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. 

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Protecting Communities

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

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

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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

Catalyzing Green Infrastructure on Private Property: Recommendations for a Green, Equitable, and Sustainable New York City
Report

These recommendations were developed over the last 19 months in response to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s request for assistance and is the product of Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) collaboration with NYU-Stern Center for Sustainable Business (NYU-Stern), supported by The New York Community Trust, The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the JPB Foundation.

As DEP develops a new private property green infrastructure grant program, we hope these recommendations will help the agency succeed in achieving its water quality goals while also contributing to citywide efforts toward stronger, sustainable, resilient, and equitable communities.

Week 28: Trump’s Wall Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Break Laws (Environmental or Otherwise)
Brian Palmer

The president won’t subject his offensive border project to environmental review, but his administration will subject the EPA museum to censorship.

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

iStock

Wall of Shame

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Tuesday that it would waive environmental safeguards in order to expedite the building of Trump’s enormously controversial wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. The decision came in the wake of reports that the border wall’s construction would begin in a wildlife refuge and threaten endangered species that regularly cross between the two countries.

Jaguars, for example, have tentatively begun to reestablish themselves north of the border after their complete disappearance from the United States in the 1960s. The existing wall along portions of the border has already blocked the big cat’s movement. Extending the wall would virtually preclude the jaguar’s return, while also constricting the ranges of many other fragile southwestern species, such as ocelots, pronghorn, Mexican gray wolves, and even ferruginous pygmy owls.

The Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act require the federal government to review the impact on endangered species and natural resources of most prospective construction projects. In 1996, however, Congress passed a law allowing the attorney general to waive those two laws in the case of the border wall. President Clinton, to his great shame, signed the bill into law. Dissatisfied with the pace of wall construction, Congress passed another bill in 2005 that went even further, allowing the administration to waive any law that might impede the construction of the border fence. The bill grants the executive branch such sweeping powers that the Congressional Research Service openly pondered whether a president could legally use child labor to build the wall. (The CRS concluded he probably could not.)

Why Trump couldn’t submit his border wall to environmental review is unclear. Voters would learn how the wall would affect flooding and other aspects of the natural world, and there’s plenty of time to do the analysis. This wall isn’t exactly on a fast track. The United States began building a border fence 27 years ago, the money for what could be as much as a $40 billion project hasn’t been appropriated, and senior members of Congress remain skeptical about its worthiness. Pretending that environmental laws are the main impediment to construction is nothing but a distraction.

You’ll Never Guess Who’s Rewriting the Clean Power Plan

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has called the Clean Power Plan “an effort to kill jobs across the country.” He is apparently unaware of both the intent of the Clean Power Plan (reducing carbon pollution from power plants) and the 75 consecutive months of job growth under the Obama administration. If President Obama was hell-bent on killing American jobs, as Pruitt implies, he failed pretty spectacularly.

Viktor Gmyria/123RF

Anyway, President Trump signed an executive order in March directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan. While Trump didn’t describe what its replacement would look like, the president’s group of informal advisers gives us a pretty good idea. According to a report in E&E News, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have held a series of meetings with administration officials about the fate of the CPP.

The positive spin: Industry leaders reportedly want the administration to “fix” rather than gut the Clean Power Plan. But positive spin is still spin. Trump and Pruitt know they have to replace the Clean Power Plan with something that would at least superficially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, because the Administrative Procedures Act forbids an administration from throwing out valid regulations without a good reason. So, of course, they’re looking for a toothless plan that vaguely resembles the CPP.

That the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are seriously interested in significantly cutting carbon emissions is highly doubtful. Chamber of Commerce leadership has consistently refused to acknowledge the human contribution to global climate change and is so vehemently opposed to sensible environmental regulations that many of its largest corporate members have quit the organization in protest. The National Association of Manufacturers has similarly tarred environmental rules as “anti-growth,” driving away major members like Duke Energy with its overheated rhetoric. NAM also intervened in a lawsuit in which children sued the federal government over its inaction on climate change. Then NAM attempted to withdraw from the case when it became clear the organization could be forced to hand over internal documents relating to its knowledge of and (possibly) its attempts to discredit the realities of climate change.

If these are the groups counseling Trump on climate change regulation, things are . . . exactly as bad as we thought.

Rewriting History

The Trump administration has worked hard to erase mentions of climate change from government communications such as websites, press releases, and tweets. But it missed a spot. A mini-museum about the history of the EPA, opened at the end of the Obama administration, extols the agency’s successes. The little exhibit celebrates, among other things, the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement.

That’s about to change. Trump officials have become aware of the museum, and they’re preparing to expunge its mentions of climate action. They might even take it one step farther—the administration is reportedly considering adding an homage to coal to the museum.

Tell Trump we won't stop fighting global climate change

“It should be no surprise that there may be changes,” Nancy Grantham, an EPA public affairs employee, told the Washington Post.

It may be unsurprising, given the president’s many affronts to both the environment and the truth, but it’s still disturbing. Tyrants invariably censor museums in their attempts to alter history. Augusto Pinochet, Nicolae Ceaucescu, and Francisco Franco, among others, censored museums to alter the historical record.

