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EPA Ordered to Comply with Air Laws, EJ 60's Style, Our Interview and Hero of the Week, and the World Cup of Climate
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, June 15th, 2018

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NYC Skyline in the haze.   Photo: Nick Brown
Judge Orders EPA To Implement Smog Plans

A federal judge in New York City on Wednesday ordered EPA to crack down on smog in a case brought by the states of New York and Connecticut.  The Clean Air Act requires certain Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states to take action to curb the amount of smog that they emit because it eventually blows into Connecticut and New York and other Northeastern states, greatly diminishing air quality there.  EPA admitted to missing the August 2017 deadline to get enforceable plans from the states of Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia on how they will reduce their smog emissions.  Judge John Koeltl ordered EPA to do its job -- to fix its "prior violations of the statutory deadline."  

The New York Attorney General was pleased with the result, saying “As many as two in three New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy levels of smog. The court’s decision is a major win for New Yorkers and our public health, forcing the Trump EPA to follow the law.”  Ozone pollution is serious -- it has been linked to asthma, bronchitis, heart disease and other health problems.  An EPA spokesman said they would propose something later this month to address the issue. 

Why This Matters:  We need federal laws to ensure healthy air because in many cases, state laws are not enough - like here, where there is nothing New York and Connecticut can do under state law to force dirty power plants in the neighboring to stop polluting.  But the law is only as good as the leaders who implement it -- and if the EPA writes weaker rules that allow more ozone pollution to be legal, then millions of Americans' health will suffer.  A recent study in the Journal of American Medicine estimated that EPA's actions weakening the pollution laws will cause 80,000 additional deaths in this decade.  Clean air is a right that all Americans should enjoy.  


Democratic National Committee Says "No Thanks" To Big Oil 

Last weekend, the Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution to refuse donations from fossil fuel corporations and their political action committees.  The resolution stated:
  • "WHEREAS, climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels represents an existential threat to civilization, and Democrats committed in our 2016 Platform to curbing the effects of climate change, protecting America’s natural resources, and ensuring the quality of our air, water, and land for current and future generations — then marched in the hundreds of thousands at 2017 and 2018 Science March and Earth Day events"
and went on to say,
  • "WHEREAS, fossil fuel corporations are drowning our democracy in a tidal wave of dark oily money; they have deceived the public about the impacts of climate change, fought the growth of clean renewable energy, and corrupted our political system"
Ecowatch reported that the fossil fuel industry contributed a record $100 million into the last presidential campaign and the vast majority was spent on Republicans, according to filings compiled by Greenpeace.  At its board meeting in August, the DNC will consider going a step farther and banning contributions of over $200 from donors employed by the fossil fuel industry, according to the Huffington Post

Why This Matters:  It is good to have principles -- and the Democrats are going to walk the talk on climate change even if it means less money to spend on Democratic candidates.  The proposal was championed by Christine Pelosi (a party activist with a famous mom) who urged "Democrats, let’s clean up our planet and our politics: #OilMoneyOut of the DNC."  Right on.  Given President Trump's actions to prop up the fossil fuel industry, it is good that the Democrats are making the choice very clear for voters.  


The Poor People’s Campaign holds a protest on Capitol Hill to demand healthcare
and a healthy environment on June 4th.   Photo: Michael Reynolds, EPA
Poor People's Campaign For Environmental Justice Takes Capitol Hill

The original Poor People's Campaign was an effort organized in 1968 by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to bring economic justice and guaranteed human rights to Americans stuck in crippling cycles of poverty. After sending a set of demands to Congress, the campaign set to organize 3,000 people to come to Washington to demand justice. Although Dr. King was assassinated before the demonstration took place, Reverand Ralph Abernathy led a 6-week protest camp on the National Mall. 

This year Reverand William Barber (our hero of the week) has set out to revive Dr. King's final campaign and to unite poor Americans across lines of race and geography and ensure that their priorities are reflected in the federal agenda. The demands of the new Poor People's Campaign echo much of the original but now include environmental justice as a central component of the platform, declaring: 

"The truth is that our policies have not fundamentally valued human life or the ecological systems in which we live. Instead, it has prioritized private, corporate and financial interests over our precious natural resources. We have a fundamental right to clean water, air and a healthy environment and public resources to monitor, penalize and reverse the polluting impacts of fossil fuel industries."

So far activists have been making headlines and demonstrating on Capitol Hill and across state houses to demand social, economic and environmental justice for Americans living in poverty. 

Why This Matters: A new report from the UN found that almost 41 million people or 12.7 percent live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and children account for one in three poor. The UN report found Americans live shorter, sicker lives than do citizens of all other rich democracies, and that the U.S. has the greatest income inequality. These should not be statistics associated with the wealthiest nation on Earth.  See the table in our Air story above - it has the numbers to show the severe impacts that increasing pollution has on human health in the U.S. -- mostly impacting our poorer citizens.

What You Can Do: The Poor People's Campaign has numerous events and demonstrations that those who want to get involved can join. Additionally, if you'd prefer to make a donation, there are several options available. 



Interview of the Week:  Jessica Culpepper, Trial Lawyer, Public Justice

Jessica is a Food Safety & Health Attorney at Public Justice where she works on litigation and on federal and state policy reform to advance sustainable food systems and the humane treatment of animals.

ODP:   How did Public Justice learn about these concentrated agriculture cases? How did you get your start in this litigation?

