Category: Politics

EU Claims 13% of deaths are due to climate change the same day POTUS claims he is the “No. 1 Environmental President”

by Kaushal Kumar

Earlier this week, the UN reported that 13% of all deaths in the European Union (EU), including England, are due to climate change and the rapid warming of the globe. This data was gathered from the 627,000 deaths that were reported in 2012 due to climate change, the latest year which this data is available for. The EEA claimed that many of these deaths were preventable and action to fight against climate change would have saved many and will continue to save others in the future.

The largest killer is air pollution, responsible for over 400,000 deaths a year in the EU. These deaths also leave citizens more susceptible to illness, especially those that affect the lungs or breathing of the patient. The current global pandemic is an example. Those with weaker bodies due to prolonged exposure to air pollution are more likely to have serious symptoms and are more likely to die if infected with COVID-19.

This news comes the same day as the United States President, Donald Trump, claims that he is the “#1 environmental president” at a campaign rally in Florida. He claimed that Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden would leave the environment “permanently injured” and that the Trump Administration has done an incredible job protecting America’s environment. Trump has claimed that “the left’s agenda isn’t about protecting the environment. It is about punishing America.”

These claims come with some backlash from opposers who were quick to highlight Trump’s past comments about the environment where he claimed climate change was a hoax. His administration has also repealed over 100 environmental protections to help benefit oil and gas companies.

Any way one puts it, it is clear that climate change is having a larger impact on society than ever before. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people die a year due to climate change, and with the data being almost 10 years old it is almost sure to be larger now. Climate change will continue to be a battle that this world will continue to fight, it is just a matter of how long it takes to either win or lose.

Trump EPA Eases Regulations on Toxic Metal Dumped in Water Bodies

by Sudhit Rao

The Oak Creek power plant by Lake Michigan is one of the largest sources of toxic metal pollution in the lake. It is in the top seven of toxic metal pollutants nationwide but is the major pollutant in Lake Michigan by a large margin. 

The heart of the problem lies with metals within the ash produced by coal burning and leftovers from scrubbers, which are meant to lower air pollution. This metal waste is mixed with water into a sloshy mess and is slowly let out into water bodies such as lakes and rivers, lowering water quality. These metals, when consumed by humans can cause cancer, damage organs, or even cause reproductive issues. 

During Obama’s administration, Obama’s EPA strengthened regulations that limited the amount of toxic metal that could be released into the lake which would still be in effect today. That is until Trump’s EPA loosened the regulation once taking office in 2017. Last week, they finally eliminated the standard completely, which excuses coal power plants such as Oak Creek from any sort of regulation. 

These changes would come at the expense of the 20 million Americans who rely on these water bodies to drink water and eat fish. Betsy Southerland, who led the development of the Obama rule back in 2015 said “There is just no way anyone can justify that trade-off.” Since Trump took office in 2017, the EPA has rollbacked on several environmental acts and this is just one of many. 

Lobbyists from the ever-declining coal industry, which is said to have a share of just 18% of electricity production down from 50% from 10 years ago, have had to lay off many since Obama introduced his acts. They claim that the Obama Administration failed “to consider accurately the cumulative costs of EPA’s major rules affecting the utility industry, the coal industry, and the communities depending on them.”

Trump’s EPA has setback the fight against climate change by making coal power plants such as Oak Creek exempt from most requirements for another decade. These changes will be put in front of a court while coal companies have put any projects on hold until then. The future of the coal industry remains unknown but what we do know is according to Southerland, “They had an opportunity here to protect people at a fraction of the costs we estimated. They just choose not to do so.”

Trump Administration Rolls Back Clean Water Regulation Tied With Coal Plants

by The Incentive

This past Monday, the Trump Administration finalized a plan to roll back coal plant pollution regulations that were initially created during the Obama administration to reduce pollution in wastewater. 

The decision to roll back these regulations comes as a consequence as utilities will now be loosely regulated in their compliance with pollution regulations in that they now have a longer period of time to respond to the regulations, allowing for pollution to continue on. Additionally, at the benefit of these utilities, they will be able to use cheaper technologies that are less environmentally appropriate which can lead to an uptick in pollution in the near future. 

These rollbacks were made by EPA chief Andrew Wheeler in a decision that was made in the interest of the economy to preserve industrial jobs as utilities would save an average of $140 million annually. Though a temporary bolstering of the economy is warranted, concerns are rising over the lack of concern over the current status of the environment. 

