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U.S. House passes PFAS bill regulating ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water–

 

Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast and Bill Posey joined Democrats in voting for the bill.  Nice surprise.  We also have expectations for the Senate.  How could they not  support this?  Did the lobbyists back away?  Run out of funds?

Read the original article here in  the Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


 

WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation that would regulate toxic chemicals found in drinking water, as well as designate two types of those toxic chemicals as hazardous substances that would spark federal cleanup standards.

The bill, H.R. 2467, also known as the PFAS Action Act of 2021, passed 241-183with 23 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for it.

In the Florida delegation, Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast and Bill Posey joined Democrats in voting for the bill.

The legislation would direct EPA to start the regulatory process for regulating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water and making the decision on whether to set drinking water standards for certain types of PFAS or to regulate the entire class, which ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 substances.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, (D-Mich.), said on the House floor. “Now almost every American has PFAS coursing through their blood after generations of using the chemicals.”

Chemical companies such as DuPont and Dow Chemical along with other businesses used the so-called forever chemicals to make nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, Scotchgard and other consumer products.

Dingell, along with Rep. Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), has worked to garner bipartisan support for the bill. Similar PFAS legislation passed the House last year by a 247-159 vote, with 24 Republicans joining Democrats.

That bill then died in a Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), has not publicly stated whether he will bring the bill passed by the House on Wednesday to the Senate floor for a vote and there is currently no Senate version of it.

The Biden administration did issue a statement of administration policy in support of passage of the House measure.

“Addressing these ‘forever chemicals’ remains one of the most complex environmental challenges of our day due to the number of chemicals, the impacts on human health, and the widespread use of PFAS and their ubiquity in the environment,” the statement said.

“The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure that these actions are taken in a thoughtful, transparent, and timely manner and are supported by the best science to restore confidence in our efforts to protect the health of the American people.”

Studies have linked PFAS contamination to various health problems such as high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and testicular and kidney cancer.

Upton said that while the bill was not perfect, it was a start to regulating the toxic chemicals out of drinking water.

“It needs to see a number of constructive changes before it reaches the president’s desk,” he said.

“The Pentagon’s not going to prioritize cleanup of these military sites until these chemicals are listed as the hazardous substances that they are,” Dingell said.The Michigan lawmakers have pushed for two of the most studied PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, to be listed as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or the Superfund law, so that federal cleanup standards can be applied to military installations that have PFAS contamination.

In Michigan alone, there are at least 10 military bases with PFAS contamination, but the Department of Defense has been hesitant to initiate cleanup as it does not have to follow state law. However, with the Superfund designation, the Department of Defense would be required to start cleaning up those sites.

Local leaders and community activists have expressed their frustration with DOD stalling cleanup sites during several congressional hearings. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy work around agriculture, pollutants, and corporate accountability, has found PFAS contamination in more than 2,800 communities, including 2,411 drinking water systems and 328 military installations across the country.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, (D-Mich.), said on the House floor Wednesday that Michiganders “are concerned about increasing levels of PFAS and other toxic chemicals that we’re continuing to find in our drinking water.”

House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), said that every House lawmaker should be concerned about PFAS contamination.

“It affects my district and every single congressional district in our country is affected by PFAS,” he said on the House floor. “The bill ensures that EPA finally takes measures to prevent future releases of PFAS into our environment and clean them up where such contamination has occurred.”

Republicans who voted against the bill argued that Congress should not force EPA to craft regulations, and lawmakers should let the agency develop standards on its own. They also said that the bill would burden water utility systems and could leave those businesses open for possible liability.

States Newsroom has reported that local water utilities have stepped up their lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital to push for exemptions from Superfund designation, citing fears of liability over PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Rep. Tim Walberg, (R-Mich.) also argued that water utilities would be held liable for Superfund cleanup and that there are several provisions in the bill that EPA is currently in the process of completing on its own.

