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April 7, 2020 by David Flores

EPA Shouldn't Use Coronavirus as Excuse to Look the Other Way on Pollution

With all the talk of the "new normal" brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of how government policies and heavy industry continue to force certain populations and communities into a persistent existential nightmare. Polluted air, poisoned water, the threat of chemical explosions – these are all unjust realities that many marginalized and vulnerable Americans face all the time that are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing could make these injustices more outrageously apparent and dangerous than EPA’s signaled retreat on environmental standards and enforcement, which cravenly takes advantage of the global pandemic and a rapidly expanding economic collapse. On March 26, Susan Bodine, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memo outlining the agency's sweeping, temporary enforcement policy. Advocates, scientists, and communities almost immediately objected, and in a few days’ time, environmental organizations filed a legal petition demanding the agency walk back the policy and craft something far narrower.

Of course, EPA must adjust its enforcement policies to be responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular view to protecting its employees and other workers from exposure to the disease. However, instead of signaling a free pass for …

April 1, 2020 by David Flores
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Hundreds of thousands of Americans, from the southern California surf town of Imperial Beach to the rowhouse-lined blocks of Baltimore, are banding together to bring lawsuits against several dozen of the most powerful and wealthy corporations in the world. What do these residents and those from various coastal cities; the state of Rhode Island; Boulder, Colorado; and members of the West Coast's largest commercial fishing trade organization have in common?

All of these communities and businesses have been harmed – and are likely to experience future harms – as a result of global climate change, attributed to decades of production, promotion, and disinformation by multinational fossil fuel corporations. Government and business leaders are suing to hold these fossil fuel producers accountable, seeking compensation and other forms of redress, in state courts using tort law.

While residents may all suffer some harm from increased flooding driven by more intense rainfall …

Nov. 15, 2019 by David Flores
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David Flores co-authored this post with Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper, an on-the-water advocate who patrols and protects the Maryland and northern Virginia Eastern Shore coastal bays and stands up to polluters.

Last month, former CPR policy analyst Evan Isaacson wrote in this space about Maryland's proposal to revise and reissue its Clean Water Act pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). He made a convincing case that those who love the Bay need to advocate for effective and enforceable CAFO regulations.

Traditionally, air pollution permits have been and will continue to be a critical component of climate policy in the United States, controlling emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants. But strong water pollution standards, including permits, are also a vital tool in addressing climate change because they are so important to state efforts to adapt.

Maryland's CAFO permit is what's described as a "general permit" because …

Nov. 7, 2019 by David Flores
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As Californians endure yet another round of devastating wildfires, they are rightly wondering if blazes of such frequency and reach are the new normal. The hard truth is that they may very well be. The fingerprints of climate change are all over this disaster, as they have been all over recent hurricane damage, and the trendline is unmistakable. With that in mind, a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform takes a look at the situation in the Golden State and elsewhere and highlights the crucial role state courts play in securing justice for those harmed by climate change.

Just as climate change heats the ocean’s waters, thus increasing the intensity of storms, it also helps drive the drought, wind, and vegetation conditions that provide the fuel and fan the flames of larger and more intense wildfires. Tracing the climate crisis back to its corporate …

Sept. 25, 2019 by David Flores
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On September 23, I attended the Climate Emergency: Tri-State Pipeline Strike in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. While affiliated with the Global Climate Strike week of action, the event in Roanoke was another milestone in the years-long and continuing struggle to prevent construction of natural gas pipelines through parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.                      

The day prior, my family and I attended a “Circle of Protection” event atop verdant Bent Mountain, which is home to a farming community and is part of the Roanoke River watershed, a source of drinking water for urban Roanoke. Bent Mountain and the greater Roanoke region are the site of multiple Native American burial grounds and other archeological sites that have been dug up and destroyed in the last two years to make way for the pipeline, so the event began with an acknowledgment of the original inhabitants of the land, their …

Sept. 5, 2019 by David Flores
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In August, Virginians remembered the devastation wrought by Hurricane Camille 50 years earlier. After making landfall on the Gulf Coast, that storm dumped dozens of inches of rain in western portions of the Commonwealth and killed more than 150 people in flash floods and landslides. Today, Virginians along the Atlantic coast and in the Hampton Roads region have Hurricane Dorian on their minds, with potentially life-threatening flooding, property destruction, and toxic floodwaters being serious hazards.

The National Weather Service is now predicting that Dorian could bring storm surge flooding of two to four feet to Hampton Roads by Friday afternoon. Heavy precipitation could also exacerbate storm surge with urban and river flooding.

Over the next several days, residents of Hampton Roads and government officials should also be cautious about the risk of floodwaters contaminated by wastewater and debris and, especially, the threat of flood-induced chemical disaster. Based …

March 6, 2019 by David Flores
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2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with weather and our relationship with water. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores how this drives environmental injustice in Virginia through toxic flooding and the increasing risk of chemical exposures.

Over the last two years, plant explosions in Texas and flooded coal ash impoundments in North Carolina have reminded us about an unmet need to adapt our approach to chemical safety …

March 6, 2019 by David Flores
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2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with weather and our relationship with water. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores how this drives environmental injustice in Virginia through toxic flooding and the increasing risk of chemical exposures.

Over the last two years, plant explosions in Texas and flooded coal ash impoundments in North Carolina have reminded us about an unmet need to adapt our approach to chemical safety. And …

Nov. 1, 2018 by David Flores
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This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated.

Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat.

As the District of Columbia and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed prepare their final watershed implementation plans for cleaning up the Bay, two important lessons should be clear from the recent disasters: First, climate change will greatly complicate Bay cleanup efforts and must therefore be factored into planning. Second, the state regulation of pollution sources can and should be a critical component of the plan.

The potential pollution implications of climate change are many …

Sept. 13, 2018 by David Flores, Maxine Burkett
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. 

The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the “second disaster” phenomenon. Climate-fueled storms are the first, named disaster. The second disaster is the tragedy that results from the lack of preparedness of decision-makers — at all levels — who have failed to plan in a manner consistent with the risks presented. 

Perhaps few phenomena underscore that more than the post-disaster displacement and long-term relocation that climate change is increasingly inducing. While there is an infrastructure to manage post-disaster displacement and support displaced persons, its ability to effectively and equitably support individuals and communities has been lacking.

For planned, long-term relocation, the circumstances are more concerning. The United States has no coherent and coordinated regulatory approach to address the core questions facing communities that will need to relocate: Who is …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 7, 2020

EPA Shouldn't Use Coronavirus as Excuse to Look the Other Way on Pollution

April 1, 2020

Webinar Recap: State Courts, Climate Torts, and Their Role in Securing Justice for Communities

Nov. 15, 2019

If You Care about the Climate Crisis, Here's What You Need to Know about Maryland's Clean Water Act Permit for Agricultural Pollution

Nov. 7, 2019

On California, Climate Justice, and the Crucial Role of State Courts

Sept. 25, 2019

Striking for Environmental and Social Justice in Roanoke

Sept. 5, 2019

Hurricane Dorian May Brush Virginia, Bringing Danger of Toxic Floodwaters

March 6, 2019

New Report: Socially Vulnerable Communities Face Increasing Risks from Toxic Floodwaters in Virginia