Friday, March 24, 2017

The Battle Against Women's Healthcare is Getting Personal

I don't normally share my health history but the battle against women's healthcare as well as the battle of insuring people with pre-existing conditions is a personal one for me, and I've been urged by many to share my story. So here it goes.
I was rejected by two (maybe 3) insurance companies back in 2008 for a pre-existing condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which is an endocrine (hormonal and metabolism) disorder affecting one in 10 women of childbearing age. It can be passed on via family genes (my dad's family is my link) and in younger generations, PCOS has been linked to various chemicals in processed foods. Processed foods also exasperate PCOS, especially processed grains like white bread.
I have had issues related to this since a child, but I was never diagnosed until I was in my 30's living in Washington, DC. In rural areas, the conditions are often attributed to thyroid issues, and patients are treated with the wrong medicine which can end up doing more damage. With 1 in 10 women of childbearing age having PCOS, you'd think there would be more education for doctors as well as women, but sadly there isn't.
If the condition is not gotten under control via diet, exercise, and often medicine, commonly women with PCOS end up with serious conditions like diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease as well as appearance issues. PCOS is a common and often treatable cause of infertility.
In my case, I am not able to ever have kids, but I do have an implanted intrauterine device, better known as an IUD. While many people associate IUD's as being strictly for birth control, mine is used to stave off women-related cancers such as ovarian, endometrial, cervical, vaginal, uterine, etc. Did you know there were so many cancers related to a woman's reproductive system? 

Many women with endocrine disorders use birth control products for issues other than birth control. Of course, birth control products, regardless of what they're used for, are also being targeted with this new plan which is mainly put together by rich, white men that have no medical experience. This is just ridiculous!
Besides the IUD, I have a once a year check-in with my PCOS Specialist. I do not take any prescription medicine and am actually quite healthy overall. That said, if somehow I lost the insurance I have, even I would be rejected under this new plan just because PCOS shows up on my medical records. And that my friends is pretty pathetic!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Rolling Back the Rules on Methane is an Assault on the American People and the Environment

Today, the US House gave the oil and gas industry an early Valentine's Day present, voting to permanently block the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule that reduces dangerous methane pollution released by the oil and gas industry on our public lands.  The industry must be responsible for limiting the methane pollution they waste, leak, vent, and flare from our public lands. Furthermore, the Senate must reject this change as allowing dangerous methane emissions is an all out assualt on the global environment and the American people, especially those that live in rural areas. 

In September 2015, I testified at the US Environmental Protection Agency's hearing on methane emissions related to the oil and gas industry. The reasons that methane needs to be regulated has not changed. My testimony follows:

My name is Melinda Hughes, and I live in DuBois, PA. I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on the proposed methane emissions regulations.

In addition to being a citizen concerned about the health of our environment and having a Masters Degree in Environmental Law and Policy from the Vermont Law School, I am also the President and co-founder of the national nonprofit Nature Abounds which has supporters and volunteers across all 50 states. Among our focuses is natural resources extraction, which we experience in our own backyard with coal mining, conventional gas and oil drilling, as well as fracking. We have a significant focus on the effects of climate change from which the world is already experiencing and our children and grandchildren will be far into the future. As you know, we can’t work on fracking or climate change without also looking at the effects of methane emissions.

I strongly support EPA’s recently proposed methane pollution standards for the oil and gas industry, although I only see this as a first step. We really need stronger protections to ensure a healthy future for all living creatures. Many flora and fauna species are already having to adapt to the warmer world. Continuing to allow greenhouse gases continue with industry going about business-as-usual only worsens the problem.

It is already known that methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, and in fact, 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20 year time-frame. Methane is a powerful contributor to climate change and in 2013 alone, the oil and gas sources emitted over 7.3 million metric tons of methane. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from over 160 coal-burning power plants, and in this one year of 2013, methane accounted for about 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, according to the EPA website.

With less methane in the atmosphere we also reduce risk. According to the US Department of Energy, the most significant health hazard associated with methane is that it is highly combustible and mixtures of just 5 to 15 percent of methane in air can be explosive. Large concentrations of methane in enclosed areas can lead to suffocation as large amounts of methane will decrease the amount of available oxygen in the air. The effects of oxygen deficiency are nausea, headaches, dizziness, and unconsciousness. These are the effects on normal people, but the risks are even greater for those with health problems, especially respiratory.

This leads me to my next point. Many fracking sites are around the country are located in mountainous areas like Pennsylvania and Colorado, where air is known to get trapped between the valleys. In fact, our area is known for having some of the worst air pollution in the country due to air becoming trapped. We are also known for some of the highest rates of respiratory issues like lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Adding more air pollution only exacerbates the problem, while reducing methane emissions will help.

