This April 22, Earth Day turns 50.
The world's largest secular holiday approaches its golden anniversary in the shadow of two global crises. This year's day is dedicated to climate action, and the celebration has moved online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Earth Day has a history of uniting people around the world to solve the major problems facing our planet. Here's a look back on some of the most important Earth Days in the celebration's 50-year history and what they helped accomplish.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Vijay Limaye
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2018 censoring science proposal aimed to undercut the agency's application of landmark public health science by severely restricting its use in decision making. The proposal was a dangerous disaster that lacked any sound legal basis and threatened to impose draconian and hugely costly restrictions on the types of scientific information eligible for consideration by EPA in implementing laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. Those laws have delivered major health and economic benefits to the American public over the past 50 years, and that progress was put in direct peril because of this transparent attempt to undercut the evidence-based approach that has made environmental protection so effective in the U.S.
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Tweeting that the U.S. has the cleanest air in the world does not make it so. Not only do we rank 10th, but a new study says that after steady improvement during the Obama-era, air pollution has gotten worse while Donald Trump has been president.
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By Gretchen Goldman
The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has released their consensus recommendations to the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The group of 20 independent experts, that were disbanded by Administrator Wheeler last October and reconvened last week, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, has now made clear that the current particulate pollution standards don't protect public health and welfare.
The Elephant in the CASAC Meeting<p>CASAC has already acknowledged that <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/uncharted-territory-the-epas-science-advisors-just-called-out-administrator-wheeler" target="_blank">they don't have the expertise</a> to conduct the review but you know who does? The Independent Panel. The Panel has more than double the experts of CASAC, and importantly, it has multiple experts in each of the necessary scientific disciplines critical to ensure a comprehensive, robust review of the science supporting the standards.</p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">As a result, we should watch whether or not CASAC aligns with the panel in their recommendations on the standards. If CASAC </span>doesn't <span style="background-color: initial;">decide this week to make a similar recommendation as the Independent Panel, they'll have to explain why they disagreed with a larger, more experienced, and more diverse </span><a href="https://ucs-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/science-and-democracy/pm-panel-meeting-docs/2-ipmrp-biosketches.pdf" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">set of experts</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> on the topic. In any event, the administrator will have access to both CASAC and the </span><a href="https://ucs-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/science-and-democracy/IPMRP-FINAL-LETTER-ON-DRAFT-PA-191022.pdf" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Independent Panel's recommendations</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> when he ultimately makes the decision of where to set particulate pollution standards. The panel's recommendations should hold the administrator's feet to the fire.</span></p>
The Fine Particulate Matter Standards Don’t Protect Public Health<p>The standards of greatest interest are the primary PM2.5 standards. These are the standards for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (fine particulate matter) that are designed to protect public health. The panel supported the preliminary conclusions of a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-09/documents/draft_policy_assessment_for_pm_naaqs_09-05-2019.pdf" target="_blank">Draft EPA Policy Assessment</a> that the current standards aren't requisite to protect public health.</p><p>The letter cited new and consistent epidemiological findings, supported by human and animal studies and other studies with natural experiments, as providing "clear and compelling scientific evidence" for tighter standards. Since the last particulate matter review, several new large-scale epidemiological studies provide powerful evidence that particulate matter is causing adverse health outcomes (such as early death, heart attacks, and respiratory stress) at locations and during time periods with concentrations at or below the level of the current standards.</p><p>They write, "New and compelling evidence that health effects are occurring in areas that already meet or are well below the current standards." Notably, this evidence cuts across different locations with different study populations, different study designs, and different statistical approaches.</p><p>Given the weight of the evidence from new studies across scientific disciplines and consistent with the decision-making process that EPA and its science advisers have used for many years, the panel recommends a particulate matter standard between 8 µg/m3 and 10 µg/m3 for the annual PM2.5 standard (compared to the current standard of 12 µg/m3) and between 25 µg/m3 and 30 µg/m3 for the 24-hour standard (compared to the current standard of 35 µg/m3) to protect public health. These ranges are tighter than those recommended in EPA's Draft Policy Assessment.</p>
