Securing Environmental Justice for Northern Birmingham

Securing Environmental Justice for Northern Birmingham

Tidying up my family’s summer vegetable and flower gardens brought some calmness to a hectic week. With every season and year that passes, playing in the dirt as therapy gains greater significance for me. I recall when my boys (now teenagers) were young, giving them a shovel and dirt or just being outside would provide hours of entertainment. Maybe the simplicity of the activity throws our souls back to a slower time. I don’t know.

Residents in northern Birmingham neighborhoods are not able to benefit from this therapeutic activity. Their summers are not filled with the simplicity of moving soil around on their property. They cannot allow their children or grandchildren to dig in the yards of their homes. In fact, if their children or grandchildren inadvertently do get down in the dirt (as kids often do) they have been instructed to wash their hands and take off their shoes before coming inside. Hundreds of residential properties are contaminated with toxic chemicals. Arsenic. Lead. PAHs. Soot continues to accumulate on porches and chemical odors are commonplace.

This summer, the EPA began their investigation into Gasp’s Title VI complaint — one of many actions Gasp has taken to address the pollution. We heard in-depth interviews and testimonies from folks living in the impacted neighborhoods. Residents shared the stark realities of how legacy and ongoing pollution have altered their lives and their health.

An elderly woman who every summer for years took pride in her large, well-nurtured vegetable garden that yielded produce for her family and her neighbors shared her memories. At times, the details escaped her, but the joy her backyard garden brought her was palpable. She wonders, now that she knows about the toxic soil, if eating those vegetables year after year could have affected her families’ health. She doesn’t garden anymore.

A retired veteran who gave 30 years of service to our country spends more time outside washing the soot that accumulates on his lawn furniture than he does sitting in that furniture enjoying the outdoors. As a self-described “clean freak,” he is fairly satisfied how the water pressure of the hose cleans the soot off of his new windows, but he grows tired of this mundane chore that is as frequent as taking out the trash.

Also this summer, news broke of Oliver Robinson taking bribes from Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham to undermine the continued cleanup of toxic contamination in Birmingham and our efforts to expand the investigation into Tarrant.

While it is not terribly shocking that big polluters and their expensive law firms engaged in nefarious activity to maintain the status quo, the silence that followed was. Where are the other elected officials denouncing Drummond Coal’s and Balch & Bingham’s immoral behavior? Where are the opinion letters or full page ads from our corporate leaders and institutions demanding for an apology or, better yet, restitution and cleanup from Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham? Will the reach of these companies’ tentacles prevent justice from taking priority over the health of entire neighborhoods of people? The health of our children?

The summer of 2017 could have been the beginning of a paradigm shift for the most powerful corporations and institutions in our state. The federal investigation is providing the “cover” for members of the leadership class to side with the residents in northern Birmingham neighborhoods and denounce the actions of Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham.

Although fall has officially begun, it is not too late. We need to hear from the influential voices denouncing the immoral actions of these corporations and calling for the clean up and reduction of pollution in northern Birmingham neighborhoods. Perhaps by taking action today we can ensure that the generations of tomorrow will have the benefits of a clean and healthy environment.

Start by telling the Birmingham Business Alliance to remove Drummond CEO Mike Tracy and Balch & Bingham Partner Stan Blanton from their board of directors and from barring representatives from leadership for at least two years.

TAKE ACTION

The Truth About Rep. Gary Palmer’s Anti-EPA Bill

The Truth About Rep. Gary Palmer’s Anti-EPA Bill

BACKGROUND.

Rep. Gary Palmer (AL-6) introduced H.R. 637 in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 24, 2017. The stated purpose of the bill is “to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from exceeding its statutory authority in ways that were not contemplated by the Congress.”

We are urging our supporters to add your name to this petition opposing this bill. We feel that if we work together, we can find better way to address concerns about regulations while still protecting public health and addressing greenhouse gases. We will attempt to share this petition with Rep. Palmer at his town hall meeting on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. at Hoover City Hall.

With that in mind, here are the facts…

EPA AUTHORITY.

The bill says, “no Federal agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under current law.”

  • This is blatantly wrong. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) upheld the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide from traditional stationary sources like power plants and factories.
  • The case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, was a 7–2 decision written primarily by the late Antonin Scalia.
  • That 2014 ruling built upon a 2007 ruling (Massachusetts v. EPA), which found the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

GREENHOUSE GASES.

The bill amends section 302 of the Clean Air Act (42 USC § 7602) to say, “the term air pollutant does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.”