“Make no mistake, I believe this is a serious problem,” he said on the House floor. “But the bill before us today, although severely well intended, goes too far. It represents the largest expansion of regulatory authority at the EPA or perhaps any federal agency in decades.”

Rep. John Joyce, (R-Penn.), argued that using a hazardous designation for the chemicals “has the potential to slow down the cleanup process of PFAS and divert resources from current high priority public health issues.”

Joyce said that Congress should not interfere and should “let government agencies do their work.”




Pushback Against PFAs Regulation–

 

Photo Creative Common, Wikipedia..

 

That’s right, better to get thyroid disease or testicular and kidney cancer from forever chemicals than spend money.  That’s the American Way.

Read the original article here in Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


As Congress tries to regulate ‘forever chemicals,’ local water systems push back

Bipartisan legislation in Congress aims to reduce Americans’ exposure to toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products.

WASHINGTON—Local water utilities worried about getting hit with lawsuits and high cleanup costs are stepping up their lobbying of Congress as lawmakers move to regulate toxic chemicals found in drinking water.

The bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2021, has garnered bipartisan support and two Michigan lawmakers, Reps. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Republican, are expected to bring the measure to the House floor for passage later this week.

The legislation would direct EPA to regulate two of the most studied types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water. It would also designate those two chemicals as hazardous substances, which would kick-start federal cleanup standards.

But water utilities representing local governments are also amping up their lobbying on the regulation of the “forever chemicals,” which are linked to multiple health problems such as high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and testicular and kidney cancer.

“The water utilities are not responsible for PFAS in drinking water,” said Mike Keegan, a regulatory analyst at the National Rural Water Association, which is a trade group that represents local water utilities in rural areas across all 50 states.

Keegan said that the legislation, H.R. 2467, would make water utilities in rural areas financially liable if a maximum contaminant level for the chemicals is put in place by EPA.

He added that some of those water utilities might not be able to afford the treatment technology required to remove the PFAS. The bill does provide a $200 million grant to water utilities and wastewater facilities to treat PFAS over four years, but Keegan said water utilities would most likely need more funding than the grant provides.

“We want to protect the public from PFAS, we want all that,” he said. “But when you get into the mechanics (of the bill), what they’re really doing is passing on the liability to the public.”

Chemical companies such as DuPont, Chemours, Dow Chemical and 3M along with other businesses used the ubiquitous chemicals to make nonstick cookware such as Teflon, waterproof clothing, ski wax, Scotchgard and other consumer products.

But because of the chemicals’ inability to break down in the environment, PFAS can be found in drinking water across the country as well as in landfills and air.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy work around agriculture, pollutants, and corporate accountability, has found that more than 200 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with PFAS.

According to first quarter reports for this year, the National Rural Water Association spent $390,000 on lobbying  related to water policy. Last year, the NRWA spent $1.57 million on lobbying, according to reports.

However, because federal law does not require a specific breakdown of which issues those entities are lobbying for, it’s unclear how much money went to lobbying on PFAS policy.

Local water utilities from Colorado, Michigan and Florida, among others, have also taken to lobbying Congress on PFAS as lawmakers work to pass legislation to regulate the chemicals.

Colorado Springs Utilities spent $30,000 lobbying Congress by briefing “congressional staff on the status of the federal waters of the U.S. rule making and potential impacts on western water providers and various bills regarding the regulation of PFAS as a hazardous substance and associated obligations to water and wastewater utilities,” according to lobbying records for the first quarter of this year.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which is a nongovernmental organization that aims to improve transportation, environmental quality and infrastructure for Southeast Michigan, spent $10,000 in lobbying for the first quarter of this year, according to reports. The groups’ lobbying interests included support for a PFAS review.

The City of Satellite Beach in Florida also spent $10,000 in lobbying efforts for the first quarter of this year, according to reports.

One solution, Keegan said, is to exempt local governments and water utilities from liability.

