More than 80 percent of Americans live in cities and suburbs—and this number is skyrocketing.

NRDC programs help create strong, just, and resilient communities—making cities healthier, more sustainable places to live. We work to lower energy bills, reduce flooding, improve access to healthier food, and make it cheaper and easier for everyone to get around. And when polluters threaten communities, our lawyers go to court on their behalf. 

Our Priorities

Protecting Communities

Low-income communities are disproportionately affected by health problems associated with fossil fuels.

Sustainable Cities

More than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in and around cities.

Energy-Efficient Buildings

Buildings are the single-biggest source of carbon pollution in most U.S. cities.

Climate-Resilient Cities

Thanks to better efficiency standards, Los Angeles now uses only as much water it did in the 1970s.

Local Food Systems

A typical American meal contains ingredients from five foreign countries.

What's at Stake

What you can do

5 ways city dwellers can spur climate action

What is your city doing about climate change? Ask your local leaders these five questions.

How to tackle fracking in your community

Take recycling to the next level—at home, at work, and in your community

How to protect your community from crude oil "bomb trains"

7 ways to flood-proof your house

More sustainable (and beautiful) alternatives to a grass lawn

How to call Congress

Ways to make change globally by acting locally

A step-by-step guide to protecting your community from dirty development projects

Keep the KXL tar sands pipeline out of Nebraska

Urge your governor to lead on climate action

Tell Trump we won't stop fighting global climate change

Delaware River Basin Commission to Consider Fracking Ban
Rob Friedman Kimberly Ong

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the body responsible for regulating water quality in the Delaware River, announced yesterday that they will re-open a process that may lead to banning fracking in the watershed. Despite this, the resolution that has been put forward by the DRBC could open the Watershed to the dangers of fracking wastewater contamination and the withdrawal of freshwater for fracking elsewhere. This would be a dangerous mistake.

The Delaware River Basin extends from the Catskills in New York to parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, and is a vital water source for over 15 million people – about five percent of the nation's population. Recognizing the watershed’s outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational contributions to the nation, Congress has designated several segments of the Delaware River and its tributaries for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Paddling on the Delaware River, Summer 2017

Mark Izeman

Yet despite the critical role it plays in the lives of millions of Americans, this unique area has been at risk to fracking for over ten years. While home to bass, spawning shad, trout, and one of the healthiest American eel populations in our country, the Delaware River Basin also sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, a prominent source of natural gas. For over seven years, NRDC and our allies have urged the DRBC to stop fracking in this important region. And since 2011, there has been a de facto moratorium on fracking and its associated activities.. 

Since then, the movement to ban fracking has been growing. In 2015, New York officially banned fracking across the entire state. Earlier this year this year, Maryland did the same, drawing on the growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the dangers of fracking on public health. This summer, members of the public submitted 63,000 comments to the DRBC commissioners asking for a ban in the watershed. 

But a ban is by no means certain. The Commission has merely begun the process to start consider banning fracking in the Watershed. While initiating the process to vote on a fracking ban in the watershed is a step in the right direction, the resolution, as written, could present significant dangers to the Delaware River Basin. Specifically, the resolution states that the Commission will seek comment on opening the Watershed to storage, treatment, disposal and discharge of fracking wastewater, and allowing the withdrawal of water for fracking elsewhere. This would be a step backwards from the existing moratorium, which protects against all of these activities. Opening up the Watershed to fracking or any of its associated activities presents dangers for millions of people across the region.

Community members rally outside of the DRBC meeting this past summer.

Rob Friedman

The bottom line is that no regulations can fully protect our communities and the environment from the dangers of fracking and its associated activities. Only a full ban on fracking in the watershed is sufficient – and it must include all aspects of this dangerous practice, including the storage, treatment and disposal of wastewater.  

So – We are going to need your help in the coming months! 

