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Environmental Justice, Supply Chain Obstacles and Fertilizer Shortages: EHS Today’s Sustainability News

May 6, 2022
How pollution, climate change and extreme weather will impact people at an individual and societal level, both now and into the future.

Lately, the prospect of warmer weather and sunshine has us daydreaming of summer days, but they won’t be lazy. It seems that we’re all trying to make up for lost time. Travel queries and bookings are up, despite rising costs and fewer flights.

But even as we resume some of our pre-COVID ways, we won’t be able to go back to 2019. Our collective conscience and increased awareness, including the improvements we’ve seen when we change our ways, has forced us to acknowledge our impact on the environment. For example, the Taj Mahal was more visible once air pollution decreased in India.

Geopolitical tensions and domestic and international policies have also caused individuals, companies and organizations to rethink their plans—or scramble to pivot. For example, in Europe, the bloc is working to sever ties with Russia for supplying oil and gas.

Two years ago, we didn’t expect climate change; sustainability; or environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) to be in the spotlight. Now that they are, we don’t expect them to go away anytime soon. Here are three stories we’ve found that show how business is being done differently (or will soon have to) in response to the environment.  

DOJ Prioritizes the Environment

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking steps to protect residents from pollution, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to prioritize environmental justice. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a new Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) within the department on May 5.

Cynthia Ferguson, an attorney working in the DOJ's Environmental Enforcement Section of its Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), has been tapped as acting director of OEJ.

“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said in a statement. “For far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve.

“The Office of Environmental Justice will serve as the central hub for our efforts to advance our comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. We will prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm.”

The DOJ announced new comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy to guide the department’s litigators, investigators and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide to advance the cause of environmental justice through the enforcement of federal laws. The strategy, developed by the ENRD in partnership with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will ensure that the entire Department is using all available legal tools to promote environmental justice.

Garland also issued an Interim Final Rule that will restore the use of supplemental environmental projects, an enforcement tool that was eliminated under the previous administration. These supplemental environmental projects are used as part of settlement agreements in cases where federal environmental laws were violated to compensate victims and remedy the harm caused by the violations.

Read more here.

More Supply Chain Woes

The supply chain is a delicate balancing act filled with carefully choreographed moving parts. We’ve experienced the headaches and frustrations that come when the supply chain is disrupted. Experts caution that the past two years might only be a preview of what’s to come as the planet warms.

In other words, COVID-19 is “a temporary problem,” but climate change is “long-term dire,” said Austin Becker, a maritime infrastructure resilience scholar at the University of Rhode Island, to Yale Environment 360. “Climate change is a slow-moving crisis that is going to last a very, very long time, and it’s going to require some fundamental changes,” Becker said. “Every coastal community, every coastal transportation network is going to face some risks from this, and we’re not going to have nearly enough resources to make all the investments that are required.”

Climate change will further strain and could even break the supply chain. Rising sea level poses the biggest threat, as it will disrupt the existing coastal supply chain infrastructure, but virtually everyone will be affected by climate change—if they aren’t already. There will be more supply chain disruptions due to extreme weather events. We’re already seeing hurricanes, floods and wildfires that more intense, severe or long-lasting than they were a generation ago.

The information and analysis in the Yale Environment 360 article isn’t comforting, and the world will be in real trouble. Experts estimate that the three main ways that port authorities can cope with sea level rise are all inadequate—even assuming they had the time, materials and plans to get started building today. The takeaway is to prepare for further instability, something that is fundamentally at odds with supply chain management and “just in time” manufacturing.

It's going to be a bumpy road. Time to buckle up for the ride ahead.

Read more here.

From Farm to Table

We’ve read a number of stories about the global shortage of synthetic fertilizer. Furthermore, railroad company Union Pacific announced last month it will curtail shipments of fertilizer from CF Industries. Planting season is a lot more difficult for farmers now, and that could be troublesome for people come harvest time.

Farmers are scrambling to react, and one alternative is manure from livestock. But it’s not a simple swap, and the situation has global consequences. We found a helpful analysis from Poynter, a journalism nonprofit. There are links to read more, and we have found the stories highlight the complexity of the matter.

We also recently watched “The Erie Situation,” a documentary that takes a look at the toxic algae pollution on Lake Erie. (Read more about the documentary here.) Researchers have determined that agricultural runoff to be the main cause for the algae blooms. It’s frustrating since it’s in our backyards, but the problem isn’t exclusive to Lake Erie.

It’s too soon to tell how this year’s crops will fare, but we think it might be a good idea to plant our a little victory garden—or at least do more to support local farmers by shopping at farmers’ markets.

Read the roundup from Poynter here.  

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