The air pollution that does escape the valleys can travel far. A recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland looked at hourly measurements between 2010 and 2013 in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas of ethane and methane, both gases found in natural gas.  While there wasn’t much information on methane sources at the time, they found that ethane measurements increased by 30 percent in that time period. Ironically, fracking operations aren’t found in Maryland and DC, but they are in the neighboring upwind states of West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania where fracking was booming during this period. Note that researchers ruled out other potential sources of pollution. They also compared their findings with cities that aren’t downwind from fracking operations such as Atlanta, and these areas did not show changes in their ethane and methane emissions.

In closing, the oil and gas industry must take responsibility for their pollution, rather than asking the public and our environment to bear the burden. Too often is the profit privatized while the effects and clean-up costs are socialized. The proposed standards will not only help with methane, but will also help to curb other hazardous air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are released from oil and gas sources alongside methane. As I mentioned earlier, these proposed rules are an important first step towards reducing the harm of this industry. I hope that the EPA will strengthen and finalize these rules and then move swiftly to issue standards covering existing sources, within the oil and gas industry as well as other contributing sources from other industries. Thank you, again, for allowing me to share my thoughts. 




Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016 Update - United Nations Office, Geneva Switzerland - 2016 Scientific Research Conference

Today's focus was the Rights of Nature. To those of you in the United States, this may sound strange but on the global front this topic has been getting quite a bit of attention.

As a quick summary, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature sums it up as follows:
"Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights.  It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world.  It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people –  have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.  The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant."
Several countries have passed laws in respect to the rights of nature. For example, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to add the rights of nature. The "Law of the Rights of Mother Earth"  is a Bolivian law that was passed by Bolivia's Plurinational Legislative Assembly in December 2010. New Zealand is another country has been on the leading edge of the Rights of Nature, and our neighbor to the north, Canada, is now also exploring the possibilities. Likewise, local efforts are also underway in India, Nepal, Australia, Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, and other countries on the Rights of Nature.
In the United States, while the concept hasn't had a lot of attention nationwide, it has in some communities. For example, in Pittsburgh, PA in 2010, the city passed an ordinance to ban hydrofracking within the city. Likewise, across the US a variety of issues such as toxic waste, biosolids or sewage sludge application, and mineral extraction, have provided the impetus for similar ordinances. Santa Monica, CA added the recognition of Rights of Nature to the City's Sustainable City Plan. While all the ordinances are different, there are three key elements are: 
  • Reasserting the community's rights to decide what goes on within their community; 
  • Limiting corporate personhood rights, and 
  • Recognizing the rights of natural communities or Nature.

Overall, the premises of the Rights to Nature law are as follows:
  • Recognizes that Nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital, integral cycles.
  • Natural ecosystems can be named as a rights bearing subject. 
  • Humans and government agencies have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of natural systems. 
  • Damages are granted specifically to restore the ecosystem. 
  • Codifies the concept of sustainable development by disallowing activities that would interfere with the functioning of the natural systems that support human and natural life.
  • Is not the same as human rights to nature.
There is also an effort underway for the United Nations to make a declaration concerning the "Rights of Nature". We'll probably see more about this in 2018. 

Tonight there's a dinner at the Botanical Gardens which basically wraps up our work here in Geneva. So I'm off to say "Au Revoir" to my newly discovered colleagues from around the world. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016 Update - United Nations Office, Geneva Switzerland - 2016 Scientific Research Conference

This morning was super busy in Geneva as our focus was “Participatory Research, Citizen Sciences and Fab Labs for Peace and Development”. In more simple terms, today’s theme was involving citizens in meaningful projects to help scientists. Nature Abounds, my nonprofit, currently has three citizen science opportunities – Watch the Wild, IceWatch USA, and our Senior Environment Corps’ water quality monitoring program.

Some presenters for the day shared information about their specific projects. We heard from folks from Germany, France, Switzerland, Cameroun, England, Australia, United States, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, and Bolivia.

Five presenters, including myself, got into more of the development and management of citizen science programs. For example, how do you match a volunteer with an opportunity, how much training do they need, how do you keep your volunteers engaged, how do you make your data credible so that it’s actually used by scientists, making data being collected standard across programs and countries, etc…

Once the presentations were concluded, we broke into five subgroups based on the presentations. In the subgroups, we discussed the aspects of various topics presented. For example, what’s the difference between data and information, and how to make sure our data collected becomes meaningful information for scientists. My group consisted of participants from France, Belgium, Peru, Germany, United States, and Switzerland.

Just before breaking for lunch, I was approached by a couple from Tunisia, and they told me they really enjoyed my presentation as they were looking to design a new citizen science program, and they’d like my help with the design. We exchanged contact information and will stay in touch.

