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.

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

Farms on the Fringe: New Takes on America’s Farming Tradition
Tracie McMillan

These six farmers have found innovative ways to grow plants in today’s climate, whether in corn country or coal country, with fish tanks or smartphones.

How do you feed a hotter, drier, more inequitable world? A new generation of American farmers are coming up with answers that rarely resemble the cornstalks and cattle pens of mainstream agriculture.

Today’s American farmers are less white. They’re also increasingly experimental. Even as our biggest farms get bigger, small producers are innovating in countless ways as they grapple with the serious questions that face our food system. Some prioritize making high-quality food affordable to folks on minimum wage and accessible in places where fresh produce is scarce; others are learning how to farm with far less water on drought-prone fields. They may be discovering hidden super fruits, reinvigorating coal country, or bringing urban farming to the mountains. Here are six who will change your mind about what it means to farm.


Fish Farming on Dry Land

Ouroboros Farms
Half Moon Bay, California

Chard grown in Ouroboros’s aquaponics system reveals its colorful roots.

Courtesy of Ouroboros Farm

When the recent six-year drought hit California, most farmers were screaming for water. Here’s one who wasn’t: Ken Armstrong, owner of Ouroboros Farms in the Bay Area. And that is more than a little strange—because for Armstrong, water is actually a growing medium. He specializes in aquaponics, a system of raising fish and vegetables in tandem.

Armstrong founded the farm in 2012 after watching a YouTube video about Will Allen, a MacArthur Grant–winning urban farmer in Milwaukee. Inspired, he gathered some potential partners and attended a four-day workshop in Florida, then went home and got to work. Today, Ouroboros’s greenhouses sit on a sliver of land, just one-third of an acre. Nutrient-rich water from the farm’s 9,000 gallons of fish tanks circulates out through neighboring “raft beds,” which hold floating frames with sprouting greens whose roots are suspended in water, and through “medium beds,” which use clay pebbles to filter and disperse water for the vegetables. The roots take up the nitrogen from the fish, and clean water circulates back into the tanks.

Aquaponic farmers Jessica Patton and Ken Armstrong at Ouroboros’s farm stand

Courtesy of Ouroboros Farm

The system, says Armstrong, produces mature lettuce more quickly than soil planting and uses less water, too. The monthly output of 12,500 heads of lettuce requires about 8,000 gallons of water—a little less than two-thirds a gallon per head, as opposed to 12 gallons on traditional California farms. And output is constant, allowing his fraction of an acre to match the annual production of five acres of soil.

Armstrong says he launched Ouroboros to prove that the method could work commercially. He sells greens and other vegetables to local restaurants, and an on-site farm stand offers direct sales, with salad mix going for $4 to $5 for an 8-ounce bag. He also hosts training programs and farm tours and consults with new growers looking to run commercial aquaponics operations.

“Being able to bring high-quality, nutritious food closer to urban areas is going to be one of the agricultural paradigm shifts for the future,” he says. “I think more and more it’s going to be popping up.”


Mountainside Urban Farming

Tassinong Farms
Crested Butte, Colorado

Tassinong Farm utilizes a hydroponic system housed in repurposed shipping containers to grow vegetables year-round in the harsh Colorado climate.

Courtesy Tassinong Farms

Local food in Crested Butte, Colorado, has long been a summer-only affair. For residents, there has been little choice in the matter: tucked into the Rocky Mountains at 8,900 feet, Crested Butte doesn't exactly offer optimal growing conditions. Its night temperatures drop below freezing nine months of the year. But Kate Haverkampf saw a way around this obstacle. She launched Tassinong Farm, a year-round hydroponic facility housed in repurposed shipping containers, in December 2015. “It was such a difficult task to get fresh local food year-round,” says the former tech consultant. When her husband, who works in logistics, ran across a story about farming in containers, she was sold: “I just decided to make that my job.”

