The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Climate Change

EPA Abdicates Common Good Responsibility to Ensure Clean Water

 

Photo: commonfloor.com

The Wall Street Journal yesterday disclosed that Scott Pruitt, EPA Director, is working to limit the veto power of the agency over large projects impacting water quality. The agency has used the veto power sparingly – only 13 times since it was given the authority in the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Pruit believes the veto authority has gone too far impeding economic development, “I am concerned that the mere potential of EPA’s use of its… authority before or after the permitting process could influence investment decisions and chill economic growth by short-circuiting the permitting process,”, in a 4 page memo to regional staff.

Why is this clean water common good responsibility so hard to execute?   If a person dumped all his waste water and sewage in the street in front of his neighbors’  house, the neighbor would be upset and rightfully so. So, why do we treat mines, real estate developments, or port development any differently?  Is it because they are trying to make a profit while desecrating the land so it is ok?

Chromium-6 a known carcinogen made famous in the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ has been found in the drinking water of millions of Americans. The non-profit Environmental Working Group has been monitoring the status of chromium-6  found in 2017 the substance in the drinking water of over 200 million people.  So, there are dangerous substances that still need to be monitoring in our drinking water.

The EPA has not taken in its public stewardship responsibility to the level of other countries, there are thousands of chemicals that can cause pollution and possible health hazards – none have been added to the pollutants list since 2000.  The list is small only 90 are covered in the Clean Water Act out of about ten thousand.  In the European Union they closely track over 2,500 different chemicals.

While the EPA is not as diligent as it needs to be, President Trump a year ago weakened the Clean Water Act requirement that mining companies ensure that water dumped into streams be cleaned to safe water standards.  The policy shift impacts the drinking water of over 117 million people.

Source: Scientific American, – 3/10/17

The GOP Administration continues to undermine protections in place for 40 years to ensure clean water is available to all citizens.  The lead levels found in Flint, Michigan water show that in some areas around the country the job is not getting done. Weakening the Clean Water Act in regard to mining dross and limiting the use of EPA veto on projects are just two examples of an indifferent and dangerous attitude by the agency.

Next steps:

In a Gallup poll 57 %  of the people said they favor ensuring environmental quality over economic growth when a decision needs to be made.

Source: Gallup – 4/2/18

When are we going to get a government that represents the will of the people on issues of our very survival like the environment?  The EPA Director worked as attorney general in Oklahoma relaxing environmental laws and now he is plowing ahead not protecting the public and not steadfastly defending the common good. Congress needs to act to update the Clean Water Act from updates in the 1980s, give the EPA a clear message that protecting the public is the first priority over economic costs.

Wood Project Gives Ex-Offenders New Lives

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: USA Today

The US Forest Services has kicked off a new program to reclaim urban lumber from abandoned homes by using workers from non-profits who had criminal records.  The innovative program attacks two major problems in urban centers like Baltimore, where 70 % of criminal offenders are returned to prison within 3 years, and there are over 16,000 abandoned structures in the city.  Quite often the abandoned structures are hives of prostitution, drugs and criminal activity.

Morgan Grove, Urban Wood Project leader, says “It’s about air quality and water quality.  It’s also about reducing crime and helping people move forward”.  She continued by declaring, “At its core, it’s really still maintaining the mission of revitalizing that the Forest Service has had since the agency was started in the early 1900s.”

The following table outlines the linked issues of high crime, abandoned buildings, high prison rates and the health of communities:

Sources: Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative – Maryland, USA Today – 6/11/18

It is interesting to note the issues Baltimore city officials face in reclaiming their communities to return them to being healthy places to live, environmentally, and to redeem the people in the community to a productive life. We see many of these same issues in the rural regions of our country, that have been left behind by losing jobs to other offshore sites, reduced education opportunities, poor health, drugs and slow Internet infrastructure.

As a country we are missing the opportunity to rebuild lives, the environment and the economy unless we support innovative programs like the Urban Wood Project.

Lyft Takes Responsibility for the Environment

 

Image: lyft.com

Lyft recently announced that it will be purchasing carbon offset credits to be used to make riding in Lyft cars carbon neutral. John Zimmer, Lyft, co-founder noted in a Medium post that in 2017 when President Trump announced the US was leaving the Paris Climate Agreement that Lyft was joining many other companies in We Are Still In, to declare as an alliance their commitment  to protecting the environment.  The group started by Michael Bloomberg brings state and local governments, businesses, universities and colleges representing 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the economy affirming their commitment to the Paris agreement.

