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By Derrick Z. Jackson
The Trump administration is trying mightily to gut the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that mandates rigorous, science-based environmental impact reviews for major infrastructure and construction projects prior to federal permitting. NEPA also reserves significant time for the public to weigh in on the impact of projects to their communities.
The loss of public input in the administration's proposed changes to NEPA has environmental justice leaders up in arms. For them, the silencing amounts to regulatory racism.
Hope in the Courts<p>There is a glimmer of hope that the U.S. courts will determine that President Trump and his industrial partners are reaching <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1062092145" target="_blank">too far</a> in the rewrite of NEPA, as it relates to environmental racism. Take the Atlantic Bridge Pipeline, which is in the public eye for its upcoming Supreme Court case on whether it can transect the hallowed federal Appalachian Trail.</p><p>The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia <a href="https://www.courthousenews.com/fourth-circuit-delivers-another-blow-to-atlantic-coast-pipeline/" target="_blank">recently vacated</a> a Virginia state permit for a compressor station along the pipeline because developer Dominion Energy did not adequately assess its environmental impact on the historic African American host town of Union Hill. The town <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/federal-court-revokes-gas-project-permit-in-win-for-historic-african-american-community/2020/01/07/76bb3538-3170-11ea-a053-dc6d944ba776_story.html" target="_blank">was founded</a> by free African Americans and formerly enslaved people. The federal courts have also sent other fossil fuel projects and Trump administration oil and gas leases back to the drawing board for their inadequate consideration of environmental and climate impacts.</p><p>"Five years ago, Dominion told us that there was going to be a compressor station in Union Hill and there was nothing we could do about it," Chad Oba, president of a Union Hill coalition protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor, <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/477199-atlantic-coast-pipeline-loses-permit-battle-with-historically-black" target="_blank">said in The Hill.</a> "That's not fair, and it's not American. This is a win for a group of citizens who were committed to protecting their community and never ever gave up."</p><p>Such victories give hope that this is one rollback the Trump administration may not ultimately get away with. The assault on NEPA is so sweeping and blatant in its turning control of the environment over to industry, it is sure to receive a massive court challenge from environmental groups and environmental justice advocates. If communities like Union Hill refused to give up, there is no reason for anyone opposed to the rewriting of NEPA to throw in the towel, either. There is still time before the March 10 deadline for <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/10/2019-28106/update-to-the-regulations-implementing-the-procedural-provisions-of-the-national-environmental" target="_blank">public comment.</a></p><p>Recently, Union of Concerned Scientists colleague Adrienne Hollis interviewed Mildred McClain, an <a href="https://www.savannahnow.com/news/20200218/savannah-heads-toward-clean-energy-goal" target="_blank">environmental justice leader</a> in Savannah, Georgia, about the importance of NEPA. McClain <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/conversation-with-the-nepa-ninja" target="_blank">recalled</a> how the act gave her community a voice against the dumping of nuclear waste and unchecked widening of the Savannah River for container ships.</p><p>"If it had not been for NEPA," McClain said, "the community would not have been a part of the process."</p><p>It's important to recognize that taking communities of color out of the process is a major goal in the administration's efforts to gut NEPA. When President Trump announced the rewrite, he was — by no small coincidence — flanked by a <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/10/fossil-fuel-interests-applaud-trump-weakening-nepa-environmental-policy" target="_blank">nearly all-white</a> phalanx of supporters as he <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-proposed-national-environmental-policy-act-regulations/" target="_blank">claimed</a> with a straight face, "We're maintaining America's world-class standards of environmental protection. We have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water on Earth. And for our country, the air is, right now, cleaner than it's been in 40 years."</p><p>For the past two generations, NEPA has offered a powerful tool for the protection of the nation's environment. If the Trump administration succeeds in ripping it apart and turning environmental reviews over to industry, we will risk the dirtiest air and water of any developed nation on Earth, cementing this nation as a hotbed of environmental racism.</p><p>The deadline for public comments on the proposed changes to NEPA closes this Tuesday. <a href="https://secure.ucsusa.org/onlineactions/5J0luZa4YkiUmcMR656c9g2?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tw&ms=twitter" target="_blank">Submit your comment today</a>.</p>
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By Derrick Z. Jackson
In the U.S., gun violence kills nearly 40,000 people a year and has killed nearly 40,000 or so children and teenagers since 1999, and yet the nation is still without serious gun control. Another 40,000 people die each year in traffic accidents, including 1,200 children 14 and under. Yet we eschew policies used abroad that could cut the toll by half.
