TransCanada (the Keystone XL folks) and Mountaineer Gas are currently developing a 3.5-mile pipeline to supply natural gas to West Virginia. The Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project will run from Bedford County, Pa., through Hancock, Md., under the C&O Canal and Potomac River and then connect to another natural gas pipeline in Morgan County, W.Va.
Since the pipeline will traverse one of the narrowest parts of Maryland to reduce the risk of interruptions, it doesn’t seem like there should be much controversy to this project. But, the project would involve tunneling under the Potomac River, which is the main drinking water source for the Washington metropolitan area and other smaller communities upriver.
For months, local environmental groups have campaigned against the “Potomac Pipeline” due to the potential risk of contaminating the drinking water supply for millions of people. The route proposed would run through karst geology – the land beneath the river that rapidly dissolves and is full of fractures, caves and pools. Essentially, any leak in the pipeline would easily spill chemicals or gas into underground aquifers.
In addition to the degradation of streams, any drilling under streams could drain down bore holes and impact the integrity of the pipeline, causing underground ruptures and explosions.
Currently, Maryland’s Department of Environment (MDE) has not conducted a full environmental review of all potential impacts of a federal project on the state’s water resources. In fact, MDE has misled the public by not identifying the owner operator of the transmission line as TransCanada. They even stated that drilling fluids don’t include toxic compounds but has not provided data sheets for all compounds used to horizontally drill below the Potomac River bed. Lastly, they diminished the number of drinking water wells that may experience contamination by saying the presence of karst geology is not definite.
It looks like MDE and Governor Larry Hogan are poised to support the pipeline. This is really disappointing since this is the same administration that signed a fracking ban into law last year.
The truth is that TransCanada is the only party to benefit from this project. The pipeline only creates temporary jobs and it does not provide a need for natural gas in the Eastern Panhandle. Landowners and farmers are already fighting to protect their property rights with threats of losing their land under eminent domain.
Maryland is a key state leading the country in boosting state renewable energy standards. It would be a shame for state and federal regulatory agencies to minimize the public health risks from this pipeline and roll back progress.
If you’d like to take action to stop the Potomac Pipeline, submit a public comment by February 26. You can also “March on the Mansion” in Annapolis on February 15 to protest the pipeline at Governor Hogan’s house.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is so awful that he drove 10 out of 12 members of the National Park System advisory board to resign. The federally chartered board that designates national historic and natural landmarks threw up the deuces after they grew tired of Zinke's shenanigans. At no point since Zinke has taken office did he meet with the board. The terms for most of the members were set to expire in May, but things had gotten so bad they just bounced.
(Remember, this is the second time we've seen an entire council resign during this administration. The
President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in August last year after Trump's "controversial" (read: racist) comments about protests in Charlottesville.)
In December 2016, President Obama issued Director's Order No. 100 before he left office - a directive calling for climate change to be a focus in the management of natural resources in our park system. Its purpose states:
The National Park System and related areas face environmental and social changes that are increasingly widespread, complex, accelerating, and uncertain. Addressing these challenges requires updates of National Park Service (NPS) policy to reflect the complexity of decisions needed for resource stewardship. This Director’s Order (Order) is intended to guide the Service in taking the necessary actions to support resource stewardship to fulfill its mission in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, the order was rescinded on August 16, 2017 by Zinke. The NPS advisory board had played a role in the creation of D.O. 100 in an effort to further the scientific literacy needed for leadership making resource management decisions surrounding key issues like biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change. The Department's current leadership has shown no interest in learning about or continuing to advance an agenda that address the effects of climate change, protections needed for our ecosystems or allocated resources for education.
Last month, Trump signed a proclamation to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. The move was the largest rollback of federally protected land in history. It sets a precedent for more ecological and culturally significant lands to lose its protected status for industrial development.
Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining company, lobbied hard for these reductions. In a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke, company CEO Mark Chalmers complained that the monument protections could "affect existing and future mill operations." The newly drawn boundaries of Bears Ears now have the uranium deposits outside the protected area.
Conservationists and Tribal Nations have pointed out the health risks associated with uranium mining, but many politicians chalk it up to scare tactics. Clearly, they don't care about the impact uranium's toxicity already has on Navajo families.