  • There is no scientific or rational basis for excluding these gases from the definition of air pollutants.
  • While none of these pollutants are toxic to humans, they are all greenhouse gases that contribute to anthropogenic climate change and can have short-term health effects when breathed by humans.
  • SCOTUS has ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as air pollutants.
  • Breathing elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas, can affect human heart and brain health. Harvard researchers found a direct, negative correlation between breathing elevated levels of CO2 and brain function and decision making ability.
  • High concentrations of CO2 displace oxygen, which in turn can reduce human respiratory function.
    Nitrous oxide (N2O), also known as laughing gas, is a greenhouse gas that can cause a person to become oxygen deprived — which can affect blood pressure, cause fainting, and contribute to heart attacks.
  • Exposure to N2O negatively affects human brain function.
  • Exposure to methane gas (CH4), a highly potent greenhouse gas, can cause dizziness, headaches and fatigue.

CLIMATE CHANGE.

The bill inserts language that says the Clean Air Act does not authorize regulation of climate change or global warming.

  • An overwhelming majority of scientific research has concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities (e.g., burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, industrial operations, agriculture, vehicles, etc.) contribute to climate change. As stated above, SCOTUS has ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate these emissions.
  • The predicted effects of climate change/global warming include health impacts related to increased temperatures, worsened air quality, extreme weather events, diseases, contaminated drinking water, drought, flooding, and more. Some examples:
    • An increase in temperature can cause heat stroke, dehydration, and cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease. This may lead to an increase in heat-related deaths.
    • Higher temperatures are correlated with poorer air quality. In particular, research predicts Alabama may experience more than double the current number of days with unhealthy ozone pollution. Exposure to high-levels of ozone pollution can result in negative health outcomes for children, older adults, and people with lung and other chronic diseases (e.g., triggering an asthma attack).

Take Action

IN FAIRNESS.

The points enumerated above are all based on scientifically sound research. However, because we know supporters of the bill will bring up these issues, we want to go ahead and address them fairly.

  • Carbon dioxide is breathed out by humans and is sometimes called “plant food.” In other words, naturally occurring CO2 is essential to a healthy environment and a habitable climate.
  • Some scientific research has shown a relationship to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and higher crop yields.
  • Access to electricity, which has historically been primarily powered by burning fossil fuels, has led to leaps in improvements to human health and quality of life. This is undeniably true.
  • While scientists overwhelmingly agree that the Earth’s climate is changing and that human activity contributes to it, the extent to which humans can affect this is somewhat disputed. (This is mostly a matter of degree, not difference of conclusions.)
Federal Roundup for February 17, 2017

Federal Roundup for February 17, 2017

As promised, we are continuing a series to keep you updated about executive and legislative actions in this new administration. I blogged about the most recent updates last week, and we are still encouraging you to oppose Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. Several new developments have cropped up and we have updates from last week:

New Developments

February 7: Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act (H.R.958)

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced the Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act on Thursday, saying it would save $7.5 billion annually. That would leave the agency with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property. As of the date of this post, no further action has been taken on this bill.

February 9: Donald Trump added as a defendant in children’s’ climate case

The case is Juliana v. United States, and began in August of 2015. The case argues that the federal government, in its actions, has endangered future generations’ rights to what is known as the public trust . The public trust is an old legal doctrine that holds that it is the government’s responsibility to preserve certain natural resources for public use. The Youth plaintiffs in the federal case filed notice with the court that they were replacing former President Barack Obama with President Trump.

February 15: Senate hearings on “modernizing” the Endangered Species Act

John Barrassoo (R-Wyo.) led a two-hour meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee to ““eliminate[e] a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs,” under the Endangered Species Act. There was no discussion on the committee about the stability of species that were listed and recovered as a result of the act, and also no discussion of continued human expansion into the habitats of hundreds of species as their numbers dwindle.

February 16: Senate committee votes to advance Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator

In a 54-46 vote, the Senate advanced Scott Pruitt’s Nomination to head the EPA. A final vote could occur as early as Friday (tomorrow). We are urging our supporters to make their voices heard immediately. Scott Pruitt is an offensive choice to lead the EPA.

