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Hurricanes disproportionately harm communities of color. TV news ignores that fact.

When Hurricane Florence slammed into southeastern North Carolina in September 2018, the worst-hit communities were already dealing with a litany of hazards: poverty, pollution from coal ash ponds and lagoons filled with livestock waste, chemicals in the drinking water, not to mention many were still in the process of rebuilding after Hurricane Matthew tore through two years earlier. According to Naeema Muhammad, organizing director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, people in these largely black and brown communities in cities like New Bern and Lumberton, and rural towns like Faison, struggled to evacuate.

“People are pretty much left on their own to try to navigate out of danger,” Muhammad told Grist. When the flooding came, it flushed coal ash, animal waste, and human waste from wastewater treatment plants into the waterways, which spilled over riverbanks and into the streets. “People had to navigate through that water,” she said.

If you had been following coverage of the hurricane on one of the major nightly news shows at the time, you might have missed this story entirely. That’s because not a single segment that aired on ABC’s World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, or the NBC Nightly News reported on the disparate impacts Florence had on marginalized communities, according to a new analysis by Media Matters.

The media watchdog nonprofit analyzed 669 segments produced by those shows from 2017 to 2019 covering seven hurricanes, including Florence, and one tropical storm. Not one addressed the fact that these extreme weather events did not affect everyone in their paths equally — that the devastation they brought to poor communities and communities of color was far worse — despite ample research highlighting this disparity.

“It does not come as a surprise at all,” Muhammad said of the study. “We have a lot of issues going on in the floodplain areas that do not get addressed by the media. It’s mainly because of the faces in those areas,” which are predominantly black, Native American, and Latino.

Marginalized communities already have and will continue to suffer disproportionately from the extreme weather that becomes more common with climate change, from hurricanes and flooding to heat waves and wildfires. This is not just because they are more likely to live in the floodplain or the line of fire, although that is part of it, and is often the result of racist practices like redlining. Low-income and minority communities are also more likely to live in poor-quality housing and to not have the means to evacuate, rebuild, or relocate. As the Media Matters report states, “These events expose vulnerabilities stemming from historic and systemic inequities, but they too often go unexplained — partly because broadcast TV news fails to even do the minimum of reporting on who is being harmed the most, let alone delving into why some communities are being disproportionately affected.”

By contrast, PBS Newshour produced nine segments over the same time period that specifically addressed the disproportionate impacts hurricanes had on marginalized communities. While they represented only about 4 percent of the public broadcaster’s total hurricane coverage, the segments were at least substantive: One highlighted how undocumented families in Texas who did not qualify for disaster aid were faring in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Another focused on black residents in a neglected North Carolina public housing project who had no evacuation plan during Hurricane Florence.

Juan Declet-Baretto, a social scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who researches climate vulnerability and environmental justice, warned about the dangers of the media not visiting these communities and talking to residents about what they experience. “It creates a huge blindspot in people’s perception, public perception and policymakers’ perception,” he told Grist. “It sends a message that there are some people in society that we collectively deem that they are not important, that it is not worth saving their lives.”

Media Matters found that this blind spot extends beyond extreme weather events to other environmental justice issues. When it comes to the novel coronavirus, the organization found that the same three corporate broadcast news shows failed to report on the connection between air pollution and the high COVID-19 death rate among people of color, especially black people.

Last Saturday morning, Muhammad said she woke up and lay in bed feeling angry. Over the previous few days, mass protests had spread to major cities all over the country in response to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men while he was out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia. “I’m angry that this policeman could so casually murder somebody in plain view, in broad daylight, as if it was nothing,” said Muhammad, referring to Floyd’s killing.

But the ongoing demonstrations are not about a few specific violent incidents; they are about the enduring structural racism and everyday violence inflicted on black Americans, of which environmental injustice is one manifestation.

“And then I said, man, on top of that, we have all of this environmental degradation in our communities, where people feel like they got a right to dump crap that they don’t want onto poor communities, and predominantly people of color, without a thought, and without being held accountable for the damages that they’ve caused,” Muhammad continued.

“And yet, communities gotta be made to prove that they’re being harmed when all this stuff happens, whether it’s a hurricane, whether its animal waste, whether its coal ash, GenX, murder, you name it. You gotta be made to prove that you’re being harmed.” (GenX is the brand name of one of the types of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, the “forever chemicals” also known as PFAS.)

Muhammad urged the media to try harder to get to the root of the story, to go into impacted communities and talk to folks. “The evidence is already there,” she said. “If you sit there and hear the story and look around, people are not making this shit up. It’s real. People are living this stuff every single day.”

