with Paulina Firozi

African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups are three times more likely than whites to live in areas with limited access to nature, according to a new report from a pair of nonprofit advocacy groups.

The startling lack of green spaces in communities of color is being highlighted by two liberal groups, the Center for American Progress and Hispanic Access Foundation, at a time of reckoning in America over race following the May death in police custody of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis.

The unequal distribution of forests, wetlands and other natural spaces in the United States, the advocates say, gives minority groups less access to clean air and shade during increasingly warm days and the well-documented health benefits of spending time outdoors.

“This is the result of the legacy of centuries of putting energy development projects near communities of color, paving over neighborhoods of color and choosing to place parks in whiter and higher-income neighborhoods,” Shanna Edberg, the Hispanic Access Foundation's director of conservation programs and co-author of the report.

Race and income are big factors in access to nature, the data show.

Working with outside scientists, the two groups used satellite imagery and other government data to calculate the degree to which land in the Lower 48 has been altered by human activity. Those results were compared with demographic data from the Census Bureau.

The analysis found that 74 percent of communities of color lived in areas with less natural area than the state-level median. Just 23 percent of white neighborhoods saw that same level of nature deprivation. 

Similarly, 70 percent of low-income communities live in areas with subpar access to natural spaces — a higher rate of removal from nature than middle- and high-income neighborhoods.

Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior policy analyst at CAP and a co-author of the report, said the disparity is not an accident. It has to do with a history of racial discrimination in mortgage lending to and forced migration of minority groups that often excluded them from places with green spaces, she said.

“Disparities across racial and economic groups can't be explained away by just luck or randomness or, especially, just individual choices,” she said.

Like water fountains and bathrooms, many parks were once segregated before passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960s. 

Even today, African Americans can face discrimination in parks — such as when a white woman in Manhattan's Central Park threatened to call the police on a black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, whose video of the incident in May went viral online. 

And despite often living in rural areas, Native Americans are twice as likely as white people to have subpar access to nature. 

That's because Native Americans are more likely to live near federal lands with oil drilling, coal mining and other energy industry activity, according to the report. 

For centuries, white settlers have displaced tribes from natural places — such as when several tribes were driven from present-day Yellowstone after it became the country's first national park in 1872. Currently, the National Park Service has one of the least diverse staffs among federal agencies, according to an analysis by E&E News.

The report comes as Congress is preparing to pass a major piece of conservation legislation.

The Great American Outdoors Act, expected to pass the House this week, would pump billions of dollars a year into expanding wilderness areas for hunters and erecting playgrounds in cities. The bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate last month in a 73-to-25 vote.

Jessica Loya, director of policy and programs at GreenLatinos, a D.C.-based environmental group not involved in the research, said the bill comes as the coronavirus pandemic has “revealed disparities of access to parks, access to local places in which communities can safely be outside and recreate because they’re within walking distance.”

“For communities of color, low-income communities, urban communities, that disparity is high,” added Loya, who lobbied members of Congress for the bill’s passage.

Her old Los Angeles neighborhood, Glassell Park, was one of the most “park poor” in the city when she was growing up, Loya said, despite its name. Her family would trek to Griffith Park for picnics and Easter egg hunts.

Only later in life did she realize that many of those picnic spots were built with grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The legislation would fully fund the LWCF for the first time.

While they support the bill, the groups behind the new report want the federal government to go further by establishing a goal to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

“We do not want [the Great American Outdoors Act] to be the end of public lands and waters protection,” Edberg said.

Power plays

Rob Bishop wants to delay a vote on the Great American Outdoors Act.

The Utah Republican's latest effort "is a 54-page Congressional Research Service report — the ‘Effect of COVID-19 on Federal Land Revenues’ — that among other things finds that the bill's main funding mechanism isn't guaranteed to be sustainable amid the ongoing global health crisis,” E&E News reports. The report points to the impact of the pandemic on oil and gas revenue, which is meant to be a funding source for the bill. 

“Bishop has argued that even the risk of a funding shortfall should not be ignored,” per the report. “At the House Rules Committee's virtual meeting Friday to set parameters for floor debate on ‘GAOA,’ he fought for consideration of an amendment that would, in the event of such a shortfall, require the prioritization of funding for deferred maintenance projects rather than the LWCF.” 

Andrew Wheeler goes to swing state Ohio to announce $12 million in Great Lakes grants. 