TAKE ACTION

February 16: Senators’ ask Scott Pruitt to recuse himself

On February 16, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asking him to recuse himself from participating in any matter related to litigation that he pursued against the EPA as Oklahoma Attorney General. Markey was joined by 29 other Senators in this letter. In the letter, the senators specifically call on Mr. Pruitt to recuse himself from decisions on how the EPA will defend itself against the lawsuits he brought for as long as those cases are active. They also call on Mr. Pruitt to recuse himself from any actions the EPA may make as a result of court action on litigation from which he is recused, as well as recuse himself from directing the revision or elimination of any regulation regarding issues on which he has sued the EPA. During his testimony at his confirmation hearing and in follow-up questions for the record, Mr. Pruitt refused to recuse himself from any of these matters.

Updates

Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress

The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:

  1. The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule. This regulation restricted coal companies from dumping waste, such as mining debris, into streams. Unfortunately, President Trump signed the resolution repealing this rule today.
  2. Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule. The House voted on February 3 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post.
  3. Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country.
  4. Cardin-Lugar amendment of the Dodd-Frank Act: The rule, implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission, was mandated in 2010 by the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, better known as Dodd-Frank. After a court battle, the SEC introduced it last year in June. It requires public companies that extract oil, natural gas or minerals abroad to disclose in an annual report any payments made to a foreign government or the U.S. federal government. Companies were not required to comply with the rule until their first fiscal year ending on or after Sept. 30, 2018. On February 14, President Trump signed a resolution to repeal this rule.

January 24: Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017 (H.R. 637)

This is a proposed bill (Gary Palmer, R-AL) that blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change. There has been no action since the bill was introduced. Gary Palmer is hosting a town hall in Birmingham, Ala., on February 25 at 9 a.m. at Hoover City Hall. We are collecting petition signatures opposing this ridiculous piece of legislation. Please click the button below to add your name. We will deliver these to Mr. Palmer’s staff at the town hall meeting on your behalf.

SIGN ON

February 3: Bill to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (H.R. 861)

Matt Gaetz (R-FL, 1st District) introduced a bill that would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018. No actions taken since the bill was introduced.


We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

Federal Roundup for February 8, 2017

Federal Roundup for February 8, 2017

The first few weeks of the new administration have been very eventful. I blogged about the REINS Act a few weeks ago, and we are encouraging you to oppose Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. However, many other things have happened at the executive and legislative level since then. To help you keep up, here is a roundup of executive and legislative actions in the first three weeks of the new administration:

January 24: Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017 (H.R. 637)

Alabama’s very own Gary Palmer (R-Birmingham) sponsored a proposed bill that blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change. The bill repeals the ability of the Clean Air Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Endangered Species Act of 1973, and Solid Waste Disposal Act to regulate climate change and excludes carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride from being defined as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. This essentially means that EPA will not have authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant and would require EPA to seek approval from Congress to enact a regulation that would have any negative effect on employment.

January 27: Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was spearheaded by Newt Gingrich in 1996 as part of his Contract with America. The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. Resolutions, unlike bills, cannot be filibustered and need only a simple majority to pass. The resolutions require the signature of the president. For the CRA to be effective, one party needs to control both houses of Congress and the White House, with a president eager to undo the policies of his immediate predecessor, which is our current situation. The Congressional Research Services estimates that about 50 major rules could be vulnerable to the CRA. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:

  • The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: this rule was finalized in December and requires coal companies that finished mining in an area to restore the land to conditions that existed before the mining began, with an emphasis on streams and waterways. Both the House and the Senate voted to roll back the stream protection rule on January 30,2017 and it awaits signature from President Trump.
  • Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: this rule was announced in November and targets flaring, which is the practice of burning methane emissions at oil wells, as well as venting and leaks from fossil fuel extraction. The rule requires oil and gas companies to capture errant methane instead of burning or venting it. It also standardizes procedures for inspecting operations for methane leaks and for paying royalties on captured natural gas back to the US government. The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post.
  • Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country. Basically, if Congress repeals these rules, drilling could occur in national parks with little more than bare-minimum state regulations. As of the date of this post, there has not been a vote on this resolution.

January 30: President Trump Signs 2-for-1 Executive Order

Trump signed an executive order that boils down to a command to all federal agencies: if you want to issue a new regulation, you have to repeal two existing ones. How does this impact clean air? Well, say the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect children from harmful mercury emissions from power plants. If the EPA wants to create this new rule, they would need to cut two existing rules, such as reducing lead in drinking water or requiring school buses to cut smog-causing emissions.

While President Trump touts this as a win for businesses succumbing to over-regulation, the above example shows this creates a Hobson’s choice for protecting our children, our health, our environment and our communities. The necessity and legality of this executive order are also called into question when considering agencies are required to take into account costs when creating a regulation and the procedural requirements for agency rulemaking in the Administrative Procedures Act.

