Connect with us

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The government shutdown has suspended federal cleanups at Superfund sites around the nation and forced the cancellation of public hearings, deepening the mistrust and resentment of surrounding residents who feel people in power long ago abandoned them to live among the toxic residue of the country’s factories and mines.

“We are already hurting, and it’s just adding more fuel to the fire,” says 40-year-old Keisha Brown, whose wood-frame home is in a community nestled among coking plants and other factories on Birmingham’s north side.

The mostly African-American community has been forced to cope with high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in the soil that the Environmental Protection Agency has been scraping up and carting away, house by house.

As President Donald Trump and Congress battle over Trump’s demand for a wall on the southern U.S. border, the nearly 3-week-old partial government shutdown has stopped federal work on Superfund sites except for cases where the administration deems “there is an imminent threat to the safety of human life or to the protection of property.”

EPA’s shutdown plans said the agency would evaluate about 800 Superfund sites to see how many could pose an immediate threat. As an example of that kind of threat, it cited an acid leak from a mine that could threaten the public water supply. That’s the hazard at Northern California’s Iron Mountain mine, where EPA workers help prevent an unending flow of lethally acidic runoff off the Superfund site from spilling into rivers downstream.

Practically speaking, said Bonnie Bellow, a former EPA official who worked on Superfund public outreach at the agency, the impact of the stoppage of work at sites across the nation “wholly depends” on the length of the shutdown.

“Unless there is immediate risk like a storm, a flood, a week or two of slowdowns is not going to very likely affect the cleanup at the site,” Bellow said.

In north Birmingham, Brown said it’s been a couple of weeks since she’s spotted any EPA crews at people’s houses. It wasn’t clear if state workers or contractors were continuing work.

But long before the shutdown began, Brown harbored doubts the cleanup was working anyway. “My main concern is the health of the people out here,” said Brown, who has asthma. “All of us are sick, and we’ve got to function on medicine every day.”

In terms of time, the federal government shutdown is a chronological blip in the long history of the site — which includes ethics charges in a local bribery scandal to block federal cleanup efforts — but adds to the uncertainty in an area where residents feel forgotten and betrayed.

At the EPA, the shutdown has furloughed the bulk of the agency’s roughly 14,000 employees. It also means the EPA isn’t getting most of the daily stream of environmental questions and tips from the public. Routine inspections aren’t happening. State, local and private emails to EPA officials often get automated messages back promising a response when the shutdown ends.

In Montana, for instance, state officials this month found themselves fielding calls from a tribal member worried about drinking water with a funny look to it, said Kristi Ponozzo, public-policy director at that state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The EPA normally provides tribes with technical assistance on water supplies.

With most EPA colleagues idled, Ponozzo said, her agency also had to call off an environmental review meeting for a mining project, potentially delaying the project.

But it’s the agency’s work at Superfund sites — lessening the threat from old nuclear-weapons plants, chemical factories, mines and other entities — that gets much of the attention.

Absent imminent peril, it would be up to state governments or contractors to continue any cleanup during the shutdown “up to the point that additional EPA direction or funding is needed,” the EPA said in a statement.

“Sites where cleanup activities have been stopped or shut down will be secured until cleanup activities are able to commence when the federal government reopens,” the agency said.

For federal Superfund sites in Michigan, the shutdown means there are no EPA colleagues to consult, said Scott Dean, a spokesman for that state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

At Michigan Superfund sites, day-to-day field operations were continuing since private contractors do most of the on-the-ground work, Dean said.

Bellow, the former EPA official, said the cancellation of hearings about Superfund sites posed immediate concerns.

In East Chicago, Indiana, for example, the EPA called off a planned public hearing set for last Wednesday to outline how the agency planned to clean up high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.

The EPA has proposed a seven-month, $26.5 million cleanup that includes treating and removing tainted soil from the area, where a lead smelter previously was located.

During a public meeting Nov. 29, some residents complained that the EPA’s approach would leave too much pollution in place. But others didn’t get a chance to speak and were hoping to do so at the meeting this week, said Debbie Chizewer, a Northwestern University environmental attorney who represents community groups in the low-income area.

The EPA announced the cancellation in an online notice and gave no indication that it would be rescheduled.

Leaders of the East Chicago Calumet Community Advisory Group asked for a new hearing date and an extension of a Jan. 14 public comment deadline in a letter to the EPA’s regional Superfund division.

Calls by The Associated Press to the agency’s regional office in Chicago this week were not answered.

Local critics fear the EPA will use the delay caused by the shutdown as justification for pushing ahead with a cleanup strategy they consider flawed, Chizewer said, even though the agency has designated the affected area as an “environmental justice community” — a low-income community of color that has been disproportionately harmed by pollution.

The EPA has a “special obligation” when dealing with such communities, Chizewer said. “This would be an example of shutting them out for no good reason.”

In North Birmingham, former longtime neighborhood resident Charlie Powell said most of the people living in and around the Superfund site had already “just got tired and fed up.”

Powell left the area but started a group called PANIC, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination. He believes money would be better spent helping residents move away from the pollution.

“Can I say hell?” Powell said when asked what residents have been through.

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics

Brexit news: Will Queen be forced to SUSPEND Parliament?

Published

on

HARD Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested Theresa May could prevent an extension to Article 50 and a delay to Brexit by shutting down Parliament early.

Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

Hakeem Jeffries defends calling Trump ‘Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’

Published

on

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Allan Smith

New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is standing by remarks he made Monday in which he called President Donald Trump “the Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In an interview Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day,” the House Democratic Caucus chairman said he had no regrets about the comment, which he made at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in New York City.

“We’ve got to have an opportunity for at least one day a year to have a candid if sometimes uncomfortable conversation about race,” Jeffries told CNN. “It seems to me that we can’t have that conversation on Valentine’s Day, we can’t have that conversation on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s perhaps appropriate for us to be able to have that difficult discussion on MLK Day, when we’re celebrating the life and legacy of a champion for racial and social justice.”

Monday was not the first time Jeffries labeled Trump as such. But he told CNN that he “absolutely” does not think Trump is a Ku Klux Klan member. “Grand Wizard” is the title that was given to leaders of the white supremacist group.

“I did not use the words racist in any of my comments,” Jeffries said. “In fact, Wolf Blitzer in the past has asked me whether I believe the president is a racist, and I’ve consistently said no. I did use a colorful phrase, but of course I don’t believe that the president is a card-carrying member of the KKK. But it did capture a troubling pattern of racially insensitive and outrageous, at times, behavior that spans not months, not years, but decades.”

As examples, Jeffries cited a Justice Department lawsuit against the Trumps in the 1970s for alleged housing discrimination, the president’s remarks about the so-called Central Park Five, Trump’s promotion of the false conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and the president’s handling of the fatal violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

Jeffries wasn’t the only Democratic leader to attack Trump’s racial record over the Monday holiday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in South Carolina: “It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist.”

In response, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted that Sanders’ remark was “disgusting and wrong.”

@realDonaldTrump has brought African American and Hispanic unemployment to record lows, passed historic criminal justice reform. Even worse that Bernie is using MLK Day to make an incendiary comment like that,” McDaniel wrote.



Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

Brexit latest: 'Mayhem' as Remainer MPs plot to halt UK leaving the EU

Published

on

BREXITEERS warned of “mayhem” yesterday as plotting Remainers unleashed plans to sabotage Brexit by seizing power from the Government.

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending