with Paulina Firozi

Green groups are expressing full-throated support for demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis police custody — even as they struggle with their own long-standing issues with addressing racial inequality and a lack of diversity in their ranks.

The climate movement is marshaling its members as cities across the country erupt in pain and rage at police brutality.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s oldest green groups, sent an email to its supporters amplifying calls by black activists to cut funding for the Minneapolis Police Department. Yet another group, 350.org, asked about half a million people in an email blast to donate funds to bail out activists arrested during demonstrations.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group, is training protesters to wear masks and carry hand sanitizer to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.

The League of Conservation Voters, along with a number of other green groups, co-signed a letter calling on Congress to ban police from using moves that restrict the flow of oxygen or blood to the brain. The group also said one of its organizers in Arizona, Jess Bristow, was arrested during a demonstration over the weekend. 

Floyd died after a police officer pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder and manslaughter. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a major green group in Washington, is planning to ask its supporters to donate money to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and organizations providing legal and financial aid to protesters.

“We recognize that as a predominantly white organization, we have an obligation to be fully and visibly committed to the fight against systemic racism,” said Jenny Powers, an NRDC spokeswoman.

The activists say they need to speak up especially because the issues of the environment and racial justice are inextricably linked. 

Study after study shows that smoggy air, polluted drinking water and rising temperatures disproportionately affect poor and minority neighborhoods. 

Those communities often have fewer resources to build water-treatment infrastructure and stop polluting industries from setting up shop near their homes.

“We are not an organization that works primarily on the issue of anti-black police violence,” said Hop Hopkins, the Sierra Club’s director of strategic partnerships, “but we recognize that our work to end the violence of polluters who target black communities is deeply connected to the demand for justice for George Floyd.”

Another recent viral video highlighted the history of racism black people face in parks. Last month, a white woman in New York’s Central Park threatened a black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, with calling the police. Many parks, like water fountains and bathrooms, were once segregated.

Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper on May 25 after he asked her to leash her dog in Manhattan's Central Park. (Christian Cooper)

“We recognize that the outdoors won’t be a welcoming place for everyone until people can safely go for a run, or watch birds, without facing racialized violence,” Hopkins said.

Yet the environmental movement, like so many other parts of American life, has historically been dominated by white men.

White people constitute more than four-fifths of the board members and more than 85 percent of the staff of more than 2,000 environmental nonprofit organizations, according to a 2018 analysis from the University of Michigan.

For many major green groups, combating pollution in urban areas often took a back seat to protecting remote wilderness popular with well-to-do campers.

“The watershed moment” for changing that attitude, said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin of 350.org, “was Flint,” where lead leached from aging pipes poisoned the Michigan city's drinking water starting in 2014.

More recently, environmentalists have made efforts to bridge the gap between the well-funded “big greens” and smaller environmental justice groups focused on fighting pollution that hits communities of color the hardest.

Last year, more than six dozen green groups endorsed a platform that acknowledged the shortcomings of past Democratic policies that aimed to reduce nationwide emissions, but that may have inadvertently pushed pollution into nonwhite areas. 

“Some of what's happening has been in the works for a long time,” O’Laughlin said.

Concentrating smokestacks and other sources of pollution in poor neighborhoods was a concern among environmental justice advocates when House Democrats tried but failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill during Barack Obama’s first term.

Some groups have made strides in diversifying their own ranks. Around 40 percent of the staffers at Earthjustice, a nonprofit that litigates environmental issues, are people of color after the organization bought on a vice president of diversity and reformed its hiring process. “We have made this a priority for our organization,” Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen said. 

The surge of protests comes as climate activists were already trying to stay relevant during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Green groups already had to nix most of their in-person activism scheduled for the spring — including door-to-door voter registration drives during the Democratic presidential primary and massive marches on Earth Day — due to the pandemic.

Instead the climate movement largely moved online during the viral outbreak, holding protests on Zoom and using peer-to-peer texting to register voters.

Power plays

The Environmental Protection Agency moves to change the way the Clean Water Act has been applied for decades. 

The agency finalized a rule to limit the rights the public, states and tribes have to protest pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute the nation’s waterways. 

“The move, part of the Trump administration’s push to weaken environmental rules it sees as standing in the way of new development, upends how the United States applied a section of the Clean Water Act for nearly a half century,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. “The energy industry hailed the change as a way to speed up pipelines and other projects, while environmentalists warned it could undercut state and tribal efforts to safeguard rivers and drinking water.” 

With the change, states and tribes will have a year-long deadline to certify or reject proposed pipelines, hydroelectric dams, industrial plants and other projects. The rule would also limit project reviews to include water-quality impacts only. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the change gave states “more than enough time” to scrutinize proposals. “Our system of republican democracy does not allow for one state to dictate standards or decisions for the entire nation,” Wheeler said.

Coronavirus fallout

States are reopening and drivers are getting back on the road. 

That means Americans are taking advantage of low gas prices, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The shift is “causing modest car traffic in cities from Miami to San Francisco. The slight increase in congestion comes with beaches and summer destinations opening and many people avoiding public transportation and airplanes,” per the report. “The optimism is driving a rally in investments from stocks to commodities. It powered the S&P 500 and oil prices last week to their highest level since early March."

Climate projects are at risk amid the pandemic. 

In more than a dozen cities and states, projects that were part of a $1 billion Obama-era program to defend those jurisdictions against climate change are at risk amid the ongoing public health crisis. 

State and local officials told federal lawmakers on Monday that they may not meet conditions of the program, which says the funding must be spent by the fall of 2022, the New York Times reports.

“Missing that deadline, which officials say is likely because of delays caused by the coronavirus, would mean forfeiting the remaining money, scuttling the projects,” per the report. A group of states and cities asked Congress to extend the deadline for construction by three years.

Manufacturing in the United States is slowly moving off of an 11-year low. 

A new report from the Institute for Supply Management signaled that manufacturing activity eased off that low in May, the “strongest sign yet that the worst of the economic downturn was behind as businesses reopen, though the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis could take years because of high unemployment,” Reuters reports.

Storm watch

The Atlantic hurricane season has officially started. Right on cue, a tropical cyclone is developing. 

The cyclone, which will be named Cristobal, could become a major rainmaker in coming days, Matthew Cappucci reports.

The storm was located about 50 miles west-southwest of Campeche, Mexico, as of 5 p.m. Eastern time. Forecasts call for it to intensify into a tropical storm on Tuesday,” he writes. If the storm earns a name before June 5, which is likely, then the 2020 hurricane season would have the earliest third-named storm on record, according to hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University. The accelerated start to the season is in keeping with the active hurricane season that experts across the board are predicting.” 

Oil check

Demand for shipping gas is taking a hit. 

The pandemic has shrunk the market demand for natural gas tankers. After years of expanding demand, export projects for liquefied natural gas are being pushed back, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Some gas projects are now being put on hold on the back of record low prices and brimming storage facilities, and some operators are pushing back orders for the new vessels they had been counting on as big profit engines,” per the report. “Middle East energy giant Saudi Aramco and its shipping arm Bahri have put on hold their planned entry this year into LNG shipping, pushing back an order of a dozen gas carriers worth up to $2.5 billion. The postponement came after San Diego-based Sempra Energy said in early May it would delay an investment decision on its Port Arthur, Texas, LNG export project until 2021.”