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Environmental Blog Archives

Environmental Discrimination in Richmond, California

Last week, in a blog called "Environmental Justice is a Civil Right", I wrote about how polluting industries and the governments that enable them often choose to locate health-damaging factories among communities of poor minority citizens who don't have the resources to resist. A sad and compelling case in point is made by Javier Sierra in Huffington Post Green, in his article, "Richmond California: Exhibit A of Polluters' Cruelty". Javier explains how Richmond--a mostly low income Latino and African-American community--has been targeted by industry for a particularly cruel campaign of pollution.  Coal trains, which are parked in the town and then transported through the town, leave a blanket of highly toxic coal dust in their wake, including on school playgrounds. The chemicals in this dust--arsenic, lead, chromium, etc.--can cause cancer.  Mile-long trains carrying crude oil in rail cars with dangerously thin shells which are easily punctured, rumble through the town.  As Javier notes, and as we have also written about in our "CITIZENS AT RISK: Transporting Dangerous Chemicals By Train is A Massive Tragedy Waiting to Happen" blog, these trains are called "rolling bombs" for their history of causing death, injury and property destruction in the communities they pass through. And, as if all of that were not enough, the families of Richmond are surrounded by petro-chemical refineries, notorious for provoking high rates of cancer and other auto-immune diseases among those who live and work nearby. Why is Richmond being treated like this?  The answer is as simple as it is disgraceful: these poor families don't fight back. Because they can't. Unlike industry, they don't have the resources to hire lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists to help them influence the location of polluting factories. And their government has abandoned them. The worst kept secret is how dangerous places like Richmond can be, especially to young children. And yet the government charged with protecting them will not do its job. Until we recognize a clean environment as a civil right, and every citizen's claim on that right to be equal, the families of Richmond, California--and families in many communities just like it throughout the country--will continue to suffer this discrimination, and the destruction, danger and disease that goes with it.

EPA ADMITS FRACKING POLLUTES GROUNDWATER

EPA has finally acknowledged that fracking can cause groundwater contamination.  In a draft report issued this month concerning an investigation into contamination of a drinking water aquifer in Wyoming, the EPA concluded ". . . .  the explanation best fitting the data for the deep monitoring wells is that constituents associated with hydraulic fracturing have been released into the wind River drinking water aquifer. . . ." (Click on EPA_ReportOnPavillion_Dec-8-2011 for the entire report)  EPA has proven, once again, that if it walks like a duck and quacks like one . . . .  it's a duck.             In recent years the oil and gas fat cats have been making millions and millions of dollars by injecting fluids containing dangerous chemicals into the ground to cheaply recover previously unrecoverable oil and gas.  And, rather than admit the obvious -- that this can create serious environmental problems through the uncontrolled release of harmful chemicals -- they have followed their time-tested approach.  They deny the obvious.  They obfuscate the facts.  They support bogus legislation to protect themselves (like the Texas law allowing them to keep fracking chemicals secret).  And, they brand as "job killers" people who demand sound scientific analysis before launching into potentially catastrophic action (the gas industry recently commissioned a study finding that they created over 600,000 jobs so they can pre-empt those who would question their unfettered operation).  Didn't we just go through this in the Gulf?             The EPA study proves that before we allow the industry to launch headlong into fracking operations everywhere they think they can make a buck, a thorough scientific analysis must be undertaken by people interested in protecting the humans and the environment likely to be affected.  It must be done on a project specific basis.  The recent events in the Gulf have taught us that industry cannot be trusted where there is big money on the line.  Is our government any different?  We can do better as a nation.  We can create jobs responsibly, and without sacrificing our future.

Another Big Day for Polluters/Another Bad Day for America

On nearly the one year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill, last week the President and Congress shook hands on a deal that stripped more than $1.5 billion - 16% - from the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, specifically gutting funds for reducing pollution from coal mining and power plants. Why?  Too much clean air in power plant neighborhoods?  Or maybe this 16% cut is simply EPA's fair share toward trimming the nation's deficit? Hardly.  EPA got one of the biggest percentage cuts of all - compare with the Department of Defense, which actually got a $5 billion increase.  Put it another way:  if every federal program had gotten a cut as large as 16% last week, our deficit problem would be solved.  So, the big cut for EPA was obviously more than "fiscal responsibility" at work. Plain and simple, the need for a budget deal last week served as an excuse for an attack on EPA by big polluters and those elected representatives who serve them in Washington.  Their logic was breathtakingly simple.  If we take EPA's money away, EPA can't make us stop polluting the air and water.  So that's what really happened last week. But the truly bad thing about this deal is not so much what it did to EPA's current budget, but that it sent the signal - from the Obama White House, no less - that protecting families and their homes against pollution is just not a priority these days.  That when someone is searching for funding to sustain tax cuts for millionaires, or to add to the Defense Department budget for war, or for just about any other reason at all, we will sacrifice our health and safety. Bad idea.  Really bad idea. Here's what we've learned over the last 10 years fighting polluters in court:  The polluters have EPA on the run...right now.  Even before last week's massive EPA budget cut takes hold.  In every case, we saw polluters employ armies of lawyers and consultants to browbeat an under-staffed EPA into thinking that the polluter really isn't responsible for the pollution in the first place, or that the pollution really isn't that dangerous after all.  Or both.  Their goal is to spend as little money as possible.  And they accomplish it by slowing down - to a 50-year crawl, in some cases - the timeline for cleaning up toxic dump sites that are the source of contamination in neighborhoods all over the country, and minimizing the scope of any clean-up that EPA ultimately decides is necessary. And now, after last week, EPA is even less able to do battle with them on these critical issues. Last week was just the latest in a series of acts of governmental irresponsibility when it comes to our environment.  Another demonstration that we simply refuse to learn from our mistakes....that our memory is shockingly short.  It was a big day for polluters.  And bad news for everybody else.   A hell of a lot more than the budget got cut.  Regrettably, there's more to come.

