Tag Archives: EPA

Connections: Anti-Refugee Furor and Censored Science

 

Two items in today’s news are connected in ways you may not have considered.

  • First, the voters of France chose their next President: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, over neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen, by a wide margin. Europe, France and global markets breathed a deep sigh of relief. Despite admiration on the part of both Putin’s Kremlin and Trump’s White House, Le Pen and her Front National were rejected by two thirds of French voters. And while the champagne is undoubtedly still flowing in Parisian cafes, one ominous fact remains: A right-wing party widely associated with racism, white nationalism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee frenzy garnered the votes of one in three French men and women.
  • Second, in Washington, the Trump regime took steps to muzzle climate research at the EPA, firing two scientists from its science advisory board in the late after-hours on Friday, and pushing for an 84 percent cut in funding for the board overall. The move is widely understood to be part of a broad effort to muzzle science within the EPA, and to unleash the power of the fossil-fuel industry.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the charge to suppress climate science at the Agency

Climate science suppression among Washington’s new rulers. Refugee hysteria in a large segment of the French electorate. So what’s the connection? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe not.

Our Western democracies have proven to be much less resilient to systemic shocks than we might have believed. Sure, there were some nasty events in Europe during the last century. There were Nazis, and Fascists, and Bolsheviks and such. But who can imagine our world slipping back into that abyss? It would take massive tectonic shifts for us to return to those dark days, no? Surely, we’ve progressed way beyond such risks, right?

But in 2006, something happened that threatened to undo our civil democratic order. It must have seemed a distant grief to Western democracies in those days: An epic drought hit the Middle East. And it overstayed its welcome in Syria, Turkey and Iraq for four long years. In Syria, the drought forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers, exacerbating sectarian conflicts long held in check by Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. The resulting civil war has so far displaced four million desperate refugees, roughly half of them now crowding Europe’s displacement camps and resettlement communities. A couple of million refugees.

Now, consider the result of this wave of migrants:

  • Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Granted, the arguments for Brexit were varied, but fear of immigrants dominated to the debate. No one believes that the Brits would have cast off the European bow lines if not for the wave of refugees from the Middle East.
  • And Hungary: Right-wing nationalists now run the country.
  • And in Poland, where the right-wing authoritarian regime has clamped down on public protest and intimidated the judiciary.
  • And in Austria, where anti-immigrant nationalists recently came within a whisker of winning the election.
  • And even in progressive Netherlands, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders finished a strong second in the latest election.
  • And here across the pond, there’s the United States, where the new president took power in a campaign launched on fear of Mexican criminals and “rapists.”

And finally, yesterday in France, Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant Front National garnered the votes of one in three voters. Sure, centrist Macron came away with the win; but the neo-Fascists made the most of the social disruption caused by the influx of foreigners.

A few million refugees, and the Western democracies are thrown into chaos.

And that brings us to the second piece of news: Trump’s EPA is silencing its climate scientists, most recently firing two of its top science advisors, and planning to cut funding for its science advisory board by a draconian 84%. Evidently, they plan on having almost no one remaining there to speak for science.

The connection is still a bit cloudy? Here’s the point: Mass human migration tends to have catastrophic effects on otherwise stable societies. The exodus from Syria is widely recognized as an event driven by a vanishingly rare drought, made much more extreme by the climatic warming afflicting the region. The Syrian Civil War is often placed alongside Darfur as one of the first climate wars of this age.

But it’s not remotely the last. Today’s wave of Syrian refugees is now projected to look like a rounding error in the coming wave of human migration that awaits the world during the next generation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world will have to absorb between 250 million and one billion “climate change refugees” over the next 50 years. Maybe one hundred times more than we have seen in Syria. Maybe three hundred times more. Fleeing drought, famine, resource conflicts, sea-level rise and flooding made worse by climate change.

How will we respond to such an enormous crisis? Well, a wise society could begin with Option One: build infrastructure, establish resettlement programs, educate the public and foster dialogue with affected communities. Or it could go with Option Two: pour its resources into bombs, bullets, border guards and walls. But our choice will be informed at least in part by the extent that we accept our responsibility for the conditions driving the mass migration. And that’s where the science is so troubling. Scientists know that it’s greenhouse gases principally driving this climatic chaos. And we’re among the world’s worst greenhouse gas gluttons.

