Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Wake. Coffee. Email. Zoom. Email. Zoom. Email. Dinner. TV. Bed. Sleep.

Repeat.

That’s more or less a typical workday during this pandemic. And I have to admit that I’m fortunate to still have a job in a time when 1-in-5 Americans have filed for unemployment over the past several weeks. I’m also lucky that I love my job. I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work. Even if “going to work” just entails sitting at my dining room table for the time being.

Anyhow, this past Wednesday morning started normal enough. That is, until I got an email alerting me to a statement from Secretary of State John Merrill attacking Gasp and the Sierra Club. Merrill was “shar[ing] support for Plant Barry of Mobile County.” This was allegedly prompted by a lawsuit we filed last month over expired air and water permits at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry, a dirty coal-fired power plant near Mobile.

In his screed, Merrill made several inaccurate, inflammatory statements before finally concluding, “This is a time to work together to address issues and solve problems, not to promote extreme political issues.” Project much?

I won’t give his false statements more exposure here, but the hypocrisy was loud enough to get my attention. It also made me realize that we hadn’t put out a press release or any kind of public announcement. Merrill’s misguided rant is an opportunity to do just that.

As mentioned above, Gasp and Sierra Club on April 2 filed a writ of mandamus petition with the Circuit Court in Montgomery regarding expired permits for Plant Barry. Alabama Power, to its credit, has fulfilled its duty to submit renewal applications for these permits. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the state agency responsible for air and water permits for facilities like Plant Barry, has failed to act on those applications. In other words, the state — by way of ADEM — is the subject of the lawsuit. The kind of permits in question are a Title V air pollution permit that expired in 2015 and an NPDES water pollution permit that expired in 2013.

In asking ADEM to officially renew these outdated permits, we argue that ADEM must ensure they comply with current pollution limitations, which have been updated since the permits were last issued and since the plant’s emissions were last evaluated. And, of course, we requested that the court compel ADEM to issue public notice and public comment periods for the permit renewals as required by law.

We’ve asked for this to happen by September 1, 2020. That is by all accounts a very reasonable timeframe. ADEM has said that it hopes to have a new air permit in place by July 1 and a new water permit by September 1.

Are you bored yet? Have your eyes glazed over? Are you not entertained?

Well, that’s kind of the point. This is pretty boring stuff. But it’s very necessary stuff. You see, Plant Barry is one of the state’s largest point sources of air and water pollution and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act provide for citizen enforcement. Groups like Gasp and Sierra Club play a crucial role in making sure the agencies charged with implementing those laws are doing their jobs.

What is out of the ordinary, however, is for the Secretary of State to weigh in on a rote lawsuit over air permits, especially one involving the very executive branch of government he works for. His job, as a reminder, is to oversee free and fair elections in Alabama. We would all be better served if Merrill focused on protecting voting rights and ensuring safe and secure access to the ballot box.

The point is this: Don’t be fooled by John Merrill. He has no business inserting himself into lawsuits over environmental permits. His infamous online behavior may get him the attention he craves, but it is a distraction.

Gasp and Sierra Club are simply daring to defend every Alabamians’ right to healthy air to breathe and clean water to drink. There’s nothing radical about that.

If you agree that everyone deserves clean, healthy air to breathe, now would be a great time to support our work with a tax-deductible financial contribution. Click here to donate online.

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

By Ben Moose, Gasp Spring Intern

In my last blog post, I provided an overview of the concept, methods, advantages, and disadvantages of remote atmospheric monitoring. In this post, I will describe, in more detail, the techniques satellites use to detect air quality – how instruments can measure the concentration of gases and pollutants remotely. I will focus specifically on the TROPOMI device to illustrate the capabilities and recent advancements in the field, as it is one of the newest and most effective devices for air quality measurements.

How does TROPOMI measure pollutants?

