more affordable cars for American families. It’s estimated that an additional 78 billion gallons of fuel will be utilized under the new rule, making fossil fuel companies and their shareholders the primary beneficiaries of SAFE. Experts are also predicting the rule will omit 900 million more tons of carbon-dioxide into the air, a casualty incurred by less environmentally friendly vehicles on the road.
On May 27th, The Environmental Defense Fund, Moms Clean Air Force, and The Sierra Club, , in conjunction with California and 22 other states including the District of Columbia, filled suit against what is being deemed the “UN-SAFE” Rule. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leads the multi-state lawsuit, stating that the Trump Administration is inflating and misrepresenting what the rule does.
The complaint filed with the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals argues that the decision to weaken auto industry fuel emissions, is a direct threat to public health, and is based on flawed research. The ambient levels of air toxins will lead to cardiovascular, neurological, and respiratory disease. As a nation we will see a rise in asthma, premature death, immune system damage and countless illnesses associated with the obscene amount of pollution attributed to fuel inefficiency. They argue that the Trump Administration’s vow to shift away from environmental protections enacted to protect public health and produce greener vehicles is not only irresponsible, but their reasoning is based on inflated research and alleged falsified documents.
SAFE undermines the Clean Air Act of 1970, which established air quality standards for the United States, and granted California the right to set their own pace for stricter air quality control. The totality of the circumstances suggests that SAFE is grossly negligent, putting American lives at risk. A recent win for environmentalists, relevant for the SAFE case, came about in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The complaint stemmed from concerned organizations who petitioned that the county was in violation of injecting treated sewage into groundwater and navigable waters. This threatened the health of their community and the Pacific Ocean. The win heightened awareness that complex environmental issues, are being reviewed and taken seriously by the courts.
The judiciary will need to weigh the interests of the government and public safety to determine which carries more weight. The verdict issued in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, could be a contributing factor in how the SCOTUS interprets the SAFE Rule, and its strengths and weaknesses. It’s without a doubt that the court will hear excellent arguments authored by some of the country’s finest attorneys, and may have to answer some of the following questions in order to reach a decision; 1.) Did the Trump Administration violate federal law, and falsify documents to support their research? 2.) Is the SAFE Rule in the best interest of the American people? 3.) Is it at the states discretion to set their own stricter law for tailpipe emissions?
The growth of the economy and protection of the environment are two different goals. The current administration has expressed their denial when it comes to climate change and environmental protections. The childlike outbursts, retaliation, and mocking of those who are rightfully concerned are a frequent occurrence… by our President. COVID-19 has strengthened the voice of communities who have been ravished by illness. The momentum behind sensitivity of respiratory disease, may prove to dismantle the Trump Administration’s efforts regarding the SAFE rule.
- Eilperin, J. (2020, May 19). EPA staff warned that mileage rollbacks had flaws. Trump officials ignored them. Retrieved from washingtonpost.com: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/epa-staff-warned-that-mileage-rollbacks-had-flaws-trump-officials-ignored-them/2020/05/19/242056ba-960f-11ea-91d7-cf4423d47683_story.html
- EmoryLaw.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved from The SAFE Vehicles Rule: How the Trump Administration’s Course Change on Vehicle Emissions: https://law.emory.edu/ecgar/content/volume-6/issue-1/essays/SAFE-vehicles-rule-trump-course-policy-shift-regulations.html
- epa.gov. (n.d.). https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/safer-affordable-fuel-efficient-safe-vehicles-proposed
- JDSupra.com . (2020, April). Trump Administration Issues Second Part of SAFE Vehicles Rule: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/trump-administration-issues-second-part-94777/
https://www.edf.org/. (n.d.). Environmental Defense Fund : https://www.edf.org/
- Addressing today’s most urgent environmental challenges EDF targets issues that effect people globally. Focusing on a clean economy, resilience and results EDF works to reduce exposure to pollutants and advocate for the health of humanity
https://www.momscleanairforce.org/. (n.d.). Moms Clean Air Force: https://www.momscleanairforce.org/
- Mom’s Clean Airforce works on air pollution, toxic chemicals, climate change and national campigns that align with the greater good for the environment. Current campaigns include “Wheeler must go” and “ Clean Car Standards”
More than 12 percent of the total land area of the United States and almost 20 percent of its marine area are protected by a combination of state and federal protections. However, only 5 percent of the U.S.’ total land mass is designated federally protected wilderness. The Wilderness Act, the strongest federal protection for public lands, preserves these protected areas for biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, and outdoor recreation; mining, farming, and other extraction proceedings are banned.
