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Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is filing a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security based on the refusal of the Secret Service to provide CREW with White House visitor records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). CREW sought records of visits by top coal executives in an effort to learn the extent to which these individuals may have influenced the administration's energy policy. Taking the exact same position as the Bush administration, the Obama administration claimed the records are presidential, not agency records, and otherwise exempt in their entirety because of the possibility in some instances they could reveal information protected by the presidential communications privilege. In prior litigation U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with CREW that the records are agency records that must be disclosed under the FOIA.
Read CREW's complaint in the Related Documents section on the right.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach.
Days when "hazardous" levels of particle pollution were recorded were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. for much of the early 2000s, but 73 were recorded in 2021.
As wildfire smoke from Nova Scotia drifted south this week and resulted in haze that blanketed parts of New England, New York, and New Jersey, the American Lung Association reported Thursday that rampant wildfires are triggering a significant rise in unhealthy air alerts in cities across the United States—enough to begin reversing progress policymakers have made in reducing ozone pollution.
The organization's State of the Air report warns that particle pollution—which includes soot from wildfires and has been linked to increased risk for heart attacks, asthma in children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—is putting more people at risk than ever.
Overall, 17.6 million fewer people in the U.S. are breathing unhealthy air compared to the group's 2022 report, an improvement that was credited to "falling levels of ozone in many places around the country, the continuation of a positive trend that reflects the success of the Clean Air Act."
"However, the number of people living in counties with failing grades for daily spikes in deadly particle pollution was 63.7 million, the most ever reported under the current national standard," reads the report.
Eight of the 10 cities with the most days in which authorities warned of high particle pollution were in California, which experienced a relatively "mild" year for wildfires last year, but still counted nearly 7,500 wildfires including the destructive Mosquito Fire.
Other cities that are thousands of miles away from areas prone to wildfires have also reported numerous days with high levels of particle pollution, including Fargo, North Dakota and Pittsburgh.
Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air report, 2023
"A few weeks ago, I was speaking with someone from Colorado who was staying indoors because of smoke from forest fires in Calgary," William Barrett, national senior director for clean air advocacy at the American Lung Association (ALA), toldThe Hill Thursday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says planetary heating creates hotter and drier conditions, leading to longer and more severe wildfire seasons in areas that are prone to them.
Michelle Donaldson, communications director for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, told the CBC on Tuesday that people living far away from wildfire sites may not realize they are at risk for particle pollution.
"Wildfire smoke can travel really far and it can linger in the air for weeks at a time, so even if you can't see the smoke in your area, the particulate matter and the level of air quality go down, so people have to take precautions to protect their lung health," she said.
Emissions standards set by the Clean Air Act have been credited with significantly cutting down on ozone pollution in recent decades. New York City reported more than 50 days with high ozone pollution in the early 2000s, compared to 17 now, The Hill noted. Washington, D.C. has cut its high ozone pollution days from 60 per year to seven.
But the ALA's State of the Air report shows that the number of days when particle pollution levels are considered "very unhealthy" has skyrocketed in the last five years. Warnings were issued 10 times in 2016 compared to 113 in 2021.
The number of "hazardous" days—when the entire population of an area is likely to be affected by the pollution—has also gone up significantly. These warnings were not given between 2002 and 2014, but 73 of them were recorded in 2021.
Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air report, 2023
"Spikes in particle pollution related to heat, drought and wildfires are putting millions of people at risk," said the ALA, "and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing across the nation to clean up air pollution."
"Without full access to all performed toxicity studies, there can be no reliable safety evaluation of pesticides by E.U. authorities," researchers warn in a new study.
New research published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health found that pesticide companies did not disclose to European Union regulators at least nine studies examining the brain toxicity of their chemical products—a finding that experts said is a scandal that must spur reforms.
"It is outrageous," Christina Rudén, a professor of regulatory ecotoxicology and toxicology at Stockholm University and a co-author of the new study, toldThe Guardian.
