For Immediate Release
Top 10 Environmental Stories in a Difficult Climate
WASHINGTON - Cities and states around the country made substantial progress in 2017 to help us create the clean, green, healthy planet we deserve -- in sharp contrast to the federal government, which spent the year rolling back protections for our air, water, land and health.
After President Trump announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate agreement, more than 2,500 governors, mayors and business leaders from across the country signed onto the “We are still in” statement to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on their own. This bipartisan group, which represents more than 127 million Americans, signaled to the rest of the world that the American people would uphold their commitment to the goals set by the Paris Climate agreement.
We have the power to harness clean, abundant energy from the sun and the wind, and we can do it more efficiently and cheaply than ever before. In March, for the first time ever, renewable energy accounted for 10 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and continued to expand. The U.S. is now the second-fastest growing market for solar energy, which is the fastest growing source of new energy in the world. The cost of solar is down more than 60 percent in the past decade. While some major utility companies pressured lawmakers to stifle the growth of rooftop solar, forward-looking legislators in Nevada changed course in 2017, largely reversing their state’s anti-solar policies and bringing rooftop solar back to one of the nation’s sunniest states.
Environment Massachusetts, Environment California, PennEnvironment and others helped introduce legislation to move their states toward 100 percent renewable energy and electricity, respectively, in the coming decades. 2017 saw a tidal wave of 50 cities, including Atlanta, plus dozens of business leaders and institutions, making commitments to transition to the use of 100 percent renewables. Many of the institutions leading this shift to clean energy are in higher education. Environment America and our allies have helped college campuses across the U.S., notably Cornell University and Boston University, to pass student government or administrative resolutions to move towards 100 percent renewable energy.
In California, both Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City adopted proposals for an all-electric bus fleet by 2030 or sooner. Together, these two commitments represent one-fourth of all transit buses in California. The Los Angeles Metro plans on spending $1 billion on new bus purchases over the next 10 years and has already entered into contracts for 95 electric buses in the next four years.
Nine Northeastern states strengthened a bipartisan partnership, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has cut global warming pollution in half since 2005. The new rules will cut pollution by another 30 percent by 2030. The governor-elect of New Jersey pledged that his state will rejoin the partnership in early 2018, and leaders in Virginia are positioning their state to join as well. Congratulations to the governors for transcending partisan politics and making the nation’s best regional climate program even better!
After seven years of litigation, a federal judge ordered ExxonMobil to pay a $19.95 million penalty in a Clean Air Act lawsuit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club. The judge found that the company's Houston-area petrochemical complex had unlawfully emitted more than 10 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, defying clean air permits and state and federal law. If upheld on appeal, this would be the largest civil penalty resulting from a citizen suit in U.S. history.
PennEnvironment Director David Masur announces settlement against ArcelorMittal. Photo by Maranie Staab
PennEnvironment settled a federal lawsuit against the world’s largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, securing the largest penalty of its kind under the Clean Air Act in Pennsylvania and obligating the company to make major upgrades to its operations. ArcelorMittal was accused of hundreds of pollution violations of the federal Clean Air Act, many of which involved violations up to eight times higher than the legal limit.
Suwannee River, Florida. Source: U.S. Geological Survey
Securing what is believed to be the largest Clean Water Act penalty in a citizen enforcement suit in Florida history, Environment Florida and co-plaintiff Sierra Club reached a settlement with poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation over hundreds of alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. As part of the settlement, Pilgrim's has agreed to end, or dramatically reduce, its discharge of pollutants to the Suwannee River.
One of the graphics from Environment America Research & Policy Center's 'Get the Lead Out' report
States and communities took action to protect drinking water from lead contamination. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ordered new rules to address lead at child care centers; Maryland and Alabama joined a growing number of states that require testing of water at schools; and cities from San Diego to Austin to Washington, D.C., have set strict, new standards for the amount of lead contamination allowable in drinking water at schools. While much more work is needed, these are steps in the right direction for public health efforts after the issue entered the national spotlight with the Flint Water Crisis in 2014.
Delaware Estuary. Source: Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
Earlier this year, Maryland governor Larry Hogan signed into law a fracking ban, joining Vermont and New York as the only three states in the U.S. to ban fracking altogether. More recently, the Delaware River Basin Commission issued draft rules prohibiting fracking in the Delaware River watershed, which provides drinking water to 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
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Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations. Our professional staff in 27 states and Washington, D.C., combines independent research, practical ideas and tough-minded advocacy to overcome the opposition of powerful special interests and win real results for the environment. Environment America draws on 30 years of success in tackling environmental problems.