Climate, Health and Equity Brief
EPA shackled, methane up, “donor” nations exposed
July 1, 2022
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: A blow to the EPA. The U.S. Supreme Court delivered one of the most consequential environmental rulings in recent history this week. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court sharply restricted the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate planet-warming emissions from existing power plants. The case, West Virginia v. EPA, presented the high court’s nine justices with a major question: whether the nation’s 50-year-old Clean Air Act permits the EPA to issue sweeping regulations, or if Congress must explicitly authorize such decision-making.
In its ruling, the conservative majority invoked the “major questions doctrine”—which holds that federal agencies must be authorized by Congress to act on matters of great “economic and political significance.” In doing so, they argued that regulating power plant carbon emissions is an overstep for the EPA, and that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it did not intend to give the agency such broad authority. Of course, the climate crisis was not a focus of the scientific community until a decade later.
The elevation of the major questions doctrine has considerable implications for future environmental rulings. In October, the Court is set to hear a suite of similar cases on everything from regulating tailpipe emissions to evaluating climate risks when approving infrastructure projects. Thursday’s ruling paves the way for the Court’s conservative majority to potentially dismantle additional regulations for which Congress has not given explicit authority—a scary proposition should conservatives, many of whom deny or downplay the impact of the climate crisis, control the House, Senate or both.
The Court’s decision comes at a time when urgent U.S. action is needed to stave off the worst consequences of the global climate crisis. Already, planetary temperatures have risen by an average of 1.1°C, and unabated emissions could push the world past the 1.5°C—the threshold at which climate impacts will dramatically increase—likely in the early 2030’s, according to the IPCC, and potentially within as soon as five years, according to the UN.
In addition to hampering global climate goals, curtailed regulations on power plant emissions will sustain the air pollution that increases the risk and severity of asthma, lung cancer and other cardiovascular diseases, particularly among children, senior citizens, and within the low-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately live in industrial neighborhoods.
Despite the setback—the Court’s ruling will inevitably have on U.S. climate progress, the EPA still retains its regulatory authority in many areas, including over motor vehicles, which are the largest source of American emissions. President Biden is already mobilizing his legal team to coordinate with various federal agencies on other ways to combat air pollution and climate change. And state, city and private sector leaders have ample opportunity to spearhead climate action, as many are already doing. These factors provide a much-needed source of hope—something we all need to keep alive, even during what may feel like the darkest of days.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
A comprehensive review of more than 40 peer-reviewed studies underscores how climate impacts are increasing a range of health problems in children, including low birth weight, pre-term birth, infant hyperthermia, kidney disease, heat stress, asthma, and cognitive and mental health disorders. (Medical News Today)
The tick population in upstate New York is booming due to higher temperatures that have helped expand their turf, fueling an increase in tick-borne diseases among humans, including Lyme disease and at least eight other serious ailments. (The New York Times)
A new PloS One longitudinal study of 50,000 rural villagers in Iran found that exposure to air pollution was an independent predictor of death risk, with proximity to traffic and exposure to fine particulate matter and wood and kerosene-burning stoves among the key factors contributing to a 20% increase in death rates among participants. (The Hill)
In a “devastating and traumatic” finding, marine scientists in New Zealand have shared shocking images of millions of once-vibrant sea sponges bleached white due to warming waters in what is now considered the worst mass-bleaching event of its type ever recorded. (CNN)
“The court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”
– Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan
A recent study found that natural disasters impacted more than 14.5 million U.S. homes in 2021 alone, resulting in nearly $60 billion in property damage, exacerbating economic and social disparities and intensifying America’s affordable housing crisis. (Earth.org)
A new report found that wealthy G7 nations have been grossly overreporting their climate funding to poorer countries, with nearly half of the $220 billion in climate financing reported to the UN from 2011-2018 siphoned from existing development aid budgets, and only 2% representing truly new climate funding. (Forbes)
Politics & Economy
On Thursday, the Supreme Court sharply limited the power of the EPA to restrict carbon pollution, relegating that authority to Congress—a decision that could have devastating impacts on the ability of the U.S. and the world to meet critical climate goals. (The Los Angeles Times)
A new report found that global methane emissions are sharply increasing despite a pledge by 110 countries to slash such emissions by 30% by 3030, a “worrisome” finding that scientists attribute partly to leaky equipment and a rebound in oil, gas and coal production. (The Washington Post)
The 27 countries that comprise the European Union have passed a landmark ban on the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035 and established a multi-billion-euro fund to help protect citizens from the future costs of climate change. (Al Jazeera)
Leaders from 21 nations met this week to address the “ocean emergency,” with several governments and funders announcing new commitments and the nations set to issue a declaration to address the plastic pollution, overfishing, imperiled ecosystems and biodiversity loss that threaten global seas. (The Washington Post)
In the face of the war on Ukraine, the G7 countries granted themselves a host of exceptions to their climate goals this week, including continuing support for fossil fuel investments in some cases and dropping a commitment to make half of all vehicles zero-emission by 2030. (Reuters)
Life as We Know It
A new study shows that accurate climate reporting has a positive influence on people’s understanding of the climate crisis, but the effects are fleeting and can easily be disrupted by inaccurate articles and social posts that downplay its severity and impact. (NPR)
Winemakers are sounding the alarm that climate change is altering the taste and quality of wine as oppressive temperatures and wildfires increasingly rob many varietals of their defining flavors and spoil some vintages entirely. (The Atlantic)
More than 60 of the largest U.S. health sector companies—representing 650 US. hospitals and health care providers—have joined the Biden administration’s Health Sector Climate Pledge to cut health industry emissions in half by 2030. (The Washington Post)
Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, now is the time to get involved and take action. Consider volunteering with the Environmental Voter Project to help make a difference in key races.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team— Elke Cortes and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.