Episode 10: Erin Brockovich

With the recent resignation of Mustafa Ali, head of the environmental justice program at the EPA, and the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to the regulatory agency, the importance of environmental justice is in dire need of some attention. So in this week’s episode, we return to one of the earliest big successes for environmental justice- the class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric for contaminating drinking water with hexavalent chromium near the town of Hinkley, California.

Law student and environmental justice advocate Shannon O’Neil walks us through the legal framework of the delightful 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, plus the science behind the movie, how lawyers can help save the Earth, and why the fight for environmental justice is so important. Listen here or subscribe on iTunes.

Updates from the Field:

Shannon updates us on the Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation problem in eastern North Carolina. In response to civil rights complaints filed against North Carolina, New Mexico, and Michigan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office found that agencies in the three states tasked with enforcing environmental laws should take steps to comply with civil rights requirements.

Steffi tells us about sea turtle sex! The sex of a sea turtle is determined not at conception, but during incubation. Warmer sand temperatures produce more female turtles. It is difficult to sex turtles as they hatch, but a new method has been developed. This method is a modification of the immunohistochemical (IHC) approach. This method provides a valuable step toward a more reliable method for sex identification of particular importance for leatherback turtles in order to monitor the populations due to the effects of climate change

Emily brings us news from the European Parliament. On April 4th, they voted in favor of improving existing palm oil certification schemes such as the RSPO and eliminating palm oil use in biofuels by 2020. Not adopted for implementation yet, but could be a stepping stone to a unified European standard.

What’s Giving Us Hope:

Shannon is excited to hear about Smithfield Foods’, the world’s largest pork producer, new climate goals. Smithfield is becoming the first major livestock company to make a total supply chain commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change 25% by 2025.

Steffi is hopeful about new ways to deal with ocean plastics. Pyrolysis technologies have been used to break down or depolymerize unwanted polymers, such as plastic wastes, leaving a hydrocarbon-based fuel. But the process usually calls for complex and costly refining steps to make the fuel usable. Now scientists have developed a metallocene catalyst deposited on a porous support material that, coupled with a controlled pyrolysis reaction, yields diesel fuels directly without further refining. It is also cost-effective on a small scale, runs at lower temperatures and is mobile. It can create diesel fuel while at sea with collected marine plastics. The best part is that it increases the value of otherwise non recyclable plastic which can help eliminate plastic entering the oceans in the first place by creating a market for them.

Emily is happy about a media outlet from Fremont, Wyoming that ran an amazing story about releasing 90 kangaroos into Wyoming as part of an effort to boost outdoor tourism. Listen to the episode to find out the hilarious (and hopeful!) twist.

Silvan is hopeful about our youth! They say the children are our future, and some of them are taking that to heart when it comes to the environment. In 2016, a group of 21 young plaintiffs aged eight to nineteen, along with the environmental advocacy organization Earth Guardians and Dr. James Hansen of Columbia University, filed suit against defendants the United States, President Barack Obama, and numerous executive agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging in their complaint that the defendants “deliberately allow[ed] atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history.” Judge Ann Aiken of the Oregon US District Court recently denied a motion dismiss the case, giving it a chance to move forward.

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