Environment

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

Time For Informed Change. Post Covid-19 Economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 5:34am in

Philip Armstrong email hidden; JavaScript is required
/* */

Nick Potts email hidden; JavaScript is required
/* */

Solent University, Southampton, UK

 

Published online 13th August 2020

 

Full article

 

Abstract

 

In these extraordinary times it might just be that heterodox economics gets a hearing; if only to justify government actions ruled impossible or, at least undesirable, by mainstream economics in normal times; it is back to the 2008 future all over again, big-time. So, if economics were to descend from its ‘theological heights’ (and preaching only that which suits elite vested interests), then what are we to say?  This article utilises alternative theoretical lenses to underpin views of fiscal and monetary policy and the case for state banking. It also expresses an opinion as to which capital is worth saving, post-crisis. More generally, we consider if advanced nations should aim to be more self-sufficient in the future and if so, how might developing countries fit into a new order? We are not prophets or salespeople, so we merely seek to provide some economic theory that can help us understand these issues.  The theories we apply are Modern Monetary Theory and the Temporal Single System Interpretation of Marx (which argues that his value theory is consistent and not redundant, in fact invaluable to understanding capitalism). Space will not permit us to drag up endless academic debates on the acceptability of the TSSI of Marx or MMT, and for once, in the face of crisis, we hope we may be spared from abiding by the rules of the club.

 

(218 words).

 

Keywords:  Covid crisis, Marx, MMT.

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post Time For Informed Change. Post Covid-19 Economics appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The Bakken Boom Goes Bust With No Money to Clean up the Mess

How the Bakken oil boom, particularly hasty development and transport by rail, was destined to create an environmental hangover.....and no one bothered to prevent it.

Mauritius Oil Spill Tragedy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 8:51pm in

Some photos and commentary from Mauritius, whose oil spill is a major ecological disaser.

Book Review: Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West by Justin Farrell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 9:15pm in

In Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, Justin Farrell examines the lives of the ultra-wealthy who make Teton County, Wyoming, the richest county in the United States, focusing on their views towards each other, the environment and the county’s working-class community. While this ambitious study raises more questions than it provides definite answers about the ultra-wealthy in the western United States, the book undertakes the necessary groundwork to open up further examinations of this steadily growing social class, writes Evan Bonney.

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West. Justin Farrell. Princeton University Press. 2020.

With Billionaire Wilderness, Yale sociologist Justin Farrell promises a unique study of the lives of the ultra-wealthy who make Teton County, Wyoming, the richest county in the United States. This isolated area, tucked in the Teton Mountain range of the Rocky Mountains, may not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of the world’s most affluent, but as one millionaire resident admits, the county seat of Jackson Hole is currently ‘where the billionaires chase the millionaires out of town’ (218). It is to these individuals with a net worth of $30 million or more that Farrell turns. Yet, instead of merely highlighting the socio-economic incentives that attract the ultra-wealthy to Wyoming, Farrell focuses on examining their views towards each other, the environment and Teton’s local working-class community.

From the start, Farrell stresses that Billionaire Wilderness seeks to challenge stereotypes of the affluent in the United States that ‘mask complexity and discourage the empathy and objectivity researchers need to understand any social group from the inside’ (5). Consequently, he takes a predominantly qualitative approach, using hundreds of personal interviews either with the ultra-wealthy themselves, Teton County community activists or with the Latino workers who total 30 per cent of Teton’s local population. These sources differentiate Billionaire Wilderness from similar studies, such as Peter Dauvergne’s Environmentalism of the Rich, which focuses exclusively on the socio-political uses of conservationist philanthropy by major corporations. But despite its unique sources, Billionaire Wilderness often feels too ambitious for one comprehensive study of the ‘ultra-wealthy and the remaking of the American West’.

This is most evident in the book’s structure. Farrell opens his study with five chapters that detail the social mechanics of the ultra-wealthy in Teton County, revealing what fiscally attracts them to Wyoming, how they view environmental conservation and what types of local philanthropies they endorse. These chapters are Farrell’s strongest as they explain the socio-economic motivations that attract the ultra-wealthy to this particular part of the Rocky Mountains, with one ultra-wealthy individual admitting that Wyoming is ‘the best onshore version of an offshore trust’ (126).

From Chapters Six to Eight, however, Farrell principally adopts a social-psychological approach. Here, he aims to understand why the ultra-wealthy idealise what he terms the ‘Western authenticity’ of the landscape and of Teton’s working-class community (183). Although this section seems dislocated from the first, Farrell attempts to combine his two approaches in his two concluding chapters, focusing exclusively on the opinions of the workers who are often either directly or indirectly employed by ultra-wealthy residents. Their views vary widely, with several saying that they ‘don’t think the rich can affect the community in a negative way’ (263), while others express that the ultra-wealthy ‘take care of the wolves more than the Latino workers in this community’ (271). For Farrell, highlighting this contrast alongside the testimonies of the ultra-wealthy is crucial for finding solutions that ‘build trust’ and ‘instil greater empathy’ between all social classes of Teton County (307-308).

