Two Colleges In Pennsylvania Reach Carbon Neutral Goals

Two colleges in Pennsylvania, Allegheny College and Dickinson College, have reached their goals to become completely carbon neutral. In 2008, both colleges were emitting nearly 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air of the fifth largest carbon dioxide emitting state in the country. To achieve their carbon neutral goals, each college took to implementing new systems such as planting trees, using renewable energy credits, using student engaged challenges, and more. The two colleges explained that the entirety of their goal was not to become completely carbon neutral, but rather establish an environment that encourages the community to partake in sustainable practices. Read More.

Homepage News Archive

Staying Home Isn’t Safe When Surrounded by Pollution

I look out my window every day and see that plant putting out black smoke, dark clouds of smoke. And now we’ve got this virus going on. I joke we’ve got a double whammy going on, but this is serious. We were in battle over here. We’ve got a war going on. Keisha Bowns interview with Katherine Webb-Hehn a freelance multimedia journalist in the South.

Backyard Talk News Archive

Stand Up Fight Back! Protect the most Vulnerable Communities

Do you have friends or family members who live in a vulnerability zone? Check out the map below.

The first map looks at high risk facilities across the U.S. These high risk communities are especially important now that Trump’s EPA is no longer requiring monitoring and will not take enforcement actions.

dangerous facilities near residential neighborhoods.Across the United States, almost 12,500 high-risk chemical facilities place 39% of the U.S. population, 124 million people, who live within three miles of these facilities at constant risk of chemical disaster. The full vulnerability zones for these industrial and commercial sites can extend up to twenty five miles in radius.  You can click on the link below to see if your community is at risk.
Whether you live in these areas or not CHEJ could use your help signing and circulating this petition.  The petition is demanding that President Trump revokes EPA’s decision to not enforce environmental laws and regulations and allow dangerous industries to operate without monitoring what they are putting into the air. Allowing polluters to spew more toxins will exacerbate the suffering and death toll from pollution and COVID19. This is a cruel, cynical, and unneeded attempt to put polluter profits before public health. We have to fight back.
Those dots on the first map and the dark purple areas on the second represent the type of communities CHEJ works with. Our No More Sacrifice Zones Campaign is about reducing the toxic pollution in air of vulnerable communities. We need your support to gain the people power we need to create the policy changes we need to protect innocent families. Join our No More Sacrifice Zones campaign to create a solution from the bottom up.


The first southern state with carbon-free energy goals

Virginia has become the first southern state to establish carbon-free energy goals by the year 2045. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into action the Virginia Clean Economy Act that will require such utility powerhouses as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to transition to carbon free operations. Read More.
The following article is reprinted on our webpage from the Washington Post written by Gregory S. Schneider.
Virginia becomes the first Southern state with a goal of carbon-free energy
By Gregory S. Schneider
April 13, 2020 at 9:26 p.m. EDT
RICHMOND — The coronavirus is scrambling Virginia’s budget and economy, but it didn’t prevent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) from signing legislation that makes it the first Southern state with a goal of going carbon-free by 2045.
Over the weekend, Northam authorized the omnibus Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates that the state’s biggest utility, Dominion Energy, switch to renewable energy by 2045. Appalachian Power, which serves far southwest Virginia, must go carbon-free by 2050.
Almost all the state’s coal plants will have to shut down by the end of 2024 under the new law. Virginia is the first state in the old Confederacy to embrace such clean-energy targets.
Under a separate measure, Virginia also becomes the most Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a carbon cap-and-trade market among states in the Northeast.
The actions “will create thousands of clean energy jobs, make major progress on fighting climate change, and break Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels,” state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), a sponsor of the omnibus bill, said in an emailed statement.
Democrats promised to do more to protect the environment during elections last fall in which they won control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation.
They used their new power to pass a mountain of ambitious legislation in this year’s General Assembly session, and Northam had until midnight this past Saturday to sign bills into law, suggest amendments or veto them. He proposed delaying some actions — such as raising the state’s minimum wage — and freezing all new spending in anticipation of the impact of the pandemic, which is likely to cost the state about $3 billion over the next two years.
But Northam cast the energy legislation as an antidote, saying in a statement that it would prove “that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.”
In addition to the clean-energy goals, the legislation sets energy efficiency standards for the state’s electricity providers, mandates the development of offshore wind energy and opens the door to more rooftop solar.
Some consumer advocates have criticized the legislation for continuing to allow Dominion Energy to pass costs along to customers and insulating the giant utility from regulatory oversight of its rates. Dominion is the most influential corporation in Richmond, and many of the Democrats who won last year had promised to disrupt the utility’s special status.
Although Dominion participated in crafting the legislation, it was not the driving force. Instead, a coalition of alternative-energy companies and advocacy groups worked with lawmakers on the idea.
Many environmental groups praised Northam for signing it.
“This is undoubtedly the boldest climate action legislation ever to come out of the South,” Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Will Cleveland said via email. “We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure the best possible implementation of this groundbreaking legislation and to ensure that this transformation of our energy landscape benefits all Virginians equally.”
Gary Moody, director of state and local climate strategy at the National Audubon Society, said that the legislation “shows the success of a pragmatic, market-based approach in achieving state economywide solutions.”
Plus, he said, it’s good for the birds. “Even in this time of uncertainty, both threatened communities and vulnerable birds like cerulean warblers and saltmarsh sparrows will have a fighting chance against climate change.”


