Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#864 -- Policy Reform, 20-Jul-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #864

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, July 20, 2006.................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Can State Policy Campaigns Bring Lasting Reform?
  Many people have given up trying to influence Congress because they
  feel powerless against Big Money. Instead, they are working to pass
  state laws. Can this bring lasting success?
National Tour in September: Environmental Justice for All!
  A coalition of over 70 environmental justice, social justice,
  public health, human rights, and worker's rights groups will launch
  the Environmental Justice for All Tour in September 2006 to
  highlight the devastating impact of toxic contamination on people of
  color and in poor communities across the United States.
Editorial: Another Landfill Battle Brewing in the Black Belt
  Residents of one of the blackest and poorest counties in Alabama
  are fighting another attempt to create a major landfill.
Precaution Training Set for Minneapolis Sept. 8-10
  A precautionary principle training has been scheduled for the
  Minneapolis area September 8-10, 2006. A few scholarships may still be
  available. Total enrollment is limited to 15. First come, first
  served.
America's Strategic Imperative: A 'Manhattan Project' for Energy
  "Current energy strategy assumes that this country can meet its oil
  needs by managing the oil-producing countries diplomatically and
  militarily. However, this thinking overestimates the available oil
  supply, ignores growing instability in the oil-producing countries,
  and understates the military costs of preserving access." Note that
  this important military strategy paper does not take into account
  global warming or the unsustainable nature of contemporary industrial
  agriculture.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, Jul. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

CAN STATE POLICY CAMPAIGNS BRING LASTING REFORM?

By Peter Montague

Many people have given up trying to influence Congress because they
feel powerless against Big Money. Instead, they are working to pass
state laws. Can this succeed?

Traditionally, states have been "laboratories of democracy," carrying
out unique legislative experiments. Oregon allows physicians to help
people die if they are terminally ill. New Jersey requires chemical
companies to report the amounts of certain chemicals stored on-site
(to help fire-fighters know what they're up against). California bans
the gasoline additive, MTBE, because it is contaminating California
water supplies. And so on.

A new trend: federal preemption

In the past five years, the federal government has mounted a major
campaign to cancel state and local laws. This is surprising to many
people because in early 2001 President Bush said he believed the
role of the federal government is "not to impose its will on states
and local communities." To many, it is inconceivable that this
president would lie because he entered office on a pledge of public
morality.

Yet the record is clear: Since 2001 Congress has passed 29 laws
containing 39 provisions that impose the federal government's will on
the states. It's called "federal preemption." The National Conference
of State Legislatures calls it "a disturbing and growing trend" and
has started publishing a Preemption Monitor to help states keep
track of the flood of new federal efforts to usurp power from state
and local governments.

In the last 5 years Congress has...

** Prevented California from requiring car manufacturers to sell a
certain number of electric vehicles in California;

** Prevented states from imposing a sales tax on internet sales;

** Overridden a California law that restricted the ability of banks to
sell data about their customers;

** Taken away states' rights to choose locations for liquefied natural
gas (LNG) plants, which are subject to catastrophic explosions;

** Canceled the authority of states to determine where certain power
lines can be placed;

** Limited the right of states and cities to file liability claims
against gun manufacturers;

** Overturned California's ban on the gasoline additive MTBE even
though it's contaminating the state's water supplies;

** Overturned state laws requiring canned tuna to be labeled with its
mercury content;

** And on and on...

In general, the beneficiaries of federal preemption have been large
corporations. Indeed, many see corporations setting the federal
preemption agenda. San Diego's conservative newspaper, the Union-
Tribune, says what we're seeing is an "industry-mapped campaign to
impose Washington's will." California's Democratic attorney general,
Bill Lockyer says Congress simply "regurgitates what it hears from
business." Moderate Republicans are upset by the current trend as
well. California's pro-business Republican governor, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, said recently, "Incredibly, under Republican control
of Congress, states' rights are beginning to erode again.... They are
telling us how to run state education, state health care, state
elections and even where we can locate a liquefied natural gas plant."

The latest attempt by corporations and Congress to usurp state power
is HR 4591, a bill in the House of Representatives that would prevent
states from imposing their own security restrictions on chemical
plants. HR 4591 is particularly clever because its stated purpose is
to ratify a treaty that the U.S. signed years ago but has never
ratified, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants,
also known as the POPs Treaty. The POPs treaty phases out a "dirty
dozen" nasty chemicals including DDT, PCBs and the pesticide
chlordane. It has already been signed by 127 other nations. HR 4591
would ratify the treaty but would require it to be enforced in a way
that would gut its intended purpose. (You can tell Congress what you
think about HR4591 here.)

Another important bill, HR 5695, would prevent any state from
passing stricter security controls on chemical plants than the feds
set. HR 5695 would treat all states as if they had the same needs.
But Wyoming and Nevada have no chemical plants, whereas New Jersey is
jammed with dangerous chemicals factories within breathing distance
of millions of people. New Jersey might want to control chemical
factories a bit more judiciously than Nevada or Wyoming. Under HR
5695, New Jersey would be out of luck.

So, can citizens pass state-level laws and maintain them in the face
of federal preemption? Yes, definitely, but it will very likely take
more than just state-level campaigns. If history is any guide, we'll
also have to organize ourselves sufficiently at the grass-roots level
nationwide with the aim of overcoming corporate influence ($) and
power. Daunting? Yes. Impossible? Not on your life. One thing's sure:
it can't happen if it isn't firmly established as a goal.

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Riptide Communications, Jun. 26, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

NATIONAL TOUR IN SEPTEMBER: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE FOR ALL!

Groups to Launch National Tour to Highlight Devastating Impact of
Toxic Contamination on the Poor and People Of Color

Nationwide Call for Environmental Justice

New York -- A coalition of over 70 environmental justice, social
justice, public health, human rights, and worker's rights groups today
announced plans to launch the Environmental Justice for All Tour in
September 2006 to highlight the devastating impact of toxic
contamination on people of color and in poor communities across the
United States.

Three bus caravans packed with activists, health researchers,
environmental scientists, and public policy experts will tour
communities in the Northeast, South, and West Coast, where people are
suffering serious health affects associated with toxic pollution.

Organizers say the Tour will provide advocacy tools to affected
communities and put pressure on Congressional leaders to make the
elimination of environmental hazards a priority issue in the upcoming
elections.

"During this tour we will expose how industry, government, and the
military have turned the places where people live, play, work, and
pray into toxic dumping grounds," said Dorothy Felix, a life-long
resident of Mossville, LA and member of Mossville Environmental Action
Now. "Our community and many others are organizing to bring an end to
this injustice by focusing on solutions that value and protect our
health and the health of future generations," she added.

Stops along the Tour will include towns such as Mossville, LA,
Sundial, WV, and Anniston, AL, communities that have suffered
widespread and significant health effects due to the persistent
presence of industrial toxins in their air, water, and food.

In the African American community of Mossville, 14 industrial
facilities including an oil refinery, vinyl production facilities,
other petrochemical manufacturers, and a coal-fired power plant
operate a few yards away from some Mossville residents, and form a
cluster within one-half mile of the entire Mossville community. Local
industries have contaminated the fish and polluted lakes, bayous, and
groundwater

In the small West Virginia town of Sundial, Marsh Fork Elementary
School is located just 200 feet from a coal silo and 400 yards
downstream from a leaking sludge dam containing billions of gallons of
toxic sludge. The health problems are severe.