Showing posts with label Environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Environment. Show all posts

February 27, 2017

What Would Happen When GOP Abolishes the EPA? The Environment?

A GOP freshman congressman recently introduced a bill to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with more cosponsors than sentences in its text.

The entirety of Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-FL) proposal is one sentence. Following the boilerplate “Be it enacted," legislative language, it reads, simply, "The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

This is remarkably unserious lawmaking. That isn't just because eliminating the agency responsible for enforcing all the nation's environmental laws is an extremist proposal that would kill people if enacted. It’s because the bill would conflict with thousands of pages of other federal laws.

What would happen if you abolished the EPA but didn’t repeal environmental laws?

The EPA doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are detailed laws that have been revised many times over the decades, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act, that charge EPA with studying and determining what is a pollutant harmful to human health and then writing and enforcing regulations to protect the public from it.

What would happen if you abolished the EPA but didn't repeal those laws? Who knows? Apparently not Gaetz or his cosponsors Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), none of whom responded to a request for comment. (Another cosponsor, Rep. Barry Loudermilk [R-GA], had no answer and a full voice mail inbox at all of his offices.)

Neither do leading environmental policy experts. 
"I frankly haven't seen something like this in 30 years," says Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA official. "It just doesn't make sense. You have the Clean Water Act saying regulations need to be updated by EPA every five years. Obviously they haven’t thought about it."

One possible explanation for Gaetz’s internal incoherence is that while the EPA is a favorite punching bag for conservative activists and fossil fuel industry donors, the work it does is overwhelmingly popular among the general public.

Perhaps he wants credit from right-wing activists or donors for saying he will abolish the EPA but he doesn't want moderate Republican and independent voters to realize that would mean getting rid of environmental protections they support. (A serious bill to abolish agency would detail these implications by either repealing laws it implements or weakening them to eliminate the EPA’s enforcement responsibilities.)

A January Reuters/Ipsos poll found 61 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA preserved at the same size or expanded, versus 19 percent who said it should be weakened or eliminated. Inn a December Pew poll 59 percent of the people polled said stricter environmental regulations “are worth the cost."

If Gaetz and his co-sponsors hoped to please their base without drawing attention to what abolishing the EPA actually would mean, the plan backfired. Gaetz's office has been deluged with angry calls. "He's taken a lot of flak for this," says Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental research and advocacy group. “We've seen a lot of interest in this from the grassroots."

Fearing protests from the local Democratic Women's Club and environmental activists, Gaetz encouraged the Bikers for Trump to show up at his February 23 town hall meeting with constituents. The Bikers for Trump chapter leader, a friend of Gaetz's, had asked in a Facebook post that "all patriots in attendance to protect Congressman Gaetz from any potential disruption of his speech," adding, "don't forget your ammo." The event ended up being violence-free, featuring little more disruption than the heckling that has recently become the norm at Republican lawmakers' town halls.
Suppose Gaetz got his way, though, and the bill became law. Then what? Since Congress has never yet been so reckless as to abolish an agency with a one sentence law that says nothing about who will take over its enforcement responsibilities, there is really no precedent upon which to base any speculation.

In theory, if Congress did pass Gaetz’s bill, it could follow up by repealing all the environmental laws on the books or reassign its responsibility to other cabinet departments—although the latter possibility raises the question of what Gaetz's bill would accomplish to free chemical factories and coal-fired power plants from the oppressive regulatory yoke.

But if the federal government simply stopped enforcing, say, the Clean Air Act because it no longer had an agency to do it, it would be in violation of the law and subject to lawsuits by environmental and public health organizations.

And that sort of environmental degradation actually is likely to happen because of Gaetz and his ilk, regardless of his bill. While there aren't enough votes in Congress to repeal laws like the Clean Air Act, there are plenty for passing budgets that would scale back the scope of EPA's work.
If the federal government simply stopped enforcing the Clean Air Act it would be in violation of the law.

“Congress doesn't have the votes, we think, to make major damage to environment laws, but there is a serious likelihood that Republicans will gut the EPA budget, which will have same impact," says Slesinger.

