Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle Backlog of 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites
By Jessica Corbett
A joint report on Monday highlighted the pressure that President-elect Joe Biden is already facing to deliver on his environmental justice campaign promises—particularly when it comes to the 34 Superfund sites nationwide for which there is no reliable cleanup funding—the largest backlog of "unfunded" sites in 15 years.
The federal Superfund program began with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), passed by Congress in 1980. While cleanup efforts were initially paid for by a trust fund created by taxing the chemical and petroleum industries, lawmakers let the tax expire 25 years ago.
The new report on the cleanup program from NBC News, InsideClimate News, and The Texas Observer is the fifth installment of the "Super Threats" series about Superfund sites and climate change. The first report, published in late September, detailed how hundreds of hazardous waste sites across the United States are threatened by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, which are all exacerbated by a climate crisis that the Trump administration often refused to acknowledge let alone act to address.
Both reports pointed to a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis which found that 945 Superfund sites are vulnerable to extreme weather events that are intensifying because of human-caused climate change, including hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, increased precipitation, or wildfires. The news outlets behind the series created an interactive map for all the locations on the office's list, which includes over half of the unfunded sites—19 of 34.
President-elect Joe Biden will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to reverse President Trump’s environmen… https://t.co/NIZ6juIClW— Inside Climate News (@Inside Climate News)1609155300.0
The outlets reported Monday that Democrats in Congress, environmentalists, and former officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are urging Biden to consider climate change when creating cleanup plans for not only the unfunded backlog—which has grown under President Donald Trump—but all 1,570 Superfund sites.
"Even before taking office, the Biden administration accomplished one of the GAO's key recommendations: acknowledge the climate threat," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "A Biden EPA will need to assess every federal Superfund project and help states do the same. As the GAO showed, climate change brings a new priority to rapid Superfund cleanup work."
As the outlets reported:
Beyond Whitehouse's call for climate-threat assessments at every site, one senior former EPA official said the incoming Biden administration should review all of the agreements negotiated by the Trump EPA at Superfund sites with corporations liable for cleanups.
"You will want to see if the responsible parties were being given preferential treatment," said Mathy Stanislaus, who served as assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management during the Obama administration.
Stanislaus said such reviews should focus first on any agreements negotiated since the election by the lame-duck Trump EPA.
Earlier this month, Public Citizen launched an online tool to track Trump's "most corrupt, norm-breaking, dangerous, and unjust actions during the lame-duck session," noting that the past four years have featured "cruelty, recklessness, and cronyism" from the outgoing administration.
The watchdog group has been critical of Trump's EPA administrators. Currently the agency is run by former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in early 2019. His predecessor, Scott Pruitt, stepped down in July 2018 in the face of several ethics scandals.
The Monday report noted that "the Superfund program is led by Peter C. Wright, a lawyer who previously worked for Dow Chemical and represented the company in negotiations with the EPA over Superfund sites."
Although party control of the Senate will be determined by a pair of runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, Biden has already announced several of his preferred Cabinet picks, including Michael Regan, the top environmental official in North Carolina, to head the EPA—a move that drew a range of responses from campaigners.
On the campaign trail, Biden promised to take bold climate action with a focus on frontline communities. His $2 trillion green energy and environmental justice plan, unveiled in July, earned praise from various activists, including Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement.
Writing for The Hill on Monday, Prakash and Green 2.0 executive director Andrés Jimenez welcomed Biden's selection of Regan for EPA and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) for interior secretary as "an encouraging sign that his administration is prioritizing the voices of the populations who are most in need of serious attention and aggressive action on some of the most important environmental challenges our nation faces."
"Still, much difficult work remains to be done if the concerns of frontline and at-risk communities are to be truly prioritized with forging and implementing equitable environmental policies," Prakash and Jimenez wrote, emphasizing that "communities of color have been disproportionately affected by our federal government's lack of action to solve ongoing environmental problems" and "are also at higher risk of the consequences of human-induced climate changes."
The pair urged Biden to "follow through on his promises to root out systemic racism when it comes to our nation's environmental policy," appoint environmental leaders of color to positions at all levels of his administration, and "take urgent action to curb the global climate crisis and to restore justice for communities impacted by air, water, and land polluters."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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