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Houston communities deal with ‘unbearable’ petrochemical smells

This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As historic rainfall and flooding continue to pound America’s fourth-most populated city, residents of Houston’s industrial fence-line communities are reporting strong gas and chemical-like smells coming from the many refineries and chemical plants nearby. “I’ve been smelling them all night and off and on this morning,” said Bryan Parras, an activist at the grassroots environmental justice group TEJAS. Parras, who lives and works in Houston’s East End, on Sunday said some residents are experiencing “headaches, sore throat, scratchy throat and itchy eyes.”

Parras said there are chemical smells in the air all over the East End, but particularly in communities adjacent to Houston’s sweeping petrochemical industry. And residents can’t escape the smell, because flood waters have overtaken the city, and could reach over four feet in some spots. “Fenceline communities can’t leave or evacuate so they are literally getting gassed by these chemicals,” Parras said.

Some Twitter users in Houston also reported concerns about air quality.

It’s still unclear exactly where the smells are coming from, but Parras suspects the source is the many oil refineries, chemical plants, and gas facilities nearby. Several of these plants have shut down or are in the process of shutting down due to Harvey’s historic flooding, and shutdowns are a major cause of “abnormal” emission events, according to a 2012 report from the Environmental Integrity Project. Short-term impacts of these events can be “substantial,” because “upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems.” The communities closest to these sites in Houston are disproportionately low-income and minority.

There are huge public health risks from pollution releases during any hurricane, but the risk is particularly high with Harvey. The plants in the area hit directly by the storm “are responsible for roughly 25 percent of the United States’s petroleum refining, more than 44 percent of its ethylene production, 40 percent of its specialty chemical feed stock and more than half of its jet fuel,” according to the New York Times.

On Sunday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke — fresh off a bizarrely off-topic mid-hurricane Twitter endorsement from President Donald Trump — hit out at liberals for “politicizing” Hurricane Harvey. But disaster preparedness is always political, and so is environmental justice. As noxious fumes creep over the fence-line communities of the East End, residents there are underwater, and some of them can’t breathe.

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Houston communities deal with ‘unbearable’ petrochemical smells

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Meet July, the hottest month yet

Our planet has never been warmer than it was last month, according to data released by NASA on Tuesday.

Yes, you’ve heard some version of that story before, and you’re sure to hear it again and again in the coming years, but this time, it’s a bit freaky.

The news that July was the hottest month on record comes as a relative surprise, because there hasn’t even been an El Niño this year — the natural climate shift that usually boosts global temperatures. In fact, 2017 started with La Niña conditions, which tend to temporarily cool the planet, yet we still wound up with a record anyway. That’s shocking, as well as compelling evidence that anthropogenic climate change is picking up speed.

Using measurements collected from about 6,300 land- and ocean-based weather stations around the world, NASA scientists calculated that the planet’s average temperature during July was about 2.25 degrees C (4.05 degrees F) warmer than the long-term annual average.


Technically, July 2017 now shares the record in a statistical tie with July 2016 and August 2016 in NASA’s 137-year temperature record — all three are within the margin of error. July and August of 2016 had a bit of extra help from an El Niño, and last month achieved the mark all on its own. According to Gavin Schmidt, the NASA climate scientist who helps oversee the dataset, these three months are now “way ahead of the rest.” In a Twitter post, Schmidt predicted that 2017 will easily rank as one of the three warmest overall years on record, but probably won’t top 2016 as the warmest single year in history.

Such a warm month during the peak of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer created a cascade of extreme weather conditions. In western Canada, the worst forest fires in nearly 60 years have already torched upwards of a million acres, more than four times what normally burns in an entire wildfire season. In California, Death Valley recorded the hottest month ever measured anywhere on Earth, with an average temperature of 107.24 degrees F. Several days topped 120 degrees.

In Alaska, some cities recorded their warmest month in history, in part because of the early retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

“There’s basically now no sea ice left within 200 miles of Alaska,” the National Weather Service’s Rick Thoman told Climate Central. At the start of the month, the volume of sea ice across the Arctic was the lowest ever measured.

In Europe, a persistent heatwave earned the name “Lucifer.” Spain recorded its hottest July day ever, with temperatures reaching 109 degrees F, and a drought in Italy prompted widespread water rationing. On its hottest day in history, Shanghai, China, saw a spike in fights and traffic accidents that the state-run media blamed on the heat. Temperatures exceeding 120 degrees F in Saudi Arabia prompted one engineer to invent an air-conditioned umbrella.

