Hawk Haiku

Hawk soars in the sky

As we watch branches whiten

She alights for now.



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Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ water crisis, one year later

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In January 2018, when officials in Cape Town announced that the city of 4 million people was three months away from running out of municipal water, the world was stunned. Labelled “Day Zero” by local officials and brought on by three consecutive years of anemic rainfall, April 12, 2018, was to be the date of the largest drought-induced municipal water failure in modern history.

Photos of parched-earth dams and residents lining up to collect spring water splashed across news sites. The city’s contingency plan called for the entire population to collect its water — a maximum of a two-minute-shower’s-worth a day per person — from 200 centralized water centers, each serving the population equivalent of an MLS soccer stadium.

Then April 12th came and went, and news of the crisis evaporated.

One year on, Cape Town has apparently made it through the worst of a historic drought without turning off the taps, although the water supply is still tenuous. How the city managed to evade disaster — a combination of water conservation and efficiency measures, smarter use of data, and a little help from Mother Nature — serves as a largely hopeful precedent for cities globally facing increasing risk of extreme environmental events. Still, serious challenges in establishing a resilient and sustainable water supply system for Cape Town remain.

90 critical days

The countdown to Day Zero was 90 days. So what did Cape Town do to beat it? Unsurprisingly, it was not a silver bullet but a barrage of efforts that averted disaster. One big boost came in February 2018, when the national government throttled allocation of water in the region earmarked for agriculture, allowing more to flow to urban residents. The same month, farmers also agreed to divert additional water stored for agricultural purposes to the city.

However, the city’s conservation efforts were as important, and more remarkable. Cape Town’s government ramped up water tariffs and enforcement of prohibitions on heavy users, prohibiting use of municipal water for swimming pools, lawns, and similar non-essential uses. The city’s government also implemented a new water-pressure system in January, saving roughly 10 percent of overall municipal water consumption.

The effect was stunning. Cape Town’s municipal water-use levels historically oscillate throughout the year, showing up on a graph as a standing wave pattern with troughs coinciding with wet winters, and peaks mirroring the dry summer months when people rely more on taps for water. Like an ocean wave crashing onto shore, this wave pattern fizzled out as Cape Town implemented drought restrictions, cutting its peak usage by more than half in three years.

The January 2018 announcement alone galvanized a 30-percent drop in residential consumption after a steady but slower decline in earlier stages of the drought, according to City of Cape Town statistics.

A city changes its habits

Technical fixes and regulatory controls implemented by the municipality were important to curbing water consumption, but reaching such levels of conservation would not have been possible without large-scale cooperation by a wide swath of residents, businesses, and other stakeholders.

“It doesn’t matter how much technical expertise you’ve got, but you actually have to stand back and understand the system more broadly,” notes Gina Ziervogel of the University of Cape Town, who has researched the crisis. For the city, this meant using data more effectively to prompt people to save water.

Starting in 2017, the municipality had begun ratcheting up its drought-awareness campaign, publishing weekly updates on regional dam levels and water consumption and using electronic boards on freeways to notify drivers of how many days of water supply Cape Town had left. Then, in January 2018 and with Day Zero looming, the city got more aggressive. In addition to announcing its Day Zero countdown, the city launched a city-wide water map to show water consumption on a household level, allowing people to compare their consumption to their neighbors and the rest of the city.

Heightened outreach regarding the crisis prompted wide discussion: The municipality’s weekly water report became a regular topic at social gathenings and on the radio. Governmental and civic organizations published water-saving techniques, and people traded tips on social media. In an unusual turn of events, techniques used in the poor, water-strapped township areas gained traction in wealthier areas.

Prompted by new water-use tariffs, businesses also began increased efforts to communicate the need to save water to customers and employees. Bathroom signs explaining “If it’s yellow, let it mellow … ” became ubiquitous in restaurants and bars, while startup and corporate types initiated “dirty shirt” challenges to see who could go the most days without washing their work shirt.

Crisis averted (for now)

By the end of March 2018, the emergency efforts had provided a small additional buffer in the city’s water reserves, allowing city officials to push back Day Zero beyond the upcoming rainy season. In June 2018, the region saw average rainfall for the first time in four years. With the rain, dam levels rose, and officials were able to call off Day Zero indefinitely.

Cape Town’s multi-pronged effort to stave off Day Zero succeeded. Still, the challenges to achieving water security persist. Although dam levels are above the lows experienced during the drought, they remain below pre-drought years and currently stand at 50 percent of capacity. Meanwhile, daily water use for the city has crept higher over the past year.

Furthermore, disparities in access to water in Cape Town continue to be related to extreme economic inequality, which generally runs along the racial lines established during South Africa’s colonial and apartheid eras. For a large proportion of Cape Town’s poor citizens, whose only normal access to water is a communal tap, Day Zero remains a constant reality. Combine this with a complex political climate and historical distrust of state policies, and it is easy to understand that a sustained unified effort to conserve water is fraught with tension.

Cape Town is making a longer-term effort to diversify its water resources, but that too is prompting concerns. Projects to desalinate ocean water and tap the aquifer beneath the city have proven far more expensive than initially thought, and have also faced questions about their environmental impacts on local ecosystems and overall sustainability. An increase in private wells drilled by wealthier households has added pressure to the future availability of this source. Although plans for both desalination and groundwater extraction are progressing, neither alone will solve Cape Town’s water issues.

For now, the city and its residents are still enduring moderate drought conditions. Urban water restrictions remain in place, although less strict than before, and the legacy of the drought can still be seen all around Cape Town. Many businesses continue to remind customers to restrict their usage in signs taped to bathroom mirrors and above toilets. That’s probably just as well — water-scarcity issues are not likely to go anywhere, considering the increased risks of drought caused by climate change and population growth.

As for other cities facing similar resource crises: Ziervogel advises “to make sure you’ve got those relationships and partnerships in place so that when a crisis hits you can actually draw on those partnerships.”