These intentions are noble, but Farrell’s attempt to interlace two distinct analytical frameworks inadvertently undermines the tenor of his conclusions. An illustrative example is in Chapter Eight, which examines if ‘[the ultra-wealthy] feel guilty’ for the widening income gap that makes Teton County the most unequal in the United States (4; 237). After examining multiple interviews with ultra-wealthy residents, Farrell ultimately concludes that, despite a few outliers, the ultra-wealthy absolve themselves from guilt by either citing the disputed theory of trickle-down economics as proof that they invigorate the local economy, or by blaming socio-economic divisions on newcomers to the Teton circle of ultra-wealthy residents. This is a solid insight, but it is unclear how this conclusion challenges the reader to pause before jumping to what Farrell describes as ‘our hasty desire to brand [the ultra-wealthy] individually as either saviors or monsters, good or evil, deserving or undeserving, environmental heroes or destroyers of nature’ (300). For readers expecting a study that encourages them to think beyond these binaries, Billionaire Wilderness may prove frustrating.

Farrell could have enriched his analysis by demonstrating how the ultra-wealthy of Teton County are representative of a particular subgroup of the ultra-wealthy in the United States that adopts a distinct set of beliefs and behaviours. Indeed, it is surprising that Farrell opts to consider the ultra-wealthy as a uniform social cohort, given that what emerges from several of his sources is that there are clear divisions among the ultra-wealthy themselves. This is most apparent with the ultra-wealthy of Silicon Valley and those from the East Coast. In Chapter Three, two ultra-wealthy residents, originally from California, criticise environmental conservation in Teton County for gentrifying the area, with one from Silicon Valley blaming East Coast residents for their inclination to ‘want it to be the way it was the first day [they] came’ (89-90). Similarly, in Chapters Two and Eight, the ultra-wealthy from the East Coast condemn their Silicon Valley counterparts, with one woman from Delaware disdaining the ‘Silicon Valley crowd’ for flying in and out as they please, while one corporate investment executive from Connecticut confides that those ultra-wealthy who rode the ‘tech bubble’ are less respected amongst their peers (66, 234).

By treating the ultra-wealthy as a cohesive social unit, Farrell misses the opportunity to probe further into how geographic origin, social merit or long-term residency influence the social dynamic within this small community. Consequently, and perhaps unintentionally, Farrell conceals the very complexities of the ultra-wealthy he set out to expose. Indeed, as seen from the decade-old political group Patriotic Millionaires, the ultra-wealthy themselves are politically and ideologically fragmented when it comes to social activism targeted at closing the widening wealth gap in the United States. Although it is commendable that Farrell was able to gain access to this exclusive group of ultra-wealthy individuals, his lack of a clear analytical framework leads him to oversimplify his subject of study.

Despite its alluring title, Billionaire Wilderness raises more questions than it provides definite answers about the ultra-wealthy in the western United States. Although it reveals the environmental and tax incentives that attract the ultra-wealthy to Wyoming, it does not offer insight into how the beliefs and behaviours of the ultra-wealthy of Teton County may differ from those elsewhere in the United States. It remains to be seen if this study can foster the empathy that Farrell expressly desires to see between the ultra-rich and working poor of this remote part of the Rocky Mountains (308), but Billionaire Wilderness has taken the preliminary steps necessary to examine further this steadily growing social class.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photograph of Grand Tetons, Wyoming, USA at sunrise by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash.

 


Trump EPA Poised to Weaken Obama Methane Rule, Despite Possibility of Later CRA Overturn

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 11:55pm in

Trump EPA to weaken Obama methane rule, acceding to fossial fuel pressure, despite the Congressional Review Act, which may kick in aft Nov.

Book Review: The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea by Hannah Appel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 9:14pm in

In The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea, economic anthropologist Hannah Appel closely examines the operations of US oil companies in Equatorial Guinea, not only revealing the sheer extent and dimensions of corporate power in remaking the world, but also illuminating the ongoing project of capitalism itself. This is a revelatory study in its theoretical contributions to the anthropology of capitalism, with a critical recentring of attention on the role of industry in shaping the politics and economics of resource extraction, writes Wen Zhou.

The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea. Hannah Appel. Duke University Press. 2019.

Equatorial Guinea, a small Central African country that faces the Atlantic from the Gulf of Guinea, describes itself in government reports as offering ‘the most flexible fiscal environment in the world’. Of course, there’s stiff competition for this distinction: Caribbean island tax havens, the free market citadel of Singapore and a spate of newly designated special economic zones across the Global South similarly beckon investors with promises of unleashed returns in the absence of regulation. But the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea presents as a particularly spectacular site of state-sponsored capital accumulation, where Exxon’s discovery of offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the 1990s (bearing a production capacity equal to three times that of the company’s then-worldwide production) has led to a singular alignment of US oil companies with the government of President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, blurring the lines between state and corporate sovereignty over territory, resources and the environment.

In her book, The Licit Life of Capitalism, economic anthropologist Hannah Appel closely examines the operations of US oil companies in Equatorial Guinea, not only to discover the sheer extent and dimensions of corporate power in remaking the world to suit its purposes, but also to illuminate the project of capitalism itself. Indeed, one of Appel’s key interventions is for us to reconsider capitalism as an ongoing project, one that requires constant work by corporate actors to create the effects of ‘standardization, decontextualization, and distancing’ otherwise considered inherent to capitalism.