Here is what you can do to help fight for a ban in the Delaware River Basin:

  • Show up. Show your support for the ban by joining me at the Commission’s next public business meeting. The meeting will take place tomorrow, September 13, 2017, at 10:30am at Linksz Pavilion, Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania.
  • Speak out. If you live in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Delaware, call your governor and ask them to support a fracking ban in the Watershed.
  • Submit your comments. The Commission intends to release draft regulations related to fracking in the watershed no later than November 30, 2017. Once the draft regulations are released, the public has the opportunity to comment on the draft regulations. And we need you to say loud and clear that the Commission needs a ban without any language that could result in the storage, treatment, disposal and/pr discharge of fracking wastewater, or the withdrawal of water for fracking elsewhere.
Blog Post

The natural gas industry is actively trying to open the Delaware River Basin up to natural gas fracking—but we can stop them.

Blog Post

NRDC joined people from all walks of life in Washington Crossing, PA to speak at the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) business meeting in support of a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Watershed.

What's At Stake
Why We Must Stop the Flow of Tar Sands Oil
This dirty, dangerous oil, which is almost impossible to clean and affects the health of people, is bad news for our country—and the planet.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Anthony Swift, director, NRDC Canada Project: So right now, about two million barrels a day of tar sands oil is getting into the U.S., and most of it is coming in via pipelines.

The Canadian oil industry has plans to nearly double the amount of tar sands coming into the U.S.—by tanker, by barge, by rail, and by pipeline. These plans would be catastrophic for communities across the country, would increase the risks of tar sands pipeline spills and tar sands by rail spills.

We've seen even in our current situation over 400 spills on our pipeline system every year. That's over a spill a day.

Oil spills are always bad news, but many people don't realize that tar sand spills are even worse. When tar sands is spilled in water bodies, it will sink. Take, for example, in 2010, a pipeline ruptured and spilled a million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River.

Our responders found they didn't have the tools to clean or contain that spill, and the end result was a cleanup that cost over $1 billion, and over 40 miles of the river is still contaminated with tar sands, nearly six years after the spill.

Tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest oil in the world. One of the byproducts is petcoke, or petroleum coke. It's a coal-like substance that builds up in piles in refineries that process tar sands, and those petcoke piles pose major health risks to the communities that surround them.

We're finding tar sands also produces air pollution, which increases incidences of respiratory illnesses and asthma in communities that live around these tar sand refineries.

No matter what Big Oil says, the United States does not need more tar sands. Neither does Canada.

And you know, we've got new solutions that are cleaner for our communities and better for our climate.

If the public rallies together, we can stop these dangerous, dirty projects, and protect our future for decades to come.

Sign NRDC's solidarity pledge against the Keystone XL

Policy Primer

Yes, Trump has green-lighted the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But Nebraska’s got a slew of public hearings on the calendar, and legal challenges loom large.

Action Figure

The founder of Bold Nebraska has led the Cornhusker State’s years-long rallying cry against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.

Guide

How a single pipeline project became the epicenter of an enormous environmental battle

Midwest Dispatch

Meet some of the people who are striving to stop TransCanada’s dirty tar sands oil pipeline once and for all.

On Location

Residents of coastal Maine speak out against the dangerous transport of Canada’s tar sands oil through U.S. waters.

Personal Action

Are you one of the 25 million Americans who live along a crude-by-rail route? Here's how to find out and what you can do about it.

NRDC in Action

For more than a decade, we've fought to keep this filthy fossil fuel from being dredged up and piped through the United States.

onEarth Story

In Donald Trump’s war on the environment, Americans’ complacency is his greatest ally.

onEarth Story

Five years ago, a pipeline spilled a million gallons of tar sands crude into a Michigan river—and we’re still cleaning it up.

onEarth Story

A new study finds that even small smudges of oil can have huge impacts on flight and a bird’s energy budget.

Explainer

Tar sands oil is harder to clean up than conventional crude. Here are the reasons why.

onEarth Story

The strong, erratic currents of the Straits of Mackinac could make an oil spill disastrous for two lakes and a whole lot of coastline.

The Real-Life Stories Behind the Federal Budget Numbers
Deron Lovaas

Guest blog by Brianna Johnson-King, NRDC Stanback intern

Policymakers in Washington can get caught up in technicalities and number-crunching and lose sight of individuals whom their policies are affecting. This underscores the importance of stories to add meaning and depth to figures in spreadsheets.

In mid-August I traveled to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to collect stories from residents, contractors, and property managers who have benefited from or administered federal programs. These programs include the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and project-based multifamily rental assistance programs. 