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Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ water crisis, one year later

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Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Dick Russell


Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Men Who Are Destroying the Planet—And How They Explain Themselves to Their Own Children

Dick Russell

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: May 2, 2017

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

Two New York Times –bestselling authors team up to name names in “a must read for anyone concerned with climate and energy issues” (Leonardo DiCaprio).   The science is overwhelming; the facts are in. The planet is heating up at an alarming rate and the results are everywhere to be seen. Yet, as time runs out, climate progress is blocked by the men who are profiting from the burning of the planet: energy moguls like the Koch brothers and former Exxon Mobil CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with powerful politicians like Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Jim Inhofe, who receive massive contributions from the oil and coal industries. Most of these men are too intelligent to truly believe that climate change is not a growing crisis. And yet they have put their profits and careers ahead of the health and welfare of the world’s population—and even their own children and grandchildren. How do they explain themselves to their offspring, to the next generations that must deal with the environmental havoc that these men have wreaked? Horsemen of the Apocalypse takes a personal look at this global crisis, literally bringing it home.   “This may be the most important book yet on the climate crisis . . . and by the way, it’s fun to read. Dick Russell’s keen research and sharp writing unpacks the complex sordid tale of fossil fuel corporations and their henchmen, from the Koch brothers to Exxon to Peabody coal, who have systematically held us back from solving climate change, using denial, deception, and ruthless power.” —Kert Davies, director, Climate Investigations Center

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Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Dick Russell

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Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution – Lee Smolin


Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution

The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum

Lee Smolin

Genre: Physics

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group


A daring new vision of quantum theory from one of the leading minds of contemporary physics Quantum physics is the golden child of modern science. It is the basis of our understanding of atoms, radiation, and so much else, from elementary particles and basic forces to the behavior of materials. But for a century it has also been the problem child of science: it has been plagued by intense disagreements between its inventors, strange paradoxes, and implications that seem like the stuff of fantasy. Whether it's Schrödinger's cat–a creature that is simultaneously dead and alive–or a belief that the world does not exist independently of our observations of it, quantum theory challenges our fundamental assumptions about reality. In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution , theoretical physicist Lee Smolin provocatively argues that the problems which have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved and unsolvable, for the simple reason that the theory is incomplete. There is more to quantum physics, waiting to be discovered. Our task–if we are to have simple answers to our simple questions about the universe we live in–must be to go beyond quantum mechanics to a description of the world on an atomic scale that makes sense. In this vibrant and accessible book, Smolin takes us on a journey through the basics of quantum physics, introducing the stories of the experiments and figures that have transformed our understanding of the universe, before wrestling with the puzzles and conundrums that the quantum world presents. Along the way, he illuminates the existing theories that might solve these problems, guiding us towards a vision of the quantum that embraces common sense realism. If we are to have any hope of completing the revolution that Einstein began nearly a century ago, we must go beyond quantum mechanics to find a theory that will give us a complete description of nature. In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution , Lee Smolin brings us a step closer to resolving one of the greatest scientific controversies of our age.


Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution – Lee Smolin

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The Ten Trusts – Jane Goodall & Marc Bekoff


The Ten Trusts

What We Must Do to Care for The Animals We Love

Jane Goodall & Marc Bekoff

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: August 6, 2013

Publisher: HarperOne


World-renowned behavioral scientists Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff have set forth ten trusts that we must honor as custodians of the planet. They argue passionately and persuasively that if we put these trusts to work in our lives, the earth and all its inhabitants will be able to live together harmoniously. The Ten Trusts expands the concept of our obligation to live in close relationship with animals — for, of course, we humans are part of the animal kingdom — challenging us to respect the interconnection between all living beings as we learn to care about and appreciate all species. The world is changing. We are gradually becoming more aware of the damage we are inflicting on the natural world. At this critical moment for the earth, Goodall and Bekoff share their hope and vision of a world where human cruelty and hatred are transformed into compassion and love for all living beings. They dream of a day when scientists and non-scientists can work together to transform the earth into a place where human beings live in peace and harmony with animals and the natural world. Simple yet profound, The Ten Trusts will not only change your perspective regarding how we live on this planet, it will establish your responsibilities as a steward of the natural world and show you how to live with respect for all life.

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The Ten Trusts – Jane Goodall & Marc Bekoff

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The Most (and Least) Eco-Friendly US Cities

You might try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle at home. But how green is your community?

According to a Pew Research Center survey, roughly 59 percent of U.S. adults say climate change is affecting their community in some way ? through weather, temperature changes, etc. And that point of view is even stronger in those who live near a coastline. Plus, according to another Pew survey, the majority of respondents think the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to protect the environment, including preventing water pollution, ensuring safe air quality and protecting animals and their habitats.

But not all communities are equal when it comes to being environmentally friendly. WalletHub recently released a study of the 100 largest U.S. cities, comparing 26 “green indicators” ? i.e., factors that made the city more or less eco-friendly. It broke these factors into four main categories: environment, transportation, energy sources and lifestyle/policy. And each city received an overall green score based on points applied to the green indicators.

These are the 10 cities WalletHub found to be the most environmentally friendly, the 10 that could use some green improvements and some tips to make your own community a little more eco-friendly.

The Most Environmentally-Friendly Cities

Here are the top 10 greenest cities in the U.S., according to WalletHub.

10. Portland, Oregon

Credit: RyanJLane/Getty Images

Portland cracked the top 10 with a solid performance in some categories and a mediocre showing in others. It ranked 18th in energy sources and 59th in the environment category ? which measured factors, such as air quality, green space, water quality and light pollution. But Portland boosted its overall green score with an eighth-place finish in the transportation category ? in which it received the fourth highest bike score. And it took third in lifestyle/policy, in which it also came in third for the most farmers markets per capita.

9. Sacramento, California

Sacramento fared a little better than Portland in the environment category, coming in 38th place. It also took 19th for energy sources and ninth for lifestyle/policy. But its best showing was its fourth-place finish in the transportation category. That category included factors, such as the share of commuters who drive alone, the average commute time, the city’s walk and bike scores and the accessibility of jobs by public transit.

