Emboldened by the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency asserts its authority as the nation's eco watchdog.
In addition to the economic woes of the “noughts”—the years from 2000-2009—it was also a lawless era for environmental protection in the United States. Bush administration efforts at “dismantling safeguards, ignoring climate concerns, marginalizing sound science and catering to industries that endangered Americans’ health and natural heritage” meant our watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency, was little more than an idle spectator to the carnage.
Now, after its decade on the sidelines, it appears the sheriff is back in town.
The EPA’s futility under Bush was no accident. Bush-appointee Stephen Johnson routinely rolled over to White House demands, allowing business concerns to trump sound science. He was a company man through and through, more noted for his loyalty and subserviance than for competence on the job.
Those days are gone. The revitalized EPA, headed up by Obama-appointee Lisa Jackson, has begun cleaning up Bush-era dirty work.
Just this week the EPA reversed its controversial 2008 decision on bisphenol-A (or BPA), which deemed the plastic common to food containers and plastic bottles safe for use. BPA has now been placed on a master list of “chemicals of concern.”
Meanwhile, over in West Virginia, the EPA is halting, or at least severely restricting, a mountaintop mining operation in Logan County, West Virginia. To do so, it has to nullify a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers—the body responsible for issuing mining permits. It’s a rare assertive step for the agency, which has used its veto power over potential sites only twelve times in the past, and never for a site already in operation.
Justification for the intervention closely mirrors concerns raised in a scientific study earlier this year—namely, that the operation will adversely affect a local ecosystem with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in North America.
“We see this as confirmation that they’re taking their responsibility...very, very seriously," said ecologist and Appalachian Voices Program Director Matthew Wasson.
It’s not exactly a radical step—that the Environmental Protection Agency should take concrete steps to protect the environment—but it’s a damn good start. And with legislators reluctant to tackle climate change, the EPA may be our our best, and only, hope.
Fortunately, it’s well-equipped for the task; the EPA has a new mandate to regulate carbon emissions, it has legal authority to require coal plants to reduce pollution, and the Obama administration has given it its badge back, so to speak.
At last, the laws of the land are being given a shootin’ chance.
- Lance Steagall
There's a saying in Portuguese, one of the few that I know: Mais ou Menos. It means more or less. Brazilians often use the phrase when you ask them how they’re doing. Mais ou Menos: Good, more or less. Looking back, with the road to Rio+20 now behind us, the expression seems to be a fitting way to sum up the successfulness of the Earth Summit. Mais ou Menos. No, the document that......read more
In a finding that restores our faith in judicial common sense, a federal appeals court in Washington has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's right to regulate greenhouse gases in the name of public health. The decision is a major victory for Obama's climate pollution policy and a decisive blow to the utilities, coal companies, Koch-funded climate deniers and states like Texas that......read more
Just a couple days after scoring a major environmental victory in the courts, the White House landed an even larger fish on Thursday, when a sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance mandate at the heart of "ObamaCare." Grist hit up leading figures in the eco community to get their thoughts on the decision, among them our friend and advisor Gary Hirshberg and Van Jones, who......read more
On Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia’s carbon tax — a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province — increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute. This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia,......read more
For telling proof that something is awry with global temperatures, one need look no further than recent headlines about devastating forest fires in Colorado or severe drought across the midwestern plains. If you're still not convinced, Bill McKibben offers up some numbers that will stop you dead in your tracks. In a sober piece written for Rolling Stone, the veteran activist and......read more
In September of 1962, the first edition of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" hit bookstore shelves. Fifty years and two million copies later, the book is widely regarded as the catalyst of the modern environmental movement. In "Silent Spring," Carson wrote in eloquent and sometimes sentimental prose about effects of manmade pesticides on the natural world -- and on humankind. A scientific......read more
In the Arctic, global warming is causing record ice melt and bringing with it massive economic and cultural changes. Reporting from Narsaq, a small town on Greenland's southern tip, NYT environment writer Elizabeth Rosenthal writes that the retreating Arctic ice cap is revealing rich mineral deposits that represent both potential and peril for the community. For a sort-of nation that has......read more
Over the last twenty-odd years, a new American food economy has emerged, and if you're reading this, there is a pretty good chance you are a part of it. The food shift is exemplified by the resurgence of farmers' markets and the rise of community-supported agriculture and sustainable farming. To date, however, the so-called "food movement" has yet to enter the fray of politics. That will change......read more