President Trump not only fast-tracked the approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, but also the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is a multi-state natural gas pipeline that will originate in West Virginia and run south through Virginia to eastern North Carolina. The ACP is a joint project between Dominion Resources, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. The natural gas, produced by fracking in West Virginia, will be transported to North Carolina and Virginia to serve the energy needs of public utilities for customers.
Here's what you need to know:
Currently the project is under federal review for a revised route that will avoid portions of the GWNF and MNF to protect habitats for endangered animal species. Leslie Hartz, vice president of pipeline construction at Dominion Energy, says Dominion and its partners believes the pipeline “can be built in an environmentally responsible way that protects the public safety and natural resources of our region.”
However, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) must identify issues and concerns that still need to be addressed in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). FERC is the lead agency that authorizes the construction and operation of interstate natural gas pipelines, but as a cooperating agency, the USFS will make a decision on authorizing the ACP on National Forest Service land.
At the moment, there are several anti-pipeline groups that have filed a motion with FERC to rescind or revise the draft impact statement. Environmental advocates are asking the public to take action. Here’s what you can do:
Most of the discussion surrounding environmental budget cuts in Virginia have centered on the elimination of funding for the Chesapeake Bay, and the subsequent fallout on our streams, fishing economy and recreational activities. But, I want to note that the Bay has activists to fight for funding restoration. Senators Tim Kaine (D - VA) and Mark Warner (D - VA) are on record calling on the rejection of these budget cuts. What about the other federal budget cuts that will impact Virginia’s environmental and energy programs?
Trump’s proposed budget will significantly reduce funding for the EPA by 31 percent, the Department of Interior by 12 percent and the Department of Energy’s nonnuclear programs by 18 percent. For many Americans, these budget cuts may sound like banal numbers on paper, but it means that we will have fewer people and fewer grants to safeguard our environment.
The reality is that the majority of EPA programs are run by state government agencies, and are partially funded by the federal government. Federal environmental laws set the national standards for environmental protection, and the EPA develops enforcement programs and policies to ensure the law is being followed. States work with the EPA through specific programs to achieve compliance. Bottom line: they need federal dollars to do their job.
Here in Virginia, the Office of Natural Resources depends on federal funding for 19 percent of its budget. The Department of Environmental Quality has cumulatively received more than $550 million in EPA grants for compliance programs. Those resources helps the state safeguard the environment.
Each year the EPA awards more than $4 billion in grants. Several of Virginia’s state agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have received funding for enforcement activities like indoor radon testing, beach monitoring, pesticide performance, hazardous waste management and air pollution control.
This funding also goes towards small nonprofit organizations and provides average citizens with an opportunity for meaningful involvement – an opportunity to be part of the decision-making process with the responsible state and federal government agencies.
In 2015, the Greater Southeast Development Corporation of Newport News, Va. was awarded $30,000 through the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program to address lung health in the community. Residents created a coalition to improve the health of residents by raising awareness about air pollutants and developing self-care strategies for respiratory health.
So while the Chesapeake Bay receives several headlines in this budget cut discussion, remember the day-to-day environmental protections that also need funding.
It’s important that we lobby our elected officials to fight for federal dollars that support local cleanup projects, raise awareness about air pollution, and save energy efficiency programs that helps low-income families save money on their utility bills. Heavy cuts force us to prioritize which families will have clean air and water, and which families will suffer from asthma and lead in their drinking water.
Last week, I talked about President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA, FEMA and NOAA, and the irresponsibility of this administration to defund agencies needed for environmental protection.
Well, Trump released his 2018 budget yesterday and it’s just absurd.
In order to increase defense spending by $54 billion, Trump decided to take money from 18 other agencies, decimating dozens of federal programs that fund scientific research, assist the poor and protect public health. The proposed budget targets climate change investments, clean energy programs and restoration initiatives.
The 2018 Budget requests $5.7 billion for the EPA, a $2.6 billion reduction, or 31 percent loss, from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution (CR) level. The EPA will lose 50 programs and 3,200 staffing positions.
Congress must approve the budget by the end of April, or we’ll face another partial government shutdown on April 29 when the current temporary funding bill expires. The official budget won’t take effect until the new fiscal year on October 1.
The federal government sets the priorities of the country through its budget, and the general theme of the 2018 Budget is if the Trump administration deems a program low priority or poorly performing, it’s not going to be funded. The environment and climate change has taken the biggest hit.
Functions that can be absorbed into other programs, including on the state and local level, will be made redundant. This is part of an effort to eliminate or severely reduce federal investment in state environmental activities – or ‘government overreach’ according to the GOP.
Here are environmental and energy programs that will be eliminated under Trump’s proposal:
Environmental Protection Agency
More than $100 million of funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts will be discontinued. The focus is to reorient the clean air program “without unduly burdening the American economy.”
