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Feb. 28, 2022 by Daniel Farber

Air Quality as Environmental Justice

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The environmental justice movement began with a focus on neighborhood struggles against toxic waste facilities and other local pollution sources. That focus now includes other measures to ensure that vulnerable communities get the benefit of climate regulations. The most powerful tool for assisting those communities, however, may be the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS (pronounced "knacks") are supposed to be the maximum amount of air pollution consistent with protection of public health and welfare.

Air pollution is the biggest threat to low-income communities and communities of color. As the American Lung Association has said:

    "The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared. Poorer people and some racial and ethnic groups are among those who often face higher exposure to pollutants and who may experience greater responses to such pollution. Many studies have explored the differences in harm from air pollution to racial or ethnic groups and people who are in a low socioeconomic position, have less education, or live nearer to major sources of pollution."

Those unequal pollution levels translate into more deaths, more asthma attacks, and more hospitalizations.

Once the U.S. Environmental Protection …

Feb. 24, 2022 by Noah Sachs
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After the Supreme Court’s decision last month rejecting the Biden vaccine mandate for large employers, it wasn’t just the public health community that was asking “where do we go from here?” Environmental activists and attorneys immediately recognized that the Court’s reasoning in the vaccine case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, will likely lead to a win for the fossil fuel industry in the biggest environmental case of this term, West Virginia v. EPA.

On the surface, the vaccine case and West Virginia appear to involve totally different issues. NFIB was a challenge to an emergency regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that required large employers to either verify COVID-19 vaccinations or compel their employees to wear masks and get tested. In a 6-3 decision, with the three liberals …

Feb. 24, 2022 by Joel Mintz
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In its first year in office, the Biden administration has, to its credit, reversed a number of anti-environmental policies initiated by former President Donald Trump.

Gone is the previous administration's infamous "two-for-one" policy, under which federal agencies had to eliminate two regulatory requirements for every new regulation they proposed. Numerous Trump-era initiatives that cut back needed air and water quality protections have also been rescinded. And, thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies are once again focused on responding to the mounting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

Given these steps forward, it is perplexing that the current administration has not yet restored a critical environmental tool that has proven workable and highly beneficial in past years: EPA's Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs).

Top photo by the Natural …

Feb. 23, 2022 by Allison Stevens
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A native of southeast Los Angeles, Laura Cortez was exposed to a heavy dose of toxic pollution as a child. She grew up near an oil refinery, industry warehouses, and railroad tracks, with trains barreling through at all hours of the night. Her elementary school was located near a major highway — a passthrough for tens of thousands of trucks every day — and her high school was also sited next to train tracks. 

Now co-executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, a grassroots advocacy group, Cortez is working to protect residents of her community and others in the region from the harmful effects of pollution on health and well-being. She shared her story last week with members of Congress to call attention to environmental racism and build support for landmark legislation that would begin to address it. 

“My reality is not an exception,” she told members …

Feb. 21, 2022 by Karen Sokol
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On Jan. 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held oral argument in Baltimore v. BP PLC, a case in which the city is seeking to hold BP and other fossil fuel companies liable in state court for their systematic deceptive marketing campaign to hide the catastrophic dangers of their products.

The goal of their decades-long, ongoing disinformation campaign: to lock in a fossil-fuel based society—and continue reaping astronomical profits—even during a fossil fuel-driven climate emergency. Other cities, counties, and states have brought similar suits in their state courts, all invoking long-standing state deceptive marketing laws.

So why is Baltimore's case before a federal appellate court? The panel's three judges wanted to know—and the answer is more misrepresentation.

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Feb. 17, 2022 by Jake Moore
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Land and Emergency Management recently released its draft Environmental Justice Action (EJ) Plan. What's inside?

First, some background: After entering office, President Biden signed a pair of executive orders directing federal agencies to pursue environmental justice. The first focuses on narrowing entrenched inequities furthered by standing agency policy, and the second orders agencies to shrink their climate-harming footprints. Together, these orders offer the public an immense opportunity to combat environmental injustice.

The EPA has since directed its Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) to evaluate current and best practices to meet the requirements of each executive order. As the office charged with overseeing the primary programs managing and containing hazardous substances, its policies hold great potential in mitigating risks faced by at-risk communities.

The office's EJ Action Plan lays out four goals to guide and motivate …

Feb. 14, 2022 by Sidney Shapiro
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When the Wake Forest University emergency communications systems called me at 12:01 am on Tuesday, February 1, I could not have guessed that it was about a chemical bomb capable of wiping out blocks and blocks of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The call warned university students to heed the city’s voluntary evacuation of the 6,500 people living within in a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant that was on fire — and in danger of exploding.

Thankfully, the fire did not injure anyone, and the bomb did not ignite.

Yet it is a wakeup call — in my case, literally — not only to those of us here in Winston-Salem but across our nation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to protect the public from exploding fertilizer plants, but it has left them unregulated.

These last few days have been harrowing, to say the least …

Feb. 8, 2022 by Darya Minovi
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Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One bill would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.

Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Part I, which ran yesterday, explores our collaborative work to protect clean drinking water in Maryland. Today, we look at our efforts to protect Virginia’s health and environment from toxic chemical spills.

As climate change intensifies, Virginia’s coastal and riverine communities are increasingly under threat of sea-level rise, hurricanes, and storm surge. Research published in 2019 by my colleague David Flores, a senior policy analyst at CPR, and CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs found that flooding not only …

Feb. 2, 2022 by Robert Glicksman
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During the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior undermined its statutory obligations to protect lands and natural resources managed by the federal government. It also accelerated the extraction of fossil fuels from federal lands and constructed barriers to a shift to renewable energy, hindering efforts to abate climate disruption.

On March 15, 2021, the Senate confirmed Deb Haaland as new secretary of the department, which houses the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — three agencies that together are responsible for managing millions of acres of some of the nation's most precious terrain.

Before Haaland's confirmation, the Center for Progressive Reform identified five priorities for the department. Here is an update on progress so far.

  1. Restore curbs on methane waste. In his first week in office, President Biden issued an executive order that enunciated a policy …

Feb. 1, 2022 by Jake Moore
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Virginia's recent environmental and climate laws have been heralded as among the nation's most progressive. In recent years, Virginia passed landmark laws supporting renewable energy and environmental justice and joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, priming it to address the challenges posed by growing flood risks, climate-related disasters, and industry-related public health crises.

However, Gov. Glenn Youngkin's election has shrouded Virginia's green future in gray.

Youngkin's campaign rhetoric on climate change ranged from hostile to ambitious. Despite some positive appraisals of renewable energy projects, his statements and early Cabinet nominations make clear that he opposes regulatory and legislative landmarks that support the state's climate resilience.

To start, Youngkin has repeatedly promised to repeal the bipartisan Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which mandates a 100 percent decarbonized power grid by 2045. To achieve this ambitious goal, energy producers are required to meet emission reduction benchmarks and increase their …

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