Currently, only airports are exempted from that liability. The foam the Federal Aviation Administration required airports to use for emergency purposes and training contained two of the most toxic and well studied types of PFAS—perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS.

An argument from various trade organizations that represent water utilities is that the polluters, or the makers of the chemicals, should be the ones to cover the cost of treating PFAS out of water systems.

“Just the threat of liability is really worrisome to local governments,” Keegan said.

A particular sticking point is a section in the bill that would designate those two most toxic and well studied types of PFAS— PFOA and PFOS— as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, or CERCLA, which is also known as the Superfund law.

Under that designation, water utilities would have to comply with federal cleanup standards.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, which is an organization of the largest publicly owned water utilities in the U.S., has also raised concerns with the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the liability for PFAS cleanup that utilities would be stuck with.

“This is in direct contrast to the polluter pays principle, and we urge the  committee to keep liability for PFAS cleanup with PFAS manufacturers and formulators,” AMWA wrote to committee leaders. “At minimum, the legislation should extend a similar CERCLA liability exemption to  water and wastewater utilities that it offers to airports.”

AMWA spent $90,000 last year on lobbying efforts, according to lobbying records. The organization has spent $30,000 on lobbying for this year’s first quarter, according to reports.

The president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Water Companies, Robert Powelson, said in a statement that water utilities that are already moving to remove PFOA and PFOS from drinking water should not be held liable under CERCLA.

“It is imperative that the companies who produced and used these chemicals should be responsible for paying to clean them up,” Powelson said. “This is fundamental fairness and it should help us keep us focused on the companies and industries that have a real financial interest in slowing down meaningful PFAS remediation….”

“PFAS is an urgent public health and environmental threat – it’s affecting our drinking water, our health, and our environment in Michigan and across the U.S.” Dingell said in a statement after the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to send the bill to the House floor.

“The number of contamination sites nationwide is growing at an alarming rate, including our military bases, and we can’t wait any longer to address this.”

 




Don’t allow hazardous material in road construction: OSFR President Mike Roth Guest Editorial

Sinkhole in the top of a gypstack which leaked toxic process water into the aquifer. FDEP tried to keep it quiet for nearly 3 weeks but were caught by a Tampa TV station. Photo by Jim Tatum

 

The anti-environment appointees under the Trump administration indeed attempted to launch some preposterous programs and using toxic phosphogypsum  for road building was one of them.  Gypstacks are much in the news today because of the return of the Piney Point problem.

Here is a link to the site https://phosphogypsumfreeamerica.org/ which Mike mentions below.  Please sign the petition to help arrive at a solution to this problem.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Don’t allow hazardous material in road construction

Michael Roth

Special to Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
Sunday, April 4, 2021

Did you ever see a phosphogypsum stack, aka a ‘gypstack’? To a first timer, it’s a breathtaking sight — a 400-acre ‘mountain’ rising to the height of a 20-story building. To a resident of mid-central Florida, it’s the normal background vista.

If you climb up this 200-foot incline, you can see its contents — as much as an 80-acre acidic lake with pH levels as low as 1.5. And this lake is likely to be around for a while, since the radioactive radium that makes up the lake has a 1,630-year half-life.

Adding to this soup is a significant presence of sulfur, as well as lesser amounts of arsenic, barium, cadmium and lead. The fertilizer industry in Florida produces about 30 million tons of the stuff each year; the over 900 million tons that have been produced so far fill about 25 such ‘mountains’ in Florida, a state well known for heavy rains and sinkholes.

Exposure to phosphogypsum — which can leach from gypsum stacks into subsurface aquifers, can be absorbed by plants, consumed by livestock and wildlife and work its way through the food chain to humans — is known to cause cancer in 1 in ever 10,000 people that come into contact with it.

Apparently, there’s no reason for concern, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are sure it’s safe. In fact, Mosaic Industries, the owner of most of the gypstacks, claims to be ‘… one of the most highly regulated companies in the state of Florida.’