8. Seattle, Washington

Seattle just edged out Sacramento’s green score for eighth place overall. The city ranked 25th in the environment category, 21st in energy sources and 12th in transportation. And it was near the top of the pack for lifestyle/policy, finishing fourth. Metrics in that category included farmers markets and community-supported agriculture per capita, community garden plots per capita, green job opportunities and the number of local programs that promote green energy.

7. Fremont, California

Fremont was fairly average in two of the categories and stellar in the other two. It came in 52nd for transportation and 32nd for lifestyle/policy. But it took second place for environment ? and within that category it came in first for the highest percentage of green space. Plus, it was No. 1 in the energy sources category ? which included metrics, such as electricity from renewable sources, solar installations per capita and amount of smart-energy initiatives.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Credit: okimo/Getty Images

Who doesn’t love the environment of a Hawaiian island? Honolulu’s worst category rank was its 24th-place finish in energy sources. But it made up for that by taking fifth in environment, fifth in lifestyle/police and second in transportation. Within the categories, the city had the fifth lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Plus, it tied for first (with Fremont and Alaska) for the highest percentage of green space. And it also tied for first for the most farmers markets per capita.

5. San Jose, California

San Jose’s overall green score just barely put it in front of Honolulu for its fifth-place finish. The city did fairly well in the transportation and lifestyle/policy categories, coming in 24th and 21st respectively. It took 13th for energy sources. And San Jose’s best category rank was its 10th-place finish in environment.

4. Irvine, California

Continuing California’s domination of the top 10 greenest cities, Irvine’s overall score was just a few tenths of a point better than San Jose’s ? landing it in fourth place. The city’s only category rank out of the top 10 was its 27th-place finish in transportation. It took seventh in both the environment and lifestyle/policy categories. And it came in at No. 1 for energy sources.

3. Washington, D.C.

Even though many people wish the government would do more to combat climate change (or even admit it exists), the nation’s capital still is one of the greenest cities in the U.S. Washington, D.C., ranked 35th for environment and 17th for energy sources. It took sixth in the transportation category, in which it had the third lowest percentage of commuters who drive. (Not everyone gets a motorcade to stop D.C. traffic.) And, somewhat ironically, D.C. took No. 1 for lifestyle/policy ? despite the ongoing political arguments on policies that would help the environment.

2. San Francisco, California

Credit: Nirian/Getty Images

We head back to the West Coast for the top two greenest cities. San Francisco took 20th for energy sources, ninth for transportation and sixth for environment. Within the transportation category, the city had the fourth lowest percentage of commuters who drive, and it received the second highest bike score, only behind Minneapolis. Plus, San Francisco ranked second for lifestyle/policy ? tying for first (with Honolulu) for the most farmers markets per capita.

1. San Diego, California

San Diego took home the title for 2019′s greenest city in the United States ? and underscored California’s dominance on the list. It ranked 19th in both the transportation and lifestyle/policy categories. And within lifestyle/policy, it came in fourth for the most farmers markets per capita. Plus, San Diego’s best category rank was its fourth-place finish in environment.

The Least Environmentally-Friendly Cities

Credit: felixmizioznikov/Getty Images

These 10 cities ranked at the bottom of WalletHub’s list.

10. Gilbert, Arizona
9. Cleveland, Ohio
8. Mesa, Arizona
7. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky
6. Detroit, Michigan
5. Memphis, Tennessee
4. Toledo, Ohio
3. St. Louis, Missouri
2. Corpus Christi, Texas
1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Of those cities, Corpus Christi ? along with Houston; Denver; Oklahoma City; Louisville, Kentucky; and Tulsa, Oklahoma ? had some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

Plus, Baton Rouge and Lexington ? along with Fresno, California; Laredo, Texas; and Hialeah, Florida ? had very little green space compared to the other cities.

How to Be a Greener Member of Your Community

Credit: miodrag ignjatovic/Getty Images

Regardless of where your city falls on this list (or whether it’s even on here at all), there are still several ways you can help to make your home a more eco-friendly place. Here are some tips to go green in your community.

Support local establishments

Instead of shopping at big box stores, support your community’s establishments that sell products made from local materials. A prime example of this: Eat at restaurants that source food from the area, and shop at farmers markets whenever possible.


You know carpooling (and using public transit) is eco-friendly, but do you practice what you preach? Start a carpool group for school, work or even trips to the store. Even better, choose more sustainable methods of transportation whenever possible, such as walking and biking. Lobby your city for bike lanes and walking paths if you don’t already have them.

Organize Recycling Drives

Some communities have very accessible recycling and donation drives. But others make it difficult to sustainably get rid of items you no longer want. If your community falls into the latter camp, step up as an organizer. Learn what’s necessary to hold donation drives ? as well as recycling events for items, such as toxic waste and electronics. Your community will thank you.

Connect with Community Members

A strong team can get things done more efficiently than a lone person. Find other members of your community who also care about building a more eco-friendly environment. Learn from each other, and band together to organize events, such as area cleanups, a community garden or even a Food Not Lawns initiative.

Bring issues to Local Government

You and your other eco-friendly community members will likely have to work with local government on many green initiatives. Do your homework, so you’re prepared to lobby for your causes. Ask your government about issues, such as reducing pesticide use, enacting greener building practices, expanding the recycling program or implementing a community solar project. Progress might be slow, but don’t let that discourage you from putting your voice out there.

Main image credit: Ron_Thomas/Getty Images

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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The Most (and Least) Eco-Friendly US Cities

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‘We’re not a dump’ — poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

West Jefferson, Alabama, a somnolent town of around 420 people northwest of Birmingham, was an unlikely venue to seize the national imagination. Now, it has the misfortune to be forever associated with the “poop train.”