The Trump regime has bet the ranch on Option Two. Billions more for the world’s largest military and border walls, while silencing the science that exposes the consequences of our carbon binge.

So you knew it, of course. The rise of anti-refugee movements in the West goes hand-in-glove with the efforts to suppress the science explaining one of the principal underlying causes of mass human migration. This, of course, will become impossible in the years ahead, when it will be largely too late to change course.

We still have time, today, however, to respond. Will we listen to the scientists, and our own better angels, or will we fire them and charge headlong into the abyss?

Please, dear friends, raise your voices to be sure that we listen to wisdom.

Oppose Trump’s Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Head the EPA

We have just signed a letter making its way around internet sites stating our opposition to the nomination of Scott Pruitt to become the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is possibly the worst nomination of any seen in a lifetime. The letter itself explains why:

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Dear U.S. Senators,

We … urge your strong, unqualified, and robust opposition to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has a record of advocating against any and all protections for our water, air and climate. Allowing him to lead the EPA would not only be a disaster for the environment, but for every person in the United States who drinks water or breathes air.

We could write a book detailing Pruitt’s anti-environmental views – he has bragged about repeatedly suing the agency he is now being asked to run – but here are a few highlights:

  • As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt campaigned in support of a ballot measure that would have made it virtually impossible for the state to regulate pollution caused by factory farms – pollution which poisons surrounding communities’ air and drinking water. Fortunately, Oklahoma voters have the good sense to reject this measure.
  • Pruitt is a climate denier who has said that the link between human activity and climate change is “far from settled.” He is part of an effort to shield Exxon and other energy companies from accountability over years of misleading the public about the science around climate change.
  • Pruitt opposes the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon as a pollutant, something that is essential to combatting climate change.
  • Pruitt has opposed the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which strengthened regulations aimed at protecting water from runoff pollution.
  • Pruitt even opposes protecting the environment around our national parks. In 2014, Pruitt unsuccessfully sued the EPA over its Regional Haze Rule, a law designed to foster cleaner air at national parks by reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.
  • As earthquakes caused by fracking and waste disposal have ravaged Oklahoma, Pruitt has done nothing to protect the people of his state or hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
  • None of this should come as a surprise, given that Pruitt has accepted over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

As the above record indicates, Pruitt as EPA Administrator would be a disaster for the environment. But it’s worth noting that environmental harm also means human harm. When water is polluted by factory farms, it means that people living downstream get poisoned. When air is polluted by power plants and refineries, it means people living nearby get poisoned. When water systems are allowed to deteriorate and there is insufficient federal response – like in Flint, Michigan – it means people get poisoned. When fossil fuel companies are allowed to drill and dispose of waste with impunity causing earthquakes, it means people’s homes are damaged and working people have to pay more for insurance. And when climate change is denied and allowed to accelerate, it means more superstorms, which means significant property damage and possible loss of life for people living in coastal areas.

The environment should not be a partisan issue, and someone with Scott Pruitt’s record should not be allowed anywhere near the EPA, let alone put in a position to lead it. We urge you to not only vote against Pruitt’s nomination, but actively use all the power of your office and position to block it. We urge you to lobby your colleagues on both sides of the aisle to oppose his nomination, to speak out in the media highlighting his egregious environmental track record, and use all procedural means at your disposal to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Thank you for signing! But there’s one more thing: Here’s a list of the Senators whose committee will be considering Pruitt’s nomination to the EPA. Please call just two of them. If any are from your state, by all means, call them. But regardless, please make two calls. You’re entitled to make your voice known to committee members. You’ll be leaving a message with a staffer, or on a recording machine. If you’re not certain what to say, try this:

Senator [Name], Thank you for your service on the committee to consider the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. I urge you to vote AGAINST confirmation. Pruitt in the EPA would be the fox in the henhouse. Our communities and our children deserve clean air, land and water. [My own community … provide any personal context.] Pruitt’s history makes clear that he would do great harm to all efforts to achieve a sustainable, clean, safe environment. Please, I urge you, vote against his confirmation, and take all steps within your power to see to it that he is not confirmed. Thank you.

Here are links to every member of the committee that must rule on Scott Pruitt’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. Call two today! And thank you!

Majority

Minority

Who Pays for Smog?

