Category Archives: Environmental justice

Proposed EPA rule would disadvantage minority communities

[Editor: The excellent article below does not link to the EPA’s proposed new rule.  It can be found here, and note that PUBLIC COMMENTS may be sent on or before July 27, 2020.  Submit your comment here.  – R.S.]

Soot rule thrusts EPA into spotlight on race

E&E News, by Jean Chemnick, June 12, 2020
Louisiana refinery. Photo credit:  John Dooley/Sipa Press/Newscom
A refinery is seen near Venice, La. EPA is changing its cost-benefit analysis to discount the health savings from lower levels of particulate matter and other pollutants. John Dooley/Sipa Press/Newscom

EPA published a proposal in the Federal Register yesterday that critics described as an assault on minority communities coping with the public health legacy of structural racism.

The agency’s plan would mandate changes to the way future rules under the Clean Air Act would weigh the costs and benefits of climate and air pollution regulations.

It’s the first time EPA has attempted such a rulemaking, and critics say the goal is to saddle future administrations with an inflexible set of cost-benefit methodologies that discount benefits from cutting pollutants while stressing cost to industry.

The rule would also bar EPA from giving special consideration to individual communities that bear the brunt of environmental risks — frequently populations of color.

“The rule won’t take into account any benefit that can’t be monetized and quantified, including important things like the effect, say, of a mercury rule on tribal communities that rely on fish and wildlife that are contaminated with mercury or the effect of particulate matter on communities of color and disadvantaged folks who live near the power plants that are being controlled,” said Ann Weeks, legal director of the Clean Air Task Force.

The Obama EPA did give special weight to the benefits that would accrue to specific communities when assessing whether a rule was cost-effective, she said. But this proposal seeks to make that impossible.

“You basically are tying your own hands, if you’re the agency, by saying this is the way you have to do things,” she said.

EPA describes the draft rule as an effort to improve transparency by demanding a strict accounting of costs and benefits for all economically significant air quality and climate change rulemakings promulgated under the landmark environmental law.

But it raises questions about whether a future administration could count so-called co-benefits when drafting regulations. Co-benefits are reductions in pollutants that aren’t the rule’s primary target but that yield public health benefits that EPA has traditionally counted.

Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lawyer, has long sought to sideline co-benefits, which industry sees as justifying rules whose costs outweigh true environmental benefits.

The co-benefit that has packed the greatest punch in past Clean Air Act rulemakings is fine particulate matter, or soot. Epidemiological studies are chock-full of data linking these tiny particles to pulmonary, respiratory and neurological ailments and death.

So demonstrating that a rule would reduce particulate matter adds to its value — a fact that even the Trump EPA used last year to show that its Affordable Clean Energy rule for power plant carbon dioxide was worth its costs.

‘History of racism’

The proposal comes as communities of color are experiencing some of the worst impacts of the coronavirus, while protests over racism and police brutality continue in cities across the country.

There’s evidence that elevated exposure to soot from highways, industrial facilities and incinerators that have for decades been built in predominantly black, Latino and Asian American communities are disproportionately harming the health of their residents.

“It’s all deeply ingrained in the history of racism and the history of civil rights,” said Sofia Owen, a staff attorney with Alternatives for Community & Environment, an environmental justice group based in Boston. “The siting of these facilities — where our highways are, where incinerators are, where compressor stations or the bus depots and the train depots are — is communities of color and low-income communities.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists released modeling last year showing that Asian Americans are, on average, exposed to particulate matter concentrations from vehicle tailpipes that are 34% higher compared with other Americans.

They weren’t alone. Soot exposure was 24% higher for African Americans and 23% higher for Latinos. White Americans are exposed to 14% less soot from tailpipes than the average American (Greenwire, June 27, 2019).

“It’s primarily the PM2.5 that is responsible for environmental damage and health damage in communities living near highways,” said Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, a senior vehicles engineer with UCS, referring to particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. The science advocacy group is now doing similar modeling on proximity to coal-fired power plants by demographic group, she said.

