Apr 26, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 178

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Which environmental safety regulations and climate rules have Republicans attacked so far in 2017? Will climate emergency lead to climate austerity governments? People: Bill and Jonathan Produced: April 24th, 2017.

Episode 178 (55 min, incl. 5 bonus minutes):
AFD 178

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Proposed: A Constitutional Right to Safe Air and Water

In this Arsenal For Democracy mini-series, we propose new, progressive Constitutional rights. Part IV: A right to safe air and water, by Bill.

Protecting the environment is not an abstract concept about saving rainforests or polar bears, although these are important in their own way. Environmentalism is fundamentally about people. Whether or not environmental safety is maintained has a tangible, daily effect on millions of lives. Poisoned air and water is responsible for the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year. The air we breathe and the water we drink must be free from contaminants. That is an inalienable human right.

Sadly, too often, our society has allowed dangerous pollution to be released into our air and water, with enormous health consequences. Disproportionately, those impacts have fallen on low-income and minority individuals and communities. Justice for these crimes has been intermittent at best.

We need to ensure — swiftly and fairly — the elimination of pollution, meaningful and substantial compensation for those affected, and punishment for those responsible.

Environmental public safety should not be taken lightly or be treated as an afterthought corrected by an occasional minor fine. Just as we have taken seriously the public health threat from smoking, so too must we take seriously the daily public health consequences of poor regulation and poor enforcement of environmental public safety.

According to the American Lung Association, the human and financial costs to our society are clear:

Particle pollution also diminishes lung function, causes greater use of asthma medications and increased rates of school absenteeism, emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Other adverse effects can be coughing, wheezing, cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks. According to the findings from some of the latest studies, short-term increases in particle pollution have been linked to:

– death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, including strokes;
– increased mortality in infants and young children;
– increased numbers of heart attacks, especially among the elderly and in people with heart conditions;
– inflammation of lung tissue in young, healthy adults;
– increased hospitalization for cardiovascular disease, including strokes and congestive heart failure;
– increased emergency room visits for patients suffering from acute respiratory ailments;
– increased hospitalization for asthma among children; and
-increased severity of asthma attacks in children.

 
By contrast, taking action pays huge dividends:

– Looking at air quality in 545 counties in the U.S. between 2000 and 2007, researchers found that people had approximately four months added to their life expectancy on average due to cleaner air. Women and people who lived in urban and densely populated counties benefited the most.
– Another long-term study of six U.S. cities tracked from 1974 to 2009 added more evidence of the benefits. Their findings suggest that cleaning up particle pollution had almost immediate health benefits. They estimated that the U.S. could prevent approximately 34,000 premature deaths a year if the nation could lower annual levels of particle pollution by 1 µg/m^3

 
Our federal, state, and local governments must guarantee and secure the people’s right to a habitable world, at present and in future, via enforceable law and regulation. In doing so, particularly by transforming our energy and transportation sectors to cleaner modes, we will ensure safe and clean air and water.

Our nation’s constitution ought to enshrine this common-sense governing principle as an amendment. That might read something like this:

“Every person has the right to safe and clean air and water. Congress and the states shall make such laws as are necessary to secure this right to all residents. The federal executive and judiciary and the governments of the states shall implement and enforce these provisions by appropriate action.”

Are trade deal worker & eco protections actually enforced?

Not if history is any indication according to a detailed new report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office:

On Monday, Warren fired back, showing that Obama simply has not effectively enforced existing labor standards in prior trade pacts. According to the report, a host of abuses, from child labor to the outright murder of union organizers, have continued under Obama’s watch with minimal pushback from the administration.

“The United States does not enforce the labor protections in its trade agreements,” the report reads, citing analyses from the Government Accountability Office, the State Department and the Department of Labor.

 

State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.

Sigh. It seems that despite the overwhelming voice of Americans insisting the government take steps to reduce the effects of climate change, there are still those (read: gas and oil companies) that insist on blocking the effort. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton wrote a riveting piece on the collaboration of Republican state Attorneys General and corporations’ to push to dismantle the E.P.A and Obama administration’s regulations. He notes:

Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court.

 
I’ll skip over the obvious in this statement (Democrats were trying to protect the air we breathe), and move onto the fact that this is incredibly dangerous and unprecedented business. David B. Frohnmayer, a former Republican Attorney General from Oregon noted that these Attorneys General are shamelessly using a public office to support corporate interests and their financial interests.

While these gas and oil companies are reveling in the success of these shared efforts, Republican Attorneys General — who represent half the states right now — are reaping the benefits of raised national profiles and a club that acts like a national law firm. The club has systematically filed lawsuits against major federal policy, including the Affordable Care Act, securities regulation, and recently Obama’s action on immigration.

Lipton focuses on one Attorney General in particular, Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma, a particularly proud collaborator with the industry. Mr. Pruitt’s office moved a couple words around in a three-page letter from Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas companies, and sent it off to Washington on official state letterhead. One of Mr. Pruitt’s closest partners has been Harold M. Hamm, the Chief Executive of Continental Resources. Mr. Pruitt hangs out with Andrew P. Miller, a former Virginia Attorney General, who in turn has clients like TransCanada (aka the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline).
Read more

California environment laws now include more Native input

A law signed last week in California has finally amended existing environmental laws to establish a pathway for more direct and cohesive input from Native American communities when they are concerned that land-use approvals for development might negatively affect heritage and sacred sites. Crown City News:

“This is an important step toward aligning California’s environmental laws with the values that are often espoused about respecting tribal heritage and history, not only for this generation, but for future generations of all Californians,” said Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. “We deeply appreciate Assemblymember Gatto for his leadership, and the legislature’s support.”
[…]
California is struggling to preserve the last remnants of its Native American past. Recently, thieves stole carvings from an unprotected sacred site on the Volcanic Tableland, north of Bishop, and developers have sought to place everything from dumps, to housing developments, to granite mines, near or on top of ancient sacred sites.

“If we don’t do something, future generations will wonder what happened to California’s pre-Columbian heritage,” said Gatto.
[…]
Currently, tribes are not treated as coherent sovereign entities under CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], but instead as mere members of the public, even if wishing to express a unified opinion about a site which has been a unique part of the tribe’s heritage for thousands of years.

 
With this oversight finally rectified, it’s expected that other long-sought reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act will now be passable, because new measures to “streamline” the law won’t risk the unintended side effect of making it even easier to roll over Native concerns.