On the eve of the founding of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), smog choked US cities, rivers were overflowing with noxious chemicals, hazardous waste crept into the water supply and pesticide use was unchecked.
Now, a half-century after then-President Richard Nixon signed an executive order creating the agency, environmental analysts celebrate its impressive track record — but also recognise significant failures, particularly on climate justice.
Since 1970, air quality has improved as conventional pollutants have decreased significantly — despite the economy, population and overall energy consumption growing substantially.
The US population has grown 60 percent since Nixon held office, the economy is more than four times larger, and Americans use 44 percent more energy. Yet aggregate emissions from six common pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide have dropped 73 percent as of 2016.
“In some areas, like air pollution, the environment is a lot cleaner than it was 50 years ago, and that is certainly a success,” said James Broughel, senior research fellow with the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
“But even in this case, where the levels of many pollutants are dramatically lower now than they were in the past, it is difficult to know how much of the success is due to EPA, and how much would have happened anyway,” Broughel told Al Jazeera, noting that technological innovations have likely been doing “a lot of the heavy lifting here”.
Regardless of scepticism about the impact of regulation, environmental advocates and climate activists are looking ahead to a more EPA-friendly administration with President-elect Joe Biden preparing to take office in January.
Biden has pledged to aggressively jettison many of the regulatory rollbacks of President Donald Trump’s administration, and be less accommodating to big business.
‘Could have made progress’
EPA proponents and those who say that improvements in US environmental quality could not have happened without the agency’s regulatory action have plenty of progress points to buttress their position.
Lead has disappeared from petrol. Municipalities across the country have made huge strides in treating wastewater and drinking water. Pesticides like DDT have been banned and billions of dollars have been spent — mostly by private corporations— to scrub toxic industrial sites.
“No responsible observer would argue that the job is finished. But these accomplishments are worth celebrating,” said Stan Meiburg, who began working at the EPA in 1977 and was acting deputy administrator from 2014 to 2017.
However, he told Al Jazeera, the EPA lost valuable time under Trump, who has weakened power plant emissions rules from the era of President Barack Obama – as well as fuel economy standards, wetlands conservation and mercury emissions caps.
“The most disappointing aspects of the last four years are the lost opportunities from looking backwards rather than moving forward,” said Meiburg, who serves as director of graduate programmes in sustainability at Wake Forest University.
The most disappointing aspects of the last four years are the lost opportunities.
Stan Meiburg, former EPA acting deputy administrator
“We could have made progress in addressing climate change, together with the private sector, and ameliorating the transition impacts on communities that grew up around fossil fuels.”
Meiburg believes that the public will need time to regain confidence in the EPA after four years of an administration that neglected scientific consensus in favour of policy objectives embraced by the business community.
The EPA requires buy-in from companies and consumers, in order to buttress its political mandate and optimise public health.
This need is particularly relevant for the next term on Biden’s watch, when the new president’s climate policies are expected to diverge massively from those of the prior administration.
While some sustainability experts are pessimistic about the grave challenges in the pipeline, many with experience at the EPA — including Meiburg — are guardedly optimistic that Biden can turn the ship around.
EPA has been on a starvation diet for a decade.
Stan Meiburg, former EPA acting deputy administrator
Meiburg says that a major part of the task at hand is effectively communicating the benefits of imposing certain costs on economic activity, especially at a time when the EPA’s expenditures are not even 0.2 percent of the US federal government’s budget.
Both Democrats and Republicans stepped in to prevent Trump from cutting the EPA’s resources by one-third. But the status quo is hardly rich for the cash-strapped body — especially when viewed in comparison to the US defence budget, which is almost 100 times larger. For the 2021 fiscal year, which began on October 1, the EPA’s budget is $6.658bn.
“EPA has been on a starvation diet for a decade,” Meiburg said. “A very modest increase could help EPA immensely.”
‘All the levers of government’
Unsurprisingly, most environmentalists are eager to see a friendly face in the Oval Office who does not put corporate polluters above public health. Biden has choreographed his plans for the EPA, as well as funding priorities for the Departments of the Interior and Transportation, with what is termed a whole-of-government approach.