Since 2008, the EPA and other federal agencies have worked together to address the uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation as part of a historic $600 million settlement agreement. From 1944 to 1986 hundreds of mining operations were opened because of the high demand for atomic weapons at the end of World War II. Across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, Navajo people worked in or near the mines, raising their families within close proximity of radioactive substances. As the Cold War waned, mining companies left, abandoning more than 500 mines across 27,000 square miles of land.
Many died of cancer and kidney failure, and others still have a high rate of uranium contamination from drinking water, land and the houses they live in. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Navajo families in this area have higher uranium levels than the rest of the U.S. population. It's another case of environmental racism.
Zinke has raised prices to national parks, overturned a ban on coal mining on public lands and eliminated climate sciences from programs. He has yet to fill many executive level positions at Interior, such as a director for NPS, and ended many environmental safeguards. Most recently, a plan was announced to allow offshore drilling in previously protected waters. And let’s not forget his efforts to lift the ban on importing trophies from elephants and lions hunted overseas.
It's clear this administration is needlessly putting our monuments, parks, ecosystems and natural resources at risk. Just because there's a way to make money off the lands, doesn't mean that we should. Zinke is rivalling to be worse for the environment than EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
I know that you’re not operating with the budget you deserve, and that many programs like pre-disaster mitigation grants and the National Flood Insurance Program are facing serious budget cuts. I even understand that the Disaster Relief Fund is barely being held afloat by relief bills passed by Congress.
And I can sympathize with all the career emergency managers that truly mean well and want to help citizens because their work is repeatedly negated by agency leadership that refuses to listen and learn from past failures.
But Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria nearly three weeks ago, and yet people still have not received any food or water from your agency. Why is that? Because you said it’s not your job to distribute food and water to hurricane victims.
According to your website, your mission is to “support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.” That includes:
Additionally, as part of the National Response Framework (NRF), you are one of several agencies responsible for meeting basic human needs, saving lives, restoring basic services and establishing a secure environment moving toward transition to recovery. The NRF specifies you are responsible for:
Currently, more than one-third of Puerto Ricans have no access to clean drinking water, while many are resorting to toxic drinking sources. And only 200,000 meals are being passed out each day when there are more than two million people in need of food. Aid workers have reported they cannot distribute supplies and equipment because the agency won’t release them. Without critical life-saving supplies, we’re looking at the potential of an epidemic outbreak.
If this sounds familiar it’s because the same failures happened during Hurricane Katrina. There was a breakdown in communications, ultimately paralyzing response from several agencies. Key officials were not proactive, leading to mass confusion over assignments and deployments. There were supply failures, where you not only took weeks to deliver much-needed supplies, you wasted resources. The 25,000 mobile homes you supplied went virtually unused because according to your own rules, they can’t be used on flood plains.
As of last week, your agency had yet to authorize all disaster response tools. It only took 10 days for the agency to authorize that level of aid in Texas after Harvey. After initial emergency help (i.e. food, water, shelter, medical care and critical infrastructure) you’re supposed to move on to reconstruction (e.g. sewage, stormwater, schools and local utilities). However, we’re still at the earliest stages of relief on many parts of the island.
Just because Puerto Rico doesn’t have voting representation in Congress, nor electoral votes for president, does not mean they should be ignored. Unlike political leaders that rely on thoughts and prayers, you actually have to do work.
People are dying from abject neglect. People are missing and go days without a proper meal. Thousands are without medicine and don’t know if they will live or die.
You are willfully killing Puerto Ricans. Shame on you for not doing your job.
For once, do better.
There are many lessons to learn from Harvey. I'll be discussing in a series of posts current disaster policies in the U.S., what it means to build resilient communities and the impact of disasters on environmental justice populations.
The American West is on fire. Tens of thousands of acres of forested and residential land is engulfed in flames in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The blazes of these fires have destroyed numerous structures and continue to threaten homes, buildings and the air quality of residents.
In addition to the damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, we’re also watching cleanup efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean caused by Hurricane Irma.
Now, we’re praying for Puerto Rico and Dominica because of Hurricane Maria.