Zimmer outlines a bold effort with multi-million dollar investments in carbon control or emissions projects near major markets in Ohio, Michigan, and Oklahoma. The $11 billion ride sharing company declares, “your decision to ride with Lyft will support the fight against climate change.” The ride hailing company sees a future where all their vehicles are electric and carbon emission free – as the race is on toward electric cars and possible autonomous rides.

We applaud the move by Lyft, taking on corporate social responsibility for the millions of tons of emissions that Lyft cars are spewing into the air every year.  Some studies show that ride sharing rather than reducing the number of car rides people take, they actually are increasing because using the app is so easy and the cost relatively inexpensive. So, the move and commitment by Lyft to take responsibility for our environment is a key move we expect to see from every company that adds carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

Here are examples of the carbon footprint of various types of cars and transportation systems:

Sources: DEFRA, EIA, EPA, GREET, Shrinkthatfootprint.com – 6/7/18

Clearly the combination of solar with electric cars is promising along with public transit like the school bus or Eurostar rail.  We need to make carbon emissions emitted by all businesses a priority in government policy transparency to show consumers and investors how businesses are contributing to carbon emissions and what they are doing about the problem. The Lyft Green Cities Initiative demonstrates the commitment by Lyft to take responsibility for our environment that we expect to see from every business as they all contribute carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

High Gasoline Prices Hurt Low Income Consumers Most

 

Image: earthfinds.co.ug

OPEC nations have been reducing their oil output over the past few months, while the US has been increasing its output – to the point where the US has become a net oil exporting country.  Yet, with the US pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, oil prices shot up even higher.  For a regular gallon of gas, the price has increased 23 % over a year ago.

Source: gasprices.aaa.com – 5/15/18

Prices are highest in the Western states and East Coast where there are more environmental regulations requiring special gas additives and higher taxes for road maintenance. Major gasoline price rises anywhere hit the lowest income groups the hardest, yet even harder in expensive Western and East Coast states.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Morgan Stanley Research, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/15/18

Low income people are already squeezed by higher rents, fewer low cost homes to purchase, rising health care costs, higher health insurance for individuals by undermining the Obamacare exchanges, higher debt, low wages and longer commutes (as often they don’t have the money to live near work).  Longer commutes mean that a gasoline price increases hurt these long commuters harder than other drivers.

Next steps:

We need to get back to a focus on the 80 % and the lower income 10 – 20 % who are taking the brunt of price increases for necessities across our economy.  We need to invest in affordable housing near employment to reduce commutes (reduce as purchases), public transportation in rail, bus and tram systems.  While, reducing environment regulations may help the oil industry to pump more oil, we do so at the cost of our environment and health in the future – where quite often lower income people live near refineries and pollution leaking tank sites.  Investing in renewable energy sources to reduce our need for costly gas offers more alternatives and is an environmentally sound strategy. Plus, corporate employers could help hourly and lower salary workers with public transportation credits to be used to reduce expenses of driving by supporting car pools and using public transportation. Local and State government can offer tax deductions on the matching grants to corporations that offer public transportation and carpooling credits.

California Leads with Solar New Home Requirement

Photo: npr.org

The State of California is the first state in the country to require all new homes being built beginning in 2020 have solar panels.  The requirement applies to all single family and condo units up to three stories high.  The additional cost is estimated to be about $9, 500 added onto one of the highest median prices in the country at $565,000.

Some observers would have preferred that the State focus on building large solar farms rather than residences since the residence approach means that utilities have to deal with power coming up line that may be difficult for them to handle.  Yet, residence based solar panel electricity provides for a more distributed system, rather than a centralized one offering more redundancy, options for homeowners and great self-reliance.

The residence based electricity option basically poses an alternative to central line based power utilities.  Essentially with competition from residences it will spur utilities to cut costs and see how to move into renewable energy quicker to take advantage of lower costs for solar power.

Sources: California Energy Commission, The Wall Street Journal – 5/9/18

The shift to renewable energy sources is crucial to meet objects for climate change as endorsed by 175 countries in the Paris Climate Accord. When we think about the consequences of not meeting the challenge of climate change it is unthinkable how hostile our planet will be to live on – eventually making it uninhabitable.

We call for a national initiative to make renewables the standard for all new homes. As we have noted almost 60 % of the people want to set the environment as a priority even if there is an economic cost.  if the federal government won’t do it then the top 20  new housing states should implement the plan and make renewables as the de facto approach toward home building.

To assist first time buyers, we recommend the State of California offer for homes under $400k an energy credit to be used as a credit on families’ state taxes to help out with the added solar expense added onto the price of a new home.

Let’s get the country moving toward renewable energy as our standard way of building communities and enjoy a climate that we all can live in.

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