David Brasfield, a retired coal miner who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig. By the time he realized that human feces was being transported from 1,000 miles away to a nearby landfill site, a scene of biblical pestilence was unfolding upon West Jefferson.

“The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs,” said Brasfield, who sports a graying handlebar mustache and describes himself as a conservative Republican. “The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them. You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe. You wouldn’t even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.”

The landfill, called Big Sky Environmental, sits on the fringes of West Jefferson and is permitted to accept waste from 48 U.S. states. It used a nearby rail spur to import sewage from New York and New Jersey. This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson — sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns — to the landfill.

Outrage at this arrangement reached a crescendo in April last year when Jefferson County, of which West Jefferson is part, barred the landfill operator from using the rail spur. Malodorous train carriages began backing up near several neighbouring towns.

“Oh my goodness, it’s just a nightmare here,” said Heather Hall, mayor of Parrish, where the unwanted cargo squatted for two months. “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.”

America’s dumping ground

Residents started hounding the phone lines of elected officials and showed up at public meetings with bags of dead flies. One man described the smell as similar to “25,000 people taking a dump around your house.” The growing national media attention eventually stung New York and New Jersey, which halted convoys of human waste to the site.

But while the distress lifted from West Jefferson, other communities across Alabama struggle forlornly in a miasma of nearby landfills. Alabama has gained a reputation as the dumping ground of the U.S., with toxic waste from across the country typically heaped near poor, rural communities, many with large African American populations.

Alabama has a total of 173 operational landfills, more than three times as many as New York, a state with a population four times greater but with just 54 dumps. California — three times larger than Alabama and containing eight people for every Alabamian — has just a handful more landfills than the southern state.

“You take a poor rural area, take advantage of the people and turn their farming land into a dumping ground so a few people can make a profit,” said Nelson Brooke, head of the Black River Riverkeeper organization. “Parts of our state have been turned into a toilet bowl and there isn’t the political spine to stop it.”

Many of the largest landfills are clustered in a region known as the Black Belt, a stretch of counties around Alabama’s midriff named initially for its fertile topsoil but latterly known for the tenant farmers and sharecroppers that helped form the basis of its large black population today.

The low land values and extreme poverty of the region make it a magnet for landfills, with waste hauled in from across the country for as little as $1 a ton. Acceptance of landfills is delegated to counties, causing potential conflicts of interest with local officials involved in waste disposal. Residents are often blindsided by the appearance of new dumps.

“A continual refrain for decades in Alabama is that politicians are selling out the people,” said Conner Bailey, an academic at Auburn University. “It’s a long tradition.”

Environmental injustice

A crucible of the civil rights movement — from the Selma-to-Montgomery march to the Rosa Parks-inspired bus boycotts to the Birmingham church bombing — Alabama’s racial disparity in pollution exposure has become only more stark.

A landfill near Emelle in Sumter county, where the neighbouring community is about 90 percent black and a third of people live in poverty, at one point accepted 40 percent of all hazardous waste disposed in the U.S. Anniston, Alabama, where half the residents are black, won a high-profile settlement from Monsanto after the dumping of so much PCBs, chemicals linked to cancers and liver damage, that a local creek turned red.

“There are still major problems in Alabama resulting from environmental injustice and there does not appear to be will on part of its government to reverse these problems,” said Ryke Longest, a law professor at Duke University.

“Alabama’s history with Jim Crow and preservation of segregation as well as suppressing voting rights made these problems worse by segregating communities and disenfranchising black Americans in their communities.”

Many homes near the sprawling Stone’s Throw landfill, east of Montgomery, are now abandoned. The landfill, which can accept 1,500 tons of construction debris, ash, asbestos, sludge, and other material each day, is located in the Ashurst Bar/Smith community, which is around three-quarters African American.

“It’s almost unbearable to live there, even three miles away my eyes burn and I get nauseous,” said Phyllis Gosa, now retired and living in Selma but still visits family who have owned property in the community since the end of slavery. “It’s our heritage; we are losing who we are. When it comes to people of color, we are still three-fifths of a human being. The 14th amendment doesn’t apply to us. That’s who Alabama is, that’s its legacy.”

Ron Smith, a neighbor and pastor, said there is pressure on black families to sell devalued land to the expanding landfill. He grows blueberries in his back yard but is uncertain if he should eat them. “Our government picked an area where people couldn’t defend themselves,” he said. “This is the perfect area.”

Unlike the 1960s civil rights push, there has been no federal savior. In April 2017, a group of residents claimed that Alabama’s tolerance of the Stone’s Throw landfill had caused chronic illnesses such as asthma and cancer, pungent smells and water pollution, thereby breaching the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of race-based discrimination.

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided there was “insufficient evidence” for the complaint despite finding that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) hadn’t properly enforced a requirement that six inches of covering soil be placed upon landfill waste every day. ADEM wrote to the landfill, also in December, scolding it for excessive discharges of copper, oil, grease and “suspended solids” between 2016 and 2018.

However, while the EPA found “a preponderance of the evidence that a lack of enforcement did result in adverse impacts,” other, white-majority, communities also live under this inadequate regime, meaning the blight couldn’t be defined as racist.

The finding follows a familiar pattern by the EPA: The agency’s civil rights office went 22 years without deciding that discrimination laws were broken, despite hundreds of complaints.


More than 40 black residents have now turned to the courts, suing Advanced Disposal Services, which operates Stone’s Throw, and two water utilities for allowing heavy metals, E. coli and a cocktail of harmful chemicals to leach into the water supply and, they claim, cause their abdominal cancers.

“Alabama seems to have an inordinate number of these big landfills that have created a variety of problems,” said Ted Mann, the attorney representing the residents. Mann, an Alabamian Democrat who has an abstract painting of Abraham Lincoln in his Birmingham office, said his clients feel “trapped.”

“ADEM doesn’t do much of anything,” he said. “Underfunded, understaffed and woefully and inadequately involved in the environmental issues in our state.”