Inside four containers, which Haverkampf bought from a supplier aptly known as Freight Farms, LED lights illuminate shelves of plants rooted in a growing medium made from recycled plastic bottles. With a smartphone-enabled tracking system, Haverkampf can monitor her crops closely. If the nutrient mix gets out of balance in the irrigation water, she can swipe and tap to fix it, even from across the country. Because there is no soil, there is no need for herbicides to control weeds. There’s little need for pesticides, either, in this tightly controlled indoor growing space. Haverkampf’s biggest cost is electricity—the lights run 18 hours a day—so this year she’s exploring her options for solar.

Kate Haverkampf, owner of Tassinong Farms

Courtesy of Tassinong Farms

Perhaps most important for an arid place like Colorado, water usage is minimal. Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water usage in the United States, and a typical pound of lettuce requires 34 gallons of water. At Tassinong, says Haverkampf, each container uses about 15 gallons a day—roughly equivalent to a quick shower―or 105 gallons weekly. At peak, this turns into about 60 pounds of greens a week—less than 2 gallons per pound.

Today the shipping containers churn out greens ranging from lacinato kale and purple spinach to romaine lettuces and lemony sorrel. They end up in salads and atop burgers at five local restaurants and are sold at a local food co-op. Haverkampf also takes individual online orders, and later this summer she’s opening a farm stand.

“I’m trying to prevent all of these miles and miles of driven produce,” Haverkampf says. With the new shop, “I like to think that people will come more often and know they can get their greens when they need them.”


Superfruit in the Heartland

Sawmill Hollow
Missouri Valley, Iowa

Andrew Pittz of Sawmill Holllow Farm carries aronia berry seedlings.

Nati Harnik/AP

If you think about the typical Iowa farm, you might picture rows of corn and soy; the state leads the nation in both. But Andrew Pittz, a sixth-generation Iowa farmer, is not typical. At his family’s Sawmill Hollow Farm, the fields are covered with certified organic aronia berries.

The project began in the 1990s, when Pittz’s mom and dad decided to branch out from the corn and soy both their parents had grown and began cultivating a berry farm. When Andrew graduated from Texas A&M with an agricultural degree and a passion for organic farming, he returned to the family homestead on the rolling hills of the Missouri Valley with a vision: he wanted to be part of “a rural renaissance, and create more farmers,” he says. To do that, he knew, he’d need to grow crops that both yield income and preserve land.

Aronia berry bush

Emma Cooper/Flickr

The key to specializing in aronia, says Pittz, has been figuring out how to market the berries, which are highly astringent and bitter when fresh. The farm sells aronia jelly and syrup, aronia salsa, and even a spiced meat marinade, sold online and during on-site events like an annual Aronia Berry Festival. The berries also have one of the highest antioxidant ratings of any fruit, according to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, making them desirable to consumers enthusiastic about so-called superfoods (a designation, it must be noted, met with less enthusiasm by health experts).

But above all, says Pittz says, he’s chosen to stick with aronia because it makes sense for the environment. The plant is native to Iowa and grows readily on his farm without irrigation. Between the bushes, a carpet of native grasses fixes nitrogen in the soil and boosts yield, limiting the need for chemicals. It’s a winning combination for the local turf, which is made of fertile but highly erodible soil called loess. Pittz points out that farmers planting annual grain crops like corn inadvertently increase erosion each time they pull out plants, turn over fields, and replant. Aronia berries, on the other hand, are perennials, so both the roots and the soil around them stay put.

And that, says Pittz, sums up his favorite trait of the aronia berry: “It is meant to grow here.”


Planting Justice

Soul Fire Farm
Grafton, New York

Leah Penniman, co-director of Soul Fire Farm

Courtesy of Soul Fire Farm

Rocky hillsides don’t get much play in agricultural daydreams. But when Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff laid their eyes on the thin, rock-strewn soil of Grafton, just outside Albany, New York, they decided to go all in. They applied soil remediation methods they had learned on urban farms and began contouring the hillside, removing rocks, planting crop rows, and even building a house. Five years later, in 2011, they opened shop at Soul Fire Farm, a CSA-only family farm focusing on environmental justice and supporting Albany’s low-income communities of color. They look beyond Albany, too, and run an agricultural training workshop, the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion, which draws aspiring farmers of color from around the country.

