The Environment

Illinois Law Seeks to Limit 

PFAS-Based Air Pollution 

 

By Jonah Chester
Public News Service


    ILLINOIS - (PNS) - 6/14/2022 - Illinois has enacted a new law to prohibit the incineration of some PFAS-based substances.

    The man-made chemical compounds are most commonly associated with groundwater pollution.

    But Sonya Lunder - senior toxics policy advisor with the Sierra Club - said the per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances may even be able to withstand high-power incinerators, which have been used to dispose of PFAS-based materials.

    She explained that the extreme heat can even cause chemical reactions in the compounds.

    "If they're partially reacted, they form a variety of harmful breakdown products," said Lunder, "and/or the PFAS would literally just be going up the stack and falling out in the nearby community."

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that scientists are still learning about the exact health effects PFAS could have. But high levels of PFAS contamination may lead to - among other issues - lower birth weights, increased risk of cancer and decreased vaccine response in children.

    The National Institutes of Health reports there are about 5,000 distinct members of the PFAS family. Lunder explained the bill was narrowed to cover about 170 older PFAS compounds that are still found in some stored-but-unusable firefighting foams.

    She said as new PFAS are developed and implemented, more expansive policies may be necessary.

    "We are concerned," said Lunder, "because the chemical industry is so rapidly innovating and shifting to new and closely related chemicals that the narrowing that happened to the bill will mean that over time there will be other types of waste that could be burned."

    While Illinois' ban may be relatively narrow in scope, Nicole Saulsberry - Illinois state government representative with the Sierra Club - contends it's one of the most robust PFAS-incineration policies in the country.

    She explained the measure was based on similar policies in New York, but that those only cover specific communities.

    "But with Illinois, it's a statewide ban," said Saulsberry. "So this bill that was passed in Illinois is historic in the sense that we're the only state to have a statewide ban on the incineration of PFAS."

    PFAS are also known as "forever chemicals," as they'll essentially never break down under normal environmental conditions.

    But Lunder explained that the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a potential solution - using heat and pressure to destroy the compounds through a process known as supercritical water oxidation.

Disclosure: Sierra Club contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
 

References:
HB4818: Amends the Environmental Protection Act. Provides that the disposal by incineration... the Illinois Legislature 2022
What are the health effects of PFAS? CDC 2022
PFAS Research NIH 2022

Story credit: Jonah Chester, Public News Service, 6/13/2022 

Civil Rights

Colorado Teacher Fired For

Opposing Racism Sees Court Victory


    
WASHINGTON, D.C. - (AU) - 6/10/2022 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State celebrated a recent opinion by a federal appeals court that allows a lawsuit filed by former teacher and director of student life Gregg Tucker to proceed against the private Christian school in Colorado that fired him after he tried to address pervasive racism there.

    Gregg Tucker was an exemplary teacher at Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colo. When he tried to combat extensive racism his family and many Black, Hispanic and Asian students faced there, he was fired. Tucker fought back in court, where Faith Christian Academy argued that he was a “minister” and therefore that firing him was a matter of faith that the federal courts could not decide.

    Today, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Tucker’s case alleging race discrimination under Title VII, Gregory Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International, to advance by refusing the school’s demand to declare Tucker a “minister” and dismiss the case. Now, Tucker gets to litigate the case and attempt to vindicate his rights.

    “The court’s decision today is a win for the rule of law and a critical step in our fight to prevent the weaponization of religious freedom,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Gregg Tucker was fired because he tried to combat pervasive racism at the school. The courts should not allow religious freedom to be distorted as a license to discriminate and deny basic civil rights.

    “This case brings to light a dangerous trend: The school’s attorneys and religious employers are urging courts to adopt an ever-broader interpretation of the ministerial exception, which was meant to ensure that houses of worship could freely choose their clergy. The ministerial exception was never intended to put religious employers above the law or permit them to discriminate against all workers and sidestep civil-rights laws.

    “These employers want the ministerial exception applied not just to clergy and some private-school educators with significant religious duties, but to all employees at religious organizations. This doctrine should not apply to Gregg Tucker, who was not a minister. We are gratified that the Tenth Circuit’s decision allows Gregg to prove that in court.”

    The school had made the unprecedented move of appealing a district court order allowing the case to proceed, even though such appeals are not permitted until after litigation has resolved certain questions, including whether or not Tucker is a “minister.” The school wrongly argued that the court should just accept the school’s disputed contention that Tucker was a minister, before that factual question was answered, and dismiss the case. The school wanted to circumvent the legal process and deny Tucker his right to challenge the retaliation and discrimination he suffered. But the court rightly rejected those arguments.