While the protests rage on, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take more lives every day, and an active Atlantic hurricane season is in the forecast.

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Did BP really just pledge to become a net-zero company? It’s complicated.

Net-zero promises from companies and governments are popping up as often as new Netflix shows, and just like those algorithmically driven hours of entertainment, not all clean energy commitments are created equal. The language used to describe these targets has become as meaningless as the “natural” label on your package of Perdue chicken: “Clean energy” and “net zero” can signify any number of things, and even “renewable” changes depending on who you ask.

The point is, when a fossil fuel major like BP announces its ambition to become a net-zero company by 2050, as it did on Wednesday, it’s important to read the fine print.

To start, “net-zero emissions” is different from plain old “zero emissions” in that it allows for things like carbon offsets, carbon capture technology, and natural solutions like tree-planting to make up for continued emissions. In this case, BP’s net-zero target does not mean it will stop exploring new reserves, extracting oil and gas, or selling it at the pump. Confusingly, it doesn’t even mean the emissions from all the oil and gas products BP sells will be net-zero in 2050.

But all of that aside, the company’s plan does contain significantly more aggressive goals than its peers.

“Depending on the details, it has the potential to be the most comprehensive climate strategy of any of the major oil companies,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a sustainable business nonprofit. But like Logan said, it depends on the details, because while BP’s dreams are big, the company has disclosed few details on how it will achieve them.


One of BP’s targets is to reduce emissions from all of its company operations, which it says is about 55 million tons of CO2 equivalent, to net zero. That includes emissions from things like gas flaring at the wellhead, company cars, and the electricity it buys to keep the lights on. BP’s goal here is somewhat par for the course these days — most of the major oil and gas companies have some kind of emissions reduction target for their operations (though not all of them are net zero).

What’s noteworthy, said Kathy Mulvey, the fossil fuel accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is that BP says it will measure and reduce its methane footprint at all of its oil and gas sites. “That points to the reality that BP doesn’t actually know exactly how much methane its operations are emitting,” she said.

Critics of these plans say that operational emissions are small potatoes, and that fossil fuel companies should be responsible for the emissions from the oil and gas products they produce and sell to customers, known as scope 3 emissions. This is where BP’s plan really stands out. The company aspires to zero-out the carbon emissions from the eventual combustion of all of the oil and gas it pulls out of the ground by 2050. Right now that amounts to about 360 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year.


In a speech about the plan on Wednesday, new CEO Bernard Looney tried to anticipate questions about this. He said that yes, this does mean BP’s oil and gas production will probably decline over time. “Does that mean we’ll be producing and refining hydrocarbons” — that’s fossil fuel industry–speak for fossil fuels — “in 2050? Yes, very likely,” he said. “Does that mean we’ll be producing and refining less of them in 2050? Yes, almost certainly. And our aim is that any residual hydrocarbons will be decarbonized.”

To date, only one other fossil fuel company has made this kind of commitment, the small Spanish company Repsol. But unlike Repsol, which has set near-term goals to gradually reduce emissions over time, and hinted at some of the strategies it will use to get there, BP offered no benchmarks or blueprints. Looney said the company would share more information on the “how” of its transition in September.

But there’s one key caveat to BP’s scope 3 target. The oil and gas that the company extracts is only a portion of its business. During a Q&A session after his speech, Looney broke down how they are thinking about scope 3 on a whiteboard.

BP sells a lot more oil and gas than it digs out of the ground, he said, because it also buys these products from other companies. So while it plans to zero-out emissions from the products BP itself extracts, it’s aiming for a 50 percent reduction in carbon intensity from all the products it sells, including those it’s just a middleman for.

That leaves open the possibility for the total emissions from BP’s sold products to continue to rise, as long as the amount emitted per unit of energy decreases. In his speech, Looney estimated that right now, total emissions from all the products it sells are about 1 gigaton per year.

Ultimately, with a goal of reducing its footprint by 415 million tons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, BP’s new plan is worlds away from companies like Exxon and Chevron, which still claim they are not responsible for the emissions from customers using their products.

BP’s vision also includes a goal to increase the proportion of money it invests into non-oil and gas energy sources, like solar and wind, over time. Right now, that’s only about 3 percent of BP’s investments. But Looney declined to quantify the company’s target in this arena. “We don’t plan to commit to an arbitrary or preset number,” he said.

While critics have already leapt on the vagueness of the plan, Ed Clowes, a business journalist for the Telegraph, described BP’s dilemma aptly on Twitter. On the one hand, BP could stop selling oil and gas and self-destruct. But if it did, another company would step in to fill the gap, because right now, the world still (mostly) runs on oil. “BP has to be in the game to change it,” Clowes wrote.

