By Derrick Z. Jackson
All over America, protesters have taken to the streets to protest the police murders of African Americans George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the white vigilante lynching of African American Ahmed Aubrey in Brunswick, Georgia. Part of the news coverage has dwelled on the speculation that the protests will fuel a second wave of COVID-19. One infectious disease scientist, Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, made the rough calculation that the protests could ultimately lead to between 15,000 and 50,000 overall coronavirus infections and between 50 to 500 deaths.
Police Contribute to COVID-19 Risk<p>Those same masks worn by protesters were too often ripped off in agony as police around the nation chose to break up usually peaceful protests with tear gas and pepper spray. Researchers told National Public Radio that the gasping and violent coughing <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">can project the virus of an infected person many feet</a>. Many of those gasping people were then herded into packed vans and sent to crowded jails.</p><p>The Army has <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003867/" target="_blank">found</a> that tear gas training exercises make soldiers more susceptible to acute respiratory illnesses, and the increased risk of COVID-19 spread triggered by using tear gas is so high that Duke University researcher Sven Eric Jordt <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">told</a> NPR, "Using it in the current situation with COVID-19 around is completely irresponsible."</p><p>The police also displayed more irresponsibility than the people they were supposed to control by often spurning face coverings for themselves and practicing no social distancing. Several New York City police officers <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/06/02/nypd-cops-ignore-directive-abandon-masks-during-protester-clashes/" target="_blank">told</a> the media that face coverings are too hot and difficult to breathe through while dealing with protesters. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, local and county policy said they did not wear face coverings because they hampered communication.</p><p>That did not wash with the Rev. Alaina Cobb of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center. She <a href="https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/jun/03/protesters-question-lack-masks/524488/" target="_blank">said to the Chattanooga Times Free Press,</a> "We see once again the significance of the police's disregard for the health, safety and even lives of those who they feign they are here to protect."</p><p>The police actions mirrored political disregard around the nation for health, safety, and lives—especially those of black and brown people. Governors in many states ignored pleas not to reopen so quickly from mayors of cities whose populations are significantly of color and hard hit by COVID-19.</p><p>One of the most dramatic dismissals of the damage and continuing risk of COVID-19 to black people came a month ago in Mississippi, where Governor Tate Reeves <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">announced</a> an aggressive reopening of close-contact gyms, hair salons, and barbershops on the same day the state hit a <a href="https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2020/05/08/watch-gov-reeves-coronavirus-crisis-mississippi/3095787001/" target="_blank">record high</a> in new cases. He could reopen with unspoken racial comfort as a white governor. Mississippi is 59 percent white, but <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">52 percent</a> of the state's COVID-19 deaths have been suffered by African Americans, who are more vulnerable to the disease through a combination of poor prior health, congested living conditions, and riskier essential jobs.</p><p>As my epidemiologist wife Michelle D. Holmes pointed out in her own <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">commentary</a> in Vox Populi, Reeves justified reopening by claiming that the economic damage was becoming as "disastrous" as the virus. Vigorously objecting to this equating of money with life was Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Mississippi's heavily black capital of Jackson. He said, "It's a bad decision to freeze economic progress, but a worse one to sacrifice human lives."</p>
White Privilege Unmasked<p>The rush back to business by Reeves and so many governors who have pursued aggressive openings gives a new expression of white privilege in America. In striking photographs from all over the country, predominately white crowds are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/social-distancing-strictures-fall-away-as-crowds-gather-to-party-and-protest/2020/05/30/42df4d9c-a2a6-11ea-81bb-c2f70f01034b_story.html" target="_blank">packed</a> shoulder to shoulder, with few face coverings, at <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/sports/ace-speedway-north-carolina-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">raceways</a>, at Lake of the <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2020/06/06/lake-ozarks-covid-cases-community-undeterred-reopening/3156993001/" target="_blank">Ozarks</a>, West Coast and East Coast beaches, and at the <a href="https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2020/05/30/go-baby-go-crowds-converge-space-coast-spacex-launch/5279246002/" target="_blank">launch</a> of SpaceX.</p><p>These photos showcase a kind of jolly version of the angry, all-white, and supremacist-influenced anti-lockdown protests at state capitols. The images amount to an open declaration that the pursuit of white happiness is an unalienable, unalterable right. It offers up a perverted version of America the Beautiful, where alabaster crowds beam, undimmed by COVID-19 tears from black and brown communities.</p>
Shutting Up Every Scientist They Can<p>The nation's cheerleader for this version of happiness is President Trump, who has overtly shunned mask wearing and social distancing. His administration gave a royal welcome to the coronavirus by <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/17/the-art-of-the-pandemic-how-donald-trump-walked-the-u-s-into-the-covid-19-era/" target="_blank">shuttering</a> most of the pandemic-warning apparatus built up by prior administrations. Now the White House is helping to assure a second wave by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/white-house-tensions-with-cdc-spill-into-public-view-as-top-trump-adviser-criticizes-agency-response/2020/05/17/a4917896-9854-11ea-a282-386f56d579e6_story.html" target="_blank">shutting up</a> every scientist they can.</p><p>Chief among the silenced has been whistleblower Rick Bright, who <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/us/politics/rick-bright-coronavirus-whistleblower.html" target="_blank">said</a> he was removed from a top post combatting infectious threats because he told the administration it was <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/key-moments-from-hhs-whistleblower-rick-brights-testimony-on-coronavirus-response" target="_blank">moving</a> too slowly to stem the spread of the coronavirus. He warned a House hearing last month that, without a coordinated national response based in science, "the pandemic will get far worse."</p><p>It appears that the silencing of science is also now muting one of the few voices America could count on for sane public health advice during the now-evaporated coronavirus task force press briefings in which Trump ranted about dubious virus remedies, personally attacked reporters, and self-congratulated himself on closing borders despite the dead. CNN <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/politics/fauci-trump-two-weeks/index.html" target="_blank">reported</a> on June 1 that infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said he had not talked with Trump since May 18. In a June 1 <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/01/anthony-fauci-on-covid-19-reopenings-vaccines-and-moving-at-warp-speed/" target="_blank">interview</a> with STAT News, Fauci expanded on this, saying:</p><p>"We used to have task force meetings every single day, including Saturday and Sunday, and about 75 percent of the time after the task force meeting, we'd meet with the president. So, I was meeting with him four times a week back, a month or so ago. But as you probably noticed, the task force meetings have not occurred as often lately. And certainly, my meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased."</p>
COVID-19 Cases Increasing in Nearly Half of All States<p>In the absence of federal leadership, not to mention science-based leadership, we find ourselves in the midst of a 50-state experiment, weaving a clashing quilt of regulations and timing in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">opening up</a> shopping malls, restaurants, barbershops, beauty parlors, gyms, churches, and childcare facilities.</p><p>Universities—responsible for <a href="https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College_enrollment" target="_blank">20 million</a> young adults—are releasing their plans for fall re-openings that <a href="https://www.marketplace.org/2020/05/20/covid-19-college-campuses-reopening-online-classes/" target="_blank">display no consistency</a>, ranging from the Harvard School of Public Health and the California State University System remaining online to aggressive plans for in-person classes at schools such as Notre Dame and Purdue. Top college football teams are opening facilities, AMC Theaters says it will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/business/coronavirus-amc-movie-theaters-reopening.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">reopen</a> its cineplexes in July. The National Basketball Association, which jumpstarted the closure of mass events in mid-March by suspending the season, says it plans to resume its season at the end of July.</p><p>And on what public health evidence? Not much. Consider that:</p><ul><li>According to the June 11 <em>New York Times</em> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">coronavirus map</a>, coronavirus cases are increasing in 20 states and Puerto Rico, based on 14-day trajectories;</li><li>According to the June 11 Johns Hopkins <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases-50-states" target="_blank">coronavirus map,</a> 21 states and Puerto Rico were seeing an increase, based on a three-day rolling average.