The budget, unlike other bills, cannot be filibustered, so Republicans can pass it without any Democratic votes. And the GOP already has gradually cut EPA's spending by 20 percent since taking over Congress in 2011. As a result, the agency launched one-third fewer criminal investigations last year than it did in 2012. Meanwhile, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have proposed further cuts to domestic spending and Trump is already at work on repealing many Obama-era EPA regulations.

Republicans will do plenty to pollute the environment, but Gaetz’s bill won’t sully anything but the political debate.

January 2, 2017

Respected Republican Says Trump Brings Fear for the Environment’s Future

A leading US Republican says she fears for the future of her seven grandchildren with Donald Trump in the White House. 
Christine Todd Whitman, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W Bush, accused Mr Trump of ignoring compelling science.
And she warned that his threat to scrap climate protection policies puts the world's future at risk.
Trump supporters say rules on climate and energy are stifling business.
But Ms Todd Whitman says the US must find ways of promoting business without unduly harming the planet.  Details of Mr Trump's climate policy are not yet clear, but his team have talked about boosting coal, opening new oil pipelines, and allowing mining on public wilderness or drilling in the Arctic. 
On the political side, they have suggested quitting the global climate deal, scrapping President Obama's clean power plan, and dismantling the US energy department along with the EPA itself. 

Trump card

Ms Todd Whitman was interviewed on Trump's likely policies for a documentary - Climate Change: the Trump Card - which airs on BBC Radio 4 at 20:00 on Tuesday
She said: "I find it very worrisome that there seems to be a disdain for the science on protecting the environment.
"I worry terribly for the future of my family and families round the world because Mother Nature has never observed geopolitical boundaries and what one country does really does affect another country. 
"To walk away from something where you have 97% of scientists saying this is occurring and people have an impact on it … it's gotten to the point where we've got to try to slow it down if we're going to survive it."

A mechanized shovel loads coal from an 80-feet thick seam into a haul truck at Cloud Peak Energys Spring Creek mine near Decker, Montana, November 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionThe coal mining industry is hopeful that Trump's White House will support it

She argued that Mr Trump was betraying a Republican heritage of conservation. George Bush Snr signed the UN Framework Convention in Rio in 1992. Abraham Lincoln, she remarked, was the first president to protect public land and Richard Nixon established the EPA.
"Conservation is inherently conservative," she said. "I hope to be proven wrong by Mr Trump but you have so many multi-millionaires from the oil industry in his Cabinet.
"We want to have power and be energy independent but the problem is doing it in a balanced way to protect health and the environment. But from Trump's view it doesn't seem to enter the equation."

Cabinet questions

Mr Trump's picks for Cabinet posts have alarmed scientists. Several of them have cast doubt on climate science - although it is impossible to know exactly how they will act once in office.
The nominee for Energy Secretary is former Texas governor Rick Perry, who has in the past argued for the abolition of the department he is about to lead. 
The choice for head of the EPA is Scott Pruitt, who wants to scrap the clean power programme which underpins America's pledge to the UN to curb CO2 emissions.

Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, on 7 December 2016Image copyrightEPA
Image captionMr Pruitt has long been an opponent of the agency he will now lead

Mr Trump's pick for Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, head of oil giant Exxon Mobil, which is being investigated for allegedly misleading its shareholders over risks to the climate.
Supporters say the EPA has been exceeding its powers and needs to be reined in.
Nick Loris from the libertarian Heritage Foundation told BBC News: "Scott Pruitt has led the charge against an overly aggressive EPA - an agency that's run wild, rampantly, with excessive regulations that are devoid of any meaningful environmental benefit. 
"He wants to return environmental protection down to the state level where a lot of our environmental challenges can better be solved," he added.
But Ms Todd Whitman said she hoped the new administration did not prove to be as extreme as it appeared at first sight.
"Once he's in office, Pruitt will find it's a lot more complicated than they thought," she said. "Hopefully they'll be able to listen - and then start to moderate.
"Regulation can go too far and there probably are regulations that have outlived their usefulness and need to be cut back to a degree… but to throw it all out…"
The impact of Mr Trump on global climate policy is hard to predict. Immediately after the election result, China, the EU, the UK and Germany - along with many developing nations - reaffirmed their determination to stick to the deal agreed in Paris last year to curb emissions.