The regulation, which was instituted during the Obama administration was made in part to the statistic that 30% of toxic water pollution, which leads to ocean acidification, is in due part to coal pollution. The fine print of the new rule set in stone by the EPA gives utilities several more years, until 2025, or 2028 if the company takes voluntary steps to reduce their pollution, to become more environmentally friendly as per the EPA’s regulation that aims to reduce pollution by over 1 million pounds annually. However, the short term implications of giving utilities a grace period to help the industry save money, though in the economy’s best interest, will have a significant implication on the environment.

Environmental law firms will challenge the ruling at court, though it is clear that there seems to be controversy around regulations that have been moved or shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A loss of jobs and an unemployment rate which is still at large, though improving, is warranting some extreme measures at the cost of the environment.

In the short term, these decisions seem to be problematic for the environment as there will be an uptick in pollution as utilities will be allowed to use cheaper technologies in the name of saving money. However, in the long term, the consequences of these decisions, along with the others made during the pandemic, are yet to be seen.

EPA Weakens Obama Administration Methane Pollution Regulations

by Kaushal Kumar

Over the past year, the Trump Administration’s EPA has been working on a rule to weaken the current laws that place heavy regulations on the amount of methane that energy companies can release into the atmosphere while forcing them to make sure they repair faulty infrastructure and maintain low levels of pollution. These old regulations were put into place by the Obama Administration and were meant to combat climate change through regulation of the fossil fuel industry. However, the EPA claims that these rules are greatly “harmful to small and medium businesses”, as it is very expensive to maintain pipes, storage facilities, and wells to ensure that they are not leaking gas into the air. The newest ruling eliminates that federal requirement, allowing businesses to not have to monitor methane pollution that may be coming from their pipes or other buildings.

This is just one of the many rulings that the EPA has made in favor of the American fossil fuel industry. Earlier this summer, the EPA passed a ruling that is meant to speed up the process of building energy infrastructure by shortening the time needed to get all required permits to build. This choice was highly controversial and was opposed by many who claim, “the decision curtail the public’s right to have a say in the development of pipelines and other projects in their neighborhoods.”

Methane gas pollution is a major cause of global warming and its impact on the atmosphere is estimated to be around 84 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Methane is also the driving factor for approximately 25% of total global warming over the last few decades, with at least a third of that coming from the US energy industry. With the newest regulations brought in by the EPA, experts only expect this number to rise, drawing serious concerns about the world’s future battle against climate change.

Even though the rulings seem favorable to the fossil fuel industry, many large companies have spoken out against the rulings citing their own pledges to fight against climate change and reduce their methane pollution. Smaller companies are happier with the decision, claiming that the old regulations were too restrictive and are especially happy to see something go their way with the recent drop in oil and gas prices during the pandemic.

Irish Citizens Triumph as Supreme Court Orders Stronger National Climate Plan

by Nakul

This past week marked a notable period in Ireland’s fight against climate change. The citizen-run NGO, Friends of the Irish Government (FIE), called for more accountability by the federal government regarding its plan to reduce natural gas emissions. 

For context, in 2015, the nation passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, which stated that by 2050, Ireland would reduce its greenhouse emissions by 80% in comparison to 1990 levels. In 2017, the Irish government followed this up with a more robust plan, the National Mitigation Plan, which explained in detail how the government planned to drastically reduce emissions in a viable, safe manner. However, the FIE exclaimed that the government simply failed to clearly and specifically address how they would implement such change in the energy industry in their previous plans, and in October of 2017, they launched an “application for judicial review” on the National Mitigation Plan, in the court case now dubbed Climate Case Ireland. The FIE also contended “developed countries like Ireland should be cutting emissions 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020”. The group received significant support around the nation, with one of their online petitions garnering over 20,000 signatures. The government’s Climate Change Advisory Council itself admitted the issue in the current climate plan, explaining that the nation is “completely off course” of achieving its 2020 and 2030 emission reduction goals. 

Initially, in September of 2019, the Supreme Court actually ruled against the FIE, claiming the the “[National Mitigation] Act does not require particular intermediate targets”. The FIE immediately appealed this court ruling, and in a landmark decision near the end of July, all 7 Supreme Court judges ruled in favor of the FIE, stating that “a compliant plan must be sufficiently specific as to policy over the whole period to 2050.” Understandably, the citizen members of FIE were “overwhelmed”, with spokesperson Clodagh Daly stating that the FIE is “grateful to the lawyers who dedicated their time to the case and are thankful to supporters across Ireland who backed them”. The government revealed that it now plans to reduce annual emissions by 7% from 2021 to 2030, totaling a 51% reduction by the end of that period. 