Soul Fire’s CSA offers its 100 customers weekly one-bushel boxes selected from the farm’s 70 crops, which include beets, cucumbers, squash, corn, tomatoes, and peppers, among other veggies. All are grown without synthetic chemicals, and the farmers rely on compost to boost productivity, says Penniman. At the heart of the program is a careful sliding fee scale that can drop as low as zero for struggling families, and a doorstep delivery service to make sure everyone has easy access.

Participants in Black Latinx Farmers Immersion harvest cilantro at Soul Fire Farm.

Courtesy of Soul Fire Farm

That focus on accessibility comes in part from personal experience. When Leah and Jonah’s two children were very small, the family lived in a neighborhood where getting high-quality, fresh food meant walking to a farm CSA a couple of miles away. It was, says Leah, “really unfair as an expectation [of what was necessary] to feed families well.” So when the time came to start their own CSA, Penniman and Vitale-Wolff made access a priority.

Many of the couple’s customers share that concern. Francine Godgart, a married mother of two who works at the local hospital, chooses to pay extra every week to keep the costs down for low-income members. “It’s very expensive to eat organically,” she says. “I think it’s important for people who don’t have those resources to be able to be included.”


Re-energizing Coal Country

Tree of the Field/Pumpkin Vine Creek Farm
Paint Lick, Kentucky

A customer chooses Kentucky-grown kenaf.

Jdeg Video & Photo

The hilltops of Kentucky have seen some tough times. More than 500 mountaintop removal sites dot the state’s Appalachian landscape, bringing with them a host of environmental problems: increased dust and toxins, contaminated water, and buried streams. And now that coal is on its way out, questions arise: How do you deal with all that degraded land? And is there a way for residents to make a living off it?

One entrepreneurial farmer, Robin Richmond Mason, has an answer: kenaf, a relative of hemp, okra, and cotton. Native to Africa, the plant has long been used for its fibers and is already cultivated in several states. Moreover, Mason says, it’s unlikely to spread, kudzu-like, since a shorter growing season means that it is harvested, or dies, before it goes to seed.

Working with researchers at a local commercial lab, Mason discovered kenaf is a potent source of fuel, burning longer and hotter than conventional firewood—a bonus in rural areas, where wood heat is common. (In 23 Kentucky counties, more than 10 percent of homes rely on wood heat, according to statistics from the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.) One log of firewood tops out at 4,800 BTUs and burns for two or three hours, but a log made of compressed kenaf silage, Mason says, can provide 7,500 BTUs and will burn for four hours. The firewood alternative also helps ease the pressure on standing forests wrought by the harmful biomass industry.

Robin Richmond Mason of Tree of the Field/Pumpkin Vine Creek Farm

Jdeg Video & Photo

Mason wants the mountaintop removal sites “to be restored to Eden” and sees kenaf as an initial way to boost plant life there. “Let’s work toward the very best possible remediation plan. But unless there is economic motivation, I don’t see those developing.”

Last year’s initial run—farmed on an ex-miner’s land and hauled out by a trucker who worked for years with coal—was so successful that this year Mason has expanded to four growing sites across Kentucky. The biggest is at a former tobacco farm in the central part of the state that has dedicated 100 acres to kenaf. Judging by the yield from prior test plantings, Mason expects about five tons per acre. All of it will feed into Mason’s line of Tree of the Field products, including a sextet of logs sold with matches and instructions. She calls it a Fiber Flame Pit Kit, and it’s currently being sold in local Whole Foods stores.


Old Farm, New Tricks

Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses
Española, New Mexico

Don Bustos, organic farmer and owner of Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses

Gabriella Marks

There aren’t many farmers in the United States who can lay claim to their land the way Don Bustos can. His family’s been farming a patch of New Mexico for three centuries, and today he and his nephew still use the ancient community system of water ditches, called acequias, to feed their crops. And just as his parents did before him, much of what Bustos grows is sold within a 25-mile radius of his farm. But those traditions are only a foundation for this most modern of family farmers.