The crossover between pollution and racism “is hard to not see,” Mann said. “If you see it and you ignore it, it’s because you just want to ignore it.”

Other communities aren’t able to muster legal recourse. Uniontown, half an hour west of the civil rights touchstone of Selma, is a place where 9 out of 10 residents are black and the median household income is $14,000 a year. Uniontown’s roads are derelict, the only grocery store closed last year and its elementary school can only afford to educate children up to grade three.

Uniontown is also home to the Arrowhead landfill, an artificial green mountain twice the size of New York’s Central Park that looms over the tumbledown town. It can accept up to 15,000 tons of waste a day, from 33 states. In 2012, ADEM allowed Arrowhead to expand in size by two-thirds.

A group of residents have spent the past decade complaining about a smell similar to rotten eggs coming from the landfill, as well as the site’s coal ash for causing an array of health problems, such as sore throats and nosebleeds (Arrowhead said that no coal ash has been delivered to the landfill since 2010).

The landfill is a “huge hill in the midst of the community,” said Esther Calhoun, who has lived in Uniontown most of her life. “That smell … it makes you want to vomit. The pecan trees, they don’t bear any more. Even the garden that I had, we don’t use it any more.”

But in March last year, a few months before its similar Civil Rights Act decision over Stone’s Throw, the EPA ruled that Uniontown has not been subjected to “a prima facie case of discrimination.”

This knockback has shrouded Uniontown in fatalistic hopelessness, according to local activists. “They are trying to break our spirit,” said Ben Eaton, a retired teacher who speaks in a rumbling baritone and moves around with the aid of a walker. Eaton, now a county commissioner, had just come from a meeting where Arrowhead was asked to pay some fees up front so the county could afford an ambulance service.

“It’s a sort of learned helplessness,” he said. “People are hanging on by a thread right now. Well, my folks have always taught me to go down fighting, even if you go down.”

Mike Smith, an attorney for Arrowhead, said neither ADEM nor the EPA have ever found excessive odor, air pollution, or water contamination. “The residents you may have spoken to have been offered multiple opportunities, both formal and informal, to present any evidence of pollution and have failed to do so,” he said.

Smith added that the Uniontown community and surrounding Perry County “benefit substantially” from jobs and “host fee” payments provided by Arrowhead, with the landfill also sponsoring school supplies for the past decade.

ADEM insists it has environmental justice top of mind in its regulatory activities, with a spokeswoman stating the agency went “above and beyond” its legal requirements when consulting with residents living in West Jefferson, Uniontown, and Ashurst Bar/Smith.

“The department is confident that it has the resources and statutory authorization to properly regulate and monitor landfills in Alabama to ensure the protection of human health and the environment,” the spokesperson added.

‘We’re not a dump’

But even in West Jefferson, where the “poop train” was defeated, there is little hope of a lasting resolution in the tensions between the desire to generate income and community concern over quality of life.

In July, ADEM handed the Big Sky Environmental landfill a five-year extension to its permit. ADEM has also proposed changing the rules so that permits last for 10 rather than five years and has rescinded its environmental discrimination procedures, claiming its existing complaints process is sufficient.

“Let every state take care of their own trash but don’t bring it to Alabama,” said David Brasfield, the retired miner. “We just don’t need it. We’re better than that. We’re not a dump.

“But it will happen again if we let it. We cannot forget it and put it out of our minds. This is my home and I plan on defending it.”

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‘We’re not a dump’ — poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills

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John Hickenlooper has a curious connection to a Trump Cabinet secretary

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s ties to the oil and gas industry run deep, especially when compared to those of other candidates in the unwieldy 2020 Democratic field. In some ways, given that Hickenlooper served two terms in the fifth-largest oil-and-gas-producing state, these connections are not surprising. But what may be less apparent is that his government service also intersected with David Bernhardt, the new secretary of the Interior responsible for opening public lands to industry development. Hickenlooper has also often ended up aligned with Bernhardt’s former law and lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, on matters regarding fracking, the use of public lands, and support for the oil and gas industry over the interests of consumers.

Any governor of Colorado, no matter what party, would inevitably come into contact with the firm, which represents dozens of clients across the energy sector alone. His own chief of staff, Doug Friednash, came from Brownstein in 2015, only to return to it again before the governor’s tenure ended last year. Hickenlooper has been dubbed “Frackenlooper” by critics who claim he’s prioritized major oil and gas development at the expense of citizen activism.

Brownstein is one of the most profitable lobbying firms in the country, and its influence naturally extends into Colorado government as well. According to the Denver alt-weekly Westword, “When there’s a hot political issue in Colorado, the Brownstein firm usually has a seat at the table … and sometimes more than one.”

Now, internal emails reveal how the law firm enjoyed a seat at the table very close to the governor’s. They show how Brownstein became a conduit for the relationship between Hickenlooper’s administration and one of its most prominent Colorado clients, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), an industry group that led the way in trying to thwart local attempts to restrict fracking. In this matter, pitting local communities against the fossil fuel industry, Bernhardt, who was the chair of Brownstein’s natural resources division, and Hickenlooper’s administration repeatedly fought on the same side to clear hurdles to drilling.

In 2012 and 2013, two Colorado towns, Longmont and Fort Collins, had placed a moratorium on fracking development. The communities, worried about potential groundwater contamination, argued that municipalities should have the right to reject Colorado’s fracking expansion, setting up a face-off with the considerably more lax Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, whose appointments by the governor often include regulators with extensive energy sector connections.

Hickenlooper’s administration sued Longmont and Fort Collins for preempting state law, and, on behalf of COGA, Brownstein sued them in a case that worked its way all the way up to the state Supreme Court. Before becoming Ryan Zinke’s deputy at the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt was the energy and natural resources chair at the firm with broad responsibilities and a long list of his own clients in the oil sector. In 2016, the state Supreme Court struck down the bans in Longmont and Fort Collins, setting a precedent statewide and providing a big win for Brownstein, Hickenlooper, and COGA.