Big Day for Polluters

Last week, the President and Congress shook hands on a deal that stripped more than $1.5 billion - 16% - from the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, specifically gutting funds for reducing pollution from coal mining and power plants. Why?  Too much clean air in power plant neighborhoods?  Or maybe this 16% cut is simply EPA's fair share toward trimming the nation's deficit? Hardly.  EPA got one of the biggest percentage cuts of all - compare with the Department of Defense, which actually got a $5 billion increase.  Put it another way:  if every federal program had gotten a cut as large as 16% last week, our deficit problem would be solved.  So, there was obviously more than "fiscal responsibility" at work. Plain and simple, the need for a budget deal last week served as an excuse for an attack on EPA by big polluters and those elected representatives who serve them in Washington.  Their logic was breathtakingly simple.  If we take EPA's money away, EPA can't make us stop polluting the air and water.  So that's what happened last week. But the truly bad thing about this deal is not so much what it did to EPA's current budget, but that it sent the signal - from the Obama White House, no less - that protecting families and their homes against pollution is just not a priority these days.  That when someone is searching for funding to sustain tax cuts for millionaires, or to add to the Defense Department budget for war, or for just about any other reason at all, we will sacrifice our health and safety. Bad idea.  Really bad idea. Here's what I learned over the last 10 years fighting polluters in court:  The polluters have EPA on the run...right now.  Even before last week's massive EPA budget cut takes hold.  In every case, I saw polluters employ armies of lawyers and consultants to browbeat an under-staffed EPA into thinking that the polluter really isn't responsible for the pollution in the first place, or that the pollution really isn't that dangerous after all.  Or both.  Their goal is to spend less money.  And they accomplish it, by slowing down - to a 50-year crawl, in some cases - the timeline for cleaning up toxic dump sites that are the source of contamination in neighborhoods all over the country, and minimizing the scope of any clean-up that EPA ultimately decides is necessary. And now, after last week, EPA is even less able to do battle with them on these critical issues. Last week was a big day for polluters.  And bad news for everybody else.   A hell of a lot more than the budget got cut.

The Gulf Oil Spill, Fukushima, the Budget Bill: Why The Government Doesn't Protect Us

We've been representing families in lawsuits against polluters for filling their homes with toxic chemicals for the better part of the last decade. We've obtained safe water supplies and clean air in homes for thousands of families, and recovered millions of dollars in lost property value for them.  During jury selection we've asked prospective jurors to raise their hands if they believe that government adequately protects them from environmental harm. The next person who raises her hand will be the first. Almost a year ago to the day, we and the rest of the world watched in horror as a single deep water well in the gulf exploded and began spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. For weeks on end we listened to lies from industry, and from government, about everything from how this could happen, to the severity of the problem, to how and when they would clean it up. Now we hear lies about the damage done, including the destruction of industries, families, wildlife and the ecosystem. The recently issued government report on this disaster lays the blame at the doorstep of BP and, to no one's surprise, does not emphasize the responsibility of government for allowing this to happen. Truth be known, this was one well among thousands. The whole approach to permitting and regulation of drilling in the Gulf has been folly from the word go. It has been dictated by industry and the politicians who depend on them for their jobs through our coin-operated political system. More recently, we and the rest of the world have watched in horror as the nuclear plants in Fukushima imploded and have begun to reek havoc by spreading dangerous levels of radiation throughout Japan. Again, we've listened to lies from industry and the government, this time Japan, about everything from how this could happen, to the severity of the problem, to how and when they will stop it. The spin about how little harm has been caused is just beginning, but make no mistake, we will not hear the truth. The truth is they don't even know how much damage this will cause and may not for generations. The problem remains out of control. And now, the budget deal. Last week, on the one year anniversary of the "spill" in the Gulf, our President and representatives in Congress cut a deal on the budget that takes $1.5 billion away from EPA's budget. 16% of its total budget! Its recent efforts to regulate atmosphere destroying emissions have been shelved. The prospect of meaningful enforcement has been crushed. And this, as part of a deal that increases our war budget by $5 billion dollars. Industry and its henchman worked hard for this. Its no wonder that no one believes government protects them from environmental harm. It doesn't. It can't. And it won't until we take our leaders out of the pockets of industry.

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