In the lead-up to his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama faced a ticklish problem. Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency was required to issue rules governing industrial emissions of smog, that murky ozone pollution driving an epidemic of respiratory diseases and birth defects in our country. But compliance with the EPA rule would have been costly to coal-fired power plants in key electoral states in the Midwest Rust Belt, and the president needed them to remain in office.

So, in a bow to political expediency, Mr. Obama instructed the EPA to delay finalizing the smog rule for several years. Well, several years is now up. This Thursday marks the court-ordered deadline for the EPA to publish its smog rules. And industry-backed groups are pressing an all-out campaign to make them as weak as possible. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers are pushing for a relaxed standard of 70 parts atmospheric ozone per billion. The American Lung Association and environmental groups are advocating a tighter standard of 60 parts per billion.

Smog

Thursday deadline for EPA smog rules.

The difference? In health terms, the industry’s proposal would result in 1.5 million more serious asthma attacks per year, and thousands of premature deaths, mainly among children and the elderly.

You might think this would be easy. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, and the number is growing rapidly. About half of them experience asthma attacks every year. About 9 people die from asthma every day. And the annual national medical bill for the disease was last estimated at an astounding $56 billion, and that was almost a decade ago.

For each victim of asthma, the personal cost is enormous. Of course, for the 3,600 who die every year, the discussion of cost is hugely ironic. But for the surviving sufferers, average individual yearly medical costs ran at $3,300 a decade ago, and we all know what’s happened to medical costs since then.

But asthma sufferers aren’t the only ones talking about cost. The industry lobby claims that tighter ozone standards will cause electricity costs to soar, as smokestack scrubbers costing tens of millions of dollars will need to be installed in many plants. They’ve been joined by dozens of mayors and governors from both sides of the political aisle in their appeal: It’s too expensive. We can’t afford it.

But this debate illustrates one of our great American industrial illusions, doesn’t it? As long as pollution doesn’t cost me anything, then it must be essentially free. If I can produce electricity at five cents per kilowatt-hour while generating lots of smog, then rules that will cost me six cents are pure losers. Losers to my shareholders. Losers to my customers.

But who are the losers today? Well, there are those 3,600 dead Americans. And there are those 25 million asthma sufferers. There are the families of black children, who have seen a 50 percent increase in asthma rates in the last ten years. And there’s that not-so-tidy sum of $56 billion in US medical costs for asthma, much of which is attributable to ozone pollution.

And – I suppose I should mention – asthma is only one of smog’s ill effects, which also include cancers, neurological birth defects and more. The province of Ontario alone counts 9,500 premature deaths per year from all effects of ozone pollution. There’s that too.

So maybe it comes down to this: Who should pay the cost of smog in a just country? Should it be the children and the elderly? Or should it be the people profiting from its use?

Just like you, we don’t want higher electric bills. But we’ll solve our problems (see below) without asking the kids, the aging and the poor to pay them for us.

Note: At Good Hand Farm, we generate most of the electricity for three houses and field irrigation pumps from solar arrays. The balance, we purchase from wind farm generators. It isn’t always easy, but it’s doable.

Evangelical Leader on EPA Carbon Standards: Do It

Religious leaders came out in force to the EPA early this month to speak from their scriptures and teachings on the call to protect God’s creation from climate injustice. Among them was evangelical leader Rev. Richard Cizik. Here is his testimony:

Rev. Richard Cizik EPA Testimony

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I speak here today in my capacity as the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; as an ordained Evangelical minister, having served as the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals for ten years; and as a citizen activist from the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of all Americans who want action to address the devastating health and climate impacts of industrial carbon pollution.

Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners' Liz Schmitt

Richard Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners’ Liz Schmitt

More importantly, though, I speak as a father and parent of a teenage son.  John, now twenty years of age, is a 6’5″ healthy young man with a bright future ahead of him.  Eight years ago, however, he was diagnosed with serious asthma.  On one occasion, before we really understood what was happening, he woke up in the morning unable to breathe.   It’s the kind of frightening experience a parent never forgets.  Fortunately, we got him to a doctor’s office and an exam that would both diagnose his actual condition and prescribe the medicine and inhaler that he still needs to carry with him.

