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Meet the Top EPA Official Who Quit After 24 Years to Protest Pruitt and Trump
Mustafa Ali helped launch the EPA's Office of Environmental Justice in 1992 and served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Up until last week he headed the environmental justice department. He joins us in one of his first interviews since leaving the EPA.
Watch the interview below and read his resignation letter here:
Here's a transcript of the interview:
Amy Goodman: The Environmental Protection Agency has been overwhelmed by angry calls in recent days after the agency's new head, Scott Pruitt, said carbon dioxide emissions are not a major contributor to global warming. Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, made the comment during an interview with CNBC host Joe Kernen.
Joe Kernen: Do you believe that it's been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?
Scott Pruitt: No, I—No, 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.
Joe Kernen: Ok. All right—
Scott Pruitt: But we don't know that yet, as far as—we need to continue debate and continue the review and the analysis.
Amy Goodman: That was Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, speaking with CNBC host Joe Kernen. Well, Pruitt's comment defies scientific consensus about the laws of physics. The EPA's own website, even in the time of Trump, features a fact sheet declaring, "Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm," unquote.
Well, on Friday, one day after Pruitt made the comment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, revealed that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen at a record pace for a second year in row. Meanwhile, President Trump is proposing to cut 25 percent from the EPA's budget and eliminate 3,000 jobs. Trump's plan calls for the complete elimination of EPA programs on climate change, toxic waste cleanup, environmental justice and funding for Native Alaskan villages. It would slash funding to states for clean air and water programs by 30 percent.
Well, we now turn to a longtime EPA staffer who resigned last week to protest the agency's new direction. Mustafa Ali is the former head of the EPA's environmental justice program, which worked with low-income and marginalized communities dealing with industrial pollution and climate change. Ali helped found the office 24 years ago under President George H.W. Bush. He's now working with the Hip Hop Caucus.
Mustafa Ali, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why you resigned?
Mustafa Ali: Oh, yes and thank you for having me. There were a number of reasons for resigning. One of them was that I felt that the values and priorities of our new administration did not line up with mine in relationship to our vulnerable communities and the work that needed to happen in that space. Secondly, I also had some great concerns about the rolling back of the budgets and the eliminating of offices that have played a significant role in helping to move those vulnerable communities forward. And then, thirdly, when I took a look at some of the proposals for rolling back regulations that have played a significant role in helping to protect the environment and public health of our most vulnerable communities, I just couldn't be a part of that. Those regulations, many of those communities have been working for decades trying to make sure, one, that they're in place, two, that they are more inclusive of protections for their communities and getting traction, being able to move forward.
Amy Goodman: The Trump administration has proposed zeroing out the budget of your office, the environmental justice program. Now, this hasn't been approved, but this is the proposal. What exactly, concretely, would that mean? Talk about some of the areas in the country that you've been working on and just what the words and the movement "environmental justice" is.
Mustafa Ali: Yes, well, you have to kind of go back in history just a bit to understand environmental justice. The Office of Environmental Justice, which became, first, the Office of Environmental Equity, actually got created because of a set of recommendations that came from stakeholders. Those stakeholders were from grassroots organization. They were from academics. They were from faith-based institutions. And it actually started under William Reilly back in 1992. And the issues are numerous around the country. You could look at some of the things that are happening in Port Arthur, Texas, where there are a number of refineries and the community is literally surrounded. Or you can look in Mossville, Louisiana, where communities have been impacted by toxic chemicals that have created some great public health challenges in those communities.
Amy Goodman: And these communities you're talking about are African-American communities?
Mustafa Ali: These are communities of color, African-American communities, Latino communities, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, Native American communities and low-income white communities.
Amy Goodman: Let me turn to Scott Pruitt's recent speech to staff at the EPA when he first came in.
Scott Pruitt: I believe that we, as an agency and we, as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment, that we don't have to choose between the two. I think our nation has done better than any nation in the world at making sure that we do the job of protecting our natural resources and protecting our environment, while also respecting the economic growth and jobs our nation seeks to have.
Amy Goodman: Mustafa Ali, your response to, well, the man who was your boss, but you have since resigned, Scott Pruitt?