Still, in 1997, a 56-million-gallon spill turned the north prong of the Alafia river into a killing zone, damaging 377 acres of habitat and killing or injuring any wildlife that couldn’t evacuate quickly enough. In 2016, a sinkhole in one of the gypstacks sucked 215 million gallons directly into the Floridan Aquifer, which supplies water to virtually everyone in Florida north of Palm Beach. There are numerous stories of lesser spills and leaks in between those incidents, and they continue to occur.

According to Glenn Compton, the chairman of Manasota-88, ‘The DEP currently lacks adequate regulations needed to protect the public and the environment from hazards associated with gypsum stacks and ponds. Proper regulations requiring final disposition of gypsum wastes in an environmentally acceptable manner do not exist.’

Now, the EPA has come up with a solution. Reversing a ban that has been in place since 1992, and ignoring its own expert consultant, who found numerous scenarios that would expose the public, the EPA in October approved the use of phosphogypsum in road construction.

Characterized by Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, as ‘a political favor to the fertilizer industry,’ this move clearly subjects road builders as well as the general public to unacceptable levels of radiation.

Accordingly, a coalition of conservation and labor groups has assembled a series of informative articles, videos and statistics at

PhosphogypsumFreeAmerica.org . At the core of the website is a public petition asking the EPA to reconsider its irresponsibly dangerous decision to allow the use of phosphogypsum in road construction.

The petition goes further to request more stringent oversight and regulation of the hazardous waste more closely aligned with the spirit of the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, which were designed to control the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste with an eye toward public safety and protection.

We urge everyone to review the material at the website and through the petition remind the EPA that it is responsible for the protection of human health and the environment and not designed for the protection of the fertilizer industry.

Michael Roth is president of Our Santa Fe River Inc




Lawsuit Launched to Secure Critical Habitat for Florida Freshwater Mussel

Suwannee Moccasinshell. Photo by USFWS

 

We remember the surprise we felt when we first heard the concept of suing a state or federal agency for not doing its job.  That naivete has long since departed, but it is still with some animosity we consider that elected or appointed heads of agencies deliberately flout their mission to protect and conserve.

We understand that state and federal agencies are not run by the people but by industry (read money) which rules all.

Also long ago we learned that all is not just in the world and life is not  fair.

This animal species will be directly threatened by HPSII mining activities if the FDEP gives them a mining permit.  Chemours’ mining operations currently have a potential threat in one area of the upper Santa Fe River.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity and other like groups to at least make it harder for money-hungry planet destroyers to harm our planet and its living creatures.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


For Immediate Release, January 12, 2021

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, [email protected]

Lawsuit Launched to Secure Critical Habitat for Florida Freshwater Mussel

Suwannee Moccasinshell Threatened by Pollution, Phosphate Mine

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to designate critical habitat for the Suwannee moccasinshell, found in north Florida.

The moccasinshell was feared extinct but rediscovered in the Suwannee, Upper Santa Fe and Withlacoochee rivers. The Center filed a scientific petition to list the 2-inch mollusk under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 and followed up with several lawsuits to force decisions leading to the moccasinshell’s protection.

The Service proposed designating more than 100 miles of rivers as critical habitat over a year ago, but has now missed the deadline to finalize the designation.

“Florida’s freshwater mussels are quirky and cool, but they are also harmed by our land and water-use decisions,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center. “Critical habitat will help protect the rivers the Suwannee moccasinshell calls home.”

With only 25 species protected as threatened or endangered, delay and denial of habitat protections and significant regulatory rollbacks, the Trump administration has the worst record protecting species of any administration since Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.

The Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

Earlier this year the Center filed suit in Washington, D.C. over more than 200 species awaiting decisions about their protection. In addition to the Suwannee moccasinshell in today’s notice, the Center plans to initiate lawsuits for another 20 species waiting for listing and 88 species waiting for designation of critical habitat. Further, the Center hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration to ensure these species from across the country get protection and avoid extinction.