</li><li>A June 8 <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/06/08/14-states-puerto-rico-hit-their-highest-seven-day-average-new-covid-19-infections-since-june/" target="_blank">analysis</a> found that 14 states and Puerto Rico saw their highest-ever seven-day average of new cases in the pandemic. The states were: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah;</li><li>According to the June 10 version of The Atlantic's COVID-19 <a href="https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/" target="_blank">Tracking Project</a>, states "trending poorly" toward safe reopenings outnumber those "trending better" by a 3-to-1 margin. Only six states were trending better while 20 were trending poorly. The other states and the District of Columbia were in a muddled middle, making progress in decreasing infections, but still raising concern given their limited intensive care units and low testing levels;</li><li>And Columbia University infectious disease specialist Wafaa El-Sadr <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-and-some-other-states-see-coronavirus-cases-rise-11591540411" target="_blank">noted</a> to the Wall Street Journal that the national average of cases, which seem to be on a gradual downward trend, might be a dangerous illusion created by the few states that were hit hard early but since have made major progress in curbing COVID-19. "If you take out the impact of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and so on, you'd have a much more worrisome picture of what's happening in the U.S.," El-Sadr said.</li></ul><p>No matter which tracking map you look at, the list of states most poorly controlling the virus are dominated by those which have aggressively relaxed COVID health protections and been most supportive of the Trump administration's drive to get back to business regardless of safety. In the <em>Atlantic</em> map, not a single Southern or Southwestern state shows a decreasing trend in the spread of disease. It is equally scary that the largest blue state in the country, California, is seeing new outbreaks as it begins to lift restrictions after being one of the first states to shut down.</p><p>Now that every state has reopened in some way, there are new outbreaks from California to the Jersey Shore and from Utah to Florida from <a href="https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article243400791.html" target="_blank">family gatherings</a>, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/us/jersey-shore-coronavirus-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">beach vacations</a>, <a href="https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2020/06/09/coronavirus-kentucky-17-clays-mill-baptist-church-members-infected/3164299001/" target="_blank">churches</a>, people going back to <a href="https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/6/8/21284039/utahs-recent-spike-in-covid-19-cases-inevitable-but-no-cause-for-panic-epidemiologist-says" target="_blank">workplaces</a>, resumption of college <a href="https://www.kcra.com/article/more-universities-report-coronavirus-cases-in-athletics-programs-1/32793704" target="_blank">sports practices, </a>and factory food processing. In the purple swing state of North Carolina, state health secretary Mandy Cohen <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-latest-news-06-08-2020-11591604366" target="_blank">told</a> the Wall Street Journal on June 8: "These trends moving in the wrong direction are a signal we need to take very seriously."</p>
A Texas-Sized Problem<p>Even though there is plenty of emerging evidence that new outbreaks are spreading out into whiter parts of America, you would not know that from governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas.</p><p>Like other governors of states in which COVID-19 deaths of people of color outnumber those of white residents, Abbott is reopening Texas as though he can gerrymander the boundaries of the virus to protect privileged communities. We know that social distancing and face coverings offer the best tools we have to prevent the spread of the coronavirus without a vaccine. Despite how badly the White House botched the beginning of the pandemic, a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2404-8_reference.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> released June 8 in the journal <em>Nature</em> found that state lockdowns still <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/06/08/shutdowns-prevented-60-million-coronavirus-infections-us-study-finds/" target="_blank">averted</a> some 60 million infections.</p><p>Nonetheless, despite Texas seeing a 53 percent increase in its rolling 14-day average number of virus cases as of June 10, Abbott <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">has announced</a> plans to allow Fourth of July celebrations, to let <a href="https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/cowboys/2020/06/03/gov-greg-abbott-says-professional-collegiate-stadiums-in-texas-can-operate-at-50-capacity/" target="_blank">sports stadiums</a> and retailers operate at 50 percent capacity, and to let restaurants serve meals at 75 percent capacity.</p><p>Abbott was quite clear in his statements that he has not taken in any of the science about <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/coronavirus-superspreaders.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200611&instance_id=19296&nl=the-morning&regi_id=61941902&segment_id=30654&te=1&user_id=4f40d98c4eef63a91e3d367c28db532b" target="_blank">potential superspreading of the virus from large gatherings</a>. He also seems to take perverse comfort in his reopening based on his perception of where the virus hits hardest, citing jails, nursing homes, and meatpacking plants.</p><p>The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting <a href="https://investigatemidwest.org/2020/04/16/tracking-covid-19s-impact-on-meatpacking-workers-and-industry/" target="_blank">says</a> that as of June 9, at least 24,000 meatpacking workers and family members have been infected with COIVD-19, with at least 86 worker deaths. "We have the ability to contain those hot spots while opening up Texas for business," <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">Abbott said.</a> Translated, Abbott's statement amounts to a plan to contain the virus to communities that are disproportionally made up of people of color. While he didn't bother to say it, the fact is that inmates, meatpackers, and nursing home <a href="https://healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/sites/healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/files/REPORT-2018.HWRC_diversity_.4-18.pdf" target="_blank">staff</a> all tend to be disproportionately black and brown.</p>
Failing to Prioritize Justice and Public Health<p>The major question now is what will come of an America that is smoldering in the photographed displays of white privilege, the pillaging of science by the Trump administration, and an uprising of black grievance.</p><p>The uprisings started with police killings but have also reminded us that racism itself is a fatal virus that has been with us far longer than COVID-19. Back in 2005, former Surgeon General David Satcher <a href="https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.24.2.459" target="_blank">estimated</a> that 83,500 black lives a year could be saved by eliminating health disparities. In the COVID-19 crisis, the APM Research Lab <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">estimates </a>that at least 14,400 African Americans would still be alive if they died from the virus at the same rate as white Americans.</p><p>One source of those disparities—one tied to the COVID-19 crisis—is <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">environmental injustice</a>. Even as protesters marched in the streets, President Trump signed an <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/eo-accelerating-nations-economic-recovery-covid-19-emergency-expediting-infrastructure-investments-activities/" target="_blank">executive order</a> last week waiving environmental reviews for fossil fuel facilities and pipelines, mining, and other toxic industries. People of color <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">live disproportionately</a> close to lung-penetrating particles and poisonous fumes from industrial plants, increasing their vulnerability to the worst effects of COVID-19.</p><p>At a June 9 House hearing, Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation and former senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency, tied the protests and environmental justice together. According to The Hill, he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> "Black communities are dealing with the systemic racism that has infected the policing in our communities that is literally choking us to death. The rolling back of environmental rules and regulations has us gasping for air due to the cumulative public health impacts from the burning of fossil fuels," he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> according to The Hill. "When we say, 'I Can't Breathe,' we literally can't breathe."</p>
The Looming Second Wave<p>A lot more people will not be breathing if we get a second wave of disease anything like the fall resurgence of the 1918 flu <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/three-waves.htm" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, which killed most of the 675,000 Americans who perished from the virus. If we do, this country will have no one to blame but itself. The widespread abandonment of state lockdowns began a month ago even though just one-quarter of all states were <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/the-push-to-relax-covid-19-protections-exposes-age-old-racial-wounds" target="_blank">reporting</a> a decline in COVID-19 caseloads and even fewer had robust virus testing programs in place.</p><p>The US reopenings are proceeding even though the Imperial College of London has found "little evidence that the epidemic is under control in the majority of states." They are proceeding even though Harvard University global health expert Ashish Jha <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/06/10/873624522/as-cities-hit-hardest-by-covid-19-reopen-red-flags-emerge-in-other-areas" target="_blank">told</a> National Public Radio on June 10, "It's stunning to me that we have just decided it's OK for tens of thousands of Americans to die. And we aren't going to do what we know we can do to prevent those deaths. And that is, to me, unconscionable."</p><p>They are proceeding even though Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, recently <a href="https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/dr-redlener-disaster-for-states-to-reopen-without-enough-testing-83884613632" target="_blank">told</a> MSNBC that without strong testing and tracing, it is a "disaster for the country to have these various states opening. We should be reconsidering this right now. If it was up to me, I'd put a halt to this reopening."</p><p>That makes it ludicrous to spend a whole lot of time speculating about the spread of COVID-19 from protesters. The far greater concern is the rampage on science and public health now underway by governors and the White House.</p><p>To effectively combat the pandemic, we need a just response guided by science and accurate data. But in this terrible moment when Americans have taken to the streets in droves because a police officer put a fatal knee to the neck of a black man, tens of thousands more Americans now risk of dying because the states and the White House have applied a figurative knee to the neck of our public health.</p>
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By Juan Declet-Barreto
In early April, when social distancing took hold across many places in the U.S. — with school and workplace closings and public life coming to a halt — it seemed like an inopportune time to talk about climate change.
