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.”

The (former) waters of Saudi Arabia

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Some mind-blowing statistics from “What California can learn from Saudi Arabia’s water mystery”:

Beginning in the late 1970s, Saudi landowners were given free rein to pump the aquifers so that they could transform the desert into irrigated fields. Saudi Arabia soon became one of the world’s premier wheat exporters.

By the 1990s, farmers were pumping an average of 5 trillion gallons a year. At that rate, it would take just 25 years to completely drain Lake Erie.
[…]
Now the water is nearly gone. Most of that underground water came from ancient aquifers that are deeply buried and don’t naturally refill for tens of thousands of years.

 
Definitely read the rest, especially if you aren’t familiar with how broken U.S. water resource policies are.

Brazil 2016: The Swimming in Feces Olympics

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Devastating Associated Press investigation into next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.
[…]
Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.
[…]
More than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations are expected to compete in next year’s Olympics. Nearly 1,400 of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, swimming off Copacabana beach, and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake.

Read the rest.

John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, examined the protocols, methodology and results of the four rounds of AP tests in the three outdoor water sports sites. All three sites were found to be unsafe.

Kristina Mena, a U.S. expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses, examined the AP data and estimated that international athletes at all water venues would have a 99 percent chance of infection if they ingested just three teaspoons of water — though whether a person will fall ill depends on immunity and other factors.

 
The IOC should have pulled the plug on the Rio Olympics after the infrastructural trainwreck that was the 2014 Brazil World Cup, which was by comparison a much easier task to begin with.

Instead, the IOC responded to the AP report by saying Brazil should just stick to bacteria testing and that it would all be ok. In reality, many athletes already training on site reported becoming extremely sick repeatedly.

Even local Brazilians aren’t benefiting from this hosting opportunity:

As part of its Olympic project, Brazil promised to build eight treatment facilities to filter out much of the sewage and prevent tons of household trash from flowing into the Guanabara Bay. Only one has been built.
[…]
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has said it’s a “shame” the Olympic promises wouldn’t be met, adding the games are proving “a wasted opportunity” as far as the waterways are concerned.

 

Pennsylvania gov’t admits fracking contamination

Nice to finally have some confirmation that it wasn’t all imagined (as some have insisted to me and others many times):

For the first time, Pennsylvania has made public 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from oil and gas drilling operations.

As the AP reports, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection posted details about the contamination cases online on Thursday. The cases occurred in 22 counties, with Susquehanna, Tioga, Lycoming, and Bradford counties having the most incidences of contamination.

In some cases, one drilling operation contaminated the water of multiple wells, with water issues resulting from methane gas contamination, wastewater spills, and wells that simply went dry or undrinkable. The move to release the contamination information comes after years of the AP and other news outlets filing lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests from the DEP on water issues related to oil and gas drilling and fracking.

 
One wonders if there will be any consequences, though, given that the industry has spent massively on the campaigns of favorable state reps and state senators in Pennsylvania to open the way to fracking operations all over the state.

The industry lobby’s response to the disclosure, as reported by the AP/Wall Street Journal, was to fault Pennsylvania rocks for being difficult to work with and to blame the state government for lax regulation on drilling well construction and design (a statement which takes a lot of chutzpah).

Detroit Mayor retakes control of water department

Detroit’s unelected Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr has returned authority over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and its board of commissioners to the Office of the Mayor, which immediately announced plans to drastically scale back the aggressive water shutoffs and approach missing payments more humanely. This is a crucial victory for activists fighting the UN-condemned shutoffs, after more than 14,000 homes lost their water access in the past several months.

Water officials began an aggressive shut off campaign in March, disconnecting 500 customers that month. More than 3,000 lost service in April and about 4,500 in May.

The shutoffs topped 7,200 in June and the water department collected $800,000 last month compared to about $150,000 in June 2013.
[…]
Mayor Mike Duggan has said water department officials could have been more sensitive in how they handled delinquent bills and the increased shutoffs. He promised Tuesday to have a “new plan shortly” on how to deal with the issue.

“I’ve heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices,” Duggan said. “We’ve got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements.”

 
Previous Arsenal For Democracy coverage of this story can be found here.

Detroit still shutting off water to poor families

In a deeply wrong-headed and immoral approach to close a budget gap, the water authority for the City of Detroit is still shutting off thousands of households’ public water access, claiming they have not paid up. In many cases the landlords have not paid through the rent contribution to the water bill, but either way, it’s reprehensible to shut off water to low-income families who are already barely scraping by. Now they can’t cook full meals, wash dishes, bathe, or stay hydrated. There’s no drought or natural disaster. It’s just budgetary.

We covered this crisis in depth on Arsenal For Democracy Episode 90
Part 2 – Bill and Persephone on Detroit Water Shutoffs:
Part 2 – Detroit – AFD 90

As an update, activists are now engaging in civil disobedience to try to halt the public water shutoffs, which have been condemned by the United Nations office for Human Rights.

See also: “Detroit’s Water Cutoffs: Counterproductive and Coldhearted” by Detroit-area U.S. Rep. John Conyers, on why this strategy makes no sense in addition to its basic cruelty.

July 2, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 90

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Topics: Buffer zones, search and seizure, recess appointments, and Detroit water shutoffs, plus Jameis Winston and the flaws of college athletics. People: Bill, Sasha, Persephone, Greg, Nate. Produced: June 28-30, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Detroit begins shutting off water for thousands of poor people
– The Supreme Court rules against abortion clinic buffer zones
– The Supreme Court rules that cell phone searches require warrants
– The Supreme Court blocks President Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments
– Is Jameis Winston everything that’s wrong with college athletics in America — but not the way people think?

Part 1 – Supreme Court:
Part 1 – Supreme Court – AFD 90
Part 2 – Detroit Water Shutoffs:
Part 2 – Detroit – AFD 90
Part 3 – Jameis Winston:
Part 3 – Jameis Winston – AFD 90

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

– Reuters: U.S. high court curbs state limits on abortion clinic protests
– AFD: Supreme Court says cell searches require warrants
Flashback to Salinas v. Texas (2013) on “right to remain silent”
– NYT: High Court Finds Against Obama in Recess Case
– Previous coverage on AFD Radio – Recess appointments case: AFD Ep 36 (Jan 29 2013)

Segment 2

– Detroit News: Groups seek UN aid for Detroit water shut-offs
– Rep. John Conyers: Detroit’s Water Cutoffs: Counterproductive and Coldhearted
– Michigan Radio: Welfare rights group backs UN criticism over Detroit water shutoffs
– CityLab: Outraged Canadians Report the Detroit Water Authority to the UN for Human-Rights Violations
– Michigan Live: U.N. panel calls Detroit water disconnection ‘violation of international human rights’

Segment 3

– Deadspin: Who Does Jameis Winston Think He Is—Joe Namath?
– Deadspin: FSU Athlete Explains Why Jameis Winston Allegedly Stole Food

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