Based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in and around the capital city of Malabo, engaging with company staff and their spouses on offshore oil rigs and residential compounds, as well as with government officials and those active in opposition politics through a fortuitous position on Equatorial Guinea’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Appel argues that oil companies play a pivotal role in the politics and economics of Equatorial Guinea. While this is a seemingly banal observation, it has nonetheless long been occluded by the industry’s successful efforts to ‘offshore’ itself from its immediate contexts and consequences. Of course, Appel’s broader theoretical contribution is to highlight the role of industry in shaping the politics and economics of oil at large, where oil and capitalism have become nearly synonymous and interchangeable objects.

In richly evidenced chapters, Appel traces the oil industry’s active production of the ‘licit life of capitalism’, or its legally negotiated and legally defensible project of capitalism, to the enacted ‘forms and processes’ of offshore infrastructures and corporate enclaves, contracts and subcontracts and – in a rather different modality – circulating economic theory and liberal ideals of transparency. Offshore oil rigs and inland housing compounds (what Appel terms ‘the domestic offshore’) are thus the literal manifestations of ‘distancing’ that allow for both unfettered operational freedoms and separation from the friction of local contexts.

On the other hand, the use of subcontracts allows corporations to legally displace responsibility for practices and activities undertaken on their behalf, while the use of contracts unites companies and states in legal fiction as co-equal signatories, simultaneously legitimating a fragmented political regime while shielding the industry from the evident incapacities of this same government. In this manner, Appel demonstrates the real achievements of ‘the industry’s striving for capitalism in its own image’ as it seeks operational coherency despite the messiness of on-the-ground realities. Indeed, the successes of these corporate strategies result in the transubstantiation of capitalism, from attempted project to living structures and real effects.

While they are not the products of corporate endeavour, resource curse theory and ideals of transparency further contribute to an environment in which the oil industry is able to distance itself from its role in producing the very conditions of inequality it claims as pre-existing grounds. Resource curse theory attributes the real development failures of resource-rich countries to state neglect of alternative economic sectors and mismanagement of their newfound wealth. As a highly credible economic theory, its circulation from academic journals to corporate offices provides cover for those company practices that divert oil profits away from Equatorial Guinea and exacerbate economic inequalities, including the negotiation of favourable profit-sharing contracts with the state, the differential treatment of employees by nationality through the use of subcontracted ‘body shops’ and the avoidance of tax liabilities through legal self-dispersion into an ‘archipelagic corporate form’. At the same time, the theory’s legitimacy also permits corporate actors to reiterate longstanding tropes of the inherent pathologies of African states and economies. Finally, external efforts to reform the industry’s excesses are further premised on liberal ideals of a state and civil society that simply do not exist in Equatorial Guinea; the close interlacing of state and corporate authority in the country further dashes expectations that the introduction of transparency alone would precipitate effective checks to corporate power.

Despite Appel’s finely grained demonstration of how the project of oil capitalism is operationalised through these disparate forms and processes, her analysis often occludes the agency of those human actors whose decisions coalesce in the construction of this unwieldy and powerful assemblage, and whose lives are regulated and transformed by its operation. Instead, depictions of individual interlocutors appear almost entirely in service of the theoretical import of their structural positioning, whether as agents or subjects of capitalist ends. For instance, in describing the roles of the expatriate wives of (the nearly uniformly white male) company executives, a diverse group of women are consigned to the rarefication of ‘heteronormative white domesticity’ behind the ‘walled boundaries of conjugal conscription’, thus serving for Appel to reproduce the norms of a gendered and racialised capitalism.

In like manner, the setting of Equatorial Guinea is often reduced to one of ‘imperial debris’, a term Appel borrows from Ann Laura Stoler (2008) to describe how the historical legacies of colonial dispossession and post-colonial authoritarianism have created an ideal environment for the arrival of oil capitalism. While Appel rightly stresses the importance of history in shaping those structural conditions – the near-absence of legal instruments, the high dependency on external revenue sources – that have allowed US oil companies overwhelming leverage in deciding the terms of their tenancy, the collapsing of wide-ranging histories under the label of ‘imperial debris’ effaces alternative understandings of the living, changing specificity of the country itself.

Of course, these may seem like minor quibbles in the face of Appel’s primary objective to demonstrate the ‘persistence and performativity of the offshore’ (albeit alongside the ‘sociality’ of the same), or even unfair in light of Appel’s early disclaimer that hers is emphatically not a conventional ethnography of Equatorial Guinea. But what happens when ethnographic liveliness is lost, and when the cacophonous voices of places and peoples are corralled into theoretical unity for the seemingly inevitable advance of capitalism in and through their sites and bodies? If people are the unwitting instruments of capitalist expansion, and history produces the all-too-ready conditions for capitalist domination, then capitalism comes to appear far less as contingent project than as teleological end.

Nonetheless, Appel’s study of US oil companies in Equatorial Guinea is revelatory for its theoretical contributions to the anthropology of capitalism (beyond the rather more niche anthropology of oil), with a critical recentring of attention on the role of industry in shaping the politics and economics of resource extraction. With enviable access to the internal operations of these transnational corporations, Appel provides key insights into the assumptions and worldmaking strategies of what has long been an ethnographic black box. At the same time, the particular conjuncture of North American corporations in an African postcolony leads Appel to underscore the racialised and gendered dimensions of capitalist expansion and reproduction, as features both particular to her ethnographic subject and universal to the processes of capitalism at large. It is this productive tension, between the nature of specific capitalist projects and the global movement of which they are both expression and experimentation, that would serve as a stimulating ground for further inquiry into the means and modes of their co-constitution.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Cropped image of Alba 3 compression platform being transported to Equatorial Guinea, 2015 (kees torn CC BY SA 2.0).

