Interning at Gasp has definitely brought a lot of things to my attention regarding health and safety in the city of Birmingham. Birmingham per se contains an immeasurable number of pollutant factors, all of which produces damaging toxins into our air. These factors include industrialized buildings, trains, cars, etc.
The population—you, me, family, friends, babies, grandparents—are ALL affected by the pollution in the air, and a change is vital for the safety of our lives. Because what originates from the minor emission of CO2 and ground level ozone may lead to an asthma attack or lung disease, seen especially in children.
During my internship at Gasp, I have been working on a project to help implement EPA’s Flag Program into local elementary, middle, and high schools of Birmingham and Jefferson County. The objective of this program is to use brightly colored flags to help students become aware of daily air quality conditions. When students know the daily air quality, they can adjust their daily routine to reduce exposure to air pollution.
With the help of Michael, Haley, and Kirsten, I am currently in the position of reaching out to science educators that may be interested with incorporating EPA’s program into their schools. Hopefully by the end of my school semester a majority of schools in the Birmingham and Jefferson County get involved with this essential and foundational program.
It’s been a few weeks since I updated everyone on executive and legislative actions. Sadly, this is not because there has been nothing to update; so this will be a long one! However, one reason this update is delayed is because I attended an inspiring conference two weeks ago that replenished my “hope budget” and gave me new energy to tackle the many and ever-growing attacks on clean air. Since I blogged last month, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates:
- March 6, 2017: White House Announces Plan to “Close Out” Energy Star program: A spending blueprint would slash Energy Star and related programs, leaving $5 million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs.” According to our friends at ACEEE, Energy Star spend about $50 million through EPA and $7 million through the Department of Energy. According to the Obama administration, the Energy Star program saved consumers $34 billion in electricity costs and prevented more than 300 million metric tons of GHGs in one year while improving ambient air quality.
- March 8: The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430): This proposed bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-TX. The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. The bill was introduced on March 8, 2017 and passed by recorded vote in the House (228 – 194) on March 29, 2017.
- March 13: Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch: President Trump signed this Executive Order, where the stated purpose is “intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.”
- March 15: Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change: A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. It pledges to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute.
- March 17: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775). This proposed bill, sponsored by Pete Olson, R-TX, was reintroduced and aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants. The same bill failed last year and we blogged about its potential disastrous effects on air quality and public health.
- March 21: President Trump is Not Considering a Carbon Tax: despite a meeting between Republican elder statesmen and Trump Administration officials, President Trump announced he is not considering a carbon tax.
- March 28: Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth: President Trump signed this Executive Order. The goal is to halt the United States’ government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business. We borrowed the words of our friends at NAACP on this day to express our extreme disappointment with this negligent and potentially disastrous change in course for addressing the impacts of climate change.
- April 5: Congressional hearing on the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731): At the hearing, ranking member Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, stated “[t]he idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win.” There was testimony from the bill’s lead sponsor, Hal Rogers, R-KY, and three witnesses. The hearing itself was a major milestone for the RECLAIM Act.
FOLLOW UP ON ACTIONS PREVIOUSLY COVERED
- 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:
- The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: Update: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
- Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. Update: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
- 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.
Status of Bills in U.S. Congress covered in previous posts:
||Jason Smith, R-MO
||Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
||Paul Mitchell, R-MI
||Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
||Tim Walberg, R-MI
||Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
||Gary Palmer, R-AL
||Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
||Matt Gaetz, R-FL
||Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
||Sam Johnson, R-TX
||Would leave EPA 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
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
- February 21, 2017: Letter sent from automobile manufacturers to Scott Pruitt asking him to relax emissions requirements: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent a letter to Scott Pruitt (EPA Administrator) asking him to withdraw the Final Determination on Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. Update: on March 15, 2017, President Trump announced plans to re-examine the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, taking a step back from Obama-era environmental regulations.
- OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA: The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. Update: U.S. Congress is currently in recess for the Easter holiday but are expected to consider OMB’s budget proposal upon their return.
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This past Sunday, a Meet the Press interview featuring Counselor to President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway went viral after she coined the phrase “alternative facts.” I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard this euphemism coming out of the new White House. (I also cringed at the Orwellian undertones. But that’s a topic for a book club.)
Here’s the deal: Gasp is a nonpartisan, apolitical advocacy organization. We just want healthy air for everyone to breathe, and we work through various channels to drive that mission forward. In our minds, healthy air isn’t a political or partisan issue — everyone should want to clean air. So with all of this in mind I would like to share some “alternative facts” about issues we work on. Hopefully you will enjoy this tongue-in-cheek post. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something and be inspired to take action!
Alternative Fact #1: Air pollution is not a big deal anymore
The Truth: Air pollution is the world’s top environmental health risk factor for premature death and disease. Every single year, dirty air contributes to more than 5.5 million deaths. Air pollution is linked to all kinds of bad health outcomes, including: asthma attacks, cancers, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, and more. Today, the federal Clean Air Act is estimated to save more than 200,000 lives and prevent nearly 2 million asthma attacks annually.
Alternative Fact #2: Climate change is a hoax
The Truth: In a survey of nearly 12,000 climate studies, researchers found that of those addressing climate change, 97 percent say humans play a role. We also just ended the hottest year on record — the third consecutive record-setting year. Climate change isn’t up for debate; it’s already happening. And we need to act now to mitigate harms such as severe drought, coastal flooding, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise. It’s alarming, then, that the new administration has issued a so-called “gag order” on climate science for federal entities.