From the period 1959-2012, the largest changes in land use in the U.S. were the expansion of special uses, including protected areas and public lands, the reduction in forest use, expansion of grassland, and recent reduction in cropland.
Under the Trump Administration, protections for public lands that expanded under Obama have been drastically scaled back by an estimated 35 million acres, or almost 15 percent. While many of the rollbacks are being challenged in the courts before they can be fully implemented, they still represent a significant threat to the integrity of the extensive protections from mining and development efforts.
The United States is an incredibly diverse country, and as such has many important ecosystems that provide life support services to the local residents and the planet as a whole. The map below shows the 15 Level I ecoregions of North America, including the nine regions in the continental United States and the additional two in Alaska. These include Tundra, Taiga, Northern Forests, Northwestern Forested Mountains, Marine West Coast Forest, Eastern Temperate Forests, Great Plains, North American Deserts, Mediterranean California, Southern Semi-Arid Highlands, and Tropical Wet Forests.
Given the most recent attacks by the Trump Administration on the United States’ public lands, protected areas in Alaska like the Tongass National Forest, as well as national monuments like Bears’ Ears need protection from destruction by fossil fuel mining and extraction. Additionally, the Everglades, a unique ecosystem in south Florida that hosts some of the most biodiverse areas on the continent and provides essential services including water regulation and climate benefits is in need of protection from human development and the effects of climate change.
Sierra Club: . An environmental organization that defends America’s most precious resources and wild places. www.actsierraclub.org
The Nature Conservancy: Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119,000,000 acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide. www.nature.org
On Friday, June 5th, Donald Trump signed an order to open nearly 5,000 square miles of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, to commercial fishing. The Obama administration designated this stretch of ocean a National Monument in 2016, to protect the endangered species that live in this ecosystem “from harmful intrusion and permanent damage by commercial interests.” The original Proclamation 9496 of September 15, 2016 from the Obama administration, identified a number of canyons and seamounts in the area as “objects of historic and scientific interest,” and even writes, “these canyons and seamounts, and the ecosystem they compose, have long been of intense scientific interest,” with “scientists from government and academic oceanographic institutions” studying “the canyons and seamounts using research vessels, submarines, and remotely operated underwater vehicles for important deep-sea expeditions.” According to Bob Dreher, senior vice president of Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife, these deep canyons and large seamounts are home to “Ancient and slow-growing deep sea corals, endangered large whales and sea turtles, and an incredible array of fish, seabirds, sharks, dolphins, and other wildlife.” The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The designation as a National Monument was challenged by interests of the fishing industry in 2017 but was quickly rejected in federal court.
According to the Proclamation Modification signed by Donald Trump this month, it is not necessary to prohibit commercial fishing within the Monument’s boundaries, because current commercial fishing regulations and other laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, already protect the at-risk species in the area. The modification writes, “I find that a prohibition on commercial fishing is not, at this time, necessary for the proper care and management of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, or the objects of historic or scientific interest therein.” It continues, “WHEREAS, I find that removing the restrictions on commercial fishing set forth in Proclamation 9496 to allow for well-regulated commercial fishing use is in the public interest and that the objects in the monument can be, and are currently, protected pursuant to carefully tailored regulation and management under existing Federal law.”
Many view this move as another attempt on the part of the Trump administration to continue limiting environmental regulation while the nation is distracted with the looming Covid-19 pandemic and nation-wide protests. Bob Dreher with Defenders of Wildlife says, “Opening up the nation’s only marine national monument in the Atlantic will help no one but a handful of fishers while risking irreparable damage to the marine wildlife that have no other fully protected areas off our eastern seaboard.” According to Brad Sewell, senior director of oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), commercial fishing, even with its regulations, “poses a range of threats, such as harm to deep-sea corals from heavy fishing gear, and entanglement of marine mammals and fish in thick lines and nets.” He warns that “These fragile, extraordinary ocean areas are full of thousand-year-old corals, endangered whales, and other precious marine life. They belong to all Americans, and they are held in trust for future generations.”