Trump administration’s new rule on gas mileage standards

The Trump administration is set to finalize a rule that will weaken the federal government’s gas mileage standards for cars put in place during the Obama Administration. With the new rule, the cost of vehicles will be lowered and fuel prices will rise over the long term. It will also release over 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles over just five years.

The Administration claims that the new rule will decrease the number of car accidents and accident related deaths connected to older, less safe cars. By decreasing the price of cars, more people will be able to purchase new, more safe car models. It is predicted, however, that with the rule change more people will die from the increase in air pollution than from car accidents. Read More.

The following article is reprinted on our webpage from the Washington Post written by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis.

Trump promised his mileage standards would make cars cheaper and safer. New documents raise doubts about that.

By: Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis
March 30, 2020 at 8:03 p.m. EDT
The Trump administration is set as soon as Tuesday to undercut President Barack Obama’s most significant effort to combat climate change, finalizing a rule that would weaken the federal government’s gas mileage standards for the nation’s cars and pickup trucks, according to two federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the rule was not yet public.
The rule will require U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs to improve average fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent per year between model years 2021 and 2026, compared to a nearly 5 percent annual increase put in place under the Obama administration.
“They’re doing a rule to damage public health,” said Chester France, a former senior career official at the Environmental Protection Agency who helped oversee the Obama-era mileage standards and now works as a consultant for the Environmental Defense Fund. “In this crisis that we’re having, it’s unconscionable.”
Asked about the change, known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said in an email that she could not comment on specifics because it is still under review.
“This rule when finalized will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, making new vehicles more affordable for all Americans and save lives,” she said.
The revised mileage standards will affect drivers across the country, partly by lowering the sticker price of new vehicles but also by causing fuel costs to rise over the long term. It also would release an additional 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the air over five years, according to an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund — equivalent to the pollution released by 68 coal plants operating during that time.
The Trump administration has argued that forcing automakers to increase the fuel economy of their fleets to Obama-era standards would make new vehicles more expensive and encourage people to drive older, less safe cars and trucks. By contrast, the new rule — part of a joint effort between the Transportation Department and the EPA — estimates there will be fewer accident-related deaths over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2021 and 2029 as more people trade older cars for newer, safer ones.
However, the government’s own estimates say more Americans will die as a result of increased air pollution during that same period than if the existing standards remained in place, according to two people briefed on the rule who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not yet public.
This week’s finalization of the federal fuel-efficiency standards began nearly two years ago, when the Trump administration first proposed weakening the 2009 requirements. The Obama administration argued that higher fuel-efficiency standards would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.
The Trump administration’s move follows its attempt to revoke California’s long-standing ability to set its own, more stringent tailpipe standards — and have other states follow its lead. California, joined by nearly two dozen states, is suing the administration for the right to set its own fuel efficiency standards.
The new rule has also caused a rift within the auto industry, as a handful of companies have forged a deal with California to abide by tougher mileage standards, while other automakers have sided with the White House in the ongoing legal tug-of-war.
“The auto industry has consistently called for year-over-year fuel economy and [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][greenhouse gas] improvements,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance of Automotive Innovation, an industry group.
Still, he said, the standards developed a decade ago under the Obama administration made assumptions that “aren’t supported by the data today.” Fuel prices have remained low, and buyers have gravitated to SUVs and pickup trucks in far larger numbers than smaller, more efficient cars.