For lunch, I dined with Becky, a vibrant teacher from England and Claire, who lives not far away from France. Most of our conversation centered around Donald Trump, and how they were in shock how we was elected, especially after England experienced something similar not long ago. By the end of the conversation though, Claire became my tour guide for this Saturday, where she will be taking me to CERN, which is not far from my hotel.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research where physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. At CERN, they use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles and provide insights into the fundamental laws of nature. So Saturday, I’ll be in geek girl heaven.


This afternoon, we are concentrating on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, basically funding efforts to involve volunteers in scientific research. Until the next update...


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Organization Working On Climate Change - We Need Your Support!

Now that the election is over and our environmental movement took a huge blow with the results, I’ve received numerous messages from friends that want to know what organizations would be good to support, and especially those working on climate change. My list is below:

First and foremost, a shameless plug for Nature Abounds, the organization I co-founded and am President. Nature Abounds is an emerging national 501c3, found in 2008, with currently over 8,000 supporters across all 50 states. Our main goal is to engage folks in environmental issues whether it be through volunteer opportunities (action and outreach) and stewardship. Climate change is a major priority for us as it touched upon pretty much all aspects of our lives…air, water, habitat, health, etc… Climate change has been woven into all of our opportunities as well as programs and will continue to be. Not only do we engage folks in wildlife, water quality, and weather monitoring, but we engage them in educating the public, their friends and family, as well as our leaders about climate change and things they can do to help.

Finally, we just acquired another nonprofit program related to biodiversity, and adapting to the effects of climate change will play a major part of how we develop the program as we take it from a relatively locally-focused program to a national scale. Climate is such a big issue for Nature Abounds that we have a second website dedicated just to climate change - http://www.climatechangeambassador.org/

In addition to engaging volunteers and others in climate change action, I also work on the regulations regarding climate change and its effects. For example, we worked with other organizations on methane regulations as well as carbon dioxide regulations. We understand that we must work with other organizations to have a larger voice for the issues we care about.  Likewise, we believe that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can contribute to making the world a better place. Finally, with a small staff of only four, we keep our overhead expenses low, while harnessing the passion of our supporters. To expand what we’re doing to make an even bigger impact, your support would be greatly appreciated.

Nature Abounds’ websites:
Nature Abounds’ Facebook pages:

Other organizations doing significant work on climate change –

Environmental Defense Fund –
Union of Concerned Scientists –
The Conservation Fund –
Earthjustice –
Natural Resource Defense Council –
National Wildlife Federation –
Freshwater Future (Great Lakes focus)
National Audubon Society
350.org –
Seaturtle Conservancy –
Save the Frogs –
Leonardo DiCarprio Foundation –
Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
Zero Waste for Zero Loss – a brand new nonprofit that will also be working on climate change. They currently do not have a webpage or Facebook page, but when they do, I’ll add their information to the list.

Looking beyond nonprofits, please also support nonprofit news outlets that cover the realities of climate change as well as institutions that are teaching our future generations about environmental issues like climate change as well as how to combat them. One major player in environmental education is the Vermont Law School. Their website can be found at http://www.vermontlaw.edu/ and the school can be followed on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vermontlaw/ .



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Refugees - The Facts

There are so many posts lately about how horrible it is that the United States is accepting refugees and it's mostly blamed on liberals supporting terrorists, blah, blah, blah. As a lot of you know, one of my major pet peeves is when people don't do the research and make a complaint or statement based on nothing, and this is a great example. Here are the facts about why the United States will accept refugees, and I'm sure that many of you will find it shocking that it has nothing to do with supporting terrorism. And while many folks want to just blame President Obama or Hillary Clinton for the refugee crisis, that's just simply not true.

Many refugees have lost their homes due to war destroying their home and livelihood, and we're seeing see many more refugees on the move due to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise wiping out some island nations or coastal villages. Interestingly, when you start connecting the dots in the Middle East, you can actually track quite a bit of the turmoil to drought conditions where people were uprooted due to losing their agricultural livelihoods due to a lack of water. I could get into this further, but we'll save this "refugee and climate change" topic for another day.

Anyway, over the past several decades, 142 countries have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol. The United States signed on to the protocol in 1968 while President Lyndon B. Johnson was President. For anyone that still wants to connect President Obama or Hillary Clinton to this, he was only 7 years old at this point, and she would have been an 18 year old college student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Under the protocol agreement for the United States specifically, the term "refugee" is defined as ‘A person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” Also note here, that the term "illegal immigrant" is not a correct description/term for a "refugee".