Incidentally, I was attacked later for wanting EPA action based on my son’s asthma alone.  At the time, it struck me as somewhat “sick,” as if no one else gets asthma.  As someone who served as a member of the Virginia Climate Commission, it’s relevant to state that the air quality in the Commonwealth is not the best, and carbon pollution aggravates air pollution, producing thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

At that time, I was well aware intellectually of the dangers of industrial pollutants in the air, but unaware of their personal impacts on my own health.  When asked by the Environmental Working Group, I consented to be a participant in the “Human Toxome Project.”   In so doing, according to the Project’s Final Report, I had become “one of only a small number of people in the world to know a portion of [my] personal body burden of industrial chemicals, called the human toxome.”

The result is that I can testify to the many industrial chemicals, plasticizers, flame-retardants, Teflon chemicals, and heavy metals that are present in my body.  In fact, I have varying levels of 39 of the 84 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals tested, including chemicals linked to reproductive health.  (My wife and I were infertile for many years.)

I was tested for total mercury and methyl mercury.  Total mercury is the sum of all forms of mercury, including methyl mercury.  My levels of mercury in the blood, 2.2ppb is ‘relatively high to national studies’ (87 percentile nationally, which means only 13% of the public has higher exposure).  Methyl mercury levels were 1.7ppb, lower than the federal safety standard of 5.8ppb set for pregnant or nursing women and young children to protect against damage to a developing brain, but high enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, for mercury-driven risks for immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Scientists are only beginning to study the health effects of chronic exposures to chemical mixtures. While studies strongly demonstrate the role chemicals play in a host of health problems, risks to an individual are largely unknown.  Genetics, timing, and dose all play a role.

One reality is very clear.  The EPA’s first-ever national industrial Carbon Pollution Standard for power plants is absolutely essential to reduce the impacts of climate change that worsen smog and trigger asthma attacks and other health consequences.  This standard will clean up the coal plant industry that creates the lion’s share of the nation’s carbon pollution and will also help prevent life-threatening air pollutants like dirty soot, toxic mercury, and the smog that triggers asthma attacks.

We all know that our nation’s air can be cleaned up.  No industry that pollutes it with toxic chemicals or carbon emissions should be permitted to profit at the expense of public health.

Let me be very direct.  More and more children, the elderly, and others with respiratory problems will experience increasing life-threatening illnesses, if those in Congress who only care about protecting the special interests who fill their campaign coffers stymie the EPA’s regulatory efforts.

I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and it seems abundantly clear to me that the Carbon Rule being proposed is both needed and a necessary tool to fulfill our social responsibility to carry out what is a biblical call to be stewards of creation.

Please, for the sake of families such as mine, and all others who are at risk, take this needed action.   Do it, and don’t be deterred. Thank you.

“Job-Killing” Environmental Regulation? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I took a close look at Speaker John Boehner’s answer to the call for better regulation of polluters, after Freedom Industries’ disastrous chemical spill in West Virginia. Boehner declared that we already have enough laws to protect Americans from pollution, and that those regulations kill American jobs. I borrowed heavily from the work of Christians for the Mountains and their response to the spill that contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians.

In the end, we saw that there was little, if any, regulation of the infamous West Virginia polluter, due partly to inadequate laws, and partly to the Congressional de-funding of regulators. And we showed that there are many ways to kill jobs and depress the economy, including poisoning the environment.

I thought I had pretty much exhausted the links between Freedom Industries and cynical claims about “job-killing regulation.” That was until Allen Johnson, leader of Christians for the Mountains, sent me a couple of pictures that he snapped while driving by Freedom Industries the other day. Here’s the first:

obamanojobszonewestvaplanetgore91912Nothing too unusual about this. The coal industry plasters highway billboards all over Appalachia bewailing efforts to develop renewable energy or to make them pay some of the costs of their pollution. Since coal is no longer competitive with natural gas or wind for electric power generation – regardless of regulation – it’s not surprising that they would be looking for someone to blame for their diminished status. The President and the EPA are easy targets.

But let’s pan the picture out a bit:

Picture2Recognize those white tanks in the background? That’s Freedom Industries! Those are the guys who contaminated the Elk River, poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 people, and virtually shut down the largest city in West Virginia! And this sign, accusing the EPA of killing jobs, sits smack on their property.

I wonder if anyone has begun counting the cost of Freedom Industries’ unregulated chemical spill. How deeply West Virginia’s economy has been harmed? How many jobs have been destroyed? How many small businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and such – will shut their doors for good? How many people and businesses are cancelling plans to move to Charleston? And in the future, how many people will lose their health due to the lasting impact of these toxins in the environment?

