We discuss important environmental issues in the news and investigative reports by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project.
Talking Trash About Climate Change
When most people think about greenhouse gas emissions, they think about gas-guzzling vehicles and coal-fired power plants. They don’t talk trash. That’s not the case with Environmental Integrity Project attorneys Ryan Maher and Leah Kelly. They recently authored a ground-breaking investigative report that revealed that Maryland’s landfills are releasing four times more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the official state estimates. When EIP’s report, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Maryland’s Landfills,” was released, the Maryland Department of the Environment immediately issued a statement confirming the report’s conclusions and correcting the state’s greenhouse gas inventory. Across the country, researchers are finding far higher than anticipated methane emissions from municipal landfills and their decaying food waste – and the issue is stirring government action. Maryland is now holding a series of public meetings as it looks to issue new regulations to better control methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from dumps. We take a road trip out to one of Maryland’s largest landfills – Baltimore’s Quarantine Road landfill – with Maher and Kelly to get down into the nitty gritty about calculating greenhouse gas emissions from waste – a major global issue.
A Look at Biden's Pick to Run EPA, Michael Regan, and the Challenges he Faces
President-Elect Joe Biden has picked North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, Michael Regan, as his choice to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. How has Regan performed in his job as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality? And what challenges will he face rebuilding an EPA devastated by deregulation, staffing cuts, and control by industry lobbyists during the Trump Administration? We interview three experts: Derb Carter, Director of the North Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, who has extensive first-hand knowledge of Regan’s track record in North Carolina; Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA, who has insights into how to get the EPA back on track; and Betsy Southerland, former Director of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water.
Talking Covid and the Future of Environmental Justice with Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali
As the incoming Biden Administration makes plans for its environmental agenda over the next four years, we interview a national leader in the environmental justice movement about how the White House can prioritize protecting minority and lower-income communities that have long been neglected. Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, a Vice President the National Wildlife Federation, worked for 24 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until March of 2017, when he resigned because the Trump Administration wanted to eliminate EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which Dr. Ali helped to create. He started working on social justice issues at the age of 16, joining EPA’s efforts as a student. Dr. Ali talks about the need to tackle COVID-19 as a justice issue and broadly expand the scope of federal efforts to reduce air pollution and improve water quality not only in urban neighborhoods, but also rural areas across the U.S. According to news reports, Dr. Ali is among those being considered for a high-level environmental role in the Biden Administration, perhaps directing the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
A Family's Battle for Life Against an Oil Refinery
Charlie Reeves grew up in public housing in South Philadelphia near the oldest and largest oil refinery on the East Coast, the Point Breeze Refinery, later owned by Sunoco and then Philadelphia Energy Solutions. Back in the 1970s, his father led public protests at City Hall and Sunoco headquarters over what he was convinced was toxic air pollution from the plant that was harming his family’s health. But authorities dismissed the protests and assured the neighborhood that everything was fine. Those reassurances didn’t ring true – especially when Charlie, his mother, and several neighbors were diagnosed with cancer, and Charlie’s mother died. But the neighborhood could not do anything to stop the refinery, because they had no evidence. Finally, the refinery closed on June 21, 2019, when a massive explosion and fire at the plant sent a fireball into the sky and rattled windows for miles around.
To Charlie Reeves, the most devastating fact was what he learned six months later, when the Environmental Integrity Project, working with NBC National News, revealed that air pollution monitors ringing the refinery had registered benzene – a known carcinogen — at the plant’s fence lines at concentrations averaging more than five times the federal limit (EPA’s “action level” for benzene) for an entire year. That meant that local residents like the Reeves family could have been exposed to excessive cancer risks for a long time – including months after the explosion, and potentially months or years before the fire. Charlie is determined to use the new benzene air monitoring data collected by the Environmental Integrity Project to fight for environmental justice for his lower-income neighborhood. Southwest Philadelphia is one of 13 communities across the country that face potential cancer risks from excessive benzene air pollution detected at the fencelines of nearby oil refineries, according to EPA data produced for the first time in 2019 because of a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project and allies to help protect communities in Texas and Louisiana.
Sailor Turns Sleuth In War For Nation's River
Brent Walls, the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper in Western Maryland, dedicated his life to fighting for clean water in the Nation’s River after he experienced a moment of clarity. He was serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Constellation when he witnessed a routine procedure during his first cruise in the Pacific Ocean. “Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, the ship would slow down and a bell would ring, and everyone would gather their trash and take it to the back of the boat and just throw it over,” Walls recalled. “I remember one time, in particular, it was a sunset, and there was nothing but open ocean. The ship slowed down and I could see just miles and miles of huge garbage bags floating that we just unloaded into the ocean. That kind of made me sick, it really did.” He knew there had to be a better way. And so, when he got out of the Navy, Walls transformed himself into a clean water warrior and a high-tech sleuth. As the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper for the last 11 years, he has worked to document and report pollution with digital photos, water sampling equipment, and a drone he launches from a James Bond-like compartment on the back of his motorcycle. He’s working with the Environmental Integrity Project to stop toxic water pollution from a paper mill site in Luke, Maryland. There, local residents are struggling to imagine a new future for themselves after the plant's shutdown. Walls thinks he may have an answer.
Terrorism Charges Against Protester Part Of A National Pattern
Anne Rolfes is the Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit group that, for the last two decades, has been campaigning for public health protections for mostly lower-income families living just beyond the fences of chemical factories. Her advocacy for air pollution controls has long made her a target for Louisiana’s powerful chemical industry. But recently, her protests against what would be North America’s largest plastics factory, proposed by the Formosa Plastics company atop a site with an historic slave burial ground in the African American community of St. James, Louisiana, provoked more than just the irritation of the political establishment. The Baton Rouge Police Department charged Rolfes with terrorism – a felony – for placing, as part of a peaceful protest of plastics industry pollution, a box with plastic waste from a Formosa plastics plant on the porch of a plastics industry lobbyist. Civil liberties experts say the charges are part of a national pattern of law-enforcement agencies and even the Trump Administration attempting to criminalize dissent and peaceful protests.