As noted in my last post, TROPOMI allows beams of light reflected off of the atmosphere to enter the device. Instruments in the device then determine the wavelength of the measured light using wavelength detectors. As different gases in the atmosphere absorb light at different wavelengths, TROPOMI can determine the concentration of different gases in the atmosphere by comparing the wavelengths of reflected light to sunlight. For example, ozone absorbs light energy at wavelengths of approximately 500 – 700 nanometers. TROPOMI compares a sample of light directly from the sun to a sample of light reflected through the atmosphere, and the difference in light energy at wavelengths of 500 – 700 nanometers illustrates the concentration of ozone in the atmosphere. This process is called spectrometry, and the instrument used in TROPOMI is a multispectral imaging spectrometer, as it can detect a variety of wavelengths of light across different spectrums.

Why is TROPOMI so useful compared to other satellites?

Range of measurement: TROPOMI, unlike other satellites used to detect air quality, can measure wavelengths in multiple different spectrums. Specifically, the device can detect wavelengths in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and short-wave infrared spectrums. TROPOMI’s access to a variety of different wavelengths allows it to simultaneously detect multiple gases that absorb different wavelengths of light, allowing the device to measure a wide range of pollutants and indicators of air quality that other devices cannot measure. The image on the right illustrates TROPOMI’s measurement capabilities.

The bands of wavelengths at which different gases or pollutants absorb light energy are visualized with white bands on the chart, and the measurement abilities of different satellites are included at the top and bottom of the image. As shown in the chart, TROPOMI can detect substances in the atmosphere that absorb light at wavelengths of approximately 250-500 nm, 700-800 nm, and in a narrow band above 2000 nm.

Accuracy and resolution:  As the above visualization of the satellite ranges illustrates, other devices such as SCIAMACHY and GOME have very large ranges of wavelength detection, allowing these satellites to measure more indicators than TROPOMI. However, the main factor setting these devices apart is the resolution. While TROPOMI can measure pollutants and gases at a 7.0 km x 3 km resolution for most scans, SCIAMACHY’s resolution, for example, is about 200 km x 30 km. This huge difference in resolution allows the newer TROPOMI device to more accurately measure air quality with local measurements, despite its lack of ability to measure some air quality indicators. The visualization below illustrates the  resolution of the four satellites included in the above chart, centered around the Amsterdam area.

 

Useful additional resources

This World Meteorological Organization site provides information about the different measurement capabilities of the TROPOMI device, as well as other satellite devices. It includes a list of different air quality and atmospheric indicators (gases, pollutants) and the satellite’s  effectiveness at measuring each one, along with the measurement method. 

This page of the Delft University of Technology’s website outlines the benefits of TROPOMI when compared to other satellites, and is the source of the images used in this post.

 

EPA Rolls Back Standards for Mercury Pollution from Coal- and Oil-Fired Power Plants

EPA Rolls Back Standards for Mercury Pollution from Coal- and Oil-Fired Power Plants

EPA Rolls Back Standards for Mercury Pollution from Coal- and Oil-Fired Power Plants

On April 16, 2020, in keeping with its deregulatory agenda, EPA finalized the supplemental cost finding and Risk and Technology review for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were finalized in 2012. Put simply, while EPA is downplaying the significance of weakening MATS, there are several ways in which this is incredibly concerning for our health and environment.

First, just a refresher on MATS: the rule was finalized in 2012, and the EPA under the Obama administration found that it was “appropriate and necessary” (also called the “A&N finding”) to tally benefits of reducing mercury pollution and co-benefits of reducing sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter and other pollutants. The analysis also included benefits to health in dollar amounts. For example, driving down mercury emissions alone would yield a $6 million dollar annual benefit. This was increased to an $80 billon benefit over five years when factoring in gains in avoided heart disease, asthma attacks and other health problems.

Then EPA lost a legal challenge on MATS in 2015, when in Michigan v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court found that EPA was also required to consider costs when determining whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), also known as air toxics, from power plants. If you’re interested in reading more about the court challenges to MATS in the past, you can read older blog posts here.