Case Background:


    Gregg Tucker devoted 14 years of his life to working at Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colo., as a teacher and director of student life. After Tucker and his wife adopted a daughter, who is Black, from the Dominican Republic, some students began to call Tucker and his family racial slurs. Tucker was even more dismayed by the unchecked racism some students directed at their Black, Hispanic and Asian classmates. With the school administration’s support, Tucker organized an anti-racism symposium for students in January 2018. While the event was overwhelmingly well received by administrators and families, a handful of parents objected. The school eventually caved in to the pressure of those parents and stripped Tucker of some of his duties, and then it fired him.

    Tucker filed a federal lawsuit in June 2019 because the school violated his civil rights by retaliating against him when he opposed the school’s racially hostile environment.

    The school is trying to exploit a legal doctrine called the “ministerial exception” to avoid responsibility for allowing Tucker to suffer racially motivated discrimination at work and for unjustly firing him. But Tucker was not a minister – he was not responsible for teaching theology, had no substantial religious functions as a part of his job, and when he inquired about a tax deduction available only to ministers, he was explicitly told by the school that he was not a minister.

    Tucker’s legal team includes Americans United Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard, who argued the case before the 10th Circuit in May 2021; AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee; AU Madison Legal Fellow Adrianne Spoto; and from the Denver law firm Levin Sitcoff PC, attorneys Bradley A. Levin, Jeremy A. Sitcoff and Peter G. Friesen.

Resources
The opinion from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
The complaint in Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel.
Tucker’s brief filed in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Politics and Corruption

Trump White House Official 

Peter Navarro Indicted 

For Contempt of Congress

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (Common Cause) - 6/3/2022 - The Justice Department indicted former Trump White House official Peter Navarro today for contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the January 6th Select Committee. The former trade adviser was a leader in the Trump White House effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In April, Common Cause urged House Members to vote to certify criminal contempt citations against Navarro and fellow White House official Dan Scavino.

Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause President

    Americans expect and deserve to know the full truth about the insurrection on January 6th. And they expect and deserve to see justice served to those responsible for unleashing the violent, racist mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election. The forces that sought to overturn the election are still present today and the threat to democracy is ongoing.

    Although some witnesses like Peter Navarro have failed to comply with duly-issued subpoenas, the Select Committee will begin sharing its findings with the public in its historic hearings that begin on June 9. The Committee has conducted more than a thousand interviews and depositions and collected more than 140,000 documents as part of its bipartisan investigation.

    Today’s indictment of Peter Navarro will help ensure that Congress is able to learn the full truth behind the White House attempts to steal the election that Donald Trump lost. This indictment has been slow to come, but we sincerely hope it is the first of many to come from the Justice Department.

    There must be consequences for those who brought about the insurrection and there must be consequences for those who refuse to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Congress has the power and responsibility of oversight and its subpoenas cannot be ignored without repercussions or else our system of checks and balances will break down. Today’s indictment is a victory for the American people and a victory for the rule of law.

Workplace Trends

Moving Away from the 

Toxic Work Culture


By Mike Moen
Producer, PNS
 

    North Dakota - (PNS) - 5/17/2022 - North Dakota has seen recent examples of staffing shake-ups among certain employers where a toxic environment was cited. It coincides with rhetoric about the need for companies and agencies to offer a more compassionate work setting.

    Earlier this year, Fargo Police leaders publicly responded to reports of low morale among officers. Similar issues prompted an internal investigation within Cass County Human Services.

    Dr. Hope Umansky, a psychological consultant for Innovations Advocacy Group, said those in management need to pay closer attention to how the workforce has responded to the pandemic.

    "I don't think people, with the shift in the last two years, are going to put up with just neglecting their families, their homes, their kids anymore," Umansky contended. "A good thing has been a reset toward, 'We don't need to be so busy all the time.' You know, like it's not healthy for anybody."

    She emphasized the mindset includes no longer feeling a sense of loyalty to a job if the person doesn't think they are valued by management.

    A recent report from MIT Sloan Management looked at turnover data during the "Great Resignation." Researchers found a toxic culture was the leading predictor of attrition.

    Umansky pointed out employers who do not look inward and improve leadership will face more instability, which could threaten the company's future.

    "If your [organizational] structure, your staff, your people aren't healthy psychologically and happy and thriving, the business isn't going to grow," Umansky stressed.

    She added while it's not an issue of ageism, younger generations have different expectations of a work-life balance. She suggests because it has been harder for them to obtain financial security, they have a different set of priorities as it relates to work.

References:
Police video City of Fargo 01/14/2022
Great resignation study MIT 01/11/2022