Summer is considered a quiet time, a hiatus before the renewal of fall. However, on the environmental front, there is no time for a break or a respite. All summer, my inbox has been filled with information about concerns that we cannot look away from. Moving into fall, these are the issues that will be on my front burner:
Air Pollution and Health
Air pollution has been identified as being globally responsible for 2.5 million deaths per year. Those most vulnerable to air pollution are babies, children, seniors, and those with pulmonary and heart disease. When air visibility is less than one mile, it becomes unhealthy to be outdoors. Air pollution is linked to poor birth results. It has been reported that air pollution from fracking is rising. Even Fox News had a story reporting that a Canadian study pegged an increase in burst appendixes to elevated amounts of ozone in the air. Cities are particularly hard hit. Based on particle pollution stats, Philadelphia is the 11th worst location in the nation.
This past summer, air quality alerts around the country peaked with numerous “orange codes,” from New Jersey to Chicago. The heat exacerbated ozone pollution. Wildfires raged in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and California. Rim fires at the northwest edge of Yosemite National Park impacted over 200 square miles, creating a potential threat to San Francisco’s power and water supplies — as well as concern for the renowned sequoia trees.
In the Southwest, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires—along with lower rainfall and the use of water in the fracking process—created water shortages. The melting of Arctic Sea Ice continues to get worse, advancing at one of the fastest rates in human history. At the current pace of 12 percent per decade, it is entirely possible that by 2030 there will be no ice in the Arctic. Consequentially, global sea levels will rise. Scientists are predicting that New York City, Miami, and New Orleans are particularly at risk for flooding and economic loss due to rising sea levels.
Extreme weather has continued to create a disproportionate impact on low-income and communities of color. It has underscored that those with less financial resources have fewer options to respond to weather disaster, substandard infrastructure, hazardous factories and toxic waste site locations.
The XL Pipeline
On April 18th, thirty-six members of Congress wrote to Secretary Kerry stating, “We write to express our concerns that the Keystone XL Pipeline Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) fails to reflect the full environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline. We strongly encourage the State Department to reevaluate the SEIS and its assessment of the proposed pipeline’s impacts on climate change, economy, our natural resources, our economy, and low-income and minority communities.” Expect supporters of the pipeline to play the economy and jobs card.
The Koch Brothers
The Koch Brothers are underwriting efforts to stall climate innovation in the United States, so it won’t financially impact the bottom line of their numerous companies. They have funded a network of think tanks and talking heads to disseminate false information—specifically about renewable energy. They have been actively promoting skewed facts in Georgia about solar energy, and in Ohio about wind energy. They have also spearheaded a surreptitious campaign to influence over 400 federal and state officials to sign a climate obstruction pledge.
Obstructionism in Congress
The current Congress continues to pursue an anti-environmental path, driven by the agenda of a vocal and committed cabal of climate deniers. They have worked to block and stymie EPA efforts on climate change and air pollution — among other legislation. They recently inserted a rider in the Interior and Environment appropriations bill (Sec. 445) that would prevent the EPA from capping carbon pollution from power plants. The Senate Environmental Committee is filled with Republican representatives who would like to see the EPA defunded. Among the leaders of this group is Sen. James Inhofe, whose favorite line describing global warming is, “The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Google recently heard from an outraged public when they sponsored a fundraiser on his behalf.
Working tirelessly to bring recognition to the issue of climate change, Rep. Henry Waxman has organized the House Safe Climate Caucus. He has repeatedly called for hearings on issues from clean energy to extreme weather. The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change is targeting the need to develop policy on climate change. Members have committed to speak every day on the floor about the impact of climate change on the nation. Rep. Barbara Lee called colleagues to task about doing nothing on climate change before the five-week summer recess.
President Obama, in his climate change speech, asked the American people to keep him and the rest of government accountable on safeguarding the environment. Let’s continue to support him in telling your Congressional representative to do everything in her or his power to support the President’s standards for power plants, which will cut carbon pollution and help deliver healthier air and a safer climate for our families.