A local company that once helped the West Virginia town of Minden thrive had for for decades dumped untold amounts of industrial chemicals nearby. Years after that coal-equipment manufacturer shuttered and the rest of the local coal economy fell into decline, those toxic chemicals remained.
Now the federal government is saying it will make cleaning up Minden a priority. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency finally added a site in the tiny town of 250 people to its national priority list for contaminated Superfund sites. The government says it prioritize cleaning up a former manufacturing site for Shaffer Equipment Co. and nearby areas around Arbuckle Creek, where the company used polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which had been added to oil used by electrical equipment until 1984.
For years, Minden residents said they were being overlooked by federal authorities, even as many of them were diagnosed with an alarming number of cancers and other health issues. Local activists told The Post's Brady Dennis for a profile he wrote of the community they found about a third of Minden residents have died of or been diagnosed with cancer in recent years.
They suspected the cause was PCBs. Yet testing by state and federal officials was not able to definitively establish that link. Still, residents pressed their case with the Trump administration, which proposed last September to add the Minden site to the Superfund list.
West Virginia politicians praised the move on Monday, which open remediation of the site up to an injection of new federal funding through the Superfund program. “This is such an important day because the great people of Minden have been hurting for too long and they’ve been waiting on this level of help for decades,” Gov. Jim Justice (R) said.
So too did local leaders, such as Ayne Amjad, a doctor who helped research the health problems and spent years trying to raise the profile of the town. “So to get so much national support and to see it come to this is such a great feeling,” she said Monday, adding that activists will turn now to relocation efforts for Minden residents living near the toxic site.
In a sign of how intractable some pollutants are, though, the EPA has already undertaken several rounds of cleanups in Minden since 1984, removing dozens of PCB-laced drums buried underground and hauling away nearly 5,000 tons of soil.
The listing is a small part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to revitalize the nearly 40-year-old Superfund program, designed to clean up more than 1,300 hazardous sites across the country. Compelling companies to pay up for cleanup efforts has proved to be one of the few issues on which the EPA has been willing to side with environmental groups during the Trump administration.
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— A Green New Deal rally in Washington: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) headlined a rally Monday at Howard University, continuing to call for a Green New Deal after a recent legislative defeat in the Senate. The event, organized by youth climate activist group Sunrise Movement, was the last stop on the group’s “Road to the Green New Deal tour,” which aimed to tout the proposal, even after it failed in a March vote in the Senate.
Next steps: The Sunrise Movement laid out its plans for the next several months, which include giving 2020 candidates until the end of July to sign a no-fossil-fuel-money pledge and to promise to make the Green New Deal a "Day 1" priority in the White House.
No "middle ground": Audience members booed several times at mentions of finding a "middle ground" on climate change, a reference to a recent Reuters article that describes former vice president Joe Biden's yet-to-be-released position on climate change.
Meanwhile in New Hampshire: Biden tried to hammer home to Democratic voters in the early-primary state that he is serious about climate change. “I said, we have an existential threat, we are in a situation where, if we don’t act quickly, we’re going to basically lose almost everything we have," he said, according to The New York Times.
— Why did the president tweet about an obscure House bill? Last week, Trump tweeted to express opposition to House Resolution 312, which would grant a Massachusetts Indian tribe control of 321 acres of land for a casino. He wrote on Twitter it was “unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!” But the tribe’s site is about 18 miles from Rhode Island, where state politicians "aren’t keen to have a new competitor go up against their two casinos, both of which are run by Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a public company with strong Trump ties," The Post’s Marc Fisher reports.
Flashback to 1993: The president has a long history of criticizing casinos built Native Americans as fraudulent. More than two decades ago, Trump the casino owner urged a House committee to assess whether tribe members operating the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut were really Native Americans. “They don’t look like Indians to me,” Trump said back then.
— The latest on the impasse over disaster funding: The Senate is looking to vote on a much-anticipated but not-yet-finalized disaster-aid package next week, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hoped to approve a deal ahead of the Memorial Day recess, Politico reports.
