Saturday, November 09, 2013

USA takes baby steps on Climate Change


You have until January 3, 2014 to comment on EPA’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans—I focus on the Region2 in this article but there are many more. Please frame your response according to the enormity of the problem, not on what you think is merely feasible in our present state of denial.

CCBigBecause of Congress’s continual dysfunctionality on addressing Climate Change, President Obama has had to resort to executive orders. On November 1, 2013, the president issued Executive Order -- Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change:

PREPARING THE UNITED STATES FOR THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE |By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to prepare the Nation for the impacts of climate change by undertaking actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience, it is hereby ordered as follows: more…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who the president can direct without kowtowing to the deniers in Congress, released the Climate Change Adaptation Plan on February 9, 2013, which received input by all federal agencies. Here’s the list, just in case ‘all federal agencies’ is merely a vague abstraction in your mind: the Department of State; the Department of the Treasury; the Department of Defense; the Department of Justice; the Department of the Interior; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Labor; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Transportation; the Department of Energy; the Department of Education; the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Department of Homeland Security; the United States Agency for International Development; the Army Corps of Engineers; the Environmental Protection Agency; the General Services Administration; the Millennium Challenge Corporation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the U.S. Small Business Administration; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the Council of Economic Advisers; the National Economic Council; the Domestic Policy Council; the Office of Management and Budget; the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs; the United States Trade Representative; and such agencies or offices as the President or Co-Chairs shall designate.

I know, it seems that anyone who is anyone is on the job solving Climate Change over here at the USA. But not so much. Mostly, the EPA’s recommendations for Region 2 cover only what should have taken place in the last century. Things like fixing up our highways for more extreme weather, preparing for more emergencies, getting the agencies listed above to talk to each other on Climate Change, talking to decision makers (corporations? mayors? ordinary folks like you and I?), educating public health departments about the impacts of Climate Change on public health, providing some communities who are onboard with addressing Climate Change (communities that aren’t onboard can continue with their self-destruction) with some materials, noodling over some environment permitting and enforcement possibilities, getting ready for more major cleanups like Hurricane Sandy, and (my favorite) “Bring air pollution consequences of transportation systems due to climate change to the attention of state and local partners.” Like they don’t already know cars cause air pollution and will continue to do so as things warm up?

These measures seem pretty milquetoast in light of the news on Climate Change—just this week. Here’s a few items: The Climate Impact Of Canada’s Tar Sands Is Growing; As crop indicators, weeds spread in warmer world ; New greenhouse gas record set ; Deaths From Heat Waves May Increase Ten Times By Mid-Century; Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies; Carbon emissions must be cut ‘significantly’ by 2020, says UN report; New Report Examines Complex Threats Facing Our Oceans; and Leaked IPCC report: Humans are adapting — but hunger, homelessness, and violence lie ahead. I’m not the only one getting alarmed. Check out Change The Earth - Music Video Project where some major music figures and environmental groups are trying to reach the public on the immensity of this issue. This 10-minute video Last Hours is trying to do the same thing. Also, the Arctic 30 are still sitting in a cold hard Russian prison for delivering the message that taking advantage of a melting Arctic (caused by manmade Climate Change) by drilling for more fossil fuels is a really depraved idea.

So, here’s the deal: the EPA wants you to comment on its plan.

The EPA released its draft agency on February 9, 2013 for public review and comment, and expects to issue the final version this fall. In 2009, all federal agencies were required to develop Climate Change Adaptation Plans by the federal Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Under Executive Order 13514, the Task Force was charged with developing recommendations for the President on how to increase the nation’s resilience to climate change. The new Implementation Plans provide information about how EPA will meet the agency-wide priorities identified in the draft Climate Adaptation Plan released earlier this year. (EPA Releases Agency Plans for Adapting to a Changing Climate, Nov. 1, 2013)

This is how you provide comment, if you are in Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands): Surf over to and copy and paste this (Docket Number EPA-HQ-OA-2013-0568) into the SEARCH box. This will display “Request for Public Comment on the Agency’s 18 DRAFT Program a…”, then click on the ‘Comment Now!’ button. Remember: If you are providing comments through the public docket, it is important to identify which of the 17 Plans your comments refer to. We here in the Rochester, NY region live in EPA’s Region 2, so you have to read the EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013—some 40 pages. The comment period on EPA’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans closes on January 3, 2014.

All very nice but I’m thinking we need bolder measures to address Climate Change here in the USA and the Region 2. Here are a few of my suggestions and you may use them.