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Did BP really just pledge to become a net-zero company? It’s complicated.

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Trump State of the Union’s brief environmental interlude: more oil, more trees

The reality TV president delivered a reality TV State of the Union Tuesday night. Over the course of 80 sometimes raucous minutes, he awarded a school voucher to a Philadelphia 4th grader, had the first lady present conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and reunited a military servicemember with his family.

Along the way, he ticked off a checklist of statistics, claims, and promises designed to galvanize his colleagues on the right side of the aisle. The most prominent parts of the speech touted the strong economy, celebrated the administration’s crackdown on immigration, and decried an alleged Democratic attempt to engineer a socialist takeover of healthcare.

One phrase that didn’t pass the president’s lips — to nobody’s surprise — was climate change.

Trump devoted just a few seconds of his address to energy and environmental issues: first by celebrating the massive oil and gas boom that has made the U.S. a net exporter of oil, and later by reiterating his commitment to joining an international initiative to plant one trillion trees worldwide.

The president took credit for the recent increase in domestic fossil fuel production, suggesting that it was his administration’s “bold regulatory reduction campaign” that made the U.S. the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world. But the U.S. actually reached that milestone under the Obama administration. Thanks to the explosion in fracking beginning in 2008, the U.S. became the top producer of natural gas in 2009 and of oil in 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The president then went further, claiming that the boom has made the U.S. “energy independent” — ignoring the fact that the country is still subject to the global oil market, and that turbulence in the Middle East and elsewhere has the ability to affect gas prices in the U.S.

The dramatic increase in stateside oil and gas extraction has also generated environmental and public health consequences that went unacknowledged in Tuesday’s address. Though U.S. emissions likely fell by about two percent last year, those reductions are nowhere close to the cuts required to meet the targets set under the international Paris Agreement, which scientists say are essential to avoiding the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Research also suggests that increased pollution from the oil and gas boom could reverse that fragile progress.

Energy and environment have never been a point of emphasis in Trump’s State of the Union addresses. In 2018, the president devoted just two brief sentences to energy independence, focusing instead on immigration and tax cuts. Last year, too, energy and environmental policies were largely absent from his speech, save the passing mention of “an American energy revolution.”

The Trump administration’s decision to join the World Economic Forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees worldwide is likely too little, too late. For one, if the U.S. is to compensate for all its 2019 emissions, it would need to plant trees on 371 million acres. That’s double the size of Texas.

Successful reforestation programs have also been hard to implement. Last year, Turkey planted 11 million trees, but according to reports from the country’s agriculture and forestry trade union, the vast majority of the saplings inspected died within just a few months. Trees also take decades to reach their full carbon-combating potential. Trees planted today may not reach full growth for 40 years or more — and that’s assuming they survive disease, wildfires, and droughts.

Then there’s the challenge of accurately monitoring and calculating the amount of carbon dioxide that the trees are pulling out of the air. Reporting by ProPublica and other research has found that many programs have grossly overestimated the emissions reductions from reforestation.

In fact, scientists have suggested that when it comes to climate change, conserving current trees is more helpful than planting new ones. Given that the Trump administration expanded logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest just a few months ago, one might be tempted to rip up Trump’s speech in frustration — if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not already done precisely that at the end of the address.

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ACLU sues South Dakota over new pipeline protester law

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Even if you don’t live in South Dakota, you could be held liable for supporting pipeline protesters there, according to a newly signed state bill. While at least nine states have passed legislation this year cracking down on demonstrations against fossil fuel infrastructure, South Dakota’s new rule gives unprecedented power to penalize groups and individuals even indirectly involved in anti-pipeline actions.

The bill, signed by Republican Governor Kristi Noem on Wednesday, allows state and local governments to seek civil damages from activists or groups engaging in “riot boosting,” a term which the state defines as someone who “does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence.”

“My pipeline bills make clear that we will not let rioters control our economic development,” Noem said. “These bills support constitutional rights while also protecting our people, our counties, our environment, and our state.”

State officials in both North and South Dakota have clashed with several activist groups including Native American tribes over the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline, but the states are taking slightly different approaches to pipeline penalties.

In North Dakota lawmakers also passed a bill this week that would reinforce penalties for anyone who tries to block pipeline operations and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, however, has yet to say whether or not he intends to sign the bill into law. The North Dakota bill is based on one passed in Oklahoma in 2017 that imposed punishments of up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines for individuals who interfere with a pipeline or other “critical infrastructure.” Under the law, organizations could also be made to pay up to $1 million in penalties if they are found to be “co-conspirators.”

