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Court Rules EPA Must Release 20,000 Emails Between Wheeler, Other Top Officials and Polluting Industries
A federal court has ordered that top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—including Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler—must release about 20,000 emails exchanged with industry groups, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The December 26 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club after the EPA missed its deadline in responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The environmental group had sought the emails to see how industry contacts might be influencing decisions by officials like Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to roll back Obama-era regulations on climate-change causing emissions and other pollutants.
"The law is clear: the EPA must produce these documents, it must do so quickly, and if necessary it must re-allocate staff to speed things up and lift the curtain on the toxic relationship between Trump's appointees and the polluters they are supposed to be protecting us from," Senior Sierra Club Attorney Elena Saxonhouse, who helped argue the case, said in a press release.
The court mandated a 10 month timeline for the release of the documents, which will begin as soon as the federal government fully reopens pending the end of the ongoing shutdown. The FOIA request targeted 25 Trump administration officials at the EPA including Wheeler, Office of Air and Radiation head and former corporate lawyer Bill Wehrum, top Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention official and former chemical industry lobbyist Nancy Beck and Albert "Kell" Kelly, who was formerly in charge of a task force on improving the way the EPA cleans toxic sites and has a lifetime ban from working in banking, The Washington Post reported.
The EPA had said it was so inundated with FOIA requests that it needed until 2022 to release the documents, but the Sierra Club argued successfully that the release could not wait that long, in part because President Donald Trump has indicated he will nominate Wheeler to officially replace former Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in part because of scandals revealed through previous Sierra Club FOIA requests.
"The Senate should not act on Wheeler's expected nomination until we know exactly what he is up to behind the scenes. The revelations which FOIA'd emails uncovered about Scott Pruitt were unprecedented, shocking, and helped bring about his rapid downfall," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in the press release. "Now, we await tens of thousands of emails between Andrew Wheeler, his industry-conflicted deputies, and the polluters they are supposed to be protecting us from. Given Wheeler and Wherum's history of exclusively protecting polluter profits, we can only imagine what abuses these documents are likely to uncover."
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.