Keeping the Current Fine Particulate Matter Standards Ignores the Science<p>The Independent Panel rejected a potential argument for maintaining the current primary PM2.5 standards. The Draft Policy Assessment offered up an alternative rationale that might be used if the agency were to reject the draft assessment's recommendation to strengthen the standards and maintain the current standards. This alternative rationale explains that such a move would require the administrator to be arbitrarily selective in choosing which new studies to accept and which to toss and to disregard new epidemiologic evidence showing effects at lower levels.</p><p>The panel roundly rejected this justification, noting that, "Arguments offered in the draft Policy Assessment for retaining the current standards are not scientifically justified and are specious." This is important because if the administrator fails to strengthen the standards, he'll have to explain (both in court and in the court of public opinion) why he feels such a decision is science-based, as required under the Clean Air Act. And one proposed argument he could use has just been debunked by this expert Panel.</p>
Otherwise, the EPA’s Draft Policy Assessment Is Scientifically Sound<p>While the Independent Panel critiqued some details of the EPA's Draft Policy Assessment, the panel agreed that the draft science and policy assessments were cohesive and robust and the panel commended the "good faith effort" involved in the policy assessment. Specifically, the panel affirmed the use of EPA's causality framework used in the Integrated Science Assessment they reviewed last year and the Policy Assessment's new use of a hybrid modeling technique that allows for better assessment of risk from particulate matter exposure across the country especially in rural areas.</p><p>This diverges from what the seven-member CASAC has said and done around the EPA's assessment of the science and policy. In December, they concluded that the agency's draft science assessment was not a scientific document (it is) and CASAC Chair Dr. Tony Cox has been critical of the agency's causality framework that has been developed with dozens of experts over more than a decade. This view is <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6434/1398" target="_blank">not shared by the scientific community</a>, and now, not shared by the Independent Panel either.</p>
Other Particulate Pollution Standards Also May Need Revamping<p>The Independent Panel decided other particulate standards were also inadequate. On PM10, particulate matter less than 10 micrometers, the panel recommended revising this standard downward given that the PM2.5 component would also be tightened and noted several research and monitoring areas that need further work. On the secondary standards, i.e. the standards designed to protect welfare effects, such as visibility, the panel concluded that the standards should be tightened in order to be more protective.</p>
The Panel Condemns the EPA’s Broken Process<p>The Independent Panel's deliberations, demands for further research, and unanswered questions highlight how <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/wheeler-worsens-particulate-pollution-review-process" target="_blank">broken the EPA process is</a>. In a normal review cycle, the panel would have had the opportunity to talk with agency scientists directly. The EPA staff would then have considered their comments and revised the Integrated Science Assessment in response to the committee and panel's suggestions. But because the administrator disbanded the panel and abbreviated the process, there was no opportunity for such dialogue and refinement of the agency's science assessment before <a href="https://twitter.com/GretchenTG/status/1184207743261036551" target="_blank">policy decisions were discussed</a>. But alas, the panel had to make do with what was available to them and CASAC does too.</p><p>Fortunately for CASAC, an Independent Panel has already done their job, and they are free (and encouraged) to run with it, especially given <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/a-timeline-of-recent-attacks-on-the-epas-science-based-ambient-air-pollution-standards" target="_blank">the long list</a> of ways that EPA Administrator Wheeler has damaged the ambient air pollution review process.</p><p><a href="https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/MeetingCalCASAC/A2DF51609E3DFC9C85258473006CF120?OpenDocument" target="_blank">Listen</a> and <a href="https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/MeetingCalCASAC/49FAF8892AD2D38285258473006D1F4A?OpenDocument" target="_blank">watch</a> this week as CASAC discusses the same questions that the Independent Panel did last week. If CASAC comes to different conclusions than the larger, more experienced, and more diverse Independent Panel, we should ask why.</p><p>You can raise these questions yourself and demand that the administrator follow the panel's recommendations, by providing written or oral public comments at a <a href="https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/MeetingCalCASAC/A0D0F9D4C6BC36D88525848C00467771?OpenDocument" target="_blank">future CASAC meeting</a> and commenting on the docket for the <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/09/11/2019-19627/release-of-a-draft-document-related-to-the-review-of-the-national-ambient-air-quality-standards-for" target="_blank">particulate matter rule-making</a>. I'll be providing public comments this afternoon urging CASAC to follow the advice of the Independent Panel and commenting on the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/a-timeline-of-recent-attacks-on-the-epas-science-based-ambient-air-pollution-standards" target="_blank">EPA's problematic process</a> and drawing attention to that elephant in the room.</p>
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By Don Anair
The Trump administration has been on a collision course with California, and it appears that collision is imminent. An administrative action to undermine the authority granted to the state by the Clean Air Act to protect its citizens from vehicle pollution appears to be imminent. This illegal attack is not just harmful for the nation's most populous state—it is an attack on the 13 states and the District of Columbia that follow California's lead and, ultimately, the entire country. The American auto industry and the American public will be worse off as a result.