First Responders, Maintenance Workers, Women<p>The first mesothelioma deaths have now occurred among 9/11 first responders who worked in toxic clouds at Ground Zero after the collapse and fires of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 2001. Also, a <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6608a3.htm" target="_blank">2017 report</a> by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that exposure continues today to workers involved in the maintenance, demolition, and remediation of buildings with asbestos. "Contrary to past projections, the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths has been increasing," the report said.</p><p>In 2018, the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/business/baby-powder-asbestos-johnson-johnson.html?module=inline" target="_blank">obtained memos</a> under the Freedom of Information Act that exposed that officials at Johnson & Johnson were aware in the 1970s that the company's iconic baby powder talc could be contaminated with asbestos and yet worked to discredit or silence research that suggested contamination. Two years ago, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.7 billion to 22 women who claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by the baby powder, often used as a feminine hygiene product. Five months ago, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/business/johnson-johnson-baby-powder-recall.html" target="_blank">found trace</a> amounts of asbestos in samples.</p><p>Will we soon be adding children and teachers to the toll? Nowhere in America is the wholesale disintegration of asbestos installed decades ago as evident as in the nation's schools.</p>
The Threat to Schoolchildren<p>The UCS report notes that school buildings built from 1946 to 1972 likely contain asbestos, with the highest proportion of unacceptable structures being found in low-income communities and districts where most students are of color. All of that is on unconscionable display in Philadelphia where the teachers' union is suing the city's school board for hazardous levels of asbestos dust in decrepit buildings.</p><p>In 2018, the Philadelphia Inquirer conducted an <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/inq/asbestos-testing-mesothelioma-cancer-philadelphia-schools-toxic-city-20180510.html#loaded" target="_blank">investigation</a> of many schools, finding levels of asbestos dust on school surfaces 11 to 1,700 times higher than the levels mandated by federal cleanup requirements for apartments near Ground Zero. The newspaper also found unacceptably elevated levels of lead.</p><p>By spring of 2019, when the Inquirer was <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/toxic-city-inquirer-pulitzer-finalist-20190415.html" target="_blank">named a finalist</a> for the Pulitzer Prize for its exposé, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced more than $100 million in emergency lead cleanup and general hazardous cleanup funds for Philadelphia schools. Last month, Wolf <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/gov-tom-wolf-asbestos-lead-schools-1-billion-20200129.html" target="_blank">proposed</a> $1 billion for statewide remediation of asbestos and lead in schools.</p><p>But that could not contain the crisis in a system with $4.5 billion of documented <a href="https://www.philasd.org/capitalprograms/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2017/06/2015-FCA-Final-Report-1.pdf" target="_blank">deficiencies</a> in its school buildings. This school year, seven schools have been closed for extensive asbestos damage. One <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/education/a/mesothelioma-philadelphia-school-district-lea-dirusso-cancer-20191121.html" target="_blank">teacher,</a> who worked in a 90-year-old building and often swept up dust from flaking heating pipe insulation and busted ceiling tiles before class, is undergoing chemotherapy for mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer triggered by asbestos.</p>
Environmental Injustice<p>In at least one school closure, the stench of race and class environmental injustice was on vivid display. Ben Franklin High School, comprised almost entirely of youth of color who qualify as poor, <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/education/ben-franklin-sla-school-construction-asbestos-inequity-privilege-20191011.html" target="_blank">was not closed until</a> after it also became the home of a magnet school that is 38 percent white, with half of those students above the poverty line. As Ben Franklin teacher told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "When it was us, the district didn't feel like they needed to have any immediacy."</p><p>The lack of immediacy has existed for decades. Jerry Roseman, chief environmental science and public health expert since 1985 for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said it galls him that his sense of outrage and disbelief in school conditions is the same today as it was <em>35 years ago</em>. In an interview with the Union of Concerned Scientists, he said he had just inspected an overcrowded school where playful children were literally banging into damaged asbestos pipe insulation, damaging the asbestos even more, calling it a systemic failure including school district leadership and politicians.</p><p>"What is clear across the country is that school boards neither understand facility conditions and leave them alone to deteriorate and definitely don't understand the impacts on the health, safety, and welfare of children and staff," Roseman said. He noted how parents and teachers are taking things into their own hands with a <a href="http://www.phillyhealthyschools.org/" target="_blank">mobile app</a> to photograph and report disintegrating infrastructure. "You can have great teachers and great principals," he added, "but you do not get great or safe education if you do not take care of a foundational need—the facility."