Category: Politics

Floodwaters to Overtake U.S. Residencies Faster Than Expected

by Saarang Kashyap

Millions of homes across the U.S. are at risk of being submerged due to rising climate change.  A new, nationwide flood modeling tool released Monday paints a picture of the U.S. as a country woefully underprepared for damaging floods, now and in the future.

These are the findings of a comprehensive new analysis by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group that experts say has put together the fullest picture yet of the country’s growing vulnerability to flooding. As stated by USA Today, “The team combined several existing models of rising sea levels and riverine flooding, and simulations of extreme weather events into a single, nationwide flood assessment model that examined risk in all states except Alaska and Hawaii.”

First Street discovered that by 2050, the number of properties at significant risk of flooding is expected to climb even further to 16.2 million. Their model found that about 14.6 million homes and other structures across the country currently face a 1% annual risk of flooding, representing about one out of every 10 such real estate parcels nationwide. But First Street calculated that current maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency list just 8.7 million properties in the floodplain, a 40% undercount compared with what First Street found.

So how do rising water levels affect inland cities like Chicago? 
While FEMA’s maps previously reported that just 0.3 percent of Chicago’s cities were inside the 100-year flood zone, First Street has re-updated this statistic to nearly 13 percent — some 75,000 more than FEMA’s maps show. As mentioned in the  New York Times, “That disparity [between the numbers] reflects a broader trend. In more than two-thirds of states, First Street found that areas with more minority residents also had a greater share of unmapped flood risk than the statewide average.” The trend of heightened flood risks is especially prominent in communities of color, with residents of these communities at a greater risk of respiratory disease (encouraged by mold growth) due to frequent flooding. It is important to acknowledge this situation and recognize that urban flooding is not a one-dimensional problem: it also is closely tied to a lack of environmental justice that needs to change.

A Pandemic in Review: A List of All the Crucial Environmental Pollution and Water Regulations the Trump Administration Has Waived So Far During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration has been tested and faced with impossible tasks and decisions to save the nation from the spread of the Coronavirus. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revoked several crucial regulations in the name of necessity and economic restructuring which has developed a deep wound in terms of environmental safety. Here’s a running list of all the Obama-era regulations revoked, waived, or altered:

Clean Water Regulations:

Brain Damage-Causing Clean Water Regulation Waived Against Court Orders:

EPA waived a regulation for a contaminant in clean water that harms babies’ brains and can reduce their IQ severely at a young age. The chemical, perchlorate, had been recognized as harmful for years and had been ordered by the court to introduce a new regulation by this month. However, the EPA did not introduce a new regulation, instead waiving the current existing regulation out of reason that perchlorate was not present enough in water to the point where regulations would need to be implemented.

Investigated for Poor Water Policy in San Francisco:

The Trump Administration has been accused of doing a poor job maintaining water policy in San Francisco. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic lawmakers have discovered the carelessness of the Trump Administration in enforcing water policy in California, and this has caught the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Review of Harmful Water Pipeline Projects: 

EPA announced that they would be removing a key portion of the Clean Water Act, depriving states the ability to block harmful pipeline projects that cross within their waterways. States are now limited in yet another way in moderating clean water quality– before the removal of this rule, part of section 401, states were allowed one year to approve or reject projects that go through rivers and streams to weigh how the project would affect the water quality in the surrounding region. The justification given by an EPA administrator was that the law has “held [the] nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage.”

Waiving Requirement to Monitor Waterways for Hazardous Weedkiller:

EPA lifted the requirement of monitoring waterways in the Midwest for the presence of the weed killer atrazine. Even though the administration’s reason behind this action is because of “the sudden impact of COVID-19,” it is still putting a risk to the health of residents who rely on these now-unchecked waterways.

