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Massive Louisiana plastics plant faces 2+ year delay for tougher environmental review

A new, more stringent review of the environmental impacts of a massive proposed plastics plant along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish will likely take more than two years.
Environmental groups are cheering that scrutiny, arguing it could provide a more realistic assessment of the environmental damage the plant would do to an area they say already bears a heavy burden of pollution. But some local government and business leaders are trying to rally support for a project that could create about 1,200 permanent jobs and pour millions of dollars into the local economy.
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Photo credit: David J. Mitchell/The Advocate

Backyard Talk

In COP26, Leaders Must Step Up to Fight Climate Change

By Jessica Klees, Communications Intern
Every year since 1995, delegations from many countries gather for the Conference of the Parties (COP). And now as world leaders from more than one hundred countries convene in Glasgow for COP26, it is more important than ever that nations work to heal our planet and combat climate change. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, “History will judge us on what we achieve over the next two weeks. We cannot let future generations down.” The eyes of the world turn to this group of people as we pray that they won’t abandon us, and our future.
The leaders who attended the G-20 summit over the weekend were accused by activists of not taking enough action. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said he left the summit “with my hopes unfulfilled.” He also believes it will be “very difficult” to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. 
The nations of the world have a great deal to do if they want to combat the climate crisis. According to CNBC, “To have any chance of capping global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the aspirational goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world needs to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next 8 years and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.” The UN has also found that out of the 191 countries taking part in the Paris Agreement, only 113 have improved their pledges for carbon reduction.
During the course of the conference, India pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. 100 countries each signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 and a pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. However, environmentalists were concerned that China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, did not introduce any new climate targets during the conference. In fact, Chinese President Xi Xinping did not attend the conference, and instead sent a written message to delegates.
Our future rests on the actions of these leaders, but there is still hope. Boris Johnson says he feels “cautiously optimistic” about the work being done at the conference, but there is still a “very long way to go.” He said, “The clock on the doomsday device is still ticking but we have a bomb disposal team on site – they are starting to cut wires.”
Photo credit: Andy Buchanan/Getty Images

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Portsmouth’s Haven well to supply water again, 7 years after PFAS contamination found

PORTSMOUTH – City officials have announced plans to bring the Haven well back online this week, seven years after it was shut down because of the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals in the water.

The city received permission from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services “for the reactivation of the Haven well,” after the upgraded Pease Water Treatment Facility – which was designed to remove PFAS from city water sources – became fully operational earlier this year.

DES said “laboratory results provided as part of the request (to bring the Haven well online) demonstrates the finished water quality while treating the Haven well is in compliance with current standards, including non-detect levels of PFAS.”

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Backyard Talk

Hazy Skies and Corporate Ties: We Must Put People Over Profits

By: Leija Helling, Community Organizing Intern
On Monday afternoon between Zoom meetings, I set out for a walk around my Boston neighborhood and opened the front door to a hazy sky. The air felt thick and smelled like a backyard barbecue. I stood in confusion for a moment, and then in disbelief: wildfire smoke.
News headlines confirmed that smoke from wildfires in the Western U.S. and Canada had taken the jet stream to the east coast and settled over major cities like Boston and New York. Never before had I seen the Boston city skyline blurred out, a reddish haze covering the athletic fields at my university campus, or a deep orange sun. Air quality alerts had been issued across the upper east coast, warning people to stay indoors, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory and cardiovascular health conditions. I’d been hearing horror stories about the unprecedented wildfire season tearing across Oregon, California, and British Columbia, but to see fires 3,000 miles away affecting air quality in my home city so significantly provoked new feelings of shock and urgency.
Folks on the west coast know intimately how intense, long-lasting, and dangerous wildfire seasons have become in recent years. But for western fires to cause the worst air quality New York City has seen in 15 years, to bring unhealthy PM2.5 levels to swaths of the east coast, highlights just how far the effects of corporate negligence and industry-fueled climate change reach. With extreme heat and dry conditions fueling fires that have already burned at least 1.3 million acres across 13 western states, it’s clearer now than ever that reactionary band-aid solutions won’t be enough. When PG&E, California’s largest power company, cuts costs by leaving flammable brush around their power lines, they start fires that wipe entire towns off the map. These are the consequences of corporate greed. And to fight, we must take power into our hands.
This spring and summer, the infrastructure plans debated by Congressional leaders have offered a glimmer of hope that, if we come together and make our voices heard, we can indeed hold big industries accountable for the harm they cause. For instance, President Biden’s infrastructure proposal includes measures to make sure polluters, not the public, pay to clean up toxic waste sites from industry. But the infrastructure negotiations have also demonstrated the massive obstacles we’re up against. Big industries, especially chemical, oil and gas, hold excessive amounts of power in our political process. As long as Senators’ votes can be bought by big oil, our system will allow corporations to keep putting people’s lives at risk for the sake of profit.
From worsening wildfires to the 40-year backlog of Superfund toxic waste sites, there are a whole lot of corporate messes worth getting mad about right now. Let’s channel that anger toward naming names, building local power, and calling on our elected leaders to fight for the people they’re supposed to represent. Right now, I’m fighting to #MakePollutersPay alongside people across the country who live, breathe, and raise families while industry’s toxic dumps sit in their backyards. It’s about time to start holding polluters accountable for their actions.
Photo Credit: Gary Hershorn/Getty