So how is a North Dakota “co-conspirator” different than a South Dakota “riot booster?” The term “riot booster” can be applied out-of-state. The definition of “riot booster” is also vaguer, which is a problem, according to Vera Eidelman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “I think [South Dakota’s definition of ‘riot booster’] poses a unique threat to speech and appears to be targeted at protests,” she told InsideClimate News. “It uses words like ‘encouraging’ and ‘advising’ that are very broad and refer to a category of protected speech.”

On Thursday, the ACLU of South Dakota filed a federal lawsuit against state officials on behalf of several Native American tribes and environmental advocates.

“No one should have to fear the government coming after them for exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Courtney Bowie, legal director of the ACLU of South Dakota. “That is exactly what the Constitution protects against, and why we’re taking these laws to court. Whatever one’s views on the pipeline, the laws threaten the First Amendment rights of South Dakotans on every side of the issue.”

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ACLU sues South Dakota over new pipeline protester law

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4 black women leaders on climate, justice, and the green ‘Promised Land’

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Black leaders have long been pioneers in protecting communities and the environment — from Harriet Tubman, who in the mid-1800s used her knowledge of the natural world to guide escaped slaves north, to landfill protesters in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 who galvanized the modern environmental justice movement. Yet despite these contributions to the larger green movement, black activists and scholars are not always given their due.

It’s well documented that black neighborhoods and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by a changing climate, amplifying existing disparities related to race, gender, and class. And while environmental justice advocates have been active on the grassroots level for many years, resolutions like the Green New Deal are now shining a national spotlight on the need for a more socially holistic, dare we say “woke,” approach to shaping climate policy.

Grist’s Justice Desk reporters spoke with four leading black activists and scholars in the environmental movement about what this moment means for their communities:

Adrienne Hollis, Lead Climate Justice Analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists
Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program
Leslie Fields, Director- Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships at the Sierra Club
Mary Annaïse Heglar, Director Of Publications at the Natural Resources Defense Council

This discussion has been edited for clarity and length.

Grist: What does environmental justice mean to you? How does identity inform your work?

Adrienne: Environmental justice means protecting everyone; Minorities [and] communities of color have traditionally been disproportionately impacted by environmental threats [but have] traditionally had no voice in the environmental arena. I’m from Mobile, Alabama. I grew up in the shadow of paper mills during a time when there were certain places we as black people couldn’t go — certain beaches were off limits to us and the like. I bring that perspective to my work.

Mary: To me, environmental justice is just plain justice. I can’t imagine a type of justice that doesn’t include the environment. As a black woman from the Deep South, I’m drawn to tell the stories of the most vulnerable communities because I was very aware that if someone else is suffering, that’s not far away from me. If it’s not your problem now it will be at some point.

Leslie: I really love E.J. because you can be a kid, you can be a grandmama, an abuela, a professional person — anybody can do it. That makes it messy and complicated but that’s also what makes really beautiful: anybody can get involved to preserve their natural and cultural environment. The people in their communities, they know what they’re doing. We try really hard to do what we can to support them and they have the solutions on the ground. The problem is when they don’t get to lead.

Grist: Climate is increasingly on the national radar, including its justice lens. What are some of the challenges and successes you’re seeing at this moment?

Jacqueline: I am inspired by some of the work that’s happening at the local level connecting various social justice issues with environmental issues. The NAACP [along with groups Positive Impact and GRID Alternatives] worked with the Department of Corrections to do training in solar installation for folks while they were incarcerated. That resulted in people having skills to be placed in jobs as they came out of incarceration.

Leslie: There are so many communities [where issues] just keep piling on like Cancer Alley or Houston Ship Channel or down on the border. It’s all globalized. The impacts are very severe and then climate disruption is the threat multiplier, exacerbates all inequalities. What’s annoying with the mainstream environmental groups is that they have the privilege of not worrying about these other things because they’ve already got their good housing, they’ve already got good representation, they already got their good jobs.

Mary: I think that part of the problem with the environmental movement is it thinks of itself as a silo [from other movements]. I think of it as different heads of the same dragon. We need to build a more inclusive [environmental] movement that allows black people to bring their whole selves to the movement. So if I’m going to join the environmental movement, I need to be able to talk about Black Lives Matter. I need to be able to talk about reproductive rights. We need to be able to talk about all these other things that come to the forefront for me as a whole human being.

Adrienne: One of the big problems that I see is funding. There’s very little to no money going to groups that are trying to protect vulnerable communities.

Grist: Mary, your article “Sorry, Y’all, but Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat” really stuck with us. Can you say more about why you wrote this article now?

Mary: I was reading Martin Luther King and I saw like all of these parallels because I now see the world through climate-colored glasses. To me, the parallels are blinding.