 


Maximising solar self-consumption by rethinking PV panel orientation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 2:22pm in

Tags 

Environment

University of South Australia Media Release Over two million Australian households – more than 20 per cent – now have rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and while this is a generally positive scenario, the increased uptake of PV systems around the nation is creating a few challenges for our electricity industry. UniSA solar researcher, Kirrilie…

The post Maximising solar self-consumption by rethinking PV panel orientation appeared first on The AIM Network.

Hiroshima reconsidered

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 7:30am in

Tags 

Environment

The threats to world order are climate change and the coronavirus, not nuclear fission. The fear of nuclear energy should be exorcised.

Wind Farms Built on Carbon-Rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability to Fight Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 6:55pm in

Wind farms provide sustainable energy but must be properly sited, so not to destroy the carbon sink characteristsics of peat bogs.

Ravaged by Covid-19, Polluted Communities Demand Environmental Justice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/08/2020 - 10:09pm in

Growing up in Newark’s South Ward, Kim Gaddy often struggled to breathe. When her asthma was at its worst and inhaling stung and failed to fill her lungs, she would wind up in the local emergency room. Gaddy spent considerably more time in the ER when her three children were young. They also grew up in the South Ward, where the children’s asthma rate is three times the national average. All of Gaddy’s kids — now 31, 20, and 16 — have asthma too, as did Gaddy’s parents, two of her brothers, and her first cousin, Louie Pigford. Pigford, who lived across Weequahic Park from her, died of asthma when he was in his 40s. So did Gaddy’s brother-in-law, Greg Shaheed Westry, who went to the porch of his house on Newark’s Vassar Avenue one summer night in 2004 hoping to catch his breath and instead collapsed. He died before the ambulance arrived.

Gaddy, who works as an environmental justice organizer for Clean Water Action of New Jersey, has spent much of her time since then trying to call attention to the absurd number of polluting plants in her neighborhood. Newark has 930 facilities permitted to release pollution, 87 of which have current violations.

“We have been fighting for clean air for decades,” Gaddy said as she drove slowly through the South Ward on a steamy July morning, past a lot where cars were being noisily flattened by a machine, a factory where plastic was being baled for recycling, and scrapyards filled with mounds of twisted, rusty metal, beyond which you could you could see the faint outline of the Manhattan skyline.

Near the highway overpass on Frelinghuysen Avenue, Gaddy pointed out a streak of oil down the middle of the road, which she said posed a problem during the frequent floods of the area. The persistent oil slick had also caused a few of the elderly people from the nearby public housing development to slip, she said. But even though nearby factories had already come back online as pandemic restrictions were loosened, the streets were largely empty save for one hunched woman slowly wheeling an oxygen cart and a small cluster of masked people gathered outside a methadone clinic.

Even during the pandemic, Newark has seen an increase in permitted pollution. In April, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection expanded the permits of crematoriums so that they can operate around the clock to keep up with the mounting number of coronavirus fatalities. With five of the facilities located just a few miles from her home, Gaddy described the harmful air pollutants they emit as “just another thing to think about when we’re trying the mourn the loss of our family members.”

The sheer number of chemicals and the facilities that emit them has made the fight for clean air in Newark nearly impossible. Gaddy can’t pinpoint blame for her family’s asthma — or for the cancers that have stricken her father and brother — on the fumes from many diesel trucks that roll through her neighborhood on their way to the port because the nearby Superfund sites could play a role. So could Newark Airport and the nearby Covanta incinerator, which burns more than 1 million tons of garbage from New York City and the rest of Essex County and was only recently was fitted with a filter that the company had installed on incinerators in some more affluent New Jersey neighborhoods more than a decade ago. Direct causality in a highly polluted area is almost impossible to prove. Instead, the health problems are almost certainly a result of some combination of the pollutants that plague the area.

A few minutes’ drive from Gaddy, in section of Newark called the Ironbound, Maria Lopez-Nuñez and her friends sometimes play a game in which they try to identify the exact cause of each of the foul odors they smell. If the air smells like a giant toilet just overflowed, the culprit is probably the sewage-processing facility. A sweetish chemical reek usually comes from the glue factory or the plastic manufacturing company near South Street. And the “carcass-y” stink is unmistakably from the fat rendering plant on Doremus Avenue. Lopez-Nuñez, who has lived her whole life in highly polluted communities, is better than anyone wants to be at the game.

But the neighborhood odors also motivated her to fight. “I grew up smelling them,” she said. “And then at a certain point, I realized I didn’t have to put up with them anymore — that not everyone lives like this.” Now, as the director of environmental justice and community development at Ironbound Community Corporation, Lopez-Nuñez works to block the development of new polluting facilities in her neighborhood and to clean up the toxic mess that’s already there.

