Tag: Coronavirus

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.

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. 

Amid Economic Downturn During Pandemic, Trump Passes Executive Order Weakening Environmental Regulations

by Nakul

President Trump recently signed an order that waived several key environmental regulations on large projects in an effort to combat the massive economic downturn during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The president adduced increasing unemployment and unnecessarily lengthy regulatory processes as important reasons for the implementation of this policy – however, millions concerned about the environmental implications of this decision firmly opposed the president’s action with arguments grounded on quality of life, environmental impacts, and even race.

For context, there were numerous acts put in place over the years that aimed to prevent corporate encroachment of environmental guidelines. The most relevant of these acts is the  National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which enacted rigorous procedural requirements on companies with regards to their plans and the impacts of their projects on the environment. Due to the tolls that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the global economy as well as the rise in domestic unemployment, however, President Trump decided to remove various rigorous requirements of NEPA, along with other acts such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. In essence, the elimination of key components of these environmental laws now allows companies to easily and legally circumvent vital prerequisites. Trump explained the necessity of this action in his official executive order: “Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency”. Fossil fuel companies and other developers have long been complaining about the many regulations of the environmental acts and were largely in favor of the president’s decision. Anne Bradbury, chief executive of the American Exploration and Production Council, stated “These reforms help to avoid federal rules that could otherwise hurt American workers, businesses and our economy”.

While there was corporate support for Trump’s order, the opposition towards the policy was much more overwhelming. Citizens and activists alike were angered at the seemingly unjust act that allowed for increased environmental damage – Gina McCarthy, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, explained, “Instead of trying to ease the pain of a nation in crisis, President Trump is focused on easing the pain of polluters”. Additionally, many were concerned about the health impacts of the president’s order. Historically, the numerous environmental acts have tended to reduce emissions of deadly pollutants, known as PM 2.5. However, the weakening of these acts will undoubtedly increase the presence of these hazardous pollutants; this is especially alarming today, as a study done by researchers at Harvard revealed that even “a small increase in long-term exposure to PM 2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate”. Regarding race, a 2018 study by the American Public Health Association revealed that “those in poverty had 1.35 times the exposure to PM 2.5 than others”, and African Americans specifically faced 1.54 times the amount of PM 2.5 than the rest of the population, on average. U.S. House Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva responded to the order, explaining that “President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community. Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them”. Senator Chuck Schumer agreed, stating “By signing this executive order, Donald Trump is muzzling the voice of environmental justice communities, and continues to make clear his total disregard for those speaking out and fighting for racial justice and a sustainable environment”.

Trump Administration Denies Limitations on Downwind Pollution in States Affected by COVID-19

By Kunaal and Arun

Despite their ongoing battle with COVID-19, New York and New Jersey, among other states, appeared in Washington D.C. to argue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrongfully denied their petitions to place emission controls on several power plants. The regulations would aim to limit pollution affecting downwind states. While the states petitioned for stronger regulations on power plants, the EPA argued that they were in the right to deny the petition, stating that any findings that link greenhouse gas emissions to COVID-19 deaths don’t justify stronger regulation.

According to the EPA, The “Good Neighbor” Provision “requires EPA and states to address interstate transport of air pollution that affects downwind states’ ability to attain and maintain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). New York’s petition aims to implement limits on 350 different power plants, which are industrial sources of nitrogen oxides. The EPA cites that “Tropospheric, or ground-level ozone… is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).” Tropospheric ozone is harmful to people and can worsen chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma.

COVID-19 is especially detrimental to certain groups, including those with chronic respiratory illness. A Harvard study in April “looked at more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area.” With the findings “that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate” they concluded by emphasizing the “importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

These states now are restricted in their response to the pandemic. State governors are expressing frustration with the EPA over denying reforms that are seemingly obvious. With the effort to “flatten the curve” in the United States, experts and governors alike agree that the EPA isn’t helping the cause.