Latice is a mother of three, including fraternal twins soon to be 20 years old and a two-year-old son. Her 12-year-old son recently passed away.

Latice

Photo by Brianna Johnson-King

Latice wants to provide everything to her children, but as a single mother this has been challenging. Her salary from working at Popeye’s made it a struggle to pay for rent, utility bills, food, clothing, and books for her children. As a result, Latice and her family slipped into homelessness. Over two years ago, she applied to Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) housing, which helps residents with the cost of rent through federal and state rental assistance programs. Latice and her family were accepted and soon moved into an apartment she could call home. 

Most importantly, through CPO and funding from HUD and LIHEAP, Latice learned how to plan her finances. Living on a budget allows her to have a set payment each month.

“Being on the budget with your rent, your gas, your electric, it’s like a stress reliever…on top of being a single parent…because you need these things to take care of your children,” she told me.

When given the chance by CPO housing, Latice has worked hard these past two years to pay her rent and utilities on time every month. Shenow receives “loyal customer” letters in the mail.    

One day Latice hopes she can afford her $200-$300 utility bill, but she isn’t there yet. Although she doesn’t want to rely on these programs for the long term, she needs them to survive and raise her children now. 

Housing and energy assistance help individuals in many situations and stations in life, including senior citizens and working families struggling to make ends meet. 

“If I didn’t have this place, I wouldn’t have any place to live. I would be out on the streets,” Latice said.

Elizabeth moved into the Ravine at Central College five and a half years ago. Rent costs are lower than market prices thanks to Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. As Elizabeth explained to us, “I just could never afford anything else…It has really helped me a lot.” The lowered rent cost allows her to afford a one-bedroom apartment, when she otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live.

Elizabeth (on left)

Photo by Brianna Johnson-King

Cuts to the federal budget may seem abstract, but these Ohio residents make it clear just how much is at stake. These two stories alone are representative of what many others throughout the United States face. Increased housing and energy costs can force people to choose between safe housing, utilities, medicine and food, limiting their ability to become self-sufficient and improve their financial situations.

As Latice said, “That’s what I just thought America was all about: freedom and helping one another.”

For many Americans, their time of need is now and they deserve a place to live with adequate heating, cooling, electricity and lighting. It’s time to lift up their stories to ensure they will not be left out in the cold.   

Post-Hurricane Priorities for Improving Preparedness & Resiliency
Resource
Residents evacuate their homes near Houston’s Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Harvey rise, Tuesday, August 29, 2017.

David J. Phillip/AP

The 2007 United Nations Foundation and Sigma Xi report on climate change warned that confronting the challenge means “avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable.” Ten years later, it is clearer than ever that to address the greatest environmental threat of our time, we need to both reduce the risk of climate catastrophe and prepare for climate consequences. 

All across America, we are facing the increased threat of storms supercharged by climate change, which exacerbate existing social inequities in historically impacted communities. In order to protect people, our homes, and our communities, we need to adopt a five-pronged strategy of preparedness, mitigation, and resiliency.

1. Protect People’s Health

  • Establish environmental health protection, resiliency planning, and recovery programs aimed specifically at protecting the most vulnerable populations, including environmental justice communities, persons with preexisting medical conditions, and persons without the financial resources to fully protect themselves and the health of their families.
  • Protect against toxic exposures by
    • Comprehensively evaluating the safety of disaster-caused toxic and chemical contamination
    • Performing cleanups as needed to protect public health under the national contingency plan (the federal law that regulates federal response to disasters). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must play a critical role to ensure health protections are met and to fill in when states are stretched thin and working with limited resources.

2. Improve Federal Flood-Protection Programs

  • Reinstate federal flood-protection standards that require all federally funded infrastructure projects to meet a higher margin of safety for future sea-level rise and flooding from coastal storms and extreme weather events.
  • Reform the National Flood Insurance Program to
    • Provide more disclosure of flood risks to homeowners, buyers, and renters
    • Ensure that government flood-risk maps show how sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change will make floods more likely in the future
    • Phase out subsidized flood insurance premiums, which encourage people to move into areas susceptible to flooding
    • Expand funding and availability of assistance to help repeatedly flooded homeowners relocate out harm’s way  