Trump legal strategy = throwing spaghetti at a wall<p><br>Successfully attacking California's long held legal authority will be no easy task. The Trump administration has struggled to find a compelling argument for why California, and other states that follow it, cannot protect their citizens from vehicle pollution. They've come up with every excuse in the book and then some to claim California can't do what it has done for decades.</p><p>They have claimed that California does not have an immediate and pressing need to reduce global warming emissions, when <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/global-warming-impacts/killer-heat-in-united-states" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>, wildfires, drought, and <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/sea-level-rise" target="_self">sea level rise</a> prove that California is at the front lines and needs action now.</p><p>They have claimed that eliminating tailpipe pollution via electrification, a critical step in the state's fight against poor air quality, is somehow equivalent to setting fuel economy standards (it's not).</p><p>They have claimed, incomprehensibly, that it is not possible to meet the zero-emission vehicle requirements of the state's standards when manufacturers are both <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/what-will-it-take-for-automakers-to-meet-californias-ev-requirements-not-as-much-as-you-might-think" target="_blank">ahead of schedule</a> and promising even more options.</p>
The states will be fighting this in court … and so will we.<p>State leadership has been critical to protecting the environment, driving innovation in the auto industry, and bringing new clean car technologies to world from catalytic converters to <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/electric-vehicles" target="_self">electric vehicles</a>. California's laboratory for clean air technology and policy innovations has not only led to cleaner air across the U.S. but across the globe. American automakers and technology companies have benefited from this leadership by being at the forefront of global automotive trends.</p><p>Fortunately, the Clean Air Act is crystal clear about the unique authority granted to California to be a leader. Unfortunately, this action by the administration will guarantee years of lawsuits and create enormous uncertainty for the industry at a time when the industry is navigating unprecedented technology disruption – from electric drivetrains to self-driving technology.</p><p>The states will be fighting this injustice in court, and we will be joining them in that fight—the stakes are too high to let this administration, not just ignore its responsibilities to protect this country, but to run roughshod over the longstanding environmental laws that are meant to protect us from such reckless behavior.</p><p><em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/author/don-anair" target="_blank">Don Anair</a>, research and deputy director of the UCS Clean Vehicles Program, is a vehicle engineer and an expert on diesel pollution, advanced vehicle technologies, and alternative fuels.</em></p><p><em>This story was reposted with permission from our media associate </em><u><em><a href="https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/09/06/trump-administration-goes-after-states-protecting-environment" target="_blank">Common Dreams</a>.</em></u><span></span></p>
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When President Donald Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday, he picked the potential justice with the most environmental law experience of his final four frontrunners, E&E reported.
By Ken Kimmell
Battle lines over President Trump's nominee for a new U.S. Supreme Court justice are now being drawn, as they should be, over crucial issues such as a woman's right to choose, health care, immigration, civil rights and criminal justice. In past nomination fights, little attention has been paid to the court's role in shaping environmental law and science-based regulation. But it would be a major mistake to overlook these issues now. The Supreme Court has an enormous impact on how U.S. environmental laws are interpreted and enforced, and a new justice could tip the balance against science-based rules on climate change, clean air and clean water.
By Jessica Corbett
A coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia is suing the Trump administration for blocking greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles that aimed to reduce air pollution and curb U.S. drivers' contributions to the global climate crisis.
In what critics called an "indefensible and frankly embarrassing decision," last month U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt caved to automobile industry lobbyists' demands and announced that his agency is drafting relaxed manufacturing rules for vehicles made between 2022 and 2025.
To track the levels of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, two pollutants that contribute to smog formation, an international research team used satellite pollution measurements backed up by local air quality monitor readings.
By Ben Jervey
A coalition of conservative groups, many with close ties to the Koch brothers, is calling for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to strip California of its right to set stricter greenhouse gas limits for personal vehicles.
By Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins
Editor's note: On April 2, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Trump administration plans to revise tailpipe emissions standards negotiated by the Obama administration for motor vehicles built between 2022 and 2025, saying the standards were set "too high." Pruitt also said the EPA was re-examining California's historic ability to adopt standards that are more ambitious than the federal government's. Legal scholars Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins explain why California has this authority—and what may happen if the EPA tries to curb it.
By Ken Kimmell
A major front in the climate change debate has moved to the courtroom, as I've previously discussed. Last week, plaintiffs in two separate cases won significant procedural victories—one against major fossil fuel companies, and a second against the Trump administration. Here are the latest developments and their implications.