Jacqueline: This is all part of the same dispossession, displacement, exploitation pattern that is happening with black and brown peoples, indigenous peoples, and the earth itself. I think making all those ties [in the article] was brilliant. We really do need to continue to hammer home that racism [as well as] the exploitation of the earth [are] part and parcel of the same dominating forces.

Mary: I’m also encouraged by the youth activists, the strikers all over the world, as well as the women of color in Congress right now because they are not taking any prisoners on their way to get climate action. I love it.

Leslie: We have to find balance and we have to take care of ourselves for the long haul. I’m optimistic about all these great young people who are gonna take us to the Promised Land. We got you to the mountaintop, you all got to take us to the Promised Land, speaking of Martin Luther King Jr.

Adrienne: I do have hope that, well, I didn’t think they were gonna take us all the way to the Promised Land but I’m glad that there are fresh voices and they are being heard. Unless things change (and I hope they do) — they’re going to be in this fight for a long time even after the older among us are gone.

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Don’t look now, but the House just woke up to the cost of climate inaction

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A bunch of Republicans and Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives got together and came to a shocking bipartisan agreement: Climate change is a thing. And boy is it going to cost us.

A newly-minted subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held its first hearing on Wednesday, looking at the environmental and economic consequences of climate change. And that’s a big deal: The Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change had not held a hearing on climate change in six years, after a long drought under GOP control.

Throughout the subcommittee hearing there was a constant theme: the high cost of inaction.

“Some of our colleagues may protest the cost of climate protection,” said Representative Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, in his opening statement. Tonko noted that Americans are already suffering the costs of wildfires, storms, and flooding. “I implore you: Now is the time to join us. We want to work together but inaction is no longer an option.”

To drive home their points, Democrats invited a mix of high-profile witnesses including Brenda Ekwurzel, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She opened by talking about the Polar Vortex (a clapback on Trump’s tweet that mocked global warming?). She compared it to a “weak seal on a freezer door,” allowing cold blasts to sweep down from the Arctic.

Speaking about the productivity losses from a changing climate, Ekwurzel noted that, because extreme temperatures take a toll on workers, climate change could cost people $155 billion in lost wages every year. “Under a low emissions scenario, we could take a bite out of nearly half of those damages.” Ekwurzel made sure to highlight the two bombshell climate studies released last year: the federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment and the IPCC report.

Reverend Leo Woodberry of the Kingdom Living Temple Church in Florence, South Carolina, put stories and faces to the places already hit by Hurricanes Florence, Michael and Irma. “We don’t have to wait 12 years for a switch to be flipped. Americans are suffering the impacts of climate change right now, Woodberry said. “People are being displaced, communities are getting destroyed.”

Republicans, led by subcommittee ranking member John Shimkus from Illinois, had their own witness list, seemingly aimed to highlight what businesses are doing to combat climate change, instead of trying to challenge the science behind the issue.

Of note: The majority of Republicans on the climate subcommittee don’t have the best track record when it comes to understanding climate change.

Rich Powell, head of the conservative clean energy group ClearPath, talked about “politically-realistic” and “technology-inclusive” solutions to the challenge of climate change.

The U.S. Energy Association’s Barry Worthington emphasized the need for a diverse repertoire of renewables to fossil fuels to nuclear power, and fossil fuels. When Shimkus asked if it’s reasonable to drop fossil fuels entirely, Worthington balked, because the country depends on domestic oil and gas. But you know what else is domestic? Sunshine and wind.

Regardless, there was a measure of bipartisan agreement. Representative Diana DeGette from Colorado asked all the witnesses: “Do you all agree that climate change is real and human activity contributes?” All witnesses said yes. Quite the plot twist.

“That in itself is a revolutionary step for this committee. Thank you for that,” DeGette said.

Could this be a good omen in this time of climate upheaval? Ekwurzal, in her closing thoughts, put it thus: “I think it is going to be a cleaner, healthier world–when we act now.”

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Don’t look now, but the House just woke up to the cost of climate inaction

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Historically black community could face a toxic facility for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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The saga continues for the embattled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. On Tuesday, a Virginia board approved a controversial plan to build a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a historically black community in Buckingham County. The decision was met with uproar from opponents, who vowed to keep fighting in protests and in court.

“It’s a real tragedy that the board that has been appointed to protect our air makes a decision that seals the fate and disregards the ongoing health and welfare of an entire community,” said Chad Oba, chair of the Friends of Buckingham, an organization of Buckingham citizens, and a local resident that will be impacted by the decision.

“This is just another example of institutionalized racial discrimination,” she told Grist.

