The Sponge: May 19-May 26
Welcome to The Sponge, the place to soak up a week’s worth of environmental news.
Monday Night Smackdown: Guam v The United States
On Monday, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guam could continue pursuing compensation from the U.S. government to help clean up the territory’s toxic Ordot Dump.
Guam: 1, Feds: 0
The Ordot Dump, a former military waste site-turned municipal landfill, has been wreaking havoc on local freshwater and saltwater supplies for years. This verdict reverses previous court rulings that had put the $160 million dollar cleanup costs solely on Guam. (Hint: Guam, like your ex-boyfriend’s new tech startup, doesn’t have that kind of cash.) Monday’s decision could be an important signal for other states and territories that have been itching to hold the federal government responsible for the 328 to 678 other toxic sites that its military created.
Dump some context, please
The U.S. Navy built the Ordot Dump during World War II to store military waste. Even after the military relinquished control of Guam in 1950, the Navy kept using the site during the Korean and Vietnam wars (including allegedly to store the controversial agro-terrorist chemical “Agent Orange”). Guam still used Ordot Dump as a public landfill until its closure in 2011. The dump polluted local waterways and contaminated runoff into the Pacific Ocean for decades, prompting the EPA to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit in 2002.
So, is the federal government the good guy or bad guy?
Now you’re talking. Guam v The United States raises pressing questions surrounding the U.S. military’s responsibility to pay for environmental damages, especially in U.S. territories. The previous verdicts favoring the federal government also show how the government likes to wiggle out of responsibility for problems that it created. It’s very neo-colonial of the US to make smaller entities disproportionately pay for environmental harm they did not create. The world doesn’t just need the U.S. to revitalize global environmental leadership; the United States has an obligation outside of its 50 states to repair environmental damage it created.
In Other News…
Attack over Atrazine
When scientists like Notre Dame endocrinologist Tyrone Hayes tried bringing attention to the negative health effects of an herbicide called atrazine, its manufacturer, Syngenta, popped. off. We’re talking: paying scientists for smearing Hayes’ reputation and research, hiring communication specialists who wanted to buy his name as a search term, and threatening his family. Last week, an article in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry divulged how Syngenta waged total war against scientists like Hayes who criticized atrazine…which has been linked to birth defects, cancer, and child development impairments. No wonder the European Union banned it in 2003.
The Environmental Protection Agency didn’t come to Hayes’ rescue either. Turns out they kind of have a thing for atrazine. An “atra-thing.” The EPA has known of the chemical’s negative effects since 1995, but for decades has continued to turn a blind eye because of how widely it’s used. So: lots of people use this harmful chemical, atrazine, but the EPA hasn’t restricted it because doing so would help… too many people?
‘Like a G7’
In a virtual summit last Thursday and Friday, the world’s seven most “advanced” economies (United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, aka the G7) agreed to stop international direct funding for coal projects. While the summit’s statement is not binding, it is an important step in developing a global approach to fully confronting fossil fuel emissions. Not a moment too soon either: the International Energy Agency (a global energy watchdog) said earlier last week that all new coal developments must stop this year in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.
Japan wasn’t ‘all aboard’ from the start of the summit though. The island nation has previously been hesitant to renounce coal-funding for the sake of preserving its own energy security. Still, Japan’s eventual endorsement of this summit’s anti-coal stance inspires hope for more international pressure on other economies, especially China, to curb emissions. TBD if the G7’s hype over renewable energy will generate enough real FOMO around the world, though.