When Bustos left a construction career to return to the farm in the 1980s, the easy choice was to grow the staples that his parents had grown: crops like corn, potatoes, chilies, and squash. Instead he decided to try something different and set his sights on high-value organic crops, aimed at farmer’s markets and public schools. He began transforming his humble inheritance—three and a half acres across the road from a desolate stretch of federal public land—into something not just environmentally, but also financially, sustainable.

Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses, New Mexico

Gabriella Marks

Today Bustos grows nearly six dozen varieties of fruits and vegetables year-round using a series of low-tech greenhouse structures, known as hoop houses, and a solar water heater. In any given month, it might be arugula or strawberries, salad mix or green chilies. Going solar, he says, made a huge difference in his livelihood. Not only did his energy costs plummet, from $750 a month to 7 cents a day, but the hoop houses “let us create income 12 months a year instead of trying to risk everything for 3 or 4 months.”

His market savvy has helped earn Bustos wide acclaim, including a 2015 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. He’s also been recognized for his passionate activism on behalf of small and sustainable farmers who fall outside the conventional image of American growers. Bustos has advocated for female farmers and farmers of color in both Washington, D.C., and New Mexico; created a farmer training program that also connects small growers with public school cafeterias; and supported the state’s acequia system, which dates from the 1600s.

That history, says Bustos, is part of what makes New Mexico, where nearly one-third of farmers are Hispanic, special. “We’re not inventing anything new,” he says, with regard to his growing practices and local base of customers. “That’s all been done by our ancestors."


This article was made possible by a grant from the Jonathan & Maxine Marshall Fund for Environmental Journalism.


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.

Voices
African Burial Ground: Preserving America’s History
As our national monuments come under attack by Trump, park conservationist Audrey Peterman reminds us that protecting our monuments is also about protecting the legacy of America’s people.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Audrey Peterman, president and cofounder, Earthwise Productions: One of my favorite national monuments in the system is the African Burial Ground National Monument, just off Wall Street in Manhattan. It was designated in 2006 by President George W. Bush.

This monument protects the legacy of people who were forgotten, literally discarded, rudely thrown into shallow graves. It commemorates these Africans who built New York City, and who would have known this had they not excavated their graves when they were trying to build a parking lot in that place?

Now, instead of a parking lot, we have a monument that is so beautiful, and it's beautifully decorated with African symbols, and you can go in there and learn the history of these people and actually walk in a grove where some of the remains are interred. It's a very spiritual experience.

It's so amazing! It gives me the chills to even now think about walking in that place. It's a whole different thing to be able to walk into a monument at the place where the thing happened instead of, you know, seeing it in a museum.

This is the true value of the American monument system. It allows us to put significant places and artifacts in protection for perpetuity at the place where their significant effort took place. You know, you can't overstate the value of that.

The current administration is undertaking an effort to review national monuments that were created since 1996. To me, that is fairly odious, shall we say, because it takes a really long process before you can get something established and designated as a national monument. It is not something that you just go out and do!

Presidents add monuments, they don't subtract them!

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to stop the assault on our national monuments

onEarth Story

The latest executive order takes aim at iconic public places that store carbon, protect ecosystems, and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Voices

As America’s national monuments come under attack by President Trump, Los Angeleno Robert Garcia shares the story of his personal connection to San Gabriel.

Voices

For archaeologist Angel Peña, this national monument is more than just home to cultural and geological artifacts—it’s where memories and history are made.

onEarth Story

The interior secretary’s proposal to hand over park management to private companies has riled up some very unhappy campers.

Explainer

Now deemed national monuments, these natural beauties will be protected for generations.

onEarth Story

Why are there so many names for legally protected waterways? And what do they all mean?

onEarth Story

A public photography exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park introduces city dwellers to the amazing marine life of the New York Bight.

Personal Action

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

Policy Primer

Trump likens our “inner cities” to war zones . . . then guts the programs geared to safeguard clean air and water for low-income communities of color.