Homepage News Archive

Why the air quality in Philly might be worse than we know

A recent report by the American Lung Association ranked the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area among the top 25 most polluted in the United States in terms of two of the most common, and dangerous, ambient air pollutants measured nationally. But experts say the ranking doesn’t tell the whole story of how air quality affects those in the region.
The Lung Association’s 22nd annual “State of the Air” report, released in mid-April, is based on data gathered from 2017 to 2019 and focuses on two of the six major air pollutants originally identified by the Clean Air Act of 1970. The four-state, 16-county Philadelphia metro area ranked as the 17th most polluted in the nation for its year-round average levels of fine particle pollution (sometimes called soot pollution) and as the 21st most polluted for days with high levels of ozone smog.
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Photo Credit: Cris Barrish/WHYY

Backyard Talk

Communication for the Community

By: Judith Eppele, Community Organizing Intern
Growing up in a household with divorced parents, I quickly realized how important communication was for creating and sustaining strong relationships. This notion is the backbone of CHEJ, of which I’ve experienced firsthand through my time as an intern. Since I’m a community organizing intern specifically, I’ve found that having good communication with the different community groups we work with is incredibly important. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that maintaining this good communication is one of the most important parts of organizing. Though I haven’t been with CHEJ for that long–I’m coming up on my three month mark soon–I’ve been able to see this in action through helping out with the Unequal Response Unequal Protection campaign.
If you haven’t checked it out already, Unequal Response Unequal Protection is all about developing a framework to conduct health investigations for toxic chemicals. But the root of this campaign is the emphasis of it being community-driven. This is seen in the Operating Principles of the campaign, wherein the community leaders are involved throughout the entirety of the process in order to create the most effective and personalized response possible. When I first read this, I was a bit surprised, but in the best way possible. I’m an Environmental Science and Management major and so have taken some environmental policy classes, though usually there is more of an emphasis on what the government should/shouldn’t do or has/hasn’t done in respect to making change happen, as opposed to the role of community members and grassroots level organizing. I’d really only seen community members having the ability to be involved in policy making processes through a public comment period, though this doesn’t guarantee that the comments will actually be taken into consideration as the policy moves forward. On top of this, the public comment period is usually pretty short, sometimes being only 30 days long! This never sat right with me, as shouldn’t it be clear to policy makers to have solid communication with the community members that live in the area that they’re trying to enact a policy in? Aren’t they who you’re trying to help? That’s why I found Unequal Response Unequal Protection so refreshing, as there is that prioritization of solid communication between community members, scientists, and activists in order to make the best chemical contamination response possible. In doing so, everyone can submit their comments, questions, and concerns at any time throughout the process and feel confident that they’ll be heard and respected.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge supporter of good and extensive communication. Without it, people and their experiences wouldn’t be accurately represented in decision-making processes, which could cause more problems than what was already there in the first place–and who wants that? While Unequal Response Unequal Protection and CHEJ in general are making waves in promoting communication, it’s definitely lacking in the greater world of policy making. While amending this may not be easy, it’s not impossible. Taking full advantage of any public comment period, setting up meetings with local policymakers, and reaching out to people outside of your community group in order to gain additional points of views on your issue are a few ways that you can take a stand in supporting the importance of communication. After all, many hands make light work, and the fight against toxic chemicals needs as many of these hands as possible.
Photo Credit: Liquid Planner