  • Increase the role of trained citizen scientists to monitor our land, water, and air to give ourselves a more thorough idea of how are region is actually changing because of Climate Change. Hard to adapt to Climate Change if you don’t have critical information.
  • Clean up Brownfields ASAP. "The prospect of more intense and more frequent storms and sea-level rise carries with it the risk of contaminant releases from RCRA Corrective Action sites, Superfund sites, Brownfield sites and landfills. As noted in EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan, inundation and flooding may lead to transport of contaminants through surface soils, groundwater, surface waters and/or coastal waters. Uncontrolled migration of contaminants may pose an increased risk of adverse health and environmental impacts. " (Page 24, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Change the way we farm, including how we use the soil for farming so there is no runoff. Don’t even think of using soil fumigation. Only use pesticides and herbicides as an absolute last resort. “For instance, soil fumigation as a method to apply pesticides is now rarely used in Region 2 but would be expected to become more common as crops move into the area that requires pest techniques that are associated with longer growing seasons and warmer winters (NYSERDA 2011). Soil fumigants are among the most hazardous of all pesticides and rapidly volatilize once in the soil. Once in gaseous form, the fumigant can disperse throughout the soil and contact target pests making them extremely effective. However, because of the volatility of fumigants, people who live, visit, and/or work near fumigated fields may be exposed to these toxic emissions if the gases travel offsite either via wind aboveground or through wells, sewers, vaults and other underground pathways to the surface. " (Page 26, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Absolutely no Fracking. Climate Change is why, if nothing else, we cannot allow Fracking in New York State: “Increased precipitation may also result in additional pollutant loadings of nutrients, pesticides, and other chemicals, further challenging permittees’ ability to meet water quality standards and permit requirements. For industrial dischargers and wastewater treatment plants, lower baseflows due to increased evapotranspiration and increased likelihood of drought conditions will make meeting permit requirements more challenging.” (Page 20, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • It would be nice if the EPA, DEC, or NYS Dept. Health got going on this, as nary a word is heard from these departments or in the local media at present: “Integrate climate impacts into public health information.” (Page 38, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Rethink our transportation system. This is crazy: “Extreme events experienced in Region 2, such as hurricanes, that hinder refinery operations or fuel transportation could require EPA to grant fuel waivers to allow more polluting fuels to be used for a short time period. Extended periods of congestion could arise in areas that are flooded, which would lead to increased transportation related emissions.” (Page 19, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) Instead of digging deeper into the hole of asphalt highways that provide a pleasant world for gas guzzle, but not living creatures, we should move rapidly to a system that includes public mass transportation, more active transportation in urban regions, and better Internet service so folks can conduct business without having to travel.
  • To adapt to Climate Change in our region, we need to set aside a lot of money that we are not going to get from the private sector. For one, we cannot just leave abandoned buildings and old infrastructures around as we always have: “EXPOSURE TO TOXIC CHEMICALS FROM INFRASTRUCTURE DAMAGE The extreme weather events that are likely to occur as a result of climate change (e.g., high winds, heavy precipitation events) may damage community infrastructure (e.g., schools and child care facilities) and residential homes. As a result, there may be an increased risk of exposure to lead, asbestos and PCBs, when these buildings are initially damaged and when they are renovated/demolished as part of the recovery efforts.” (Page 26, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013
  • Start a major education of the public on Climate Change. How about requiring mainstream media to give the EPA free primetime, or take their freaking licenses away so they cannot use our public airwaves. ‘Cause this ain’t going to do it: “Disseminate factsheets on re-entry to homes, schools, daycare centers, buildings, etc. Address energy efficiency impacts on indoor air quality for homes and schools to avoid maladaptation.” (Page 33, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Put some teeth into EPA Climate Change Adaption Plan. As for this long term solution “Bring air pollution consequences of transportation systems due to climate change to the attention of state and local partners.” Your ‘partners’ already know, they just haven’t been pushed to change their ways. Also, most efforts will be ad hoc if there isn’t a way to get all local governments onboard: “Coordinate with states and local governments that are piloting and demonstrating use of climate information in research, planning and rebuilding efforts.” In other words, if communities are not “piloting and demonstrating use of…”, which is most of Region2’s communities, what is the EPA going to do about that?
  • As I’ve been working on active transportation issues as chair of the Rochester Sierra Club Transportation Committee for five years, I know this is not going to work: “Increase number of communities that receive information about availability of technical assistance, such as Complete Streets, planning for older populations in communities.” (Page 35, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) The trouble is that NYS’s Complete Streets Law is so vague and easy to get around, it’s useless. Engineers just want to build more expensive highways, not bike lanes, with signs, and educational programs so bicyclists don’t get whacked by the public who don’t even know what painted bike lane symbols are for. ‘Availability of technical assistance’ is not the problem.
  • Lastly, this is an interesting observation: “There are additional actions that EPA has not included in either the short-term or long-term actions, above, because the timing of those additional actions might not be clear or because this document is not seen as the vehicle to drive those actions. In addition to funding and employee resource constraints, these additional actions may require difficult policy or legal decisions before we can implement them.”(Page 36, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) It suggests that the EPA has a good idea of the scale of the actions which are really needed to address and mitigate Climate Change, but realize in this present political and economic climate they can only take these baby steps.

We understand the constraints under which the EPA must adhere to, but the physics of Climate Change is not waiting for our politics to become functional. If this scenario -- Last Hours- awaits us because of the above constraints, well…, Goodbye Tomorrow.

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