Environmental injustice, climate protests and the attempts to shut them down.
Trending Topics to Cover:
- What Biden could learn from Bill Clinton’s unfinished work on environmental justice
- Maryland’s Capital City Joins a Long Line of Litigants Seeking Climate-Related Damages from the Fossil Fuel Industry
- 4 More States Propose Harsh New Penalties For Protesting Fossil Fuels
What Biden could learn from Bill Clinton’s unfinished work on environmental justice
Environmental injustice policies have gone through numerous ups and downs throughout the history of US politics.
The current administration has promising plans to tackle the challenges, but they are yet to be set in motion.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Executive Order 12898 which instructed federal agencies to pursue environmental justice policies that would limit the “disproportionately high and adverse” effects of environmental harms on low-income communities and people of color, who are more likely to be burdened by issues like high pollution rates and contaminated water sources.
The order also empowered the federal Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which was two years old at the time, to influence the priorities of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.
In 1994, only four states had a law or executive order promoting environmental justice on the books.
Within 20 years, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia had instituted some type of environmental justice law, executive order, or policy.
But at the federal level, Clinton’s executive order was never really enforced. EO 12898 lacked any concrete requirements that environmental justice be a determining factor in siting, rulemaking, and permitting decisions, and it didn’t create any pathways for judicial review regarding compliance.
That meant that no person or organization could sue to try to ensure that the order was enforced.
Instead, EO 12898 directed federal agencies to adopt and implement their own unique environmental justice strategies. However, it took decades for even some cabinet-level agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services, to do so.
Even today, not every federal agency has fulfilled the order’s mandate.
Then, George W. Bush administration has done nothing to fight the environmental injustice and the EPA was revealed to dismiss reviews of its policies and programs.
Obama subsequently developed a strategic plan for environmental justice within the EPA and restored some of EO 12898’s power, but the call for environmental justice was ignored by former President Donald Trump. The EPA’s authority and staffing diminished significantly under his leadership, turning EO 12898 obsolete.
President Biden, on the other hand, has already issued four executive orders focused on climate change. With these actions, Biden is also hoping to alleviate racial and economic disparities that have plagued communities of color. While signing Executive Order 14008 on “tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad,” he said, “lifting up these communities makes us all stronger as a nation and increases the health of everybody.”
Biden’s most important proposal is directing the government to ensure that 40 % of its sustainability investments benefit frontline communities, which carry the largest pollution burdens.
That could include investments in clean energy, clean transit, affordable housing, and clean water infrastructure. Biden has also directed the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, to publish a public scorecard regarding its environmental justice spending efforts.
Although the plan is a win for environmental challenges, its implementation is going to be challenging. White House position nominees are yet to receive their confirmation from the Senate and start working on the new metrics and projects to put the proposal into action.
Maryland’s Capital City Joins a Long Line of Litigants Seeking Climate-Related Damages from the Fossil Fuel Industry
In the last 50 years, Annapolis, Maryland’s historic capital, has recorded the greatest increase in average annual nuisance flooding events of any city in the country.
Thus, the city filed litigation against oil and gas companies, since they have known for decades that the burning fossil fuels causes climate change and adverse effects on the environment.
The lawsuit alleges that the oil and gas companies engaged in deceptive greenwashing campaigns to hide the reality that climate change causes sea level rise, extreme heat and severe storms that “will become more frequent” and “longer lasting.”
It also noted that Annapolis, with 17 miles of waterfront on the Chesapeake Bay, is particularly susceptible to sea level rise and prone to damages from related flooding, especially the historic and cultural sites.
The city is in the midst of a $56 million renovation and resiliency project to protect the City Dock and related structures from flooding caused by sea level rise. By 2040, the city estimates it will also have to spend more than $45 million on four miles of seawalls to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge.
The lawsuit is similar to more than two dozen similar actions filed since 2017 by cities, counties and states, against the oil industry.
The first wave of climate cases came when five cities and three counties in California filed litigation against the fossil fuel industry, followed by municipalities in Colorado, the cities of New York and Baltimore, Washington state, Rhode Island, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
Most recently, the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have all filed lawsuits, along with the cities of Maui in Hawaii; Hoboken, New Jersey; and Charleston, South Carolina.
If the court allows the lawsuits by the cities, counties and states to proceed at the state level and the localities prevail, the litigation could make the fossil fuels industry, much like the tobacco industry before it, liable for billions of dollars in damages.
4 More States Propose Harsh New Penalties For Protesting Fossil Fuels
On the other hand, states like Minnesota set new bills to protect the fossil fuel industries and prevent climate activists from protesting on sites.
Dawn Goodwin, a climate change protester, was arrested at the construction site of the energy company Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, a $9.3 billion project to carry tar-sands oil ― one of the dirtiest varieties of crude oil ― from Joliette, North Dakota, to a terminal facility in Clearbrook, Minnesota to be distributed in refineries.
The state legislature can charge activists caught simply trespassing with up 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines for potential damages. An activist wouldn’t even need to be convicted of trespassing to be held liable ― an arrest is enough under the legislation.
Although the bill has dim prospects of becoming law in a state where Democrats control the governor’s mansion and half the legislature, it can become a law in Arkansas, Montana, Kansas, preventing activists from indigenous communities, from protecting important historical sites, and giving power to fossil fuel industries.
It designates any oil, gas, coal, or plastics facilities, such as dams and nuclear reactors, as “critical infrastructure”, and adds aggressive new penalties for vague charges of trespassing or tampering like blocking a roadway, tethering oneself to equipment or even just rallying near a company’s property.
The legislation is based on a model bill that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing policy shop funded by corporations and conservative billionaires, drafted and began promoting to Republican state lawmakers in the wake of the fight over the Dakota Access pipeline project. It involved lobbyists from major fossil fuel corporations and accusations that had nothing to do with environmentalists.
Critics say the bill is mostly about politics, a way for its author, Republican state Sen. Mike Thompson to signal his climate-denying views now that he’s serving as chair of the Senate’s utilities committee.