EPA Failing America

Just over a year ago, Scott Pruitt resigned as chair of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many Americans were relieved. Not only was he involved in some ethical scandals–remember his $43,000 soundproof booth?–he managed to reverse decades of EPA action.
As CNN said, “Pruitt moved aggressively to scale back Obama-era moves on climate change, automobile pollution standards and other industrial pollutants.”
But former White House climate adviser Paul Bledsoe saw Andrew Wheeler, the 20-year Washington insider in line for Pruitt’s position, as a greater danger.
Apparently, Bledsoe was prophetic. One year after Wheeler’s appointment Elliott Negan of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that Wheeler had been the “driving force” behind many of President Trump’s 80 attacks on science.
Negan listed the 10 “more egregious” changes in an article for the Independent Media Institute. He concluded that, by the EPA’s own accounting, “millions of Americans will be drinking filthier water and breathing dirtier air, and more will suffer from serious diseases.”
In most of the country the changes will occur bit by bit and we won’t be sure they cause any one  illness; we’ll just see the overall statistics change–as with storms and global warming.
Three items on Negan’s list seem echoes of a distant past–coal ash, formaldehyde, and asbestos.
Apparently, coal-fired power plants dump coal ash containing arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury into more than 1000 giant, unlined pits. A 2015 rule required companies to monitor these coal ash ponds; over 90 percent of them reported  “unsafe levels of toxic contaminants.”
So the EPA has given states the right to set different standards and extended deadlines for stopping the pollution. A pending proposal would allow unlimited dumping of coal ash–no pits, just acres of ash spread on dirt within feet of the groundwater.
A little arsenic, a little lead, a smattering of mercury seems okay to the current administration–they’re in someone else’s neighborhood.
Formaldehyde, however, isn’t limited geographically. An “off-gas” is produced by cigarettes, embalming fluid, plywood, particle board, paints, and floor finishes. In small doses, it causes eyes to water. In 1985 the EPA identified it as “probable human carcinogen”associated with fairly rare cancers of the throat and sinuses.
But studies in 2009 and 2010 showed a positive correlation between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. In 2016 the EPA formulated new rules for formaldehyde presence, but they didn’t become official.
Wheeler told Congress that further review of the EPA report labeling formaldehyde a carcinogen is needed because the science may now be out-of-date.
Meanwhile, 34,000 new cases of throat and sinus cancers and leukemia are diagnosed each year–and the EPA has set strict formaldehyde standards for buildings constructed for the agency.
And, somehow asbestos–not manufactured in the U.S. since 2002–is still found throughout the country. Negan says 55 nations have banned, but the U.S. still imports asbestos for use in items such as auto brakes, roofing, vinyl floor tiles, and cement pipes.
A new, “stricter” rule says that manufacturers may continue to use asbestos with EPA approval.
Negan adds, “One of the deadliest known carcinogens, asbestos kills nearly 40,000 Americans annually, mainly from lung cancer.”
I guess Trump supporters are happy that the President has kept his promises and cut regulations.  Perhaps his administration’s practices have led to production increases and greater incomes for shareholders and executives.
But the price is health and lives.
You can read Negan’s seven other “decimated EPA protections” at https://truthout.org/articles/10-ways-andrew-wheeler-has-decimated-epa-protections-in-just-one-year/.
Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Farmers & Climate Change