Severe budget cuts are in store for the Office of Research and Development, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Superfund sites and categorical grants which allows states to receive funds to implement water, air, waste and toxic substances programs
Department of Energy
The Office of Science will experience a $900 million reduction. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability will focus on applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger.
Department of Interior
The Interior Department will increase funding and relax permitting processes to allow industry to drill on public lands to access energy resources. Even though the 2018 Budget mentions support for land management operations from the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, a 12 percent budget will make it difficult for maintenance of national parks, historic sites and public lands.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The 2018 Budget slashes research for climate, ocean and earth science programs. The development of polar orbiting and geostationary weather satellites will be maintained so forecasters can continue to have critical weather data.
Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development
Trump seeks to eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI) and cease payments to the United Nations’ climate change programs, such as the Green Climate Fund – a key component of the Paris climate agreement. The U.S. provides foreign assistance through the GCCI to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster low-carbon economic growth and promote climate-resilient societies.
Last week, Scott Pruitt gave an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box in which he denied the role of carbon dioxide as the primary contributor to global warming.
Our nation’s top environmental official stated:
I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.
Even though I know where the EPA chief stands on climate change, I was still enraged about how blasé he was about denying climate science. So, I took to Twitter.
I ended up in a debate with someone who thought I had fallen for the left wing media’s lies. He claimed to have an engineering degree and boasted about how he designs power plants. I have a degree in earth sciences. You’d think that we’d find common ground with our STEM backgrounds, but it was a wasted effort.
Our conversation devolved from funny meme responses and trying to discuss solutions to fossil fuels to him mansplaining how energy and power plants worked. It wasn’t a productive use of my time, so I checked out. I mean, it is Twitter after all.
If you believe in the science, then you know that our planet’s climate is changing at a rate unlike anything we’ve seen across geological records, and that this warming trend is caused by human activity and not natural changes such as changes in the sun’s output or volcanic eruptions.
But what people who don’t believe the science? How do we effectively engage climate change skeptics?
Here are some tips:
Grist has a comprehensive list of responses to the most common skeptical arguments.
Science shouldn’t be a political issue, but it has become one. Non-scientists such as President Trump are debating professional scientists about their work. In the last presidential campaign, we witnessed a widening division between Americans who believe science outweigh the potential harms, and those who view science. How we perceive science and our willingness to trust science translates into how much the public will fund science. This is why we're seeing severe budget cuts to the EPA and NOAA.
As a communicator, I’ve learned that people don’t just absorb information. They have filters. It’s why the war on science is never-ending and throwing facts at people does not work. People seek out information that is agreeable to their beliefs and will argue against information that is contradictory to those convictions, especially if it’s tied to their identity. What I’m telling you will be accepted or rejected based on your predispositions. It is hard to change a person’s convictions purely based on scientific evidence.
Environmentalists must work daily on finding ways to break the selective bubble of the climate-skeptical constituency and hone their debating skills, myself included. Engaging with climate change deniers is frustrating and can be draining, but it’s an opportunity to help someone who may be listening to think differently.
We need our elected officials to understand the need to commit funding and staffing resources to climate research, mitigation efforts and adaptation in our top environmental and climate science agencies.
In the end, every little bit counts.
At least 24 tornadoes touched down in the South and Midwest over the last two days. Last week, more than 20 tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, with an EF4 touching down in Perryville, Missouri. Massachusetts experienced its first-ever tornado in February, and Minnesota set a record yesterday for the earliest reported tornado in a calendar year.
There have been at least 250 confirmed tornadoes in 2017 that have claimed the lives of 24 people, wreaking havoc on communities that will have to find a way to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
As we’re witnessing now, tornadoes can happen throughout the year, even during the winter. But sadly, we haven’t even reached peak tornado season which occurs from April through June.
Natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes are increasingly putting a strain on the federal budget. And with an increase in temperature due to climate change, there will be more extreme weather the federal government will have to pay for.
Which is why it’s so odd that the Trump administration has proposed a 17 percent budget cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of our leading climate science agencies, and an 11 percent budget cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency which provides disaster relief. It’s all part of the president’s effort to find money to build a multi-billion dollar border wall.
NOAA would experience cuts in research funding, education, coastal management and resilience, and most importantly its satellite programs, which provides 90 percent of information for weather forecasts. The same satellites that alerts us when extreme weather is on the way, guides commercial ships and monitors crop health.
FEMA helps local, state and tribal governments prepare for emergencies through training and response strategies. Imagine the strain that would be put on community preparedness and recovery efforts if there is a significant cut to its federal budget. It would mean that states that experience big, costly natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy may not have the ability to tap into federal dollars to coordinate a response or rebuild.