The Suwannee moccasinshell attracts darter fish with a flashy, blue wiggling lure, then shoots its fertilized eggs into the fishes’ gills. The fish swim away, and the mussel’s offspring eventually drop off onto the river bottom. An increase in agricultural irrigation has lowered the Upper Floridan aquifer near the Suwannee River Basin, severely threatening the mussel by depleting and polluting the waters in the rivers that sustain it. A proposed phosphate mine also threatens river habitat in Bradford and Union counties.

suwannee_moccasinshell_USFWS_FPWC.jpg
Suwannee moccasinshell. Photo courtesy USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.




Under Biden, U.S. EPA Expected To Pass Limits On PFAS

 

These pollutants have quietly sneaked up on us so much that we have no standards set and it is past time to get moving.

Under Biden, U.S. EPA Expected To Pass Limits On PFAS

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

November 24, 2020

Though some lawsuits filed on behalf of the Trump administration contesting the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election remain unresolved at the time of this writing, drinking water treatment operations concerned with a particularly pervasive contaminant may have reason for optimism if and when likely successor Joe Biden takes office.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is already expected to set national drinking water limits for two … chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA,” according to Bloomberg Law. “President-elect Joe Biden’s EPA would be expected to set standards for both of those chemicals and possibly other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that states and federal agencies are finding in drinking water.”

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been found to cause long-lasting impacts on the health of those who consume them through drinking water and to remain in source water long after they find their way there. They have been detected in source and drinking water across the country, largely as the result of wastewater from industrial operations that leveraged them. While the U.S. EPA currently maintains drinking water advisories on PFAS, it does not strictly limit the amount of PFAS that are permissible in drinking water before it reaches consumers.

Though individual states have worked to set their own PFAS limits and hold the original polluters responsible, there are a number of additional actions that the executive branch could encourage the EPA to take.

“The EPA could quickly take several actions to control PFAS and get more information about them,” per Bloomberg Law. “These include requiring factories seeking Clean Water Act permits to disclose the PFAS they release and their volume; stopping approvals of new PFAS; removing a ‘loophole’ in a regulation that requires environmental release of certain PFAS to be reported, in order to increase the information the EPA receives; and barring PFAS incineration, pending information on impacts.”

Biden has pledged to designate PFAS as hazardous per the Superfund cleanup law and to set limits for them as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition to requiring more rigorous PFAS treatment by drinking water utilities, these actions would empower the EPA to sue polluters.

“The hazardous designation will lead to new reporting requirements for any release of the chemical over a certain threshold,” Inverse reported. “When this threshold is exceeded, an investigation is required along with a potential cleanup. And when a chemical is labelled hazardous, the EPA can sue polluters to recover cleanup costs.”

While this concerted approach to eliminating PFAS could have major impact on drinking water operations and the regulatory landscape in and of itself, it may also mark just one aspect of a trend that Biden’s administration will drive forward. It could be the beginning of a refocusing on drinking water quality issues and environmental concerns at large.

“If Biden’s plans do come through, it will mark a sea-change in the United States’ government approach to environmental regulation of dangerous chemicals,” per Inverse. “This plan isn’t just rebuilding the Obama years’ environmental regulations — it is building on them.”

To read more about how federal actions dictate drinking water treatment operations, visit Water Online’s Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.




Nature of Things: Reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps is a solid idea

 

Water wheel constructed at Juniper Springs, FL by CCC workers. Photo by Wikipedia.

 

Sometimes things are not bad just because they are old.  Some might say your writer is old and he remembers talk of CCC camps near where he grew up, active at the time of his birth, with effects and benefits felt long afterward.

