Virginia’s Golden Opportunity to Lead

Virginia’s Rappahannock River at sunrise.

On Tuesday, Virginians have an opportunity to reject the Trump administration’s reckless and destructive environmental agenda. Showing up to vote has rarely, if ever, been more important.

Reversing the damage caused by the Trump administration’s unraveling of common-sense health and environmental safeguards won’t be easy, but doing so is urgent and essential to protecting Americans’ quality of life.

Since January, President Trump and his congressional allies have declared war on our health and environment. Trump has abandoned the Paris Climate Agreement, rescinded the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, ditched fuel efficiency upgrades in cars and trucks, allowed more toxic chemicals in our food, water and consumer products, and moved to expose our most treasured publicly owned lands to exploitation by dirty energy corporations.

For Virginians, this could mean more air and water pollution. More bad air quality days. More childhood asthma attacks. More risk for coastal communities. And fewer opportunities to lead the country into the clean energy economy of the 21st century.

But here’s the good news for Virginians: their leaders have a plan. Thanks to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s (D) actions to defy President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Virginia could become a major player in the fight against carbon pollution and climate change.

And with that investment comes economic opportunity for Virginia, unlocking the potential for growth that clean energy brings. Solar energy jobs in Virginia grew 65% last year, and that growth will only continue now that Virginia has a forward-thinking plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

Virginia voters have the chance to build on this new progress and choose a governor who will reject President Trump’s agenda and prioritize their health, safety and future—Democrat Ralph Northam. The alternative, Republican Ed Gillespie, casts doubt on the causes of climate change and supports Trump’s plan to weaken environmental enforcement, all to benefit polluting corporations’ bottom lines at the expense of our kids’ health.

Virginia voters should seize this golden opportunity to lead the nation to a safer and more prosperous future.

Kevin S. Curtis is the executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.

Senator Rubio: Loyal To Oil, Or Florida’s Beaches?

Congress is on the brink of turning Florida’s vital beaches and ocean economy into a sacrifice zone for private oil companies. Unless Florida’s delegation and Senator Rubio, in particular, stand up against attempts to hide expanded offshore drilling in the federal budget and tax bill that is moving through the Senate and House this month.

That is why this week Voces Verdes launched an ad campaign calling on Senator Rubio to fight for Florida’s future.

The entire premise of using the budget process to expose our vibrant beaches and local communities to the hazards and harms of drilling can’t be justified any way you slice it. Drilling won’t balance a $1.5 trillion dollar budget bill. It won’t boost Florida’s economy. Quite the opposite.

Oil drilling leads to oil spills that harm businesses and coastal communities, which are essential to Florida’s economic and environmental health. For example, in 2012, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster caused $700 million in lost recreational use and $250 million in commercial fishing losses.

As I wrote here, in Florida’s currently protected Eastern Gulf or anywhere in the region poses a direct risk to Florida’s fishing, ocean tourism, and related industries that employ over 383,300 Floridians and contribute over $18 billion to the state’s annual GDP.

More drilling will also mean more government handouts to some of the wealthiest private companies in the world, a direct hit to Florida taxpayers—adding insult to injury considering this is all supposed to be about a budget bill.

Further, all this is unfolding against the backdrop of national disasters that are already stretching federal coffers and should take priority over further padding industry profits.

Florida and Houston are still struggling to recover from hurricane damage, while Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands face a long road towards rebuilding their lives. People in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, still don’t have basic services like clean drinking water and electricity. Leaving millions facing an uncertain future. As a mother, I cannot help but think of the parents who have to face their children this holiday season without a home, under tarps, worried if their water is safe to drink and if they’ll have enough food.

Yet, even as we face billions of dollars worth of disaster relief costs that will ultimately come out of taxpayers’ wallets, some in Congress want to burden the public with the costs and risks of offshore oil drilling.

Fortunately, there is time for Florida’s elected leaders to stop this train before it runs roughshod over Florida.