According to a report by the Washington Post, the ban on commercial fishing has not even had a significant negative effect on the fishing industry. Most of the commercial fishing vessels that fish near the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument had “generated 5% or less of their annual landings from within the monument.” In fact, government data shows that revenues and catch for those same fisheries, has gone up or stayed the same since the National Monument’s designation. Randall Bowman of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under Trump, the lead staff member for reviewing the legitimacy of the marine region’s National Monument status, was actually found in 2017, to have recommended leaving those facts out of the report, because it “undercuts the case for the ban being harmful [to commercial fishing].”
Brad Sewell says. “The Antiquities Act gives the president power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power to abolish those protections.” He claims that the President does not have the authority to modify the Proclamation, and that “A significant change to the monument or its protections, such as allowing commercial fishing, must be done by Congress, not by the president.” Sewell says the NRDC will fight the Trump administration in court, and that “We are prepared to sue the administration to protect these ocean treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries.”
Natural Resources Defense Council
- works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/
Defenders of Wildlife
- Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America. https://defenders.org/
National Wildlife Federation
- America’s largest and most trusted conservation organization, works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice. We’ve been on the front lines for wildlife since 1936, fighting for the conservation values that are woven into the fabric of our nation’s collective heritage. https://www.nwf.org/
Environmental Defense Fund
- One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/
Eilperin, J. (2018, July 23). Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-officials-dismissed-benefits-of-national-monuments/2018/07/23/5b8b1666-8b9a-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?wpisrc=al_news__alert-hse–alert-national&wpmk=1
Johnson, J. (2020, June 06). Quietly Putting Hundreds of Species at Risk,’ Trump Opens 5,000 Square Miles of Atlantic Ocean to Commercial Fishing. Common Dreams. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/06/quietly-putting-hundreds-species-risk-trump-opens-5000-square-miles-atlantic-ocean
Natural Resources Defense Council. (2020, June 05). Trump Illegally Eliminates Protections for First and Only Monument in the Atlantic Ocean [Web log post]. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/nrdc/trump-illegally-eliminates-protections-first-and-only-monument-atlantic-ocean
Proclamation on Modifying The Northeast Canyons And Seamounts Marine National Monument. (2020, June 05). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-modifying-northeast-canyons-seamounts-marine-national-monument/
In response to President Trump’s June 2019 executive order for the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency took steps to streamline the process for approving biotech crops, including those produced by gene editing, the USDA has proposed the new SECURE Rule. This new rule will reduce USDA oversight and allow biotech companies to decide if their genetically modified plants/products need to be tested and regulated by the USDA. So, instead of the USDA testing and regulating all genetically modified/engineered plants before they are released for use, the biotech companies get to decide whether, or not, to recommend a product for review and regulation by the USDA.
If a biotech company decides a new product does not pose any risk as a future pest to other crops, then it may release that plant/product for use by the industry without even notifying the USDA. As a guide for which crops require government regulation and which crops do not, the new SECURE Rule essentially states that a new genetically engineered (GE) organism is exempt from government regulation if it:
- a) was developed using material from an organism that is not a current plant pest
- b) was engineered using “conventional breeding methods,” or
- c) was modified by introduction of a “gene, allele, or structural variant” that came from a plant of the same species or of a species that is known to be compatible through “conventional breeding methods.”
“Conventional breeding methods” refers to methods of genetic engineering via wide genetic crosses, embryo rescue, or protoplast fusion. In short, these methods are performed, essentially, by introducing desired genetic factors into plant populations where they may be adopted by the plant population through the natural mutation processes plant populations undergo when exposed to certain factors and environments. If all goes well, some plants from the next generation will have naturally mutated to exhibit the desired traits. These methods are considered to produce low plant-pest risk organisms (meaning low risk of becoming a future major pest). Any genetically engineered plants that do not meet these criteria are still subject to USDA regulation…as long as the biotech companies that produce them are honest about their methods and/or choose to report the new product.