August 2019 would be a month people remember if disasters weren’t so common these days.
The Amazon–an area responsible for 20 percent of the world’s oxygen generation–was on fire. An unimaginable 100,000 fires have blazed this year.
The EPA prepared to end limits on the amount of methane that the oil and gas industry are allowed to emit. (Pound-for-pound methane is 20 times the pollutant that carbon emissions are.)
Hurricane Dorian–with 140 mile an hour winds–was posed to be the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida in 30 years–if it turned inland.
And Washington Governor Jay Inslee resigned from the presidential race after releasing the sixth and last installment of his book-length plan to fight global warming.
And it will be a serious tragedy if Inslee’s plan dies along along with his campaign.
The first two of four strategies in Inslee’s “Growing Rural Prosperity” installment are “Investing in Agricultural Innovations to Defeat Climate Change” and “Keeping Farmers Farming.”
They demonstrate that Inslee “gets it”. He knows how farmers are being hurt by tariffs and environment conditions, what experiments across the county indicate about future agricultural practices, and how federal ag agencies operate.
None of the summaries I’ve seen does Inslee’s plan justice, and internet searches jumble all Inslee’s proposals together, so I’ll give you the link up front: https://www.jayinslee.com/issues/growing-rural-prosperity.
Maybe those who’ve already imagined paying farmers to “carbon farm” won’t be as impressed as I am, but it seems an idea whose time has come.
“Carbon farming is the practice of growing crops while pulling carbon from the atmosphere.” Carbon-rich soil “boosts production and yields and helps create a sponge in the soil that allows for better absorption and water retention in the face of both flooding and droughts.”
We’d need research to determine the carbon outcomes and economic value from different farming measures, and to develop a just payment system. No-till farming is mentioned, and I’m not sure it works in areas that depend on irrigation, but apparently many are experimenting with it.
Inslee also wants to expand the program aimed at better management of nitrous oxide use to combat the harmful algal blooms in our waterways.
He would have waste throughout the food processing system processed and marketed as compost. “One application of compost can help stimulate organic soil carbon sequestration for over 100 years.”
Inslee’s approach to the methane that farms contribute to the atmosphere is to capture and process it. He cites a dairy in Wisconsin that creates enough electricity to power 600 homes. How is the methane captured? By “strategies like conversion to dry scrape, composting digestate, innovations in animal feel, enhanced solid separation, thermochemical conversion, and more.”
I confess I don’t understand that, but it’s a good segway to another Inslee recommendation: forgive college loans for farmers just as we do for teachers and others entering public service.
Inslee states that those farming two-thirds of American farmlands will retire in the next 20 years, and we need to see that younger farmers have ways of funding the training and the acreage they will need.
And Inslee doesn’t want mega-farms taking over more land. He sees a few corporations growing “horizontally and vertically” and exerting “total control in their market by holding all of the purchasing power.”
He advises revising our antitrust laws to relate to agriculture and then “aggressively” enforcing those laws. .
Inslee also wants a new law saying farmers can repair their own equipment.
Gov. Inslee won’t be our next president, but I’d give a lot to see him as director of our fight against global warming

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

When the downturn?

The question isn’t whether we’re going to have an economic downturn–it’s “when.”
And predictions are all over the board.
Full employment, low inflation, and continued consumer spending make most of us feel pretty good about the economy.
Yet, economist Raul Elizalde, writing in Forbes magazine last December, predicted a 2019 recession and claimed retail sales, industrial production, and employment don’t indicate the future.
“Forecasters,” he said, “are generally blindsided by recessions, precisely because they tend to be preceded by economic strength.”
In a way, it makes sense.  A slow economy may go up or down. But an economy going full bore, will eventually slow down.
The United States is now in its 122nd consecutive month of economic expansion. The average expansion from 1945 to 2007 lasted 57 months; the longest was 120 months.
We are overdue for problems. So those people with lots of money in cash investments are nervously watching for a downturn. (Those of us whose homes are our major investment, don’t have options. It may be the best time to sell, but we have to live somewhere.)
But many of the rich–richer than ever with money from the 2017 tax cut–are watching for the time they need to switch from investments that are rising to stable ones. Bonds don’t lose value like stocks do.
So, when Germany and China announced economic downturns this month, many investors jumped from stocks to 30-year bonds that offer only a 2.5 percent gain per year.
Seeing that,other investors were spooked enough to pull money from the market. On August 14, stocks dropped 800 points in one day.
The “crash” in 2008 was 778 points.
And no one in power wants to say the sky is falling because they don’t want to generate fear among more people.
An Aug. 20 article in Moneywise looked at 12 indicators of a coming downturn and found four were good, five were about level, and three, including the surge in bond buying, were bad.
So I won’t say the Trump Administration is causing a downturn.  The tariff wars have hurt, especially in farming communities, but inflated assets and fear cause economy-wide downturns.
But the administration’s tax cuts and trade wars have left us with no weapons to battle a recession when it does happen.
Two tools the country has to battle a downturn are a) increased government spending and b) lower interest rates.
A year ago, the nation’s July deficit was $77 billion; this year, $120 billion. With two months left to go, this year’s deficit is $866.8 billion. It will top $1 trillion–and possibly double Obama’s last deficit.  .
Obama’s early deficits were large. With unemployment over five percent, tax revenues didn’t return to the 2007 amount until 2013.
Now, with low unemployment we should see shrinking deficits instead of some of the largest ever.  And we can blame the Trump tax cuts of 2017. Everybody knew it wouldn’t generate enough revenue to pay for itself–no tax cut in the last 50 years has.
So can we lower the interest rate a whole lot?
Fat chance.
When the government needs to borrow an astounding amount, it competes for investment dollars with enterprises around the world; we have to pay a competing rate.
Do you know anyone who can loan the U.S. trillions of dollars?
China was the key to covering the last recession.
That country, however, is having trouble enough dealing with an economic decline being blamed on the Trump trade wars.
I don’t know of a solution, but we need to get people in charge who understand where the country is hurting and want to fix it