And as is often the case, there are regions of the country that have not received news coverage. Last month, counties in Michigan and West Virginia were declared federal disaster areas by President Trump due to severe flooding, landslides and mudslides.
What we’re seeing is not normal. These are no longer naturally occurring disasters. The wildfire seasons are growing longer and we’re continuously experiencing record-breaking rainfall. Entire communities haven’t even had a chance to catch their breath before the next storm rolls through. How are citizens and local officials supposed to handle this year after year?
While Congress was arguing over how they would vote on an aid package for Harvey, three more hurricanes were on their way. President Trump praised the federal government’s emergency response in Texas, completely ignoring the policies he dismantled that are needed to help with recovery and mitigation.
We cannot forget there are four stages to emergency management:
The United States places the emphasis of disaster recovery on FEMA and national insurance schemes, instead of prevention. Year after year, cities continue to rebuild in the same way and in an unsustainable manner, forgetting the last storm that happened. And we expect residents to make those decisions on how to rebuild, instead of local and state governments investing in building resilient cities. Cities across the U.S. aren’t even preparing the same way for extreme weather events. It's as if we don't realize these disasters happen annually.
Currently, residents who don’t have insurance in federally declared disaster areas can apply for FEMA’s Disaster Assistance or a low interest loan through the Small Business Administration. These applications require having a current mailing address, insurance information, statements to show total household income, banking information, and a working telephone number; not the easiest items to pull together if your home has been demolished.
But this is only the first step in a long road to recovery. When roads are cleared and businesses reopen, residents are still expected to show up for work, take their kids to school, and take care of relatives, even if they don’t have electricity, food or running water. People with no place to live are still expected to pay rent and make mortgage payments, and file inordinate amounts of paperwork to ask for lenience. There’s a sense of urgency to return to normalcy even though normalcy involves pollution, poor public health, inequitable housing and hazardous risks for vulnerable populations.
The gap in income equality widens as under-resourced communities struggle to move forward with basic necessities, and our nation’s political leaders ignore the needs of constituents on the ground.
The management of resources after a storm is directed by federal agencies, and may not reflect the needs of local residents. In fact, coordinators on the ground may be excluded from the conversation altogether. Even though Congress created a mandate to establish the National Disaster Recovery Framework after Hurricane Katrina, most of the attention remains on post-disaster funding and not pre-event investments. And there’s still a lot of debate amongst city officials when they receive federal grants because they don’t have an adequate recovery plan.
Disaster recovery is a complex process that encompasses restoring and rebuilding the physical, economic, social and natural environment through planning and action. Not only is it shaped by what happens after an event, it’s also shaped by the investment, policies and capacity building that takes place before an event happens. The U.S. continues to be unprepared because there’s no national plan, or coordinated funding, to guide cities on addressing these risks. In the end, we’re left with disproportionate outcomes for different communities.
Elected officials must assess what recovery means for Americans, especially our vulnerable populations, during an era of climate change. Our governments need to invest in capacity building and planning, and improve the distribution of funding before and after events. We cannot continue to keep rebuilding the same way. The financial and emotional burden of those impacted by the disasters cannot continue to be overlooked.
There are many lessons to learn from Harvey. I'll be discussing in a series of posts current disaster policies in the U.S., what it means to build resilient communities and the impact of disasters on environmental justice populations.
Communities that are better prepared for natural disasters have a greater opportunity to rebound quickly. This includes reducing the negative impacts on our economic, environmental and health systems post-storm. Most importantly, it’s about reducing death.
As we’re seeing now with Hurricane Harvey, citizens from around the country have mobilized to help rescue, clothe, feed and medically treat Texans. However, there is always a great outpouring of support from Americans after disasters. What measures were taken for hurricane preparedness by the state and cities along the Gulf Coast?
This was not the first time Texas was hit with a hurricane. Many residents in Houston were still living under tarps after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Rita in 2005. The devastation wrought by Harvey was not unexpected, nor was the damage done unpreventable. But we’re witnessing many systemic failures that has led to human catastrophe.
The history of federal disaster policy and legislative directives in the United States is largely reactive to large-scale disasters. (One example being the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006 which among many things established a registry for separated family members, provided transportation assistance for displaced residents and developed guidelines to accommodate families with disabilities.) Although there are relief, emergency and mitigation acts that provide an orderly means for the federal government to assist state and local governments, we often fall short in the context of long-term preparedness.