Pollution Regulations:

Fails to Update Flaring Requirements Linked With Respiratory Disease:

As the health hazards and perilous impacts on the environment caused by the burning of these fuels continue to be exposed, public outcry to re-assess environmental rules and requirements has likewise increased: this past Thursday, numerous environmental organizations took legal action against the federal organization, Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), due to its inaction in updating over 30-year-old regulations regarding an industrial process known as flaring.

Trump Weakens Federal Authority on Clean Air Regulations:

The Trump Administration signed executive orders waiving many environmental regulations. One of the regulations waived was federal authority on clean air regulations. The EPA proposed a new rule that changes the way the agency conducts analyses to impose Clean Air Act regulations. This new rule has been favored by the Trump Administration, and this new rule will effectively limit the strength of air pollution control.

Trump Administration Makes Move to completely Roll Back Methane Pollution Regulations:

The EPA has recently made steps in its work to roll back its methane emissions limits. With the current timelines the rollbacks could be finalized as early as July. Right now the EPA has sent in the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget to be reviewed and possibly accepted. This particular piece of legislation has been worked on by the Trump Administration’s EPA since 2016.

Loosening Fuel Emission Standards amid COVID-19 Pandemic:

More than twenty states filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, claiming that their decision to lower fuel economy standards puts public health at risk– with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, this ruling has only become increasingly magnified. Because of this ruling, it is predicted there will be approximately 900 million more tons of carbon dioxide released than the Obama administration standards.

Ireland Passing Legislation That Will Prioritize Climate Change in Governing

by Anshul Dash

Ireland is currently on the verge of putting climate change at the core of its government. This will likely happen if members of the Green Party vote in favor of a new caucus. The new administration intends to fight climate change by banning gas imports, lower emissions through various rules, and stop drilling for fossil fuels. Despite gaining support from most of the population, there is still some opposition, who claim that there is not enough “progression” being done through these proposed changes. 

Even though Ireland has been known to be a green country, its status of being green has recently been tarnished due to the government’s failure to deal with excess carbon emissions. Compared to other countries in the European Union, Ireland emits the fourth-largest amount of carbon. The Irish government attempted to lower its carbon emissions by forming a target with the European Union to cut emissions by 20%. However, the government failed to meet this target by a large amount. This was mainly because of Ireland’s heavy agriculture and transport. An example of this a growing national dairy herd increasing by more than 25% in the past five years. 

The Green Party has planned steps to meet and even surpass this target. The party plans to propose the Climate Action Law, which will redefine 5-year carbon emission budgets. Scientists have welcomed this law as it has been predicted to cut Ireland’s carbon emissions by 51% by 2030. But despite these beneficial outcomes, there is still opposition to this rule. These members believe that the law does not address social justice, economic strategy, and proper housing. The members of this audience are young people or citizens of Northern Ireland. 

Although there are worries that the opposition might be too much for this law to pass, international support will help the Green Party’s influence expand across the country. This law is crucial to Ireland and the European Union, as less carbon emission will open new pathways for alternatives to fossil fuels. Enforcing this law will motivate scientists to develop more environmental-friendly products to contribute to the decline of carbon emissions. 

Trump Administration Waives Brain Damage-Causing Clean Water Regulation Against Court Orders

by Arun Balaji and Kunaal Venugopal

On Thursday morning, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a decision to waive a regulation for a contaminant in clean water that harms babies’ brains and can reduce their IQ severely at a young age. The chemical, perchlorate, had been recognized as harmful for years and had been ordered by the court to introduce a new regulation by this month. However, the EPA did not introduce a new regulation, instead waiving the current existing regulation out of reason that perchlorate was not present enough in water to the point where regulations would need to be implemented.

In rolling back the regulation, the Trump Administration hopes to remove a burden to business in the United States. However, this regulation sets federal limits for perchlorate, a chemical compound that has detrimental effects on humans. According to the EPA, “Perchlorate is commonly used in solid rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches, and signal flares. Perchlorate may occur naturally, particularly in arid regions such as the southwestern United States and is found as an impurity in hypochlorite solutions used for drinking water treatment and nitrate salts used to produce nitrate fertilizers, explosives, and other products.” Rolling back the regulation allows for greater perchlorate levels in drinking water, increasing the risk of developing illnesses like hypothyroidism.