It’s worth noting that the now-bankrupt Murray Energy CEO, Robert Murray, who is also a major fundraiser for President Trump, personally requested that MATS be rolled back in a “wish list” submitted to top Trump officials shortly after Trump took office. So, amid a pandemic, Trump’s EPA decided to deliver on this request.

EPA says all their rollback amounts to is “correcting the previous Administration’s flawed cost finding in the original rule.” They then go on to downplay mercury emissions for the U.S., while at the same time stating that EPA has determined it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. Under the Residual Risk and Technology Review, EPA found that HAP emissions have been reduced such that residual risk is at acceptable levels, and made no changes to MATS.

What does all of this actually amount to? First, co-benefits are no longer calculated with the abandonment of the A&N finding. Where power plants have already complied with MATS, some might shrug their shoulders. However, as is often the case in this Administration, if you look only at the smoke and show, and not behind the curtain, you might miss the real problem. The real issue here is that by abandoning the “appropriate and necessary” finding for MATS, the door has been open for the fossil fuel industry to justify no or very weak regulations for any pollutant because it is “too costly.”

Finally, since MATS became final, it drastically reduced mercury and other air toxics, which are linked to respiratory issues, heart disease and cancer. MATS is credited with saving as many as 11,000 lives a year. During a health crisis (a PANDEMIC), especially where heart disease and respiratory issues are co-morbidities for COVID-19, and exposure to air pollution also increases risk of death from COVID-19, it is unconscionable that EPA would weaken MATS and abandon the A&N finding.

My Approach to Handling the COVID-19 Crisis

My Approach to Handling the COVID-19 Crisis

My Approach to Handling the COVID-19 Crisis

It has been a little over a month since I worked in the Gasp office. Like many of you, I am yearning to know when we will resume being in one another’s physical presence. Meanwhile, the Gasp staff is adjusting because our work continues. If you haven’t already, check out Earth Month 2020: Rising Tide for Climate Justice on Facebook and recent blog posts on our website.

It is interesting to read about what others are doing during these unprecedented times. Here is a glimpse into what my month has been like (outside of work) and how I’m coping with this new normal.

Practice Gratitude

To me, the most important variable dictating how you navigate this stressful pandemic is whether or not you can provide for yourself and your family. My husband and I have not lost our jobs. We come from a privileged background. We can provide for our kids. For this, I am grateful. Soon after I had my first child (who is now 18) and became a stay-at-home mom, a dear friend gifted me the book, A Simple Abundance. It changed my life. Since reading it, I have drawn on the principle of gratitude when I think I’m having a bad day, or living through a pandemic.

Cooking

It is helpful that I enjoy cooking given that our 16 and 18 year old boys are home 24/7 now. Developing and executing a meal plan for our house (a task I willfully reign over) is my third part-time job. Given that our 6’5″, 18 year old (temporarily home from college) is an intense exerciser, he is consuming a vast amount of calories daily, adding to the challenge. At times, meal preparation, and all that accompanies it, does take on a chore-like feeling. However, having an appreciation for both the food itself and cooking for my kid who has been gone for the past 9 months, brings me joy.

Walking

I am continuing my daily practice of walking. After a cup of coffee early in the morning, I walk our dog about 2-3 miles. I don’t listen to anything except the morning birds and try to keep my mind clear. (I say try because it’s not always easy!) These walks are a form of meditation for me. Check out the science behind the mental health benefits of exercise.

Gardening

Exerting energy and keeping my hands busy (other than on a keyboard) brings some peace. I have enjoyed tending to a vegetable and herb garden since my late grandmother-in-law taught me how to garden after my husband and I bought our first house in 1996. Typically, I end up putting plants in the ground around the end of April, but was inspired to plant seeds this year in early March (thanks to my sister-in-law for sharing seeds), right before the pandemic hit. The Seeds of Sovereignty campaign serves as an inspiration — I hope you’ll check it out!