The new SECURE Rule has faced a lot of criticism from a broad range of interest groups. According to a statement from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), “Despite a unified position from environmental groups, consumer organizations, biotech crop developers, and food industry stakeholders imploring USDA to eliminate a provision allowing crop developers to self-determine whether their products are regulated, the Trump administration refused to require developers to even notify the agency of products they believe are exempt under the new regulations.” The representatives of these interest groups, in a letter delivered to the USDA on March 6, 2020, asked that the agency at least include a process by which biotech companies must report any newly produced organisms. They wrote, “Independent of whether the final rule retains the self-determination provision, we strongly encourage the Agency to include in the final rule a process by which a developer is required to notify the Agency of a GE plant that the developer has determined meets one of the exemptions in proposed 340.1(b) or (c) prior to placement on the market.” The statement further explains that “This mandatory notification process would provide a developer with an opportunity to affirm that a GE plant meets an exemption, and it also would provide additional information to the marketplace and consumers.[…] By providing this additional information to consumers regarding what products are available in the market, the Agency is providing an opportunity to grow consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply.” Despite the USDA’s justification and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s praise of the new rule for creating a faster path for the release of biotechnology, this coalition of interest group representatives ended their statement saying, “Many of our organizations hope for modification to the original proposal, we believe that USDA’s final rule should provide opportunities for transparency that can be achieved without limiting innovation or these new products’ potential benefits for society and the environment.”
Many fear that the USDA’s new rule is dangerous because it eliminates too many checks and balances on the biotech industry and its potential effects on our food supply. Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation says, “There is a need for adequate safeguards and effective regulatory oversight to ensure that there aren’t unintended consequences to biodiversity from these new technologies, but unfortunately, USDA’s rule falls short of achieving this.” Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director for the CSPI, explains that “While some genetically engineered products are safe and beneficial, the federal government needs a regulatory system that tracks product development and ensures safety before products are marketed.” For the CSPI and of the new rule, he says, “We support science- and risk-based federal oversight of genetically engineered plants to ensure they are safe to humans and the environment before they are released for cultivation or restoration, but today’s final regulation does not achieve that result.”
Many, including Center for Food Safety senior attorney Sylvia Wu, feel it’s a good idea to update the legislation for regulating GMO products, that hasn’t been revised since 1987, but view the new SECURE Rule as simply another tactic by the Trump administration to “push through yet another industry-friendly policy that could have ramifications for the country’s food supply.” Instead of fixing the deficiencies and improving the efficiency and strength of the regulatory legislation, the Trump administration is simply cutting back regulation and oversight all together. Wu states that “the revised regulations dramatically scale back USDA’s regulatory authority, leaving most GMOs unregulated, [and] the new regulations finalized by USDA, paradoxically named the SECURE rule, are anything but secure.”
As Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America puts it, the bottom line is this: “Consumers have a right to know how gene editing is being used to produce the foods they buy in the market. This rule will undermine public confidence in the food supply and ultimately set back beneficial uses of this technology.”
Center for Science in the Public Interest
- Founded in 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is perhaps the oldest independent, science-based consumer advocacy organization with an impressive record of accomplishments and a clear and ambitious agenda for improving the food system to support healthy eating. https://cspinet.org/
National Wildlife Federation
- America’s largest and most trusted conservation organization; works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice. NWF has been on the front lines for wildlife since 1936, fighting for the conservation values that are woven into the fabric of our nation’s collective heritage. https://www.nwf.org/
Environmental Defense Fund
- One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/
Consumer Federation of America
- The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of non-profit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, more than 250 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization’s Board of Directors. CFA is a research, advocacy, education, and service organization. https://consumerfed.org/
- Cronin, J., & Adcock, R. (2020, May 14). Trump Administration’s USDA Limits Oversight of Genetically Engineered and Gene Edited Crops. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from https://cspinet.org/news/trump-administration-usda-limits-oversight-genetically-engineered-and-gene-edited-crops
- Erickson, B. E. (2020, May 15). USDA scales back oversight of GMO crops. C&EN Global Enterprise. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from https://cen.acs.org/biological-chemistry/biotechnology/USDA-scales-back-oversight-genetically-modified-crops/98/web/2020/05
- Higgins, E. (2020, May 15). ‘Anything But Secure’: Advocates Decry USDA Rule Allowing Big Ag to Set Its Own Regulations on GMOs. Common Dreams. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/05/15/anything-secure-advocates-decry-usda-rule-allowing-big-ag-set-its-own-regulations
- O’Brian, D. (2020, March 6). Coalition Letter [To Office of Management and Budget]. 725 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
- Movement of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms, 7 CFR Parts 330, 340, and 372 Department of Agriculture § [Docket No. APHIS-2018-0034] RIN 0579-AE47 (2019).