On February 8, 2017 Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Communications Workers of America sued the Trump administration to block this executive order. The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a declaration that the order cannot be lawfully implemented and bar the agencies from implementing the order.

February 3: To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (H.R. 861)

Matt Gaetz (R-FL, 1st District) introduced a bill that would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018. Gaetz states that the functions of the EPA are best left to state and local communities to determine their local needs and create regulations accordingly. In his own words, Gaetz said “I would take the resources that we use to fund the bureaucracy at the EPA, and I would downstream those resources to states and local communities so that we are able to have people closest to environmental assets ascertain the importance of those assets, and then protect them appropriately and responsibly.”

When we localize this impact to Alabama, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is woefully underfunded by the state (the Alabama legislature slashed ADEM’s state funding consistently since 2008, when its appropriation was around $6 million, culminating in a 2016 budget that required ADEM to pay $1.2 million into the general fund), the consequences for the protection of health and the environment in Alabama could be dire.

Stay Focused!

We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

Bookmark our campaigns page and ask your friends and family to take action. As you may know, one of the most effective tactics for having your voice heard is a personal phone call. We encourage you to call after you’ve taken action to make certain your elected officials take notice.

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REINS Act Could Spell Disaster for Clean Air

REINS Act Could Spell Disaster for Clean Air

Today the 115th Congress convened in Washington. Experts and policy wonks anticipate that the House of Representatives is likely to pass H.R. 427, “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017” — better known as the REINS Act.

This bill passed the house last July, but never made progress in the Senate. However, President-Elect Donald Trump supports the REINS Act, and with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, we have never been closer to the REINS Act becoming law.

Put simply, the REINS Act is a measure to limit the ability of executive-branch agencies to adopt major regulatory initiatives without congressional approval. Specifically, the REINS Act prevents new major rules from taking effect unless and until they are approved by a joint resolution in Congress, and creates an expedited procedure for the consideration of such rules.

The way this breaks down is that if enacted, no new major rule (which would be one with an economic impact of at least $100 million) could go into effect until both chambers of Congress affirmatively approve it within a 70-day window. Furthermore, the REINS Act would deem a regulation disapproved if Congress allows the 70-day window to close without action.

Because every citizen’s right to breathe clean air and live in healthy communities depends upon critical regulations such as the Clean Air Act, Gasp opposes the REINS Act. The REINS Act would subordinate agency rulemaking processes. For example, the Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon pollution from power plants and thus combat climate change, and was the result of years of work by the EPA.

The Clean Power Plan is based on sound science and the EPA underwent a rigorous public comment process in arriving at the final rule. If the REINS Act existed at the time EPA promulgated this rule, Congress could have summarily dismissed such a critical regulation protecting human health and the environment.

Furthermore, it is well known that special interests play a critical role in our legislative process. Without the REINS Act, Congress is still able to stop regulations by vetoing through congressional review and by passing laws to supersede regulations. The REINS Act would relieve Senators and Representatives from taking votes publicly and thus creating a non-transparent process.

Americans deserve better than this, and Senators and Representatives should be held accountable when they vote to cancel protections for the environment and human health. For all of these reasons, Gasp opposes the REINS Act. If you agree, tell your U.S. Representative and Senators that you do NOT want them to support the REINS Act.

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Tell Your Senator to Vote Yes on 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

Tell Your Senator to Vote Yes on 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

Earlier this month, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate to shift America to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The goal of this resolution is to help consumers, support the economy and national security and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The average temperature on Earth “has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years,” according to the EPA. This could lead to catastrophic shifts in climate and weather. In fact, we just experienced the hottest summer on record — again! While climate change is no doubt one of the most debated topics today — whether it be among politicians, or private citizens — the bottom line is that climate change is real and is happening now. The time has come for Alabamians who care about environmental health and climate justice to come together and address this urgent challenge head on.

This resolution and purposeful shift to renewable sources of energy for electricity production in the U.S., and moving away from sources that generate harmful greenhouse gases could allow us to avoid some of the worst case scenarios for warming due to climate change.

We’ve made advocacy simple:

Step 1: Write Your Senator

Step 2: Tweet Your Senator

If you want to learn more about climate change and renewable energy and what you can do be part of the solution to climate change, visit our Climate and Clean Energy page and take action through this petition letting your U.S. Senator know that you want them to support this resolution to shift America to 100% renewable energy.

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