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator announced the grants, which will go toward Great Lakes cleanup in the Toledo area, during a visit there on Monday. 

Nearly $10 million will be spent addressing Otter Creek, a “a small and largely forgotten stream on the East Toledo/Oregon border so polluted by chemical waste that it has been thought of as an industrial sewer for many years,” the Toledo Blade reports. “…The eventual plan, once the cleanup is finished, is to market that area for more industrial uses or other purposes, Kurt Thiede, U.S. EPA Midwest regional chief and the agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office director, said.” 

As The Energy 202 reported last month, the president’s top environmental deputy has been traveling to critical battlegrounds, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in an effort to tout President Trump’s environmental record — though without explicitly talking about the upcoming election.

Wheeler’s visit to Ohio precedes Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette's scheduled visit to Columbus on Tuesday to participate in a business roundtable.

Coronavirus fallout

The Federal Emergency Management Agency canceled plans to open first responder training academies. 

The agency’s move to postpone a scheduled reopening of the academies comes as Trump is pushing schools to resume in-person classes for the fall, as E&E News writes.

“FEMA has not provided online classes to replace the courses that were taught at its campuses in Emmitsburg, Md., and Anniston, Ala.,” per the report. “Although FEMA said the campuses would remain closed ‘through at least October 1,’ a senior FEMA official said the closures could last until next year. The closures are generating concern among senior members of Congress and emergency management experts as federal agencies are predicting above-normal hurricane and wildfire seasons.” 

Thermometer

Morgan Stanley says it will start tracking its climate impact. 

It’s the first major U.S. bank to publicly count how much its investments and loans contribute to the climate crisis. The bank’s commitment to count its own emissions follows as banks face growing pressure to address their role in warming the planet, Politico reports.

“The bank is joining the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, a global body with 66 financial company members managing $5.3 trillion of assets, that will count the greenhouse gas emissions from projects and investments that are financed by asset managers, banks and other institutions,” per the report. “Morgan Stanley will sit on the group’s steering committee to help deliver a final methodology for financial institutions to follow this fall.” 

In a statement, Sierra Club’s Ben Cushing called it a “major step in the right direction for Morgan Stanley, and any bank that claims to support climate action or the goals of the Paris Agreement should follow suit.”

The East Coast is readying for a major heat wave this week. 

“The big cities of the East Coast, including the Acela corridor from Washington to Boston, will suffer their hottest day so far this summer, with heat advisories and excessive heat warnings in effect across the region,” my colleagues Matthew Cappucci and Andrew Freedman report. “Meanwhile, a second wave of sweltering heat was building over the West Coast on Monday, set to expand east across the Lower 48 during the upcoming week.” 

The excessive heat is particularly worrisome for vulnerable people, including those with health conditions and elderly who are already at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

Cappucci and Freedman add: “Urban residents who lack air conditioning are at significant risk since overnight lows have not fallen enough to provide the body with relief, and this can hasten the development of potentially deadly heat illness.” 

In Washington, the heat emergency led to the closure of multiple outdoor testing sites as cooling centers across the city opened up, according to WUSA.

If the planet’s warming persists, polar bears could become nearly extinct by the end of the century, new research says.

“Nearly all of the 19 subpopulations of polar bears, from the Beaufort Sea off Alaska to the Siberian Arctic, would face being wiped out because the loss of sea ice would force the animals onto land and away from their food supplies for longer periods, the researchers said. Prolonged fasting, and reduced nursing of cubs by mothers, would lead to rapid declines in reproduction and survival,” the New York Times reports.

Lead study author Peter K. Molnar, a researcher at the University of Toronto at Scarborough said even if emissions are brought down to moderate levels, “we still are unfortunately going to lose some, especially some of the southernmost populations, to sea-ice loss.”

Oil check

Chevron will buy Noble Energy in the biggest energy deal in the country amid the pandemic.

The oil giant will buy Noble for about $5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Chevron Chief Executive Mike Wirth said in an interview that Noble’s assets have low operating costs and require little near-term investment, preserving Chevron’s ability to navigate global economic uncertainty,” per the report. “Noble, based in Houston, is an independent oil-and-gas producer with U.S. and international operations. Buying the company would expand Chevron’s presence in the DJ Basin of Colorado and Permian Basin, which spans West Texas and New Mexico. It would also give San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron, which has a market value of $163 billion, assets in the eastern Mediterranean and West Africa and yield potential annual cost savings of $300 million, according to Chevron.”