The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure can be severe.

A 2017 study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other institutions found that incremental increases in soot exposure below the standards set by EPA can result in significantly more deaths among senior citizens. The study found that black people were three times more likely to die from soot exposure than other Americans.

“We know that when you inhale fine particulate matter, they penetrate very deep into your lungs, and they can actually get into your bloodstream, and they initiate a form of inflammation that can cause pneumonia and cardiovascular disease,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health and an author of the 2017 study.

Dominici also co-authored a recent study showing that counties with higher levels of particulate matter experienced more deaths related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (Greenwire, April 7).

There’s a link between particulate matter and acute respiratory distress syndrome, she said, which causes COVID-19-related deaths.

“If you’re living in a county and you’re breathing polluted air for a very long time, even absent COVID, we know that your lungs are inflamed,” Dominici said. “After you contract COVID, your ability to respond to the inflammatory nature of COVID is severely compromised because your lungs already have inflammation.”

The result is worse for black and Latino people who contract COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that 33% of those hospitalized with the disease were black, as were nearly a quarter of those who died. Eighteen percent of the U.S. population is black.

While racial minorities are more impacted by high soot levels, they’re also responsible for producing less of it.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that non-Hispanic whites consume the majority of the goods and services responsible for particulate matter. Black and Latino people on average are exposed to 56% and 63% more soot, respectively, than is linked to their consumption.

The same study estimated that soot caused 131,000 premature American deaths in 2015.

“The long tail of this is that particularly black Americans and Latinx communities have been discriminated against in this country, and because of their poverty, they are forced to live in neighborhoods that are less expensive and more polluted,” said Aaron Bernstein, director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment.

EPA’s cost-benefit exercises could consider that history of racial injustice when assessing whether a rule is warranted, he noted.

“If you clean up the air, there is a pretty good likelihood that we’re going to benefit people of color more. And should we in fact prioritize those actions because of historical and, frankly, present-day injustices?” he said. “That is a highly contentious arena right now, but it’s hard to ignore, given what’s going on.”

Progress

The gap between soot exposure levels of white and nonwhite Americans has actually been shrinking in recent years.

A paper released in January that used satellite-based measurements to track air quality across the country found that disparities between soot levels in predominantly minority and white areas fell by nearly two-thirds between 2000 and 2015.

Reed Walker, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study, said this was partly due to white people moving into cities and minorities heading to the suburbs.

But a much larger part of the story, he said, had to do with the Clean Air Act.

Particulate matter standards set under the law — current ones were implemented in 2005 — require counties that fail to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards to take aggressive action to reach attainment.

“It just so happens that African Americans are overrepresented in these dirty areas,” Walker said, noting that in the last 15 years, counties with large minority populations have reduced particulate matter more than predominantly white counties.

Still, research shows that soot can cause illness and death at levels below federal air quality standards. This year, EPA declined to tighten the standard despite public health advocates’ warnings that an update is long overdue.

And the proposed cost-benefit rule seems to be directed at making tougher rules harder to promulgate in the future.

“Any failure to tighten the standard is going to continue the disproportionate exposures faced by individuals in those communities,” Walker said.

This story also appears today in Climatewire.

Andrés Soto letter: Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

Letter to the editor, The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Note that letters do not appear in the online edition of the Benicia Herald.  Andrés Soto lives in Benicia and is well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for his environmental justice advocacy and his mastery of the saxophone.  I particularly like Andrés’ focus on 19th century historical context.  – RS]

Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

By Andrés Soto, July 23, 2015

Dear Editor:

Andres Soto
Andrés Soto

The recent phenomenon of transporting dangerous, volatile Bakken Crude by rail has created an opportunity for the American people to learn the true motives of Big Oil and Big Rail and what we as impacted communities can do about it.

Continuing derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations have shined the light on the Profit At Any Cost attitude of Big Oil and Big Rail. These industries grew up together in the late 19th century and led to some of the most egregious periods of income inequality, corruption and social conflict in US history.

