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April 20, 2021 by Darya Minovi

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.

The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual of a community’s estimated pollution burden.

Though widely used by researchers and advocates, EPA EJSCREEN is not without faults.

A geospatial map, of course, is only as good as the data it uses. Unfortunately, the national air quality monitoring network is underfunded and outdated, and the devices have been found to routinely …

April 14, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez, Allison Stevens
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Scholars and advocates of color last week hailed the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure that disadvantaged communities reap the benefits of federal climate investments — but added that the administration must be held accountable for following through on it.

“This is our moment,” said Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy justice at the U.S. Department of Justice and a Member Scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform who is on leave while serving in the administration. 

Others said the administration’s efforts don’t go far enough and instead called for an overhaul of governance, philanthropy, and an economy that exploits people of color and the planet.

The comments came during a day of dialogue among public officials and climate justice scholars, organizers, and funders representing the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community. Participants emphasized the importance of climate justice and culturally responsive climate …

April 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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At midnight on April 13, Maryland’s 2021 legislative session closed out with the passage of a law (House Bill 1069) that will provide meaningful drinking water protections for tenants who rely on well water. The measure, sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County), passed with bipartisan support in the Maryland Senate but faced hurdles in the House due to a last-minute filibuster attempt.

Public drinking water is regularly monitored and tested to meet certain safety standards set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Drinking Water Act. The safety of drinking water from a private well or smaller community system, on the other hand, is solely up to the owner of that well or system.

In CPR’s recent report, fellow Policy Analyst Darya Minovi and I found that Maryland lags far behind most states in terms of protections for well …

April 6, 2021 by Sarah Krakoff
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This commentary was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

A citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, Deborah Haaland is the first Native American woman to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Haaland will oversee the federal agencies that manage nearly 480 million acres of federal public lands, while the head of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the remaining 190 million acres.

Haaland and her colleague, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, have a tall double-order ahead. In his flurry of first-day executive orders, President Joe Biden announced the entwined goals of addressing racial, economic, and other forms of injustice, as well as tackling the country's most serious environmental challenges. Reflecting these goals, during his confirmation hearing, Vilsack pledged to address "discrimination in all its forms across USDA agencies," and "to root …

April 5, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Last Friday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important decision in a lawsuit against the oil industry. New York City had sued oil companies for harms relating to climate change. The appeals court ordered the case dismissed, on the ground that any harm relating to fossil fuels is exclusively regulated by the Clean Air Act. The ruling is a setback for the plaintiffs in similar cases, though how much of a setback remains to be seen.

The court's analysis is complicated and involves some fairly esoteric legal arguments. I'll try to avoid the fine points. In the end, the court's argument comes down to two points. The first point relates to fuels used in the United States. The court argues that by authorizing EPA to regulate carbon emissions, the Clean Air Act indirectly eliminates …

March 31, 2021 by Maxine Burkett, Minor Sinclair
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Maxine Burkett

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. 

This week, CPR’s Executive Director, Minor Sinclair, spoke with Member Scholar Maxine Burkett, professor of law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Burkett has written extensively in diverse areas of climate law with a particular focus on climate justice, exploring the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable communities in the United States and globally. Their conversation explored the roots of climate justice and its connections to present day climate action. 

MS: Natural disasters can be discriminatory for a host of reasons, and climate change is part of that. Why are certain communities more vulnerable …

March 30, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Coal- and gas-fired power plants are a major source of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration devised a perfectly sensible, moderate policy to cut those emissions. The Trump administration replaced it with a ridiculous token policy. The D.C. Circuit appeals court tossed that out. Now what?

It wouldn't be hard to redo the Obama policy based on all the changes in the power industry since he left office, which would result in much more rigorous emissions controls. The problem is that the ultra-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be very skeptical of the legal basis of any plan that, like Obama's, requires states to expand use of renewable energy.

Opponents of Obama's plan made two legal arguments, which both came up again in the litigation over the Trump rule …

March 26, 2021 by Laurie Ristino, Maggie Dewane
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Laurie Ristino

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. 

This week, we spoke with Board Member Laurie Ristino, a policy and law expert on food security, climate change, ecosystem services, and land stewardship. Her work concerns developing new policy and civil society innovations to address climate change and social injustice while improving environmental and economic sustainability.

CPR: What motivated you to become an expert in food security policy and a voice for equal justice in America? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration?  

LR: I don’t consider myself a food security expert as much as I consider myself …

March 22, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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Kamala Harris. Janet Yellen. Deb Haaland. Gina Raimondo. Marcia Fudge. Jennifer Granholm. 

They’re making history as members of the largest group of women ever to serve on a presidential Cabinet. Haaland and Yellen are the first women in their positions, and Haaland is also the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

President Biden has appointed five additional women to Cabinet-level positions, including Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and Isabel Guzman as Small Business Administrator. Four of these five are Black, Asian American, or Latina. In total, women comprise nearly half of Biden’s Cabinet.

Women have been fighting for equality in this country for over a century — from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, to the Women’s Strike of 1970, to the Women’s March in 2017. For women who are Black American, Asian American, or Native American, the fight has …

March 22, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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Last week, a Maryland circuit court ruled that the state must regulate and limit ammonia pollution from industrial poultry operations. This landmark decision takes an important step toward protecting the environment and public health in the Old Line State and could spur similar action in other states.

It is certainly needed in Maryland. The state's Lower Eastern Shore is home to a large number of industrial poultry operations; three Lower Eastern Shore counties house close to 44 million chickens at any given time — roughly 241 times greater than the number of people in the region.

Every year, these operations release millions of pounds of ammonia — a form of nitrogen — into the environment, polluting our land, water, and air. Ammonia is a colorless compound formed when nitrogen in chicken manure breaks down. It enters the air as a gas and can land on the ground, polluting groundwater and …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 20, 2021

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

April 14, 2021

Advocates, Scholars of Color Call for Bold Action to End Environmental Racism

April 13, 2021

Maryland Adopts Law to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for Tenants

April 6, 2021

Equity and Justice Should Begin at Home

April 5, 2021

Appeals Court Nixes New York City Climate Lawsuit

March 31, 2021

Women’s History Month Q&A with Maxine Burkett

March 30, 2021

Biden's Dilemma: Limiting Carbon from Existing Power Plants