Sewing

Due to how shockingly unprepared our country was for this pandemic, the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) has become painfully obvious. A group of amazing local women formed a Facebook group called Bham Face Masks.

They’re encouraging sewers of all levels to jump in and fill the gap. They provide videos, technical tips and endless support. They’re even working with the Jefferson County Department of Health to provide masks to health care providers across the county. They inspired me to dust off my sewing machine.

After troubleshooting thread nests and poorly wound bobbins I finally started making masks. Listening to the humming of the machine, ironing a crisp double hem, and knowing that my finished product might help someone, is extremely satisfying. 

Report: Exposure to Air Pollution May Make COVID-19 Deadlier

Report: Exposure to Air Pollution May Make COVID-19 Deadlier

Report: Exposure to Air Pollution May Make COVID-19 Deadlier

A new study suggests that people diagnosed with COVID-19 who are exposed to high levels of particle pollution, or PM 2.5,  are more likely to die from the disease. A team of researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health collected data from 3,080 counties in the United States, accounting for 98% of the nation’s population. Specifically, they found that “an increase of only 1 g/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.”

That communities exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more vulnerable to the coronavirus should come as no surprise. Just like air pollution, COVID-19 significant impacts the body’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Individuals who breathe more air pollution are more likely to have the same pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death from the coronavirus.

“The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes,” the researchers said. “These findings align with the known relationship between PM2.5 exposure and many of the cardiovascular and respiratory comorbidities that dramatically increase the risk of death in COVID-19 patients.”

This research comes on the heels of Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announcing what is in effect a moratorium on federal  enforcement of environmental policy. “This policy allows power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution,” Staff Attorney Haley Lewis wrote last week in a blog post.

“The results of this study also underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations during the COVID-19 crisis,” researchers wrote. “Based on our result, we anticipate a failure to do so can potentially increase the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalizations, further burdening our healthcare system and drawing resources away from COVID-19 patients.”

We cannot let this public health and economic crisis become an excuse for lax enforcement of life-saving environmental protections. In fact, this pandemic is a reminder that environmental protections save lives. Now more than ever, the work of Gasp is vital to the long-term health of all Alabamians.

An Overview of Remote Atmospheric Monitoring

An Overview of Remote Atmospheric Monitoring

An Overview of Remote Atmospheric Monitoring

Data from the TROPOMI device illustrating the patterns of sulfur dioxide spread in Norilsk, Russia. Topography and wind speed as illustrated in the data overlay, have significant impacts of the spread of polluted air. Source: Jonathan Amos, BBC.

By Ben Moose, Gasp Intern

What is remote atmospheric monitoring?

Remote atmospheric monitoring, when used for air quality monitoring purposes, is the use of satellites and satellite instruments to determine the concentration of pollutants and other air quality indicators present in the atmosphere. One leading organization in the field of satellite air quality detection is the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). CAMS uses atmospheric computer-based models, along with satellite data and surface-based sensor data, to develop maps and measurements of global air quality. In order to collect satellite data, CAMS uses TROPOMI (Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument), a device on the Sentinel – 5P satellite which collects information about multiple air quality indicators and their atmospheric concentrations at an unprecedented resolution.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of remote air quality monitoring when compared to direct detection?

Accuracy – Although not as locally accurate as a surface-level air monitoring device such as those installed by the EPA around the country, TROPOMI can measure some air quality indicators such as sulfur dioxide at a 3.5km x 7km resolution, allowing for not just national, but regional and local air quality to be measured. This level of accuracy enables the detection of specific areas in which air quality issues need to be addressed. For example, TROPOMI data from Norilsk, Russia is shown in this image, illustrating the capability of the Sentinel – 5P satellite in terms of local air quality observation.

Cost – Although expensive to develop the equipment on the Sentinel – 5P satellite, TROPOMI allows for global atmospheric monitoring. On the other hand, EPA – installed local monitors can cost upwards of $10,000 just for sensors detecting one indicator, and can only gather data from a fixed location. Because of this cost difference, remote monitoring is the most efficient and practical method of gathering air quality data for most of the country and world, with a likely exception being urban areas with highly variable air quality based on specific location, time, or season.