Policy Primer

This month’s National Park Service centennial presents an opportunity to create a parks system that is reflective of—and accessible to—all Americans.

onEarth Story

As the interior secretary ponders the fates of 27 national monuments, he seems to be hearing some voices more acutely than others.

NRDC in Action

NRDC’s chief counsel explains the best way to beat back the Trump administration’s attack on our health and environment: sue.

Voices

Former BLM employee Hillerie Patton describes this Nevada landscape as the essence of “This Land is Our Land”—and how preserving wildlife, archaeological sites, and recreation is about quality of life.

onEarth Story

It’s a neighborhood in Chicago.

Voices

The Trump administration’s review of national monuments threatens America’s culture and natural beauty.

The Real Lowdown: The Trump and Congressional Republican Assault on Our Environment, Vol. 21
NRDC

The rollback of the Clean Water Rule has officially begun, a wildlife refuge is at risk from Trump’s border wall.

iStock

Back on June 21 at a political rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, President Trump promised that, under his watch, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would focus on delivering “clean air and clean, beautiful, crystal water. Nice, beautiful, clean water. That’s what we want, right? Right?”

Indeed. But how does that lofty promise square with the down-to-earth reality of the EPA’s long-telegraphed move, proposed this week, to gut Obama-era clean water protections? A round peg in a square hole, it seems.

A new proposed rule was published July 27 in the Federal Register, starting the process to roll back Clean Water Rule safeguards that would limit pollution in major bodies of water, rivers, streams, and wetlands—sources of drinking water for about one-third of all Americans.

The repeal “strikes directly at public health,” said NRDC President Rhea Suh, and makes it “easier for irresponsible developers and others to contaminate our waters and send the pollution downstream.” Remember, said Suh, development of the Clean Water Rule was informed by more than 400 stakeholder meetings nationwide, more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, and more than a million public comments―from small-business owners, farmers, conservationists, anglers, hunters, industry, and others—some 87 percent of which supported the rule.

Trump and congressional Republicans also took other shots at health and environmental safeguards that protect the American people, our public lands, wildlife, and the climate.

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Frack Attack

As part of the Trump administration’s wide-ranging drive to roll back federal safeguards, the Bureau of Land Management on July 25 proposed killing sensible rules finalized in 2015 for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public and tribal lands.

The federal standard has required oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in their operations, to manage fracking fluids that flow to the surface in a safer way, and to improve the construction of oil and gas wells in order to protect surrounding water supplies.

“While these rules still fall far short of what’s needed to reduce impacts from fracking, they would have provided some much-needed steps to better safeguard drinking water supplies, public health, and the environment,” said Amy Mall, an NRDC senior policy analyst. “This is just one more example of where this administration’s loyalties lie: with industry and polluters, not the people.”

Another Pollution Promoter Joins Team Trump

On July 24, the Senate confirmed, 53–43, David Bernhardt for the no. 2 post at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Bernhardt has lobbied for oil, mining, and western water interests, earning millions in legal and lobbying fees for his previous law firm.

“Mr. Bernhardt’s confirmation is another disturbing example of the Trump administration letting a polluters’ advocate police the same industries that paid him generously to push their anti-environmental agenda,” said NRDC legislative director Scott Slesinger. “This is the fox guarding the henhouse, except it’s the American people and their shared natural heritage that are in danger.”

Trump Will Skip Environmental Review of Border Wall

In the continuing saga of how much times have changed, it came to light this week that the Trump administration plans to invoke a 2005 counterterrorism law to bypass environmental impact studies of his ecologically ruinous plan for a wall along the U.S.– Mexico border. Last year, in the Obama era, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that construction of the wall—involving habitat destruction, noise, and truck traffic—would threaten more than 100 species, including the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, cut off migration routes, and threaten the future of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to stop the assault on our national monuments

Red Team, Blue Team Update

Fair and balanced? The EPA has reached out to the archconservative Heartland Institute to recruit participants for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s red team in his “red team, blue team” TV debate among scientists about climate change. In 2012, Heartland’s website declared that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

The purpose of recruiting such climate antagonists to the red team, wrote John Holdren, who served as Obama’s chief science advisor, “would be to create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change, as an underpinning of the Trump administration’s case for not addressing it. Sad.”