In 2018, the court demanded the EPA introduce a regulation that would prevent the outstanding quantities of perchlorate in the water. However, the EPA has now gone against this rule and instead has waived the regulation, causing many to be in shock.

The public is reasonably infuriated by the EPA’s lack of action to regulate a chemical as toxic as perchlorate. On top of its contamination, the chemical causes brain damage in babies and is especially damaging to the health of animals as well. Since the chemical is present in something the world needs, drinking water, the public is angry at the lack of effort to protect the health of the country’s citizens.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the EPA has revoked, altered, or waived several Obama-era regulations, citing the health of the economy or necessity out of reason. The Trump Administration has revoked two other clean water regulations on top of revoking mercury and fuel emission regulations.

The decision to revoke yet another clean water regulation is one that has many people confused and furious. Although the EPA cites reasons for removing these regulations, only time will tell what effect it will have on the environment and the health of citizens.

EPA Ruling Seeks to Discount Science and Aid the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Kaushal Kumar and Sudhit Rao

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded in the seventies with the sole goal of protecting the environment from harmful contamination. It has since been regarded as successful and extremely effective in its endeavors. However, with Trump’s elected officials under control, the goals of the EPA have shifted to instead benefit large fossil fuel companies and push back restrictions set in place by previous administrations.  

The newest rule that the EPA is pushing for is called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” but don’t let the name fool you. The name was specifically chosen to make the bill seem more appealing and to encourage members of the congress to accept the bill, even though the motives and reasoning for the passing of the bill are corrupt, and contradicts the role that the EPA is supposed to play in the US. In reality, this bill was passed to help strengthen the fossil fuel industry and try to prevent climate scientists from regulating factories in the industry.

The bill will effectively allow the EPA to ignore any scientific data or study where all of the information about the study is not fully available to the American public. This means that if things like private information of participants in studies are not made available to the general public, the EPA can invalidate the study and move forward without taking into consideration the findings. 

This would be a huge win for fossil fuel companies, as they are the ones who are usually targeted by scientists to ensure that their procedures are sustainable and are not too damaging or dangerous, and without the EPA having to listen to these scientists, they will not have to ask for these large gas and oil companies to regulate their production.

Many scientists and public health experts have criticized the proposed ruling and have spoken out against it. The American Association for Advancement of Science said that the proposed ruling would “exclude the best available science from informing EPA regulations, making it difficult for the agency to fulfill its mission to protect environmental and human health.” Steve Pierson and Roger Peng, well known biostatisticians petitioned for the proposition to be dropped and said, in an article, that it “weakens EPA’s scientific process and undermines its mission to protect the environment and the health of the U.S. population.”

This proposition seeks to ignore science while instead benefiting the giants in the fossil fuel industry and destroying our already depreciating state of our environment. Only time will tell the magnitude of damage this proposed rule might have on Mother Nature.

Trump Administration Fails to Update Flaring Requirements Linked With Respiratory Disease

by Arun and Nakul

Fossil fuel combustion has been an omnipresent, integral aspect of the energy industry. As the health hazards and perilous impacts on the environment caused by the burning of these fuels continue to be exposed, public outcry to re-assess environmental rules and requirements has likewise increased: this past Thursday, numerous environmental organizations took legal action against the federal organization, Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), due to its inaction in updating over 30-year-old regulations regarding an industrial process known as flaring.

What Exactly Is Flaring?

