Mercury, Michigan and Majesty
Climate, Health and Equity Brief

Mercury, Michigan and Majesty

Photo Credit: @parasirishi/Twitter

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: Just dirty. While the entire world slows to a crawl and strains under the weight of a deadly respiratory pandemic, the Trump Administration continues to undermine the health of the air we breathe. This week, the administration weakened the mercury rule—a 2005 regulation designed to protect us from toxins emitted by oil and coal-fired plants—and refused to impose tighter restrictions on soot pollution.

Weakening the mercury rule has major implications for human health. Mercury is a neurotoxin that, among other risks, has been proven to cause brain cancer in babies.  Prior to the adoption of the rule in 2005, U.S. coal plant emissions were responsible for 70 percent of the mercury pollution in our waterways—and our fish. Since its adoption, the mercury in our air has dropped by 90 percent. The decision to roll back the rule is nothing short of a gift to polluters at the expense of human lives.

On the flipside, as much of the world remains in lockdown, we are starting to see what the future could look like if we phase out fossil fuels. Skies in big cities are crystal clear. Waterways normally choked with industrial pollution are showing renewed signs of life. And the residents of Punjab, India can see the majestic Himalayan mountain range from their homes for the first time. We will have choices about how we recover from this pandemic and define our new normal—and our choices at the ballot box will be chief among them.

Matt & Traci, GMMB

The Trump Administration’s EPA weakened regulations on the release of mercury and refused to impose tighter restrictions on course particle pollution despite scientific evidence that links these emissions with brain damage and fatal respiratory diseases. (The New York Times, The Guardian)

Highly polluted U.S. cities continue to be among the worst-hit by COVID-19, including Detroit, Michigan, where residents are exposed to significant levels of soot pollution, and the COVID death rate is 250 percent higher than the statewide average. (The Guardian)

Recent images from India show dramatic improvements in air quality as the country remains under COVID-19 lockdown, giving citizens relief from hazardous levels of pollution that have become a norm across the country. (The Washington Post, The New Yorker)

A new study found that smoke exposure from California wildfires between 2015 and 2017 increased cardiac arrests among residents of fire-affected areas by as much as 70 percent on days with heavy smoke. (The San Francisco Chronicle)

A poorly managed coal plant demolition in Southwest Chicago covered the surrounding community in toxic dust, increasing the vulnerability of the mostly Latinx residents to numerous health risks, including COVID-19. (Gizmodo)

Politics & Economy
House Democrats are appealing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a moratorium on natural gas pipeline projects during the coronavirus pandemic to protect public health and the environment. (The Hill)

The Trump Administration approved a proposal to expand fracking on federal lands in Colorado, hampering the state’s climate action plan to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. (EcoWatch)

Recent poll data found that climate change has the most significant partisan divide of all global threats, with a 57 percentage point difference between the shares of Democrats (88%) and Republicans (31%) calling climate change a major threat. (Pew Research Center)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed new legislation requiring nearly all coal plants in the state to shut down by 2024 and mandating local utilities to go carbon-free by 2050. (The Washington Post)

Climate, Health & Equity Brief subscribers are invited to join Unpacking COVID-19 and the Connections Between Ecosystem, Animal, and Human Health and Security, a conference call hosted by The Wilson Center on April 20 at 2pm ET.

“The linkage between personal behavior and what I will breathe is far clearer now than it has been in the past.

–    Ajay Mathur, member of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council on climate change