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.
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.
There is a whitewashing in the environmental movement, where white people are framed as being the most concerned about the environment.
But a number of polls show that Asian, Latino and black communities have strong environmental values and even show more support for climate issues than whites.
American Indians are currently leading the biggest environmental activism movement with their campaign to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
So why is it that environmental justice issues are not a regular part of the national conversation?
When discussing climate change, environmentalists talk about melting ice caps, an increase in natural disasters, protecting animal species and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef dying off.
But how often do we talk about the millions of Americans that live near a coal power plant? What about the high asthma rate of black Americans in cities because of poor air quality? Are these public health issues part of the conversation?
Environmental issues involve people fighting for access to clean water, green spaces and safe housing.
The reality is that most factories, warehouses, garbage incinerators, landfills, hazardous waste treatment facilities and disposal plants are overwhelmingly located and built in poor, non-white communities.
Low-income and communities of color are most impacted by toxic waste, pollution and urban decay. Families are forced to live in close proximity to hazardous environments because these areas are seen as sacrifice zones for big polluters.
Vulnerable populations live at the intersection of pollution, power and environmental policy, and they continue to lose. These communities lose because the balance of power is tipped towards the wealthy.
This is environmental racism.
Environmental racism is systemic. It is the result of poverty, redlining, housing discrimination and segregation that has relegated black and brown communities to some of the most dilapidated environments.
It explains the Flint, Michigan water crisis and why East Chicago residents were poisoned for 30 years before being informed of the health risks of living on an old lead smelter.
This form of racism explains why these stories aren’t covered by mainstream media outlets and why there is no public outrage over people of color being poisoned by industrial waste for generations.
There is a disconnection between who publicly cares about environmental issues and the face of people taking action on the ground.
The Navajo Nation has been fighting for years for uranium mining companies to clean up abandoned mines. You can go to Detroit, Compton, Milwaukee and the Bronx and find black leaders running community gardens and cleanup efforts. Latino communities fought to close down a lead-acid battery smelter that spewed toxic air pollution for decades in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
It is local residents that attend meetings with city officials, planners and the EPA to fight routine industrial polluters. These groups don’t always have access to the same resources and platform as mainstream organizations, but they are still environmentalists.
There's an issue with diversity within the mainstream environmental movement, where people of color, various socio-economic classes and religious groups are not being engaged by mainstream groups that are predominantly led by middle class and upper-middle class, white liberals.
Mainstream organizations can leverage their power to help environmental justice groups secure funding to build healthy communities. They can help cultivate youth from different segments through an internship pipeline to pursue a career in urban forestry, ecology, environmental resource management, soil sciences and urban planning.
A more diverse group of voices will create a stronger movement. Environmental justice cannot be an afterthought to national parks, endangered species and global climate change. It must be integrated into our policy agendas.
We cannot afford to sugarcoat the demographic of people who are being displaced from their homes because of natural disasters. We need to talk about the number of children who have lead poisoning and the policies that made it happen. We need to stop talking in the abstract and tell the stories of people whose families are being poisoned by waste and decay.
Devote more space in your newsletters and fundraising emails to environmental injustices happening to our own citizens.
Environmental issues are civil rights issues. Those with political power are able to sway environmental decisions. Let's create a path for marginalized voices to also have a national platform.
What happened in East Chicago?
The national attention Flint received may have sparked action to finally be taken in East Chicago, Indiana but there are thousands of low-income communities in the U.S. that are being poisoned because of environmental racism.
East Chicago – a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood – is one of those cities.
In July 2016, nearly 1,200 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago received a letter from the mayor ordering them to temporarily relocate because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Other residents of Calumet received a notice from the EPA stating how high the lead and arsenic levels were around their homes. This was based on samples taken in December 2014.
That’s right. They were informed almost two years later.
According to EPA documentation, lead levels exceeded 5,000 parts per million when the standard level allowed is 400 parts per million.
The most contaminated yards showed lead levels 227 times above the allowable limit. Arsenic levels were 135 times above its limit.
By September 1, Mayor Anthony Copeland had informed residents they were being given 60 days to find a new home as the public housing complex would be demolished. This sent hundreds of low-income families scrambling to find a place to live in an area with a limited availability of affordable housing.
Many families were required to pay for their relocation costs out of pocket before voucher and rent reimbursement.
After 60 days nearly passed, only 29 of 332 families had found alternative housing. HUD had to extend its deadline to ensure all eligible residents had access to safe housing and relocation benefits.
Today, East Chicago is grappling with dislocation, health concerns and cleanup efforts.
670 children lived in that housing complex. By the end of summer 2016, city officials confirmed that 33 children younger than 7 years old had excessive lead in their bloodstream. With lead screenings still ongoing, it’s expected that more kids have been poisoned.