Around the country, as the coronavirus devastates communities of color, some are experiencing a similar reckoning with their overburdened surroundings. The pandemic has been brutal in environmental justice communities, adding a new layer of suffering in places that already shoulder a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards. Newark’s death rate from Covid-19 is 223 per 100,000 people, compared to 177 statewide and just under 44 in the U.S. as a whole. Nationwide, the Black and Latino death rates from Covid-19 are almost three times that of white people.

As the virus has spread across the country, highly polluted areas have burst into public view, as if they were mapped out in invisible ink. And in some of these places, both the pandemic and the national protests against police violence are creating a sliver of hope that we may finally begin to address the inequity at the root of both.

“The murder of George Floyd was a spark that lit the fuse of injustice that is connected to a whole powder keg of issues,” said Rev. Leo Woodbury, a veteran environmental activist based in South Carolina, where Covid-19 rates are spiking in areas that have been previously challenged with both flooding and toxic waste. “This is the moment to address all of these things,” said Woodbury, who described the fight as “a battle between wealth and health.”

Cumulative Impacts

While the racial disparities around Covid-19 were first regarded as a mystery, it soon became clear that they could at least partly be explained by exposure to pollution, which can cause conditions that make people particularly susceptible to severe effects from the disease. Another factor is the clumping of other burdens in these “sacrifice zones,” as an open statement by dozens of environmental groups issued in July made clear. “Disinvestment in environmental justice communities has contributed to polluted air and water, fewer hospitals and healthy food options, jobs without paid sick leave, and crowded living conditions that make social distancing difficult,” the statement explained. “These factors — the lack of access to clean air and water, healthcare or paid leave, or safe and healthy food, transportation, housing and workplaces, among others — cause the disproportionate impacts we witness.”

The environmental groups’ statement called for general strengthening of environmental and health protections and, more specifically, for laws that require the evaluation of the cumulative impacts faced by residents of environmentally overburdened areas before siting any more facilities there.

FRASER_14

FRASER_13

TOP: The Chemtrade Logistics plant in the South Ward, which is right across from the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark. BOTTOM: A street sign that has been run over by a diesel truck along Frelinghuysen Avenue.

Photos: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

In New Jersey, legislation that would do exactly that now appears to have a shot at passing after languishing in committee for more than a decade. First introduced in 2008, the state’s “cumulative impacts bill” would require companies applying for new permits or permit expansions in vulnerable areas to determine whether a new facility would “cause or contribute to adverse cumulative environmental or public health stressors in the overburdened community that are higher than those borne by other communities.” If such permits would further burden these vulnerable areas (which the bill defines as having higher rates of low-income residents, non-English speakers, and people of color) the Department of Environmental Protection would be required to reject them.

The bill isn’t likely to dramatically alter the Newark factoryscape any time soon because it doesn’t require the state to deny applications for permit renewals if they add additional environmental stressors to overburdened communities. Instead it would allow the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to modify permits when they renew them to lessen the impact of facilities. Lopez-Nuñez acknowledged the limits of the legislation.“Do I wish that we could reverse environmental racism in one bill? Yes.” Still, she believes that the legislation would be an important step forward. And her organization is one of more than 165 throughout the state that have thrown their support behind it.

In late July, the state assembly failed to hold a planned vote on the bill after opponents suggested that it would result in plant closures and job losses. The bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member John McKeon, told me the delay was “just a bump in the road” and that he was confident the legislation would come to a vote in August. To environmental advocates, who have yet again set themselves to ensuring its passage, even this level of progress — the possibility of the much-delayed passage of an imperfect bill — feels like a tremendous step, one made possible by the peculiar political moment.

While the bill first moved out of committee in February, it was only after anger over police violence exploded across the country in May that it gained real traction, according to Sen. Troy Singleton, the bill’s sponsor. “As the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of this stuff happened, you started to see the community saying enough is enough. We need to force the conversation about what our country is really about along the lines of race,” said Singleton. “And suddenly it became urgent to get something in place — legislation that can address environmental justice.”

Sacrifice Zones

And yet for the people living with the constant stink and sting of pollution, the attention feels anything but sudden. Newark has been an industrial and manufacturing hub since leather-tanning companies sprang up there in the 1800s. As with many of the country’s most toxic areas, the concentration of polluting facilities began in earnest as white people left and the people of color who remained didn’t have the political power or money to stop the influx of dangerous industrial plants. Home values dropped as the spewing of chemicals increased, intensifying the disparity between Newark and the more affluent suburbs, and making it even easier for companies to build dangerous facilities in the city.

Today, while New Jersey’s population is 59 percent white, Newark is only 8 percent white, according to the most recent census numbers. The South Ward, where Gaddy lives and much of the industry is clustered, is just 3 percent white. Yet despite the indisputable clumping of dangerous pollution in Newark and other poor areas of New Jersey, the battle to keep companies from heaping even more pollution on Newark and other overburdened spots has been steeply uphill.

FRASER_22

Kim Gaddy poses for a portrait near an abandoned school where she once taught in the South Ward.

Photo: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

“It was like running on sand in waist-deep water,” said Cory Booker, who began representing some of Newark’s most polluted ZIP codes on the city’s Municipal Council in 1998, before becoming mayor of the city in 2006 and a U.S. senator from New Jersey in 2013. Booker grew up in a relatively affluent part of the state called Harrington Park. But he moved to Newark in his 20s, where “I was surrounded by the awful extreme cases of asthma and lead poisoning,” he told me in late July. Hearing about children’s illnesses from distraught parents “who did everything right but just grew up in a highly toxic environment that was designed by overt racist laws,” he quickly came to see the problem as structural: the result of decades of redlining, racist mortgage policies, and the disproportionate shunting of public housing into cities.