The researchers behind the new study found that pesticide companies submitted 35 developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) assessments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 1993 and 2015 as part of efforts to win regulatory approval for their products.
But the companies withheld nine of those 35 studies from E.U. regulators, the new analysis notes, raising concerns that the firms deliberately suppressed information that may have impacted risk assessments. The Guardian noted that "the pesticides identified in the new study include the insecticides abamectin, ethoprophos, and pyridaben and the fungicide fluazinam."
"These are, or have been, used on a range of crops including tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, and aubergines," the newspaper added.
The researchers said their findings demonstrate that "non-disclosure of DNT studies to E.U. authorities, in spite of clear legal requirements, seems to be a recurring phenomenon." Last year, the same researchers discovered that an industry-sponsored DNT study on glyphosate found impacts on "neurobehavioural function, motor activity, in rat offspring"—findings that were not shared with E.U. officials.
Glyphosate is currently authorized for use in the E.U. through 2023, despite evidence of its negative effects on humans, animals, insects, and the environment.
"Without full access to all performed toxicity studies, there can be no reliable safety evaluation of pesticides by E.U. authorities," the researchers warned Thursday. "Rules should be amended so that future studies should be commissioned by authorities rather than companies. This ensures the authorities' knowledge of existing studies and prevents the economic interest of the company from influencing the design, performance, reporting, and dissemination of studies."
Bayer—which owns Monsanto, maker of the cancer-linked glyphosate product Roundup—and Nissan Chemical were among the sponsors of the studies withheld from E.U. authorities, who only learned about the assessments years after they were conducted.
As AFPreported, the brain toxicity studies "were conducted on pregnant rats, testing whether the offspring of those exposed to the compounds suffered developmental problems."
"Decreased weight gain, delayed sexual maturation, and deteriorating motor activity were among the side effects reported in adult offspring in the studies," the outlet continued. "Of the nine pesticide compounds, four have now been taken off the E.U. market, while another four are currently under review."
"It is outrageous and unbelievable that a good fraction of these studies do not make it to the authorities as required by law," Axel Mie, another study co-author, told AFP. "There must be legal consequences and serious ones for the companies if they do not follow the law."
"Nothing less than a just global transformation... is required to ensure human well-being," researchers wrote.
If Earth were to get an annual health checkup akin to a person's physical exam, a doctor would say the planet is "really quite sick right now."
That's how Joyeeta Gupta, professor of environment and development at the University of Amsterdam, put it at a Wednesday press conference accompanying the publication of new research in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. Co-authored by Gupta and 50 other scientists from around the world, it warns that nearly every threshold for a "safe and just" planet has already been breached and pleads for swift action to protect "the global commons for all people now and into the future."
As Carbon Brief reported: "The new study develops the idea of 'planetary boundaries,' first set out in an influential 2009 paper. The paper had defined a set of interlinked thresholds that it said would ensure a 'safe operating space for humanity.' Its authors had warned that crossing these thresholds 'could have disastrous consequences.'"
"We cannot have a biophysically safe planet without justice."
The new paper, written by many of the same people, introduces justice considerations into the framework, leading the authors to propose a set of "safe and just" Earth system boundaries (ESBs) at global and sub-global scales, some of which are stricter than the "safe" limits outlined previously.
"For the first time, we present quantifiable numbers and a solid scientific foundation to assess the state of our planetary health not only in terms of Earth system stability and resilience but also in terms of human well-being and equity/justice," said lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The interdisciplinary team focused on five of the nine planetary systems identified in 2009—climate, biosphere, water, nutrient cycles, and atmosphere. To determine the health of these systems, they relied on the following eight measurable indicators:
As Phys.orgreported: "Safe boundaries ensure stable and resilient conditions on Earth, and use an interglacial Holocene-like Earth system functioning as a reference point for a healthy planet. A stable and resilient Earth is dominated by balancing feedbacks that cope with buffer and dampen disturbances. Cutting-edge science on climate tipping points features as one major line of evidence to set safe boundaries."
