The Environmental Integrity Podcast discusses important environmental news and reports by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.
01/05/21: A LOOK AT BIDEN’S PICK TO RUN EPA, MICHAEL REGAN, AND THE CHALLENGES HE FACES
President-Elect Joe Biden has picked North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, Michael Regan, as his choice to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. How has Regan performed in his job as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality? And what challenges will he face rebuilding an EPA devastated by deregulation, staffing cuts, and control by industry lobbyists during the Trump Administration? We interview three experts: Derb Carter, Director of the North Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, who has extensive first-hand knowledge of Regan’s track record in North Carolina; Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA, who has insights into how to get the EPA back on track; and Betsy Southerland, former Director of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water.
12/10/20: TALKING COVID AND THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE WITH DR. MUSTAFA SANTIAGO ALI
As the incoming Biden Administration makes plans for its environmental agenda over the next four years, we interview a national leader in the environmental justice movement about how the White House can prioritize protecting minority and lower-income communities that have long been neglected. Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, a Vice President the National Wildlife Federation, worked for 24 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until March of 2017, when he resigned because Trump wanted to eliminate EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which Dr. Ali helped to create. Dr. Ali talks about the need to tackle COVID-19 as a justice issue and broadly expand the scope of federal efforts to reduce air pollution and improve water quality not only in urban neighborhoods, but also rural areas across the U.S.
11/10/20: A FAMILY’S BATTLE WITH CANCER AND THE OIL REFINERY NEXT DOOR
Charlie Reeves grew up in public housing in South Philadelphia near the oldest and largest oil refinery on the East Coast. Back in the 1970s, his father led public protests at City Hall over what he was convinced was toxic air pollution from the Sunoco Refinery. Authorities dismissed the protests and assured the neighborhood that everything was fine. Those reassurances did not ring true – especially when Charlie, his mother, and several neighbors were diagnosed with cancer, and Charlie’s mother died. But the neighborhood could not do anything about the problem, because they had no evidence. Finally, the refinery (then owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions) closed on June 21, 2019, when a massive explosion and fire at the plant sent a fireball into the sky and rattled windows for miles around.
To Charlie Reeves, the most devastating fact was what he learned six months later, when the Environmental Integrity Project, working with NBC national news, revealed that air pollution monitors ringing the refinery had registered benzene – a known carcinogen – at the plant’s fence lines at concentrations averaging more than five times the federal limit (EPA’s “action level” for benzene) for an entire year. That meant that local residents like the Reeves family could have been exposed to excessive cancer risks for a long time – including months after the explosion, and potentially months or years before the fire. Charlie is determined to use the new benzene air monitoring data collected by the Environmental Integrity Project to fight for environmental justice for his lower-income neighborhood. Southwest Philadelphia is one of 13 communities across the country that face potential cancer risks from excessive benzene air pollution detected at the fence lines of nearby oil refineries, according to EPA data produced for the first time in 2019 because of a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project and allies to help protect communities in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
08/28/20: SAILOR TURNS SLEUTH IN WAR FOR NATION’S RIVER
Brent Walls, the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper in Western Maryland, dedicated his life to fighting for clean water in the Nation’s River after he experienced a moment of clarity. He was serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Constellation when he witnessed a routine procedure during his first cruise in the Pacific Ocean. “Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, the ship would slow down and a bell would ring, and everyone would gather their trash and take it to the back of the boat and just throw it over,” Walls recalled. “I remember one time, in particular, it was a sunset, and there was nothing but open ocean. The ship slowed down and I could see just miles and miles of huge garbage bags floating that we have just unloaded into the ocean. That just kind of made me sick, it really did.” He knew there had to be a better way. And so, when he got out of the Navy, Walls transformed himself into a clean water warrior and a high-tech sleuth. As the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper for the last 11 years, he has worked every day to document and report pollution with digital photos, water sampling equipment, and a drone he launches from a compartment on the back of his motorcycle. He’s working with the Environmental Integrity Project to take legal action to stop toxic water pollution from a closed paper mill site in Luke, Maryland, and a nearby coal storage facility.
07/06/20: TERRORISM CHARGES AGAINST PROTESTER PART OF A NATIONAL PATTERN
Anne Rolfes is the Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit group that, for the last two decades, has been campaigning for public health protections for mostly lower-income families living just beyond the fence lines of chemical factories. Her advocacy for air pollution controls has long made her a target for Louisiana’s powerful chemical industry. But recently, her protests against what would be North America’s largest plastics factory, proposed by the Formosa Plastics company atop a site with an historic slave burial ground in the African American community of St. James, Louisiana, provoked more than just the irritation of the political establishment. The Baton Rouge Police Department charged Rolfes with terrorism – a felony – for placing, as part of a peaceful protest of plastics industry pollution, a box with plastic waste from a Formosa plastics plant on the porch of a plastics industry lobbyist. Civil liberties experts say the charges are part of a national pattern of law-enforcement agencies, state legislatures, and even the Trump Administration attempting to criminalize dissent and peaceful protests.