3. Advance Local, State, and Federal Climate Preparedness and Resiliency Planning

  • Enhance protections for coastal and freshwater wetlands and advance implementation of other “natural barriers” (e.g. oyster reefs, sea grass, dunes) to protect communities from storm surges and rising waters. In tandem, prevent the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal the Clean Water Rule, an essential tool for protecting wetlands.
  • In collaboration with community partners, increase investments in cost-effective green infrastructure to help absorb stormwater runoff (while beautifying both coastal and inland communities). Convert vacated flood-prone properties into wetlands, parks, and green spaces to absorb flood waters and act as storm buffers for historically impacted communities.
  • Ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires states to develop disaster preparedness plans that recognize increased flooding and other disaster risks from our changing climate.
  • Strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and state environmental review procedures so that proposed projects fully analyze resilience and energy efficiency alternatives in light of climate change realities.

4. Rebuild with Community Needs and Climate Resiliency as Twin Goals

  •  Ensure that historically impacted communities—which have inherent expertise when it comes to resiliency and mitigation efforts—are given a leadership role in managing how resources are distributed to facilitate just and equitable rebuilding efforts.
  • Create a new Rebuild by Design or National Disaster Resilience competition, two past disaster preparedness and recovery efforts that emphasized long-term resilience, bottom-up community engagement, and future-oriented planning.
  • Ensure that public housing and affordable housing get the resources needed for better rebuilding. Rebuilding plans in the wake of weather events will naturally seek to capitalize on the investment potential of vacated spaces, leaving low-income families with nowhere to return to and little voice in determining the pattern of recovery. We must ensure that efforts to recover and enhance the built environment leave no one behind.
  • Develop state and regional rebuilding plans that apply “redundancy” to the community rebuilding effort—multiple transport systems, distributed energy grids, schools able to double as shelters, etc., that protect against climate change impacts and reduce climate change pollution. 

5. Address Root Causes of Climate Change

  • Address the root causes of climate change to mitigate long-term changes in weather-related disasters by accelerating the shift away from dirty fossil fuels and toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. That includes:
    • Reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution from existing power plants and the broader power sector
    • Significantly scaling up energy efficiency
    • Increasing the deployment of renewable energy, clean distributed generation, and electric vehicles
  • Support frontline community-based advocacy for climate and environmental justice and against the harmful impacts of fossil fuels on health, air, and water.
A Win for Free Speech: Court Rules Wyoming’s Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional
NRDC

NRDC and a coalition of nonprofits challenged a state law criminalizing the collection of data on public land regarding environmental conditions or agricultural practices.

Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin, Wyoming

Shutterstock

The First Amendment protects the collection of environmental data on public lands, a federal appeals court held today, rejecting Wyoming's defense of its "data trespass" law. The so-called ag-gag law, modeled on similar laws in at least eight other states, silenced free speech by making it a punishable offense to collect data—including photos—on public land for the purposes of reporting illegal pollution or other violations. By effectively banning investigations into potential breaches of environmental laws, it prohibited private citizens from doing their part to hold polluters, employers, and corporations accountable.

“The Wyoming statute tried to cut science and freedom of speech out of government decision-making,” said Michael Wall, litigation director at NRDC. “In this moment where science and the free press are under attack, the federal court upheld the essential role of public participation and free speech in our democracy.”

NRDC and a diverse group of other nonprofits—the Western Watersheds Project, the National Press Photographers Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Center for Food Safety—filed the suit in federal court nearly two years ago. The data-censorship laws, signed by Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, in May 2015, had come about in direct response to Western Watersheds Project’s collection of water-quality data to highlight agricultural impacts to publicly owned land and streams in the state.

Today’s decision marks the third time in the past two years that a federal court has scrutinized such laws for violating the First Amendment. “This decision will rightly put one of the most egregiously un-American laws I have seen in recent years on the scrapheap with other censorship laws, where it belongs," Wall said.

We Cannot “Streamline” Our Way Out of Lack of Funding
Scott Slesinger

Rather than address the need for dollars to build our water, transportation and other failing infrastructure, Congress blames the requirement to evaluate the environmental and community impact of a project, as the major reason for project delays. Study after study has proven that is not the case and the record is clear that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is not the cause of delay but improves projects as our website shows. The reason for delay—lack of funding, not regulation.