As with many of the country’s most toxic areas, the concentration of polluting facilities began in earnest as white people left and people of color who remained didn’t have the political power or money to stop the influx of dangerous industrial plants.

Booker managed to make a few environmental improvements in Newark, including planting trees and pushing forward the cleanup of the Passaic River, which is contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and dioxins, but he wasn’t able to make a dent in the underlying imbalance in the concentration of polluting facilities there. No one has.

“We were fighting a battle with very little help,” Booker told me. He blamed the impasse in part on the failure of the larger environmental movement to “center racism and the impacts on Black and brown communities.” And it’s true that the big green groups were slow to recognize and call attention to the racism that underlies the national distribution of environmental hazards. So even while pollution continued to mount in poor areas where a high proportion of residents were people of color, most people only thought about those areas when they glimpsed or smelled them as they passed through on their way to somewhere safer.

In 2017, Booker introduced legislation in the Senate that took a similar approach to the state bill, requiring the consideration of cumulative environmental impacts in both state and federal permitting decisions. Last year, he reintroduced the legislation, which would also allow communities like Flint, Michigan, to sue for damages over the mismanagement of their water and expand a 1994 executive order that required federal agencies to address the negative health and environmental conditions faced by minority and low-income groups.

In February, House Democrats Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Don McEachin, D-Va., introduced similar legislation, the Environmental Justice for All Act, which would also require consideration of cumulative impacts, as well as create federal grants to address environmental racism and put fees on fossil fuels that would be used to help communities transitioning away from mining and extraction of oil, gas, and coal. But neither bill has a chance of passing until after the presidential election — which, for polluted communities, could be the most consequential election ever.

A Clean Future?

Even before the pandemic, environmental justice had made its way into the Democratic primary more forcefully than ever before. Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Gov. Jay Inslee, and billionaire Tom Steyer all made the issue central to their presidential runs, and last November the candidates held the first-ever environmental justice forum.

In mid-July, after Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, one of the three “bold ideas” that appeared on the top row of his Vision for America was a “plan to secure environmental justice and economic opportunity in a clean energy future.” Biden’s policy statement, which begins by tying “corporate pollution” to the underlying conditions contributing to the racial and ethnic disparities of Covid-19 and goes on to address a range of pollutants, including PFAS, is centered on a truth that has never before made it to the forefront of the platform of any major party’s presidential nominee: “that communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades.”

Having the Democratic nominee acknowledge that racial justice is at the core of the environmental and climate crises he would be tackling is critical, according to Robert Bullard, who is sometimes referred to as the father of environmental justice. Bullard, who has spent more than 40 years fighting pollution in communities of color, spoke with Biden about environmental justice twice before the candidate issued his plan.

FRASER_16

FRASER_15

TOP: A abandoned construction site where housing is being built in the South Ward neighborhood of Newark. BOTTOM: A bus stop on Frelinghuysen Avenue, where many diesel trucks travel daily.

Photos: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

“He said all the right things,” Bullard said of their conversations. While allowing that there is no guarantee that Biden will live up to his promises — “you never know about politicians,” he said — Bullard is hopeful that this painful political moment may finally force white people to acknowledge the systemic racism that has both created environmental sacrifice zones and laid the groundwork for the pandemic’s decimation of communities of color.

“We’re saying white supremacy and racism have played a major part in determining who gets the high ground, who gets to escape to their summer houses and not deal with Covid, and who has to go out there and be essential workers,” said Bullard. “It is upsetting for a lot of white people,” he said. But acknowledging the assumption underlying both crises — that one group of people is more deserving of safety, health, and life than another — is essential for the country to make meaningful progress.

Having grown up in the Deep South, barred from the local “public” library, school, and swimming pool in his hometown of Elba, Alabama, because of the color of his skin, Bullard knows racism intimately — and knows that there have been some important improvements for civil rights. “The Confederate flag flew above the American one in my hometown,” he said. “But for the last 40 years, we’ve had to settle for incremental tinkering around the edges.”

In the decades since Bullard first began his work, the federal government has failed to significantly improve the lot of people stuck living near some of the most toxic sites. In 1987, a report by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice presented incontrovertible proof of the problem, looking at the demographics of towns near toxic waste landfills, which were disproportionately situated in African American and Hispanic communities.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that was supposed to address the inequities by requiring all federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their mission. But a decade after the order passed, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General found that the EPA had failed to comply with Clinton’s order. And three years after that, the United Church of Christ issued a report finding that the problem had become worse rather than better and that government officials had “knowingly allowed” people of color “to be poisoned with lead, arsenic, dioxin, TCE, DDT, PCBs and a host of other deadly chemicals.”

Trump’s Racist Policies

Today, race is not just the biggest determinant of people’s proximity to toxic waste, but also the biggest factor determining exposure to water and air pollution in the U.S. While that was the case well before Donald Trump took office, his approach to environmental regulation has made the inequities worse, reversing changes that previous administrations had put in place to protect public health and generally attempting to recreate a bygone era when companies had far fewer regulations governing how and where they disposed of their waste.

