Showing posts with label #EnvironmentalProtection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #EnvironmentalProtection. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Minor Trims on Major Issues: The Triviality of Current U.S. Debt Ceiling Negotiations.

Sunset, Yosemite Valley.
© 2013 Dliff.
In an article today in the New York Times, Jim Tankersley discusses the ongoing negotiations between President Biden and House Republicans concerning the U.S. debt ceiling. The primary focus of these talks has been to curtail nondefense discretionary spending, which encompasses areas such as education, environmental protection, and national parks. However, this sector represents less than 15% of the government's anticipated spending of $6.3 trillion for the year. Meanwhile, the negotiations have precluded any substantial changes to Social Security and Medicare, which account for the majority of future projected spending growth, and military spending, which rivals nondefense discretionary expenditure in size.

The proposed budget cuts chiefly target areas that are not primary sources of spending growth in the upcoming years, such as education and environmental protection. The reductions could lead to a 30% decrease in many popular government programs, according to White House officials and independent analysts. Additionally, the negotiations are unfolding in the wake of a substantial spike in federal spending during the Covid-19 pandemic under both President Trump and President Biden's administrations. Despite this increase, the Congressional Budget Office expects a modest drop in total government spending for this fiscal year, followed by a rise later in the decade.

The projected increase in federal spending over the coming decades is attributed primarily to major federal health programs and Social Security. These trends were apparent even before President Biden took office. The current negotiations, with their focus on trimming relatively small parts of the budget, have been criticized from both ends of the political spectrum. The stalemate over addressing mandatory spending programs and the nation's tax system continues with no immediate solution in sight. The trajectory suggests that an agreement capable of significantly altering federal spending in the future is unlikely under the current approach.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Protecting Communities: Addressing Toxic Chemical Releases.

ExxonMobil's Baytown, Texas Refinery.
© 2008 Baytownbert.

In an article by Eric Lipton in today's New York Times, the Biden administration's efforts to curb health threats caused by toxic chemicals from petrochemical plants are discussed. As the debate surrounding these health threats intensifies, families living near petrochemical plants, like the López family in Deer Park, Texas, are directly affected. The Biden administration is aiming to impose restrictions on toxic air releases and ban or restrict some of the most hazardous chemicals. However, companies are pressuring the administration to loosen some of the rules, fearing economic repercussions.

Toxic chemical releases are happening regularly in the Deer Park area, sometimes without notification to residents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cracking down on carcinogens released by plants such as the OxyVinyls plastics manufacturing plant across the highway from the López family. Over the past two years, records show the release of numerous toxic chemicals in the area, including some the Biden administration is preparing to impose new restrictions on.

As I reviewed this article, I recalled the German legal principle of "Vorsorgeprinzip," or the precautionary principle, that analytically should play a significant role in addressing the issues surrounding toxic chemical releases. This doctrine emphasizes the importance of taking preventive measures when an action or policy has the potential to cause harm to the public or the environment, even when scientific evidence is incomplete or inconclusive. If the Vorsorgeprinzip were applied to these chemical plants, it would require proactive action to minimize potential health risks and environmental damage.

In light of the precautionary principle, the EPA's proposed policies, that aim to remove a loophole that allows toxic chemical discharges during bad storms, plant malfunctions, or start-ups and shutdowns, are clearly warranted. The EPA also plans to require many chemical plants to monitor air at their fence lines for six key toxics to ensure compliance with the rules. By taking a more preventive approach, these policies aim to protect residents like those in Deer Park from potential harm.

Recent studies have shown that about 100,000 people living within six miles of chemical plants, mostly in Texas and Louisiana, have an elevated risk of cancer. In Houston, a separate study found elevated levels of formaldehyde, which can increase the risk of developing cancer if the levels persist. Another study found a 56% increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel compared to those living at least 10 miles away. Under the Vorsorgeprinzip, these findings warrant immediate and decisive action to reduce the risks posed by these plants.

Implementing the precautionary principle in addressing the issues surrounding petrochemical plants would lead to more stringent regulations and proactive measures to protect public health and the environment. While this approach may result in higher costs for the industry, it prioritizes the well-being of communities like the López family and others living near these facilities.