Sept. 21, 2011 by Robert Verchick

Plan EJ 2014: Building a Foundation for Federal Environmental Justice Policy

Let’s stipulate: EPA’s withdrawal of a stronger ozone rule was the low point. And for many, a betrayal, a sedition, the nation’s biggest sell-out since Dylan went electric (or played China, take your pick).

Still, Jackson’s EPA has accomplished a great deal. Last week the EPA showcased new policy devoted to one issue with which Jackson has associated herself since day one: environmental justice.

The policy is called Plan EJ 2014, the agency’s comprehensive environmental justice strategy, planned to correspond with the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s formative executive order on environmental justice (full disclosure: I was involved in the development of some parts of Plan EJ 2014 when I was in the Obama administration). The planoffers a road map for integrating environmental justice and civil rights into EPA’s daily work, including rulemaking, permitting, compliance and enforcement, community-based programs and coordination with other federal agencies. Jackson’s EPA deserves credit for making EJ an A-list priority, establishing a political-level, highly visible EJ advisor, and establishing this plan. Plans, of course, are only as good as their implementation, but this is a significant first step.

I encourage others to peruse the document and …

June 22, 2011 by Robert Verchick

Imagine you are building a beach house somewhere on the Gulf Coast and that I had some information about future high tides that would help you build a smarter structure, avoid flood damage, and save money in the long-run. Would you want that information?

Not if you follow the reasoning of Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana or John Carter of Texas. Both are concerned about the Obama administration’s recent efforts to make federal programs stronger and more resilient in the face of climate change. Scalise sponsored an amendment (H.AMDT. 467 to H.R. 2112) that prevents the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from pursuing its plan to assess climate vulnerabilities in its programs. Carter did the same (H.AMDT. 378 to H.R. 2017) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And this month the Republican-led House of Representatives, with little fanfare, passed both initiatives (Scalise …

June 12, 2011 by Robert Verchick

Verchick and the Little MermaidCopenhagen—Denmark’s famed "Little Harbor Lady," or in English, "Little Mermaid," has had her share of antics and perils. She’s been photographed by millions in Copenhagen’s harbor, carted off and shown at the 2010 World Fair in Shanghai, beheaded (several times), dynamited, splashed with pink paint, and enveloped in a Burqua. An environmental nerd for all occasions, I look at her longing face and wonder, How long before the rising sea swallows her up? Bolted to that rock in the sea, a shaft a concrete now inserted into her neck, what will she do? Or, for that, matter, the thousands of others who call coastal Copenhagen home. Is anyone thinking about this?

Many experts expect the world’s seas to rise somewhere between 1 to 1.5 meters this century, depending on location (and, of course, it could be more). Add to this a …

June 5, 2011 by Robert Verchick

Bonn--At a climate conference in Germany, with lager in hand, I was prepared to ponder nearly any environmental insult or failure. But rat peeReally? 

The urine of rats, as it turns out, is known to transmit the leptospirosis bacteria which can lead to high fever, bad headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. During summer rainstorms in São Paulo, Brazil, floodwaters send torrents of sewage, garbage, and animal waste through miles of hillside slums and shanties. Outbreaks of leptospirosis often follow the floods. And in a metropolitan region of 20 million people, that’s a public health emergency.

I learned this and more at the 2nd World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change, organized by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, with support from the U.N. Human Settlements Programme. The event brought together 600 delegates, including mayors and UN …

Feb. 21, 2011 by Robert Verchick

If you’ve ever visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—one of the most visited national parks in the United States—you have Horace Kephart and George Masa to thank. These two men, the first a travel writer, the second a landscape photographer from Osaka, Japan, each settled among those six-thousand foot peaks with intentions of starting a new life in the American wild. Unfortunately, the timber industry had gotten there first and was soon mowing down forests at the rate of 60 acres per day. Distressed by such calamity, Kephart and Masa organized a diverse grassroots campaign to raise millions of dollars to save the area. Fueled by church donations, high school fundraisers, and other activities, the campaign eventually enabled the federal government, through a public-private partnership, to set aside land for what would finally become by 1940, a protected, 814-square-mile expanse of America’s …

July 21, 2009 by Robert Verchick

A new report from the National Research Council on Friday slams a long-delayed Army Corps of Engineers hurricane protection study, saying it fails to recommend a unified, comprehensive long-term plan for protecting New Orleans and the Louisiana coast.

You know the story: as Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans, the city’s levee system broke apart and billions of gallons of water poured into the city. Two independent forensic engineering reports (here and here) found the levee failures were caused by a series of design and construction flaws, stretching back over decades, which were overseen, in all details, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps has never refuted that basic point.

Congress ordered the Corps to develop plans for a more aggressive flood-control system for the Louisiana coast, insisting the Corps present “a final technical report for Category 5 protection.” (The surge associated with …

Feb. 9, 2009 by Robert Verchick

About thirty miles from my front door, heavy barges are dumping rocks into Louisiana's Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO), hoping to permanently plug the de-commissioned shipping channel before the end of the next hurricane season. It's a big plug. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the structure will weigh 430,000 tons, "with a base 450 feet wide, tapering to 12 feet wide at the top." The rock wall "will jut 7 feet from the water's surface and be 950 feet long. It will cover 10 acres of the channel bottom." The MRGO--or as locals say, "Mr. Go"-- opened some 45 years ago as a shipping shortcut – sort of like a highway bypass that, in this case, allows commercial river barges to avoid a winding part of the Mississippi and instead zip straight to New Orleans. Activists have been trying to close it down for …

Nov. 13, 2008 by Robert Verchick

President-Elect Obama has promised to support spending $150 billion over 10 years to create 5 million new “green collar jobs.” If allocated correctly, these jobs could jump-start the economies of urban neighborhoods and pockets of rural poverty. Imagine a country where a new generation of workers earns good wages and benefits— even saving for the kids’ education — while building light-rail systems, servicing wind turbines, and installing solar panels on neighborhood homes. A green economy like this would not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels and boost technological development, it would bring hope to thousands of the working poor whose communities have long been vexed by racism, pollution, and crime. Green-collar jobs are just one example of what we would see if the president renewed our commitment to Environmental Justice. Environmental Justice is a movement concerned with the distribution of environmental harms and benefits on the basis of …

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