Hawaiian culture is sacred. Hawaiians give much respect to the history and folklore of their state. Forest, streams, oceans and humans are all interconnected creating “Ohana” one family, protecting invaluable resources. Hawaiian mythology tells a tale of Kane and Kanaloa; Gods of Water, who when they desired to drink would dig their hands into the earth calling on the fresh water to quench their thirst. Circa 2020, if one were to dig into the earth in Maui County, that drink of water would include seepage from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
Conservation groups are on a mission in Hawaii. Protecting the vitality of the ocean is a major focus. In 2012, Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF), along with The Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club- Maui Group and West Maui Preservation Association, initiated a civil action against Maui County, alleging that The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was injecting treated sewage into groundwater that inevitably reaches the Pacific Ocean. HWF states that the injection wells are a direct point source of pollution and therefore in violation of The Clean Water Act (CWA). The facility would need to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPEDS) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to be in compliance with the CWA. As a result of failure to comply, pollution has created severe biological disruptions to coral reefs, marine life, strained social goods and economic services.
The Clean Water Act, is the nation’s primary federal law governing water pollution. The main purpose of the statute is to restore chemical, biological and physical integrity of the nation’s navigable waters. The act establishes a structure to discharge pollutants, and activates the EPA to set standards for municipal and commercial industries. The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility is authorized by the EPA to operate four class V injection wells, to dispose of effluents. Producing 3-5 million gallons of liquid waste from the county’s 40,000 residents, the injection wells are essentially pipelines that travel far beneath the earth’s surface,entombing waste into porous rock. The concern lies with the seepage from the injection wells which invade groundwater, and ultimately marry into the Pacific Ocean.
County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund 2020, has endured a lengthy litigation process. The United States District Court for the District of Hawaii 2014 ruling was in favor of the plaintiffs. The Court agreed that the Lahaina Wastewater Facility needed to apply for an NPDES permit, and referred to the injection wells as a “direct” point source. Maui County challenged that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Maui County argued that the injection wells were a source of indirect pollution and named groundwater, as the culprit which indirectly infused de minimis amounts of liquid sewage into navigable waters. The Circuit Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. Maui County, unsatisfied with the verdict petitioned The United States Supreme Court, who granted the petition in February 2019.
The SCOTUS issued its 6-3 decision on April 23, 2020. The issue; Whether the CWA requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater. In interpreting the language of the CWA, which defines “discharge of a pollutant” as “any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source, the court held that “a permit is required when there is a discharge from a point source directly into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”
The outcome is a victory for environmentalists who work tirelessly to defend navigable waters against an administration who is hellbent on gutting clean water. The Trump Administration repealed the Clean Water Rule of 2015, which protected drinking water for 117 million Americans. They also finalized The Navigable Waters Protections Rule this past April. The vague policy undermines the CWA, cutting protections for national waters. Environmentalists along with some states are ready to sue, on grounds that the new policy is dangerously weak.
The good news? If and when litigation battles commence over the intention of The Clean Water Act, courts will be able to refer to County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund 2020. This ruling offers communities reprieve that industries will be held legally responsible if they are negligent in dumping pollutants into navigable bodies of water.