Now these industries are asking us to trust them and allow them to bring Bomb Trains through our communities, putting our town’s economic viability at risk for a short-term economic gain. Exploding trains all over North America tell us a different story and we are not fooled.

Currently, the Valero Crude By Rail Project and the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo Crude By Rail Project both put our town at risk for a catastrophe. Communities all over the country are standing up to oppose this high risk venture by Big Oil and Big Rail. Recently, the WesPAC Crude By Rail Project in Pittsburg, California removed the rail part of the project to make it a straight pipeline project.

Fracked Bakken Crude and strip mined Alberta Tar Sands Crude are just two of the Extreme Extracted Crude strategies by Big Oil to bring oil to market that would be better left in the ground. An intelligent global cooling plan to save our planet for future generations and all species requires the we leave the oil beneath the soil!.

Valero has already admitted it can and is bringing Extreme Crude in by barge to the Port of Benicia, thus it does not need the Valero Crude By Rail Project to be profitable. Therefore, it begs the question: Why would we, the people of Benicia, allow this project to proceed when it is just too dangerous?

Global warming is going to cause significant parts of Benicia to be underwater. Shouldn’t we be working on preventing that, rather than trying find ways to contribute to the problem?

We are the people of Benicia and our voices need to be heard! The Benicia Planning Commission and the Benicia City Council have a responsibility to listen to us and do what is in the best interests of ALL Benicians. Stop Valero’s Dangerous Crude By rail Project!!!

Andrés Soto
Benicia, CA

Pittsburg CA: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate

Repost from the Contra Costa Times

Pittsburg: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate complaints of environmental discrimination

By Bay City News Service, 07/21/2015 09:43:40 AM PDT

PITTSBURG – A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate complaints of discrimination in the placement of power plants or hazardous waste dumps in various locations across the country, including two power plants in Pittsburg.

The EPA has 180 days to respond to the complaints, but according to the suit, which was filed on July 15, the federal regulator has not responded to the complaints in 10 to 20 years in some cases.

The suit includes allegations about facilities in Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama and California.

In Pittsburg, the suit alleges that the local regulatory agencies — the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission — discriminated against residents by locating two power plants in an already environmentally over-burdened area, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“This is in a community where people have high rates of asthma or cancer and they were concerned that these plants would add to that,” Engelman Lado said.

Californians for Renewable Energy, or CARE, filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights in April 2000 charging the local agencies discriminated against the predominantly nonwhite and low-income residents by failing to consider the additional environmental burden of the two new plants, the complaint alleges.

Permitting for the plants, the Los Medanos Energy Center LLC and Delta Energy Center, continued and the plants were approved and went online in 2001 and 2002, respectively, according to the complaint. The EPA accepted the complaint in December 2001 but has yet to conduct an investigation into the allegations, despite attempts in 2006 and 2009 by CARE to prompt the federal agency to respond, the complaint alleges.

In June 2002, the EPA classified Los Medanos Energy Center as being in “significant violation” of the Clean Air Act and over the last five years the facility has had to pay over $3,000 in fines for violating the act, according to the complaint.

In the meantime, residents have been suffering the consequences, Engelman Lado said.

“The plants are still standing and they’re polluting,” she said. “They’re emitting toxins and the community is living with that everyday.”

Engelman Lado said it’s clear the EPA has violated the law, and she’s hoping the lawsuit will result in the EPA completing their investigation.

Engelman Lado added she’s confident that when the EPA does complete the investigation, it will make findings of discrimination.

“We would hope, whether through a court order or by sitting down at the table, we could bring resources to bear to say, ‘What can we do to help these communities who are suffering from a lack of infrastructure or resources,'” she said.

That could take the form of more monitoring, infrastructure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the power plants, or more extensive buffers between the community and the plants.

A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.