The state Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 in favor of a station permit for the approximately 600-mile underground pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. The development is a joint venture from several energy companies, but Richmond-based Dominion Energy is leading the pack in building the $7 billion pipeline.

AP Photo / Steve Helber

“Today’s unanimous approval is a significant step forward for this transformational project and the final state approval needed in Virginia,” wrote Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien in an email to the Washington Post. “We have a profound respect for this community and its history, and we will continue working together to build a better future.”

Here’s the rub: Pipeline opponents are concerned that exhaust from the compressor station will hurt the surrounding community, putting them at risk of a range of ailments including asthma. Rebecca Rubin, an air board member, was dismissed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam less than a week after she raised concerns about the disproportionate impact of the pipeline compressor station on Union Hill (ahem, Dominion energy is the state’s biggest corporate political donor).

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Rubin writes that the compressor station’s designated location “would disproportionately affect a minority community, a classic environmental justice issue.”

Dominion Energy presented survey data based on broad Census Bureau information they say indicates the area surrounding the site is sparsely populated and made up of no more than 39 percent minority residents based on race. Company representatives argued that, based on those demographics, the neighborhood was“not an environmental justice community.

An anthropologist working with Friends of Buckingham, however, submitted the results of door-to-door research, finding that of the approximately 200 people who live within a one-mile radius of the site, 83 percent are racial minorities.

Supporters of the station say it will boost development in the rural area. In an effort to help build local support for the project, Dominion offered community improvement package valued at $5.1 million. The offer won over some residents but was not enough of an incentive for many residents of the Union Hill community, which was settled after the Civil War by free blacks and former slaves.

“The legacy of placing toxic facilities in places where they disproportionately affect poor communities of color is unjust and unacceptable and needs acute examination,” wrote stakeholders in an open letter calling for the permit’s denial. “It is not right to look the other way while this continues.”

One thing is clear: the battle is still a long ways from over. The project’s opponents will likely challenge the decision in state court, adding to the pipeline’s hodgepodge of setbacks. Notably, the plan was stalled after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the U.S. Forest Service did not have proper permissions for the pipeline to cut across the Appalachian Trail. (Dominion plans to appeal the decision.)

Despite the board’s approval of the natural gas compression station, members of the Friends of Buckingham County say they too plan to keep fighting. “We have not given up,” Oba added. “If anything, it’s given us more resolve.”

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Historically black community could face a toxic facility for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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On the 7th day of the shutdown, the EPA has run out of money

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

As the government shutdown enters its second week, the Environmental Protection Agency is set to run out of funds and join the list of agencies affected by the partial closure. The shutdown was precipitated by President Donald Trump’s insistence that he would only sign a congressional spending bill that includes funds for a wall on the southern border of the U.S.

Unlike some other agencies, like the Department of State and the Department of Justice which shuttered almost immediately, the EPA had enough funds to operate through December 28. “EPA has sufficient carryover funds to continue to operate for the remainder of this week,” Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in an email on Thursday afternoon. “However, in the event an appropriation is not passed by Friday, December 28th, EPA will initiate orderly shutdown procedures.”

Approximately 750 EPA staffers will join the 420,000 essential employees working without pay. According to the agency’s shutdown contingency plan, personnel working on Superfund sites or other projects that pose an imminent threat to public health will be exempted from the shutdown. Meanwhile, more than 13,700 other employees throughout the country, who handle activities such as answering Freedom of Information Act requests, inspection of power plants, and reviews of toxic substances will be furloughed.

“Shutdowns, which waste American resources and taxpayer dollars, have grave consequences for science and research, public health, public lands, and species protections,” Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement last week. “Community members, especially ones near Superfund sites and other contaminated areas, won’t get their questions answered when federal offices empty out.”

The shutdown has no clear end in sight. Trump is still demanding funding for the wall and threatening to completely close down the border if he doesn’t get his way. On Thursday, after brief sessions, both the Senate and the House adjourned until Monday, making it inevitable that the shutdown will extend into the new year.

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On the 7th day of the shutdown, the EPA has run out of money

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Trump administration’s climate report raises new questions about nuclear energy’s future

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

Call it the nuclear power industry’s thirst trap.

The United States’ aging fleet of nuclear reactors ― responsible for one-fifth of the country’s electricity and most of its low-carbon power ― has never been more necessary as policymakers scramble to shrink planet-warming emissions. Yet the plants are struggling to stay afloat, with six stations shut down in the last five years and an additional 16 reactors scheduled to close over the next decade. So far, new coal- and gas-burning facilities are replacing them.