In fact, NEPA improves projects and gives citizens sometimes the only opportunity to participate in activities that impact their community.

Developers would rather build and think later. For instance, they convinced the President to reject an Obama executive order that required federal funded projects to be built two feet above the 100-year floodplain. That looks incredibly short-sighted as we sit today between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

So rather than address the real problem with our infrastructure, Congress continues to try to “streamline” the review process with multiple amendments to make the NEPA process easier for one type of project or another. I testified on these issues on September 7, 2017.

My oral testimony addressing the changes to NEPA and its impact is below. My full testimony is here.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Scott Slesinger, and I am the Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

I appreciate the opportunity to testify, and hope that my remarks will assist the Subcommittee as it considers the important issues raised by Title 41 of the FAST Act.

Over several years, NRDC worked cooperatively with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Administration, and Senators Portman and McCaskill to work out a compromise on what became FAST 41. Although we opposed many provisions, we appreciate the compromises that were worked out to improve the system to be more efficient and lead to better environmental outcomes.

One reform that the Chamber and NRDC both agreed on from the beginning was the need for more funding and more staff to do permitting and environmental reviews. As I mentioned in my written statement, the loss of agency expertise and the lack of support for NEPA and permitting staff in the agencies is responsible for many problems in implementing NEPA. In our eyes, the key reform in the legislation is the authority to use non-appropriated dollars to augment agency funds to complete the required reviews. We urge the permitting board to quickly implement a system to collect fees from project sponsors to address bottlenecks by allocating those funds to agencies whose regulatory budgets have been decimated.

Additionally, we have all heard the President talk about launching a major infrastructure program. For this to succeed, the permitting board needs close to $30 million to get up and running. The House Committee's token appropriation to the board of $1 million is barely enough to carry out its statutory duties in hosting the Dashboard’s tracking of projects.

The permitting board needs strong leadership to carry out its statutory mandate. We applaud Senator Portman’s and Senator McCaskill’s letter urging the President to quickly appoint an executive director. This law gives the executive director significant authority. The person selected must have the political skills to bring the siloed interests within the federal family together—not just to make a faster system, but one where the environment outcomes are better. Leaving in place an acting executive who is not a political appointee, despite her skill, undercuts the Board’s ability to get significant cooperation from department and agency leaders.

[I would also note that the permitting process and NEPA are complicated area of multiple scientific disciplines and the law. The executive director must have broad experience and sufficient qualifications to successfully lead in the implementation of this statute.]

Despite the enactment of this legislation in 2015, we are very concerned with the number of bills in both houses of Congress that would further amend the NEPA process without regard for their impact on process changes already made in Fast-41. If these bills became law, instead of making things simpler, they would create new conflicts, sow confusion, and delay project reviews, all of which would unfairly be blamed on NEPA, even though the real culprit is Congress passing contradictory legislation.

Bills have reached the House floor to establish different permitting and NEPA processes for hydroelectric power projects, water supply projects, natural gas pipelines, international pipelines, fisheries management, forest management and several others—all inconsistent with each other. The same for the Senate energy bill.

President Trump’s first Infrastructure Permitting Executive Orderas Senators Portman and McCaskill wrote in a letter to the Presidentalso contradicted authorities and responsibilities already in FAST-41, to the consternation of project sponsors that were already participating in the permitting board’s existing process.  

The President’s revised EO of August 15, ameliorated most of the inconsistences with the earlier order. However, it also gave a green light to wasteful federal construction in areas susceptible to flooding by revoking an executive order that previously updated flood protection standards. As Harvey will show, revoking these standards will ensure that billions of dollars are wasted rebuilding vulnerable public facilities that could have been built more safely or in a safer location.

I cannot conclude without noting that the emphasis on “streamlining” seems to be a diversionary tactic from the real problem of our failing infrastructure. Countries all over the worldincluding those with better infrastructure than our ownhave adopted statutes based on our NEPA statute; bullet trains, modern subways, and efficient airports around the world have been built subject to NEPA-like requirements. What these countries have that the United States currently lacks is a national commitment to adequately funding infrastructure to compete in the 21st century. Recent studies by the Department of Treasury and CRS show that funding, not regulations, are the major source of project delay.

 Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this hearing and I look forward to your questions.

Read my full written testimony here.

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