The Double whammy of Climate and COVID-19 on Vulnerable People<p>If the litany of pandemic scientists' warnings sounds familiar, it's because climate scientists have been issuing, for decades, similar warnings about the need to reduce carbon emissions to curb climate change and avoid catastrophic consequences for human life and the infrastructure that supports it. And while climate change and COVID-19 may seem unrelated on the surface, we live in an interconnected world where carbon emissions and viral agents like the novel coronavirus are globalized, operating and disrupting our lives at different spatial and temporal scales. Think, for example, of the novel coronavirus' 1-14 day incubation period in our bodies, a climate change-driven heat wave through our city, or seasonal flooding through our region.</p><p>Our new pandemic reality has been made more complicated and dangerous by climate change and the added pressure it can exert on millions of people — e.g., to seek cooling centers, endure a long power outage, flee the path of hurricanes, the loss of life or property, habitats, and ancestral ways of life — and the combination looks frightening.</p><p>A few weeks ago, my colleague Dr. Kristy Dahl and I analyzed the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/new-ucs-analysis-coronavirus-and-flooding-set-to-collide-in-us?fbclid=IwAR0H0KQu7pq6mlssXFHYCCrJ_NPcQ9sIiYVbV00vPiqtXjJOCKdSMUNlezg" target="_blank">confluence of projected COVID-19 infections</a> and spring flood predictions by the end of May 2020. We found that many areas in the U.S. South and Midwest, including rural agricultural communities like Cedar Rapids, IA, and large metropolitan areas like Atlanta and St Louis could be dealing with evacuating people to shelters while simultaneously trying to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus by maintaining social distancing guidelines.</p><p>Fortunately, most of those flood predictions have not come true. But NOAA's Spring flood outlook, <a href="https://www.weather.gov/dvn/2020_springfloodoutlook" target="_blank">updated since we did that analysis</a>, is warning that spring rain and wet soil conditions could still drive flooding in the late season.</p>
Protecting Against Both COVID-19 and Extreme Weather<p>As temperatures across the U.S. rise with the approach of summer, another climate and COVID-19 quandary is in sight: how to protect people — especially the most vulnerable — from heat waves, while also protecting them from COVID-19?</p><p>For example, elderly people, who are at <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/catch-22-of-coronavirus-for-seniors-most-at-risk-and-the-importance-of-up-to-date-information" target="_blank">higher risk of death from COVID-19</a>, are also at high risk of becoming sick or dying from extreme heat, as was the case in the <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2015/1995-Chicago-heat-wave/" target="_blank">1995 Chicago heat wave</a> that killed 700-plus (many of them people of advanced age who lived on their own). In some cities, where heat tends to be more extreme because of the <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0026.1" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a>, many elderly people live on their own, may not have an air conditioner unit at home, or may be unable to afford its use. Many among those will be forced to observe social distancing by sheltering in place in dangerously hot homes. But poverty and social isolation on their own will unfortunately also take their toll on the most vulnerable if we don't take steps to protect them.</p><p>COVID-19 is already ravaging <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/the-crisis-within-the-crisis-covid-19-is-ravaging-african-americans" target="_blank">African American</a> and <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/coronavirus-takes-more-native-americans-lives-killing-our-elderly-erases-ncna1189761" target="_blank">Native American communities</a>, and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/juan-declet-barreto/para-enfrentar-la-pandemia-del-coronavirus-necesitamos-escuchar-a-los-cientificos-y-mantener-el-distanciamiento-social" target="_blank">Latinos are also disproportionately exposed</a> to the novel coronavirus. Many of the usual steps taken to protect people from extreme heat in many of these communities — in urban and rural areas alike — are incompatible with the social distancing measures taken to prevent virus contagion. And if climate change continues unchecked, the <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/killer-heat-united-states-0" target="_blank">number of "killer heat" days</a> could quadruple in many areas of the U.S., putting more people in harm's way.</p><p>Before the COVID-19 crisis, it may have been possible for elderly people and other vulnerable persons to go to nearby cooling centers, malls, movie theaters, parks, lakes, or beaches, but in many states these are closed to limit spread of COVID-19 infections.</p><p>In mid-April, the <a href="https://twitter.com/DecletBarreto/status/1250882413837901826" target="_blank">heat index in parts of Florida exceeded 100<strong>°</strong>F</a>, prompting calls for Governor DeSantis to enact a statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs for lapses in bill payment. Keeping the air conditioner (AC) on is a critical way for people to stay healthy and alive indoors during extreme heat days while observing social distancing and stay-at- home orders.</p><p>This came into focus last week across the Southern U.S. as a deadly heat wave blanketed the region. As my colleague <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-licker/how-to-keep-us-south-safe-from-covid-19-and-scorching-heat-even-as-some-states-ignore-pandemic-dangers" target="_blank">Dr. Rachel Licker pointed out</a>, the combination of income loss, COVID-19, extreme heat, and the lack of utility shutoff moratoria are bad, bad news for millions across the South. In this time when multiple environmental hazards are hitting us, the way to keep people safe from a heat wave is to keep the AC running at home so they don't have to go outside to cool and risk spread of COVID-19.</p><p>Under normal times, it's difficult for a significant chunk of the U.S. population to keep the AC, refrigerator, and other essential home appliances running, but loss of jobs and income will make it even harder for an even larger segment of the population.</p>
Six Ways Congress Can Keep Low-Income People at Home and Cool During the Pandemic<ul> <li><strong>Ensure Parity in energy bill assistance benefits to residents of public housing </strong>– In at least 26 states, residents of public housing with energy costs included in rent are <a href="https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/440.htm" target="_blank">not eligible for energy bill payment</a> assistance under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Such an arrangement means that tenants don't have to pay out of pocket for electric bills, which can serve to protect from heat those residents of public housing that includes AC units. But it does not work for public housing that does not include AC units because LIHEAP does not cover the purchase of AC units. In addition, residents of public housing in many states receive less LIHEAP benefits regardless of how energy costs are paid. Residents of public housing, like other low-income populations, already face significant challenges to meeting material needs, and should not be penalized by LIHEAP. Congress must ensure parity in LIHEAP benefits for all low-income populations.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Eliminate LIHEAP medical documentation requirement </strong>– One requirement for LIHEAP benefits eligibility is that an applicant with a health or medical risk that could worsen with a utility disconnection provides medical documentation of such risk. In this country, many low-income persons lack health insurance due to cost barriers. In addition, in-person medical appointments are currently largely not possible due to the need to observe social distancing during the pandemic, and virtual medical appointments require broadband internet connections at home and computer equipment that may be out of reach for many low-income populations. Beyond pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes that could be exacerbated by extreme heat, many persons without diagnosed medical conditions are still at risk of heat-related illness or death. While some <a href="https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/liheap-dcl-initial-covid-19-program-guidance" target="_blank">LIHEAP implementation guidelines have been explicitly relaxed during the COVID-19 emergency</a>, jurisdictions do not appear to have authority to relax medical documentation eligibility requirements.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact utility shutoff moratoria in all states and territories for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– While Florida is the only state with no protections against utility shutoffs due to health or medical reasons, only nine states have enacted bans for electricity shutoffs based on temperature thresholds. <a href="https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2020/03/17/aee-rechaza-otorgar-moratoria-pagos-energia-electrica.html" target="_blank">Puerto Rico</a> and the <a href="http://www.viwapa.vi/news-information/press-releases/press-release-details/2020/03/28/wapa-reiterates-commitment-to-not-disconnect-delinquent-accounts-during-covid-19-state-of-emergency" target="_blank">US Virgin Islands</a> have not formally enacted moratoria, but their respective power companies have committed publicly to not disconnect power for non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency. But as my colleague Joe Daniel wrote, voluntary actions of <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/joseph-daniel/how-covid-19-leads-to-energy-insecurity" target="_blank">power companies do not provide</a> comprehensive protection and are not uniform across the U.S. Therefore, what is needed is a national mandatory moratorium on utility disconnections that includes territories and tribal nations as well. If power bills stack up and become due at some point after the crisis, many low-income people will see their energy burden increase, so a national utility disconnection moratorium needs to come with a plan for recouping costs that does not impose an inequitable burden.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact parity in evictions moratoria for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– The CARES Act temporarily banned evictions for not paying rent, but similar to the utility shutoff ban, the evictions moratorium "<a href="https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/04/amid-pandemic-congress-suspends-evictions-but-not-for-all/" target="_blank">has gaps, limits, and pitfalls</a>" and can also be problematic for landlords. There is no straightforward way for renters to know if their landlords are banned by law from evicting renters–not unless the landlord shares with renters information on for example, if the landlord has a federally-backed mortgage, or participation in housing programs for victims of domestic violence. And landlords will typically have little incentive to share such information with their tenants. Regardless, <a href="https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/cares-act-eviction-moratorium-covers-all-federally-financed-rentals-thats-one-four-us-rental-units" target="_blank">the CARES Act moratorium</a> covers just 28 percent of rental units in the US. Just like with the utility shutoff ban, Congress must enact a national moratorium on evictions that includes the territories and tribal nations as well.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase income ceiling for LIHEAP eligibility </strong>– Income eligibility for LIHEAP is somewhere between 100 and 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (<a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/" target="_blank">FPL</a>), and states have discretion in choosing the specific cutoff within that range. To use an example, the FPL for a family of four (like mine) is $26,200, obviously a very modest income, and too low for many households to deal with the <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2017/12/28/cost-of-living-is-surging-in-these-major-cities-and-what-it-could-mean-for-2018/#74d1fe5571c6" target="_blank">increasing cost of living in US cities</a>. Congress must raise the income limits for LIHEAP eligibility, which would go a long way to reduce energy insecurity among millions in the US.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program </strong>– Poor-quality homes increase cooling (and heating) costs, which can increase the energy burden of low-income households. The <strong><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/mark-specht/three-stimulus-package-priorities-to-rebuild-a-more-equitable-and-sustainable-economy" target="_blank">Weatherization Assistance Program</a> (WAP) funds home improvements such as insulation, repairs to heating or cooling systems, and home appliance upgrades to more energy-efficient models. </strong> This program supports thousands of jobs, and can help low-income households lower their energy bills and thus their energy burden. Increased funding for the program will create more jobs and lower energy burdens.</li></ul>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ken Kimmell
The COVID-19 crisis has upended the world, threatening the health and lives of millions, shattering the global economy, and imposing an unprecedented physical isolation upon us. It has changed so much almost overnight, including how we advocate for action on an even bigger long-term threat — climate change.
