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EPA Limits Environmental Regulations During Coronavirus Crisis

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  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is scaling back its enforcement of environmental rules during the coronavirus emergency as businesses face challenges like layoffs and accessibility issues.
  • The temporary policy allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental laws, and the EPA said it will not issue penalties for violations of certain reporting requirements.
  • Many critics slammed the move, arguing that it opens doors to excess pollution and does not prioritize the health and safety of people and wildlife.   
  • The EPA defended the policy, saying it has reserved its authorities for situations other than routine monitoring and reporting and will consider the pandemic’s impacts on a “case-to-case basis.”

Temporary Policy 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will limit the enforcement of certain regulations as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leaving companies in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws. 

The agency unveiled the temporary policy on Thursday, arguing that businesses are running into obstacles like layoffs and accessibility issues as the virus alters normal life across the nation.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.  

Under normal circumstances, companies must report when their facilities release a certain amount of pollution into the air or water. Now, that requirement will be put on hold for the time being. 

“In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the policy states.

The agency also said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules. It noted that the policy does not apply to criminal violations or hundreds of the country’s most toxic waste sites that fall under the Superfund act. The EPA also said it expects public water systems to maintain high standards. 

“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the policy says.

The memo said that the changes will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, with no set end date indicated. 

Criticism of New Policy

Some, including people in the oil industry, had been asking for these regulations to be loosened, but others slammed the EPA’s choice, claiming it is too broad and lax. 

Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under the Obama administration and is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy an “open license to pollute.” 

Some called the changes “outrageous” and “evil,” accusing the EPA of prioritizing businesses over the health of individuals and wildlife.

Prominent figures in the climate change fight slammed the move as well.

“The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment,” teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted. “This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for.”

Others pointed out the irony of suspending rules that preserve air quality while a respiratory disease makes its rounds across the country. 

“What part of, ‘air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases LIKE CORONAVIRUS,’ is not clear, EPA?” one Twitter user wrote.

Defense of Policy

The EPA stood behind their move and did not agree with its classification as a dismissal of regulations. 

“It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA official who issued the policy, said that it does not excuse organizations from consequences if they do committ environmental violations.

“If you do have violations of your permit, you’re still obligated to meet your permit limits, you’re supposed to do everything possible,” Bodine told ABC. “And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn’t a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations.”

“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency,” she added. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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Police Are Looking for a Cyclist Who Assaulted a Group Posting George Floyd Flyers

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  • Viral video shows a cyclist in Maryland assaulting a group of young people who were posing flyers about George Floyd’s murder. 
  • Though internet users and some news outlets reported that one person assaulted was a child, one anonymous victim has clarified that all three are adults. 
  • Authorities have asked the public to help identify the cyclist but warned against posting tips publicly after one man was falsely accused of the crime. 
  • As of Friday morning, authorities say they have found one strong suspect.

The Viral Video 

Authorities in Maryland are asking the public for assistance in identifying a cyclist who was caught on video assaulting three young adults as they posted flyers demanding justice for George Floyd.

The incident took place on the Capital Crescent Tail in Montgomery County on June 1, and a cell phone video of what happened was later shared online.

The video begins with the cyclist, who appears to be a white male, approaching one young woman with a flyer already in his hand. “Get away from me,” she tells him. 

“Hey leave her alone,” the person behind the camera shouts. But the cyclist quickly turns around and heads towards a different woman as the first woman yells, “Do not touch her! Do not touch her! She has nothing! Do not touch her!”

The man grabs the second woman’s wrist and aggressively pulls a roll of tape off her arm as she tries to resist. The first woman then appears on screen pushing him away and yelling, “Hey, get off of her!” 

“Fuck you,” the man responds, then heads towards his bike.

When the person filming tells him to leave, the cyclist grabs his bike and charges towards him. The man recording runs before dropping the cell phone. From there, the cyclist is heard saying, “You want it? Give it to me,” as the fallen individual replies, “There’s the tape.”

Cameraman Speaks Out 

“He was just cycling down the trail,” the victim recording, who wished to remain anonymous, told Path.com.

“He videoed us on his first pass by, then stopped about 50 feet passed us and asked to see my signs, in a friendly tone. When I went to show him the signs he ripped them out of my hands and then started to go after my friends. That’s when I started recording.”

Speaking anonymously once again, that victim told NBC Washington that the cyclist rammed him with his bike and pinned him to the ground. He also told the outlet that all three victims, including two 19-year-old women, are adults, despite reports from internet users and news outlets claiming one was a child. 

“Honestly, I was mostly scared for my friends,” he told Patch. “While I’m young, I’m not a tiny person and I can defend myself if need be … my friends that I was with are both small women and to have a large man approach them and physically rip things out of their hands is quite terrifying, and they were both pretty shaken up after.”