04/22/20: FLEEING FROM THE MARCH OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE
The poultry industry is growing in the Chesapeake Bay region, with a new generation of mega-sized chicken houses, birds bred to be ever larger, and more ammonia air pollution. On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Carlene Zach, a 60-year-old retired postmaster, and her husband Peter Zach, 62, a lineman for an electric company, were in good health until a poultry farm opened next door with 24 airplane hangar-sized buildings holding a million chickens. Since then, the ammonia and fecal dust blown from the exhaust fans has drifted their windows, triggering incessant coughing, sneezing, and sore throats. After struggling to find a solution, they decided they had no option but to abandon their dream house. They sold their more than century-old, Victorian home for a $40,000 loss and moved to the mountains, feeling betrayed and abused by the industry’s march over America’s farmland. View the full report “Poultry Industry Pollution in the Chesapeake Region.”
12/20/19: LIVING WITH CHEMICAL PLANT DEATH. ONE FAMILY’S STORY.
Juan Flores grew up near Houston, the son of a refinery worker who repeatedly warned his children of the risks of going into his profession…and then died on the job. Juan became a community coordinator for nonprofit Air Alliance Houston, and now works to protect the people of Baytown and other neighborhoods from air pollution, fires, and explosions. A new report by the Environmental Integrity Project reveals that minority neighborhoods like this one are put at greater risk by severe budget cuts to pollution control programs at state environmental agencies in Texas and across the U.S.
09/25/19: WHAT’S IN THE WATER? WE TAKE A DEEP LOOK
For years, fishing guide Rod Bates has been taking families out on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and letting kids swim and play in the water. Then he learned about something disturbing being piped into the river from the Governor’s Mansion and State Office Complex in Harrisburg, the state capital. The Environmental Integrity Project and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper investigated the outfalls. We discovered information that — when released at a packed press conference — sparked an interstate furor and demands for an investigation.
05/17/19: LIVESTOCK FENCING AND WATER POLLUTION
Although you might not guess it by looking at the beautiful, rolling farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, agricultural runoff is the largest source of water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia promised EPA that it would protect 95 percent of streams through pastures with livestock fences by 2025. But EIP’s aerial study of Virginia’s two largest agricultural counties found that only 19 percent of farms with livestock are actually fencing their animals out of waterways, contributing to bacteria, nutrient pollution, and algae blooms in the Shenandoah River. (Photo Shenandoah Riverkeeper)
04/03/19: COAL’S POISONOUS LEGACY
For decades, coal-fired power plants have been dumping millions of tons of waste every year — coal ash and scrubber sludge — into unlined pits. The Environmental Integrity Project examined monitoring data available for the first time in 2018 and found that 91 percent of 265 plants across the U.S. are leaking toxic pollutants including arsenic, a carcinogen, into groundwater. This pollution sometimes contaminates local rivers, streams, and drinking water. (Photo J. Henry Fair/South Wings)
03/11/19: ENVIRONMENTAL ENFORCEMENT UNDER TRUMP
The Environmental Integrity Project examined two decades of EPA data and concluded that environmental enforcement under the Trump Administration in 2018 set record lows for penalties against polluters, as well as for people charged with environmental crimes. In our report, “Less Enforcement: Communities at Risk,” we give 10 examples across the U.S., from Louisiana to Minnesota, of major environmental violations that the administration has failed to crack down on that threaten the health of local communities. (Photo Karen Kasmauski/International League of Conservation Photographers)
10/18/18: WATER POLLUTION FROM SLAUGHTERHOUSES
Our investigation of EPA records found that many large meat processing plants in the U.S. — often owned by international companies based in China, Brazil, Arkansas or elsewhere — are violating the federal Clean Water Act, with little enforcement and few penalties. This is polluting rivers, causing fish kills, and contaminating drinking water supplies, often in small, rural, lower-income communities with high minority populations, making it a real environmental justice issue.
Inspired to action by EIP’s report “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses”, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois is now demanding that the EPA strengthen its outdated water pollution standards for slaughterhouses nationally. In the photo above, wastewater from a Pilgrim’s Pride meat processing plant in Live Oak, Florida, pours into the Sewanee River. (Photo from John Moran/Environment Florida)