Pruitt’s Next Goal? Eliminate Legal Foundation for Cutting Greenhouse Gases

This week, Venezuela―the South American nation spiraling into internal economic, political, and social chaos—found time to join the Paris Agreement. That leaves just a few other major countries outside the global pact to address the dangers of climate change, most glaringly the United States of America.

Trump quit the Paris accord earlier this year largely on Pruitt’s push. Now Pruitt may have another big goal: undoing the EPA’s 2009 science-based “endangerment finding” that provides the legal foundation for greenhouse gas regulations of any kind. But to do that, he’ll have to prove that greenhouse gases aren’t damaging the environment or that carbon pollution from cars and trucks and power plants aren’t contributing, says David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Air program. “And he will need to document it all with a double Mount Everest of data to offset the Mount Everest of data that shows that accumulated pollution does indeed endanger public health and welfare,” said Doniger. “No one thinks it's possible, especially with his resources and staff. He will be laughed out of court.”

That’s this week’s Real Lowdown. NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we’re vigilantly reporting on the administration’s assault on the environment through Trump Watch.

Urge your governor to lead on climate action

Blog Post

We saw a major victory against the administration’s pro-polluter agenda—but the attack continues on our public lands, science, and clean energy.

Blog Post

Scott Pruitt wants to be a game show host to debate climate change, communities respond harshly to rolling back methane standards, and even Republicans are against offshore drilling.

Blog Post

Hundreds of safeguards that protect Americans are now in jeopardy and a court allows the EPA to continue putting kids at risk from a toxic pesticide.

Blog Post

Courts put the brakes on the administration’s rollbacks while the House heads home with nothing to brag about.

Blog Post

Scientists warn that the world is already experiencing the effects of climate change as Trump officially withdraws from the Paris Agreement.

California Cap & Trade Extension Comes with Cleaner Air, Too
David Pettit

One of the bills recently enacted as a companion to the extension of California’s carbon pollution cap and trade law extension is AB 617, principally authored by Assembly Member Cristina Garcia. This bill will lead to significant improvements in protecting California communities from air pollution. It has two completely new features and increases fines for air pollution violations, reducing the likelihood that businesses can simply write off violations as a cost of doing business.

First, the bill sets up a program of local governance of air pollution from both mobile and stationary sources (like a mini-Air Quality Management Plan for you Clean Air Act nerds). But instead of a regional plan like that recently enacted by South Coast AQMD, plans under AB 617 would be local and would be in areas selected by the state Air Resources Board (ARB) after review of monitoring and other data.

Here is how these plans will work: ARB has until October 1, 2018 to prepare a statewide strategy to reduce emissions of toxic air contaminants and criteria pollutants in “communities affected by a high cumulative exposure burden.” Importantly, since vehicles such as diesel trucks can be heavy contributors to local air quality problems, the law provides that that statewide strategy must include both stationary and mobile sources.

ARB will provide technical grants to community-based organizations to help develop emission control programs for both mobile and stationary sources. Local air districts, like South Coast Air Quality Management Board, would then have a year to submit a community emissions reduction program to ARB that must: “result in emissions reductions in the community, based on monitoring or other data.”

This is an important idea because it narrows the focus of air quality protections from the regional to the community level. Some have criticized it because as untested and claimed it may not work, but that can be said of nearly any new idea. But now we have an opportunity to work together with communities, as well as with the Air Resources Board and local air districts to achieve success.

The second new feature will put an end to “grandfathering” of air pollution from old stationary sources that are within the cap and trade system. These facilities all needed to get permits from their local air districts to operate, but most do not have to update them unless there are significant modifications done. This provided a perverse incentive to keep running old, outdated equipment.