To establish "just" boundaries for each indicator, the authors assessed the conditions needed to avert "significant harm," which they defined as "widespread severe existential or irreversible negative impacts on countries, communities, and individuals from Earth system change, such as loss of lives, livelihoods, or incomes; displacement; loss of food, water, or nutritional security; and chronic disease, injury, or malnutrition."
As summarized by Carbon Brief, the researchers took into account the following justice criteria:
"The results of our health check are quite concerning: Within the five analyzed domains, several boundaries, on a global and local scale, are already transgressed," Rockström said. "This means that unless a timely transformation occurs, it is most likely that irreversible tipping points and widespread impacts on human well-being will be unavoidable. Avoiding that scenario is crucial if we want to secure a safe and just future for current and future generations."
According to the paper, "Social and economic systems run on unsustainable resource extraction and consumption" have pushed Earth past seven of the eight "safe and just" ESBs.
The paper includes the following image for reference. The Earth icons representing the current state of the planet should be in the green space, which marks where "safe" (red) and "just" (blue) ESBs overlap. Instead, they lie beyond the "safe and just corridor" for every indicator except aerosol loading.
When "safe" ESBs are looked at in isolation, the planet has entered the danger zone for six of the eight indicators. According to the authors, 1.2°C of global warming to date has pushed the world beyond the "just" ESB for climate, which requires mean surface temperature rise to be capped at 1.0°C. For now, the climate still remains in the "safe" threshold, they say, even as the impacts of increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather are already being felt, especially by the poor.
However, Gupta stressed that "justice is a necessity for humanity to live within planetary limits."
"This is a conclusion seen across the scientific community in multiple heavyweight environmental assessments," said Gupta. "It is not a political choice. Overwhelming evidence shows that a just and equitable approach is essential to planetary stability."
"We cannot have a biophysically safe planet without justice," she added. "This includes setting just targets to prevent significant harm and guarantee access to resources to people and for as well as just transformations to achieve those targets."
As Carbon Brief pointed out: "This study is the first to assess Earth-system boundaries at a local scale, rather than analyzing the planet as a whole. This allows the authors to determine which boundaries have been crossed in specific regions and to identify 'hotspots' for breached boundaries."
As a result, researchers were able to produce the following map, which shows that more boundaries have been breached in certain areas, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and substantial parts of Africa, Brazil, Mexico, China, and the U.S. West.
Rockström told reporters that the eight indicators were "carefully chosen" to be "implementable for stakeholders... across the world."
The researchers hope that the "safe and just" ESBs they have put forth "will underpin the setting of new science-based targets for businesses, cities, and governments to address the polycrises of: increasing human exposure to the climate emergency, biodiversity decline, water shortages, ecosystem damage from fertilizer overuse in some parts of the world coupled with lack of access elsewhere, and health damage from air pollution," Phys.org reported.
"Stewardship of the global commons has never been more urgent or important."
Rockström and Gupta are co-chairs of the Earth Commission, founded in 2019 "to advance the planetary boundaries framework," Carbon Brief observed. "The concept has been widely used in academia and policy spaces, but has also attracted criticism from scientists who say it oversimplifies a complex system, or could spread political will too thinly."
Earth Commission executive director Wendy Broadgate, for her part, said that "a safe and just transformation to a manageable planet requires urgent, collective action by multiple actors, especially in government and business to act within Earth system boundaries to keep our life support system of the planet intact."
"Stewardship of the global commons has never been more urgent or important," she added.
In their conclusion, the authors wrote that "nothing less than a just global transformation across all ESBs is required to ensure human well-being."
"Such transformations must be systemic across energy, food, urban, and other sectors, addressing the economic, technological, political, and other drivers of Earth system change, and ensure access for the poor through reductions and reallocation of resource use," they added. "All evidence suggests this will not be a linear journey; it requires a leap in our understanding of how justice, economics, technology, and global cooperation can be furthered in the service of a safe and just future."