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Sept. 6, 2021 by Minor Sinclair

Labor Day 2021: This May Be the Best Year for Labor in a Generation

New dynamics are shaping the labor market, labor organizing and labor policies

Economists are scratching their heads furiously — why is there a labor shortage amidst high unemployment? Everywhere employers are posting “Help Wanted” signs but still face shortage of workers. Construction projects are stymied, retail shops are half-staffed and produce rots in the fields all because of a lack of workers. There is no fresh supply of “essential workers” who are surging into the job market.

The conservative view, that people don’t want to work and that the unemployment benefits are a disincentive, has been debunked by the evidence. An academic study analyzed the effect of cutting unemployment benefits (done in 26 states which are all but one led by Republican governors). On employment rates, the impact was negligible — only 7 of 8 people who were dropped from unemployment rolls actually gained jobs. But for households, the impact was harsh and tens of thousands faced struggles in paying rent and bills and buying food. Also, household spending dropped $2 billion in those states, causing damaging ripple effects.

Workers are voting by staying home. Lousy job conditions — low pay, dangerous work environments including the risk of COVID, mistreatment — are not …

Sept. 3, 2021 by Robert Verchick
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This op-ed was originally published in the Washington Post.

Ask just about any New Orleanian to name the most exasperating thing about the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, and you’ll get the same answer. It isn’t the floodwater. Or the roof damage. It’s something more familiar but equally as threatening to life, health and property: power failure.

This week, Entergy, Louisiana’s largest power company, warned customers to brace for several days or even weeks without power. That means no light, no microwave oven, no refrigerator — and getting by on candles and canned food. It means no air conditioning amid an often-triple-digit heat index, no computer and no Internet, unless you can get online with a smartphone — which you don’t have power to charge. Gas stations are closed because electric pumps can’t pump. In some neighborhoods, toilets don’t flush because sewage …

Sept. 3, 2021 by M. Isabelle Chaudry
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Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.

In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.

Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.

People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according …

Sept. 2, 2021 by James Goodwin, Robert Verchick
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

A few weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers made a startling announcement: It would give Sharon Lavigne and her neighbors in St. James Parish, La., a chance to tell their stories. The fact one of the world’s largest chemical companies has fought for years to keep Lavigne quiet tells you how commanding her stories are. Those stories may stop this particular company from building a multi-billion dollar chemical plant surrounding her neighborhood.

For this, we can thank a simple law, signed by President Nixon in 1970, called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA doesn’t tell agencies what choices they must make — like where to erect a levee or whether to permit a plastics plant. But it does insist their choices be informed. So, before the Army Corps can approve a company …

Sept. 2, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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This op-ed was originally published in The Virginia Mercury.

The U.S. Senate faces a long to-do list when it reconvenes next month.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax,  wants to be sure an important but fairly obscure environmental health bill makes the list. 

It passed the House in July, thanks in part to Democratic members of our congressional delegation, and now awaits action in the upper chamber. “The Senate must take action,” Connolly told me by email.

The legislation would regulate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of toxins linked to cancer, infertility and other serious health problems. One such problem is compromised immunity, which may reduce the effectiveness of COVID vaccines — just as the delta variant surges across the state.

This bill is urgently needed in Northern Virginia — a reported PFAS “hot spot.”

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.

Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.

In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.

Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Joel Mintz
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

Scientific concerns about the impacts and risks of global climate change are scarcely new. In 1988, those concerns became sufficiently widespread in the scientific community that the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a committee that included hundreds of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, to study the emerging climate problem and its implications. Since its creation, this panel has issued five full extensive reports. These assessments were soundly criticized by some independent climate scientists as understating the significance and dangers of climate change. However, earlier this month, the IPCC seems to have rectified that purported problem.

In the first segment of its Sixth Assessment, issued earlier this month, the IPCC report states that it "provides a full and comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change that builds upon the previous …

Aug. 23, 2021 by Rebecca Bratspies
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This blog post is based on my testimony before the New York City Racial Justice Commission, which it tasked with dismantling structural racism in the city’s charter.

This November, New York voters will decide whether to enshrine an explicit environmental right in their state constitution. If adopted, the new section will read, “Every person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” New York would join several other states, as well as the United Nations and roughly 150 countries across the globe, in recognizing a fundamental human right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

We all deserve to live in healthy communities. Yet, the grim reality is that Black communities, communities of color, and low-income communities frequently have to fight tooth-and-nail for these basic human rights. This situation is neither accidental nor inevitable. New York City is a clear …

Aug. 18, 2021 by Karen Sokol
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The Interdisciplinary Panel on Climate Change report released Aug. 9 declared that evidence is now unequivocal that human activity is driving global warming, and immediate steps must be taken to mitigate profound changes. Karen C. Sokol, professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, says two essential international policies must be taken — ending fossil fuel production and providing communities with the resources to adapt.

Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its massive report on Aug. 9, the report’s “key takeaways” have been widely covered. One of the scientists who authored the report powerfully distilled its import down to one key takeaway.

"[W]e know enough,” Dr. Joeri Rogelj of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change said. “Let’s get on with working towards addressing this challenge that will define humanity over the next …

Aug. 17, 2021 by Sidney Shapiro, Melissa Lutrell
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The surging COVID-19 delta variant is sending thousands of people to the hospital, killing others, and straining several states' hospital systems to their breaking point. The climate crisis is hurting people, communities and countries as we write this piece, with apocalyptic wildfires, crippling droughts and raging floodwaters. Systemic racism continues unabated, leading to vast economic and environmental injustices. It's beyond time for urgent action, but to get there, the federal government must reform the opaque, biased method it uses to evaluate our nation's public health, economic and environmental protections.

The day President Joe Biden took office, he ordered executive branch agencies to evaluate and reform the regulatory review process to “ensure swift and effective Federal action” to address the urgent problems we currently face. The administration is unlikely to live up to this goal unless the White House addresses …

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