How the U.S. Government Budgets for Disasters
The federal government is a key driver in the cleanup and recovery effort after major storms, but Congress chooses to see disaster relief as emergency spending instead of proactive investments. It is more cost effective to prevent damage than to clean up damage, but that would require for national leaders to include protection measures in the federal budget. Therefore many of the programs President Trump praised in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts are on the chopping block. Why rack up the federal deficit when you can just pass an emergency spending bill?
The President of the United States has the authority to make a disaster declaration for small-scale and large-scale disasters under the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act. Most of these disaster declarations are funded through the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Every year, Congress appropriates billions of dollars in discretionary funding for disaster relief and emergencies primarily through Budget Control Act (BCA) cap adjustments. This means that Congress will increase discretionary spending for larger expenses with supplemental appropriations bills to provide additional funding that’s not subject to budgetary controls. There are three classifications of disaster and emergency spending:
We’re currently seeing the politics of what happens when we must rely on a relief package after a natural disaster. President Trump wants to tie Harvey aid to raising the debt ceiling, making it difficult for Congress to oppose the debt-limit bill. In the end, the House and Senate will pass a bill to provide much-needed aid for Texas, but is this the best way to go?
House Republicans were slated to cut more than $870 million from the DRF to build the border wall. It stems from the idea that much of the work from FEMA and NOAA and the EPA aren't vital services, thereby making staff, outreach programs and grants expendable.
But, natural disasters will always happen. Why not include money in the budget for state and local governments to develop comprehensive disaster planning?
The Case for Citizen Corps
FEMA’s Non-Disaster Grants primarily focuses on hazards, transit and counterterrorism. The agency’s Disaster Assistance provides funding for families and businesses whose property has been damaged and the losses aren’t covered by insurance. Neither of those focuses on community preparedness programs for natural disasters.
As we’ve witnessed on numerous occasions, there is minimal citizen engagement during emergency response. There aren’t mandatory drills for residents or appointed neighborhood leaders to act as liaisons with emergency management agencies. Many cities don’t always have an accounting for transportation needs of vulnerable populations, nor do they delegate responsibilities for medical personnel and veterinarians to report to specific locations. And businesses, schools and churches often take it upon themselves to open their doors.
We need to invest in programs such as Citizen Corps – a coalition of local organizations, businesses, city officials and professional first responders that receive training to assist in disaster recovery. This eliminates volunteers who are unprepared, increases safety and integrates an entire community to ensure disaster preparedness. The populace is better prepared to handle threats because of education, training and volunteerism.
Families shouldn’t be sitting ducks waiting to be rescued by the government. If we can enroll volunteers to work at the polls on election day, we can enroll citizens to lead communities to safety. We need to reevaluate how we prepare for storms to prevent damage and death, and not just look to funding for recovery after the storm.
Earlier this week it was reported an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Scientists monitoring the ice shelf cannot definitively attribute the break to climate change, but warming water and air cannot be ruled out either. Most likely the break was naturally occurring, and since the iceberg was already floating, it won’t contribute much to sea-level rise. It’s the same concept of ice melting in a glass of water. Water levels remain the same because the ice cube is displacing an amount of water equal to its own weight.
The most recent break from the Larsen C Ice Shelf isn’t cause for serious alarm now because the size of this iceberg isn’t abnormally large. However, what’s worrisome is the potential collapse of the parent ice shelf decades from now.
To provide some perspective, let’s discuss my favorite disaster film – The Day After Tomorrow.
(Note: If you’ve never seen the movie, you need to get your life together. The level of cataclysmic climate shenanigans is epic.)
Dennis Quaid and his paleoclimatologist bros (no need using character names here) are drilling for ice core samples on the Larsen Ice Shelf when the ice sheet suddenly cracks beneath his feet. Somehow through the power of movie physics, Quaid survives and doesn’t fall to his death.
Quaid goes back to the lab and realizes that all these wild weather patterns may be due to global warming. He flies to a conveniently held United Nations conference so he can warn world leaders of their pending doom. Of course no one listens because death and destruction must happen first before our leaders take action.