According to some reports, the anonymous cameraman posted the footage on Reddit. Though it cannot be confirmed if the Reddit user is the same person who spoke to reporters, they shared a similar explanation about what lead up the incident online.

That user also posted a photo of the flyer the group was allegedly hanging up, which reads: “Killer Cops Will Not Go Free – Text ‘Floyd to 55156.’” 

maryland bicyclist sign
Reddit: Flabbadabbadooh

Authorities Ask for Help

Park Police tweeted a post on June 2, asking the public for identifying information, along with the number for the detective on the case. 

After the footage spread across social media, many began trying to help. As a result, a Bethesda man named Peter Weinberg was accused of being the man responsible for the attack. That’s because users found evidence that he had biked the trail on May 31 and June 2, however as police later clarified, the incident took place on June 1.

Internet users began tweeting at his employer and sharing his LinkedIn information. Then, Weinberg issued a statement Thursday saying he had been “misidentified in connection with a deeply disturbing attack.”

He later shared a police report to prove he was excluded as a suspect in the case.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also asked that the public help identify the cyclist, however, after seeing Weinberg be falsely accused online, he asked people to share their tips to authorities instead of posting them online. “Hundreds of thousands of bikers, myself included, use this path,” he warned.

Shortly after that tweet, he said police had found a strong suspect, but still added “please don’t name individuals & risk harm to innocent people.”

Many on social media continued to make accusations, eventually spreading a rumor that the cyclist is a former Montgomery County police officer. By Friday afternoon, however, the department released a statement calling that claim false.

See what others are saying: (Patch) (Insider) (NBC Washington)

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Two Buffalo Police Officers Suspended Without Pay After Shoving 75-Year-Old Protester

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Photo: WBFO

  • Video shared on social media shows police officers in Buffalo, New York pushing an elderly protestor to the ground, causing blood to pour out from his ear and pool beneath his head.
  • The video contradicted an earlier statement from the department that said the man tripped and fell.
  • After the footage went viral, two officers involved were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
  • The injured man is still in serious but stable condition as of Friday morning, but is said to be “alert and oriented.”

Update: The entire Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team has reportedly resigned from the voluntary assignment as a “show of support and disgust” over the suspensions. The 57 officers are still members of the police department.

Video Appears Online 

Two police officers in Buffalo, New York were suspended without pay Thursday after video showed them pushing an elderly man to the ground. 

The incident happened during a demonstration in Niagara Square, where people gathered to call for racial justice since the killing of Geroge Floyd.

In a clip filmed by WBFO, a local radio station, a 75-year-old man approaches officers to speak with them. An officer can be heard repeatedly yelling, “push him back.” Around the same time, one officer pushes his arm into the man’s chest, while another extends his baton toward him, gripping it with both hands.

Their shove sends the man backward, causing him to land onto the sidewalk. Though he lands out of the camera’s view, a loud thud can be heard as he hits the ground.

When the camera angles toward him, blood immediately begins to pool beneath his head, seeming to stream down from his right ear. The officer who used his baton to push him leans down to examine the hurt man, but another officer forces him to continue moving forward.

The injured man remained motionless on the floor as dozens of officers continued to walk forward and arrest other protesters. One remained near the man, calling for assistance on his radio. 

Warning: The footage included below is graphic.

Video Contradicts Police Statement 

Around the same time that WBFO shared its video of the incident on Twitter, WKBW reporter Jeff Ruso pointed to a statement from the Buffalo Police Department. In it, the department said it arrested five people at the demonstration, adding that during a “skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.” 

He also linked to footage of the incident from another angle, which again showed officers shoving the elderly man. 

Within the hour, the department told reporters that it was just made aware of the video and was looking into to further.

Officers Suspended

About another hour later, the BPD Commissioner Byron Lockwood said he ordered the immediate suspension of the two officers pending an investigation.  

“This incident is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter.

Cuomo added that he spoke with Mayor Byron Brown and agreed that the officers should be suspended. “Police Officers must enforce — NOT ABUSE — the law.”

Minutes later, the mayor released a statement formally announcing the suspension, admitting that the officers “knocked down a 75-year-old man.”

He stated that the man was in serious but stable condition at Erie County Medical Center and added that he was “deeply disturbed by the video.”

“After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight’s event is disheartening,” he said.

While some applauded the swift action taken to address the situation, the incident added to the distrust in police felt by many across the nation. As some pointed out, officers likely wouldn’t have faced consequences had it not been for the video recordings. 

As far as the injured man, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted Friday morning that a hospital official said the man was “alert and oriented.” He is still in stable but serious condition.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News

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Some Health Officials Think Protests Are Worth the Risk, Even as Cases are Expected to Spike

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Photo by Phil Roeder

  • COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are rising, and while some outlets have indicated this could be because of protests, it is too soon to tell what kind of impact these marches have had on case growth.
  • The new spikes are likely linked to cities and states reopening. Still, most health experts think that because social distancing is near impossible in protesting crowds, the country will see an increase of cases in the next few weeks tied to the protests. 
  • But that does not mean all health officials are against the protests. Many believe protesting for racial equality is worth the risk.
  • Some say that because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities, the protests are especially important so people can fight against the racial injustice that caused this. 