“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s guidance on balancing private property rights and local government jurisdiction of oil and gas operations in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said in a celebratory statement that struck his usual theme of working with industry, not against it. “We’ll continue to work creatively and energetically with communities and industry to ensure our world-class environment is protected while remaining a place that is welcoming to business and jobs.”

It is unclear how direct a role Bernhardt played in the industry’s fight as chair of the natural resources division, and the matter doesn’t appear on the listed conflicts of interest in his ethics disclosure. But he was front and center celebrating his firm’s victory in a May 2016 press release issued from the firm: “This case involved precedent-setting issues pertaining to state preemption of oil and gas activities,” Bernhardt said in a statement commending his employee, whose “knowledge of energy and land use law were on exceptional display in front of the Supreme Court, showing the depth and breadth of our team.”

A few months after the 2016 state Supreme Court win, environmental activists were gathering signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives, Nos. 75 and 78, that would have given municipalities the power to ban fracking and force fracking operations to be located 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. COGA objected to the efforts and sought a series of meetings, including getting oil and gas executives on the “governor’s dance card” to plot a strategy to defeat or at least undermine the initiatives, according to emails obtained through state requests by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones.

The ballot initiatives barely gathered support, and neither one cleared the threshold for enough valid signatures to make the 2016 cycle. Activists tried again in 2018 with Proposition 112, a state initiative that would have required the sites for new oil and gas wells to be located more than 2,500 feet away from any occupied building — schools, homes, and sensitive areas — because of health concerns. Once more, Hickenlooper was on the side of COGA and opposed Proposition 112, arguing that the measure would impose excessive burdens on the economy and state budget. Both the governor and COGA pointed to the estimate that 85 percent of non-federal lands would be off the table. The industry contributed $38 million to help defeat it and back a different initiative, which also failed.

Nonetheless, before leaving office in 2018, the state commission struck a compromise ahead of a newly elected Democratic wave, unanimously approving a more narrow order setting new fracking operations back 1,000 feet from schools.

Now Hickenlooper is on the campaign trail, Bernhardt is running the Department of the Interior, and COGA is working with the Colorado arm of the American Petroleum Institute in its next fight: preventing the new Democratic majority in Colorado from passing a law to give local entities more power to curb fracking. Tracee Bentley, Hickenlooper’s legislative director at the time, started the American Petroleum Institute’s Colorado arm in 2015 and is working on the side of oil and gas on this effort.

Last year, Bentley hosted an American Petroleum Institute roundtable in which she sounded the alarm about citizen efforts to rein in the oil industry and praised compromise in terms that Hickenlooper now echoes on the campaign trail. “I know that the key to our success is collaboration,” she said in a statement, “and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with government partners, communities and stakeholders alike to ensure that our shared future betters the lives of all Coloradans.”

Appearing on the same panel was then-deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

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John Hickenlooper has a curious connection to a Trump Cabinet secretary

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5 Ways to Be a More Eco-Friendly Dog Parent

Millions of households across the United States include a dog. And our dogs certainly have an impact on how environmentally friendly our lifestyle is. Ready to turn your dog into an eco-warrior? Here are five ways to be a more eco-friendly dog parent.

1. Spay or neuter your pet

Credit: DanBrandenburg/Getty Images

Spaying and neutering your pets would technically fall under the ?reduce? category of the three R?s (reduce, reuse, recycle). According to the ASPCA, roughly 6.5 million companion animals go through U.S. animal shelters each year. Some are adopted, and others are strays who go back to their owners. But sadly about 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. And in many cases, these are healthy, loving animals who simply weren?t lucky enough to find a household to adopt them.

That?s where spaying and neutering come in ? as well as adopting versus allowing a breeder to bring more animals into this situation. Every little bit helps to put a dent in the homeless pet population. Not only do you reduce the number of shelter animals, but you also minimize the strays on the streets who often lead painful, shortened lives and might become nuisances in the community. Not to mention spaying and neutering can help increase your pet?s health and longevity. So do your part to reduce pet overpopulation, as well as the resources that go into managing it.

2. Properly dispose of pet waste

Disposing of pet waste is a bit tricky because your ideal eco-friendly techniques typically won?t work. Here are some methods you shouldn?t use, as they can harm the environment, according to PetMD.

First, don?t flush dog poop down the toilet. This can send parasites and other pathogens that aren?t killed at water treatment facilities into the waterways. Consequently, this can harm ecosystems, especially marine life. Plus, people can become sick and actually end up using more resources (e.g., lots of toilet flushing for a stomach bug) than you thought you were saving by flushing the waste in the first place. Similarly, composting is not an option for dog poop (unless your community has a dog waste composting program), as it also allows the spread of pathogens.

So what can you do? Bagging the waste and throwing it in the trash is usually your best option. But on the bright side, you can go green with your poop bags. More and more companies are offering biodegradable bags, though sometimes that can be a bit misleading. Not all companies have appropriately tested their products in typical landfill conditions, so it?s important to do your homework before buying. ?Choose a company that has testing to back up their biodegradable claims,? PetMD says.

3. Reduce your dog food paw print

Credit: Chalabala/Getty Images

Buying dog food and other supplies in bulk helps to reduce packaging waste, as well as the number of trips you take to the store. ?Pay attention to packaging materials, and try to buy products packaged in recycled or recyclable materials,? the American Kennel Club suggests. Plus, look for foods that have eco-friendly ingredients, such as certified sustainable seafood.

Even better, skip the packaging altogether, and make food at home for your dog. You don?t have to cook their whole diet (unless you really want to and know how to do it right). But forgoing the bagged and boxed treats in favor of ones you make yourself ? or even just replacing them with some fresh fruits and veggies ? can reduce waste and energy consumption. And that will certainly add up over the course of your dog?s life to reduce their carbon paw print.

4. Choose eco-friendly pet products

You might already choose environmentally conscious companies for your human products. And it?s just as important to support those types of companies that make pet products to encourage their growth in the industry (but keep your antenna up for greenwashing).