During the course of the next two weeks, the Senate will vote on which path to take: Giving away our precious coastlines along the Atlantic and Eastern Gulf to oil companies so that they can set up their oil platforms just a few miles from our beaches—the same beaches where we play and make memories with our families. Or, cut government waste and relieve taxpayers from the burden of century-old handouts to the oil companies, while preserving Florida’s coastline.

Tell Senator Rubio, and all elected officials, to be loyal to our coasts and communities, not loyal to oil.

Adrianna Quintero is Director of Partner Engagement for the NRDC Action Fund.

Donald Trump vs. the Pursuit of Happiness

To stop President Trump’s and his congressional allies’ assault on human health and the environment, return to America’s founding principles.

President Trump and his allies in Congress are pursuing a dangerous agenda that would unravel popular, common-sense protections for clean air, clean water and a stable climate. They think political divisions in our country will allow them to succeed without opposition.

We can stop them, though, if we focus on our founding principles and the values that unite us as Americans. We believe in “certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We believe that an American denied a fair shot is an American robbed of these fundamental rights. We believe in the American Dream.

But the Trump presidency poses an existential threat to those values, to our health and our safety.

Mr. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency moved last week to repeal the Clean Power Plan, America’s best tool to fight climate change and reduce tens of thousands of asthma attacks caused by dangerous coal-fired power plants. In prepared remarks Mr. Trump was scheduled to deliver recently at the White House to 300 industry representatives, he bragged about weakening the very protections Americans have come to rely on to stay safe and healthy.

The president went so far as to tell the National Manufacturers’ Association his administration has been “cutting regulations at a pace that has never even been thought of before” to “bring back our great American Dream.”

Bring it back for whom, though, Mr. President?

Mr. Trump’s government is attempting to end and defund initiatives that fight asthma-inducing power plant pollution and protect our drinking water. He has moved to expose more of our coastal communities and workers to the dangers of offshore drilling, less than a decade after BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout killed 11 and spoiled the Gulf coast. And by directing the federal government to ignore climate change, Trump has exposed the most vulnerable among us to its crippling impacts, including, scientists say, the supercharged nature of recent hurricanes that have devastated Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.

The aim of Trump’s actions is disturbingly clear: to reward a wealthy few in corporate board rooms at the expense of American families’ health and safety. President Trump does not stand for the American Dream; he is sabotaging it.

America’s health and environmental laws exist to protect our lives, liberties and happiness. They help safeguard the American Dream–our collective belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can create for yourself and your family a better life, free from dirty air, deadly water, unsafe food or needlessly dangerous work conditions.

That’s why nearly 50 years ago Congress passed transformative laws that cut the toxic pollution spewing from smokestacks and tailpipes, limited the waste and raw sewage dumped in our waterways, and cleaned up carcinogenic hotspots created by irresponsible dirty industries.

When Republican President Richard Nixon established the EPA in 1970 to implement these popular new laws, he and most Americans recognized them as necessary to our prosperity. Between 1970 and 2011, air pollution dropped 68 percent while GDP grew 212 percent. Our economy thrived, and America’s environmental and health protections were the envy of the world.

Until now.

Today in America, 6.2 million children suffer from asthma. Half a million children between 1 and 5 experience toxic levels of lead that prevent them from reaching their full potential (black children are twice as likely to be exposed). And millions of the most vulnerable among us–women, children, minorities, and the elderly–continue to disproportionately suffer from the devastating impacts of climate change like extreme weather and heat waves.

By abandoning America’s Clean Power Plan and other everyday safeguards, President Trump’s administration will cause more pain and suffering. Each time a child suffers a preventable asthma attack in school, we betray our national heritage, built on shared values of equality of opportunity and the individual freedom to reach one’s full potential.

We can do better, and we know how. Mr. Trump may sit in the Oval Office, but we, the people, can limit his power to undermine our health and safety by speaking out and voting our values–next month in Virginia and next year nationwide.

Americans believe our students should have the freedom to succeed in school without being hurt by water fountains with toxic levels of lead. We believe we should clean up smokestacks and landfills that are frequently near low-income communities. We believe in an America that says yes to clean energy that creates jobs, cuts pollution and saves families money on energy bills, not one that allows large corporations to condemn our neighborhoods to decades of disease.