This is climate change in action. Rising temperatures are the best-predicted consequence of more greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study showed that 82 percent of locally record-hot days worldwide can be linked to climate change, but on the bigger, planetary scale, the evidence is even clearer: The most recent global assessment of climate science said that human-caused warming is now “unequivocal.”

All of this is evidence that our relationship with the planet is entering a new and dangerous phase. The good news is that, because we’re causing the shift, there are still things we can do to turn it around. But on our current pace — the fastest warming in at least 1,000 years — we’re quickly leaving the cozy climate that gave rise to human civilization.

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Meet July, the hottest month yet

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11 Things to Declutter From Your Yard

“Declutter,” “tidy up,” and “get rid of stuff” are mantras that many modern homeowners live by. But in your passion to organize your house (and your life), don’t neglect that large expanse of outdoor real estate ? your yard. Make it beautiful, livable, and safe with these yard cleanup tips.

Prepare For Your Yard Clean Up

Find out facts. Check out essential information about yard waste removal, including municipal pickup dates and times, local recycling center location, and bylaws related to burning garden debris.

Schedule. Choose a time slot when you’ll be able to devote a stretch of several hours to your yard work, like a weekend morning (not too early ? you don’t want to disturb your neighbors or risk the wrath of your HOA).

Gather equipment. Here’s a recommended list, depending on the size and condition of your property. Some tools can be rented.

Work gloves for handling broken glass and prickly plants
Extra-large trash bags
Garden tools, such as a mulching mower, leaf blower, rake, branch lopper, pruning shears, shovel, trowel.

Now Get Rid Of These 11 Things

  1. Trash. Clearing out obvious trash like food wrappers and dog poop as your first yard clean up task will give you a pleasant sense of accomplishment.
  2. Dangerous trees or branches. An unsound tree or limb ? whether dead, damaged, diseased, or infested ? poses a danger to people, animals, plants, and property. Trimming branches is often a feasible DIY project, but large jobs like tree removal should be tackled by a landscape professional.
  3. Weeds. Weeds are unsightly and a major curb appeal killer. In addition, these unwanted plants tend to be incredibly hardy, fast growing, and space hogging. Stop them before they choke out your grass, flowers, or vegetable garden.
  4. Stuff that attracts bugs. Pick up rotting fruit and vegetables from your garden. Eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds by emptying standing water — from roof gutters and disused birdbaths. Stack firewood (a favorite hiding place for pests) up off the ground, away from trees or your house.
  5. Fallen leaves. Go over fallen leaves with a mulching mower; use the mulch you produce to protect your tree trunks, lawn, and garden beds. If you’ve got more than you can reasonably handle, rake them to the curb and pack them for pickup.
  6. Garden clutter. Tidy your garden beds. Remove any plant that didn’t work — or that you just dislike — to make space for new plantings. Give live plants to neighbors or members of your garden club. Compost dead plants, unless they’re diseased. In that case, burn or bag so they won’t infect future plantings.
  7. That mess of tools. Repair or recycle broken implements. Keep usable tools in good shape by cleaning (disinfecting, too, if they’ve been in contact with sick plants) and oiling. Then put them away neatly in your garden shed ? that’s what it’s there for!
  8. Extra plant pots. Scoop up any clay pots you’re not currently using and get them inside before they’re cracked by winter’s cold. Are you saving the thin plastic pots that nursery plants came in, hoping you’ll find a use for them? Cut the clutter by freecycling or, in some locations, recycling.
  9. Outgrown toys. Once your kids have grown taller than you, hang on to a few cast-off Legos or teddy bears if you must ? but outdoor swing sets, climbing frames, and water slides take up substantial space in your yard. If they’re in good enough shape, sell or donate.
  10. Unsafe fence or railing. As part of your yard cleanup, check fences and railings. A decayed or shaky rail or post is an accident waiting to happen, especially on an elevated deck or around a swimming pool. Get any of these safety hazards replaced pronto.
  11. Algae. On the side of your deck, it’s just ugly, but on a garden path or steps, algae growth can be slippery and downright dangerous. Remove by scrubbing small spots or pressure washing larger ones (and consider improving drainage in this area, to control the problem in future).

By Laura Firszt,?Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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11 Things to Declutter From Your Yard

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

Mother Jones

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First things first: the answer to the origin of yesterday’s lunchtime photo. It’s a picture of the neon-lit Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a 1-second exposure at night, one of several I took where I deliberately moved the camera while the shutter was open. Then I ran it through the dry brush filter in Photoshop.

And now for catblogging. Here is Hopper trying to leap from one branch to another on one of our trees. It looks touch-and-go, but it actually wasn’t. She immediately chinned herself onto the target branch, but the camera just happened to catch her mid-swing. I assure you that no cats were harmed in the making of this photo.