AB 617 puts all of these facilities on a schedule to be upgraded to a standard called Best Available Retrofit Control Technology, or BARCT, by December 31, 2023. BARCT is defined in California Health and Safety Code as: “an emission limitation that is based on the maximum degree of reduction achievable.” In terms of priority, the statute provides that:

The schedule shall give highest priority to those permitted units that have not modified emissions-related permit conditions for the greatest period of time. The schedule shall not apply to an emissions unit that has implemented BARCT due to a permit revision or a new permit issuance since 2007.

This is a positive change in California law that will help clean up the air where polluting industrial facilities are located. Some have criticized the statute for retaining a provision that they contend may allow oil refineries to avoid installing new equipment by using emission reduction credits that have been acquired under the South Coast AQMD RECLAIM program. However, RECLAIM is being phased out by South Coast. NRDC is participating in the phase-out working group in part to ensure that RECLAIM credits are not misused to avoid bringing old refineries up to BARCT.

These are positive developments to address air pollution from both stationary sources, like oil refineries, and mobile sources, like diesel trucks. AB 617 would have been very tough to pass without being linked to the California cap and trade extension bill, AB 398. AB 617 will be signed into law on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, and NRDC will be there to celebrate this victory for air quality and public health.

Seeking Higher Ground: How to Break the Cycle of Repeated Flooding with Climate-Smart Flood Insurance Reforms
Issue Brief

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was designed to help Americans recover from flood disasters, but it can also unintentionally trap homeowners who would prefer to move somewhere safer. Instead of moving out of harm’s way, many policyholders find themselves rebuilding their homes again and again.

In the face of climate change and rising flood risks and damages, the NFIP should provide interested homeowners the option of relocating. This issue brief proposes flood insurance reforms that would make it possible for the owners of repeatedly flooded homes to receive a buyout of their property after a flood, removing the uncertainty that surrounds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s existing buyout efforts.

Olga McKissic of Louisville, Kentucky, has seen her home flood five times. But she's stuck there because the current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is broken. Hear her story and learn about how we can reform the NFIP.

Tell us about your flood experiences

What's At Stake
Climate Change Is Sinking the National Flood Insurance Program
Tens of thousands of American families live in repeatedly flooded properties—and many feel like there’s no way out.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Olga McKissic, Louisville, Kentucky: My house flooded in 1997, in 2006, in 2013, and in 2015. It put our life on pause.

Standing from the front porch, the water came up to here. So, all of this was covered.

Rob Moore, senior policy analyst, NRDC Water program: So, imagine living in a home that's flooded every two to three years and what a hardship that would be on you and your family.

Through the National Flood Insurance Program, we know there are about 30,000 properties that flood repeatedly. On average, these properties have flooded about five times.

Because of climate change and the resulting sea-level rise and increase in flooding on inland waterways that we'll experience in this country, millions of people are going to find themselves in this identical situation.

McKissic: And this is where the water just kept coming. It travels all the way to my home.

Moore: So, we need to make it easier for people to move out of the areas that are the greatest risk of flood.

So, one of the core problems of the National Flood Insurance Program is it's primarily designed to help people rebuild in the same place, in the same vulnerable location. Another shortcoming of the current system is that people have a very limited ability to find out flood history of the property that they live in, or perhaps they're renting, or even purchasing.

So, the end result of these two problems is that it can unintentionally trap homeowners in a situation nobody really wants to be in.

McKissic: I want to make sure you get a very clear picture about the water that came into my home. It was 18 to 20 inches every single time. When I reached this point, the water was all the way up to the third step.

In the family room downstairs, when it flooded, there was carpeting down there, so we took the carpeting up. And we put linoleum down. And then the next time it flooded, we had to take that up, and we put tile down. The last time it flooded, I'm not doing anything. It's concrete, so we just painted the floor.

This is where the water came up. We had to cut out the drywall there. So, we didn't replace the drywall here because we felt like it was a waste of time, a waste of money. Because it's just gonna get flooded again.