We all know that every business would be better off – in the near term – if someone else would pick up the tab, or quietly suffer the consequences of their messes. But that’s no way to run a just economy. And when we pray “Thy kingdom come … on earth …” we’re praying – at a bare minimum – for a just economy.

J. Elwood

“Job-Killing” Environmental Regulations: Faith or Fact?

West Virginian Allen Johnson just wrote a fabulous – if disturbing – piece on the toxic chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people living in his state. The now-toxic Elk River, West Virginia’s previously last remaining unpolluted waterway, flows through the heart of Charleston, and eventually empties into the Ohio, where millions more await the chemical onslaught downstream. Johnson, on behalf of Christians for the Mountains, details the almost total lack of regulation of coal-related toxic chemicals in the Mountain State, and the GOP’s current “anti-poverty bill” that would further weaken enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

Allen Johnson, Christians for the Mountains

Allen Johnson, Christians for the Mountains

With so many Americans suffering the loss of clean drinking water, and the prospect of yet another toxic river, we’ve heard many voices calling for stricter regulation of toxic chemicals in storage near waterways. But House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t think this is such a good idea.

“We have enough regulations on the books,” said Boehner last week. “Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991? I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That’s where our focus continues to be.”

So there you have it in a nutshell. Enough regulation already! In fact, we’re rolling back “cumbersome” regulations that are costing jobs. Those job-killing regulations.

Okay, we’ve heard this theme before. But have we really given much thought to the assumptions the Speaker is making? The first is clear: existing regulations are good enough to protect our water and our citizens. And the second: Cumbersome regulations kill American jobs. But do these hold water? Let’s take a closer look.

Are Existing Regulations Really Good Enough?

You’d think that a facility storing huge vats of toxic chemicals just upstream of a public utility’s water intake would be subject to all kinds of inspections and oversight, wouldn’t you? But the Elk River facility hadn’t been inspected by either state or federal authorities since 1991, when it was used by a former owner for other purposes. So, who was sleeping on the job? Well, it appears that no one was. Existing law, and handcuffs on regulators, created the perfect storm that was unleashed on West Virginians: Continue reading

Ask the EPA: Who Picks Up the Tab for Coal?

Today, I testified at the Environmental Protection Agency’s listening session on carbon standards for existing power plants. The worst carbon polluters are coal plants, and they account for about half of U.S. generating capacity. So I focused on coal, and the cost borne by the rest of the world:

Testimony at EPA Listening Session, Philadelphia, PA

My name is John Elwood. I live in Andover, New Jersey. I serve on the board of the Evangelical Environmental Network. I edit the website BelovedPlanet.com, and am speaking this morning in that capacity.

Elwood at earlier EPA hearing in 2011

Elwood at earlier EPA hearing in 2011

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of the EPA’s efforts to establish meaningful standards on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

The core question confronted by the EPA is this: How much carbon pollution should utilities be permitted to dump into the atmosphere – for others to pay for in health, and in climate disruption costs?

The answer would seem to be pretty simple. It’s clearly wrong for a buyer and seller to enjoy all the benefits of a transaction, and then leave a substantial part of the cost for everyone else to pick up – the external costs.

Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of these costs. But in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences produced a study called The Hidden Cost of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in “external costs.” That’s billions, with a “B”. And it amounts to a tax of about $30-40 levied on every human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year.

Earlier this year, the Christian Reformed Church sent a delegation of leaders to Kenya to hear firsthand from people who have been affected by these external costs. We met with hundreds of small farmers and community leaders. Everywhere, the story was the same. Two reliable growing seasons in years past have shrunk to a single season. Even that single season is now unreliable. Crop yields have plummeted. Water is more scarce than ever.

We also visited with the General Secretary of the Kenyan Council of Churches, Rev. Peter Karanja. He told us:

“We are very concerned, especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change…. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world…. Long after your life is over, your actions will have consequences on us. Many of them will be harmful consequences.”

On behalf of all people who bear the cost of American carbon pollution – our citizens, our children, the people of Kenya plus many more – I urge the EPA to develop and implement comprehensive standards aimed at reducing these emissions by existing American power plants.

Thank you.

Note: You can provide written comments to the EPA by clicking here. Speak up! We need your voice!