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Immigration & Greenland?!

Rumors are that President Trump has been thinking of buying Greenland.
The advantages are obvious. The island’s population is about the size of Caldwell’s and its land area is ten times the size of Idaho–but only twice the size if we don’t count the area covered by ice.
And, if the ice melts, oil wells can go up.
Although the President doesn’t believe in global warming, he apparently does believe some strange force will make Greenland’s oil reserves accessible.
Well, as the melting in Greenland raises sea level by up to 10 feet, we’ll need someplace to put people whose cities are inundated by water.
Maybe we could trade for it? I’d give Mississippi away in a heartbeat, though I imagine the current administration would rather offer some pesky liberal state on the coast.
Can one buy a democratically-governed region?  What would happen if a majority of Greenlanders voted to become part of the U.S.?
I’ve needed good news this week, and I’ve found some–though nothing as funny as buying Greenland.
The Nature Conservancy reports that New York City has 730 buildings with green roofs. Some are urban farms with corn and beans and tomatoes. Others have succulents and native plants.
All, according to the report, benefit the environment. They absorb rainwater, decrease air pollution, lower the temperature and save energy. And the cost is only about 40 percent more than a conventional roof.
So the city will now require all new residential and commercial buildings to have roofs with plants, solar panels and/or mini wind turbines.
And dwell, a magazine specializing in design news, says NYC is “following in the footsteps of Toronto, San Francisco, Denver and Portland, Oregon.”
Now, I don’t see lashing myself to a chimney in order to weed tomatoes. And there aren’t many flat roofs in Idaho, and I have a hard time imagining ones in Denver or Toronto.
Still, it’s nice to think of more green in cities where the buildings are taller than the trees.
More good news–a survey by Public Policy Polling found that although Democratic voters are almost evenly split between moderates and progressives, the labels simply don’t mean much.
A majority of both groups supports Medicare for All, a wealth tax, the Green New Deal, stronger gun violence measures, and abortion rights. Differences vary from seven percent for Medicare for All (supported by 59 percent of the progressives and 52 percent of the moderates) to 15 percent for stronger gun violence measures (supported by 83 percent and 68 percent).
The real division, according to the poll, isn’t between progressive and moderate but between those who support a candidate they think can win (66 percent) and those who support one who backs their issues (33 percent).
What this poll tells me is that a candidate who backs Democratic issues can win. We will unite behind one.
And, in a country being “invaded” by immigrants, it’s good to reflect on observations by Amgad Naguib in the Baltimore Sun, “Lazy people don’t immigrate; hardworking ones do.”
He admires a young Ethiopian working three jobs and Mexican window washers dangling high in the sky.  He cites the accomplishments of immigrant friends who include “a police detective, two lawyers, an economist, and several entrepreneurs.”
He says people come in search of the American dream. “Every immigrant knows today: We have work to do, taxes to pay, elections to vote in, future generations of Americans to raise, and no time to waste on vitrial.
“After all, we have dreams to build.”
As do we all.  As do we all.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019