The decision made by the EPA is in accordance with their other rulings regarding mercury emissions and clean water. Because COVID-19 is worse with respiratory illnesses, the EPA is under heavy criticism from their decisions, commonly citing insufficient evidence and non-justifiable cause as backing for their decisions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA has been under heavy fire, making decisions that have shocked the American public. With the future of the pandemic unknown, only time will tell what the repercussions of these decisions will be.

Trump Administration’s EPA Sued by States due to Waiving Pollution and other Water Regulations

By Ritvik Dutta

Shortly after announcing that COVID-19 is the direct cause of their loosening of strict law enforcement, the EPA received major backlash from many environmental agencies and organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, who petitioned to require all companies to document and disclose when they stop checking their own water and carbon emissions and usage publicly. So far, the EPA has failed to answer these calls to action. 

Instead, Trump’s EPA has continued to hold onto its belief that restrictions on largely fossil-fuel dependent industries are unnecessary. In his willingness to undo all of Obama’s reforms, President Trump has elected to keep all air pollution standards untouched even with multiple studies suggesting that the increase of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) actually increases the transmission rate of the SARS-CoV-2 strain. Given the current situation, many people like Sally Hardin were outraged. Hardin wrote, “At a time when the Trump administration should be doing everything in its power to save American lives, it is instead putting more and more of them at risk through reckless rollbacks of clean air protections.” This governmental obstinacy has been relatively under the radar, with Trump sneaking all of his changes throughout this quarantine period. 

However, some states have had enough of this governmental intransigence. New York and New Jersey have already sought out legal action to solve their issues related to downwind air pollution. These issues were first introduced when the EPA refused to mandate emission controls on the 350 power plants bordering New York and New Jersey, the states that were most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When brought to court, EPA administrators tried to defend their organization, arguing that the multiple studies that corroborate that air pollution is linked to the spread of the coronavirus do not warrant tougher regulations. 

New Jersey has been seen to frequent legal battles with the EPA, with this case being the second in the month of May. The other case was brought up due to the EPA’s exemption of many bodies of water from the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule”, which was enacted by the Obama administration. New Jersey, along with California, New York, and fourteen other states and two major American cities, compiled a 29-page lawsuit suing the EPA due to their dependence on the affected bodies of water for resources. In response, an EPA spokesperson said the agency and Department of the Army “believe that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will stand the test of time […] [and that] Congress, in the Clean Water Act, explicitly directed the Agencies to protect ‘navigable waters.’ The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates these waters and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them.” 

Whether or not the efforts of these states prove useful is yet to be seen. 

Shutdown of the Indian Economy due to COVID-19 Causes Drastic Environmental Changes

By Saarang Kashyap

While the shutdown of the Indian economy was designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, it has also had a positive impact on the environment and health of Indian citizens. The lockdown order shut down offices, schools, movie theaters, malls, markets, and “non-essential” service providers. All modes of public transport, such as metro trains, buses, inter-state trains, and domestic and international flights for civilian movement have also been stopped, according to Quartz.

Since the March 25th lockdown that forced around 1.3 billion Indians into their houses, the air quality in New Delhi has dropped to “satisfactory levels.” Jordan Davidson, from EcoWatch, stated that on March 20, the air had an unhealthy 91 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. On March 27, few days into the lockdown, that level fell to 26 micrograms per cubic meter. CNN reported that according to the World HealthOrganization, anything above 25 is considered unsafe. Recently, as construction, transport, and factories have come to a halt, Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has fallen below 20, a huge improvement in the air quality of one of India’s most polluted cities.

Wildlife abundance has also increased during this halt in Indian economics. Due to reduced pollution in the water, South Asian River Dolphins have been spotted again in the Ganges after 30 years. Tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Navi Mumbai, a profound change in migration in comparison to previous years. The Ganga is finally fit for drinking in Haridwar after chlorination, as the drainage of industrial waste into the river has stopped, bringing a significant change in the quality of the water.

So how can India’s economy sustain this unprecedented recession while remaining environmentally friendly?