As a reminder of the CCC program, here is a description from Wikipedia:

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a voluntary public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men ages 18–25 and eventually expanded to ages 17–28.[1] Robert Fechner was the first director of this agency, succeeded by James McEntee following Fechner’s death. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal that provided manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men and to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000. Through the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a wage of $30 (equivalent to $590 in 2019) per month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).[2]

If you go to read more about the program you will see that it was somewhat oriented toward forestry and environmental projects.

CCC was active in North Florida and one of your writer’s SCUBA sites on the Suwannee River was also the site of a CCC barracks.  Noteworthy there is the existence of dozens if not hundreds of old shovels, axes and pickaxes, thrown into the river as if there were a celebration of the ending of work.  At first we did not know what to think of so many tools at one spot, but when talking with the landowner, a former Naval Commander, he explained the early existence of the camp on their family land back in the 30s and 40s.

At any rate, Tom Palmer has a pretty good idea, made even better by the current pandemic with so many people out of work.

Read the complete article here in TCPalm.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Nature of Things: Reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps is a solid idea

Tom Palmer
Special to The Ledger

You’ve probably heard something about the ambitious environmental initiative called the Green New Deal being discussed in Congress and which doesn’t seem to have broad support at this point.

One aspect that has drawn some serious comment, especially at a time when many people are looking for jobs, is the revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The CCC was one of a number of programs that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created during the Great Depression to provide jobs for the unemployed and to get some important conservation work done.

CCC projects included the development of Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring. It was one of Florida’s first state parks.

Unlike other parts of the Green New Deal, which are controversial because they involve major social and economic changes, spending money to preserve and maintain our national heritage seems like something that could enjoy broad public and political support.

That may be especially true with the arrival of a more environmentally friendly administration in Washington.

The main  argument for this or some similar environmental-jobs program is that it would provide employment and help solve major problems on federal conservation lands.

Those problems include a well-documented  backlog in maintenance projects and growing shortages of land management staff at our national wildlife refuges, national parks and national forests.

And this is not simply a feel-good effort. It is an investment because these sites attract millions of visitors a year, contributing to local economies. It is also a recognition that the quality of conservation land will decline in the absence of active management.

There are some cases in which public lands have had to be closed because of staff and maintenance shortages.

One of the best collections of data I’ve seen that illustrates this involves a 2018 breakdown of the figures affecting national parks. It is unlikely the situation has  improved since then.

Here’s a summary of how this has affected national parks in Florida.

Big Cypress National Preserve has a projected need of $39 million, including $13 million in deferred maintenance. But there is also a need to deal with the routine maintenance of the preserve’s 287 miles of trails, 10 campgrounds and 141 buildings.

Biscayne National Park, which is mostly open water, has a $2 million need, half of which is deferred maintenance.

Canaveral National Seashore lists $19 million in needs, including $16 million in deferred maintenance.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument lists $10 million in needs, $8 million of which is deferred maintenance.

DeSoto National Memorial lists a $672,000 need; $427,000 of it is deferred maintenance.

Dry Tortugas National Park lists a $73 million need, $67 million of which is deferred maintenance, most involving repairs to the fort and marina.

Everglades National Park lists a $115 million need, including $75 million in deferred maintenance on its 187 miles of trails, 110 miles of paved roads, 18 miles of unpaved roads, 25 campgrounds and 155 buildings.

Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Panhandle lists $82 million in needs, including $67 in deferred maintenance.

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve in Jacksonville lists $10 million in needs, including $7 million in deferred maintenance.

That totals $331.7 million in total estimated infrastructure needs alone. This doesn’t count staffing shortages.

Florida contains 28 national wildlife refuges, including two in Polk County.

Staffing is a problem because many of these refuges are managed from distant offices. The refuges in Polk, for instance, are managed from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville.

I wasn’t able to find any current figures on the refuges’ maintenance and staffing needs, which include everything from conducting prescribed burns to monitoring endangered plant and animal populations.

Federal officials were not forthcoming in providing information about this question to the authors of a recent article published in Audubon magazine.

