Dear Earth: Part 2
U.S. Laws and Regulations
Laws, regulations and standards have been slow to deter the harmful emission of coal power plants. Oftentimes governments are bogged down in bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption, making it extremely difficult to pass any meaningful legislation to the planet and its global citizens over the interests of billion dollar multi-national corporations.
Although the United States remains slow to act on preparing for the dangers and taking measures in preventing further damage from climate change, several government laws and regulations written over the past several decades have allowed our society to move forward into a healthier future and away from the corrupt and greedy actions of exploitative fossil fuel emitting corporations. The most important step is the acknowledgement that the environment and the planetary ecosystem that we have inherited from past generations is a finite resource, and that our actions in extracting fossil fuels from the ground and pumping them into the air is directly causing our average global temperature to increase each year, leading us towards a potential mass species extinction, food and water shortage, world refugee crisis, greater number of powerful natural disasters, civil unrest and global economic collapse.
The average American and global citizen must begin to take greater personal responsibility for their actions and make conscious decisions knowing that they have a direct impact on the world around them. A population that checks out of the social and political process relinquishes integrity and personal responsibility and places them in a higher government power whose ultimate interests reside with the billion dollar corporations that allow the government to dominate the geopolitical game, whether or not these corporations destroy the environment and poison the air and water in the process.
The Air Pollution Control Act
The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was the first U.S. federal legislation acknowledging the threat of air pollution, declaring it a danger to public health and general welfare. Although the Act did little more than make the government and the public aware of the harmful effects of air pollution, it stands as a major statement during an era where little thought was given to the consequences of our actions when dealing with the environment. The Act contained no provisions for the federal government to actively combat air pollution, ultimately preserving the primary responsibilities and rights of the states and local governments in controlling pollution. The Act did, however, allocate $5 million for the research into the impact and effects of air pollution.
The Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act of 1970 represents one of the most significant and thorough pieces of legislation in protecting the environment and the pubic from dangerous and deadly pollution. The Act implements a comprehensive program for reducing air pollution by focusing on the reduction of ambient pollution (present in the open air) and specific source (traced to identifiable sources such as automobiles and factories).
Among the plans four major components:
- Established national ambient air quality standards intended to protect human health and the environment.
- Allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine new source performance standards to determine how much pollution should be allowed by different industries in different regions.
- Sets specific standards for controlling auto emissions and requires new automobiles to meet stricter pollution requirements.
- Encourages and incentivizes states to develop their own plans to achieve standards.
Projections from the plan estimate that the Act has prevented over 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory issues and cardiovascular disease. The reduction of respiratory issues and cardiovascular disease are on track to save the U.S. economy $2 trillion annually in medical costs and benefits by the year 2020. Estimates from the plan declare that regulations put in place to clean up our breathing air saved the U.S. economy over $22 trillion from the years 1970 to 1990.
Air pollution data shows that regulations from this plan have helped to reduce ground level ozone (smog) by more than 25 percent since 1980; mercury emissions by 45 percent since 1990; lead contents in gasoline by 92 percent since 1980; sulfer dioxide and nitrogen dioxide (biggest contributors to acid rain) by 71 percent and 46 percent, respectively, since 1980; and helped to phase out the production and use of chemicals in aerosols that contributed to the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer.
The Clean Air Act contributes to societies productivity and improves the overall economy as less school and work days are missed as a result of respiratory issues. Smart environmental policy is sound economic policy. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either purposely ignoring the facts and replacing them with a ridged and archaic ideology based on pseudoscience and superstition, or is environmentally ignorant and easily mislead by politicians and greenhouse gas emitting corporations wishing to sow doubt and create chaos as a means to distract from the reality of the dangerous threat imposed by a warming climate.
Clean Water Act
One of the first federal laws to regulate water pollution made it unlawful to discharge chemicals and poisons into the nations rivers, lakes and other public wetlands. The objective of The Clean Water Act of 1972 sought to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nations waters by: Preventing water contamination; providing assistance to publicly owned water treatment locations for the improvement of wastewater; and maintaining the overall integrity of wetlands. The original goal of the Act was to eliminate the discharge of untreated waste water from municipal and industrial sources to make U.S. waterways safe for swimming and fishing.
The Clean Water Act gives the EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs and provides them with the ability to enforce standards, as well as to provide assistance to state and local governments in developing their own pollution control plans. Over the years, however, the EPA remains a consistent target for defunding by the federal government, especially in recent years. This defunding makes it increasingly difficult for the EPA to hire individuals to conduct oversight into water and air pollution violators. Without the ability and the resources to respond to every polluter, many violations go unnoticed and unpunished. The EPA estimates that one-half of our streams and rivers, one-third of our lakes and ponds, and two-thirds of our bays and estuaries are unsafe for fishing and swimming due to high levels of poisons and contaminates found in the water.
Clean Power Plan
The most recent pollution control plan and first ever carbon emission standard for power plants aimed to cut carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Clean Power Plan of 2015 pledged to reduce carbon emission from power plants by one-third and set carbon emission standards unique to each state in order to provide greater autonomy to states rights. The power sector is second only to the transport sector as the number one source of carbon emissions in the United States, accounting for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Provisions in the plan declare that states must:
- Increase the power generation and efficiency of existing fossil fuel power plants.