Investing in sustainable infrastructure may be the answer. Data from the 2008-09 financial crisis show that South Korea, which directed nearly 70% of its stimulus towards green measures, rebounded faster than other economies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). India should increase its backing behind renewable energy, particularly solar power that can help spread critical services in remote regions. Similarly, increasing electrification and public transport after COVID-19 will be critically important to reduce air pollution.

Pakistan Prime Minister Reveals Plan to Employ The Jobless To Plant Billions of Trees Amid Lockdown

By Daanyal Raja

To combat the coronavirus, several countries have issued lockdown orders. Unfortunately, these orders have negatively impacted millions of families by leaving them with no source of income and by wrecking the economy, making it difficult to find a job. For example, Pakistan, a nation that has had its economy grind to a halt because of the virus, projects that up to 19 million people in the workforce could lose their jobs. However, the nation has decided to employ those without jobs in positions as tree planters in order to combat climate change.

Pakistan is one of the countries that is heavily impacted by climate change. The country was recently ranked fifth most affected country by climate heating over the last 20 years by the Global Climate Risk index, although it doesn’t have substantially high greenhouse gas emissions. The country has vast amounts of pollution and faces rising temperatures, droughts, and flooding every year, making its green stimulus plan a much-needed one. The plan was first introduced by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018 and will last 5 years. The monumental effort gives unemployed workers new jobs as “jungle workers” who will plant billions of trees across the country in order to better prepare the nation for the changes that it faces due to global warming. Each worker earns 500 rupees a day (3 USD) by planting trees, enough to live by. The workers have already started planting in a 15,000-acre space in the country’s capital city of Islamabad, as well as throughout many national forests.

Although it was initially put on hold due to the coronavirus, the prime minister granted an exemption and allowed the forestry agency to continue the program in order to help those who are struggling economically in these tough times. Over 63,000 jobs are projected to be created, with hopes for many more. This year, the forestry agency plans to triple the number of workers it hired in its first year by creating many new jobs in rural areas and also aiming to hire more women and unemployed workers. Being a country that is at the forefront of the effects of climate change with many unemployed people, Pakistan needs more workers now than ever before.

Trump’s Dangerous Suggestion to Combat Coronavirus Shut Down By Health Officials

By Saarang Kashyap

As coronavirus cases accumulate in the U.S., President Donald Trump has advocated for the use of disinfectants as a potential treatment for this deadly disease. This proposal was made shortly after Bill Bryan, a senior official at the US Department of Homeland Security, stated that studies demonstrate bleach’s ability to kill coronavirus in around 5 minutes. Trump subsequently commented in a White House briefing, “Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets on the lungs and does a tremendous number on the lungs.” Trump has since claimed that his remarks were mentioned in a sarcastic manner, but the message itself resonated with many Americans.

While this solution may seem beneficial on the surface, many scientists and health officials have strongly warned against the use of disinfectants to treat the novel coronavirus. “This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible, and it’s dangerous,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and global health policy expert who is an NBC News and MSNBC contributor. Among the voices warning strongly against ingesting disinfectant is the Environmental Protection Agency, part of Trump’s own administration. NPR states that in guidance issued Thursday, the EPA outlined what constitutes safe and effective use of disinfectants to combat the spread of the virus, along with this firm reminder: “Never apply the product to yourself or others. Do not ingest disinfectant products.”

In addition to disinfectant use, the possibility of using UV Light to combat coronavirus was also hinted at the White House Briefing. In response, the World Health Organization communicates that UV light lamps “should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin”.

So why are the ingestion of disinfectants and the exposure to UV light harmful?

Many disinfectants, such as household bleach, can cause severe internal organ damage and lung failure due to toxic vapors. UV light is known to be damaging to the skin and plays a key role in many skin cancers. To inform the public on the dangers of using these “treatments”, organizations such as the USDA, CDC, and the EPA have issued warnings and information regarding certain disinfectants/chemicals. They all communicate the same message: UV Light and disinfectants are great on surfaces, but dangerous if ingested.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Shows us how Unprepared we are to Face Climate Change

By Jalen Xing

As the past few weeks have been crucial for the novel coronavirus, we can see how the world, especially the United States, has responded to this pandemic. Modern life has been completely changed: schools, such as colleges and high school, are going online, many people are losing their jobs, and the stock market is crashing. Meanwhile, crowded hospitals have nurses without adequate protection who are serving on the front lines.