Get Ready<p><a href="https://www.earthdaylive2020.org/" target="_blank">Earth Day Live</a> is a three-day event focused on climate action and participation in our democracy. Its centerpiece is a non-stop 72-hour livestream that will include performances, training sessions, and a wide range of events designed to engage, inform, and inspire millions of people nationwide.</p><p>Thousands have already RSVP'd, hundreds of local livestreams across the country have registered, and the event will feature many high-profile celebrities and other public figures. If you haven't yet RSVP'd, <a href="https://www.earthdaylive2020.org/?source=union-of-concerned-scientists-2&referrer=group-union-of-concerned-scientists-2&emci=8906248a-8d73-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=ea000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&ceid=" target="_blank">definitely do so today</a>!</p><p>For more information on the event, you can watch and share a short promo video on your social media channel of choice, whether it's <a href="https://www.facebook.com/thefuturecoalition/videos/397330511150137/" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B_A0eFtHuaB/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>, or<a href="https://twitter.com/FutureCoalition/status/1250510801720532993" target="_blank"> Twitter</a>. Or you can <a href="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1AYWMGAmIuvQsl5YELjMVz1VDxgEu25k6" target="_blank">download the video</a> to make your own posts. Also check out the work of the <a href="https://stopthemoneypipeline.com/" target="_blank">Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition</a>; their work will be central to activities on Day 2 of Earth Day Live and they have produced <a href="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1D4zIJeRYBXVEaI95-HK1Qqn_8VqkGs9I_CH27B4Fw5c/edit" target="_blank">#PeopleNotPolluters art</a> that you can use and share.</p><p>What else can you do to support Earth Day Live? <a href="https://www.earthdaylive2020.org/?source=union-of-concerned-scientists-2&referrer=group-union-of-concerned-scientists-2&emci=8906248a-8d73-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=ea000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&ceid=" target="_blank">Sign up</a> and tell your friends to sign up. Add a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profilepicframes/?selected_overlay_id=2544581619124458" target="_blank">Facebook frame</a> or <a href="https://twibbon.com/Support/earth-day-live-april-22-24" target="_blank">Twibbon frame</a>. Use and follow these hashtags on social media:<strong> #EarthDayLive, #EarthDay, #StrikeWithUs, </strong>and <strong>#ClimateStrike. </strong>Or simply follow and amplify the <a href="https://twitter.com/FutureCoalition/lists/youth-climate-strike-co" target="_blank">Youth Climate Strike Coalition on Twitter</a>.</p>
United for Action<p>At UCS, we stand united with the youth-led movement that is organizing Earth Day Live and the next generation of science and climate advocates who are participating in it. We aim to support them as they help boost and elevate the need for climate action, and are active members of the youth climate strike's adult coalition.</p><p>We are also members of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition and calling for the financial institutions that fuel climate change by funding and insuring fossil fuel companies to end their support of climate destruction. And we are working on increasing voter registration and turnout of pro-science voters in the 2020 election by building the <a href="http://www.sciencerising.org/" target="_blank">Science Rising movement</a> to help empower students, scientists, and science supporters with opportunities to participate in civic engagement and democratic activities in their communities.</p><p>The past weeks have taught us all some hard lessons: having the best available science is not just important — it is a matter of life and death. And there is no substitute for effective action by governments at the national and international level to address crises at the scale that is needed.</p><p>We are also learning — yet again — that when disaster strikes, it exerts the highest costs on the most vulnerable. These lessons from the COVID-19 crisis apply forcefully to climate change as well — and I am heartened by the powerful way that the youth-led movement will remind us of these vital truths over the next several days, and inspire all of us to act upon them.</p>
By Derrick Z. Jackson
As much as hurricanes Katrina and Maria upended African American and Latinx families, the landfall of the coronavirus brings a gale of another order. This Category 5 of infectious disease packs the power to level communities already battered from environmental, economic, and health injustice. If response and relief efforts fail to adequately factor in existing disparities, the current pandemic threatens a knockout punch to the American Dream.
Them That Have Get the Test<p>While most Americans have been left hanging in collective anxiety over the Trump administration's abominable botching of the preparations needed to make COVID-19 tests widely available, <a href="https://thehill.com/changing-america/enrichment/arts-culture/490427-chris-cuomo-is-the-latest-of-these-prominent-figures" target="_blank">actors,</a> athletes, college presidents such as Harvard's Lawrence Bacow, and politicians such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have gotten tested.</p><p>In terms of math, perhaps the most telling case was the Utah Jazz.</p><p>When it was suspected that one Jazz player had coronavirus while in Oklahoma City for a National Basketball Association road game, the state of Oklahoma conducted 58 tests on the team's entire traveling party. At the time, the United States was so short of test kits that state labs were averaging just <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-did-the-nba-push-through-58-coronavirus-tests-for-the-utah-jazz-when-almost-no-one-else-can-get-them" target="_blank">55 tests<em> per state</em></a> according to the Daily Beast.</p><p>While that testing thankfully helped trigger a national shutdown of spectator sports, music festivals, and business conventions, it also symbolized the divide between the haves and have nots. Many other <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/coronavirus-kevin-durant-marcus-smart-rudy-gobert-among-nba-players-who-have-been-infected-with-covid-19/" target="_blank">NBA teams</a> were quickly tested through official relationships with top medical centers and private services. An NBA official <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/19/nba-players-celebrities-coronavirus-test-access/" target="_blank">told the Washington Post</a>, "We had, and still have, tests at the ready for our players." The official said that testing was, "One phone call away."</p><p>That level of access rightly angered New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. As he tweeted, "An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/1240029424394829829" target="_blank">tested</a>. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."</p><p>Or consider the <a href="https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/03/17/hoarders-leave-little-food-for-low-income-and-snap-recipients-who-cant-afford-to-stock-up/" target="_blank">cleaning out</a> of grocery stores in panic buying, a phenomenon that clearly advantages those with <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/03/18/chic-hamptons-food-stores-ransacked-by-the-wealthy-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/" target="_blank">disposable income</a> while leaving empty shelves to the disadvantaged. Ironically, some of those left empty handed are the very farmworkers who picked the vegetables for the cleaned-out shelves.</p><p>In upstate New York, Luis Jimenez, head of the immigrant farmworker group Alianza Agricola, <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/american-farmworkers-essential-but-unprotected/" target="_blank">told</a> The American Prospect magazine and Capital & Main, a California non-profit news organization, "We can't buy food until we get off work, and by then the store shelves are empty — no rice or eggs or meat."</p><p>Selfishness is already on full display in the corporate clamor for bailouts, led by the airline industry's request for <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/18/trump-coronavirus-plan-bailouts/" target="_blank">$50 billion</a>. This is despite the industry being <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/opinion/airlines-bailout.html" target="_blank">notorious</a> for throwing free cash on stock buybacks to increase shareholder earnings instead of improving consumer service, worker pay or creating rainy day funds. So far, President Trump has said, "We're going to back the airlines 100 percent."</p>
Who Has Workers’ Backs?<p>There is no such pledge of 100-percent backing for workers who keep America humming with honest, <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/id/38168029/ns/business-careers/t/lowest-paying-jobs-america/#.XnUSo257mfU" target="_blank">humble labor</a>, from cashiers to cleaners in hotels and from farm workers to restaurant servers. Far more needs to be done to take care of these workers who are the backbone of Fortune 500 profits yet are the first to have their backs broken financially in economic crisis.</p><p>The proposed one-time check of up to $3,400 for a family of four does not come close to the <a href="https://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/61-new-living-wage-data-for-now-available-on-the-tool" target="_blank">average monthly living wage</a> of $5,734 in the United States, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator. Undocumented workers do not get a check at all. The 60-day foreclosure moratorium for homeowners does not cover America's 40 million renters. That is a huge consideration as close to three quarters of white families <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/28/black-and-hispanic-families-are-making-more-money-but-they-still-lag-far-behind-whites/" target="_blank">own homes</a>, while less than half of African American and Latinx families do.</p><p>In another arena<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-pelosi-sick-leave.html" target="_blank"> where the working poor are barely backed at all</a>, only about 20 percent of private-sector workers <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ehDeiDJBCjJublGNOrvwi__oYq2MNxBg/view" target="_blank">are covered</a> in the new coronavirus <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/16/paid-sick-leave-coronavirus-house-bill/" target="_blank">paid sick leave</a> legislation. According to the New York Times, a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-paid-sick-leave.html" target="_blank">combined 2 million</a> people work at McDonald's, Walmart, Kroger, Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Target, Marriott, Wendy's, and Taco Bell alone and all of them normally lack any paid sick time. In recent days, President Trump has <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-members-coronavirus-task-force-press-briefing-4/" target="_blank">praised</a> many such companies for pledging to offer pick-up meals and parking lot space for drive-through virus testing.</p><p>Many of those companies have temporarily covered their public relations flanks by offering two weeks of COVID-19 sick pay. But if coronavirus is anything like the 1918 flu that killed 675,000 Americans in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2020/03/26/daily-202-government-experts-warn-of-a-second-wave-of-coronavirus-cases-as-the-health-system-struggles/5e7c543f88e0fa101a752cd1/" target="_blank">three waves</a>, we need permanent paid sick pay to account for future illness. While 75 percent of Americans receive some paid sick days, only 25 percent of fast food workers do, according to the Washington Post. The United States is also the only nation in the developed world with no form of paid family leave. In a 2013 <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet/docs/jfp-foodworker-beliefs-working-ill.pdf" target="_blank">survey</a> by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 60 percent of food workers said they have worked while ill and 43 percent said they came to work because there was no sick leave policy.</p><p>Congressional Republicans steadfastly refuse to consider making paid leaves permanent, even though science says we would all be better off if low-wage workers had these safety nets. Paid family leave is particularly beneficial to low-income mothers, reducing the incidence of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167629615000533" target="_blank">early birth</a>, low birthweight, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-infantmortality-maternity-leav/paid-maternity-leave-linked-to-lower-infant-mortality-rates-idUSKCN0X51S0" target="_blank">infant mortality</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29098488" target="_blank">maternal health.</a> It also results in better long-term health for disadvantaged children, with <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pam.22012" target="_blank">less obesity</a> and attention deficit. One study bluntly said, "Paid maternity leave has particularly large impacts on the children of unmarried and black mothers."</p>