COVID-19 Case Growth

With coronavirus cases on the rise, some have been quick to blame the recent nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. However, experts note that it’s actually too soon to tie the demonstrations as the cause of cause of the surge.

Some officials believe protest-related surges are on the way, but some still think protesting is worth the risk.

On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported over 21,188 new cases of coronavirus in one day across the United States. While this is slightly lower, though essentially on par with last week’s daily average of 21,294 cases, it is part of a general trend of daily averages increasing.

Between May 26 and May 28 the average was 19,800 new cases. This figure went up to 21,700 new cases per day between May 30 and June 1. 

While some outlets correlated this case spike with the recent protests across the country, the protests have only been going on for around a week. Experts like Mark Shrime, a public-health researcher at Harvard, told The Atlantic that while he anticipates a spike eventually, we will not see it for ten to 14 days because of COVID-19’s long incubation period.

In some places, experts are not anticipating the data on cases to reflect the protests for even longer, including Southern California, which may not see protests-related coronavirus cases in health department data for another three or four weeks. 

Ties to Stay At Home Orders Ending

Some believe that this slew of cases could likely be tied to local government’s decisions to reopen in May. Palm Beach County in Florida showed the biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases three weeks after reopening. While the South Florida Sun Sentinel says it may be too soon to tell if that’s the cause, it does mark an increase in the average number of cases being reported.

States like Texas and Arizona have also started to end their stay at home orders and have seen resulting spikes. According to KPNX in Arizona, three weeks after their order was phased out, the state saw one of the fastest-growing caseloads in the country, with a 70% increase after things reopened. 

Some health officials, like Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, anticipated the fact that the public would blame spikes on the protests, instead of the fact that states elected to ease lockdown restrictions. 

“What I fear will happen, particularly in those states, is that any increase in cases in the next couple of weeks will be blamed on protestors,” she told The Verge, even though, “There are multiple things happening at the same time.”

Because social distancing in these protest crowds is nearly impossible, health officials do believe a spike is coming. Many protesters are doing their best to mitigate risks by wearing masks, and spread could also be lessened because these protests are outside. Still, tight spaces and the use of tear gas, which causes coughing, could aid the virus’ ability to travel.

Why Some Health Officials Support Protests Despite Risk

Still, many health officials and activists think protesting is worth the risk. 

“I personally believe that these particular protests—which demand justice for black and brown bodies that have been brutalized by the police—are a necessary action,” Maimuna Majumder a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Atlantic. “Structural racism has been a public-health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has.”

“The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust,” tweeted Dr. Tom Frieden. 

While the major focus of these protests is to demand justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence against Black Americans, they are also calling for an end to racial injustice of all kinds. Among the many other injustices Black Americans face includes a higher coronavirus death rate than white Americans. 

In Washington D.C., where 46% of the population is African American, they account for 75% of the district’s deaths. In Wisconsin, where less than 7% of the state’s residents are Black, they total 25% percent of the state’s deaths. Numerous other states and cities are also experiencing the same problem. 

“So many black communities are protesting because they have to,” said Doctor Mike in Wednesday video. “At a time of a pandemic, when they’re not only putting their lives on the line because of police injustice but also because of this virus. And COVID-19 has already dramatically and drastically affected communities of color disproportionately to other communities.

Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans

Multiple factors contribute to this high death rate. African Americans are systemically under treated by the U.S. healthcare systems. Black Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions like high blood pressure, are less likely to be insured, and are more frequently denied access to testing and treatment. Throughout the pandemic, Black and Hispanic workers have also been less likely to work from home, further increasing their potential exposure to the virus. 

“Unless we are out there protesting in the streets, we can either be killed by Covid-19 just as easily as we can be killed by a cop,” Minneapolis activist Mike Griffin told Bloomberg. 

Marcus echoed the need for the protests. 

“Ultimately, these protests, if they bring us any semblance of progress in terms of structural racism — they will have had a positive impact on public health, not a negative one,” she told The Verge.

Others are still concerned about the potential consequences. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Politico that he understands the anger behind these protests and why people are out there, but still has his fears. 

“I remain concerned about the public health consequences both of individual and institutional racism [and] people out protesting in a way that is harmful to themselves and to their communities,” Adams said. 

“There is going to be a lot to do after this, even to try and get the communities of color back to where they need to be for people to be able to recover from Covid, and for people to be able to recover from the shutdown and to be able to prosper,” he continued. 

See what others are saying: (The Atlantic) (The Verge) (Politico)

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