However, you’re all lucky I didn’t make this into some variation on “donate to Mother Jones or the cat gets it.” That would have been totally tasteless, and I’d never do that. But I could do it if I were that kind of person—and maybe I will if we don’t make the $500,000 goal for our muckraking fund to investigate the Trump-Russia connection. We’re getting close, but we’re not quite there. So donate! Read more about it here. Or go straight to the donation page here.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

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Tom Cotton Shouted Down After Defending Trump’s Refusal to Release Taxes

Mother Jones

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As more Republican lawmakers put pressure on President Donald Trump to finally disclose his tax returns, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Monday held firm in defending the president’s refusal to deliver on his key campaign promise by repeating the original excuse Trump offered when he was a candidate.

“As far as I’m aware, the president said he’s still under audit,” Cotton said at a town hall meeting in Little Rock, after a constituent asked the Arkansas senator if he’d “take the initiative” and force Trump to release the relevant documents.

“It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find out where Donald Trump has connections overseas,” he continued. “He normally has his names on buildings.”

The response prompted loud jeers from the audience as well as demands for Cotton to “do your job”—a chant that’s been frequently used in contentious town halls across the country, where Republican lawmakers have been met by constituents angered by White House policies and congressional cooperation with the administration.

With the approach of tax day, the question of whether Republicans would press Trump to disclose his returns became a popular refrain during the meetings:

When Congress returns from its recess next week, the president will face his next legislative battle and rewrite the tax code. An increasing number of congressional Republicans have used the opportunity to insist Trump disclose his own returns or face insurmountable opposition as he attempts to satisfy another one of his campaign promises. In February, one of Trump’s fiercest supporters, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), surprised constituents when he said Trump should “absolutely” release his taxes.

A failure to overhaul the tax system would be the administration’s second legislative embarrassment in a row, following the GOP’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act last month.

Several state lawmakers, including a few Republicans, have recently proposed legislation to avoid this problem in the future, by mandating all presidential candidates release their returns in order to get on future state ballots.

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Tom Cotton Shouted Down After Defending Trump’s Refusal to Release Taxes

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Is Obamacare Already Dead?

Mother Jones

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Paul Ryan and President Trump have been insisting for months that Obamacare is collapsing, failing, imploding, spiraling quickly into death. This is ridiculous, of course. It’s covering more than 20 million people at a lower cost than originally projected, and by any fair appraisal it’s been hugely successful.

But that’s not to say it has no problems. The Obamacare insurance pool is skewed toward the old and sick, and this has made it hard for insurers to turn a profit. Several smallish insurers have already left the market, and there are hundreds of counties in the US with only one insurer left on the exchanges. This is probably not fatal—CBO says the Obamacare market is stable—and it’s a problem that could be addressed fairly easily and inexpensively. Still, it does put the Obamacare market in modestly perilous shape.

But what now? Even if the godawful Republican repeal effort fails, there’s every reason to think that Congress will try again. What’s more, it’s clear that they’ll do everything they can to undermine Obamacare along the way. In a few months, insurance companies have to decide whether they want to participate in the exchange market in 2018, and I wonder what they’ll decide? The uncertainty is sky high now, and that means they have little incentive to continue. Remember, most insurers swallowed big losses early on in hopes of building a stable, profitable market later. But what’s the point of absorbing losses if it looks like—at best—years and years of chaos ahead?

It may be that 2018 is safe. The exchanges are pretty close to profitable now, and it’s probably worth it for most insurers to stay on board for at least another year to see what happens. Still, I wonder. Merely by upending everything and making it clear just how dedicated they are to cutting taxes on the rich and cutting health coverage for the poor, have Republicans already managed to effectively repeal Obamacare without passing a single page of legislation?

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Is Obamacare Already Dead?

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Republicans Finally Have a Plan to Replace Obamacare. But They Won’t Let Anyone See it.

Mother Jones

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Congressional lawmakers are scrambling to get their hands on the latest draft legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, after top Republicans moved to keep the new proposal out of sight and “under lock and key” in the basement of Congress.

Bloomberg reports the draft legislation will likely be reviewed by only members of the House Energy and Commerce panel Thursday, but physical copies of it will not be distributed for other lawmakers or the general public.