As the EPA defines it, flaring is a “high-temperature oxidation process used to burn combustible components, mostly hydrocarbons, of waste gases from industrial operations”. To boil it down, flaring is performed with the intention of destroying toxic components of various greenhouse gases, in order to abate the dangerous effects they would have on the environment and communities alike. While flaring itself is a well-intentioned practice, activists have been left fuming with the EPA’s lack of recent action to improve flaring regulations. The EPA itself admitted in a 2012 report that when flares have been improperly monitored and used, consequences included lower combustion efficiency – but much more concerning – “potentially significant quantities of excess emissions of volatile organic chemicals, sometimes including various hazardous pollutants”. The last time the EPA updated its rules for the flaring process was in 1986 – the fact that they themselves recently admitted that improper practice of flaring has deadly health impacts, yet have still not changed their regulations whatsoever, is definitely an issue. Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (one of the suing organizations), Adam Kron, explained, “At this time when people are more vulnerable to pneumonia from COVID-19 when they are exposed to air pollution, it is unconscionable that the Trump EPA has not done its job and updated these weak and antiquated standards”. He also corroborated the idea that misuse of flares has leads to increased exposure to pollutants, and therefore, respiratory issues.

The EPA has not officially released a response to the potential lawsuit, claiming that it does not respond to intents to sue. However, it can be inferred that the agency does not want to enact any restrictions upon the energy industry amid the massive economic contraction during the pandemic. Why the EPA has not altered flaring regulations for several decades – despite reason to do so – remains a mystery. 

The public is reasonably infuriated by the EPA’s lack of action in regard to flaring regulations as the rule hasn’t been touched in over 34 years. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whose deadliness comes as a result of causing bronchitis and related respiratory illnesses, the public is outraged at the lack of response to mitigate pollution emissions that could cause damage. The Trump Administration has only lifted regulations or eased them during the pandemic, a decision which is proving to be deadly as the months progress.

The lack of response, however, is only the latest of many controversial decisions. In the past few months, the EPA has revoked clean water regulations, mercury regulations, clean air regulations, and fuel efficiency standards. Their decisions seem to revolve around supporting large corporations and the economy over public health and the planet.

The lack of action from the EPA to reduce pollution, a request that it seemingly reasonably, is one that has people wondering where the priorities of the EPA are at. With all the regulations the EPA has removed during the pandemic, only time will tell what the repercussions of their rulings will be.

Hawaii sees Environmental Benefits amid Economic Crash Caused by Pandemic

by Ritvik Dutta

With over 5 million cases in the first six months of its inception, the novel coronavirus has created a widespread state of panic around the world. From the rich to the poor, everyone is feeling the disastrous effects of this global pandemic. Nothing, however, feels the brunt of the blow any more than the many tourist attractions around the world and their affiliated businesses. 

The economy of Hawaii has always thrived on the state’s tourist attractions, as tourism constituted 23% of the state’s economy up till the forced closures of American businesses and travel in March of 2020. In the light of recent events, the dependence on tourism to maintain a healthy economy has caused the devastating economic crash of many Hawaiian cities, with the statewide unemployment rate hovering around 22%. In fact, in March, the unemployment rate in the Kahului district in Maui, Hawaii, was around 2.2%. Now, however, this number has since been reported to have increased to around 35%, which is 10% higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression. In an interview conducted by ABC News, Carl Bonham, executive director of the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, commented that “Because [Hawaii relies] completely on air travel, when you shut down tourism with a 14-day quarantine and you go from 30,000 airline passengers per day to a few hundred, that’s a very different situation from a place that may still be getting some visitors by car.”

Although the current economic situation seems to be dire, the natural environment of Hawaii is surely improving. With apparent changes in the environment such as booming fisheries and healthier wildlife, officials are taking note and are currently in the process of pushing out a new system that renders tourism healthier and more feasible for the long-term survival of the Hawaiian environment. KUA, an organization determined to establish community-based natural resource management, has already compiled and pushed a list of possible post-quarantine changes to the state government in hopes of possible implementation. They hope that this period can be used to reassess and reset the environmental imbalance that has been left behind by the many years of heavy tourism within the state but ultimately concede that not all the Hawaiian islands will agree with the government’s decision and carry on life as they had before the pandemic. 