A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on 24 September 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania, USImage copyrightAP
Image captionEmissions from coal plants are just one part of a complex energy industry

At home, it is thought unlikely that Mr Trump will be able to make good his promise to resurrect the US coal industry because investors have turned away from coal towards gas and ever-cheaper renewables. 
But if Mr Trump succeeds in making US energy prices even cheaper (some analysis suggests they are already down to Chinese levels), other nations may feel pressure to compete on energy cost from their own heavy industries. 
And when governments next meet to fulfil their promise of ratcheting up what they all agree is an inadequate climate policy, the absence of the USA at the table could prove very disruptive.
But it's too soon to judge. China, for instance, may attempt to seize the moral high ground by stepping up its efforts to protect the climate - effectively taking over as world leader in the bid to protect the planet. That might not suit the future president.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

September 3, 2016

Millions of Dead Bees in a Nuked Looking Area After Zika Spraying

On Sunday morning, the South Carolina honey bees began to die in massive numbers.
Death came suddenly to Dorchester County, S.C. Stressed insects tried to flee their nests, only to surrender in little clumps at hive entrances. The dead worker bees littering the farms suggested that colony collapse disorder was not the culprit — in that odd phenomenon, workers vanish as though raptured, leaving a living queen and young bees behind.
Instead, the dead heaps signaled the killer was less mysterious, but no less devastating. The pattern matched acute pesticide poisoning. By one estimate, at a single apiary — Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, in Summerville — 46 hives died on the spot, totaling about 2.5 million bees.
Walking through the farm, one Summerville woman wrote on Facebook, was “like visiting a cemetery, pure sadness.” 
A Clemson University scientist collected soil samples from Flowertown on Tuesday, according to WCBD-TV, to further investigate the cause of death. But to the bee farmers, the reason is already clear. Their bees had been poisoned by Dorchester’s own insecticide efforts, casualties in the war on disease-carrying mosquitoes.
On Sunday morning, parts of Dorchester County were sprayed with Naled, a common insecticide that kills mosquitoes on contact. The United States began using Naled in 1959, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which notes that the chemical dissipates so quickly it is not a hazard to people. That said, human exposure to Naled during spraying “should not occur.”
In parts of South Carolina, trucks trailing pesticide clouds are not an unusual sight, thanks to a mosquito-control program that also includes destroying larvae. Given the current concerns of West Nile virus and Zika — there are several dozen cases of travel-related Zika in South Carolina, though the state health department reports no one has yet acquired the disease from a local mosquito bite — Dorchester decided to try something different Sunday.

The Zika virus, explained

Play Video3:07
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Zika virus and its spread across North and South America. (Daron Taylor, Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)
It marked a departure from Dorchester County’s usual ground-based efforts. For the first time, an airplane dispensed Naled in a fine mist, raining insect death from above between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Sunday. The county says it provided plenty of warning, spreading word about the pesticide plane via a newspaper announcement Friday and a Facebook post Saturday. Local beekeepers felt differently. 
“Had I known, I would have been camping on the steps doing whatever I had to do screaming, ‘No you can’t do this,'” beekeeper Juanita Stanley said in an interview with Charleston’s WCSC-TV. Stanley told the Charleston Post and Courier that the bees are her income, but she is more devastated by the loss of the bees than her honey.
The county acknowledged the bee deaths Tuesday. “Dorchester County is aware that some beekeepers in the area that was sprayed on Sunday lost their beehives,” Jason Ward, county administrator, said in a news release. He added, according to the Charleston Post and Courier, “I am not pleased that so many bees were killed.”