The extraordinary effort to conceal the contents of the latest replacement plan comes amid intense debate within the GOP over the extent to which the healthcare law should be changed: some favor a full repeal, while others in the party advocate keeping certain parts of the law intact. The current secrecy is also likely a response to last Friday’s leak of a now outdated version of the proposal.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined several other lawmakers on Thursday for the frantic search to find the draft bill:

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was even spotted lamenting to a bust of President Abraham Lincoln during the hunt:

The spectacle on Thursday follows a wave of rowdy town halls across the country, where thousands of protesters packed into public meeting spaces to complain to Republican lawmakers about dismantling Obamacare. Several Republican lawmakers have since voiced serious concern over repeal efforts, and the potential fallout such a repeal could have on their political futures.

The secretive, hurried process to repeal and replace Obamacare also has its ironies; Republicans were furious with Democrats for what they saw as a rushed effort starting in 2009 to pass the healthcare law without any GOP input.

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Republicans Finally Have a Plan to Replace Obamacare. But They Won’t Let Anyone See it.

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It’s Official: The Trump Administration Will Soon Solicit Bids for a New Border Wall

Mother Jones

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The Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that it will soon begin soliciting bids “for the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.” Bidding begins March 6. The official posting says the administration will select the companies to potentially build the new structure sometime in April.

The solicitation appears to correspond to President Trump’s highly publicized pledge to build a new border wall along the US-Mexico border. “We’re going to build a wall, don’t worry about it,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. “We’re building the wall. We’re building the wall. In fact, it’s going to start soon. Way ahead of schedule, way ahead of schedule.”

The official post soliciting bids for the border wall is available online here.

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It’s Official: The Trump Administration Will Soon Solicit Bids for a New Border Wall

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Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

Mother Jones

On Thursday afternoon, the House voted to approve a resolution that is widely seen by advocates as a step towards defunding Planned Parenthood. Should it become law, the measure would weaken contraceptive access across the country.

The bill, HJ Resolution 43, allows states to withhold Title X family planning funds—about $300 million distributed to states annually—from providers who also offer abortion care, a group that includes Planned Parenthood affiliates. In December, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that anticipated this sort of effort by prohibiting states from withholding Title X family planning money from Planned Parenthood and other providers. This House resolution proposed overturning that HHS rule via the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal new regulations within 60 days of their passage. A version of this bill is also moving through the Senate.

At a House committee hearing earlier this week, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called this bill “the most serious threat women have faced so far this Congress.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called this the Republicans’ “first salvo” in defunding Planned Parenthood.

This development comes on the heels of several actions by the Trump administration and Congress that threaten women’s health care. They include Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception; the approval by the House of a bill to codify the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for most abortions; and Trump’s expansion of the global gag order, which prohibits health providers overseas from receiving any US funding if they so much as mention abortion as an option for patients.

In the last Congress, a broader bill to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood passed both chambers, but was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama. In contrast, Trump’s campaign said often that defunding Planned Parenthood would be a top priority for his administration.

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Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

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Slavitt: Obamacare Should Be Profitable This Year if Republicans Don’t Blow It Up

Mother Jones

Andy Slavitt ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, which included responsibility for Obamacare. Here’s a tweetstorm he posted today:

I talked today/last night to 5 health plan CEOs. Won’t use names but: 1 Blues, 1 integrated w hospital, 2 non-profit, 1 VC backed. All 5 health plan CEOs believe they priced 2017 #ACA business & should at least breakeven. Several of the plans beat their ACA membership projections.

Of the 5 plans, w/ current uncertainty none can yet commit 2 participate in 2018. All seemed aware that new #ACA stability reg is coming. One plan said with all the work to be profitable in the #ACA (they hadn’t been), ironic to question participation now.

….They didn’t say, but I will: if there is ambiguity, they will raise prices if they participate. One CEO who has an actuarial background said he would be at single digit rate increases but for all the uncertainty. It sounds like the plans will submit #ACA rates for 2018 high to hold place in line. Big increases all from repeal & mandate uncertainty.

It is a shame. Not sure if representative, but single digit if we would wipe uncertainty off table. Still can. But needs to be fast….I think people are so weary of the unpredictability of politics. It zaps energy from their real jobs.

We don’t yet have final enrollment figures for 2017, but it appears that even with double-digit rate increases, uncertainty over Republican repeal plans, and deliberate sabotage from the new Trump administration, signups will be only 2-3 percent lower than last year. That’s a pretty stable market, and probably a profitable—or at least breakeven—one. Fairly modest changes could fix a lot of Obamacare’s existing problems, and higher funding could fix the rest of them.

Instead, we have massive uncertainty in an industry that felt like things had finally settled down after years of work. Slavitt is right: it’s a shame. We can only hope that Republicans will wake up and decide that repairing Obamacare and then taking credit for its success is a better path than blowing up the entire individual health insurance market.


Slavitt: Obamacare Should Be Profitable This Year if Republicans Don’t Blow It Up

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