While the United States seems to be a very developed country, and one that would respond to disasters efficiently, the truth contradicts this assumption. “Instead, the Trump administration has repeatedly chosen to blindside its allies with the introduction of new limitations on trade and movement of peoples” (The Conversation). With the aggressive problem of climate change, the lack of a unified response will prove detrimental to the world. The novel coronavirus has given us an image of how the United States will respond to future disasters. “Experts note that climate-induced changes in the movement patterns of humans, animals, and pathogens will make viral outbreaks more common. Global reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak — from failures in social distancing to rising Sinophobia — show that the world is not prepared to deal with these new health crises (Columbia University)”

Already, 70 percent of our infections come from Zoonotic diseases (diseases from animals), but the transmission rates may begin to change due to climate change. As weather patterns continue to change, animals will begin migrating towards higher altitudes, putting them closer and closer to human contact. Many animals will begin to feel stress from these sudden changes in temperature, resulting in their immune system weakening. It will also become easier to transmit certain diseases that humans have never encountered before.

Similarly, deforestation will cause the migration of many animals from forests due to the destruction of homes, putting many humans at risk of contracting diseases from these displaced animals. As temperatures continue to increase, both animals and humans will have to move to higher altitudes with colder temperatures. The poorer population, who does not have the opportunity to move and is already in close contact with animals, will have the greatest number of infections. “The climate crisis is already expected to cause an additional quarter of a million deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress, with estimates of the direct annual costs of health damage alone ranging from $2-4 billion USD by 2030” (Columbia University).

Currently, even though Zoonotic diseases are not on the same scale as COVID-19, we should be wary of how they will continue to grow as a result of climate change, and we should be ready to take the necessary precautions using the info we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic.

New Research Shows Economies can Improve by Following Climate Commitments in Paris Agreement

By Anshul Dash

Based on new research, if countries continue to improve their commitments regarding climate change, they can improve their economies, which are being negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, if these countries decide not to meet the goals laid out by the Paris Agreement, then their economies will continue to go downhill in addition to more global heating.

According to a paper from Nature Communications, the global economy could lose as much as $600 trillion by the end of the century if countries do not meet goals from the Paris Agreement. Failure to meet these goals could result in an estimated rise in global temperatures of 3°C, which is more than the expected 1.5-2°C that the Paris Agreement decided as the “limit of safety.” International cooperation will lead to better outcomes for poor and vulnerable people since they are more susceptible to the effects of climate change.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many countries are under pressure to let go of current or previous climate change commitments. In addition, industries with high emissions (cars and airlines) are trying to weaken the influence of green emissions in order to lift the burden of its effects. Scientists have warned that doing this will only add on to future problems and can even result in a climate breakdown. This year, countries are supposed to come up with improved climate change plans and present them to UN climate change committees, who aim to keep the Paris Agreement intact and on track.

The only countries that have submitted their plans are Japan and Chile. While Chile acknowledged the need to step up climate action, the plan proposed by Japan showed no improvement. Current climate plans show the need of rich people due to the huge expense that these plans are proposing. Climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley stated that “budgets should be rebalanced to provide emergency finance and help poorer nations – it’s the fair and right thing to do. If we don’t pay now, this is the kind of bill that, like a person ignoring a credit card statement, will only multiply in time.”

If countries realize how the economy can benefit from curbing greenhouse gas emissions, governments will eventually acquiesce to act on the climate. However, many investments are required to meet these goals, and this could be a problem for developing countries without assistance. The amount would be about $5 trillion to $33 trillion for the US, and $16 trillion to $105 trillion for G20 countries combined.

Early and immediate action is required to minimize the emission gap. However, this requires many investments in the short term. But these investments won’t become a problem if countries work together to solve the issue of climate change. The result of this would be a stronger economy forged by the ties between many countries fighting for a global cause.