“The standards that were originally developed are no longer appropriate in light of shifting market conditions and consumer preferences,” Bozzella said.
The new mileage rule is just one in a suite of efforts officials are undertaking to ease environmental protections in the last months of President Trump’s first term, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Power companies don’t want the EPA to change this mercury pollution rule. It’s doing it anyway.
On Friday, for example, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management finalized an environmental analysis that marks a key step in building a private mining road through the wilds of Alaska.
The administration is pursuing other rollbacks, including increasing offshore drilling and altering a regulation that limited mercury and other pollutants from power plants. The White House has yet to finalize an overhaul of how it conducts environmental reviews of major federal decisions, as well as another effort to relax an Obama-era regulation on methane emissions.
Agencies within the Interior Department are moving ahead with plans to expand development on public land. While environmental groups have called on the government to cancel federal oil and gas auctions altogether — or at least extend comment periods for them — the Bureau of Land Management recently raised about $3.5 million by selling off the right to drill on a total of about 87,000 acres in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.
Administration officials have changed at least one policy on how the public can comment on rule changes during the pandemic.
BLM’s New Mexico office said last week it would allow those who oppose an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for May to submit formal complaints online, instead of by mail or in person.
On Thursday, the EPA issued a memo instructing petrochemical plants, power companies and other major industries that they could monitor their own pollution levels during the virus outbreak.
Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA’s enforcement division during Obama’s second term, said in an interview that the new memo failed to emphasize that facilities need to keep complying with existing pollution rules.
EPA spokeswoman Andrea Woods, however, said the new policy only states that companies will not be held liable “for routine compliance monitoring and reporting. It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.”
“During this extraordinary time, EPA believes that it is more important for facilities to ensure that their pollution control equipment remains up and running and the facilities are operating safely, than to carry out routine sampling and reporting,” she added. The agency added that the policy is “temporary and will be lifted as soon as normal operations can resume.”
The expected rollback this week of federal fuel-efficiency standards brought a wave of criticism from environmental advocates and vows of legal action on Monday, even before it was made official.
“In the middle of a national crisis, the Trump administration is moving forward with a legally flawed, environmentally damaging rollback that will unleash regulatory uncertainty and mire the automotive industry in more economic disarray,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
Even if the rule gives many automakers a measure of regulatory certainty for the moment, Bozzella said the industry is now awash in a moment of massive uncertainty due to the coronavirus.
“We’re facing a demand shock. People are not buying cars, understandably,” he said. “Frankly, the biggest uncertainty we’re facing right now is what will the industry look like? How long will this market uncertainty be with us?”
Dino Grandoni and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
Juliet Eilperin
Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post’s senior national affairs correspondent, covering the transformation of federal environmental policy. She’s authored two books, “Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks” and “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives.” She has worked for The Post since 1998. Follow
Brady Dennis
Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy. Dennis was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for a series of explanatory stories about the global financial crisis. Follow


How Climate Change Could Affect Affordable Housing Options

Residents of a Miami trailer park were shocked when a new landowner decided to increase monthly rent prices by nearly 50%. Residents fought back against the rent spike; however, a new concern is on the horizon. With rising sea levels, homeowners that reside on the coast may move more inland. As the land off the coast becomes more valuable, concerns rise for residents of some of the last remaining affordable housing options. Read More.