The nuclear industry blames high maintenance costs, competition from cheaper alternatives and hostile regulators concerned about radiation disasters like the 2012 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. But the country’s most water-intensive source of electricity faces what could be an even bigger problem as climate change increases the risk of drought and taxes already crumbling water infrastructure.

That finding, highlighted in the landmark climate change report that the Trump administration released with apparent reluctance last Friday, illustrates the complex and at times paradoxical realities of anthropogenic, or human-caused, warming. It also stokes an already hot debate over the role nuclear energy should play in fighting global warming, a month after United Nations scientists warned that carbon dioxide emissions must be halved in the next 12 years to avoid cataclysmic climate change leading to at least $54 trillion in damage.

The report ― the second installment of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated update on the causes and effects of anthropogenic warming from 13 federal agencies ― devoted its entire third chapter to water contamination and depletion. Aging, deteriorating infrastructure means “water systems face considerable risk even without anticipated future climate changes,” the report states. But warming-linked droughts and drastic changes in seasonal precipitation “will add to the stress on water supplies and adversely impact water supply.”

Nearly every sector of the economy is susceptible to water system changes. And utilities are particularly at risk. In the fourth chapter, the report’s roughly 300 authors conclude, “Most U.S. power plants … rely on a steady supply of water for cooling, and operations are expected to be affected by changes in water availability and temperature increases.”

For nuclear plants, that warning is particularly grave. Reactors require 720 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity they produce, according to data from the National Energy Technology Laboratory in West Virginia cited in 2012 by the magazine New Scientist. That compares with the roughly 500 gallons coal requires and 190 gallons natural gas needs to produce the same amount of electricity. Solar plants, by contrast, use approximately 20 gallons per megawatt-hour, mostly for cleaning equipment, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

Nuclear plants are already vulnerable to drought. Federal regulations require plants to shut down if water in the river or lake that feeds its cooling drops below a certain level. By the end of the 2012 North American heat wave, nuclear generation fell to its lowest point in a decade, with plants operating at only 93 percent of capacity.

The availability of water is one problem, particularly for the majority of U.S. nuclear plants located far from the coasts and dependent on freshwater. Another is the temperature of the water that’s available.

Nearly half the nuclear plants in the U.S. use once-through cooling systems, meaning they draw water from a local source, cool their reactors, then discharge the warmed water into another part of the river, lake, aquifer, or ocean. Environmental regulations bar plants from releasing used water back into nature above certain temperatures. In recent years, regulators in states like New York and California rejected plant operators’ requests to pull more water from local rivers, essentially mandating the installation of costly closed-loop systems that cool and reuse cooling water.

In 2012, Connecticut’s lone nuclear power plant shut down one of its two units because the seawater used to cool the plant was too warm. The heat wave that struck Europe this summer forced utilities to scale back electricity production at nuclear plants in Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. In France, the utility EDF shut down four reactors in one day.

“Already they’re having trouble competing against natural gas and renewable energy,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Add onto that high water temperatures, high air temperatures and drought. It’s just another challenge.”

But water has yet to pose an existential crisis. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that it considers climate change when reviewing applications for nuclear plants’ construction or operation permits and that it has never rejected one over concerns about dwindling cooling water resources.

“For plants on lakes and rivers, the basic consideration will continue to be whether or not the water level in that body is high enough to meet the conditions of the license,” said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “To this point, there have been no indications in the NRC’s analyses to suggest that plants would have to deal with the potential for the water bodies to no longer be able to fulfill their function.”

If or when that situation arises, a plant would have to propose a plan to maintain the requirements of the license, likely by reducing water intake and cutting electricity production, he said.

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There are ways to make nuclear plants more efficient with water. Closed-loop systems already cool 40 percent of the country’s reactors. For more than a decade, regulators and industry players have been discussing the feasibility of air-cooled condensers, which use electricity generated by the plant to power air conditioners that cool reactors without water. But the technology siphons roughly 7 percent of the power produced by the plant and has yet to be installed at any U.S. nuclear station, according to the industry-funded Nuclear Energy Institute.

Another approach is to use recycled water. To cool its three reactors, the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona sources most of the 20,000 gallons it uses per minute from reclaimed sewage from a treatment plant near Phoenix — a technique hailed in 2016 as “a feat of engineering” amid a drought.

Breakthroughs like that could make nuclear an attractive option for powering solutions to water scarcity in the years to come, such as desalinating brackish or saltwater and moving it to drought-parched regions.

“That’s energy intensive,” said Matt Wald, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “If you want to do that without adding carbon emissions, you’re likely to look at nuclear power as a way to do that.”

That, however, gets to the heart of the biggest question looming over the nuclear industry: Is it, given the radioactive waste it produces, clean energy?

