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Dec. 10, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt

Environmental Enforcement in the COVID-19 Era

Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.

A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or water pollution.

Some companies requesting waivers violated environmental standards before the pandemic —highlighting a track record of noncompliance. This could be due to lagging enforcement trends; without fines or penalties, companies have little incentive to abide by environmental laws.

How will states address noncompliance during the pandemic, especially when violations occurred and waiver …

Dec. 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi, Rebecca Bratspies
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On October 22, we and millions of Americans watched the final presidential debate, taking in each candidate's plan for oft-discussed issues like health care, the economy, and foreign policy. Toward the end, the moderator posed a question that caught us and many others off guard: She asked the candidates how they would address the disproportionate and harmful impacts of the oil and chemical industries on people of color.

President Trump largely ignored the question. But former Vice President Joe Biden addressed it head on, sharing his own experience growing up near Delaware oil refineries and calling for restrictions on "fenceline emissions" — the pollution levels observed at the boundary of a facility's property, which too often abuts a residential neighborhood.

Many environmental justice advocates celebrated Biden's response, including Mustafa Santiago Ali, the former assistant administrator for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who characterized Biden's response …

Dec. 8, 2020 by Laurie Ristino
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Editor’s note: This post is part of the Center for Progressive Reform’s Policy for a Just America initiative. Learn more on CPR's website.

At long last, we’ve reached “safe harbor” day, when states must resolve election-related disputes. Under federal law, Congress must count votes from states that meet today’s deadline. Donald Trump is essentially out of time to steal a second term; our democracy, it appears, will survive, at least for now.

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the election — and what Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine it mean for our country. I’ve been thinking about the last one, too, when Trump took the helm of our country after a campaign of lies and hate — even though he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

I’ve been reflecting on other moments when our …

Nov. 4, 2020 by David Flores
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The Virginia General Assembly has wrapped a special legislative session to reform the Commonwealth’s budget. The story Virginians often hear is that lawmakers were busy pursuing social justice, spurred on by COVID-driven economic hardships and a historic demand for reforms. However, this story belies the fact that the Assembly failed to pass the meaningful social justice reforms called for by working-class Virginians, while giving away half a billion dollars in customer overcharges to Dominion Energy’s shareholders.

With the climate and COVID crises at the fore, state and local environmental regulation and decision-making has taken on greater weight. As CPR Policy Analyst Katlyn Schmitt points out in a new paper, there is still some low-hanging fruit to be picked before Virginians can be equitably served by and participate in the Commonwealth’s environmental decision-making process.

For one, public notice and comment procedures for proposed environmental rules …

Oct. 28, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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If you want to know what the world will look like as the climate crisis ramps up, you don't need a crystal ball. In fact, you need look no further than the past few months of 2020. Western states are fighting record-breaking wildfires, major flooding has plagued the Midwest, and we are in the midst of a historic hurricane season. This year marked the second time in history that the National Hurricane Center ran out of “human names” for tropical storms. They are now using the Greek alphabet, with Hurricane Zeta currently on its way to the Gulf Coast.

On October 20, CPR convened a group of researchers, advocates, and community organizers to discuss how the increasing frequency of extreme weather may impact coastal communities, especially those near hazardous industrial facilities vulnerable to damage. In the event of a power outage or flood, for example, these facilities …

Sept. 21, 2020 by Rebecca Bratspies
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Recently, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding. He used the opportunity to reiterate the agency's commitment to its “straightforward” mission to “protect human health and the environment.” He also emphasized that the agency’s mission meant “ensuring that all Americans – regardless of their zip code – have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live, work, and play upon.”

Why did Wheeler refer to zip code? Because decades of research have documented that pollution, and its adverse health effects, are not spread equally across the country. Instead, polluting industry tends to be concentrated in certain zip codes that, due to a history of racist redlining and housing discrimination, are predominantly the home of Black and Brown Americans.

The groundbreaking 1987 study Toxic Waste and Race in the United States first …

Sept. 17, 2020 by Joel Mintz, Victor Flatt
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This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of worrisome and needless regulatory relaxations that have increased pollution across the United States. Recent reporting by the Associated Press and other outlets has documented more than 3,000 pandemic-based requests from polluters to state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for waivers of environmental requirements. Numerous state governments, with the tacit encouragement of the EPA, went along with many of those requests. All too often, those waivers — requested, ostensibly, to protect American workers from exposure to the coronavirus — were granted with little or no review, notwithstanding the risks the resulting emissions posed to public health and the environment.

EPA invited this wave of waivers back in March, announcing it would relax its enforcement upon request, under cover of …

Sept. 9, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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CPR Board President Rob Verchick is out with a new episode of the Connect the Dots podcast, the first in a new season focused on climate justice. As he puts it, "We’re looking at people living in the crosshairs of climate change, those disproportionately carrying the burden of the world and suffering on a daily basis."

As part of Rob's exploration of the issue in this episode, we hear from three experts on the topic, each with a different vantage point. CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett is a Professor of Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Leslie Fields is the Sierra Club's Senior Director of Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities. Mychal Johnson is co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a coalition of residents, organizations, and allies confronting policies that perpetuate harm and building support for viable community-driven solutions …

Aug. 13, 2020 by Amanda Cohen Leiter
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This post was originally published by American Rivers. Reprinted with permission.

I have a confession: I didn’t used to “get” environmental justice. I admit that not as an inadequate apology to those of you who have lived with environmental injustice or dedicated your lives to fighting it, but instead as an invitation to others to join my journey toward greater understanding.

I have cared about the environment for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I explored Shenandoah National Park with my parents and brother. Since high school, my favorite pastimes have involved outdoor adventures. I still enjoy scaring my mom by picking up snakes (sorry mom!); I revel in the feeling of stretching out in a sleeping bag after a long day on a trail; I love teaching my kids to climb rocks and roll kayaks. I can’t remember a time when …

Aug. 12, 2020 by Sidney Shapiro
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This post was originally published by the Yale Journal on Regulation's Notice & Comment blog. Reprinted with permission.

In 1958, civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young, met in New York with Reverend Everett Parker, who was the Director of the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ. The Office was an advocacy arm of the church, whose members’ commitment to civil rights dated back to colonial times. The civil rights leaders sought the Office’s assistance because of their concern about the biased coverage of the civil rights movement by Southern television stations. After years of litigation, the meeting led to two decisions in the D.C. Circuit (United Church of Christ I & United Church of Christ II) that blocked efforts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to relicense WLBT, a Jacksonville, Mississippi television station, which had …

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