While the racism of Trump’s approach to foreign policy and immigration has been widely acknowledged, as has his open and gleeful use of racist language both on the campaign trail and to disparage his political opponents in Washington, there has been less attention to his racism in the environmental realm. But there, too, his administration has dispensed with the dog whistle, opting to openly dismantle protections for civil rights.

While the racism of Trump’s approach to foreign policy and immigration has been widely acknowledged, there has been less attention to his racism in the environmental realm.

Over the past four years, the EPA has closed five complaints that were based on the Civil Rights Act, including one filed over air pollution from an Exxon refinery in an African American neighborhood in Beaumont, Texas. Although the complaints had been ignored for years, the Trump administration’s response has been arguably worse, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, director of the Environment Justice Clinic at Vermont Law School, who represented the impacted communities in all five of the cases. Engelman-Lado said that none of the five communities had received adequate relief before their cases were closed and described the EPA’s logic in dismissing one of the cases, over putting a landfill in a historic Black community in Tallassee, Alabama, as “utterly nonsensical.”

FRASER_18

Maria Lopez-Nuñez poses for a portrait at her community garden in the Ironbound section of Newark.

Photo: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

“We have been struggling with a backlash to the civil rights movement for my whole career,” said Engelman Lado. “But the current administration has threatened to dismantle civil rights law as we know it — both through regulation and the courts.”

Indeed, the Trump administration is also in the process of rolling back 100 environmental rules, many of which were passed to protect vulnerable low-income communities near industrial facilities. Among the changes being implemented by the Trump EPA are the weakening of restrictions on power plants, coal ash ponds, and various forms of air pollution, all of which will impact the members of the Navajo Nation living near Four Corners Power plant in the San Juan basin in New Mexico.

Four Corners is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the U.S., and ash from the coal, dumped on the reservation since the 1960s, has contaminated groundwater with toxic metals. While the Obama administration put rules in place that would have forced the closure of unlined ash ponds by 2018, the current EPA — led by Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for Xcel, one of several coal companies that opposed the rules — is rolling them back. The result is that the Navajo people in the Four Corners region and many other communities living near coal ash ponds will have to continue to live with contaminated water.

“People here use that water for their crops,” said Carol Davis, executive director of Diné C.A.R.E., an organization that has fought against asbestos dumping, medical waste incineration, logging, uranium mining, and oil and gas drilling on Navajo land. Davis noted that the tribe’s growing area is located between the power plant and a coal mine, “which means we’re probably eating contaminated food,” she said. People in her community have elevated levels of heart problems and asthma, which they reasonably believe may result from the contamination.

Ignoring Indirect Effects

Perhaps the most galling and pointed of Trump’s environmental reversals for people of color is the revamping of the National Environmental Policy Act, which was passed 50 years ago to give communities the ability to weigh in on major federal projects that would impact them. Under Trump’s final version of the rule that governs NEPA, which was issued on July 15, the input of the people affected by industry will be scaled back in several ways. The period in which the public can respond to environmental impact statements, which can be more than 1,000 pages, would be shrunken from 45 to 30 days. And the new rule would make all document distribution online, which will be extremely difficult for Navajo people near the Four Corners plant.

“A lot of people aren’t online here,” Davis said. “Some people don’t even have electricity.”

FRASER_19

FRASER_17

TOP: A child walking his dog along in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark. BOTTOM: A mattress left on the grounds of an abandoned school in the South Ward.

Photos: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

Trump’s version of the law will also dispense with a requirement to consider indirect impacts of federal projects, a change that will cripple communities that are trying to challenge new developments, according to Kym Hunter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. Hunter has successfully used NEPA to challenge several highway expansions in environmentally overburdened areas by pointing out their indirect effects. “If you just look at the direct impacts of a highway, it’s just the pouring of concrete,” said Hunter. “With indirect effects, you have the traffic and air pollution from the cars and the runoff into the streams.”

Do you have a coronavirus story you want to share? Email us at coronavirus@theintercept.com or use one of these secure methods to contact a reporter.

The nation’s oldest environmental law, NEPA was most recently used to help bring about the historic defeat of two massive fossil fuel projects: the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which was canceled on July 5, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was shut down the next day. Both pipelines threatened wildlife and Indigenous land and also added to the use of climate-destroying oil and natural gas. Under the new rule, the Trump EPA has eliminated the need for consideration of the climate impacts of projects.

Nor will there be any need to assess the cumulative impacts of federal projects under NEPA. According to the rewritten rule, people in Robeson, North Carolina, will no longer be able to use the law to challenge new federal projects on the grounds that they already face more than their share of environmental risk. The fact that the county has 858 sources of pollution, including 20 hazardous waste sites, 16 solid waste landfills, and 65 animal facilities, including poultry processing plants, would no longer be relevant.

The existing risks clearly take a toll on health. Robeson County, the most racially diverse rural county in the country, ranks last out of the 100 counties in North Carolina in terms of health outcomes, according to assessments by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Nevertheless, companies continue to put polluting facilities there, according to Naeema Muhammad, organizing director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. “It just seems like we’re battling one thing after another — and it’s not just Robeson County,” said Muhammad, who described the accumulation of polluting facilities in several poor, Black areas in North Carolina area as worsening.