Moore: Currently, assistance is available to help people move to a less vulnerable location. But these efforts aren't particularly well-funded. For the people that are interested, it can be years of waiting before they find out if their home is actually going to be purchased. And all that time, they're left wondering: Is my house going to flood again before I'm able to actually move somewhere else?

McKissic: I have mounds and mounds of paper, and I'm still waiting. I am still waiting.

Moore: What NRDC has proposed is to allow people to lock in a guarantee of assistance to relocate in the future. What that means is, is after a flood causes substantial damage to the property, they would immediately get an expedited buyout of their home.

So, instead of having to go through the pain of rebuilding their property and wondering if a buyout might be offered later, they would already have that process underway.

Our proposal would also give the homeowner a right to know the past history of flooding on their property. They'd be much better informed about the potential for flooding in the future.

McKissic: Just three doors down, there's a house that also flooded a lot. Just as many times as my home has flooded. And they were able to kind of maneuver through the system, and now that home has been removed.

When they acquired that home, they knocked it down and turned it into green space. And that's what it should be here—should be just green space.

Moore: So, this is a problem that can't be avoided and can't be ignored. We're going to be spending hundreds of billions of dollars to repeatedly rebuild properties that are inevitably going to be flooded over and over again. And that's just not sustainable.

McKissic: You know that property that we purchased back in 1986 that we thought was such a wonderful, tranquil, lovely place? It's a nightmare to live here with the thought and the anticipation that it is going to flood again.

And I don't want other people to have to go through this.

Tell us about your flood experiences

Urge your governor to lead on climate action

Policy Primer

Climate change is causing more floods and more damage along our coasts and our inland waterways. It’s not only sinking people’s homes, but sinking our country’s disaster response budget.

Personal Action

As floods become more frequent and severe with climate change, protecting your home becomes even more crucial. Here’s how to assess your risk—and make sure you’re prepared for the worst.

Q&A

Ditch-diggers and cement trucks? Try trees and rainwater cisterns. City planners across the country are realizing that green infrastructure is the key to climate resilience.

What's At Stake

The regulations that protect Americans’ health, economy, and environment now need our protection.

onEarth Story

In the Midwest, “rare” floods are becoming the norm. Here’s why it’s high time we improve our flood risk estimates.

Southeast Dispatch

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers including “living shorelines” among its preferred erosion controls, Alabama is already leading the way to healthier coasts.

Southeast Dispatch

A city must decide whether to retreat or stand and fight when rising seas come crashing in.

NRDC in Action

For years, states could ignore global warming when creating their disaster-preparedness plans. Not anymore.

Guide

The lowdown on the earth’s central environmental threat.

onEarth Story

If we really want to protect our children, we’ll need to focus on the actual threats to their health and well-being—like drought, flooding, disease, and war.

What's At Stake

The administration’s assault on our environment and health is unlike any threat we’ve ever faced.

Explainer

Short answer: Yes. Even a seemingly slight average temperature rise is enough to cause a dramatic transformation of our planet.

Trump Moves to Kill Rules for Fracking on Public Lands
NRDC

The Obama-era regulations were focused on protecting water supplies.

A fracking rig in Colorado

iStock

Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officially proposed doing away with rules that would protect water supplies and communities from fracking on federal lands. Specifically, the regulations required oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in their operations; to manage fracking fluids that flow to the surface in an environmentally responsible way; and to properly construct wells to protect surrounding water supplies.

“This administration is sacrificing our public lands and neighboring communities to the oil and gas industry,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at NRDC’s Land & Wildlife program. “While these rules still fall far short of what’s needed to reduce impacts from fracking, they would have provided some much-needed steps to better safeguard drinking water supplies, public health, and the environment.”

The Obama administration finalized the safeguards in 2015, but challenges to the rules have been holding them up in court ever since. 

“The BLM itself has said the previous rules didn’t address the real threats from technologies like fracking—yet now the agency is returning to them,” Mall said. “This is just one more example of where this administration’s loyalties lie: with industry and polluters, not the people.”

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to stop the assault on our national monuments

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