Reliability – Many surface-based air quality monitoring sites do not regularly measure some air quality indicators. For example, the EPA network of sensors includes multiple devices in the Birmingham metropolitan area, but the most recent data points for many indicators such as sulfur dioxide are months in the past, so current air quality data is difficult to obtain. On the other hand, the Sentinel – 5P satellite, for example, is capable of measuring air quality data once every 24 hours for a given location, providing more recent data which is likely more accurate and useful for residents and organizations.

What services can use data from remote atmospheric monitoring systems?

The data gathered by TROPOMI and analyzed by CAMS is used to allow weather applications and services (such as the Weather Channel app) to provide local air quality information, either through combination with existing surface measurements or using satellite data alone. Remote atmospheric monitoring allows these applications to display up-to-date information on a variety of different air quality indicators that affect air quality indices, such as sulfur dioxide, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide.

Helpful resources

  • Charts showing current air quality overlayed onto a visualization of the Earth. The data in these charts is obtained from the Sentinel-5P satellite and TROPOMI device.
  • A page of TROPOMI’s website that gives an overview of the different indicators measured by the device, as well as links to data from the satellite and a more in-depth description of the measurement of each indicator.
  • A BBC article describing the use of the Sentinel – 5P satellite to gather air quality data including an estimation of production of sulfur dioxide in Norilsk, Russia. The article provides examples of visualizations using TROPOMI data.
  • A map of EPA air quality monitors with data about functionality and measurements, as well as the different types of indicators that each sensor measures.
  • A World Meteorological Organization webpage that describes the methods in which the TROPOMI device measures different indicators of air quality, as well as the limitations of these measurements.
  • A PDF file of the TROPOMI brochure with information about its measurement methods, construction, and functions.

 

Sources

http://www.aqmd.gov/aq-spec/home

https://www.spaceoffice.nl/files/documenten/16.0808%20Tropomi%20brochure%20ENG%203.pdf

https://www.wmo-sat.info/oscar/instruments/view/586

https://www.spaceoffice.nl/nl/activiteiten/nationaal-programma/nationale-projecten/tropomi/

https://epa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=5f239fd3e72f424f98ef3d5def547eb5&extent=-146.2334,13.1913,-46.3896,56.5319

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44705268

http://www.tropomi.eu/data-products/level-2-productsNorilsik

https://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/charts/cams

Header Image: PhysicsWorld, Photo credit: ESA/ATG medialab. 

Citizen Science in the Face of Coronavirus

Citizen Science in the Face of Coronavirus

Citizen Science in the Face of Coronavirus

Citizen Science (aka, Community Science)

Citizen science is when the general public is engaged in the scientific process, whether testing hypotheses, collecting data, or seeking government action. These efforts can raise awareness of an issue and empower communities to mobilize for a common cause. Science is one of the most powerful tools environmental advocates can yield and can be used to pursue enforcement action or influence policy.

Graphic credit: Medium.com

As a STEM undergraduate, I hold a strong conviction that science is for everyone. My community science internship with Gasp has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn more about this concept of inclusive citizen science while advocating for clean air in Birmingham. This semester I have been researching passive air sampling methods and fenceline monitoring as it can be applied to North Birmingham.  Fenceline measurements of pollutants taken around the perimeter of an industrial plant can be used to determine if the plant is operating in compliance with its permit.

Fenceline monitoring

In February 2020, the EPA made amendments to the Petroleum Refinery Sector Rule (NESHAPs/NSPS) that made more stringent limits for toxic air pollutants and volatile organic compounds such as benzene from oil refineries. Benzene is a carcinogen that can cause a suite of health hazards such as leukemia, blood disorders, and neurological effects.  This ruling states that refineries cannot have fenceline measurements of benzene greater than 9 µg/m3 .