According to NOAA, the number of severe weather events that cause at least $1 billion in damage is on the rise. In 2016, there were 15 weather and climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damage from drought, wildfire, flooding, a tropical cyclone and multiple severe storms.
FEMA spends billions of dollars on general relief and flood insurance. The Department of Agriculture spends billions on crop insurance. The Army Corps of Engineers spends billions on flood control. Why are we cutting budgets for catastrophic events we know are on the rise?
Our government should be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to emergency preparedness. Investing in resilience programs through green infrastructure projects will allow communities, especially coastal communities, to be better prepared and withstand damage from natural disasters.
It’s shortsighted and irresponsible for this administration to significantly defund agencies that are crucial to a number of industries and the livelihood of Americans. Unfortunately, history tells us that everybody starts caring until it's too late.
If we close our eyes and wish really, really hard, the planet will magically heal itself. And all the big, bad polluters will learn the error of their ways and make amends for generations of damage done to our communities.
We’re living in the days where Captain Planet seems like a more reasonable option to protecting the environment, than our own Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, President Trump proposed a $2 billion budget cut for the EPA, which would reduce funding for the agency by 25 percent. Such a cut would eliminate dozens of key programs and cost the agency about 3,000 jobs, which is one-fifth of the agency’s staff.
In 2016, the EPA had more than 15,300 employees with almost half of its staff working in regional offices across the country. The majority of EPA programs are run by state government agencies that employ environmental protection workers.
Somehow enforcing environmental regulations and ensuring public safety is a job-killer, so thousands of EPA jobs will be cut so more Americans can be hired to work in the declining coal industry.
This is how you eliminate the EPA. You weaken it with budget and staff cuts so that the agency cannot effectively do its job.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt still has time to make changes to the final budget, but we can see where things are headed. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies obtained a preliminary budget that showed budget cuts more than 40 programs. Items include:
The EJ 2020 – the agency’s strategic plan to advance environmental justice from 2016 to 2020 – will also suffer major setbacks in its infancy. It’s possible this plan will be scrapped altogether if the budget goes from $6.5 million to $1.5 million. Environmental justice programs play an integral role in focusing on environmental and public health issues that impact low-income, indigenous and minority communities.
Once again, our most vulnerable communities will suffer the most because of these budget cuts.
What is it going to take for Trump to understand that you can’t just wish for clean air and water to magically happen? You need policies and regulations to make it happen.
View the programs and state grants that will change under President Trump's budget proposal. All figures are in millions.
President Trump signed an executive order for the EPA to begin repealing the Clean Water Rule and replace it with something else. But here’s the gag: the new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, will have to go through a rulemaking process that has taken years to revise and implement, and then defend it in court.
At the moment, the rule is on hold after a stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit due to numerous lawsuits that are making its way through the court system (one of which was brought forth by current Pruitt when he was the former attorney general of Oklahoma).
Figuring out which bodies of water need federal protection has caused legal confusion for years.
To understand the complexity of this rule, we have to understand the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is a federal law that regulates quality standards for surface waters and pollutants discharged in waterways that could impact human health or aquatic life. The law has dozens of regulations for entities that may spill anything harmful into the “waters of the United States.”
The CWA is clear when it comes to major navigable waters such as rivers and lakes, and other waterways connected to them. It is unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source (e.g. pipe or man-made ditch) into navigable waters unless there’s a permit to do so.
However, the law is murky in regards to small waterways such as streams and wetlands that don’t fall under the “navigable” category. Environmentalists have argued that smaller waterways that feed into rivers and lakes that provide drinking water need federal protection as well.
The Clean Water Rule – commonly referred to as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule – defines and determines which waters are protected under the CWA to ensure the nation’s water resources are protected. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for determining which waterways fall under this protection.
To provide clarity on the CWA, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers held hundreds of meetings, reviewed over one million public comments and utilized peer-reviewed scientific studies to establish the Clean Water Rule in 2015. The rule now extends federal protection for two million miles of streams and 20 million of acres of wetlands – essentially any wet spot, or occasionally wet spot, in the country – that provides drinking water to nearly one-third of Americans.
The Obama administration saw the broad reach of the rule as a victory that protected the drinking water of 117 million Americans, but it faced heavy criticism from farmers, ranchers, real estate developers and manufacturing, among others.
Opponents argue that any piece of land would suddenly fall under the jurisdiction of ‘waters’ and would need to secure federal permits to offset its impact. It represents another example of government overreach.
The fight against WOTUS is being led by Big Ag, farm lobbyists, small business groups and developers, not the usual big bad wolf: the fossil fuel industry. But supporters of the rule include outdoor enthusiasts such as hunters, anglers and boaters, a mostly conservative group.
This could be an interesting debate amongst the GOP.
It took more than a decade for WOTUS to be finalized. Previous administrations had failed to expand the regulatory scope of the CWA after the Supreme Court slapped down the rewriting of the law, most recently in 2001 and 2006.
