Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Protection Agency’

Cover of The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas.

I just finished a book called “The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet” by Leah Thomas. This book just came out in 2022, and it is a very interesting read. The book lays out many compelling connections between the environmental movement and social justice. It explains how BIPOC individuals and communities have, and still are, being burdened with the majority of environmental costs from pollution to climate change to food insecurities. It also does a very good job of explaining some of the history of the environmental movement and the feminist movement, and it shines a light on where and how both of these movements have a history of excluding and further marginalizing already marginalized groups.

The book also explains how inequalities play out in particular industries such as the green energy and the clothing/fashion industries. This subject is especially difficult because the overall ends may be important to pursue (transitioning to more sustainable sources of energy, for example), however we as a global society must be aware of both the ends and the means matter. If noble ends are accomplished using morally questionable means, the side effects of those means will tarnish the ends and their nobleness will be diminished. To learn more about this book and intersectional environmentalism, I highly recommend the book and the website that has tons of resources.

One specific resource that I was particularly interested to learn about was a mapping tool that has been developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called EJScreen: the Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. This is a site that has many different layers of data that you can add on or take off a map of any area in the USA. These layers include information about pollution (such as lead paint locations, ozone rates, air particulate concentrations, etc.), socioeconomic indicators (such as race, household income rates, age demographics, etc.), health disparities (such as life expectancies, heart disease, and asthma), climate change (such as wildfire risk, sea level rise impacts, flood risks, etc.), critical services gaps (such as broadband gaps, food deserts, and lack of medical coverage) and more.

This tool allows the EPA to better understand the issues facing the country and to better fulfill their mission to protect the people and natural resources of the USA. It also allows each of us to do some exploring ourselves.

By adding or taking off layers, we can look at what factors are impacting the communities we live in. Are there areas of my city that have unusually high levels of air pollution? I can click on that data layer and see how air pollution concentrations differ across the city. Are there areas of my city for which flooding is an unusually high risk? I can click on that data layer and find out. Are there areas of my city that contain a large number of BIPOC households? I can click on that data layer and find out.

And, of course, even greater power comes from this tool when several layers are overlapped on top of each other. That is when the intersectionality of these different factors comes to light. Are the areas of high air pollution similar to the areas where large numbers of BIPOC people live? Do the areas of high flood risk overlap extensively with the areas of low income households are?

When several of the data layers are combined, distinct differences in living conditions can be made visible. And once they are viable, we can all start to figure out how to address them.

If you read this book, let me know in the comments what you think. If you play around with the EPA mapping tool, let me know if you find any interesting/surprising/disturbing correlations.

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epa-5-epaThe administration of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is dipping to a knew low. EPA scientists are being censored.

Several EPA scientists have been told by their upper management not to present their data at a conference in Providence, RI on one of the major estuaries on the eastern seaboard, the Narrangansett Bay Estuary. The conference will include a 500 page technical report entitled “The State of Narrangansett Bay and Its Watershed.” This report includes the work of dozens of researchers from a variety of organizations on the current conditions of the bay/estuary, how those conditions have changed over the recent past, and what forces are likely to effect or contribute to those conditions in the future. To read a bit more of the story click here. These future forces prominently include climate change, and that is where the censorship comes into play.

The EPA scientists have been involved in climate change research, and were scheduled to present information on climate change, facilitate discussions on climate change, etc. In alignment with a lot of the current federal attitude towards climate change, which has included the removal of climate change pages from federal websites and the direction to not refer to climate change in reports and other documents, the EPA scientists have been told that they may not present at the conference. They can still attend, but presentations at scientific conferences are major way that information is shared in the scientific community.

Being prevented from presenting scientific data at a scientific conference to fellow scientists is disgraceful!

Scientific censorship (and censorship in general) directly contributes to the decline of an informed society.

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epa-5-epaFounded on December 2nd, 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a response by President Nixon, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Congress to two decades of growing concern of the American people about the deteriorating state of the environment in which they lived and the human health effects that resulted for that deteriorating state.

To address both concerns, the mission of the EPA (as stated on their website) has been to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • all parts of society — communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments — have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; and
  • the United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

To accomplish this mission, the EPA develops and enforces regulations, gives out grants, studies environmental issues, sponsors partnerships, teaches people about the environment, and publishes their findings.


Las Angeles, CA air quality compared across decades. Photo courtesy of Green Building Law.

Over the course of its history, the EPA has increased the health and quality of the environment outside and inside our bodies. By regulating air quality under the Clean Air Act (1963) the EPA sets emissions standards that insure the air we breath, particularly in cities, is healthy. As a result, air quality has dramatically improved. This has decreased the rates of respiratory distress and disorders and so lessened the burden on our healthcare system. Not to mention making the views we get to see all the more spectacular.


Water comparison between two cities in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Michigan Radio.

By regulating water quality under the Clean Water Act (1972), the the EPA sets drinking water and wastewater standards that insure the water we drink is clean and safe. An example of this that should still be fresh in all of our minds is that of Flint Michigan where EPA standards were ignored, and the results were a tremendous negative impact on the health of the residents of Flint, particularly children.


By reducing the amount of new materials we, as a society, use more land can be left looking like the lower right part of this photo instead of the upper left. Photo courtesy of FreeYork.

By promoting recycling standards and educating people about recycling (using tools like their ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ campaign), the EPA has helped reduce the amounts of raw materials needed to produce the vast quantities of foods and produces that we all need to live our lives. This reduction in the amounts of materials we need means that we can now do more with less which reduces extraction costs and leaves more areas open and natural and beautiful.


Before and after photos of glacial retreat. Photo courtesy of NASA.

By regulating greenhouse gas emissions again under the Clean Air Act (1963), the EPA is helping to reduce the amount that our planet is going to warm and so lessen the catastrophic impacts that human caused global warming is going to have on all of our lives in the next few decades.

And don’t think for a second that people, organizations, corporations, etc will reduce their environmental impacts voluntarily. No voluntary environmental protection strategy has ever worked, and when left to their own devices, the environment and the health of the public citizen suffer. One example of this is that I have already written about is the history surrounding Love Canal. And there are many, many more stories such as this one out there.

It is for all these reasons and more that I find the current attacks on the EPA so disturbing. From the nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator to the introduction by congressman Matt Gaetz (R -Florida) of H.R. 861. If passed H.R. 861 will terminate the EPA. This bill was co-sponsored by Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi), and Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia). Remember these four names. They are the names of individuals who are in favor of causing harm to the environment and to US citizens. Call your congressperson every day, and tell them repeatedly, that any support for H.R. 861 will directly harm We The People of the United States not to mention the citizens of many other countries, and the ecosystems we all require to live. Instead ask them to support the EPA and the incredibly important job they are doing in the months, years, and decades ahead.

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Information is important. With information each of us as individuals, and our society as a whole, can learn about the world. With information, we can all make decisions that make sense. With information, we can all discuss ideas.

Without information none of that is possible. Without information, we are, at best, at the mercy of our current, limited knowledge, and our base instincts. Without information we are, at worst, at the mercy of the limited knowledge and instincts of someone else.

This is why the gag order, and insistence that all reports and data be pre-screened before release to the public, issued by the President to the EPA are so concerning to me, and I think should be so concerning everyone else. This is exactly the kind of action that limits access to, and spread of, information. It will only hamper all of our abilities to operate as rational, critically thinking individuals. It is the kind of action that is put in place to control what we, as citizens, know and when we know it. This is censorship and it has no place in science or a free society.



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