Environmental News & Notes | Supreme Court limit on EPA tied lobbying

Among several controversial rulings this summer, the US Supreme Court on June 30 restricted the federal government from regulating carbon emissions from power plants. However, Illinois may not be affected much because of state statutes, especially the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Plus, the federal Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t enforce state laws.

The contentious decision by SCOTUS, with conservative jurists prevailing in the 6-3 vote, is just one result of a decades-long campaign by right-wing interests including Charles and David Koch and the Federalist Society.

The Koch brothers are libertarian oil executives who’ve spent more than $100 million promoting their agenda through campaign contributions and lobbying, and underwrote the American Legislative Council (ALEC), which drafted arch-conservative legislation that was introduced and sometimes enacted with little changes by state lawmakers.

The Federalist Society and its influential executive Leonard Leo were instrumental in recommending judges to US presidents (including Donald Trump, who installed about 200 federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, using recommendations including Leo’s.

“Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” commented Justice Elena Kagan.

Summer’s now ‘danger season’

The Midwest’s heat waves this summer are among increasingly common disasters tied to climate change — for which people are unprepared. Already, a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study shows that the average level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 50% higher than in pre-industrial times.

“Danger season,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is from May to October, when heat waves, wildfires, smoky air and hurricanes occur more and more.

Coined by UCS analyst Erika Spanger-Siegfried, the term helps remind people that heat kills more people in the US annually than any other natural disaster. In New York City, for
instance, about 120 people die from heat exposure each year (80% in their homes).

Low-cost sensors give fuller picture of cities’ air pollution

Portable, affordable sensors that check for pollution by shooting laser beams through air and measuring the light that bounces back are helping an increasing number of communities more accurately determine levels of air pollution.

Launched in Belmont County Ohio southwest of Pittsburgh, the air-monitoring area has spread to other areas, including Chicago and St. Louis. Results show that air quality frequently exceeded standards set by the World Health Organization, according to a study in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Citizen-run sensors picked up high levels of benzene, toluene, and fine particulate matter – contaminants linked to increased risks of cancer and heart disease.

Traditional monitors can be expensive, time-consuming to operate, and require special skills and laboratories, so government agencies usually rely on a small number to cover a whole city or county.

And the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the value.

Such projects “can help fill data gaps and can be important tools for local residents in working with their state, local, or tribal nation governments to improve the quality of the air that we breathe,” an EPA spokesperson told Grist Midwest correspondent Diana Kruzman.

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