Oil trains in California risk to minorities, poor, report says

Repost from Ohio.com

Crude oil trains in California risk to minorities, poor, report says

By Bob Downing, June 30, 2015

From ForestEthics today:  Highest Threat from Oil Trains in California Aligned with Race and Income: New Environmental Justice Report Links Dangerous Rail Routes with Census Data

[Oakland, CA] Public interest groups today released the Crude Injustice on the Rails report evaluating the disparate threat to people of color and low-income communities from explosions and pollution from crude oil trains in California.

The groups ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment evaluated oil train routes and US Census data to determine who was at greatest risk from pollution and potential oil trains derailments and explosions, like the fatal July 2013 Lac Megantic oil train disaster.

“It’s simple, oil trains contribute to environmental racism in California,” says Nile Malloy, Northern California Program Director, Communities for a Better Environment. “Environmental justice communities like Richmond and Wilmington that already live with the highest risk are hardest hit. It’s time for a just and quick transition to clean energy.”

The groups report that Californians of color are more likely to live in the oil train blast zone, the dangerous one-mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. While 60 percent of Californians live in environmental justice communities – communities with racial minorities, low income, or non-English speaking households – 80 percent of the 5.5 million Californians with homes in the blast zone live in environmental justice communities. Nine out of ten of California’s largest cities on oil train routes have an even higher rate of discriminatory impact than the state average. In these cities, 82–100 percent of people living in the blast zone are in environmental justice communities.

“The maps paint a scary picture of who lives with threat of explosions and the health risks from pollution and disruption from dangerous 100-plus car crude oil trains,” says Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director and one of the authors of the report. “In California you are 33 percent more likely to live in the blast zone if you live in a nonwhite, low income, or non-English speaking household.”

The groups recommend immediate federal, state and local action to address this environmental discrimination, including a moratorium on oil imports into the state by rail, and action by the state attorney general, US EPA Office of Civil Rights, and US Department of Justice to enforce federal and state laws.

“Oil trains are a threat to our communities and to our climate — but the threat is not evenly shared,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics executive director. “The Crude Injustice report shows that in California people of color are the most exposed to these dangers demonstrating another area where our nation’s past and current challenges on issues of race show up loud and clear.”

“Our communities are working to build healthier, greener and thriving communities,” says Alicia Rivera, Communities for a Better Environment Los Angeles organizer.  “Crude by rail is another deadly threat to our families.  This is why we are joining across communities to demand environmental rights along the rails, on July 11th,” Rivera said.

July 6-11 ForestEthics, CBE, and other groups are coordinating the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action with more than 100 events across the US and Canada.

The report, Crude Injustice on the Rails: Race and the Disparate Risk from Oil Trains in California, is available in English and Spanish at: http://www.forestethics.org/news/crude-injustice-rails-california

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ForestEthics demands environmental responsibility from government and the biggest companies in the world. Visit our Blast-Zone.org to see if you are one of the 25 million Americans who live in the dangerous one-mile oil train evacuation zone. www.ForestEthics.org

CBE works to build people’s power in California’s communities of color and low-income communities to achieve environmental health and justice by preventing and reducing pollution and building green, healthy and sustainable communities and environments. www.cbecal.org

Repost from ForestEthics

Crude Injustice on Rails in California

By Eddie Scher, Monday Jun 29, 2015

Environmental Injustice on RailsPublic interest groups today released the Crude Injustice on the Rails report evaluating the disparate threat to people of color and low-income communities from explosions and pollution from crude oil trains in California.

The groups ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment evaluated oil train routes and US Census data to determine who was at greatest risk from  pollution and potential oil trains derailments and explosions, like the fatal July 2013 Lac Megantic oil train disaster.

REPORT: Crude Injustice on the Rails: Race and Disparate Risk from Oil Train in California
English

REPORTE: La Cruda Injusticia de los Carriles: Raza y el Riesgo Desproporcionado de los Trenes Petroleros en California
Español

For more information about the environmental justice impacts on Latino and low-income communities of color in California blast zones, contact Communities for a Better Environment.