Backyard Talk

Shelter In Place Can Be Very Different Depending on Where You Live

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice team and I send our compassion, support and affection to those whose health and livelihoods may be affected by COVID-19. This is a worldwide crisis on a scale we have not seen in our lifetimes. We are thinking of you, your family, friends and neighbors.
As you know our team has always been about families, communities and people and at all times working on issues from the grassroots to the White House not the other way around. For the first time, the entire country now has a better understanding of the horrors of “sheltering in place.”  Hundreds of our member’s communities, maybe you live in one, have been told to shelter in place because of an explosion from a pipeline, refinery, chemical plant and other releases.
I feel safe in my home, even though I’m in the high risk age range. I am also grateful that I have a place to stay with food, water and clean air, until the public health crisis is over. I can work from home, hold virtual meetings, talk with my friends through the phone, Facebook or e-mail. As terrifying as this virus is I still feel safe, maybe I shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, safe is not how so many of communities CHEJ works with feel, when asked to shelter in place because of an environmental release or explosion. There are a number of reason for their fears.
–No one told them something was going to happen and they should seek safe shelter, stock up on food, water and toilet paper.
–There wasn’t days of news castors telling folks what scientists think the real dangers are, what health symptoms people should look out for or the speed of the poison touching communities as it moves across the world.
–No federal or state health agency was working around the clock to ensure everyone exposed would receive critical health care if needed, regardless of whether they’re insured.
I invite you to read or reread the article we reprinted on our web from the New York Times authored by Ana Parras a local activist in TX.
In Texas and across the country, the E.P.A.’s gutting of the Chemical Disaster Rule is a matter of life or death.
While families across the country celebrated Thanksgiving with their loved ones, more than 50,000 people in Port Neches, Tex., were forced to evacuate from their homes and spend the holiday in makeshift shelters. The reason? Two explosions at the Texas Petroleum Chemical plant sent flames into the sky, injured eight people, and released plumes of butadiene, a carcinogen, into the air.
The disaster erupted six days after the Trump administration gutted Obama-era regulations meant to improve safety at 12,000 chemical plants around the country.
It’s too soon to say whether these now abandoned rules would have made a difference in Port Neches. But there is no question that the communities that surround these thousands of plants are less safe now.
This regulatory rollback gives chemical plants across the country a free pass, in pursuit of greater profits, to operate in a way that endangers families and workers.
There are over 2,500 chemical facilities in the Houston area. Manchester, the neighborhood where Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services works, is among those most affected by this negligence. There are 30 chemical plants and waste sites in the Manchester area that report to the Environmental Protection Agency. When an explosion happens, nearby neighborhoods, mostly Latinx and people of color, are exposed to this toxicity.
And these toxic blasts are not infrequent. The last chemical explosion in Houston to garner national attention was in March at the Intercontinental Terminals Co., a few miles east of Manchester. This explosion led to high benzene levels in the air, school closures and community shelter-in-place orders for days: stay where you are, turn off air conditioning. Some advisories told people to put a plastic tarp over their windows, sealed with duct tape, to prevent air from coming in.
Federal regulations were supposed to protect us. For years, organizations like United Steelworkers, Greenpeace and dozens of other community and environmental organizations pressured the E.P.A. to make chemical disaster prevention a priority.
The turning point happened in 2013 when an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., 200 miles northwest of Houston, killed 15 people and injured over 260.
Later that year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling on federal agencies to create a task force. What emerged was the Chemical Disaster Rule, a proposal to improve plant safety and protect surrounding communities, which the former E.P.A. administrator Gina McCarthy approved one month before President Trump took office.
Two months later, the Trump administration blocked the regulations from taking effect, and now the E.P.A. has released a final rule that eviscerates the Obama-era requirements. The agency rescinded major accident prevention provisions, including requirements to consider safer technology, audits of accidents by outside parties and “root cause” analyses of accidents.
While Texas has the largest number of chemical facilities in the country, Illinois, California, Iowa and Louisiana are riddled with them, too. As The Houston Chronicle has documented, no state is spared from having at least one facility that could have toxic or flammable chemical accidents with consequences that extend beyond the site.
The E.P.A. calls these communities — areas that could be affected by a release from a chemical accident — “vulnerable zones.” One in three children in America attends a school in a vulnerable zone. This means that over 19 million children are at risk of exposure to the harmful chemicals that these plants use, store and can emit when they produce plastics, pesticides, adhesives and other products.
Our neighborhoods in Houston are a case in point. The oil and gas facilities and chemical plants along the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel have turned the air in Harris County into a public health hazard, significantly increasing the likelihood of residents’ developing cancer and respiratory problems — and shortening the lives of children. Children living near the Houston Ship Channel are 56 percent more likely to develop leukemia than those who live more than 10 miles away.
To me this issue is personal. Yes, explosions from chemical facilities can be deadly. But the long-term impact of exposure to toxic chemicals also kills. In 2016, I was found to have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a rare autoimmune system disorder that arises from breathing in dust or toxins repeatedly. The doctors blamed indoor air, but I am convinced that exposure to chemicals in Houston led to my condition. In this town, there’s little distinction between the air indoors and what’s outside.
When traveling — I am now at the U.N. Climate talks in Madrid — I bring a portable oxygen machine in case I need it. I am unable to walk long distances, and I move slowly because of my shortness of breath. Public speaking is difficult, as is any exertion. My life expectancy is not long (10 years, one doctor told me). I hope it is more.
In my family, lung diseases are the norm. My diagnosis came the same year that my father, Gregorio V. García, died of lung cancer at 79. He worked in the Asarco Refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex., and was a member of United Steelworkers for 30 years. Workers in these refineries are the first exposed to toxic substances. Many, like him, have died of cancer.
Plants like the nearby Valero facility emit a slew of poisonous chemicals like benzene and hydrogen cyanide into our neighborhoods. Far too often, they fail to meet Clean Air Act requirements.
During Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, I felt what it was like to breathe in a concentrated amount of toxic air. On the day of the worst flooding, my husband and I drove his pickup truck into Manchester to document what was happening at the Valero refinery. We saw water running from Valero into Hartman Park, where children gather to play baseball and soccer, and down the streets we knew well. As we drove, we had to cover our nose and mouth with our hands. My lips turned numb. The odor was so strong that it made me nauseated.
Three days later we found out that we had driven into one of the largest benzene spills. Benzene is clear, colorless and flammable. To date, this spill has not been adequately addressed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In Houston, we struggle to get chemical facilities to follow the law. We ask our state to protect us from chemicals that no one should breathe. Now the federal government is ending safeguards that the E.P.A. only a few years ago said the industry needed to protect the lives of workers, emergency medical workers and communities like mine.
My life should not be a pawn for leveraging industry profits. Nor should those of my neighbors and their children. Families and workers in these neighborhoods deserve to be safe.
As disasters continue to happen, we — those most affected, those who breathe and live and play in toxicity — condemn the E.P.A.’s decision to repeal the Chemical Disaster Rule. We are denied basic health protections simply because the industry does not want to invest in our safety.
Families and workers across the country should not have to pay the ultimate cost of this administration’s refusal to do its job: our lives.
Ana Parras is a co-executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (@tejasbarrios).


Is Climate Change Making Shellfish Toxic?

The Alaskan Alutiiq, an indigenous tribe residing on the Alaskan coast, has long relied on shellfish for food. Recent instances have found that some shellfish has become contaminated by a natural occurring poison that can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning. This reactive condition could become more frequent as water temperatures rise and toxin production increases. Read More. 


Report Released on Impacts of Fracking in Appalachian Basin

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University and Stanford University released a comprehensive study on the impacts of fracking in the Appalachian Basin. The study focused on premature deaths in relation to air quality, regional climate changes and employment opportunities from industry expansion. Read More. 


Report on the health and safety of children

The Union of Concerned Scientist has released a report and storybook on the impact of current regulation rollbacks on the health and safety of children. A decrease in science-based research within the legislative process has put children at greater risk from exposure to toxic chemicals, including PFAS, lead, pesticides, asbestos and more.
Endangering Children Report
Breathe in the Smog, Drink the Lead Storybook
Protecting Children’s Health and Safety Resource Guide