The article cited estimates from former refuge employees and refuge supporters that the refuges needed $900 million a year, which is about twice what is being budgeted.

Florida is home to three national forests, which are also facing funding shortages for maintenance and staffing.

Two big costs are prescribed fire and road maintenance – most of the forest roads are unpaved – which are important to maintaining healthy forests and providing access to visitors.

This all means there is plenty of work that needs to be done, and doing the work could be both a boost to the economy and to conservation….

Check out Tom Palmer’s blog at http://www.ancientislands.org/conservation.




After emails are lost, U.S. Army Corps extends public comment on fish farm off Sarasota–

After emails are lost, U.S. Army Corps extends public comment on fish farm off Sarasota

 

Hard to believe that our government goofed, but we need to resend our opposition to the environmentally threatening fish farms proposed for the Gulf.  This would be just the beginning of new pollution and nature altering processes in our already government-abused Gulf of Mexico.

See our earlier post for the many reasons for not doing this and the harm caused by attempts gone awry.

At any rate, please go on record and write to [email protected] saying you oppose the plan; the new deadline is November 19.

See the original article here at the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Timothy Fanning

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
October 26, 2020

SARASOTA – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will extend its public notice and comment period on a construction permit for the first finfish farm ever authorized in federal waters.

The comment deadline, originally set for Nov. 4, was extended because the agency’s email was not working, and comments previously submitted were not received. The new deadline is Nov. 19.

The Corps, which previously had not committed to accept public comment on the project, changed course after local community members expressed strong concerns about Hawaii-based Ocean Era’s offshore demonstration farm.

The project would raise 20,000 almaco jack, a species common to the Gulf of Mexico, in an anchored chain-link mesh pen 45 miles southwest of Longboat Pass off Sarasota County.

Opponents say offshore fish farms will create pollution from fish waste, spread diseases to wild fish populations and increase competition with fishing companies that depend on wild catches. Opponents also have argued that anchoring fish pens in the hurricane-active Gulf will open the door to a host of problems….

People who previously sent comments to the [email protected] email address are asked by the Corps to resend those comments as soon as possible. They will receive an email response confirming receipt of their comments.

 




Handing federal wetlands permitting to FL DEP is an idea that’s all wet

Really, really bad news.  Since the water enforcement policies in Tallahassee are rife, I mean rife, with politics, we can probably look forward to fast tracking of permits and more corruption as we have seen lately in the South Florida and the St Johns districts.

Bad, bad idea.  Why?  because “These people [at DEP] are directly controlled by the governor,” Hughes told me.

And who controls the governor?  Answer: not the environmentalists but maybe the lobbyists for industry.

Thanks to Nancy Burton Miller, we have information where to send our comments.

They  may be submitted by email to [email protected], or via U.S. Post, postmarked within 45 days after publication in the Federal Register to:
US EPA, Region 4
Water Division, OWSPB
c/o Kelly Laycock
Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Atlanta GA 30303

Read the entire article here in the Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Handing federal wetlands permitting to FL DEP is an idea that’s all wet

Roseate spoonbills are pictured at the Blackpoint Drive Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island. Credit Michael Seeley via Wikimedia Commons

Florida is best known for its gorgeous beaches, but we also have a lot of wetlands. Bogs, swamps, marshes, you name it, we’ve got ’em — more than any other state besides Alaska.

Some are famous — everyone’s heard of the Everglades — but most are just anonymous soggy spots that help recharge our underground aquifer, filter pollution, soak up floodwaters, and provide valuable habitat for a whole lot of species.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. When John James Audubon visited Florida in 1832, he was blown away by the flocks of roseate spoonbills and other wading birds he found, but he couldn’t deal with how wet our landscape was.

“The general wildness, the eternal labyrinth of waters and marshes, interlocked and apparently never ending, the whole surrounded by interminable swamps — all these things had a tendency to depress my spirits,” he wrote in a letter to his editor.