</p><p>Nationally, the threat of toxic school buildings has barely been studied despite the 1986 Asbestos Hazardous Emergency Response Act (AHERA) to address airborne asbestos in schools. A <a href="https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2015-12-Markey-Asbestos-Report-Final.pdf" target="_blank">2015 report</a> commissioned by senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California found that two-thirds of the school districts in 15 responding states had asbestos. Thirty states did not respond to the inquiry at all. Noting that the Environmental Protection Agency had not seriously analyzed school asbestos since 1984, the Markey-Boxer report said the carcinogen remains "ubiquitous" in schools, with the extent "unknown."</p><p>The EPA, under flat funding for most of the last decade, conducts so few inspections under AHERA that a 2018 Inspector General <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-09/documents/_epaoig_20180917-18-p-0270.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> said, "The EPA has not documented that the risk of asbestos exposure in schools has diminished significantly under AHERA."</p>
Reinvestment, Then Divestment Again<p>President Obama worked with Congress to try to strengthen scrutiny of toxics like asbestos with the 2016 <a href="https://www.c-span.org/video/?411615-1/president-obama-signs-chemical-safety-bill" target="_blank">Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act</a>. But, when it comes to asbestos, the Trump administration attempted to gut the act by trying to exclude asbestos already installed in places like schools ("legacy use") from calculations of risk assessment. Never mind that the White House understands quite well that asbestos is a major health threat. Last summer it conducted $250,000 asbestos <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-21/white-house-relocates-top-aides-for-asbestos-abatement-project" target="_blank">abatement</a> in the West Wing office areas occupied by President Trump's daughter Ivanka, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, policy adviser Stephen Miller, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow.</p><p>Environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, joined with labor unions and family advocacy groups to challenge the EPA and a host of chemical industry groups and the US Chamber of Commerce in court. In November, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared the administration's attempt to exclude legacy use was <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/tsca-opinion-20191114.pdf" target="_blank">unlawful,</a> agreeing that workers face major risks when "equipment or structures are demolished, repaired, or refurbished."</p><p>That ruling, combined with a science-minded federal government, should easily be applied to children who currently go to schools that should have long ago been demolished, repaired, or refurbished. As it is now, Linda Reinstein, co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, which was a co-petitioner against the EPA's attack on legacy use, says America is rolling the dice by letting children study and play in asbestos dust. As Reinstein notes, health effects will not manifest themselves until these children are well into adulthood and long since removed from the source school of their disease. Reinstein lost her husband Alan to mesothelioma and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/asbestos-epa-trump.html" target="_blank">an asbestos ban bill</a> has been filed in Congress in his name.</p><p>"Even though the latency period is long, I've seen parents tearful and terrified," Reinstein told UCS, "worried that every cough is a precursor of something worse about to happen. If you're a student and you know you've been exposed, you lie with the fear the rest of your life that you've been exposed to something that is life changing. . .The fact that we haven't been studying legacy exposure should be a crime."</p><p>In 1984, the EPA found that, of the 2,600 schools testing positive for asbestos in its sample, only 500 had a plan to deal with it. Today, the Trump administration is trying to avoid testing for legacy installations altogether, in the obvious effort not to be responsible for a remediation plan. That effort was ruled illegal, but given the spiteful nature of this administration, it is more likely to respond by dragging its feet rather than leaping to protect children. That leaves the time bomb ticking, with the risk of asbestos exposure today exploding in the lungs of today's children tomorrow.</p><p>For more on this and other threats to children's health, including what you can do about them, you can read the new UCS storybook — <em><a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/breathe-smog-drink-lead" target="_blank">Breath in the Smog, Drink in the Lead: A Grim Scary Tale for People Who Care about Kids</a> </em>— and its accompanying <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/protecting-childrens-health-and-safety" target="_blank">resource guide</a> and report, <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/endangering-generations" target="_blank"><em><u>Endangering Generations: How the Trump Administration's Assault on Science is Harming Children's Health</u></em></a>.</p>
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'Work Together' or 'Destroy it': Goldman Prize Winner Francia Márquez on World's Second Deadliest Country For Environmental Activists
In April 2018, Afro-Colombian activist Francia Márquez won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, thanks to her work to retake her community's ancestral territories from illegal gold mining. However, her international recognition comes at a very risky price.