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Fractured: The stress of being surrounded

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa.—In the spring of 2019, after years worrying about exposures from a fracking well about a half mile from her grandkids’ school, Jane Worthington decided to move them to another school district.
Her granddaughter Lexy* had been sick on and off for years with mysterious symptoms, and Jane believed air pollution from the fracking well was to blame. She was embroiled in a legal battle aimed at stopping another well from being drilled near the school. She felt speaking out had turned the community against them.
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Photo Credit: Connor Mulvaney/Environmental Health News

Backyard Talk

Justice Through GIS

By: Benjamin Silver, Science and Technology Intern
I never imagined that a five-gigabyte software on my laptop could contain an approach to fighting environmental injustice. The keys lie somewhere between map frames and advanced geostatistical interpolations.
Before interning at CHEJ, I had an incomplete understanding of environmental justice. I pictured the field solely as activists and victims opposing corporate polluters. Although I understood that research supports these organizing efforts, I never considered methods that scientists adopt to evaluate ecological data. One of these methods is GIS (geographic information systems), a computer program designed to collect, analyze, and distribute spatial data. GIS specialists create maps to interpret data across various disciplines. When appropriate techniques are applied, GIS can help solve geographically-related problems.
One environmental application of GIS is its use to develop comprehensive disaster responses. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey ripped through Southern Texas, killing 68 people and causing over $120 billion in infrastructure damage. However, widespread GIS usage after the storm significantly decreased Harvey’s devastation. The International Association of Fire Chiefs used GIS in their search and rescue efforts to determine flooded regions with high concentrations of vulnerable populations. They prevented dozens of elderly, children, and disabled people from being stranded in their homes. Additionally, the Texas Division of Emergency Management mapped shelter locations with ArcMap, a GIS platform, and created a web application for tracking evacuees.
CHEJ has allowed me to learn and implement GIS into my work. In December, I began my first GIS project with the Brave Heart Society, a non-profit dedicated to preserving traditional elements of Dakota culture on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. I worked on the Mni Wizipan Wakan Project, which aims to create a long-term resource management plan for the Dakota tribe. My contribution of the project focused on vegetation, an integral component of Dakota lifestyle for their various tribal uses. The goal is to create an inventory of culturally-valuable plants along the Missouri River Basin. This information is important because soil erosion, agricultural runoff, and invasive species along the river have undermined biodiversity and decreased the abundance of healthy vegetation. Using Dakota ethnobotanical data, I created an interactive map of the bioregion with GIS. Viewers can click on species survey points on the map to learn about each location’s plants and their respective uses.
This project taught me that GIS is a useful tool. Like any tool, its value lies within the creative context the author invokes. While my map informs the Dakota where they can find various vegetation, it does not address the underlying sustainability question facing the Dakota: How can the tribe ensure their access to these plants for future generations? Therefore, I integrated the map into a presentation that incorporates broader themes of the project, including ethnobotany, environmental threats, and local conservation efforts along the river. My aim in designing this product was to create a useful resource in the Ihantonwan’s struggle for environmental justice. 
GIS is a groundbreaking technology with the power to transform the modern environmental justice movement. Maximizing GIS’s potential to combat issues hinges on engaging local communities by familiarizing them with the program and its benefits. Residents fighting contamination often feel helpless due to their lack of agency during testing and investigations. Empowering these communities with basic GIS education will provide a resource to better involve them in local environmental justice battles. Even if communities are not working with the data directly, viewing GIS-generated maps can foster citizen science participation around issues that impact their everyday lives. 
While GIS expands horizons for scientific advancement, we must remember that it is most valuable when harnessed to assist the people impacted by the environmental justice movement. Only then will mapping elements on the computer screen translate into meaningful social change.
Photo Credit: Huawei Enterprise

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The US ignored Louisiana’s ‘cancer alley’ for decades. Will Biden finally take action?

For five years I have fought against the polluters who have poisoned our community in Louisiana’s “cancer alley”, or as we call it now, “death alley”. And for decades our fight has been ignored by the US government.
This makes President Joe Biden’s decision to reference “cancer alley” earlier last week, as he signed new climate and environmental justice orders, a meaningful and great moment. But for me the distance between seeing Mr Biden address our problems directly, and anything actually coming to fruition, is a long gap. And I will have to wait to see some direct results.
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Photo Credit: Bryan Tarnowski/The Guardian