Earth Matters: The Earth Matters. But does it? And to whom?


I was in a meeting this week and one of the participants commented that he hopes we take this time in which we are living so differently to question and consider how we want to live going forward. I’ve heard a similar sentiment from others, but how widespread is the desire to take advantage of our current situation to make changes?
On May 10, the New York Times published their report on 98 rules the current administration has revoked or rolled back or is in the process of doing.

It covers seven areas: air pollution and emissions; drilling and extraction; infrastructure and planning; animals; water pollution; toxic substances and safety; and other. Just reading the categories was devastating. The details are terrifying.
For example, fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks have been weakened. The transportation sector is among the top sources for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Living on Long Island this is no surprise. Typically, these standards aim to increase the average fuel economy of passenger cars and light trucks. Cars getting more miles per gallon release less carbon emissions over their lifetime.

According to the state Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law holding mileage standards at present levels will increase greenhouse-gas emissions by 16 to 37 million metric tons, the equivalent of an additional 3.4 million to 7.8 million cars on the road.
California can no longer set its own tailpipe emissions standards if they’re going to exceed federal standards.

These emissions standards regulate the maximum amount of pollutants allowed in exhaust gases discharged from diesel engines. These emissions impact air quality and contribute to adverse health conditions and climate change.

They have been adopted by many states including New York. The rollback of these rules in California alone is the equivalent of putting 9 million vehicles on the road.
Oil and gas companies no longer need to report methane emissions. People breathing in methane emissions can experience headaches and dizziness, nausea and vomiting, weakness, loss of coordination and trouble breathing. But now you may have no idea you’re being exposed to such a threat. The news is similar for toxic emissions from major industrial polluters who now have looser limits on releases.
Agencies no longer need to provide the data to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They can act in complete ignorance of the climate change impact of their decisions.

This includes ignoring projected sea-level rise along Long Island’s coast of between eight and 30 inches caused by warming oceans resulting from an increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Drilling is now allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Say good-bye to the polar bears and caribou that call the fragile coastal plain home. Say hello to the equivalent of approximately a million more cars on the road annually in released carbon dioxide.

Don’t expect to be able to have grilled fish or seafood in future summers as the gas and oil exploration industry can now use seismic air guns that kill marine life and disrupt fisheries. Consider research showing seismic air guns impact the immune systems of lobster and increase mortality rates of scallops.

Other studies show the resulting noise pollution negatively impacts 20 species of commercially valuable fish among as well as other marine species like whales and dolphins.
Say goodbye to wildlife threatened by climate change as the Endangered Species Act will no longer protect threatened species not already declared endangered and curtails the designation of critical habitats.
Be extra careful where you swim as pollution protections for certain tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act have been scaled back. And coal companies can dump mining debris into local streams.
If you have breathing issues, they might get worse. A rule to reduce pollutants including air pollution at sewage treatment plants has been withdrawn.
Hopefully you’ve been to the Grand Canyon already because 1,500 acres just outside it are now open to nuclear production.
Watch your children closely if you’re around golf courses, turf, or utility poles. A ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos was rejected. This pesticide is used on golf courses, turf and to treat utility poles in addition to agricultural applications. Chlorpyrifos has been linked to developmental disabilities in children.
Live near an electronics manufacturer? Copper filter cake, a byproduct of electronics manufacturing made of heavy metals, is no longer a hazardous waste requiring proper disposal. Heavy metals are highly toxic and present significant public health risks if not managed carefully.
You should be even more worried if you live near a chemical plant as the requirements to improve safety at facilities using hazardous chemicals were mostly rolled back. The rollbacks include a reduction of measures to prevent accidents like explosions.
Don’t expect to experience the full glory of any of our national parks after reversal of restrictions on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks that successfully reduced plastic pollution in the parks.
Some people may see an opportunity for individual and community change while we respect stay at home orders. Let’s make it change for the better; for the better of all of us; for the better of the entire economy; and for the better of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the earth we walk upon.

In my next column I’ll offer suggestions and ways to challenge the negative actions outlined above.


  1. Spot on!! A cogent description of the serious challenges we face. Unfortunately, there are still many who do not understand that what we do the Earth, we are doing to ourselves. Kudos!


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