Disparities the Coronavirus Exploits<p>The risk of unequal treatment is embedded in even the seemingly universal "we're-all-in-this-together" advice we are getting to protect ourselves and stop the spread of the coronavirus. One person who sees this clearly is <a href="https://www.michiganradio.org/post/pediatrician-says-poisoned-accurate-description-what-happened-flint-children" target="_blank">Lawrence Reynolds</a>, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan. He served on the 2016 Michigan task force <a href="https://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/FWATF_FINAL_REPORT_21March2016_517805_7.pdf" target="_blank">which determined</a> that the Flint Water Crisis in that <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/flintcitymichigan" target="_blank">54-percent</a> African American city was "a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice."</p><p>Reynolds retired a year ago but was asked by Flint's mayor to be an advisor for COVID-19 care.</p><p>He said he already sees where daily life for disadvantaged people is not being factored into public health advisories. "Take social distancing," he said. "That is much easier to do for a family that owns a single-family home where they can spread out inside the home and have a backyard to get some fresh air in private. That is much harder for people who live in small apartments in buildings where people are always passing each other in the hallways. No one has come up with a strategy as to how those folks are supposed to 'social distance.'"</p><p><a href="https://www.newschool.edu/public-engagement/faculty/ana-baptista/" target="_blank">Ana Baptista</a>, chair of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management Program at the New School's Tishman Environment and Design Center, worries about higher rates of COVID-19 among people of color as they are more likely to have jobs that cannot be telecommuted. While 37 percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of white Americans told the Census they <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/flex2.t01.htm" target="_blank">can work at home</a>, only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinx respondents say they can work at home. Only 9 percent of low-wage workers in the lowest quartile of wage earners say they can <a href="https://www.epi.org/blog/black-and-hispanic-workers-are-much-less-likely-to-be-able-to-work-from-home/" target="_blank">telecommute,</a> compared 62 percent of those in the highest quartile.</p><p>One of those job categories requiring workers on site, of course is hospital and nursing home care. <a href="https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bhw/nchwa/diversityushealthoccupations.pdf" target="_blank">One-third</a> of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides and a quarter of vocational nurses who work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians are black, and a quarter of medical assistants are Latinx — well above their share of the general population. Both Baptista and Reynolds rightly point out that current shortages of <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/20/coronavirus-healthworkers-cdcguidelines/" target="_blank">protective gear</a> for our health care and other frontline workers mark not only an unconscionable failure by the federal government in its preparations but also one that will disproportionately affect workers of color.</p><p>Social distancing also has created other ironies for the working poor and communities disproportionately breathing in the particulates of pollution. With retail stores closed, Amazon says it will hire 100,000 people to fill the explosion of online shopping. Reports are <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/unsanitized-dangerous-life-of-amazon-worker/?emci=4a098407-206d-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=ca334f38-236d-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&ceid=4338874" target="_blank">widespread</a> that the frantic pace of teams moving around each other at warehouses makes it impossible for this army of the working poor to observe the dictum of staying six feet apart.</p><p>Workers at <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-amazon-com-warehou/factbox-coronavirus-cases-reported-at-13-of-amazons-u-s-warehouses-idUSKBN21E07V" target="_blank">more than</a> a dozen<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/24/amazon-warehouse-workers-coronavirus-positive/" target="_blank"> Amazon facilities</a> in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 1,500 workers have signed a petition demanding stepped-up safety measures. In the world of immigrant farmworkers, <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/american-farmworkers-essential-but-unprotected/" target="_blank">Jimenez said</a> living conditions also make social distancing irrelevant. "We live 8 to 10 people in a house, so how would we isolate? Some have their own room, but I know one farm where everyone sleeps in bunk beds in a big room. At work we have to help each other all the time, like when we have to move a cow. You can't do this alone."</p><p>The ramp-up in online commerce also means increased truck traffic. Environmental justice advocates fear that the increased exhaust around Amazon facilities will <a href="https://grist.org/justice/as-amazon-speeds-up-a-warehouse-community-braces-for-a-deadly-combo-air-pollution-and-coronavirus/" target="_blank">drive up</a> air pollution in abutting neighborhoods, increasing illness and vulnerability to COVID-19. A <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/116/13/6001.full.pdf" target="_blank">landmark study</a> last year found that while white households generate the majority of lung- and heart-damaging fine particulate pollution in the consumption of goods and services in the U.S., African American and Latinx neighborhoods disproportionately breathe it in. That study found that 83,000 premature deaths occur from such commerce.</p><p>"Essentially, all the things we do and all the things we buy are those 80,000 deaths," <a href="https://www.mndaily.com/article/2019/04/n-umn-researchers-find-racial-disparities-in-who-produces-air-pollution-and-who-breathes-it" target="_blank">said</a> study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering researcher at the University of Minnesota.</p>
Drive – Through Testing – If You Have Wheels<p>Another response that policymakers seem to assume is applicable to everyone is drive-through virus testing. While such drive-through locations seem to have proven effective in South Korea and elsewhere, this diagnostic measure of course requires you to have a car.</p><p>Vehicle ownership is nearly ubiquitous in white America, with 93.5 percent of white households having wheels. But according to the <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Pittsburgh_City,_PA/false/" target="_blank">National Equity Atlas,</a> Latinx and Native American households are twice as likely as white households to be without a car and African American households are three times as likely to be carless. The percentage of African Americans without a car ranges from around 30 percent to 50 percent in many cities, including Milwaukee, Chicago, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Pittsburgh_City,_PA/false/" target="_blank">Pittsburgh,</a> St. Louis, Cleveland, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Minneapolis_City,_MN/false/" target="_blank">Minneapolis</a>, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Miami_City,_FL/false/" target="_blank">Miami,</a> Atlanta and <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/San_Francisco_City,_CA/false/" target="_blank">San Francisco</a>.</p><p>Compounding the problem, many of these drive-through testing facilities are planned for locations such as Walmart and Target parking lots. But big-box stores are often located outside of urban centers, hard to walk to, and not easily accessible by public transit. Such is the case in Southeast Chicago, said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Salazar's group has pushed back against coal ash, manganese dust and lead contamination in neighborhoods squeezed between toxic industries on the Calumet River in Chicago and refineries just over the border in Indiana.</p><p>"It can take me an hour and a half to take public transportation to downtown Chicago," Salazar said. "We're so isolated down here, if you don't have a car, it's tough."</p><p>And, with social distancing, it's not like you can ask a neighbor to give you a lift. In a 2016 column for the Boston Globe, Clayborn Benson, an old friend and founding director of the <a href="http://www.wbhsm.org/about-us/" target="_blank">Wisconsin Black Historical Society</a>, told me he knows of countless African Americans in Milwaukee who "can't get jobs in the suburbs because they can't drive. Even if they can drive, they lose jobs because they can't afford good cars and they break down."</p><p>The COVID-19 crisis gives America an opportunity to avoid another response that breaks down once more along color and class lines to treat the least privileged as expendable. For instance, if the exploding levels of online shopping remain a permanent part of our economy, local and state governments must no longer place warehouses in, and run diesel-spewing trucking routes through, so-called "fenceline communities" <a href="http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fumes-Across-the-Fence-Line_NAACP_CATF.pdf" target="_blank">already stewing</a> in pollution. In those communities, respiratory diseases such as asthma are often already off the charts for African Americans and Latinx, putting them at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.</p><p>Policymakers must find ways to assure that neighborhoods suffering from food insecurity get security. The lack of quality grocery stores and the oversaturation of fast food chains that <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-racial-gap-in-fast-food-marketing/382688/" target="_blank">heavily target children</a> with advertising and free toys has already fueled levels of diabetes and obesity higher than those for the white population. Diabetes is another disease COVID-19 can exploit. Dennis Derryck, founder of the Corbin Hill Food Project, which delivers fresh produce to low-income residents in New York City, said the multitude of health issues makes a broader range of people more vulnerable to coronavirus. "We define the elderly in Harlem as easily being 55 because of health disparities," he said.</p><p>Reynolds said we should also change the way we view water. With everyone being told they must constantly wash their hands, many cash-strapped cities that imposed impossible water bills on low-income residents have said they will not shut off anyone's water for the time being. Reynolds thinks this should mark the end of cutoffs, period, saying, "Water is a human right."</p><p>Perhaps most urgently, as medical centers tell patients that they are postponing "non-urgent" care in preparation for skyrocketing COVID-19 emergency treatment, where does that leave African Americans and Latinx, who are <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fair-health-survey-viewpoints-about-er-use-for-non-emergency-care-vary-significantly-by-race-age-education-and-income-300078595.html" target="_blank">twice as likely</a> than white Americans to choose emergency rooms for non-emergency care? Will they be disproportionately displaced?</p><p>The NAACP recently issued a <a href="https://live-naacp-site.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Ten-Equity-Considerations-of-the-Coronavirus-COVID-19-Outbreak-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">resource guide</a> pointing out pitfalls for policymakers to avoid so that the nation's response to coronavirus does not exacerbate inequity. Besides access to testing, worker pay, and protecting frontline healthcare workers and those in essential transportation and service industries, the list includes:</p><ul><li>Ensuring access to <a href="https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/05/many-districts-wont-be-ready-for-remote.html" target="_blank">quality online education</a> even in less-resourced public-school districts during long closures;</li><li>preventing the crisis from becoming an excuse for increased incidence of racist attacks (already true for Asian Americans as President Trump <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trump-chinese-virus/" target="_blank">deliberately</a> calls coronavirus the "<a href="https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/trump-notes-photo-shows-corona-crossed-out-replaced-with-chinese-virus/2247102/" target="_blank">Chinese virus");</a></li><li>halting the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/31/us-militarized-its-southern-border-once-before-it-didnt-work/" target="_blank">militarization</a> of immigration policies that have already targeted Latinx populations;</li><li>addressing virus exposure risk to inmates who are housed and herded in tight proximity to each other;</li><li>protecting our democracy from being upended by disruptions in Census canvassing, delays in primaries, or <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816092179/as-coronavirus-spreads-states-scramble-to-reassure-public-that-voting-is-safe" target="_blank">relocating</a> voting away from senior citizen centers and their reliable, but vulnerable voters.</li></ul><p>The Center for American Progress and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University also <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2020/03/19/481962/coronavirus-pandemic-racial-wealth-gap/" target="_blank">called upon</a> the nation to attend to the multiple layers of inequities, urging a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, penalties on late car payments and credit card debt, and covering all workers with paid sick and family leave. In making the call, the center said, "It's important to note that these communities lack wealth not because of individual choices but instead due to 400 years of collective harms by federal, state, and local governments compounding <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-black-families-have-struggled-for-decades-to-gain-wealth-2019-02-28" target="_blank">over time</a>."</p>
Assuring Access to Care<p>Finally, it is crucial that our response to the pandemic does not reverse the gains in health care access won under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed during the Obama administration.</p><p>Under the act, the uninsured rate for nonelderly Latinx people dropped from 33 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It dropped for African Americans from 20 percent to 11 percent, for American Indians and Alaskan Natives from 32 percent to 22 percent and for Asian Americans from 17 percent to 7 percent. But uninsured rates have either plateaued or crept up under the ongoing attacks on the ACA by the Republicans and the Trump White House.</p><p>This is the last thing that should be happening as African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans are two to three times more likely to be in the <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Working_poor" target="_blank">working poor,</a> and are still significantly more likely to be uninsured. It is the last thing needed in communities where poor health outcomes are baked into local environments.</p><p>It is also the last thing needed for hard working, but poorly paid Americans who are forced to live in affordable housing, or who must live in <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2016/09/grandparents-and-grandchildren.html" target="_blank">three-generation households</a>, with grandparents caring significantly for grandchildren while the mother in the middle goes off to work. This happens more frequent in families of color <a href="https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/life-leisure/2019/aarp-grandparenting-study-african-american-black.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00289.003.pdf" target="_blank">and is especially visible</a> in many black neighborhoods badly wounded by mass incarceration and the flight of jobs in the last century. Five times more African American women than white women make it into their 40s having never married.</p><p>"Everybody is each other's lifeline," Bullard said. "The daughter may be working two jobs, but if she gets laid off, there's no paid leave, no health insurance. The grandmother may be 62 and not yet on Medicare. We know that children can be carriers without getting sick, and if the kid comes home and infects grandma . . . you kill grandma you kill childcare. The coronavirus shows what a house of cards these communities are."</p><p>The Trump administration's early complacency and confusion in its response to the pandemic led to a mixture of decisiveness and hesitance by churches, schools, concert halls and museums to close down. Who knows how much that chaos helped spread the virus? We may be all be separated by social distancing far longer than might have been necessary because of this president's distance from science.</p><p>That makes it all the more critical that the people who live the farthest from privilege and the closest to pollution not be lost in the effort to stem the pandemic and return to some sense of normalcy. An ominous sign that the White House could care less about this came in late March when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was suspending enforcement of environmental standards during the coronavirus crisis.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-enforcement-discretion-policy-covid-19-pandemic-0" target="_blank">EPA said</a> it was trying to "protect workers." But with the EPA being run by a former coal lobbyist who wants to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-02/documents/fy-2021-epa-bib.pdf" target="_blank">slash staff</a> down to 12,610 (the agency had as many as 17,000 employees during the Obama administration), it is likely very bad news for communities living next to industry.</p><p>A cliché among African Americans is that when white folks catch a cold, black people get pneumonia. Now that all of America faces down the pneumonia of COVID-19, America should not make the same mistakes it did in Katrina and Maria. Coronavirus is going to batter us far longer than the worst of hurricanes. We must not let environmental justice communities be flattened in the process.</p>
By Dave Cooke
So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.
The Rule, by the Numbers<p>The administration recognizes this is a bad deal for the country — even their own cooked books couldn't make this look like a good idea:</p><ul><li>American drivers will burn an additional 2 billion barrels of oil, resulting in 900 million metric tons of additional global warming emissions;</li><li>Vehicle prices could be reduced by $1,000, but consumers would pay more than $1,400 more in fuel, a net loss and obviously a terrible deal;</li><li>Accounting for miles traveled, the rule results in more premature deaths from air pollution (up to 1600), than offset by the agencies' (optimistic) estimate of less than 800 avoided traffic fatalities;</li><li>The rule cuts automotive revenue by $50 billion dollars, resulting in job losses in the auto sector of 10,000-20,000 in 2030, a number which excludes the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">even worse macroeconomic job losses</a> which would accrue;</li><li>The net benefits of the rule are actually negative, resulting in $10-20 billion in net monetized harm to the country, which is actually a worse outcome than most of alternatives the agency considered!</li></ul><p>And on top of all this, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSHTA) found time to incorporate special corporate giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">the only industry slated to benefit from this rule</a> in the first place.</p>
The Final Rule Is Not Necessarily Better Than the Proposal<p>There will likely be a lot of reporting that says that this final rule is better for the environment than the proposal, but this is wrong. On paper, the Trump administration has replaced its proposal to halt required progress entirely after 2020 with a rule that requires 1.5 percent improvement per year, a rate which is of course <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/most-fuel-efficient-cars-a-win-for-consumers-pockets-the-economy-and-climate-but-whats-next" target="_blank">lower than the automakers have averaged now for more than a decade</a>. But paper targets don't matter — what matters is what happens in the real world. And all this rule is doing is maintaining the status quo.</p><p>While ostensibly increasing the requirements of the rule, the Trump administration has also increased flexibilities and credits granted to automakers compared to the proposal, credits which the industry requested and which we've shown <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/congress-is-pushing-back-on-the-trump-fuel-economy-rollback-why-arent-auto-companies" target="_blank">could be as bad as the rollback</a>. Incredibly, they've even granted credits that no automaker asked for, for natural gas vehicles that no one currently sells (of course, that was a handout to the oil industry, just like the rest of this rule). While they didn't grant all automaker requests, they did extend through 2026 the decision to ignore emissions from the electricity powering EVs and increased the number of technologies eligible for credits not captured by standards test procedures (so-called "off-cycle credits") while simultaneously reducing the public scrutiny on those emissions, even though recent data on some of these credits <a href="https://theicct.org/publications/US-2025-off-cycle" target="_blank">calls into question their value</a>.</p><p>Awarding automakers these flexibilities and loopholes makes the miniscule change in stringency completely toothless. Consumers will continue to be railroaded by this change in policy.</p>
The Economy Is in a Tenuous Position — This Rule Will Make It Worse<p>Right now, the economic outlook is uncertain — we are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/26/upshot/coronavirus-millions-unemployment-claims.html" target="_blank">shedding jobs by the millions</a>, and even after we come out of this pandemic, we will <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-03-17/coming-coronavirus-recession" target="_blank">likely be dealing with a recession</a>. The administration's policy just compounds that economic pain for consumers by ensuring they pay more at the pump. This is exactly the wrong policy at the worst time — what we need to be doing is helping consumers pay less in fuel so they can put those saving back to work in our local economies.</p><p>Consumers will pay thousands more for fuel as a result of this rule, which hurts the economy and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">negatively impacts job growth</a>. The only people that benefit from the administration's finalized rule are the oil companies.</p>
The Safe Rule Is Unsafe<p>One of the biggest, dumbest points made in the original proposal was that this rule would save lives. But the administration admits now that such claims were total nonsense. Even by their own fuzzy math, the "tens of thousands of lives saved" from the proposal have been reduced to just a few hundred, and now that they've finally bothered to calculate the adverse health impacts, they've found that up to 1600 people would die prematurely thanks to the additional air pollution from this rule (a number that is <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/files/2019/05/FINALGHGREPORT.pdf" target="_blank">likely a significant underestimate</a>).</p><p>We are in the middle of a public health crisis that's devastating our economy, and the administration is finalizing a rule that will undermine both public health and the economy. If that isn't some of the most backwards nonsense ever, I don't know what is.</p>
Fighting It out in the Courts<p>As with <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/24/trump-has-lost-more-than-90-percent-of-deregulation-court-battles.html" target="_blank">so many of the administration's wrongheaded rollbacks</a>, this one will end up in the courts. There continue to be a mountain of errors in the policy and a number of corners cut to <a href="https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/LookupWebProjectsCurrentBOARD/1FACEE5C03725F268525851F006319BB/$File/EPA-SAB-20-003+.pdf" target="_blank">avoid public scrutiny</a> and <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/02/an-inside-account-of-trumps-fuel-economy-debacle/606346/" target="_blank">sideline the administration's own experts</a>.</p><p>This policy is bad for consumers, bad for public health, and bad for the environment. And we will continue to fight it in the courts because this country deserves better.</p>
- Trump Fuel Efficiency Proposal Is Attack on Global Climate and ... ›
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By Michael Halpern
Now, for some good news: the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that UCS's lawsuit challenging the politicization of EPA science advisory committees may move forward. UCS sued the agency over a new directive that prohibits EPA grant-funded scientists from serving on these committees.
- 'Science Under Siege' From Trump Admin: New Report Warns We ... ›
- EPA Limits Independent Science Advisors, Provokes Conflict of ... ›
By Sarah Reinhardt
Back in February 2015, a committee of leading health and nutrition experts published a scientific report intended to inform the development of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines), the national nutrition recommendations that guide the food choices of millions of kids, adults, seniors, and veterans every day. For the first time, the report contained a significant and rigorous review of research on sustainable eating, including the ways that our food choices can impact our climate, natural resources, and ability to produce food in the future.
From Congress to Corporate America, Climate Change is Catching Up<p>These last five years, in particular, were the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/01/15/2010s-hottest-decade-world/?arc404=true" target="_blank">hottest ever recorded</a>, producing some of the worst wildfires in history in places like California and Australia. Family farm bankruptcies <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-farms-bankruptcy/us-farm-bankruptcies-hit-an-eight-year-high-court-data-idUSKBN1ZT2YE" target="_blank">hit an eight-year high</a> as farmers across the U.S. faced extreme weather events, rising debt, and the fallout from a trade war. And new <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html" target="_blank">Congressional resolutions</a>, <a href="https://foodpolicyalliance.org/" target="_blank">corporate alliances</a>, and <a href="https://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank">youth-led movements</a> helped catapult issues like conservation and climate change to the center of national conversation.</p><p>Meanwhile, the evidence connecting dietary patterns, sustainability, and food insecurity has become a lot harder to ignore. Between July 2015 and September 2019, nearly 100 new scholarly articles were published on this topic, including 22 focused specifically on U.S. diets. That's more than four times the number of articles published on the same topic between 2000 and 2015 — in about a quarter of the time.</p><p>How do I know?</p>
Rethinking Dietary Guidance: A New Review of Sustainable Diets Research<p>These are the findings of a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa026" target="_blank">new peer-reviewed paper</a> I authored with colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy which updated the systematic review of evidence on sustainable diets, replicating the methodology used by the scientific committee and USDA. In other words, it's the systematic review that could (and should) have been the charge of the 2020 committee.</p><p>In addition to revealing a rapidly expanding body of research, our results pointed to several key conclusions: New US research continues to support prior findings that diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods can provide greater benefits for human health and the environment, and that such diets can be achieved without excluding any food groups. However, recent U.S. research challenges prior findings that diets aligning with national dietary guidelines are consistently more sustainable than what we're already eating. Our results show that the healthy diet recommended by the <em>Dietary Guidelines </em>may actually result in similar or increased heat-trapping emissions, energy use, and water use compared with the current average U.S. diet.</p><p>What that means is this: if the <em>Dietary Guidelines </em>continue to sideline sustainability research, the diet the U.S. government recommends today could put a healthy diet further out of reach tomorrow.</p><p>What's more, by sidelining conversations about sustainability, this committee of experts will miss out on a critical opportunity to identify research gaps that can help inform directions for future studies. Though we now know much more about the environmental impacts of our eating patterns, we still have a lot to learn about the social and economic dimensions of sustainable diets. For example, what are the costs associated with more environmentally sustainable diets? What would dietary shifts mean for farmers, food producers, and families — particularly those who face food insecurity and the consequences of climate change firsthand?</p><p>The better we understand the practical implications of our diets, the better we can leverage that knowledge to protect our food systems and the health of our children, and their children, and so on, for generations to come.</p>
What Do We Have to Lose?<p>Although the 2020 committee wasn't charged with reviewing current research on dietary patterns and sustainability, it has an obligation to review current <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/advisory-report/appendix-e-2/appendix-e-237" target="_blank">scientific and medical knowledge</a>, as well as public comments, to ensure its findings address the most pressing diet-related threats to public health. What's more, the committee has an opportunity to include additional recommendations in a discussion section within its scientific report, due to federal agencies in May 2020.</p><p>A lot can change in five years. We're not waiting until 2025 to find out what's at risk if we don't start supporting sustainable food policies.</p><p>If you're an advocate, scientist, or other member of the general public, you can submit a public comment to the scientific committee <a href="https://secure.ucsusa.org/onlineactions/dYzLTH_pI0GfazL26vgBpA2" target="_blank">through the UCS website</a> until May 2020. (Check out our <a href="https://ucs-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/food-environment/dga-comment-guide.pdf" target="_blank">comment guide</a> for tips and talking points.)</p><p>If your organization or institution can lend its support to sustainable dietary guidance, join more than 50 organizations and leading public health experts nationwide in <a href="https://forms.gle/AD1wLmjSuz1GtaBN9" target="_blank">signing our letter</a> to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to include sustainability research in the <em>2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines</em>.</p><p>For more information, take a look at our policy brief, <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/support-sustainable-eating" target="_blank"><em>In Support of Sustainable Eating</em></a><em>, </em>and see the public comment I delivered to the Committee at a recent public meeting in Houston, below.</p>
Dietary Guidelines Public Meeting 4: Oral Comment<p>January 24, 2020</p><p>Good afternoon.</p><p>My name is Sarah Reinhardt. I am a public health dietitian and the Lead Analyst of Food Systems and Health at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC.</p><p>I want to thank the members of the Committee for lending your time and expertise to this process. Thank you to the staff at the USDA and HHS for the hard work that you do to make this process transparent and accessible to the public.</p><p>The stated goal of the <em>Dietary Guidelines for Americans</em> is "to make recommendations about the components of a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet to help promote health and prevent chronic disease for current and future generations." I'm here today to ask the Committee to fulfill its obligation to protect the health of future generations by evaluating the scientific basis for sustainable diets and incorporating its findings into the scientific report.</p><p>The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, in its rigorous review of the evidence on the relationship between dietary patterns, sustainability, and food security, found that "a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet." Though dismissed amid political controversy, these findings remain relevant and provide a foundation from which the current committee may draw conclusions.</p><p>However, the last five years have also seen rapid growth in research on healthy and sustainable diets. Because the present Committee was precluded from updating the systematic review on this topic, my colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy undertook this task. Closely replicating the methodology described in the <em>Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee</em>, we evaluated the body of scientific literature on dietary patterns, food sustainability, and food security to identify relevant studies published between July 2015 and September 2019. Our results, now under scientific peer review, include twenty-two relevant studies on U.S. dietary patterns alone.</p><p>Our results broadly support the key findings of the 2015 Committee, but also point to another important conclusion: Of eight studies explicitly comparing the current average U.S. diet to the Healthy U.S.-style diet recommended by the <em>Dietary Guidelines</em>, a majority found that the Healthy U.S.-style diet is not inherently more sustainable. What that means is this: If the federal government publishes and promotes <em>Dietary Guidelines </em>that disregard sustainability research, the diet it recommends today will put a healthy diet further out of reach tomorrow.</p><p>In its forthcoming report, I urge the Committee to review and report findings based on the current body of scientific research on sustainable diets, including the systematic review by the 2015 Committee and the recent update we have completed, which will be submitted to the public record for the committee's consideration.</p><p>Thank you.</p>
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 Michael Halpern
The Trump administration is scrambling to reconcile the president's contradictions of statements made by federal health scientists about the emerging coronavirus crisis. Their solution: muzzle scientists, require that all statements be politically vetted through Vice President Pence, and punish federal employees who draw attention to gross negligence. This is a highly dangerous power grab that undermines both emergency response and public faith in the reliability of information coming out of the government. And it speaks to the incompetence and incoherence of the response to this crisis so far.
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By Genna Reed
The EPA announced last week that it is issuing a preliminary regulatory determination for public comment to set an enforceable drinking water standard to two of the most common and well-studied PFAS, PFOA and PFOS.
This decision is based on three criteria:
- PFOA and PFOS have an adverse effect on public health
- PFOA and PFOS occur in drinking water often enough and at levels of public health concern;
- regulation of PFOA and PFOS is a meaningful opportunity for reducing the health risk to those served by public water systems.