A February 2020 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Monitoring for Benzene at Refinery Fencelines, is a third quarter review of 2019 that used fenceline measurements taken with passive air sampling tubes. The report found 10 refineries in the United States to have benzene levels in exceedance. The largest violation was Philadelphia Energy Solutions which had benzene levels 444% greater (49.0 µg/m3) than the EPA action level. It is notable that the reported measurements are net benzene levels- the difference of the highest and lowest measurements taken along the fenceline. Also, 9 µg/m3 should be the maximum, not the average. In EPA models from industry reported emissions-data, the average facilities were expected to have an average maximum of 0.8 µg/m3. This report shows that facilities are emitting far more benzene than they are reporting.

Environmental law enforcement suspended by EPA

On March 26, EPA released a statement it will no longer enforce environmental laws during the COVID-19 pandemic due to potential worker shortages. This news is outrageous, and will only create a greater public health burden that will be shouldered by the most vulnerable (see here for how air pollution gets in our bodies). There is a macabre irony that the EPA is citing a respiratory illness as a justification for industries to emit unregulated levels of toxic air and water pollution. Industries further emitting benzene levels beyond the EPA action level set by the Petroleum Refinery Sector Rule is but one of many violations that will result from this suspension.

What Gasp is doing 

Haley Lewis (Gasp Staff Attorney) and UAB students hold summa canisters used for ambient air monitoring at the fenceline of ERP Coke

The enforcement suspension confers a greater responsibility for citizen scientists to monitor air pollution, and Gasp seeks to further its community science initiatives set forth last fall. In October 2019, Gasp completed fenceline air sampling outside Bluestone Coke and found disturbing levels of benzene and naphthalene above the cancer risk identified by the EPA. Because the EPA will no longer enforce environmental laws, Gasp will complete additional air testing to monitor air pollution in North Birmingham.

What you can do

Header Image: Flames and smoke emerge from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in Philadelphia on June 21. Photographer: Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Meet Brodie Zalanka, Spring Gasp Intern

Meet Brodie Zalanka, Spring Gasp Intern

Meet Brodie Zalanka, Spring Gasp Intern

​What is your major at UAB/BSC and why did you choose it? I have a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and am pursuing my Masters in Public Health with a concentration in environmental and occupational health.

What do you hope to do after you graduate? I am considering continuing my education and pursuing my Doctorate degree in philosophy of environmental health sciences. 

What is your dream job? I want to eventually work in a leadership position at the EPA.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? I want to learn more about air quality and the methods of reporting pollution.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? As a former Army medic, I have been trained to support and advocate for the preventative side of health issues. I see a direct correlation of environmental influences impacting health. I wish to be a part of the system that aims to decrease pollutants that negatively impact everyone’s life.

What is your favorite food? Cheeseburgers!!!

What are your hobbies? I love camping and fishing.

Who or what are your influences? My family is a tremendous influence for me. I am also influenced by more former Battalion Command team and platoon Sergeant. 

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I love to BBQ.
  • Have an awesome girlfriend.
  • Have a dog and cat.
  • I am a retiree.

Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

​What is your major at UAB/BSC and why did you choose it? I’m a freshman Urban Environmental Studies major at Birmingham Southern College. As a kid, my favorite part of family vacations was (and still is!) visiting a city’s botanical gardens, local farmers markets, or urban parks. I am fascinated about ways of daily sustainable living from tiny houses to Earthships and eco-friendly city structures. Constructed as an interdisciplinary major, Urban Environmental Studies allows me to bridge the relationships between society and our natural environment.

What do you hope to do after you graduate? After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in public service. Whether that be through the government or nonprofit sector, I am most called towards advocacy work. Currently, I work with various civic organizations on social justices causes, aiming for a more inclusive and connected community. In the future, I hope to work more directly with Alabama’s state policies, particularly on environmental justice, women’s health care, and sex education. 

