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Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA’s ‘secret science’ rule

A federal judge in Montana late Wednesday ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to fast-track a controversial rule about how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers scientific evidence, endangering its future under the Biden administration.
The Trump EPA had characterized the rule, which would restrict the use of studies that don’t make their underlying data publicly available, as procedural, allowing it to go into effect immediately.
Judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, disagreed, determining that the rule was substantive and ordering that it can’t go into effect until Feb. 5.
Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Asbestos At The Mill And In The Black Neighborhood Around It

An estimated 2,200 tons of asbestos are buried in a mound behind the five-acre former Carolina Asbestos Company in downtown Davidson. It’s the leftover byproduct of the company that made shingles, automotive brake linings and other asbestos products from 1930 to about 1970.
While the factory was up and running, sometimes asbestos floated in the air into surrounding yards. Over the years, it also ran onto neighborhood streets and into a stream downhill from the factory. And some was moved around town intentionally — carried from the mill to fill in people’s yards and driveways. Longtime resident Marvin Brandon knows that firsthand.
“They could go over and get the asbestos, put it in the trunk of the car, bring it home, spread it out on their driveways and crush it up, just break it up, or drive over it to break it up. Because I remember my dad doing it several times,” Brandon said.
Asbestos also may have been used to help fill in what’s now the town-owned Roosevelt Wilson Park, off Griffith Street. Sections of the park these days are surrounded by orange fencing and warning signs while the town awaits an EPA cleanup.
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Photo Credit: David Boraks/WFAE

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Newark and New Jersey officials reach settlement in yearslong lawsuit over lead contamination of city drinking water

The city of Newark, New Jersey, resolved yearslong litigation Tuesday in connection to its water crisis, in which city drinking water was contaminated with illegally high levels of lead.

Officials from the city and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) reached an agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Newark Education Workers Caucus, which sued city and state officials in June 2018 for ongoing violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, including their failure to address the lead crisis on a timely basis.
A New Jersey federal judge signed an order Tuesday approving the settlement.
Around the time the lawsuit was filed, quality reports published by the city found drinking water in parts of Newark to be unsafe for 18 months. In 2018, according to the city’s water quality report, lead levels at several sites were above 47 parts per billion; federal EPA guidelines say lead levels should fall below 15 parts per billion.
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Photo Credit: CNN
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Biden to place environmental justice at center of sweeping climate plan

President Biden made tackling America’s persistent racial and economic disparities a central part of his plan to combat climate change Wednesday, prioritizing environmental justice for the first time in a generation.

As part of an unprecedented push to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and create new jobs as the United States shifts toward cleaner energy, Biden directed agencies across the federal government to invest in low-income and minority communities that have traditionally borne the brunt of pollution.

“Lifting up these communities makes us all stronger as a nation and increases the health of everybody,” Biden said.

Biden signed an executive order establishing a White House interagency council on environmental justice, create an office of health and climate equity at the Health and Human Services Department, and form a separate environmental justice office at the Justice Department. The order also directs the government to spend 40 percent of its sustainability investments on disadvantaged communities.

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Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/AP

Backyard Talk

Inequity in the Distribution of Covid-19 Vaccine

Everyone’s talking about the Covid-19 vaccine these days – who gets it first; how will it be distributed; is there enough; where do I sign up; and so much more. While it’s still early in the rollout, it’s already become clear that African Americans and Latinos, who have been hit the hardest by the Corona virus and Covid-19, are getting vaccinated at disproportionately low rates. The early data (though limited by many factors including poor data on who is being vaccinated) indicates that vaccinations are not reaching the populations the virus has harmed most and that Black and Brown people are getting vaccinated at a much lower rate than their share of cases and deaths.
In Maryland, only about 16% of the first doses of the vaccine have gone to African Americans, and 4.6% have gone to Latinos. Those groups represent 31% and 11% of the population, respectively. Black residents have accounted for approximately 33% of Maryland’s coronavirus cases and 35% of deaths from the disease; Latino residents account for 19% of infections and 9% of fatalities. In New York City, about 5% of those vaccinated are Latino or African American, but these groups make up 29% and 24% of the city’s population, respectively. In Philadelphia, 12% of those vaccinated were Black while the city’s population is about 44% Black.
These results are consistent with a report released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation that evaluated race and ethnicity data on vaccinations for 17 states obtained from the federal government. Kaiser found that “the share of vaccinations among Black people is smaller than their share of cases in all 16 reporting states and smaller than their share of deaths in 15 states. For example, in Mississippi, Black people account for 15% of vaccinations, compared to 38% of cases and 42% of deaths, and, in Delaware, 8% of vaccinations have been received by Black people, while they make up nearly a quarter of cases (24%) and deaths (23%). Similarly, Hispanic people account for a smaller share of vaccinations compared to their share of cases and deaths in most states reporting data. For example, in Nebraska, 4% of vaccinations are among Hispanic people, while they make up 23% of cases and 13% of deaths.”
Conversely, Kaiser found that “the share of vaccinations among White people is larger than their share of cases in 13 of the 16 reporting states and larger than their share of deaths in 9 states.” For example, in North Carolina, 82% of vaccinations have been among White people, while they make up 62% of cases and 65% of deaths.
These figures make it clear that the early rollout strategy is not adequately nor appropriately targeting those most susceptible and vulnerable to Covid-19. It is early and much has been said about the logistics difficulties in getting the vaccine into the arms of the people who need it most. But it does seem apparent if not obvious that the rollout strategy for the distribution of the vaccine is not centered on equity – getting the vaccine into the arms of the people who have been infected the most and who are dying at the highest rate.