In the end, the economic ruin felt by Hawaii has ushered in awareness of the detrimental effects of mass tourism within the state. In an interview conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Alfredo Coro, the vice mayor of the Philippines city of Del Carmen, commented on the overall internationally observed improvement of environmental health. He stated “I think it sheds a lot of light on the reality that maybe we should get back to the land and manage (it) properly so that we can take care of our people, rather than rely on outside sources.” Whether or not this reality is one that Hawaiians choose to pursue, however, remains left to be seen. 

Trump Weakens Federal Authority on Clean Air Regulations

by Anshul Dash

Recently, the Trump Administration signed executive orders waiving many environmental regulations. One of the regulations waived was federal authority on clean air regulations. The EPA proposed a new rule that changes the way the agency conducts analyses to impose Clean Air Act regulations. This new rule has been favored by the Trump Administration, and this new rule will effectively limit the strength of air pollution control.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has stated that changing the way the federal government views public health benefits will allow the agency to come up with better justifications for weakening clean air and climate change regulations. The agency plans to justify their actions using economic arguments that stem from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plunging economy is adding stress to the regulations that need to be done by the EPA, and so to relieve that stress, the agency has decided to loosen regulation on clean air in order to not take in too much of the impacts from the changing economy.

The Trump administration plans to waive parts of the National Environmental Policy Act using “emergency authorities” in order to invest more in infrastructure projects such as construction of highways and pipelines. However, these plans have been questioned by lawyers and environmental activists, who believe that these projects are being rushed by the Trump administration. According to them, the Administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to speed up these projects, which have been developing at a slow pace before the pandemic hit.

To put things into perspective, during the Obama administration, the EPA drafted a rule toe limit toxic mercury pollution from power plants. The agency also estimated that imposing this rule would cost the electrical utility industry $9.6 billion annually. However, an initial analysis report claims that reducing mercury emissions would save only $6 million to be used for healthcare. To justify this imbalance, The Obama administration discovered that through the side effects of reducing mercury (reduction of soot and nitrogen oxide), there would be an additional $80 billion in health “co-benefits.” However, last month, the Trump administration decided to waive the mercury rule imposed during the Obama administration, thus getting rid of the discounts.

Andrew Wheeler has recently proposed extending the mercury rule through reducing the emphasis on co-benefits. He is expected to propose something similar with the clean water and chemical safety regulations. Mr. Wheeler has also stated that the EPA would continue to calculate the economic value of these co-benefits, but would no longer use these calculations when defending other rules. This means that previous rules such as the Obama-era mercury rule will no longer be defensible.

Through the recent actions taken by the Trump administration, many of the previous rules imposed by other presidents are facing a rollback. This can deeply affect the environment and can result in more pollution. The Trump administrations differs from other administrations in that it weakens federal authority and control while other administrations have done the opposite. Without proper regulation, power plants will not be kept in place and many pollutants can be released as a result.

Trump Baselessly Labels 75 Year Old Climate and BLM Activist as ‘Antifa Provocateur’

by Nakul

Last Thursday, a 75-year-old retired computer engineer, Martin Gugino, was participating in a protest in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, following the indisputably unjust and horrific murder of George Floyd. Officers of the Buffalo Emergency Response Unit appeared with the intention of clearing the area in order to fulfill the newly imposed local curfew — a passionate Gugino rushed to the large group of officers, confronting them and waving his phone around — in a video that has now garnered millions of views, several of the officers clearly pushed Gugino to the ground and continued walking, leaving him completely unconscious. However, a Buffalo policeman revealed in a statement on June 4th that Gugino actually “tripped and fell,” a blatant lie that was exposed by the video footage. While the incident itself is abysmal, what may be even more lamentable was the president’s dismissive reply and latest conspiracy theory, in an attempt to delegitimize Gugino and obviate public outcries.

