The fossil fuel industry behaves like the national economy’s prima donna. Regardless of the catastrophic consequences of its performances, the Trump administration continues to reward it with bouquets of roses.
The Latino front-line communities who suffer the consequences of these disasters, on the other hand, only get the thorns.
A clear example are the Latino barrios of Houston —Pasadena, Deer Park and Manchester— that recently have been on the receiving end of several petrochemical catastrophes. The gravest of them all were the raging fires at the ITC storage facility, which spewed huge amounts of toxics into the air and nearby waterways, including including xylene and benzene. Dozens of families, overwhelmingly Latino, suffered the effects of this pollution, including dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches, and nosebleeds.
This abuse occurs across the country. In the last two and a half years, countless petrochemical disasters have taken place in the US, while at the same time the Trump administration has been weakening the protections that help prevent these tragedies. In fact, since January of 2017, the fossil fuel industry is living in a deregulatory nirvana that has left the public at the mercy of the polluters’ toxic bombardment. And keep in mind that the percentage of Latinos living in fenceline zones is 60% greater than the US population as a whole.
A New York Times investigation revealed that since arriving to power, the administration has either weakened of eliminated 84 protections, almost exclusively favoring the wishes of the fossil fuel polluters.
The chief eliminator of these protections is former coal lobbyist and current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, whose most recent project is to abandon peer-reviewed science about the damage air pollution does to our health. Wheeler’s goal is to weaken the Clean Power Plan, the US government’s fundamental tool to meet its international climate commitments.
According to the EPA itself, Wheeler’s Dirty Power Plan would contribute to the premature deaths of 1,400 people a year, due to asthma, heart attacks, and strokes. Wheeler is also trying to roll back the Mercury and Air Toxins Standards, which protect pregnant women and young children from the impacts of these poisons.
This insidious narrative — dirty, good; clean, bad — is a desperate attempt to hide the true costs of fossil fuel pollution. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, the US spends more in subsidizing oil, coal, and gas than on its armed forces. In 2015, the cost of direct and indirect subsidies hit $649 billion, whereas the Pentagon received about $600 billion.
The report also found that the world spends $4.7 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies by looking at the whole picture, including the colossal cost of pollution to the public health. The IMF reached the mind-blowing conclusion that had these fuels been fairly priced, we would have used less of them, thus reducing the world’s climate emissions by 28% and premature deaths by a whopping 50%.
Speaking of the Pentagon, in a report to Congress, it has warned that two thirds of its mission-essential installations are vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, specifically to sea level rise and wildfires.
While the administration keeps its head firmly buried in the sand, ridiculously stating that wind turbines cause cancer, the clean energy economy advances unabated. So far, five states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia and more than 120 cities across the country have committed themselves to rely on 100% clean, renewable energy. Also, several fracked gas projects have been either defeated or intensely opposed in Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
In an economy in which clean energy is fast becoming its prima ballerina, there is no room for prima donnas.
Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC
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