Above all, we believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–for all Americans–and we will fight in the halls of Congress and at the ballot box for those whose inalienable rights are violated by this administration’s recklessness. It’s time we reclaim the American Dream, for all of us.

Kevin S. Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.

Budget Brings Job Killing Offshore Drilling Close To Florida’s Shores

Congress begins official consideration of the nation’s budget this week, and while Capitol Hill ponders our fiscal fate, residents of Florida and our friends and families in HoustonPuerto RicoCuba, and the Caribbean are still desperately attempting to recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Our communities are still reeling without adequate food, water or electricity. Lives have been lost. Homes are shattered, businesses shuttered, and economic futures left in doubt.

With that backdrop, Florida’s elected leaders now face many important choices as the battle over the federal budget unfolds. Every family knows budgets are about priorities, and now it’s time for our representatives to put our money where our priorities are?—?not into the wallets of international oil companies.

Florida’s congressional delegation will soon choose whether to sell our public ocean waters to private multinational corporations that will sink oil drill rigs off our coasts, threatening our treasured beaches, local businesses and the tourism that drives our state’s economy with oil spills.

They will have to decide whether to continue to use our hard-earned tax dollars to provide corporate handouts and tax loopholes to already enormously wealthy oil conglomerates or protect our coasts.

As Florida’s leaders contemplate this choice here are some facts to consider:

– Oil drilling means oil spilling. Analysis shows an estimated 30,000 oil spills per year in U.S. waters, most of which are in the Gulf of Mexico.

– Oil spills cause large, lasting harm to coastal businesses and economies. For example, the 2012 BP Deep Water Horizon spill caused roughly $700 million recreational use damages and cost the commercial fishing industry nearly $250 million.

– $8 billion is given to oil companies in tax breaks and loopholes every year.

– 73% of Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling is dependent on subsidies.

– Fishing, ocean tourism, and related industries employ over 383,300 Floridians and contribute over $18 billion to the state’s annual GDP. These industries rely on the preservation of a healthy ocean.

– Recovery costs from Hurricane Irma could reach nearly $46 billion and have lasting impacts on Florida’s economy. Climate change?—?driven by the combustion of fossil fuels?—?increases the risk of severe impacts from hurricanes.

– Florida has an enormous potential for expanding its renewable energy economy. The Sunshine State could feasibly generate 25 times its current electricity needs with renewable energy like solar, wind, and energy efficiency.

– Existing Florida ocean economy jobs: 383,300

– Existing Florida clean energy jobs: 13,000

– Existing Florida offshore drilling jobs: 0

– The majority of the public opposes using the budget to lease more federal ocean waters to private companies, with 74% percent of Hispanics in favor of permanently protecting the Atlantic (and Arctic) coasts from offshore drilling.

The choice is clear: the Sunshine State doesn’t need oil rigs to shine. We need healthy oceans, clean pristine beaches, healthy coastal communities, and renewable energy like solar and wind that creates jobs without putting existing our economies and our health at risk.

This budget season, let’s call on our leaders to do the right thing for Florida, not huge polluting foreign corporations.

Tropical Storm Harvey: Another American Deluge

As we lend our immediate support to Gulf Coast communities, we must also protect people from such future disasters by addressing infrastructure, safety measures, flood policies, and climate change.

Tropical Storm Harvey
People in Houston are evacuated on rescue boats as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise, August 28, 2017.David J. Phillip/AP

In just three days, more rain fell on the Texas Gulf Coast than what flows out of the Mississippi River in three full weeks. Tiny Cedar Bayou got 51.9 inches, the most ever measured for a single storm in the continental United States. Hundreds of thousands of people were washed out of their homes, and more than 32,000 huddled in makeshift shelters. In the words of the National Weather Service, “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.”

Harvey shelter
From left: Tammy Dominguez and her husband, Christopher Dominguez, at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, where nearly 10,000 people are taking shelter after Harvey; evacuees fill Max Bowl, in Port Arthur, Texas.From left: Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP; Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP

This is an American disaster. It demands an American response. We stand with the people of Houston and of the region – and with their need for national-level emergency aid and long-term recovery support. This support must be both effective and equitable and must reduce the prospect that this kind of suffering will be repeated, in Houston or anywhere else.

One thing we learned from Superstorm Sandy, five years ago this fall, and Hurricane Katrina before that, is that local communities are central to the success of any plan for emergency assistance, short-term aid, and long-range recovery. These groups with boots on the ground will need our support, and we encourage you to give it.

Because right now, they are the ones who remain in harm’s way. A small ocean of water engulfs the Houston region, creating unimaginable damage and loss. Much of the water is laden with a toxic mix of chemicals seeping from area refineries, chemical plants, and abandoned industrial and waste sites. Strange smells sweeping through the area underscore reports of air pollution emissions from the refineries that dominate the region and explosions at one chemical plant. We don’t know how much has been released because air monitors have shut down, but press and local reports estimate the number in the millions of pounds of volatile organic compounds, like benzene, and other nasty chemicals.

Flint Hills Resources oil refinery
Flint Hills Resources oil refinery near downtown Houston on Tuesday, August 29, 2017David J. Phillip/AP

Much of the water contains sewage from flooded municipal treatment plants. Public health officials are warning residents to stay out of the floodwaters. And there are drinking water concerns, too. Houston has been on a precautionary boil order, and there are fears that other drinking water systems could be compromised.

Even after the storm has passed, the danger is unabated.

And as people return to water-damaged homes, they face a high risk of living with mold, which can aggravate asthma, allergies, and other respiratory ills. After Katrina, Sandy, and other disasters, we saw communities blighted by these issues – along with contaminated sediments, debris left standing, and continued lack of services that threatened public health long after the floodwaters receded. Those are conditions that should not be repeated but will be hard to avoid after a disaster of this scale. Resources will have to be made available fast and without the rancorous debates that followed Superstorm Sandy.

As we’ve seen in past disasters, low-income communities and people of color tend to suffer disproportionate exposure to these dangers, often without receiving adequate care. Proximity to the sources of the contaminants, lack of information, and poor access to protective measures or the resources to just up and leave until the dangers are gone all conspire to make the impacts even more burdensome to these communities. That’s why, again, the needs of these communities must be front and center in the days and weeks to come.

Of the roughly 800,000 households in Houston, fewer than one in six has flood insurance. That means a lot of people won’t have money to repair or rebuild. Even those who do will find it extremely difficult to receive federal aid that might help them move to higher ground. Some 43,000 families were on the wait list for affordable housing in Houston. That list is likely to grow, as local housing costs rise in response to the lack of supply, and if communities don’t quickly move to replace lost housing for low-income residents, a recurring problem after a flood disaster.

Between 2005 and 2014, the federal government spent more than $278 billion on disaster rebuilding and recovery efforts – most commonly for floods, the nation’s most frequent and costly form of natural disaster.

To fix the problem, we put in place the Federal Flood Protection Standard in 2015, which requires better planning and protections for flood-prone infrastructure built with federal funds. Unfortunately, just as Harvey was beginning to stir in the Gulf of Mexico, President Trump rescinded those standards, part of what he called a “disgraceful” permitting process. It didn’t take long for Harvey to show the folly in that. Now it’s time for Congress to demand a more responsible approach.

There are a bevy of additional very big issues laid bare by this disaster. They will all need to be addressed once we have begun to get communities along the Gulf back on their feet.

We have to make our cities more sustainable to avoid some of the infrastructure issues that further complicated Harvey’s impacts on Houston. We have to address the safety risks associated with private facilities, like refineries and chemical plants, and their health impacts on neighboring communities. We have to fix this country’s flawed flood policies, and fast, to stop putting Americans in harm’s way. And most fundamentally, we have an obligation to protect current and future generations from the growing dangers of such disasters made worse by climate change. That’s what we’re committed to at NRDC, for the people of the Gulf and for us all.

Rhea Suh is president of NRDC and the NRDC Action Fund.

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