Quaid was trying to explain this simple concept to leaders: global climate is controlled by our oceans.
Ocean currents are a conveyor belt transporting warm water and precipitation from the tropics to the poles, and cold water from the poles back to the equator. The ocean acts as a big heat-retaining solar panel, especially in the tropics, and distributes this heat through evaporation. The colder and saltier the ocean water, the denser it is. The greater the density created between cold and warm water, the more mixing and circulation will happen.
So when the newly single Larsen was no longer in a long-term relationship and was ready to hit these streets, its movements would cause a severe drop in ocean temperatures – much like a massive typhoon – and disrupt the entire North Atlantic Current.
In a matter of hours, dozens of tornadoes touch down in Los Angeles tearing up the airport and everybody’s insurance coverage. There’s a blizzard in San Diego, and hail rains down on Tokyo like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Home dude in Scotland dies because Europe freezes over, and a monstrous storm surge floods all of Manhattan, where Quaid’s movie son Jake Gyllenhall is stranded. By the end of the day, the temperature drops to the point where the Northeastern part of the U.S. experiences a severe snow storm.
In the end, Quaid saves Jake, but the government ignored the warning signs and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. (The movie did not reference how many people died, but I’m estimating numbers based on damage shown throughout the film.)
I know that the depiction of events unfolding in such rapid succession in the film is highly unlikely. But the movie fast-forwards the speed of climate processes so that viewers can understand the magnitude of what’s happening on a timescale that’s relatable.
Climate is part of the geologic time scale. Yet, we are constantly being asked to comprehend the slow rate of geologic processes on a human time scale. We think in minutes, days, months and years.
Humans have difficulty grasping the metric of time in regards to what feels like ancient history compared to the nearness of ‘today.’ We are wired to focus on the near future and short-term consequences.
Even though impacts are already taking place, the most significant impacts of climate change still lie in the future. And because climate change is an extension into the future, there is a distance between what’s happening in our lives now and what will happen down the road. That’s why it’s easier to respond to the aftermath of a hurricane than putting together a 20-year climate preparedness plan for coastal communities.
It’s hard for us to conceptualize that we have the capability to alter the landscape of this planet. But we’ve documented what happens decades after we drain lakes, blow off mountaintops and deforest land. We know that change is happening now.
Since 1963, Lake Chad – a major water resource for Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon – has shrunk 90 percent. As Obama was running for his first term as president in 2007, Syria entered a three-year drought, leading to a civil war and the current refugee crisis. Last year, an entire island community in Louisiana started planning its move to a new region of the U.S. after losing 98 percent of its landmass. It only took 60 years of flooding and storm surges to see their home disappear.
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. For billions of years, geologic events unfolded without being seen or felt by humans. Tiny changes happening in increments of tens of thousands of years brought us to where we are today with earth’s climate. That’s too long for the mind to truly comprehend.
But not being able to see or feel something shouldn’t erase what evidence is showing what’s happening and what will happen. Climate change will not impact this planet or certain populations of people equally. There must be more long-term thinking and the inclusion of people in the narrative to bridge the distance between geologic time and human time.
I was in Paris last week where temperatures reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and at one point had a heat index of 105 degrees. My husband and I did our best to stay in the shade and cool off indoors while exploring the city, but we were miserable until the temperature broke. Our love for the efficiency of the Parisian metro system waned when we had to ride trains that didn’t have air conditioning. Even our accommodations for the first two days only had a rotating fan. Our Airbnb host said, “This is Paris. There’s no air conditioning. What did you expect?”
Well, sir, I expect for businesses, and dwellings and public transport to have air conditioning, or a fan big enough to blow my edges away. Sitting on a broken down train for 30 minutes when it is 100 degrees is not part of my ministry. (Nor is walking through the halls of Versailles with no air circulating. But that’s another story.)
More people die each year from extreme heat than all other natural disasters combined.
Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, but hundreds of people will die this year due to heat exposure and humidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 618 people are killed in the U.S. every year due to extreme heat. By the summer of 2030, climate change could cause an additional 11,000 heat-related deaths in the U.S.