So...what rights do refugees have under the agreement? In addition to not being sent back to their home countries, refugees have several other rights, including:
- The right to not be punished for illegally entering countries that signed on to the treaty,
- The right to housing,
- The right to work,
- Access to education,
- Access to public assistance,
- Access to courts,
- The right to get identification and travel documents.

There you have it...the facts about refugees and our obligations. We also have to remember that many of our ancestors came to the United States as refugees, and it's probably not a stretch to say that they weren't terrorists.

Finally, if you're interested in more information about the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol, here's the link to a list of what other countries are involved with dates on when they signed their commitment.


Finally, feel free to share this post as you please. I'm 100% in favor in spreading the facts.

@United Nations

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Clean Power Plan and Pennsylvania

In August 2015, the Obama Administration announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) that established the first carbon pollution standards in existing power plants, requiring a 32% reduction in carbon pollution below 2005 levels by 2030. States are required to submit a plan or request an extension by September 6, 2016.

Here in our home state of Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection has solicited for feedback from stakeholders and held 14 public hearings recently. I attended the final hearing last evening in Williamsport, PA, and below is the testimony I gave:

My name is Melinda Hughes, and I live in DuBois, PA. I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on Pennsylvania’s role in reducing carbon emissions.  

In addition to being a citizen concerned about the health of our environment, I am also the President and cofounder of the national nonprofit Nature Abounds which has supporters and volunteers across all 50 states. I also hold a Masters Degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School, and I have been working on climate change and effects since about 2005.

At Nature Abounds, we have a significant focus on the effects of climate change from which the world is already experiencing and our children and grandchildren will be far into the future. We can’t have success combating the effects of climate change without reducing carbon emissions as well as other greenhouse gases such as methane.

I strongly support the Clean Power Plan, although I only see reducing carbon emissions as a first step. We need stronger protections to ensure a healthy future for all living creatures. Many flora and fauna species are already having to adapt to the warmer world. Continuing to allow noxious gases and power plants business-as-usual only worsens the problem and our future.

Looking specifically at carbon emissions, a Stanford University study has detailed how for each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States. As a result, more than 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths worldwide per year per degree Celsius may be due to this greenhouse gas.

Moving beyond carbon emissions, it is already known that methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, and in fact, 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20 year time-frame. Methane is a powerful contributor to climate change and in 2013 alone, the oil and gas sources emitted over 7.3 million metric tons of methane. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from over 160 coal-burning power plants, and in this one year of 2013, methane accounted for about 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, according to the EPA website.

With less methane in the atmosphere we also reduce risk. According to the US Department of Energy, the most significant health hazard associated with methane is that it is highly combustible and mixtures of just 5 to 15 percent of methane in air can be explosive. Large concentrations of methane in enclosed areas can lead to suffocation as large amounts of methane will decrease the amount of available oxygen in the air. The effects of oxygen deficiency are nausea, headaches, dizziness, and unconsciousness. These are the effects on normal people, but the risks are even greater for those with health problems, especially respiratory.

This leads me to my next point. Even without a federal rule, Pennsylvania should already have been regulating emissions from power plants and other sources such as fracking operations. Air pollution is known to get trapped between the valleys. In fact, our area is known for having some of the worst air pollution in the country due to air becoming trapped. Likewise, we are also known for some of the highest rates of respiratory issues like lung cancer and COPD. As an example, just walk around a Walmart in the Ebensburg or Johnstown areas and you’ll be shocked at how many customers are wearing oxygen tanks. Adding more air pollution only exacerbates the problem, while reducing toxic emissions will only help.

It makes sense that power plants should reduce their emissions. In fact, according to the EPA, the electric power sector accounted for 32% of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, and greenhouse gas emissions from electricity have increased by about 11% since 1990 as electricity demand has grown and fossil fuels have remained the dominant source for generation. It’s time for the power plants to take responsibility for their pollution, rather than asking the public and our environment to bear the burden. Too often is profit privatized while the effects and clean-up are socialized.  

From an economic standpoint, the move makes sense as well. The Commonwealth’s clean energy industry already employs 57,000 people – more than in the coal industry. By reducing carbon emissions, even the most conservative estimates suggest that Pennsylvania will add more than 5,000 jobs by reducing its carbon emissions.

In closing, I hope that Pennsylvania will take action on carbon emissions, but I’m hoping even more that you will go above and beyond the basic minimum and also reduce methane emissions from other industries such as fracking, and maybe even use that methane as an energy sources. It’s being done in several other states, including California and Vermont, just to name a couple.

The time is now as our children and grandchildren can’t afford to inherit more pollution.  Thank you, again, for allowing me to share my thoughts. 


                                          Homer City, PA power plant, photo from Reuters