JC:  Nitrate, the focus of much of our drinking water litigation, cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, but can cause blue baby syndrome and has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages.  Families are drinking poisoned water without even knowing it.  Because of this, and the fact that private wells in this country are not monitored by the government for contamination, we generally learn about these cases only after a State or federal Agency has determined there was a problem, but failed to fix it.  We got involved in this work after repeatedly seeing bad actors polluting rural Americans’ drinking water, but the agencies designed to protect them refusing to hold those companies accountable.

ODP:  How do the irresponsible concentrated agricultural feeding operations (CAFOs) improperly dispose of their manure and other waste?

JC:  CAFOs are a move away from traditional family farms because animals are no longer tied to the land.  Instead, they confine enormous numbers of animals in small factory-like facilities, where they import feed and export vast amounts of animal feces.  For example, the nearly 2.3 million hogs raised in Duplin County, NC generated twice as much waste as the entire city of New York in a single year. CAFOs create such large quantities of waste that they are required to follow site-specific plans tied to what nutrients in the waste can be used as crop fertilizer, how much is already in the soil, and what their crops can realistically use. If a CAFO puts too much waste on a field and the crop can’t use it, the feces will wash into streams or migrate through the soil into drinking water aquifers.  
ODP:  How does all that waste cause significant contamination?  Doesn't it dissipate?

JC:  I use the water cooler analogy to talk about this. If you had a cup full of manure and you put a microgram of that manure in a water cooler, it would not cause significant contamination. But when you dump the whole cup in, then the water isn’t safe to drink.  But how much manure do you want in your water?
Nitrate, which is the contaminant in animal waste that is commonly found in drinking water contaminated by industrial animal agriculture, moves through soil every time it rains or is irrigated. Over years of abuse, the concentration of that manure in the source of drinking water will rise to a level where the water is no longer safe to drink.

ODP:  How many people in the U.S. rely on groundwater for drinking?  Where are they located?

JC:  According to the government, about 115 million people, more than one-third of the Nation's population, rely on groundwater for drinking water.  43 million of those people rely on groundwater from private wells.  While groundwater as a source of drinking water is a nation-wide issue, the reliance on private wells as a sole source of drinking water is a predominantly rural issue in this country.  And that should concern us given this country’s complete failure to educate and provide resources for communities who may face contamination.  In a Department of the Interior study of over 6,600 wells, 1 of every 5 groundwater samples was contaminated at a level exceeding a potential human-health concern.

ODP:   How many cases like this have you brought, and where? Have you succeeded?

JC:  Public Justice has made it our mission to stand with rural communities whose clean drinking water has been poisoned by industrial animal agricultural pollution, and we define success by where our community partners end up with the power to hold a polluter accountable to restoring their basic right to clean drinking water and a safe environment.  We have been a part of six cases so far. Originally, we were a part of four lawsuits against mega-dairies in Yakima, Washington where our litigation helped hundreds of residents get clean drinking water and forced the industries to change their waste storage and disposal practices.  Most recently, we supported a community in their fight for clean drinking water in Millsboro, Delaware against a large poultry processing plant.  

Thanks, Jessica.  To Go Deeper into the manure: watch the video below.

The story of Public Justice's fight for citizens of Yakima Valley.


Poor People’s Campaign leader Rev. William Barber blocked from the Kentucky capitol on June 4. Photo: Steve Pavey
Hero of the Week: Reverand William Barber, leader of the Poor People's Campaign 

We wrote above about the modern iteration of the Poor People's Campaign is an incredibly important movement at a time when the United States has the worst income inequality in the developed world and even worse than that of  Russia or Iran. Today we wanted to recognize the leader of the Poor People's Campaign, the Reverand William Barber, for his tireless efforts to bring equality and environmental justice to all Americans. His definition of what it means to be a Christian also includes a duty to protect the planet (a sentiment he shares with the Pope whom he recently met). Rev. Barber takes issue with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt claiming to be a devout Christian but selling out the environment and misinterpreting a passage in Genesis in which God gives man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

“Dominion in this sense means to care for, not destroy. The first commandment is to take care of creation. To destroy creation is fundamentally irreligious. It’s a violation. It’s a sin. Pruitt says he believes in God but you’ve never seen him pull out scripture that shows Jesus said we must help corporations poison the water. You get white so-called evangelicals who say they are against abortion but say nothing about environmental devastation that is destroying lives and stunting children. The president may have chosen the worst person to run the EPA but ultimately Earth is the only place we have to live. A lot of people of faith are now articulating that not taking care of Earth is an affront to basic theology.”


 Climate Change

One Cool Thing: World Cup of Climate Change 

The World Cup kicked off on Thursday in Russia and sadly the US Men's team did not qualify for the tournament (unlike the US Women's team which is the #1 ranked team in the world! #girlpower). The beautiful game has an unparalleled capacity to bring the world together but the folks at Nexus Media created their own "World Cup of Climate Change" brackets to pick countries making the biggest efforts to abate climate change and move toward a sustainable future. Click here to see their picks for the per capita emissions champion, energy efficiency champion, and the most climate-prepared champion! 
Happy Birthday to Miro! 
She will be celebrating in California at a friend's wedding over the weekend.  Have a great birthday weekend, Miro!  And you too, ODP readers! 
We will see you all back here bright and early on Monday!
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