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Southwest Memphis landowners mount legal defense against oil pipeline’s use of eminent domain

A lawyer for two Southwest Memphis landowners is challenging eminent domain lawsuits filed by Byhalia Pipeline against his clients, asserting in court filings that the building of an oil pipeline through residential properties does not serve residents and is a threat to the water supply.

“There is no public purpose here for the citizens of Memphis,” said attorney Scott Crosby. “It is crude oil being taken from a plant across people’s yards, across people’s homes, across people’s property they’ve had for generations into Mississippi and connecting with another part of their pipeline. At no time is the crude oil going to stop in Memphis (or) be used in Memphis.”
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Photo Credit: Andrea Morales/MLK50

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How an environmental justice controversy sparked in Upper Darby

Although Betty Byrd Smith has been retired from disability advocacy since 2007, she will not let perceived injustices happen on her watch — even after a recent hip replacement.
Smith, who has lived in Lansdowne for more than 30 years, had created flyers and had led door-to-door petitioning, though not for quite some time.
However, a recent moment of “serendipity” during a walk to buy a newspaper at a local market changed all that: Smith saw a sign about at a special exception being sought for a solid waste management facility at 41 S. Union Ave. in Upper Darby Township — right across the street from her home.
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Photo Credit: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

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Hundreds Challenge Open Burning of PFAS by U.S. Army

Nearly 300 people – including representatives of 72 civic, environmental, veterans and health organizations from around the nation – have issued a joint statement <>  calling on state and federal regulators to prohibit open air burning of PFAS and other toxic chemicals at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee. The burning, which has been going on for decades, produces toxic smoke that often envelops neighboring homes in the city of Kingsport.
The letter follows a recent announcement <>  that U.S. EPA Region 4 and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation intend to re-issue a Title V (Clean Air Act) permit that will allow the Army to annually open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds of munitions wastes that may contain as much as 15% PFAS by weight.
“PFAS are not destroyed in an open fire and are therefore widely dispersed to the air and the surrounding environment where they accumulate in people, as well as fish, wildlife and food crops. At higher temperatures, poisonous hydrogen fluoride gas may be generated,” the commenters emphasized. “Hydrogen fluoride is a listed hazardous air pollutant subject to regulation by U.S. EPA and authorized states under the Clean Air Act, as are other air emissions from open burning at Holston.”
Exposure to PFAS has been shown to affect growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, injure the liver and increase risk for certain cancers.
For this reason, military sites like the Blue Grass Army Depot <>  in Kentucky are expressly prohibited from burning PFAS and dozens of other toxic wastes including pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, white and red phosphorus, and depleted uranium. Both the Blue Grass and Holston Army bases are located in EPA Region 4.
“We are adamant that Tennessee residents, workers and environment are afforded the same level of protection as their Kentucky neighbors,” the joint statement concludes.
The national effort was coordinated by Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger <>  – a grassroots organization that has been monitoring military cleanups for 30 years – in collaboration with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice <>  in Tennessee.
The U.S. Army at Holston Army Ammunition Plant has announced that it will be hosting an online (virtual) public meeting on Thursday, January 28, 2021 starting at 4:30 PM CST. For more information, visit Holston’s facebook page.
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The organizations emphasize that the submitted joint public comments are not to be construed as supporting ANY open burning at Holston – the public notice specifies that regulators are only accepting comment on proposed conditions and permit modifications and our comments are submitted in this specific context.
References for this action include 35 reports and scientific studies posted here <> .
For more information, contact:
Laura Olah, Executive Director, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger 608.643.3124
Mark Toohey, Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice (TN) 423.765.3947
Photo Credit: WCYB
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One-third of US rivers have changed color in recent decades, research finds

Rivers may seem like immutable features of the landscape but they are in fact changing color over time, a new study has found.
Researchers compiled a database of satellite images of major rivers in the United States from 1984 to 2018 and learned that about a third have significantly changed color in less than 40 years.
The overall significance of the changes are unclear and could reflect various ways in which humans are impacting the environment, said lead author John Gardner, an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh.
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Photo Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat

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South Dakota tribes applaud cancellation of Keystone XL Pipeline, Thune decries ‘bad decision’

Tribal leaders in South Dakota are applauding President Joe Biden’s day one move to halt the Keystone XL Pipeline at the country’s northern border, calling the action a willingness to listen to Native American voices.

Tribes in South Dakota have been opposed to and protesting the pipeline’s construction for more than a decade. Biden canceled its permit as part of a number of promises to address climate change.

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Photo Credit: Sue Ogrocki/AP