- Remove coal power plants and replace them with lower carbon dioxide emitting natural gas.
- Replace fossil fuel powered generation with zero carbon emitting renewable energy sources.
Enforceable carbon pollution limits would kick in starting in 2022, giving states and corporations seven years from the plans inception to prepare for the carbon emission standards. The Clean Power Plan estimates that the country could save $20 billion in climate related costs and deliver $25 to $45 billion in health benefits with implementation of CO2 emission regulations, primarily from the reduction of pollutants released into the air that lead to smog and soot by 25 percent. The reduction of these pollutants from power plants alone avoids 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, each year. Switching to renewable energy for our electricity generation could provide power to 30 million homes and save consumers over $155 billion from 2020 to 2030. The current presidential administration is in the process of repealing this plan and others like it that were put in place to protect human health and the environment over short-term fossil fuel industry profits.
WHAT AMERICANS SAY:
- 83 percent say increasing renewable energy use is a top priority.
- 53 percent say protecting the environment from the effects of energy use is a top priority.
- 54 percent say government regulations are necessary to encourage business and consumer use of renewable energy sources.
- 71 percent support renewable energy vs. 23 percent that support fossil fuel production.
- 59 percent say protecting the environment is more important than fossil fuel industry interests.
- 76 percent support the government spending more on solar and wind.
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in December 1970, by Executive Order from President Richard Nixon, with an initial mission of protecting human health and the environment. The EPA takes on a number of roles with varying degrees of funding and levels of involvement during Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, but the core role of the organization is to ensure that Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work. The EPA is broken down into six categories that deal with various areas of environmental protection, including: air pollution, pollution prevention, wastes and recycling, toxics and chemicals, water pollution, and pesticides.
Among their most most significant roles, the EPA: Establishes environmental standards and regulations; provides money though grants to state and local governments to help establish environmental protection programs; monitors, researches the effects, and sets limits on the use of pollutants; responsible for the detection and prevention of environmental crimes; sets standards for the handling of hazardous chemicals and waste; works to improve the scientific understanding of global climate change effects on air quality, water quality, ecosystems and human health; distinguishes between human and ecological interests; develops high-quality scientific models and gathers data from satellites to advance our understanding about the physical, chemical and biological changes to our environment; educates the public on climate related issues.
After Congress drafts, votes on and passes an environmental law, the EPA works to establish standards, programs and regulations for corporations, state and local governments to follow. If these standards and regulations are broken, the EPA has the authority to punish polluters through fines according to the number of regulations violated, number of individuals harmed and the number of days of violation sustained.
Before the establishment of the EPA in 1970, little was known about the harmful effects of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and pesticides. What appears as common knowledge for people today appeared radical during an era where the environment was viewed as a resource to be exploited for profit without suffering any consequences. Today, the environment is still viewed as a resource to be exploited for profit, but we do it with the understanding that our actions have a direct impact on the ecosystem around us and on future generations.
Environmental regulations encourage technological growth. When a regulation requires a greenhouse emitting or environment polluting corporation to alter their climate destroying and pollution emitting behavior, that corporation must develop novel, more efficient and safer ways to conduct business, without harming individuals or the environment in the process. Profit and protecting the environment are both possible if we care enough and put enough effort into perfecting the process of climate sustainability through science and technology.
FAILURE OF THE EPA
While the EPA attempts to make progress in protecting the environment and improving human health with the little federal funding it receives, it still remains an arm of the federal government, meaning that it often suffers from political bureaucracy and corruption, which prevent the organization from conducting thorough research and investigations into civil complaints filed by American citizens. As a core responsibility of the organization, the EPA must respond to calls from the public about pollution threats and potential violators of environmental law. These violations occur regularly across the United States, but often go unnoticed due to the EPA’s outdated and inadequate system for solving complaints and a lack of personnel to track down and punish all violators of environmental law. Immigrant, Native American and minority communities suffer most from EPA corruption, often singled out by fossil fuel burning corporations as locations for pollution emitting refineries, oil pipelines- like the one going through the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota- and poisonous drinking water supply systems from exposure to lead and other deadly toxins, as seen in Flint, Michigan.
At times, the EPA remains hesitant in enforcing environmental rules and regulations and remains beholden to the political authority of fossil fuel companies that pay off the politicians who write the environmental laws. The very people that American’s vote for to protect the publics and the environments health are also the first to betray this trust by selling out to greenhouse gas emitting and polluting corporations that purchase influence in the form of government lobbying and special interest donations to political election campaigns.
A feigned attempt to reign in this corruption and discriminatory action by the EPA was made in 1994 through an Executive Order signed by Bill Clinton, which made it an official duty of the federal government to protect low-income households and minorities from environmental degradation. Known as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, this law requires, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” While this Executive Order had a negligible effect on protecting low-income and minority communities, the EPA continues to drag its feet when confronting civil complaints from Americans. The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, reports that the EPA dismisses or rejects nine out of every ten complaints filed under Title VI, citing insufficient evidence, lack of government funding and time elapsed between complaint filed and action taken by the EPA. Part 3