What are the effects of environmental racism in your country?<p>Colombia is a country that has traditionally been run by wealthy families. When Black and Indigenous communities demand that large-scale mining be removed from our communities and we ask for protection under the rule of law, the ruling families say that we're posing a hurdle to economic development. That's when I ask, what kind of development are they referring to, especially when Indigenous and Black communities lack basic utilities? The community I live in has no drinking water, and our river has been polluted with chemicals used for illegal mining.</p><p>Furthermore, the Colombian state does not invest in social projects. Their idea of economic development is to extract ore and territories from ethnic communities. This move is a sheer example of structural racism, and every time a social leader's voice or mine is lifted up to demand rights enshrined in the Constitution, then we end up being military targets by armed groups in our territory, particularly right-wing paramilitaries.</p>
How would you describe Colombia’s environmental movement currently?<p>Colombia is the world's second-deadliest country for environmental activists, <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/enemies-state/" target="_blank">according to Global Witness</a>. It is unfathomable that we're still witnessing killings in a country that is supposedly making strides in achieving peace after <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/world/americas/colombia-farc-peace-agreement.html?module=inline" target="_blank">the 2016 accord</a>. Unfortunately, interest groups, some economic sectors, and politicians do not want to change the current economic model that leads to what I call "necro-politics," or the politics of death. They don't want to stop fracking, and the Colombian government thinks of extractive industries as the only means of development.</p><p>With respect to aerial coca fumigation, the government doesn't seem to understand that coca won't be eradicated and that people will instead be displaced. In order to stop coca crops, the government should invest in social investment in farm products so they stay away from growing coca, but there is no willingness from the government, and aerial spraying of glyphosate will deteriorate our environment.</p>
According to Global Witness, more than 1,700 environmental defenders were killed worldwide between 2002 and 2018. What should environmental organizations do to stop this?<p>Much of the pressure environmental leaders experience comes from developed countries. The U.S. is responsible for what happens to us as environmental leaders because of its multinational companies' work in our communities. These companies, directly or indirectly, are complicit of this genocide. If there weren't economic interests in these territories, we wouldn't have to get up and fight in order to have a decent life. We're risking our lives to stop harmful extractive industries, because the latter are enjoying benefits at the expense of the many people who have died. </p>
You are holding the U.S. accountable for the current state of your community. How can individual Americans make a difference when the Trump administration keeps rolling back environmental protections while siding with industry?<p>The population has the power to change the course of history. The U.S. will have presidential elections next year. Will Americans re-elect him? This is America's greatest challenge. Otherwise, U.S. powerful companies will keep pouring in here while we're in the midst of a crossfire. </p>
So how can we be more aware of the challenges the environmental movement is facing?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87c5d7f031b851833b70ddf2d9703b62"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/FranciaMarquezMina/photos/a.143553102970314/357331348259154/?type=3"></div></div><p>Sometimes I believe we're victims of our own invention. We elect legislators who only cater to interest groups and other harmful industries. People must be more conscious about the kind of officials they elect, because it's not just the lives of social leaders that are at stake, but the very existence of humanity today. </p>
Is there something else you’d like to add?<p>Humanity's greatest challenge is to either work together to preserve this planet or destroy it. It's up to us to assume our own responsibility and defend life. In Colombia, we're creating campaigns to incentivize reforestation, as well as recycling. We want to raise awareness about the products that can be composted and how we re-use certain items. There is so much we can do. </p>
By Daniel Ross
For decades, the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts has been hemmed in by dangerous pollutants.