Just like with dog food, look for items ? leashes, toys, cleaning supplies, etc. ? that are packaged in eco-friendly materials. And keep an eye out for plant-based products. ?When it comes to pet supplies, one of the most common plant-based materials you?ll find is hemp,? according to PetMD. Hemp ? used for items, such as leashes and collars ? is durable and doesn?t need much water or harmful chemicals to grow.

You also can look for toys and other products made from recycled materials, such as plastics turned into fiberfill. And to really recycle, look around your home for items you can turn into dog toys, bedding, etc. Plus, put in the effort to mend old items until they?re no longer safe for your dog.

Moreover, if you no longer need some of your dog products, consider donating them to an animal shelter ? a great form of reusing. Shelters often welcome gently used leashes, collars, harnesses, beds, crates, toys, towels and more. Just make sure you call ahead about your donations, as sometimes shelters have too much of a specific item.

5. Grow a green garden and lawn

Credit: ChristopherBernard/Getty Images

There are many reasons to grow a more eco-friendly garden. For instance, you contribute to a balanced ecosystem, reduce environmental toxins and use fewer resources. But what does that have to do with your dog?

Green gardening practices and being a dog parent actually go hand in hand. A major issue for both the environment and our pets is the use of synthetic lawn chemicals. Not only do these chemicals pollute our water and kill beneficial species (among other consequences), but they also pose serious dangers to your dog.

Ingesting fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other products (including some organic varieties) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors and even death in a dog, according to VetStreet. Even if you don?t see your dog ingest anything while outside, they?ll still get the products on their paws ? which they?ll certainly lick later. So try to use the most natural products possible on your property. Or better yet, grow low-maintenance plants that don?t need these products, and take pride in knowing that your garden is benefiting both your pet and the planet.

Main image credit: al_louc/Getty Images

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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The internet is ablaze with Lil Dicky’s bizarre, star-studded climate anthem

Lil Dicky, the self-flagellating Jewish rapper slash comedian, came out with another banger on Friday. Born Andrew David Burd, Lil Dicky is known for his hits with rappers Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan, and Chris Brown. His songs are about stuff other artists don’t usually discuss, like fiscal responsibility and being a white rapper, and often verge into satire.

Lil Dicky’s latest jam, Earth, takes on new and unusual subject matter, even for him: climate change. The 7-minute music video is his most celebrity-packed yet, featuring Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Halsey, Bad Bunny, PSY, Zac Brown, Miley Cyrus, Sia, Snoop Dogg, and more. How did Dicky get all those celebs to star on his track? Probably the same way he got strangers to let him use their mansions and yachts for free for his $ave Dat Money music video: a lot of begging.

Regardless of how Lil Dicky pulled it off, Earth is already trending on YouTube with 6 million views and climbing, and the rapper worked with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to donate proceeds from the video to climate and environment projects. So what all is the song about? Think “We Are The World,” but animated and millennial as f***.

The video opens with a clip of a newscaster talking about the fires that ripped through California last year. But the video rapidly leaves the sweltering California streets and enters an animated world, replete with talking bald eagles and safari animals.

Dicky frolics with penguins, analyzes chatty microbes under a microscope, and talks to a marijuana plant voiced by Snoop Dogg (duh). The video might look like a Disney channel special, but isn’t too concerned with being wholesome (Justin Bieber’s line: “I’m a baboon. I’m like a man just less advanced and my anus is huge).

The second half of the video is a call to action. “These days it’s like we don’t know how to act, all these shootings, pollution, we under attack on ourselves,” he says. “Like let’s all just chill.” Gripping stuff.

If you don’t want to watch an animated Lil Dicky sing about the planet in a loincloth g-string for seven minutes, I don’t blame you. But think of it this way: what if this whole video is a critique of the tired and worn-out tropes used by old-school Earth Day advocates? Hmm??

As Dicky recently told TIME in an interview, “If we don’t completely redefine how we do everything on earth, from an energy perspective, from a food perspective, from a conserving nature perspective, in the next 12 years, the damage is irreversible and we’re screwed.” Clearly, he knows that recycling bottles and changing light bulbs isn’t enough to get ourselves out of this climate predicament.

Then again, the celebrities in his video are contributing more than their fair share of pollution by jetting around the world to play shows, as Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg points out. Commenters have also noted some racist and misogynistic tropes. (Case in point: Lil Dicky points out India, Germany, and “Africa” as he twirls around the globe. You can’t group a whole continent with a bunch of countries, ya dingus.) Maybe this shit isn’t that deep and I’m just looking for an excuse to dunk on Earth Day? You be the judge.

Either way, the fact that Lil Dicky chose to focus one of his songs on climate change in the first place marks a shift in popular culture. “I’d like to figure out a way to impact humanity as best as I possibly can beyond my typical d**k and fart jokes,” he said. Well, Mr. Dicky, I guess you succeeded?


The internet is ablaze with Lil Dicky’s bizarre, star-studded climate anthem

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New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained

This story has been updated.

As the rest of the country continues to go back and forth over the possibility of a nationwide Green New Deal, New York City is forging ahead with its own version. The Climate Mobilization Act passed the city council on Thursday with a vote of 45 to 2 amidst cheers and applause from those inside the chambers.

The bundle of 10 bills will keep the city in line with emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.*

“This package of bills will be the single largest carbon reduction effort in any city, anywhere, not just New York City, that has been put forward,” said Committee for Environmental Protection Chair Costa Constantinides in a committee hearing the morning of the vote. “By our calculations, it will result in the equivalent of taking more than one million cars off the road by 2030.” Proponents of the legislation say it will have a significant impact on air quality in the city, which has higher than the national average asthma rates and create thousands of new middle-class jobs for the city.

Making big changes to meet climate goals in New York City is tricky because so much of the city’s day-to-day operation–from public transportation to water, even its ability to ban plastic bags — is controlled by the state government. By focusing largely on local building standards, the city has been able to carve out green legislation within its jurisdiction.