It is, I concede, slightly hyperbolic to compare the alteration of a tiny museum outside the EPA credit union to the censorship habits of some of the worst dictators of the 20th century. But Trump is attempting the same basic trick: to limit public discussion of a major issue by erasing it wherever he can. Pruitt and Trump say they want discussion and debate about climate change, but they obviously don’t. If they did, they would leave the museum intact as a historical record, and possibly add the administration’s own views as a counterpoint. Instead, they want to pretend the Paris climate agreement never happened and that climate change is a fairy tale parents (and teachers and scientists) tell children.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Eyebrow: 
onEarth Story

Trump’s already offensive wall will also endanger an already endangered species.

onEarth Story

Thanks to the Trump administration’s regulatory freeze, the endangered rusty patched bumblebee might not get the protections it desperately needs.

The Clean Power Plan is the most important step America can take to reduce the risks of climate change and build a better future.

onEarth Story

The president either completely misunderstands the Paris Agreement or has chosen to flagrantly mischaracterize it.

onEarth Story

Climate science is under its fiercest attack yet. But one group has been countering the onslaught—by connecting with everyday Americans in their own communities.

Policy Primer

The incoming head of the EPA believes states should be in charge of their own environmental regulations. Been there, done that, got the oil-soaked T-shirt.

Personal Action

We know that you know that Trump’s assessment of the Paris Agreement is way off base. Here’s how to convince those who don’t.

onEarth Story

A recent ruling on methane emissions serves as a smackdown to Pruitt’s EPA—and a way forward for environmentalists.

Neurotoxic Manganese Threatens Chicago's Southeast Side
Meleah Geertsma

The local Chicago PBS Station WTTW has been doing a fantastic job of covering the ongoing concerns about neurotoxic manganese being stored on Chicago’s Southeast Side. This is the same community where petcoke and coal facilities have been causing a public health hazard also by dusting up the residential neighborhoods next door.

I was honored to participate in a panel discussion of the manganese issue on the station’s live "Chicago Tonight" show earlier this week. It was a good overview of the issue and concerns held by both the neighbors in the area and City officials—as well as an opportunity for the public to hear from the lawyer representing the Pittsburgh-based company handling manganese in close proximity to the community, S.H. Bell.

S.H. Bell Chicago facility

Google Maps

In follow up coverage, WTTW has noted that the City of Chicago has begun to analyze swabs of brown dust taken from facades of nearby homes—I mistakenly said "yellow" in the broadcast—to determine if they show the neurotoxin manganese present beyond the company's fence line. (As I noted on the show, EPA took wipe samples in 2014, noting that the highest level of manganese was found in the sample taken in “direct proximity to the S.H. Bell facility.” EPA also has photos from 2014 of homes in the area with brown dust on their siding.)

Brown dust on SE Side Chicago home, 2014

U.S. EPA

While we do not have a full accounting of the impact that other manganese operations around the City may be having on Chicagoans, it is abundantly clear that the neighbors' concerns about this facility are well-founded:

  • The facility is located across the street from residential neighborhoods, with nearly 10,000 children living within a one-mile radius, and neighbors report concerns with dust from the facility showing up on their homes;
  • The company’s Ohio facility was the subject of enforcement actions as early as 2008, yet S.H. Bell delayed beginning to enhance controls at its facility near the dense, residential Chicago neighborhood until 2014, when U.S. EPA issued it a Notice of Violation for dust problems;
  • Starting in 2014, the company then resisted installing fenceline monitors for another two plus years, finally agreeing after EPA sued the company in federal court;
  • Monitored levels of manganese at the Chicago site publicly released to date are double the levels recently measured at other nearby industrial sites and not far below the federal screening levels, even with the company on its best behavior given the public scrutiny;
  • The company even now will continue to conduct some operations like loading and unloading of manganese from barges in the open air, relying on a mobile spray truck (which the City last summer found far away from its target during an inspection) to control potential dust;
  • Nor is the company agreeing to employ all available measures to ensure that trucks don’t track manganese out into the community; and
  • New research is underway on both children and adults that should help better characterize the threats to health from manganese exposures in community settings like the Southeast Side of Chicago.

That is why we support the community’s call for every effort to be made to eliminate this threat from their midst, through complete removal of the substance at S.H. Bell. The City should also be looking at whether similar situations of manganese dust in very close proximity to homes and schools exist elsewhere in Chicago, and consider whether broader action needs to be taken as experts raise concerns.

Moreover, the City needs to be taking clear and aggressive steps to address the cumulative impacts of pollution on the industrialized Southeast Side and in similarly burdened Chicago communities.

The Public Health Department's commitment is essential to addressing the manganese dust in the area, but the Department has very little ability to impact the key processes needed to really bring change: the zoning and land use permitting processes that govern which industrial facilities end up where in our city. Citizens need to be front and center with real power to impact the zoning and permitting processes, as well as other land use decisions, that allow and indeed encourage concentration of dirty operations that threaten communities’ air, water, and health.

One of the issues that sparked the "Chicago Tonight" panel this week was a letter sent by Senator Durbin requesting additional studies be conducted on the Southeast Side. Major credit for that important action should go to the neighbors themselves, who have lobbied elected officials for support and attention to this latest pollution issue in the area. The Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and, most notably, the Rebel Bells (the Southeast Side's next generation of advocates to safeguard the environment) all lobbied the Senator directly (with help from Moms Clean Air Force).

While problems in the area are many, so are the people who continue to bring energy and effort to solving things on the Southeast Side. NRDC is honored to work with the community on the Southeast Side to help solve these environmental injustices.

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