Alternative Fact #3: Hazardous air pollutants aren’t dangerous for kids
The Truth: Hazardous air pollutants (or “air toxics”) pose serious health risks to everyone, but are especially dangerous for young and unborn children. For example, the World Health Organization describes mercury as “a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life … that may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.” That didn’t stop Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, from signing onto a 2012 lawsuit against the EPA that said, “the record does not support EPA’s findings that mercury…pose[s] public health hazards.”
Alternative Fact #4: Coal is the fuel of the future
The Truth: Coal is the horse and buggy of the energy industry. Sure, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage on a chilly night with your significant other can be romantic every now and then. But as a mode of transportation? Not so much. Coal — and other fossil fuels for that matter — are dirty sources of energy. Extracting it degrades our environment. Burning it pollutes our air and lungs. Storing the waste jeopardizes our rivers, streams, and land. “Clean coal” is a marketing slogan. Wind and solar energy are both free, renewable fuels that are becoming more and more cost-competitive by the day.
Alternative Fact #5: Solar energy doesn’t work in Alabama
The Truth: Not only is solar energy viable in Alabama, but the state’s rooftop solar potential is greater than the total electricity it produced in last year. That’s a really frustrating fact when you consider that Alabama ranked a dismal 50th in 2015 in solar jobs per capita. Think about all of the new jobs we could create building and installing solar panels locally. Watch this video of former Alabama coal miner Chuck Jay who became a solar installer in his second career! Think of how many former coal workers who could be put to work in a new green economy!
Alternative Fact #6: There’s nothing I can do about this anyway
The Truth: You are more powerful than you know. We’re fond of the Margaret Mead saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Together, we can protect our environment from toxic pollution and stand up to those who would pollute our air, water, and land. Here are five easy ways you can take action today with us:
- Sign up for our newsletters
- Become a member of Gasp
- Ask your senators to reject Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator
- Advocate in the media
Happy Veteran’s Day! We are so grateful for the service of those who keep us safe and secure. Our service men and women make it possible for us to do this important work freely.
On that note, I don’t think I need to tell you that the outcome of the presidential election may have serious consequences for air pollution and climate change policy. Let me be perfectly clear: the sky is not falling. Here’s what I told the Birmingham News:
“The fight for clean air, environmental justice, and climate solutions will go on regardless. I am optimistic that we’ll be able to make progress towards a healthier, more sustainable environment regardless of who is in the White House if people get involved as volunteers, members, and advocates.
“We all need to do a better job of listening to people outside of our bubbles so that we can empathize with them. Most change happens at the state and local level by far, and we need to come together with our neighbors and find lasting solutions to these issues.
“Because the reality is that air pollution and climate change affect all of us, and the only way we’re ever going to figure out the best path forward is if we all work together.”
But let me also be clear that we will fight harder than ever for clean, healthy air for everyone in Alabama. If the new administration tries to rollback key air pollution regulations, we will intervene. If the new administration tries to undo progress on climate change policy, we will stand up to them. If environmental justice and civil rights are pushed aside, we will mobilize. We won’t back down.
Clean air and water are basic human rights. You can’t place a monetary value on a person’s life. That’s why we need your support now more than ever before in our 7-year history. Please join now if you’re not already a member. Pass this message along if you are.
For our future,
On September 7, 2016, The EPA finalized Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) in the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update to address air quality impacts of the interstate transport of ozone air pollution in the eastern United States.
CSAPR addresses summertime (May through September) transport of ozone pollution in the Eastern U.S. that crosses state lines. CSAPR aims to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants in 22 states, including Alabama, that contribute to downwind ozone problems.
The final version will not take effect until May of 2017. However, the updated CSAPR helps downwind states meet the old 75 parts per billion standard instead of the 70 parts per billion standard that became final in October of 2015.
EPA estimates that CSAPR will cut NOx releases next year by about 80,000 tons in the affected states, constituting about a 20 percent drop from last year’s levels. EPA estimates the benefits will amount to about $880 million per year, including prevention of harmful health effects such as:
- Over 67,000 asthma attacks;
- Almost 56,000 days of missed work and school;
- Over 240 hospital and ER visits; and
- Up to 60 premature deaths.
The budget emissions for Alabama in the Final CSAPR update are:
- 2015 Emissions: 20,369
- Proposed 2017 Update CSAPR Update Budget: 9,979
- Final 2017 CSAPR Update Budget: 13,211
Ozone exposure leads to premature death, coughing, sore throats, damage to the lungs, exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This dangerous ozone is known as ground-level ozone, which forms when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds.
Coal-fired power plants, large industrial facilities, vehicles and gasoline vapors all contribute to ozone pollution. Transient weather events and weather conditions play a crucial role in ground-level ozone concentrations. Summers with hotter temperatures and dryer conditions yield higher ozone days than wetter and cooler summers. From May through June of 2014, temperatures in Alabama were below average while precipitation was above average.
The CSAPR update is welcome news from the EPA, where Jefferson County experienced two “orange,” ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive groups) this week. Metro Birmingham so far this year has had a significant number of ozone days:
Our mission is to reduce the burden of air pollution on people who live, work, and learn in Alabama through education and advocacy. To support this vital work, become a member today!