McConnell called on lawmakers in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to “identify our common ground and produce an outcome for the American people” on the measure meant to provide aid for communities recovering from natural disasters. “Next week is the week before a big break,” said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) “I can’t predict what will happen, but I think something is either going to hit the floor dealing with that, or maybe we’ll all come to an agreement.”
Meanwhile: McConnell is looking to use the sweeping disaster aid bill to add protections for hemp farmers, according to a draft provision reviewed by The Post. “Now, with a $17 billion disaster bill stalled on Capitol Hill amid a series of political skirmishes, McConnell is trying to add language to the legislation to ensure hemp will be eligible for federal crop insurance,” The Post’s Erica Werner reports. “It was not immediately clear what impact McConnell’s hemp language might have on larger negotiations over the bill, which have been hung up for months in a fight between congressional Democrats and President Trump over aid to Puerto Rico.”
— “Watergate this was not”: When he looked to get in touch with the state’s ornithologist regarding a story about birds, the Boston Globe’s David Abel writes he wasn’t granted access to Andrew Vitz, who works for the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Instead, he was sent a bulleted list of background responses, only one of which answered a question he had asked.
Abel described a back-and-forth between himself and a press secretary at the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, who he said he doesn't blame for the stone-walling. “It’s the policy from her bosses that’s the problem. They have made it clear that they won’t allow me, or many of my colleagues, to speak directly with the experts in government who can often best answer our questions — even when it’s a story about birds," he writes of a problem that has become "not unusual" since Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) was elected.
— Here’s what you can do now to save species: Save water, buy fewer products encased in plastic, revamp your front lawn.
These are a few things experts say Americans can do each day as a first step to helping save the plant and animal species facing extinction, according to The Post’s Darryl Fears. For example, grass yards, which use up 9 billion gallons of water per day, are the largest irrigated crop in the country. Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Foundation, called lawns “basically biodiversity wastelands” and recommends making space for “milkweed and flowers can support numerous species of butterflies and moths. A single ginkgo tree will support numerous species of caterpillars,” Fears writes.
— “We don’t know a planet like this”: There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point since the evolution of humans, according to data from the Muana Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The concentration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere has surpassed 415 parts per million, according to a Friday reading. “CO2 levels millions of years ago were higher than 2019 levels, but Earth's temperatures were also much higher,” USA Today reports. “In the 800,000 years before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels didn't surpass 300 ppm.”
The reaction from meteorologist Eric Holthaus:
This is the first time in human history our planet's atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2.— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) May 12, 2019
Not just in recorded history, not just since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Since before modern humans existed millions of years ago.
We don't know a planet like this. https://t.co/azVukskDWr
— We’re going to need a bigger swamp: Washington has experienced its wettest 365 days in history, with 71.05 inches of rain. It’s the most rain that has fallen in the nation’s capital since record-keeping began in 1871, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports, and it’s also more rain than what any of the 10 rainiest cities in the country get in an average year.
— Daimler announces sustainability plan: Daimler, the parent company of automaker Mercedes-Benz, announced a plan to make all of its cars carbon-neutral by 2039. But even as the goal marks the “most aggressive timeline any carmaker has yet set to slash its emissions,” HuffPost reports, the 2039 goal is nearly 10 years too slow to meet what experts say is a critical deadline to reduce carbon emissions. The timeline also doesn’t include the company’s trucks and heavy-duty vehicles.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee holds a hearing on mineral security and related legislation.
- The House Natural Resources Committee is set to hold a hearing on the Interior Budget and fiscal 2020 policy priorities on Wednesday.
- The House Ways and Means Committee is set to hold a hearing on the economic and health consequences of climate change on Wednesday.
— Bill Nye pulls no punches: On a segment Sunday of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, the bow-tied science advocate was enlisted by Oliver to talk through the Green New Deal, explain how carbon pricing could be used to combat global warming, and to deliver a no-nonsense warning about the severity of climate change: “By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees…What I’m saying is: The planet’s on fire,” Nye said, inserting some profanity to punctuate his point, as The Post’s Reis Thebault writes.