toxic-warning-sign.jpg
July 13, 2020 by Darya Minovi

The Peril of Ethylene Oxide: Replacing One Public Health Crisis with Another

Nine months ago, residents of the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook, Illinois, scored a major victory in their fight to prevent emissions of a dangerous gas, ethylene oxide, into the air they breathe. In fact, their victory appeared to have ripple effects in other communities. But like so many other aspects of life in the midst of a pandemic, things changed in a hurry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified ethylene oxide, or EtO, as a human carcinogen in December 2016. According to the agency, exposure via inhalation increases the likelihood of developing certain cancers and other respiratory and neurological ailments. EPA has not established a reference dose, or maximum acceptable dose, for EtO, but the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) Cancer Risk Evaluation Guide (CREG) estimates concentrations of a carcinogen at which there is an elevated risk of one additional cancer case in one million people exposed over a lifetime. ATSDR’s CREG for ethylene oxide is 0.00021 µg/m3.

Despite being classified as harmful, EtO is used to sterilize nearly half of all medical devices that require sterilization in the United States. EPA’s 2016 Toxics Release Inventory identified more …

July 1, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
trucks-heavy-pixabay-wide.jpg

When California adopted its first-in-the-nation regulations requiring truck electrification on June 25, the state took a step (or drove a mile) toward reducing pollution in the nation's most vulnerable communities. The new regulation exemplifies a key feature of California's approach: its integration of climate goals, clean air goals, and, at least in this case, environmental justice goals.

According to the press release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), trucks in California contribute 80 percent of the state's diesel pollution and 70 percent of its smog-causing pollution while constituting less than 7 percent of registered vehicles. The rule's environmental assessment explains that particulate matter from diesel engines is responsible "for approximately 60 percent of the current estimated cancer risk for background ambient air." These risks are highest near freight hubs, including "ports, rail yards and distribution centers." And these areas, in turn, are often in …

June 16, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
PoultryProcessingUSDAFlickr-wide.jpg

On June 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a remote hearing, “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.” The Center for Progressive Reform, joined by Fair Farms, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health (SESH), and the Sussex Health and Environmental Network submitted a fact sheet to subcommittee members outlining the impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula, along with a number of recommendations for building a more sustainable model for the region.

The area is home to a massive poultry industry, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We addressed several of the most severe problems in our fact sheet, including the following.

Public Health Harms from 'Depopulation'

Because of pandemic-driven staffing shortages, approximately 2 million chickens in the region, likely more, have been killed without having been processed into consumer-ready meat. According to the industry, once …

June 10, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
blm-pixabay-wide.jpg

Black lives matter. As we contemplate the scope of structural racism, we find that “Black Lives Matter” needs to be said over and over again. We say it as we push for policing that protects rather than threatens. And we can keep saying it. Like when we talk about having available, affordable health care. Having access to technology and broadband, a quiet space, and time when the classroom becomes off limits due to a pandemic or climate-driven extreme weather. Finding an affordable place to live and landlords who don’t discriminate. Finding meaningful work and getting a promotion. Finding fresh food. Getting respect.

And then there’s the environment. We still see stark disparities in exposures to environmental harms in our country. For example, communities of color are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution. For decades, people of color have been …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
polluting-factory-fence2-pexels-wide.jpg

On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

March 24, 2020 by Darya Minovi
houston-ship-channel-wide.jpg


UPDATE: The Center for Progressive Reform signed a March 31, 2020 letter in support of federal funding for programs aligned with the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform in the COVID-19 stimulus legislation. Among a variety of environmental justice priorities, the request includes cumulative impacts analysis.


As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the globe, the inequalities in American society have come into even sharper relief. People with low incomes who are unable to work from home risk being exposed to the virus at work or losing their jobs altogether. Their children may no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals at school. They are also less likely to have health insurance, receive new drugs, or have access to primary or specialty care, putting them at a greater risk of succumbing to the illness. As with any shock to the system – natural disaster, conflict, and …

Oct. 23, 2019 by Dave Owen
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies.

For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a depressing, if unsurprising, picture. In 2011, federal agencies participating in an environmental justice working group agreed to develop and periodically update environmental justice strategic plans, but some agencies have never developed plans, and others have stopped updating their plans. Ideally, those plans would include ambitious goals for progress and measurable indicators for evaluating progress toward (or past) those goals, but many agency plans include no such things …

Sept. 23, 2019 by James Goodwin
RegPolicyCollage_wide.JPG

Last week's televised climate town hall saw several Democratic presidential candidates outline an impressive array of policies that, if implemented effectively, offer some measure of hope for averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis for us and future generations. The operative concept there – lurking in the background and too often taken for granted – is effective implementation. The fact of the matter is that meeting our country's greatest challenges – climate change, economic inequality, systemic racism, access to quality health care – will require effective implementation, and that in turn will require a more robust, modernized, and inclusive regulatory system than we currently have.

Conservatives have long vilified the U.S. system of regulatory safeguards, while establishment Democrats – when not trying to ignore it altogether – have at best accepted regulation only grudgingly and apologetically. As demonstrated at a June CPR conference, though, progressives are staking out a new, more …

June 18, 2019 by Emily Hammond
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

The Supreme Court has concluded that Virginia's decades-old moratorium on uranium mining is not pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act. But there is no clear answer to the question that pervaded the briefing and oral argument: What is the proper role for state legislative purpose in a pre-emption analysis?

Monday's judgment was accompanied by three opinions: a lead opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh; a concurring opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan; and a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. The Gorsuch opinion stated that state legislative purpose has no place in pre-emption analyses, whereas the Ginsburg opinion expressed discomfort …

Feb. 21, 2019 by James Goodwin
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

For affected indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, new oil and gas pipelines snaking across their lands represent a new kind of attack. Dirty, polluting, dangerous, and built without the communities' consent, these pipelines are the inevitable outcome of North America's hydraulic fracturing and tar sands oil "revolutions" that have played out in recent decades. These indigenous frontline communities must bear the disproportionate costs brought about by developed nations' continued addiction to fossil fuels, all without seeing most of the benefits. In a special preview episode of Season 2 of the Connect the Dots podcast, CPR President Rob Verchick explores this poignant case study of environmental injustice with the guidance of Rachel Rye Butler, the head of the Democracy Campaign at Greenpeace.

As Rachel tells Rob, the First Nations people in Canada and Native Americans in the United States have been protesting the development of …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 13, 2020

The Peril of Ethylene Oxide: Replacing One Public Health Crisis with Another

July 1, 2020

California Keeps on Truckin'

June 16, 2020

Environmental Justice Impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula

June 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter and the Environment

April 21, 2020

CPR's Verchick Notes Weakening Environmental Enforcement during Pandemic Endangers Fenceline Communities

March 24, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic Reinforces the Need for Cumulative Impacts Analysis

Oct. 23, 2019

The GAO's New Environmental Justice Report