Bio-Lab’s Toxic Record Presages Chlorine-Fueled Fire Following Hurricane Laura

The blaze at Bio-Lab following Hurricane Laura was not the first release of toxic chlorine from the facility, EDGI’s research into available federal data finds.

As Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on the morning of August 27th, a chemical manufacturing facility called Bio-Lab, located in Westlake, caught fire. The facility manufactures chlorine for swimming pools and other cleaning agents. A chlorine leak ignited, setting the facility ablaze. Massive clouds of chlorine gas plumed over Westlake for more than 24 hours, prompting the governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, to implement a shelter-in-place order for residents living in the vicinity.

Change of the Week: Any idea why fighting wildfires is getting harder?

This week’s change was made in June 2017 and features the removal of the only sentences about climate change on the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire webpage. What happened? In the middle of wildfire season, June 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) deleted the only sentence on its “Wildland Fire” webpage that mentioned the reasons that fire seasons have become longer and more intense, “This is due to a variety of factors, including climate change, buildups of flammable vegetation, insect and disease infestations, nonnative species invasions, and increasing numbers of homes and communities in the WUI…”

Practicing Our Right to Know, Together — Review of EEW Congressional Report Card Workshops to Date

Last Thursday 20+ organizers, students, activists and academics gathered for the second of four online workshops to practice our right to know about environmental hazards together by making congressional district report cards on industry compliance with and EPA enforcement of environmental laws. Building on EDGI’s findings that enforcement of environmental laws dropped precipitously under the Trump administration, we are developing report cards for each member of Congress involved in the House and Senate Committees responsible for EPA oversight (the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee). These Environmental Enforcement Watch or “EEW” Report Cards provide members of Congress and their constituents with data on violations of environmental laws, facility inspections, and enforcement actions in their districts since 2001. As the EPA is mandated by Congress to enforce environmental laws, we aim to provide legislators with an informative analysis based on EPA’s own data of compliance with and enforcement of environmental laws in the districts they serve.

Change of the Week: Access Changes to Air Research Tools

This week’s change is from earlier this summer and features a link removal from the EPA’s Air Research homepage. What happened? The main change of interest here is the removal of a link to “Integrated Science Assessments (ISAs)” from EPA’s Air Research website homepage. In addition to that link removal, the previous link text and link to “Models, Tools, and Databases for Air Research” was replaced with the “SMaRT Search online inventory of models, tools, and databases.” The previous models, tools, and databases URL now redirects to the SMaRT Search online inventory URL.

EDGI is hiring! Communications Coordinator — Part-Time

The Communications Coordinator will develop and implement the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative’s (EDGI’s) communications strategy, with a specific focus to ensure that EDGI’s work reaches audiences with which it will have the greatest impact. We will begin considering applications on August 31st, with an anticipated start date of September 28th. Shortlisted candidates will be asked for contact information for three references. Interviews will be held in early September. The position will remain open until filled.

More Permission to Pollute: The Decline of EPA Enforcement and Industry Compliance during COVID

On March 26, 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a policy memo suspending pollution monitoring requirements for industries that claim to have been impacted by COVID-19. Since then, as part of EDGI’s ongoing Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW) project, we have conducted original data science research using EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online ECHO database to investigate the effects of this policy on facility reporting of environmental data and compliance with environmental protection laws.

Results show that although few facilities have claimed the COVID exemption, a significant proportion of facilities are still failing to report. This reflects longer-term trends in and issues with both industry non-compliance and EPA non-enforcement. We cannot afford a return to “normal”. Non-compliance with the nations environmental protection laws is already rampant – as high as 70% of facilities under some regulatory programs.

Financial Transparency is Dwindling at DOI

There has been a significant reduction in the financial transparency of the Department of the Interior (DOI). Between April and May 2020, DOI removed the budget justifications for all years prior to FY2020 that had been hosted on its website. The URLs for those budget justifications now register as “Page Not Found.” Additionally, budget request highlights (called “Budget in Briefs”) and budget process testimonies have also been removed and now register as either “Access Denied” or “Page Not Found.” Through these removals, DOI has significantly impaired public understanding of the financial trajectory of the Department, and impeded public and Congressional oversight.

Joe Biden’s Clean Energy Plan Speech — Annotated

In this annotation, the Environmental History Action Collaborative — a group of environmental historians and scholars – furnishes context and provides fact checking to allow for a more critical assessment of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s July 14, 2020 speech on his plans for addressing environmental justice, economic growth, and climate change. Historians contributing to these annotations include Scout Blum, Finis Dunaway, Jason Heppler, Emily Pawley, Keith Pluymers, Ryan Driskell Tate, Jay Turner, and Conevery Bolton Valencius.