Planes spray pesticides aimed at mosquitos carrying Zika in Florida

Play Video1:02
Officials in Miami are hoping pesticides sprayed from the skies will be enough to kill the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus there. Florida health officials have identified 15 Zika cases spread by local mosquitoes. (Reuters)
Spraying Naled from the air is not unprecedented, particularly when covering areas that cannot be reached by truck. In a single year in Florida, more than 6 million acres were fumigated with the chemical, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency argued in January that the technique should be used to curb Zika in Puerto Rico. 
But the insect neurotoxin cannot discriminate between honey bees and bloodsuckers. A profile of the chemical in Cornell University’s pesticide database warned that “Naled is highly toxic to bees.”
Although the insecticide was known to kill bees, to South Carolina beekeepers spraying had not been as significant a concern as parasites, disease and other hive threats. As South Carolina Beekeepers Association President Larry Haigh told the Post and Courier in June 2015, many counties will spray at night, when honey bees do not forage for pollen. Plus, given sufficient warning, beekeepers will shield their hives and protect the bees’ food and water from contamination.
Sunday was different. Summerville resident Andrew Macke, who keeps bees as a hobby, wrote on Facebook that the hot weather left bees particularly exposed. Once temperatures exceed 90 degrees, bees may exit the nest to cool down in what is called a beard, clustering on the outside of the hive in a ball. Neither Macke nor Stanley had covered their hives.
And then came the plane. 
“They passed right over the trees three times,” Stanley said to ABC 4 News. After the plane left, the familiar buzzing stopped. The silence in its wake was like a morgue, she said.
As for the dead bees, as Stanley told the AP, her farm “looks like it’s been nuked.”
A Summerville resident started a petition calling for Dorchester County to halt aerial Naled spraying. It is unclear whether those who lost bees are pursuing other recourse. 
Update: Dorchester County administrator Jason Ward wrote to The Washington Post in a statement on Thursday, clarifying that the county sent out a press release at 9:15 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 26.
“The beekeepers that were on the county’s contact list that were in the zone to be sprayed were called with one exception. Mr. Scott Gaskins, who runs the Mosquito Control program, failed to call Mitch Yawn, Ms. Juanita Stanley’s business partner,” Ward said in the email.
“The second issue regarding beekeepers like Mr. Andrew Macke revolves around the fact that the county did not have these locations on its list. However, we have reached out to the Lowcountry Beekeepers Association and they provided us with the names and locations for other beekeepers in Dorchester County.” 
“They passed right over the trees three times,” Stanley said to ABC 4 News. After the plane left, the familiar buzzing stopped. The silence in its wake was like a morgue, she said.
As for the dead bees, as Stanley told the AP, her farm “looks like it’s been nuked.”
A Summerville resident started a petition calling for Dorchester County to halt aerial Naled spraying. It is unclear whether those who lost bees are pursuing other recourse.
Update: Dorchester County administrator Jason Ward wrote to The Washington Post in a statement on Thursday, clarifying that the county sent out a press release at 9:15 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 26.
“The beekeepers that were on the county’s contact list that were in the zone to be sprayed were called with one exception. Mr. Scott Gaskins, who runs the Mosquito Control program, failed to call Mitch Yawn, Ms. Juanita Stanley’s business partner,” Ward said in the email.
“The second issue regarding beekeepers like Mr. Andrew Macke revolves around the fact that the county did not have these locations on its list. However, we have reached out to the Lowcountry Beekeepers Association and they provided us with the names and locations for other beekeepers in Dorchester County.”

How the Zika virus affects an infant's brain

Play Video1:38
Doctors confirmed the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in April. While the most visible sign of microcephaly is the small size of the head, its actually inside the brain where the most damage occurs.
 (Whitney Leaming, Julio Negron/The Washington Post) 

April 22, 2016

Earth day Today: Where are the CO2 Emissions?


March 12, 2016

Award Winner Environmentalist Joins the Murdered Roles in Honduras


 Oakland, Calif. — It was always a relief to see my aunt Berta, whom we affectionately called Bertita. Not just because of the constant threats to her life, but because she was a “rayo de luna” — a ray of moonlight — in any situation. 

On March 3, shortly after midnight, unidentified gunmen stormed into the house where she was staying in La Esperanza, Honduras, and killed her. Berta Cáceres was a human rights and environmental activist who was playing a leading role in opposing a dam project that would force an indigenous community to abandon its ancestral homes and their livelihoods.