Antha Williams, global head of climate and environment at Bloomberg Philanthropies, says that change cannot come soon enough to reverse Trump’s “abysmal” environmental legacy.
“It really has been the fox guarding the henhouse: putting a former coal industry lobbyist as head of the EPA defies common sense and the EPA mission,” she said, referring to Andrew Wheeler’s stewardship of the agency under Trump.
Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board since 2007, is a leading contender to head up the EPA next. Having been a key figure in the state’s environmental feud with Trump, she has a background starkly different from that of Wheeler.
Under Biden, the EPA will focus much more heavily on climate, Williams told Al Jazeera.
“He’s quite vocal about using all the levers of government to tackle the climate crisis,” she added. “There’s a ton you can do at EPA, because climate pollution also causes conventional pollution.”
From limiting methane leakage in oil and gas drilling to building efficiency and factory emissions, the agency is expected to play an outsized role. Meanwhile, Trump’s tab is still being tallied.
“Half of the policies that he tried to put in place undermining environmental protection are being litigated in courts,” Williams said, adding that many of the last-minute efforts by Trump — such as opening up Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to loggers — follow the logic of “trying to jam it in as fast as they can”.
Broughel, at the Mercatus Center, sees Biden taking up the mantle by aggressively issuing environmental regulations, especially on climate.
“EPA will continue to be well-resourced and will continue to have a lot of authority to issue expensive regulations,” he said, referring to the difficulty of balancing people and profits.
The agency will also have to “find new ways to justify its existence”, Broughel added, noting “It just so happens that regulators are also very clever about finding new things to regulate. After all, that’s what regulators do.”
People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine, at Toronto City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 15 May 2021.
between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters in Montreal was condemned by
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
city police force intervened and declared the protests illegal after tensions
heightened and clashes broke out.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of clashes.
– Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday condemned the violence and
“despicable rhetoric” that marked several weekend protests throughout
the country, after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in
worst violence in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, is raging between the
Jewish state and Islamist militants.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of deadly clashes.
after protests in Montreal, Trudeau condemned what he said was “despicable
rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend”.
Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind. We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.
insisting on the “right to assemble peacefully and express themselves
freely in Canada”, Trudeau stressed in a tweet that there was no tolerance
for “antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind”.
on Sunday, Montreal police used tear gas following clashes between pro-Israel
and pro-Palestinian protesters.
hundred demonstrators, draped in Israeli flags, had gathered in a central
Montreal square to express solidarity with the Jewish state.
‘Protesting is a right’
the protest started peacefully, tensions ratcheted up with the arrival of
pro-Palestinian demonstrators and clashes soon broke out.
SPVM, Montreal’s city police force, declared the protests illegal, and squads
of riot police intervened, using tear gas to separate and disperse the two
groups, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
police spent much of the afternoon in pursuit of the pro-Palestinian
protesters, who spread out and regrouped in commercial streets in the city centre.
the clashes, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said on Twitter that
“protesting is a right”, but that “intolerance, violence and
anti-Semitism have no place here”.
Montreal is a city of peace.
thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered on Saturday in central
Montreal to denounce what they said were Israeli repression and “war
crimes” in Gaza.
Israel”, some protesters chanted, while others held up a banner that read,
“Stop the genocide of Palestinian children”.
protests happened the same day in multiple Canadian cities, including Toronto,
Ottawa and Vancouver.
“A new app is offering you the chance to do just that.”