The act’s pièce de résistance is a bill that requires many of city’s buildings to significantly slash their carbon emissions starting in 2024, reducing overall emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Buildings are responsible for almost 70 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2017 estimate. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability estimates upgrades needed to meet the act’s emissions caps would cost building owners around $4 billion, according to the New York Times. The measure was vehemently opposed by the real estate industry, which argued the bill is costly, unrealistic and puts an unfair burden on the owners of buildings not exempted from the law.

New York’s powerful real estate lobby has been fighting energy-efficient building legislation as far back as 2009 when then-Mayor Bloomberg proposed a similar rule. So in a city where the real estate industry so often gets its way, today’s vote really stands out.

But the times are a’changing, and even skeptical New Yorkers (and potential 2020 presidential candidates) like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently called the act “very aggressive,” have come around in support of the measure. “Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City, and making buildings more sustainable and efficient is a key part of the solution,” said de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability via email. “Protecting New Yorkers from climate change is not optional.”

What does the act do?

The act consists of 10 bills which aim to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in a myriad of ways. Some of the standouts:

  1. A bill that requires the city to conduct a feasibility study by 2021 looking at closing the city’s 24 gas- and oil-fueled power plants in favor of renewable sources and batteries to store excess energy. The study would be revisited every four years.
  2. Green roofs on new and smaller buildings: two bills in the package stipulate that roofs should be covered in plants, solar panels, mini wind turbines or some combination of the three. Green roofs help filter pollutants and add agricultural space in cities.
  3. The final resolution of the package calls upon the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to deny the Water Quality Certification permit for the Williams Pipeline, which is proposed to bring fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to the New York. Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York in 2014, but proponents say the pipeline is necessary to meet the growing demand for natural gas, and that it will facilitate a city-mandated transition away from using dirtier oil for heating.
  4. It wasn’t voted on today, but an additional measure to convert all school buses to electric within 20 years was also included in the package, part of New York City’s goal to switch all public buses to electric by 2040. The council expects to vote on this bill by Earth day.

But the meatiest (veggiest?) bill of the bunch is unofficially known as the “Dirty Buildings Bill.” It requires around 50,000 of the city’s buildings to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 by installing new windows, insulation and other retrofits to become more energy efficient. The legislation targets buildings over 25,000 square feet, which make up just 2 percent of the city’s real estate but account for about half of all building emissions. If landlords fail to meet targets, they will be forced to pay a fine of up to millions of dollars per year. Some of the guilty buildings will include Trump Tower, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and 15 Central Park West.

Not every edifice will have to scramble to make energy-efficient updates. Non-profits, hospitals, religious sites, rent-controlled housing and residential buildings of four stories or less are exempted from the bill in various ways. The legislation also creates a low-interest energy loan program to help building owners get funding to make these green improvements. Councilmember Constantinides said that they designed the loans so that, most loan recipients should see a net gain after all is said and done after factoring in the cost savings from improved energy efficiency.

Who stands to benefit?

Well, the earth, naturally. But people-wise, NYC is hoping the construction work involved in the building overhaul bill will benefit the city’s shrinking middle class while simultaneously improving public health.

“By 2030, this bill will create 26,700 green jobs, and will prevent 43 premature deaths and 107 Emergency Room visits annually by 2030,” the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability wrote in an email to Grist.

A study by New York Working Families and the non-profit ALIGN NY found that the new laws would create 23,627 “direct construction jobs” implementing the retrofits, and 16,995 “indirect jobs” like building operation and maintenance jobs, manufacturing and professional services per year until 2030.

“We wanted to ensure legislation that tackled both climate change and inequality,” said Peter Sikora, the climate and inequality campaigns director with grassroots organization New York Communities for Change. “You can’t fight climate change on the backs of poor people of color, that’s not right.”

The bill looking at phasing out oil- and gas-fueled power plants could have a significant impact on air quality neighborhoods where existing plants are located. Many of the city’s power plants are in low-income areas, where local residents suffer from pollution.

Who put up a fight?

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are among the biggest energy users among New York City buildings over 25,000 feet. Before the act passed, hospital representatives were seeking a total exemption from the “Dirty Buildings Bill” rules — but they were ultimately denied.

Hospitals are among the biggest energy users among buildings over 25,000 feet. . “Hospitals, in all fairness, are unusual because they’re 24-hour operations and have federal rules” such as replacing their indoor air a certain number of times per day, Sikora said. Still, “It’s ironic that healthcare institutions were lobbying against anti-pollution requirements.”

Although hospitals didn’t receive the full exemption from the new laws, they are being held to the lowest standard allowed by the “Dirty Buildings” bill, meaning they’ll still have to cut emissions, but not on the same timeline or to the same extent as other facilities.

What’s next?

Back to the power plant bill: Once the feasibility study is completed, what will be the next steps to start shutting down these pollution-spewing energy generators? There aren’t any guarantees or safeguards built into the legislation to say how, or when, the city council will use the study’s findings to begin divesting from the dirty fuel or shutting down power plants impacting lower-income communities.“The City Council will continue its work to move away from fossil fuel and into more renewable energy sources,” a spokesperson for New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Grist.

Sikora agreed that the city’s Green New Deal plans are fuzzy for now. “There are loads of details and implementation issues and administrative actions and financing mechanisms that need to take place moving forward,” he said.

The fate of the Williams Pipeline also remains to be seen. Even though the Climate Mobilization Act includes a resolution condemning the pipeline, it’s still largely up to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has until May 16 to issue a key water certification that’d allow construction to begin this year. Even as environmental advocates celebrated New York’s Green New Deal vote, some participants peeled off for a march in protest of the fracked gas pipeline.

*This story previously stated that New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio signed the Climate Mobilization Act on Thursday. According to his spokesperson, he has not yet signed it, but will in the near future.

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New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained

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