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This week: An abridged guide to civic involvement. A pastor who’s reviving the Poor People’s Campaign, once led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and including environmental justice. And, before the long weekend, some recommended listening.
How to have your say
It’s one of the most consequential environmental rollbacks proposed by the Trump administration: an overhaul of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks that would significantly weaken one of former President Barack Obama’s signature policies to combat global warming.
Now, that proposed rollback is going to the American public — that could mean you, dear reader — for a period of public comment.
But do public comments make a difference? And how exactly do you get involved?
One former official with broad experience of the rule-making process, Margo T. Oge, who led the transportation and air quality office at the Environmental Protection Agency, said that hearings can leave a lasting impression on officials. That’s because they give the public a chance to interact with representatives from industry and other groups, like environmental organizations.
Ms. Oge recalled a public hearing that included the mother of a child with severe asthma sitting next to an oil executive. The proposal in question was to reduce sulfur in diesel oil, a measure designed to prevent respiratory and other illnesses, especially asthma in children.
The oil executive spoke first, and complained about the costs of meeting the standards.
Then the mother stepped up to speak. “She recounted how many times a year the child ended up at the hospital with asthma attacks, and was unable to play outdoors when air pollution was high,” Ms. Oge said. “You could see how uncomfortable the executive became.”
The government is legally required to respond to what it hears from the public — if not to individual comments, then to the main issues raised in them.
David Friedman, a former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pointed out that if the Trump administration’s rollback is challenged in court, as expected, public comments — both for and against — will most likely become evidence in the case.
“If the courts determine that regulators didn’t take public comments into proper account,” Mr. Friedman said, “they could overturn the rule as arbitrary and capricious.”
There are two ways to make your voice heard. You can travel in person to a daylong public hearing in late September at one of three locations. The hearings start at 10 a.m. local time and continue until 5 p.m. or until everyone has had a chance to speak.
Sept. 24 at The Grand, 1401 Fulton St. in Fresno, Calif.
Sept. 25 at The Dearborn Inn, 20301 Oakwood Blvd. in Dearborn, Mich.
Sept. 26 at the DoubleTree, 1 Bigelow Square in Pittsburgh
If you want to speak at these meetings, remember to register at least 10 days in advance by writing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s point person for the meetings, Kil-Jae Hong, at [email protected] There’ll be a lot of speakers, so plan to limit your comments to about five minutes.
Alternatively, you can register your opinion by submitting a written comment. If you plan to do so, make sure you meet the Oct. 23 deadline. (For more information, you can revisit our extensive coverage of the emissions rules rollback.)
“It’s one of the hallmarks of our democracy that when we make regulations, we hear from the American people,” Mr. Friedman said. “It’s enshrined in law that public voices must be heard.”
Environmental justice from the pulpit
When I headed to North Carolina to see the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II in action, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He is reviving the Poor People’s Campaign, once led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and is updating its mission to include environmental justice. But issues of poverty and environmental degradation don’t necessarily draw big crowds.
What I found was two people, Dr. Barber and former Vice President Al Gore, who had the ability to do just about anything else with their time, but they were wholly devoted to this issue. And I found a community of people who were depending on their support.
“As long as I can walk and as long as I can talk, I want to be among the people who are the only people that can transform this country,” Dr. Barber said. “And that is the poor and lower-income people of every hue, every creed, every color.”
You can read the full story here.
What we’re listening to
Labor Day weekend is coming up in the United States and Canada, and for a lot of us that means a last summer jaunt. Whether you’re in a car, a train, a jitney or just going for a long walk, it’s a great time to listen to podcasts. I’m generally an audiobooks guy, but I also like the quicker hit that podcasts provide. (O.K., yes, I’m addicted to “The Daily” from The New York Times, and my impression of Michael Barbaro saying “Hmm!” is spot on.)
For those of you who are interested in climate change (and you’re reading this newsletter, aren’t you?) I put out a call for favorite podcasts that talk about this vital issue. I checked in with the audio connoisseurs in the New York Times Podcast Club, a Facebook group with 25,000 members that’s a little like a book club for podcast fans. (You have to apply for membership, but it’s freely given.) The group took to the challenge and came up with great suggestions, including exhaustive lists in the Player FM app and at the podcast search engine Listen Notes.
Plaudits came in for “Terrestrial” from the public radio station KUOW in Seattle, and “Mothers of Invention,” which features former President Mary Robinson of Ireland and Maeve Higgins, a comedian. John Green, the author of “The Fault in our Stars” and other best sellers, earned praise for his series, “The Anthropocene Reviewed.”
Some podcasts with a more political bent included “Think 100%: The Coolest Show on Climate Change” and the bipartisan “Political Climate.” Another show, “No Place Like Home,” approaches climate change through personal stories.
Individual episodes of other podcasts can also be gems. This episode of “Orbital Path” discusses the world’s response to the ozone hole and the possible lessons for dealing with climate change. My colleague Brad Plumer recommends this one from the great series “99% Invisible” about planting oyster beds to protect shorelines from climate change. And call me biased, but I loved hearing another member of the Times climate team, Somini Sengupta, talking with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” recently.
I’ve got my listening cut out for me! And now you might, too.
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