The fashion industry is thirsty. Every year, it consumes 93 billion cubic meters of water—enough for the survival of over 5 million people. The problems within the fashion industry go beyond water use. Due to the rise in fast fashion, global clothing production has exponentially increased, doubling between 2000 and 2014. Fashion is now the second-most polluting industry worldwide.
The novel coronavirus has focused public attention on the indoor environment as never before. Even though most people in the United States spent the large majority of their time indoors before the pandemic, COVID-19 has increased awareness of the connection between indoor air quality and health. In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, technical topics such as building ventilation and filtration are now the subject of articles in popular media, not to mention conversations around the (virtual) water cooler and the school listserv.
In May 2016, EPA issued a lifetime Health Advisory (HA) of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 ug/L) for the combination of two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water. EPA’s HA is not enforceable or regulatory—it provides technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. In EPA’s subsequent 2019 PFAS Action Plan, EPA noted that over 4,000 PFAS may have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world since they were first synthesized in the 1940s. Because PFAS are water soluble, over time PFAS from firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories and other releases can seep into surface soils and potentially percolate into groundwater, thus implicating drinking water sources.
The untimely death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a sharp setback for environmental protection law. The Court loses the justice who had been the most sympathetic to environmental concerns during her more than 27 years on the highest court of the land. Her greatest achievement on behalf of the environment was her majority opinion in 2000 in Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services. This decision slammed the brakes on Justice Antonin Scalia’s long-time campaign to deny environmentalists standing to sue.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler proudly details the administration’s deregulatory record in a Newsweek opinion article published in late July. He frames his success story within President Trump’s January 2017 executive order requiring agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new one. While Wheeler touts the avoided costs, he doesn’t mention the avoided benefits the repealed rules would have provided.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported in August that this year’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone was unexpectedly small—in fact, the third-smallest ever measure in the 34-year record. Interestingly, this comes just two months after NOAA had forecasted a larger-than-average dead zone in early June. The cause of this shift appears to be Hurricane Hanna, whose large, powerful waves agitated the water column, disrupting algal accumulation in the Gulf.
It’s easy to grow numb in the face of the parade of problems our country has been experiencing, but news of the Trump Administration’s recent decision to defund diversity training across the federal government and to try to prevent federal contractors and grantees from engaging in such training jolted me with the force of a defibrillator. It is shocking that in the midst of a period of the worst racial unrest in many decades, this is what the Administration is bringing forward.
As the country wrestles with racial justice issues, driven both by police atrocities and the uneven distribution of COVID-19 infection and deaths, it’s time for renewed focus on environmental justice. The quest for EJ remains perhaps the most challenging unsolved problem in the environmental arena. And until we arrive at a place where environmental benefits and burdens are both more equally distributed across society, EJ will remain a problem that differentially compromises not only quality of life, but also health and resilience in the face of maladies like the coronavirus.
Acting in response to Executive Order No. 13807, Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) rewrote the governmentwide regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) this year. CEQ published its proposal to substantially amend the NEPA rule on January 10, 2020, and published its final rule on July 16, 2020 (85 Fed. Reg. 43304). The new rule becomes effective today, September 14, 2020, and CEQ added language to the final rule to provide that it will apply directly to federal agency actions and preempt all “inconsistent” agency procedures as of that date.
Almost one-quarter of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels extracted from public lands. Producing more than 274 million barrels of oil, 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 302 million tons of coal each year, BLM’s management decisions have a significant impact on climate change. In this month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, authors Jamie Gibbs Pleune, John Ruple, and Nada Wolff Culver argue that the Bureau has not only the authority, but a legal duty to mitigate climate change in its permitting decisions. Using existing legal structures, they provide a road map for requiring all new BLM oil and gas development to achieve net-zero emissions.