While the changes to NEPA are scheduled to take effect in September and several environmental organizations are planning to challenge them in court before then, some of the administration’s environmental rollbacks have already dramatically shaped life and death in the most toxic areas of the U.S. The Trump EPA’s March 26 decision not to penalize violations of pollution rules during the pandemic has led to an increase Covid-19 deaths, particularly in mostly Black and low-income areas, according to a study released in May.

By examining data from more than 21,000 industrial sites, American University professor Claudia Persico and her co-author, Kathryn Johnson, found that increases in pollution, particularly the tiny bits of air pollution known as PM2.5, were associated with higher deaths from Covid-19, and that the increased pollution had a particularly large effect in counties where a high proportion of residents are Black, unemployed, or low-income.

Death Alley

The direct connection between increased pollution and Covid-19 deaths comes as little surprise to the people of St. John, Louisiana, who have lived with unsafe levels of air pollution for years and are now facing some of the highest death rates from Covid-19 in the state. Since at least 2015, the parish, which is mostly Black, has been home to the U.S. census tract with the highest cancer risk from air pollution. St. John, which also has elevated death rates from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, is part of the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River known as Cancer Alley, which has recently been rechristened “Death Alley” to reflect the range of ailments that prematurely kill residents there.

Like Newark, there are multiple polluters and pollutants in St. John. In addition to ethylene oxide and chloroprene, two carcinogens that contribute to the area’s astronomical cancer risk, at least 43 other industrial chemicals are found in the air in St. John, as well as PM2.5, the tiny particles that emanate from several nearby chemical plants and oil refineries.

As in Newark, despite years of activism, the residents of St. John have been unable to convince regulators to force local industry to reduce its emissions to safe levels. But while New Jersey appears to be on a path to greater environmental protections, pollution may be about to increase in St. John. A nearby Marathon oil refinery, which already releases 554 tons of PM2.5 annually, is in the process of seeking approval to release an additional 40 tons each year.

While there is always a power imbalance between fence-line communities and the companies that pollute them, in Louisiana it is made more extreme by a long tradition of tax exemptions. For more than 80 years, state lawmakers have incentivized companies to operate there by waiving their some or all of their local property taxes — a policy that has taken billions of dollars from communities that could have used them to pay for public services such as libraries, schools, and health clinics. Although defenders of these exemptions cite them as supporting economic development, companies have actually cut jobs even as they’ve reaped billions in tax breaks.

“People are realizing that there is intentional siting of these massive industrial edifices in communities that are predominantly Black and brown and an intentional disregard for community needs wrapped up in the tax exemptions.”

But even in Louisiana, one of the most industry-friendly states in the U.S., the tide may be beginning to turn. In St. John, where the Marathon refinery has more than $3 billion in tax exemptions, environmental activists recently began pointing to the connection between the company’s tax vacation and its environmental impacts. “These two conversations are starting to come together,” said Jane Patton, a senior campaigner with the Center for International Environmental Law, who is based in New Orleans. “People are realizing that there is intentional siting of these massive industrial edifices in communities that are predominantly Black and brown and an intentional disregard for community needs wrapped up in the tax exemptions.”

Even before the pandemic, advocates had had some success in convincing local boards to reject proposed property tax exemptions for industry. In 2016, the governor signed an executive order giving communities the power to reject the tax breaks for the first time in the state’s history. In November, the St. John school board voted to reject a $25 million tax exemption for Marathon. Since the executive order was issued, these bodies statewide have voted to reclaim an estimated $240 million for their own tax base, according to Broderick Bagert, lead organizer at Together Louisiana.

FRASER_21

Containers in a scrap metal yard in the South Ward.

Photo: Brian W. Fraser for The Intercept

“When the locals got to act, what they said was not ‘no’ but ‘hell no,’” said Bagert.

The amount of tax exemptions that have been recently rejected is still just 3 percent of the $8 billion the state has given away to industry over the past decade. “But the political shift has already happened to where communities are saying we’re wise to what’s been going on,” Bagert said. Local advocates plan to raise the tax exemption issue if they are granted a public hearing about the proposed increase in pollution at the Marathon refinery. They submitted multiple requests for a hearing to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality before a July 24 deadline and are hoping to hear back soon.

Around the country, others are waiting as well. Bullard is keeping his eyes on the Democratic presidential candidate and hoping, he said, that “Biden stays out there and does the kind of speeches and campaigning that shows the kind of vision that’s needed to bring us back from this pandemic and systemic racism.” And then, of course, there’s the wait to see what will happen on November 3. That’s “the inflection point I’m looking toward now,” said Booker. “Will this country, fatigued from the outrage and indignities of this presidency, weary of a majority leader in the Senate who calls himself the grim reaper — he calls himself the grim reaper! — will we change leadership?”

In Newark, Gaddy is waiting for the vote that may finally stop polluters from colonizing her neighborhood. It’s been a terrible year so far, in which she has seen her community devastated by the coronavirus. But as the August heat beats down on her city, she is still at work, pushing for what she hopes will be an end to the patterns of pollution that have plagued her family and her hometown for generations.

“This is our moment,” said Gaddy, “we have nothing left to lose.”

The post Ravaged by Covid-19, Polluted Communities Demand Environmental Justice appeared first on The Intercept.

Pages