She was just one more victim in the continuing war against activists in Honduras.

The London-based human rights organization Global Witness has reported that at least 109 environmental activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2015. Scores of journalists, human rights defenders, union leaders, L.G.B.T. rights activists, legal professionals and political activists have also been murdered over the last few years. A vast majority of these killings remain unsolved.

For a decade, Bertita and the organization she co-founded, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, had been fighting against construction of the Agua Zarca Dam across the Gualcarque River. It sits on land considered sacred by the Lenca, an indigenous people, to which Bertita belonged through her father. The Lenca said the project, for which the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. received a concession and which has been financed by the Dutch development bank FMO, has proceeded even though the Lenca were not consulted, as required by international law.

Rather than provide protection to council members, the Honduran security forces and judicial authorities have been part and parcel of the campaign of attacks and intimidation against the organization. Since 2013, according to Global Witness, three other members of the group have been killed, including one shot by a soldier as he peacefully protested the project. Bertita received frequent death threats, was detained by the police and faced trumped-up charges in court.

The attacks and threats only strengthened her resolve.

But Bertita was also a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and grandmother — she leaves behind four adult children and a grandson. As her children grew, she found it necessary to send three of them abroad for their secondary and college educations, so they could feel safe from the threats she faced.

During my frequent visits as a child to Honduras and our large extended family, Bertita and I — she was only two years my elder — would chase each other and our cousins around the garden playing hide-and-seek, or play soccer in the dirt patches, always being careful not to crush my grandmother’s red roses.

In July 2009, I went to Honduras as a producer for an international news network. It was the day after a coup by the Honduran military, business elites and right-wing political opposition removed the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, from office. Army troops whisked him away to Costa Rica in his pajamas.
Bertita had been working with indigenous groups on education and rights issues with Mr. Zelaya’s support. She was already well known throughout the countryside and by international rights organizations in the region. Her opposition to the coup catapulted her into global recognition.

On our first night in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, I decided to profile her, but she warned me: “We need to go to a safe house. Come with us and we’ll talk there.” We set out in a taxi. One of her cellphones rang. After a quick conversation with another organizer, she said, “We need to switch taxis and someone will pick us up.”

This had become her life in Honduras; there were no roses to worry about now.

At our destination, we ducked between houses and walked down a corridor to the back of one. We were welcomed by “compañeros en la lucha” — companions in the struggle. They cooked us a meal while we sat down and began filming.

Over the next few days I saw Bertita at rallies and leading protest marches. She spoke with vigor, clarity and force. She didn’t mince words. It was a side of her I had not seen.

“La lucha” was in Bertita’s blood. There was no other calling for her. We would never have tried to stop her because we all believed in what she was doing. Still, we knew that someday it would come at a cost.

Her work brought her the Goldman Environmental Prize, many other awards, and international recognition, all of which should have shielded her from harm. Perhaps they did for a while. But they also made her an even greater threat to the business and media elite, the military and the corrupt politicians of one of the world’s most dangerous places in which to be an activist.

And so, she was silenced.

Now the Honduran police and government have begun a campaign of information obfuscation. They first claimed the attack on her was a botched robbery, then a “crime of passion.” Then, a lawyer for our family in Honduras told me, they detained a friend of Berta’s who saw the murder as a material witness, and have asked to question leaders of the council, while making an outrageous claim that there might have been a power struggle in the group. The most obvious suspects — the public and private agents who attacked and harassed Berta and the council for years — don’t seem to be on the investigators’ radar.

But this could, at long last, become a turning point for one of Latin America’s poorest and most violent nations. Berta Cáceres touched countless lives, and the outrage in Honduras and around the world is palpable.

Much more international pressure can and should be leveled at the Honduran government — for an independent international investigation to uncover not just the triggermen, but also the highest-ranking authors of this attack and so many other killings of activists.

Silvio Carrillo is a freelance film and news producer based in California whose work has included coverage abroad for CNN, Al Jazeera English and The South China Morning Post.


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