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Trump Administration Removes Federal Database That Tracked Pollution

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TOXMAP shows data tracking the release of the chemical benzene on May 22, 2014. ColetteHoch / CC BY-SA 3.0

TOXMAP, an interactive online map that used various sources to track toxic pollution across the U.S., disappeared from the internet earlier this month, alarming environmental advocates, according to The Hill.


The 15-year-old interactive map was beneficial to researchers and environmentalists. The National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institute of Health, hosted it. Some of the information has moved to other sources, while some has just disappeared completely, as Newsweek reported.

TOXMAP offered detailed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data for clearly labeled toxic release sites and offered extensive health and demographic data, like mortality rates, that users could easily overlay on to the maps. The various capabilities and wealth of data earned TOXMAP a devoted following among researchers, students, activists and other people eager to pinpoint sources of pollution, according to Undark.

With little explanation, it was announced in September that the map would be taken down. Then it was removed last week and the former URL showed a message acknowledging its disappearance and ushered visitors to other potential sources of information, as Undark reported.

"Part of the decision was prompted by the increasing availability of the underlying data from their original sources," said NLM in a statement released to Undark. "Many sources such as the EPA, among others, offer several products that provide similar geographic information system functionality."

The NLM added in its statement that much of the removed information could be found scattered amongst nine other U.S. and Canadian government websites.

People who used the resource see the hiding of data and removal of information as part of the Trump administration's pattern of obfuscation and regulatory rollbacks of environmental policies, as Newsweek reported.

Furthermore, the alternative of combing through nine other websites takes away the consolidation of data and the user-friendly interface of TOXMAP.

"Because this information has gotten so complex, and there's so much of it, it's very difficult for someone who's not really trained in the area to navigate it," said Chris Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University and a member of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which monitors federal environmental data sources and advocates for greater public access, to Undark. "This tool actually cut through all the jargon, all the different interfaces that EPA, for instance, puts up before you get to the actual data that you're interested in."

"TOXMAP's end accords with a larger pattern spanning federal environmental agencies whose intentions have been far from quiet, even loudly trumpeted," read a December article from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), according to Newsweek . "The dismantling of such a usable public platform connecting health and environmental data certainly accords with the EPA's own declared strategies, of seeking to exclude so many environmental health studies from policy-making and to neglect or defund on-going environmental health investigations."

"Whether these parallels are intentional or not, our National Library of Medicine has now joined this administration's ideologically-driven anti-science crusade," the article continued, "effectively shrinking the public's access to environmental as well as disease and mortality data. As with so many other fronts in the Trump Administration's interlocking wars against science and environmental regulation, the prevailing hope seems to be that pushing the facts out of sight will diminish Americans' concerns about the environment."

Claudia Persico, an assistant professor at American University specializing in public administration and environmental policy, told Undark that the site's deprecation was a blow to researchers.

"I think it's really sad that they're getting rid of this," she said.

Sellers added, "It was stunning to me that the National Library of Medicine is actually retiring this pretty essential tool for our environmental right-to-know. I hope people will understand what's happening out there, that the government is gradually cutting off these very valuable tools that are really essential to our democracy."

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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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