When writer Brandon Wong recently couldn’t decide what takeaway to order one evening, he asked his followers on social media app NewNew to choose for him. Those that wanted to get involved in the 24-year-old’s dinner dilemma paid $5 (£3.50) to vote in a poll, and the majority verdict was that he should go for Korean food, so that was what he bought…
NewNew is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Courtne Smith. The app, which is still in its “beta” or pre-full release stage, describes itself as “a human stock market where you buy shares in the lives of real people, in order to control their decisions and watch the outcome”. For many of us that sounds a bit ominous, but the reality is actually far less alarming. It is aimed at what it calls “creators” — writers, painters, musicians, fashion designers, bloggers etc. It is designed as a way for them to connect far more closely with their fans or followers than on other social media services and, importantly, monetise that connection…
Whenever a vote is cast the creator gets the money minus NewNew’s undisclosed commission… In addition to voting, followers can also pay extra — from $20 — to ask a NewNew creator to do something of their choosing, such as naming a character in a book after them. But the creator can reject all of these “bids”, and if they do so then the follower doesn’t have to part with the money…
Co-founder and chief executive Ms Smith, a 33-year-old Canadian, has big plans for NewNew, and has some heavyweight backers. Investors include Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and the first outside person to put money into Facebook. Others with a stake in the business include leading US tech investment fund Andreessen Horowitz, and Hollywood actor Will Smith (no relation to Courtne). Snapchat has also given technical support.
Saker was Australia’s bowling coach when Bancroft was caught trying to rough up the ball with sandpaper during the third Test against South Africa.
While refusing to be drawn on who knew what, Saker said “the finger-pointing is going to go on and on and on”.
“It’s like the underarm, it’s never going to go away,” he told Fairfax Media, referring to a 1981 incident when Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to ensure New Zealand lost a one-day match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The notorious delivery is still cited in New Zealand and in cricketing circles as a prime example of unsporting conduct.
However, the ball-tampering scandal – dubbed “sandpapergate” – had a greater impact on Australian cricket, with the then-captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner suspended for a year from all cricket and stripped of their leadership roles.
Darren Lehmann also quit as coach and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review blasted their “arrogant and controlling” win-at-all-costs culture.
No one else among the team or coaching staff was held to account but Bancroft’s remarks in an interview with The Guardian newspaper hinted that the team’s bowlers at least knew about the plan.
“Obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” he said.
Saker added: “There was a lot of people to blame. It could have been me to blame, it could have been someone else. It could have been stopped and it wasn’t, which is unfortunate.
“Cameron’s a very nice guy. He’s just doing it to get something off his chest … He’s not going to be the last.”
In response, Cricket Australia said that if anyone had new information, they would look into it.
Saker said he was not opposed to a fresh investigation but added “I just don’t know what they’re going to find out.”
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Washington – Miss Mexico was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday in Florida, after fellow contestant Miss Myanmar used her stage time to draw attention to the bloody military coup in her country.
Sunday night marked the Miss Universe competition’s return to television, after the pageant was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Meza, 26, finished first ahead of the Brazilian and Peruvian finalists in a flashy televised event, hosted by American actor Mario Lopez and television personality Olivia Culpo.
Former Miss Universe contestants Cheslie Kryst, Paulina Vega and Demi-Leigh Tebow (who won the title in 2017) served as competition analysts and commentators, and a panel of eight women determined the winner.
Dressed in a sparkling red evening gown, Meza tearfully walked the catwalk as Miss Universe for the first time, before rushing back for a group hug with the other competitors.
Meza beat more than 70 contestants from around the globe in the 69th installment of Miss Universe, which was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
In the days leading up to the final competition, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, who made the top 21, made waves when she used her time in the spotlight to bring attention to the coup in her country.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said during her biographical video, which showed photos of her taking part in the anti-coup protests. “Therefore I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar.”
She also won the award for best national costume: during that competition segment on Thursday, she wore an outfit beaded in traditional Burmese patterns and held up a sign that said, “Pray for Myanmar.”
Myanmar has been in uproar since February 1, when the army ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 796 people have been killed by security forces since then, according to a local monitoring group, while nearly 4 000 people are behind bars.
Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong – who did not make the top 21 – also used the national costume portion to make a political statement.
Dressed in a glittering red bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, she turned around to reveal her cape – in the colours of the Singaporean flag – was painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate.”
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” she wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her outfit.
The United States in particular has seen a surge in anti-Asian violence in the past year, which activists have blamed on former president Donald Trump’s rhetoric, especially his repeated description of Covid-19 as the “China virus.”
The pageant has also drawn criticism in the past for objectifying the contestants.
In recent years, the competition has shifted image, focusing more on female empowerment and activism.