Those of us living in cities are at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses due to the urban heat island effect, where manmade surfaces and human activity causes cities to be warmer than surrounding non-urban and rural areas. Not only are roof and pavement surfaces often 50 – 90 degrees hotter than the surrounding air, elevated temperatures in heat islands can increase levels of air pollution and impair water quality.
Children, the elderly, individuals with chronic illnesses, people working outdoors and low-income families in poor housing conditions are most vulnerable to temperature extremes. Race and poverty also contributes to more non-white Americans (primarily black Americans) dying from heat-related causes than white Americans. Poorer neighborhoods tend to have less tree cover and more asphalt compared to affluent neighborhoods. Studies also show they have less access to air conditioned facilities.
Summer has just arrived and Phoenix has already set daily records with temperatures reaching 120 degrees, causing a surge of heat emergencies. Heat exposure is said to be the possible cause of 12 deaths in the metro Phoenix area last week. The heatwave is also responsible for the deaths of another 18 people in other parts of Arizona, Nevada and California.
We’re starting to see milder winters, prolonged heat waves and more days with elevated temperatures due to a warming climate. Without additional adaptation, we will see an increase in heat-related deaths, illnesses and hospital visits, especially in metropolitan areas. We’ll also continue to add higher concentrations of greenhouses gases due to high electricity demands during the summer months.
Current support services during heat waves include providing water, air conditioning and access to cooling centers, but cities must do a better job of implementing green infrastructure as part of its urban planning. More local governments need to take steps to reduce energy demands and help residents reduce their vulnerability to heat with cool or green roofs, cool pavements, trees and vegetation.
And we need to put vulnerable populations first. Installing green roofs on new buildings in gentrified areas only serve a subgroup of the population that generally aren’t categorized as being vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Cool roofs should be added in low-income housing communities. Something as simple as planting trees along the streets in high-poverty neighborhoods can make walking to the grocery store or waiting for public transit more bearable.
Additionally, green infrastructure reduces stormwater runoff and noise pollution, improves air and water quality, decreases crime, enhances community aesthetics and creates community cohesion.
Creating programs that provides funding for residents to invest in greening their neighborhoods are cooling measures that need to be considered to reduce the risk of heat emergencies and deaths. We need cities to reduce the burden for those who are most susceptible to extreme temperatures, and green infrastructure is the next viable solution.
Yesterday, House Republicans eked through a vote, 217 to 213, to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, setting the stage for a major overhaul of our healthcare system. The GOP's American Health Care Act (AHCA) will now make its way to the Senate where several Republicans are expected to make major revisions.
One of the most contentious provisions in the AHCA would weaken protections for enrollees with pre-existing conditions. Although the new GOP bill requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, states could get waivers that would allow insurers to set higher premiums for enrollees based on their medical background, essentially pricing many Americans out of coverage. And the status of your health is not just based on your current health and health history, but also other risk factors, such as environmental threats.
Environmental justice communities continue to be part of a system that creates and reinforces health disparities based on their proximity to toxic waste and pollution, and limited access to healthy foods and recreational resources. This is in addition to social inequities based on socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, literacy and education levels, access to health services and legislative policies. The physical and social environment of people of color, tribal populations and low-income communities continuously puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to their health.
In my home state of Virginia, Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Newport News, Hopewell and Petersburg – all cities with predominantly black and Latino populations – have some of the worst air quality at public schools in the nation.
Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders, with outdated school infrastructure playing a major role in the number of children suffering from the condition.
The American Lung Association reports the hospitalization rate for black children with asthma is twice as high as white children. Native American children have an asthma prevalence that’s almost six times higher than white children, where a large percentage are not using a daily controller medication.
There’s also cities like Flint, Michigan and the 2,000 water systems across this country that have excessive levels of lead, where many of the highest reported levels are at schools and daycares. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at least four million households have children that are exposed to high levels of lead. Half a million children ages 1 to 5 have blood levels which demand public health action.
Let's also not forget about Cancer Alley, the 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is home to more than 150 plants and refineries in predominantly black towns, or Kettleman City, California, a Latino community which houses the biggest toxic waste dump west of Alabama and has a high rate of birth defects and infant mortality. And then there's Emelle, Alabama – dubbed the Cadillac of Landfills – which houses the nation’s largest hazardous landfill.
Not only are our nation’s leaders rolling back environmental regulations and putting the health of Americans at greater risk, they’re also compounding the issue by making it more difficult for people to receive health care for illnesses caused by polluting industries. Most uninsured people are in low-income families, and have worse access to care than people who are insured because they don’t receive preventative care and services for chronic diseases and major health conditions. It’s a never-ending cycle for our most vulnerable populations.
The notion that a responsible person will eat right, exercise and go to the doctor regularly doesn’t work if you build a system where every American does not have access to nor can they afford good health care. Nor does it work if big corporations exploit the health of poor Americans to build waste facilities in their backyards. We’re setting them up to fail.
Today, nearly one billion people around the world will celebrate Earth Day, and tens of thousands of Americans will attend rallies and teach-ins for the March for Science.
It almost seems absurd that we even have to take to the streets to defend the role science has in our everyday lives, but alas, here we are.
There was a time when science, especially environmental issues, had bipartisan Congressional support. Emotions and politics did not overrule scientific research, and our effort as humans to better under the physical and natural world through observation and experiment was not questioned.
But somewhere along the way, many of our political leaders have steered away from evidence-based science to inform our policies. Now agencies like the EPA and NOAA face sweeping budget cuts that will harm our economy, our planet and our safety.
We know the current state of our planet: critically stressed and deteriorating because of human activity, manifesting in our climate, plant and animal species, food, the air we breathe and water we drink.
But there is hope.
Because today I see an entire global population coming together to celebrate our planet. I see citizens of the world planting trees, cleaning up rivers and teaching our children to be stewards of the environment. I am hopeful because of us. We are showing the world that science is for all.
Knowledge is power.
Research drives prosperity, both economically and socially. Science has extended our average life span, and shown us the impact of lead poisoning and how to harness the sun and wind into renewable energy sources.
There are no such things as alternative facts. Climate change is not a hoax. We know this and must double down to promote the fundamental principles of science and science literacy.
The U.S. can and should lead the world in innovations. But it takes a commitment and investment from our elected officials. If President Trump truly believes in “America First,” then we must help him see how that government funding is crucial to research and training the next generation of scientists.
Everything from genetics and botany to geology and anthropology helps drive this country. Even the military relies on science.
So when Congress introduces new legislation to undo regulations that protects our air and water, remember today and the number of people who celebrated Earth Day. When this administration blatantly denies the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, remember that scientists, and science lovers, stood up and organized a march as a sign of resistance.
Science will prevail.
Many of us were taught to reduce, reuse and recycle to eliminate waste and conserve natural resources and energy. The three Rs is a cute slogan we teach kids to recycle aluminum cans, turn off water when brushing their teeth and find creative ways to repurpose materials.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I realized that I have relied on recycling more than making an effort to reduce waste. I’ve done easy things like signing up to receive email instead of paper notices, donating old clothes and goods, and ensuring I keep a ChicoBag in my purse so I’ll always have a reusable bag when I go shopping. But one day I was cleaning out the refrigerator and saw green beans, bell peppers and broccoli rotting away in the crisper. I forgot they were down there.
Uggghhhh. Soooo much food going to waste. This food could have helped feed families, and now it’s going to a landfill.
I had to ask myself, “How much trash am I throwing away, and exactly what is 'away?' Where is my trash going, and who lives there?”
There’s a reason why the order is reduce, reuse and recycle. We’re supposed to:
However, that’s not the case here in the United States. The U.S. is one of the leading trash-producing countries in the world. As populations increase and become more urbanized and industrialized, the more waste a country generates.
Our waste has gotten so bad in the U.S., the USDA and EPA has set a food loss and waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030.
The average American produces around 4.6 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day, helping the country generate more than 250 million pounds of waste every year. Around half of the waste in the U.S. is sent to a landfill, while the rest is recycled, composted or incinerated.
Food makes up more than 20 percent of waste in this country, making it the most common material that ends up in a landfill or incinerator. Organic materials such as food waste, paper and paperboard, and yard clippings are the biggest components of MSW.
Landfills have become a major producer of methane emissions due to buried organic material that’s rotting. Pipes are used to vent and burn methane to release the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, which is 28 to 36 more times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. According to the EPA, MSW landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S.
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