After the video involving Gugimo went viral, citizens continued to unite and demand for improved law enforcement practices and training. However,  President Donald Trump’s reaction to the incident was in sharp contrast: this past Tuesday, in response to the video, he tweeted the following:

Essentially, Trump has created the conspiracy theory that Gugino intended to be pushed all along, and was simply trying to elicit a passionate public response as a part of a scheme for Antifa. However, there lies one major problem: there is no evidence at all to support his farfetched claim. Gugino’s friends explained that he has constantly been a part of many protests and demonstrations, including those against “military drones, climate change, nuclear weapons and police brutality.” Gugino’s attorney, Kelly Zarcone, responded: “Martin is out of ICU but still hospitalized and truly needs to rest. Martin has always been a peaceful protestor because he cares about today’s society.  He is also a typical Western New Yorker who loves his family.  No one from law enforcement has even suggested anything otherwise so we are at a loss to understand why the President of the United States would make such dark, dangerous, and untrue accusations against him.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed, stating, “How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude. I mean, if there was ever a reprehensible dumb comment from the President of the United States,” Cuomo said. “At this moment of anguish and anger, what does he do? He pours gasoline on the fire.” 

As President of the United States, it is vital for Trump to be able to maintain a professional attitude and refrain from spreading purely speculative ideas, especially in the current state of distress. His tweet was unintelligent and harshly accused an innocent protester.

Russia’s Major Oil Spill Puts it in a State of National Emergency

by Nakul

Following a recent, massive, 21,000-tonne oil spill in the industrial Russian city of Norilsk, the whole nation has been placed into a state of national emergency. On May 29, 2020, a diesel fuel tank operated by Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Co. (parent company Norilsk) was damaged, resulting in the release of the fuel in what Greenpeace Russia is calling “the first accident of such a large scale in the Arctic.” Prosecutors claim that roughly 180,000 square meters of land were polluted before the oil reached water; with no real choice at all, President Vladimir Putin declared the nation in a state of energy amid the disaster, and he angrily criticized the delay in cleanup efforts. Indeed, efficient cleanup is necessary due to numerous health hazards — as the spokesman for Russia’s Marine Rescue Service Andrei Malov explains, “There haven’t been such spills in the Arctic before. It needs to be collected very quickly because the fuel is [already] dissolving in the water.” Russian fisheries agency spokesman Dmitry Klokov corroborated this, stating that recovery from the oil spill would take decades: “The scope of this catastrophe is being underestimated” — he added that the fuel was rapidly sinking to the bottom of lakes. However, Norilsk is by no means entirely the victim of this accident: as WWF extractive industry leader Alexei Knizhnikov revealed, companies are required to have protective structures around fuel sites in order to prevent massive spoils; however, this was not the case with the industrial giant. As Knizhnikov stated, “A lot of the blame lies with the company.”

What exactly caused the spill, and what are the impacts?

The oil spill may appear to simply be a combination of an unfortunate accident and corporate carelessness. However, deeper observation shows otherwise. Norilsk itself along with Russian officials concluded that the spill was due to melting permafrost in the region that eventually gave way, causing the oil to burst out of the fuel tank. This likely theory reveals numerous negative impacts, both on the environment and human health. Firstly, “Northern permafrost region soils contain 1,460-1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon, about twice as much as currently contained in the atmosphere”, according to government agency Arctic Region. This is an evident danger to the environment due to the greenhouse gas effect, as well as to humans because of increased pollution of air — and it’s only getting worse: according to the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if, over the next 50 years, fossil fuel emissions continue to increase, as much as 70% of the world’s permafrost would melt. Another health risk involved with permafrost melting is the release of bacteria and viruses – in fact, in 2014, a huge virus dubbed “Pithovirus” was discovered by scientists in Siberian permafrost that had been untouched for more than 30,000 years — while luckily harmless, it reveals a major hazard that could, unfortunately, re-create the unprecedented circumstances present today.