Democratic state attorney generals are already looking into mounting lawsuits for rolling back the rule, which will probably end up before the Supreme Court of the United States again.
We’ll see if Pruitt will be able to effectively scale back the water rule by 2020, and regulate smaller waterways without always having to go to court.
On December 10 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward and Reaching America partnered with the City of Richmond and Radio One to sponsor a toy drive and holiday concert at the Trinity Family Life Center in Richmond, Va. The event had several Grammy-level gospel recording artists such as VaShawn Mitchell and Charles Jenkins, and a panel discussion on the role energy plays in their everyday life, including the holidays.
At the end of the concert, four people were randomly picked to have their most recent electric bill paid up to $250.
The majority of attendees at this event were black. It was held at a black church, had black gospel artists and was advertised through Radio One, a network with a large black listener base.
Don't think for a moment that this was a coincidence.
The Koch brothers have come up with a new approach to advancing a fossil fuel agenda. They're using low-income and minority communities to promote coal, oil and natural gas.
For more than 30 years, Charles and David Koch have provided tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change and derail science-based policies that would limit carbon emissions.
In the spring of 2016, Koch launched a new PR campaign – Fueling U.S. Forward – telling low-income families that oil and natural gas is the best way out of poverty. Fueling U.S. Forward is now a nonprofit organization “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy.” It has a $10 million-a-year campaign budget that is funded by Koch Industries.
It's the same marketing tactics and argument used by tobacco lobbyists: stricter regulations on goods would disproportionately affect low-income areas.
This time, the argument is that wealthy individuals that subsidize electric vehicles and install solar panels on their homes contribute to rising gas prices. Somehow efforts to promote clean energy and build a green economy deprives taxpayers.
Fueling U.S. Forward has hosted events aimed at getting the support of black voters, including: presenting scholarships to local high school students at a Baptist church in North Carolina and sponsoring the National Political Convention, a conference hosted by the National Policy Alliance (NPA) – a network that brings together African-American political groups.
Linda Haithcox, NPA’s executive director, said their aim is to stand up for poor and underserved communities, and that NPA’s position on energy policy hasn't changed even though they received funding from Koch Industries and other energy groups.
Unfortunately, you cannot stand up for black communities while also taking money from companies that profit from poisoning the same people.
If the NPA and other black political groups want equitable access to clean energy sources for all consumers, then it must divest from companies that promote cheap and dirty energy. Poor people and communities of color pay the price with their health for the Koch brothers and other oil and petrochemical magnates to become wealthy. Utility and energy companies pollute the air we breathe and water we drink to keep the price of energy low.
The U.S. is still a fossil fuel-based economy, yet, families already struggle with transportation costs and paying their electric bill. What exactly do black communities have to gain by publicly supporting a fossil fuel agenda? Respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, birth defects and high hospital bills?
Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders.
The wealthiest people in the world have the biggest carbon footprint, but the poorest are the most vulnerable.
With a governor’s race underway this year, let’s prioritize the environmental injustices happening in our own backyards. Don’t be fooled by political leaders and energy companies that say they’re keeping energy prices low for us. They’re doing it for themselves to make a profit.
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.
On February 2, Maryland lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to boost the state’s renewable energy standards and override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The bill will increase the requirements for customers to receive 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020; up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022.
It’s being hailed by environmental advocates as a state legislative victory against an anti-environmental agenda of President Trump.
The new measure will require utility companies to buy more energy from wind turbines and solar panels to meet the new demands.
Hogan vetoed the legislation calling it a “sunshine tax” and claimed it would be an additional burden on utility rate-payers. Republicans also object to the costs that will be passed onto customers.
However, the State Department of Legislative Services estimates that consumers may only pay between $.48 or $1.45 more per month with the new requirements.
Maryland currently has seven coal-burning power plants that contribute to the state’s failing air quality grades for ozone pollution by the American Lung Association. Nearly three-quarters of Marylanders live in areas that have a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in air quality.
The 25 percent increase is the equivalent of taking more than 563,000 passenger vehicles off the road every year.
Democrats believe this bill will boost the renewable energy industry in the state and create more jobs, in addition to reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. Approximately 4,600 direct jobs are expected to be created from the 25 percent increase in clean energy standards.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 183 solar companies in Maryland that employs more than 4,200 people. These companies provide an array of products and services ranging from installations and manufacturing to financing and project development.
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D – Baltimore) said that companies are now looking to invest in manufacturing components for wind energy at the former Sparrows Point steel mill, an opportunity to generate more jobs for the community.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act is part of Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires electricity supplies to “procure a minimum portion of their electric retail sales by eligible renewable energy sources.” This is part of an ongoing effort to sustain the growth of the renewable industry compared to other states.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act will go into effect in early March.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.