Africa’s $20 Billion Gas Investment Backed By 7 Countries

by Anshul Dash

The country of Mozambique has recently declared a project to extract, liquefy, and export gas. The project is worth $20 billion and has been backed up by seven countries: The US, Japan, The UK, Italy, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Vietnam. In addition to these countries, The African Development Bank and 19 other commercial lenders are also contributing to the project.

The project has been seen as a significant achievement from oil tycoons such as Total, a French oil major that acquired a 26.5% stake in the project last year. However, climate analysts view the project differently, stating that increased production and export of fossil fuels conflict with international climate goals. Governments are reportedly planning to extract 47% more gas by 2040 than what is being collected now. Total and other investors are planning to develop two gas fields in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique. They are also planning to build a plant capable of liquifying 13.1 million tons a year for export.

Residents in the area hoped jobs and investment would come along with the gas discovery. Instead, they are now facing an Islamic insurgency. This insurgency has resulted in 600 deaths since 2017, with gas workers being primary targets. Families have been evicted from their homes and land without compensation while watching well-paid jobs go to people of higher status. However, Total denies that there was any forced eviction and states that the Islamic insurgency is not related to gas development. 

A lot of attention has come from the support of the UK. The UK’s decision to back up the project has led many to realize that it is contradicting the government’s mission to be the host of the UN Climate Summit, Cop26, in November 2021. According to the business secretary and Cop26 president Alok Sharma, “[Their] aim is to ramp up ambition towards a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy.” At last month’s London Climate Action Week, Sharma requested all countries to make deeper emissions cuts by 2030 and aim for net-zero emissions. Sharma clarified his request by saying “we must… make sure that climate risk is factored into every single investment decision taken around the world.”

Joe Biden’s 2 Trillion Dollar Clean Energy Plan for the Future

by Saarang Kashyap

On Tuesday, July 14, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion clean energy and climate change package, a plan that would overhaul transportation, electricity, and heavy industry. Some of the action items include making the entire electricity sector 100 percent carbon-free by 2035, retrofitting four million buildings over four years, building 500,000 EV recharging stations, and funding for researching a variety of carbon capture and storage as well as advanced nuclear power technologies.

As stated in OilPrice, “The package is significantly more aggressive than the one Biden proposed earlier this year during the primary, which called for $1.7 trillion over ten years, with a goal of reaching net-zero emission by 2050.” Moreover, there is a lot of focus on environmental justice, with the introduction of an additional plan in recognition of the shift in the political landscape in the wake of the George Floyd protests.

Biden mentions that his ambitious plan will require millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities. He also affirmed that these jobs are filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers — including women and people of colorby requiring federally funded projects to prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements and employ workers trained in registered apprenticeship programs.

There has been some opposition to this plan, mainly in the form of President Trump, who The Hill reports “mocked presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s climate plan Wednesday during a speech unveiling an environmental regulation rollback. Trump’s comments came in an Atlanta speech announcing a rollback to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), weakening a bedrock environmental law in order to speed permitting for pipelines, oil and gas drilling, highways, and other infrastructure.” As election day comes faster than ever, many will have the chance to vote in favor of or against Joe Biden’s plan. Only time will tell if his ambitious idea will be implemented.

Announcement during the Paris Agreement aims to Mitigate Climate Change at Domestic Level

by Seth Berger

Recently, an announcement was made during the Paris Agreement declaring the renovation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). This decision was made in order to minimize the impact of climate change and to decrease greenhouse gas emissions at a domestic level. In addition, many countries have been urged to edit and update their plans every 5 years going forward, as a means of realistically reaching the goals that they have established.

With this, the concept of nature based solutions has received more and more recognition as of late. While often dismissed due to the varying amount of resilience it provides, policymakers are increasingly being brought aware of its possible effectiveness. For example, nature based solutions could be implemented in the wetlands, which is beneficial for both the people and the environment. The wetlands are commonly called a “triple win”, due to the fact that by saving mangroves and marshes, there are the additional benefits of resistance to storms / rising sea levels as well as its capabilities in storing carbon in the soil.

Another key factor in this decision was the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on the ocean. It has been long known that the ocean plays a large role in shielding people from the adverse effect of climate change. However, it is not nearly as well understood the carbon benefits of marine ecosystems. Conducting research to further understanding the potential for marine habitats to mitigate and reduce emissions has been cited as one of the primary goals during the Paris Agreement.

The discussions held on marine protections are critical in moving forward research to better understand how people can support this planet, beginning with ensuring the safety and protection of the coastal wetlands.

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.