The SDWA Process Is Flawed<p>The Safe Drinking Water Act was signed into law by President Ford in 1974 and sets a regulatory process for setting drinking water standards. Then in 1996, Congress <a href="https://www.congress.gov/104/plaws/publ182/PLAW-104publ182.pdf" target="_blank">issued amendments</a> which created a <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/erik-d-olson/broken-safe-drinking-water-act-wont-fix-pfas-crisis" target="_blank">long list of hurdles</a> that weakened EPA's ability to set health-protective standards for water contaminants. Some requirements include technology assessments and risk assessments that require the agency to state each significant uncertainty related to public health effects. </p><p>The amendments also require EPA to conduct a cost benefit analysis, which can weigh into the standard that is selected. In fact, EPA can choose to set a standard that "maximizes health risk reduction benefits at a cost that is justified by the benefits." As in all environmental and public health policy, it is <a href="https://law.lclark.edu/live/files/27944-49-1sinden-1pdf" target="_blank">much harder to quantify benefits</a> to public health than it is to quantify costs to industry which makes this a natural place for industry to fight hard to document potential costs and advocate for a less stringent standard. A cost benefit analysis also opens up these regulations to more intense scrutiny from the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs which has been known to <a href="https://www.citizen.org/wp-content/uploads/oira-delays-regulatory-reform-report.pdf" target="_blank">delay rules</a> or even make substantive changes to the <a href="https://www.acus.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Science%20in%20Regulation_Final%20Report_2_18_13_0.pdf" target="_blank">scientific basis of regulations</a> all without adequate transparency.</p>
The Trump Administration’s Track Record on Science-Based Protections Speaks Volumes<p>Generally, it's hard to have faith in the Trump Administration's EPA which leads all other government agencies in the count of <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank">attacks on science </a>and has made decisions that benefit industry over public health time and time again. We've also witnessed the EPA recently drop the ball on a drinking water decision. </p><p>A long-awaited proposed MCL for perchlorate was issued in summer 2019 after beginning the regulatory process in 2011. The <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/health/2019/05/24/epa-distorts-evidence-fails-kids-perchlorate/" target="_blank">level was over three times less protective</a> than its health advisory set in 2008 and out of sync with its own analysis published in 2016 and the conclusion of a peer review panel convened in 2018 to review that report. So what went wrong? </p><p>After <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/health/2019/05/07/epas-safety-standard-perchlorate-water-kids-health/" target="_blank">layers of scientific input</a>, including the development of a model to quantify the relationship between perchlorate and fetal brain development that was reviewed by SAB and went through public comments, the agency dismissed key studies using inadequate rationales and set a less health-protective standard. As the SDWA requires the agency to use the "best available, peer-reviewed science and supporting studies conducted in accordance with sound and objective scientific practices; and data collected by accepted methods or best available methods," Administrator Wheeler's EPA, closely advised by former industry representatives will be deciding what acceptable science and methods are.</p>
Integrity of Science Advice and Peer Review Processes Must Be Upheld<p>Advisory committees and independent peer review bodies should be employed by the EPA to provide objective checks on the work of the agency that are open and accessible to the public. But changes recently made to the EPA's Science Advisory Board including <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/independent-science-takes-another-hit-at-the-epa-new-science-advisory-board-members-announced" target="_blank">skewing membership toward industry</a> and consultants, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/epas-scientific-advisers-warn-its-regulatory-rollbacks-clash-with-established-science/2019/12/31/a1994f5a-227b-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html" target="_blank">holding fewer meetings</a> or delaying important meetings and key decisions, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/epa-might-be-using-its-advisors-to-do-away-with-protective-science-guidelines" target="_blank">moving away from consensus-based reviews</a>, and <a href="https://www.eenews.net/greenwire/stories/1061775673/" target="_blank">exerting more control</a> from the administrator and chair suggest that future advisory committee proceedings related to examining the best available science on PFAS may not be the kind of independent science advice process we'd like to see.</p>
Upcoming Changes to Restrict Science and to Alter Cost Benefit Analysis Could Make Things Worse<p>The EPA's so-called 'transparency' rule, the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/epa-proposal-handcuff-scientists" target="_blank">supplemental piece of which</a> could be released any day now, would require underlying data to be made public would severely limit the agency's ability to use much of the human health data that has been accumulating since PFOA and PFOS have been studied, thus hindering EPA's ability to designate a strong maximum contaminant level. Over two dozen human health studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals since a settlement agreement was reached in a lawsuit against the maker of PFOA, DuPont, and people living near DuPont's West Virginia Washington Works Plant. </p><p><span></span><a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/panel.html" target="_blank">The studies</a> rely on interviews, questionnaires, and blood samples from 69,000 individuals and examine links between C8 exposure and a variety of diseases and health outcomes. Because the information collected by researchers for these studies includes <a href="https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/12/ehp.0800379.pdf" target="_blank">sensitive and private information</a> of participants, it would not be possible to make the underlying data public in order to comply with EPA's proposed rule. This means that some of the best available science identifying probable links between PFAS and diseases such as thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, and diagnosed high cholesterol could be left out of any future EPA decisions made on these chemicals. As a result, health decisions made on this class of chemicals would be wholly inadequate to protect exposed populations.</p><p>The agency is also <a href="https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2018-06-13/pdf/2018-12707.pdf" target="_blank">considering changing</a> how it conducts cost benefit analysis for regulations such as the SDWA, which threatens to tilt the scales toward reducing industry costs over maximizing societal and public health benefits.</p>
PFOA and PFOS Are the Tip of the (Seemingly Endless) Fluorocarbon Chain<p>While the EPA is asking for more information on other PFAS substances, the agency's decision to add PFOA and PFOS to the Contaminant Candidate List leaves the hundreds of variations of PFAS that have been manufactured as replacements to PFOA and PFOS, including short-chain PFAS chemicals, in regulatory limbo. We know that PFOA and PFOS are only two of the many highly fluorinated chemicals contaminating our drinking water. A recent <a href="https://www.ewg.org/research/national-pfas-testing/?utm_campaign=EWG+Content&utm_content=1579634672&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=facebook" target="_blank">EWG analysis</a> tested drinking water across the country for 30 different PFAS chemicals and found that on average, each sample had six or seven different compounds present. </p><p>This "fingerprint" of PFAS mixtures is commonly found near <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es070792y" target="_blank">industrial</a> and <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b05843" target="_blank">military</a> contamination sites. Industry's path of regrettable substitutions has set our government up for a scenario of perpetual regulatory catch-up. The agency needs to follow the science showing that the class of highly-fluorinated chemicals are persistent and bioaccumulative because of the chemical structure inherent in each variety. Failure to do so will give us a wholly inadequate picture of PFAS contamination and leave many communities to deal with PFAS contamination without federal support.</p>
States Should Continue to Lead<p>As EPA sets out on this potentially decades-long process that may or may not yield a protective standard, communities across the country are dealing with PFAS contamination now. <a href="https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/nearly-half-the-country-working-on-pfas-rules-as-epa-drags-feet" target="_blank">States are acting</a> to help regulate these chemicals and are making amazing progress. Congress has also stepped up and gotten some key PFAS-related provisions included in the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/congress-misses-the-mark-on-pfas-in-the-ndaa" target="_blank">National Defense Authorization Act</a> and introduced as a part of the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/profiles-in-cowardice-chemicals-climate-and-a-toxic-disregard-by-the-trump-administration" target="_blank">PFAS Action Act,</a> like labeling PFAS as hazardous substances so that <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/why-the-pfas-industry-should-ditch-the-disinformation-playbook-and-do-the-right-thing" target="_blank">manufacturers are responsible for paying to clean up contamination</a>.</p><p>We need our government to do everything it can to stop PFAS contamination and exposure from wreaking havoc in communities across the country. And we need to make sure that scientific integrity is upheld as it makes key regulatory decisions so that <a href="https://ucsusa.org/resources/endangering-generations" target="_blank">our kids and future generations</a> will be safe from the health risks associated with these toxic chemicals.</p>
By Dr. Brian R. Shmaefsky
One year after the Flint Water Crisis I was invited to participate in a water rights session at a conference hosted by the US Human Rights Network in Austin, Texas in 2015. The reason I was at the conference was to promote efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to encourage scientists to shine a light on how science intersects with human rights, in the U.S. as well as in the context of international development. My plan was to sit at an information booth and share my stories about water quality projects I spearheaded in communities in Bangladesh, Colombia, and the Philippines. I did not expect to be thrown into conversations that made me reexamine how scientists use their knowledge as a public good.
Understanding Public Views and Sentiments About Science and Scientists<p>According to a <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/" target="_blank">2015 study by the Pew Research Center</a>, a random sample of 2,002 adult Americans perceive science as having positive impacts on peoples' lives. Americans also believe that government funding of science is worth the payoff provided by scientific knowledge and technological applications. But unfortunately, the benefits of science are not always equally distributed to all communities.</p><p>Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the most prominent environmental justice scholars, points out in his book<em> <a href="https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/book/10.2105/9780875530079" target="_blank">Environmental Health and Racial Equity in the United States: Building Environmentally Just, Sustainable, and Livable</a> </em>that many scientific developments for reducing pollution and improving health care do not always make their way into areas affected by discriminatory practices or poverty. Populations that are disproportionately affected by environmental injustices are predominantly communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities.</p><p>Historically, the benefits of science and technology have not been shared equally as is discussed in the 2016 Nature article <a href="https://www.nature.com/news/is-science-only-for-the-rich-1.20650" target="_blank"><em>Is science only for the rich?</em></a> A 2018 The Atlantic article <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/the-trump-administration-finds-that-environmental-racism-is-real/554315/" target="_blank"><em>Trump's EPA Concludes Environmental Racism Is Real</em></a> discusses that at times science has been used against environmental justice communities. In addition, the "Belmont Report", produced by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/sites/default/files/the-belmont-report-508c_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">documents a long history</a> of unequal benefits of medical research.</p>
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