For the growing number of states and municipalities pledging to use 100 percent renewable energy by the middle of the century, the answer is maybe.

Hawaii became the first state to adopt a 100 percent renewable electricity rule in 2015, pledging to quit gas and coal by 2045. The law makes no mention of nuclear, probably because the archipelago state has no reactors and requires a minimum two-thirds vote from both houses of the legislature to approve the construction of a nuclear plant or radioactive waste site.

The 100 percent clean electricity bill that California passed in August mandates that the state generate 60 percent of its electricity from renewables like wind and solar by 2030. But it gives regulators another 15 years after that to complete the overhaul with energy sources considered nonrenewable, including nuclear power, large hydropower dams, and gas-fired power plants that capture and store emissions.

statute that Atlanta passed in June to get the city to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 is vague, listing nuclear as a source of clean energy but vowing to get all its power from renewables.

For the Sierra Club, the environmental giant making a huge push to get cities and states to go all renewable, nuclear power is “a uniquely dangerous energy technology for humanity” and “no solution to climate change.”

“There’s no reason to keep throwing good money after bad on nuclear energy,” Lauren Lantry, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said by email. “It’s clear that every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable, and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, energy efficiency, battery storage, and smart grid technology.”


Trump administration’s climate report raises new questions about nuclear energy’s future

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If you’re suffering from climate grief, you’re not alone

Last week’s U.N. climate report gave a terrifyingly clear picture of a world on the brink of locking in catastrophe. It told us what was needed and the horrors that awaited if we failed to mobilize. As a scientific report, it was dazzling. But it didn’t tell us how to process, cope, and adapt our lives to the grief of that overwhelming knowledge.

In 1969, after interviewing hundreds of terminally ill patients, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, a milestone text on how humans process permanent loss. Kübler-Ross’ description of those reactions — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — are now famous, but they were never meant to be an orderly progression of “stages.” There is no “correct,” linear way to grieve. Our reactions are complicated because people are complicated.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for taking in something like the looming existential threat of climate change. I’ve been listening to a lot of ’90s country music. One of my colleagues has substantially upped her sleep, while one of our Grist editors “stress bakes.” What we feel is what we feel, and it determines our reality — and importantly, our response, to the news. And that response is more important than ever.

What we need now is a major mobilization on climate change. That would require, in the words of the IPCC, “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in “all aspects of society.” We’re taking much more than just solar panels and reusable shopping bags here. After decades of delay, the scale of changes that are necessary will force us to rethink everything. To put in the changes necessary, we have to be able to connect our emotions to our actions. We have to process our grief. We have to somehow move through it, and we have to do all that together.

Last week, Scott Williams of Climate-KIC, a group affiliated with the European Union, wrote a short essay with the headline: “Do we need an IPCC special report for humans?” He explores what it would take to act on the U.N. report and asks provocative questions, like: “What does it mean when every coal mine town has no jobs in five years’ time? What does it mean when in ten years’ time if no airlines can fly over Europe? How do we feed our families if there’s an extended drought which causes mass crop failure? What is the point of putting away money into a pension fund if that fund is investing in a way that just makes things worse? And what are we going to do about it?”

For those of us dealing with climate grief, these questions are familiar. I get dozens of them every week, and I’m never sure exactly how to respond. My go-to reply is: Find a friend and talk about it. But in truth, although it works for me, I have no idea whether or not this is the right advice for everyone.

There are scant few people currently working on this. Kate Schapira, a climate activist in Rhode Island, has taken it upon herself to set up a Peanuts-style counseling booth each summer in a public park in Providence. Renee Lertzman, a psychologist and leader in this field, wrote a book on the subject called Environmental Melancholia — but in interviews, she admits there’s much more to learn.

The best guide I’ve seen so far is Josh Fox’s impressively named documentary How to let go of the world and love all the things climate can’t change. In it, Fox speaks with climate activists as they come to grips with the literal dying of a world they thought would last forever, and dedicate their lives to the struggle, not knowing exactly what the end goal might be. Through that catharsis, the activists re-engage with their role in helping avert the largest crisis in human history — and wind up aiming to build a different, better world. But others, we know, remain disengaged — some, overtly hostile to change — even as the stakes continue to rise.

We’ll need more than this. We’ll need a comprehensive crash course on human psychology to deal with the massive changes we’re seeing; a guide to self-care for the most important decade in human history. We need to know how climate change will change us as social beings, how we can deal with grief, how to go about the process of imagining a new society. We will need to know not only how we can survive in this new world, but how we will live.

This is a necessarily messy process and it won’t be easy, but I’m not sure what could be more important.

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If you’re suffering from climate grief, you’re not alone

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