- Blue Coast . (2020). Retrieved from bluecoast.org: http://www.bluecoast.org/kanaloa.html
- EarthJustice . (2020). Retrieved from earthjustice.org: https://earthjustice.org/blog/2019-october/what-the-trump-administration-is-doing-to-your-water
- Hawaii Wild Life Fund. (2020). Retrieved from wildhawaaii.org: https://www.wildhawaii.org/
- Surf RIder Foundation . (2020). Retrieved from surfrider.org : https://www.surfrider.org/initiatives/clean-water
- West Maui Preservation Association . (2020). Retrieved from .savewestmaui.com: https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/04/23/breaking-news/in-maui-sewage-case-u-s-supreme-court-sees-broad-reach-of-clean-water-act/
Approximately 25% of all U.S. meat packing plants have been closed. The reason: COVID-19; over 4000 meat plant workers in 115 meatpacking plants have tested positive, more than 5000 have been hospitalized, and 20 have died. Meat processing is a highly consolidated industry: four companies—Cargill, JBS, National Beef, and Tyson—control more than 80% of the nation’s beef supply. These COVID outbreaks among plant workers are concentrated clusters. In a single Tyson plant in Indiana, 890 employees tested positive.
Similar numbers are reflected in processing plants located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota. Some plants are voluntarily shutting down, while others have been ordered to cease operations, resulting in a significant supply chain disruption. As of April 27, Beef production was down nearly 25% year-over-year and pork production was down 15%. Tyson Foods, one of America’s biggest meat producers, warned in a full-page New York Times ad that the “food supply chain is breaking.”
According to the CDC, meat processing plants are deemed “critical infrastructure” and as such, asymptomatic workers at plants may be permitted to continue work even with the threat of exposure to COVID-19. They must wear protective gear. Deploying this same “critical infrastructure” rationale, President Donald Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to mandate meatpacking plants stay open during the coronavirus epidemic. This is recognition that a meat supply shortage in the U.S. has political consequences.
A rung up on the supply chain, animal feedlots, have no place to ship their pigs, cattle, and chickens. Producers have started to “euthanize” animals in large numbers. For example, the state of Iowa processes about 50,000 pigs a day, and a significant number are slated to be “depopulated.”
There is anecdotal evidence that workers who do speak out about compromised safety are being threatened with job loss. Some managers have asked line workers to continue to work through mild symptoms. One Smithfield processing employee remarked, “If you’re not in a casket, they want you there.”
The Administration’s executive order underscores the political importance of meat in this country. There are economic ripples that reach major feed crops, rural bank loans, local property taxes, and even K-through-12 education funding. Glynn Tonsor, a professor at Kansas State University’s department of agricultural economics, thinks the problem will start to improve by June as meat processing plants find ways to operate in a COVID-19 world. On the other hand, longer-term employee illness could significantly slow down production for over a year, according to David Anderson, professor and extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University.
In the face of worker safety though, the Executive Order lacks teeth. Sick workers cannot be forced to show up to the plant. They cannot easily be replaced either; these are skilled jobs. The added federal COVID benefits on top of state unemployment insurance may also incentivize more workers to stay out longer. There is the harsh realities of the illness and threat of illness. Kim Cordova, president for workers at a JBS Meatpacking Plant in Greeley, Colorado, told The Washington Post that they are “treating workers like fungible widgets instead of human beings.”
The unions seem to be taking the middle ground by emphasizing the importance of America’s food supply as well as worker on-the-job safety, citing guidelines from the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Yet the food supply is shrinking and some meats may increase in price more quickly than others. The production levels for pigs, for example, can be adjusted more efficiently than cattle because they get to production weight faster.
What is not given enough attention is the fact that the industry predominately employs immigrant minorities and people of color, the very same groups who are disproportionately dying of the virus.
- Common Dreams https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/05/01/calls-break-big-meat-nearly-900-workers-single-tyson-processing-plant-test-positive
- Grist https://grist.org/food/coronaviruss-next-victim-big-meat/
- Civil Eats https://civileats.com/2020/05/01/op-ed-a-fairer-more-resilient-food-system-is-possible/
- The Fence Post https://www.thefencepost.com/opinion/concentration-in-the-meat-packing-industry-has-advantages-and-distinct-disadvantages/
Photo by Charlie Solorzano