What is your dream job? While there are many careers I’d love to experience一like being a part of a botanical garden design team!一ultimately, I want to serve in public office, concentrating on community development, particularly through inclusion and green initiatives.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? While interning at GASP, I hope to grow closer to and more involved with the larger Birmingham community. In addition, I’m excited to learn more about community environmental initiatives, especially what social, political, and environmental methods we can apply to the environmental injustice prevalent in northern Birmingham communities. 

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? Birmingham’s air pollution is intertwined with political, social, and racial issues. A person’s access to life’s necessities such as the ability to breathe clean air is not a privilege for the powerful or wealthy, but a human right. As an Alabama native, a young woman and an Asian American, I understand the necessity to fight for a community that is conscious and inclusive of minority and marginalized groups. Through GASP’s mission, I believe we are not only working towards a healthy community, but a unified city. 

What is your favorite food? I eat anything and everything! But I’m always in the mood to eat curry! From different Indian curries to Thai, they always remind me of home. 

What are your hobbies? While I do consider my love of food adventures a hobby, I also love journaling, playing instruments, reading, and doing anything outdoors. From hiking to kayaking, I feel most at peace when I’m outside! 

Who or what are your influences? I grew up with a big family and since I was a kid, they have been my biggest supporters and sturdiest foundation. My parents who both immigrated to America for better life opportunities have endlessly encouraged me to pursue my passions and ambitions. 

What are some other fun facts about yourself?I play three instruments一piano, guitar, and ukulele! I love musical theatre! Some of my favorites include Waitress and Les Miserables.

 

COVID-19: Air pollution reductions?

COVID-19: Air pollution reductions?

COVID-19: Air pollution reductions?

I think many of us are looking for a silver lining right now; many are looking for a calm amidst the storm (side note, this video from a doctor working with only COVID-19 patients in New York City is the best thing I have seen since this started. It’s logical, measured and hopeful. I encourage everyone to watch).

This might be why almost every friend or family member has sent to me articles about how air pollution has been reduced worldwide. I, of course, reply that this is a good thing. This is certainly a silver lining. However, I also use this opportunity to remind that a lot of the reduction is for mobile sources of air pollution. That’s not to say the reduction is insignificant, but I knew it was an important distinction to make.

Because I knew this was coming. Yesterday EPA announced the “Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic.” This policy allows power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution. The Policy asks companies to “act responsibly” if they cannot currently comply with rules that require them to monitor or report the release of hazardous air pollution. Businesses, it said, should “minimize the effects and duration of any noncompliance” and keep records to report to the agency how Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from meeting pollution rules.

Almost as concerning as the Policy itself is the fact that its duration is indefinite, and merely refers to “after this policy is no longer in effect, EPA expects full compliance.” The million dollar question for everyone these days is “when can my life go back to normal?” I have seen anything from President Trump saying by Easter to epidemiologists and doctors cautioning this “new normal” might have to last until we have a vaccine, which is at least a year from now. So all we know is that EPA could be allowing power plants, refineries and other polluters to “act responsibly” until Easter, or have a field day for a year or more.

Not only will EPA not take civil enforcement actions during this undefined time, but polluting industries can also skip out on monitoring. Without sufficient monitoring and recordkeeping, citizens and groups like Gasp are hamstrung in their ability to hold agencies and industry accountable.

EPA even goes so far as to defer to the states on enforcement. This is especially concerning in a place like Jefferson County, AL. Our regulatory agency for air is the Jefferson County Department of Health. Given the COVID-19 has community spread here, and we have the highest confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, I’d say our Department of Health is pretty busy. So if EPA is punting their right to act to JCDH, who is already overwhelmed, I would imagine polluting industries in Jefferson County could have a real field day.

So, to all my friends and family who sent me those articles, I’m still happy we are seeing less pollution from mobile sources. But what EPA did yesterday is what I knew was coming, and tarnishes that silver lining for me.

COVID-19 is a public health crisis. It should not be a field day for polluters. Now, more than ever, the work Gasp does is critical.