The EPA has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in 18 of the 43 homes tested in a pilot study to determine if the contaminated soil caused lead in pipes to enter the water supply. The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that up to 90 percent of homes in East Chicago have lead in their water lines.
Members from various community groups have now organized into the East Chicago Calumet Coalition to communicate needs and questions to the EPA. They are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation that provides financial assistance to aid in cleanup and testing, the school district and residents that were forced to relocate; including homeowners that need to sell their houses.
Many are wondering how government agencies let this happen and why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Congressional Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule aimed at preventing coal mining waste from being dumped in nearby streams. It was the first step for Republicans in dismantling Obama’s legacy on the environment and years of “excessive” government regulations.
The biggest argument for the joint resolution of disapproval was to save the jobs in the coal mining industry. As House Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI) put it, “The stream protection rule is really just a thinly veiled attempt to wipe out coal mining jobs.”
Now the resolution is on its way to President Trump’s desk. This is a blow to environmentalists as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) prevents the executive branch from imposing similar rules by future administrations.
President Trump made coal a centerpiece of his campaign and promised to bring back coal mining jobs, but the truth is the coal industry is declining. Coal production in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest annual level of production since 1986 thanks to cheap natural gas and automation. China, formerly a major buyer of American coal, has also moved away from importing coal from the U.S.
Coal mining employs relatively few workers because it is highly mechanized. The government provides subsidies for renewable energy and has invested millions of dollars into fracking because natural gas is more abundant and cheaper than coal.
Additionally, air pollution and carbon emissions regulations has forced utility companies to ditch aging coal-fired power plants and switch to natural gas or green sources.
Arch Coal, Alpha Resources, Patriot Coal and Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., all filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016 because of an industry downturn. Even if environmental regulations were relaxed under the Trump administration, coal still would not be a sustainable industry.
Killing the Stream Protection Rule will not revitalize the coal industry. So why did Republicans vote to repeal the rule?
The simple answer is because the regulation is an easy target. It’s a way of flexing their muscles and showing strength now that Obama has left the White House.
Unfortunately, communities that rely on coal for employment work in an industry that’s not sustainable. We know what happens after coal mines close because it’s been happening for years. McDowell, W.Va. used to be the coal capital of the country, but is now the poorest county in the state.
McDowell has an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and a population that has decreased 38 percent in the past 20 years. One-third of residents live in poverty, and more than half of the households in the county have incomes below $25,000.
If politicians really want to help areas that are reliant on coal, they should invest in diversifying regional economies by bringing in industries like tourism and healthcare. Workers can be retrained to get jobs in agriculture, solar panel installation and sustainable construction, and earn degrees in nursing and information technology.
Coal will not save American jobs. Innovation and retraining our workers in sustainable industries will keep Americans employed.
We just put the health of our communities at more risk to save a dying industry.
On December 15, 2016, the Obama administration issued the Mercury Effluent Rule, the EPA’s final rule to address mercury discharge from dental offices into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).
On January 20, 2017, only hours after taking office, the Trump administration issued a memo to federal agencies “immediately withdraw” final rules that were sent to the Office of the Federal Register but had yet to be published. On the following Monday, the EPA withdrew the Mercury Effluent Rule, but did so without giving public notice and an opportunity to comment – a requirement of repealing a final rule.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is suing the EPA for “illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year.”
Aaron Colangelo, litigation director at NRDC said, “The Trump White House ordered the EPA and other agencies to violate the law. That puts Americans at greater risk of exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin, which can do harm even in tiny amounts.”
Now, if you’re like me when visiting the dentist, you’re more concerned about if you have any cavities than what goes down the drain when the dentist tells you to “spit.” But dental clinics are the primary source of mercury discharges to POTWs.
It happens when new fillings are placed or drilled out. Dental offices may discharge the mercury-containing mixture into the chair-side drain which is then flushed into sewers that drain into POTWs. This frequently results in mercury partitioning into sludge - the solid material left over after wastewater is treated – which is then incinerated, sent to a landfill or used in the land application of sludge.
Approximately 5.1 tons of mercury each year makes its way into the environment from the dentist office.
The Mercury Effluent Rule requires for dental offices that discharge to POTWs to use an amalgam separator that captures mercury and other metals, and not discharge scrap amalgam. It is a practical and low-cost solution that is widely supported by dental providers
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system and disrupt brain function depending on exposure and health of the person exposed. The EPA lists effects of overexposure to elemental mercury (from the air), methylmercury (from fish) and mercury compounds (industrial processes).
Mercury pollution is widespread and originates from diverse sources. The EPA expects compliance with the Mercury Effluent Rule will reduce 5.1 tons of mercury discharge and 5.3 tons of other metals in dental waste amalgams going to POTWs.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.