DETOXING: On December 16 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a ruling, decades in the making, to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The first of their kind—the bipartisan Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 cut mercury emissions by almost half, but didn’t touch coal-fired power plants—the new rules are expected to yield widespread public health benefits, like preventing up to 11,000 premature air pollution related deaths every year.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, had been obstructed for years by Congressional Republicans and the fossil fuel lobby. Progress made under the Clinton administration stalled under George W. Bush when the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a proposed cap-and-trade system for mercury emissions. The Obama White House made a renewed commitment to finalize the standards; a deadline was pushed through by environmentalists in 2009.
In anticipation of the EPA’s ruling, climate change denier and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe introduced the Comprehensive Assessment of Regulations on the Economy Act (CARE), which states that the new standards should be “treated as though the proposed or final rule had never been issued or promulgated” and proposes yet more analyses of pollutants and their effects, further delaying this long-overdue legislation. It’s a negligent move. Mercury is one of the most insidious environmental toxins. It can be passed from mother to fetus, where it can cause neurological defects and delayed development. Yet special-interest groups like the Energy Reliability Coordinating Council have slammed the ruling, arguing that it will cost jobs and bring no new health benefits. The EPA disagrees, estimating that thousands of jobs will be created and more than half a million sick days will be avoided every year. NATASJA SHERIFF
FTA TO LA: FOLLOW CIVIL RIGHTS LAW: On December 12 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the second-largest transit agency in the country, was found to be in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the Federal Transit Administration. Specifically, the FTA’s civil rights division found that the MTA had run afoul of Title VI, which prohibits government agencies from using federal funds in a racially discriminatory manner. The finding was partly the result of a formal complaint filed in November 2010 by local groups, including the Bus Riders Union, Community Action Network, and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, arguing that the Metro had inflicted irreparable harm on nearly half a million low-income riders of color by eliminating 1 million service hours and raising bus fares from $52 to $75 over a three-year period. Black and Latino garment and hotel workers, security guards and precariously employed youth spend hours every day waiting for and riding unreliable buses whose fares they often can’t afford. Meanwhile, the MTA is flush with money from a new sales tax being funneled into overpriced rail projects, forgoing a pledge to fund buses as well—all at the expense of bus riders, 90 percent of whom are people of color.
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who chairs the thirteen-member MTA board, should move to restore the bus service and reduce the fares. So should LA County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who, like the mayor, is both a beneficiary of and a participant in the civil rights movement. Yet so far the only response from the city has been from the MTA, arguing in its defense that technically the FTA’s Compliance Review “is not an investigation into Civil Rights Violations” and that its real purpose “is to determine how well Metro is following the FTA guidance and regulations pertaining to civil rights.” It is a distinction without a difference, of course. The city must take action or face the consequences: the FTA can require the MTA to roll back discriminatory practices or lose federal funding. At a time when Attorney General Eric Holder is working to protect rights for black voters, Los Angeles should address civil rights complaints and side with its own passengers. ERIC MANN
THE ARC OF HISTORY IS LONG… As 2011 drew to a close, two American artists who were ostracized for their political views more than half a century ago were finally vindicated. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was among the blacklisted writers and directors known as the Hollywood Ten, who were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. In December it was announced that he would be given rightful credit for writing the screenplay to the 1953 classic Roman Holiday, which he penned in exile in Mexico. As Nation publisher emeritus Victor Navasky wrote in his book Naming Names, the blacklisting of Trumbo, one of the most highly paid screenwriters of his time, revealed the extent of the chilling effect in that era. “Since agents as a class follow the money, it is perhaps a clue to the environment of fear within which they operated that, for example, the Berg-Allenberg Agency was, even in late 1948, ready, eager, willing, and able to lose its most profitable client.”
Days after the good news about Trumbo, it was announced that the great troubadour Woody Guthrie, who was disowned by his home state of Oklahoma for his communist leanings, will finally have his trove of archives on public display in Tulsa. The George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased the collection, which in addition to containing “scores of notebooks and diaries,” according to the New York Times, also includes “lyrics to the 3,000 or more songs he scribbled on scraps of paper, gift wrap, napkins, paper bags and place mats.” The children of Trumbo and Guthrie were instrumental in reclaiming their fathers’ good name. Their success provides some assurance that, for those whose views are unpopular, the promise of Guthrie’s American anthem, “This Land Is Your Land,” can still be fulfilled.
OCCUPYING THENATION.COM: Looking for the latest on Occupy? Check out the Occupy USA Blog, where the indefatigable Greg Mitchell has been keeping daily tabs on the movement since October. A recent sampling includes protesters’ confrontation with Mitt Romney, an anti–foreclosure protest by Occupy Los Angeles and even unexpected praise from Bill Clinton, who told Forbes, “Occupy Wall Street has done more in the short time they’ve been out there than I’ve been able to do in more than the last eleven years.” Keep up with the latest by visiting: thenation.com/blogs/greg-mitchell.