Mustafa Ali: Yes, I believe that we have to be as equally focused on the impacts that are happening inside of those communities. I personally think that when we are taking a look at regulations, we could ask a basic question: If we're thinking about creating a new regulation, will it be beneficial to our most vulnerable communities? If we're thinking about rolling back a regulation, will that be helpful to those most vulnerable communities, or will it move them in a negative direction? And if that is the case, then I think that we are making a mistake, that there needs to be a better analysis, that there needs to be conversations that are happening with those most vulnerable communities and getting their input as we move forward. I'm often wondering: What are the criteria that you're using to make some of the decisions, of some of the proposals that I have seen being moved forward over the last few weeks?
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about some examples? You were recently in Flint, well known for the—what happened to the water supply of Flint, the poisoning of an American city, when it was taken off its traditional water supply by an emergency manager, who the Republican governor of Michigan had put in to rule that city. An unelected official took it off its traditional water supply of over half a century, the Detroit water system and made the water supply the Flint River, which all knew was a corrosive, polluted body of water. Talk about the significance of the cutting of the EPA for communities like Flint and then talk about South Carolina.
Mustafa Ali: Oh, sure. So, as it relates to Flint, you know, that is a situation that has just devastated the community, but there is still hope also in the community. So, recently there with the mayor and some of her staff and others, focusing on some environmental justice opportunities and how we can help to revitalize that community, you know and speaking with many of the folks who are there. You know, they are still struggling to make sure that they have fresh water, clean water, something that many of us just take for granted every day. But there are also—I want to address the disinvestments that have happened over the years inside of the community, to be able to move forward, to create a healthier and safer place. So we're very, very focused on being supportive there.
And, you know, the flip side of that is an example like Spartanburg, South Carolina and why also I think it's so important for the new administration to value the grant programs that exist in the agency that help communities to be able to move from surviving to thriving, as I often will frame it. In Spartanburg, South Carolina, they had a number of the issues that many of our communities have across the country. They had bad transportation routes. They had old housing. Some folks call it shotgun housing. They had lack of access to public health, to healthcare facilities. They had the environmental impacts of Superfund and brownfield sites and a number of other issues. They took that $25,000 small grant, began a visioning process with the community and asked, "What are some of the things that you would like to see fixed in our community, but also what are some of the opportunities, some of the benefits, that you'd like to see happen?" Took that $20,000 grant and leveraged it into over $300 million in changes.
So now in that community you now have new healthcare centers that are there, where, before, seniors had to travel great distances to be able to get to healthcare. You have new transportation routes that are in the community, that are much more healthier and less impactful on the community. You have a number of new housing units, over 500 new homes that are there, green homes that are energy-efficient. Now, before, in the summertime, folks were spending $300 to $400 on their energy costs. Because of this new housing, they've been able to lower it to $67 a month, which gives a lot more disposable income, especially to those who are on fixed incomes. And as this revitalization was happening, which was community-driven, they made sure that there were worker training programs in place, so that the community members, one, were able to create their own jobs to be able to be—play a significant role and to bring hope back to this community. And there are a number of other things that are very, very positive that are happening.
But these are the examples of what can happen when we value communities, when we listen to the voice of communities and we begin to move forward in a collaborative way. They have now been able to bring the state and the local government into this process. A number of the community members, of course, are a part of the process. Business and industry is a part of the process. And as they cleaned up the brownfields and Superfund sites were being cleaned up, they now are moving forward, having a solar farm put into those cleaned-up areas, which will now zero out those electricity bills, and the excess, that can be sold to the grid, will then come back to the communities. So that's what I talk about when I'm talking about environmental justice, addressing those past and present impacts and creating opportunities.
Amy Goodman: So, in our last minute, Mustafa Ali, you have worked for Republican and Democratic administrations. I mean, your office was founded under President George H.W. Bush. Why leave now?
Mustafa Ali: I felt that it was time for me to take my skills and talents to a place where I knew that they would be valued. But I also felt that it was necessary for me to stand up and share respectfully, in the letter of my resignation, with the administrator the challenges that still exist for vulnerable communities, but also the opportunities that exist and implore him to do a serious analysis of that and to give consideration into making sure that these communities are protected and engaged in the process.
Amy Goodman: Did Scott Pruitt respond your resignation letter?
Mustafa Ali: I have not heard from him to date, but I do wish him well.
Amy Goodman: Mustafa Ali resigned as head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency last week. He is now senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Democracy Now!.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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