If the swamp-hating Audubon were around today, he would no doubt be delighted to hear that the job of protecting our wetlands is on the verge of being handed over entirely to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Right now, under the Clean Water Act, two federal agencies are in charge of preserving wetlands: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for dumping fill in them, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can veto those permits. But now both are considering handing the job of federal wetlands permitting in Florida over to the state DEP, according to a Federal Register notice published on Sept. 4 seeking public comment over the next 45 days.

Florida’s developers have been pushing for this handover to the state for a couple of decades. In 2005, a lobbyist for Florida developers said that a state takeover of federal wetlands permitting would be “the Holy Grail.”

Why? Because they are convinced the state would grant them super-fast permit approvals, no matter how many acres of wetlands they were going to pave over, and because the state doesn’t protect as many different types of wetlands as the feds do.

In 2006, the Florida DEP, which already issues state wetland permits, looked into taking over the federal permitting program, something only two other states had done. State officials quickly dropped the idea for one very simple reason: Florida builders were requesting so many permits already that taking over the feds’ workload would overwhelm the agency. The state wouldn’t have enough people to issue permits, much less follow up to make sure all the permit conditions were being followed.

Scott the slasher

Former governor and current Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. Official Senate portrait; U.S. Senate website.

That was under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2011, after Rick Scott became governor, he slashed the size of the DEP by more than 600 employees.

Many of those who were ousted had been in place for decades and were considered experts in their fields. He also cut funding for the state’s water management districts, which issue some wetland permits.

Under Bush, a pro-business governor, the DEP spent an average of 45 days considering permits before granting them. That was too slow for Scott, who urged the agency to crank them out faster. In 2014, he stood in front of a room full of DEP employees to praise them for cutting the amount of time to get permits to an average of just two days. That means they were processing those permits with all the care and consideration of a batting cage pitching machine shooting out fast balls.

Scott’s administration is the one that began pursuing the Holy Grail of a state takeover of federal wetlands permitting. However, Scott’s people insisted they could do it without hiring any new people to accommodate the huge increase in workload.

His staff persuaded the Legislature to pass a bill approving the changeover, and now Gov. Ron DeSantis — who pledged to be more environmentally friendly than Scott — is ready to carry Scott’s plan to its fruition.

When I asked DEP press secretary Weesam Khoury if the agency expected the staff to take on this new challenge without hiring any additional workers, she said that the agency “will enhance the protection of Florida’s wetlands by having the same statewide team of environmental experts who are already administering Florida’s robust wetlands protection program also administer the similar federal … program.”

(In other words, no.)

When I asked if that would overwhelm the staff, she said, “The state has more than 400 staff” working on environmental permitting, and “DEP is confident that these knowledgeable staff would be able to work together to handle this slight workload increase.”

Putting the DEP in charge of the federal permits “would provide a streamlined permitting procedure,” she said. Usually, when state officials say some regulatory function is being “streamlined” that means “we’re going to hand out permits like they’re beads being tossed to the crowd from a Gasparilla float.”

To Eric Hughes, this seems particularly worrisome for the future of Florida’s valuable wetlands. Hughes spent 37 years at the EPA, most of them dealing with wetland permits in Florida, retiring at the end of 2016. Far from a “slight workload increase,” he said, the number of federal wetland permit applications per year tends to fall between 1,500 and 2,000 in Florida.

‘Directly controlled by the governor’

Not only would DEP permit reviewers face an overwhelming boost in their workload, he said, but the state agency is more likely to face serious political interference in its permitting decisions than the Corps or EPA do.

“These people [at DEP] are directly controlled by the governor,” Hughes told me.

Lest you think he’s exaggerating, let me point you to the case of the Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank, a Jacksonville-area project that in 2012 got negative reviews from two water district employees who subsequently found themselves unemployed because they didn’t give the politically connected owners what they wanted.

Then, when the DEP’s top wetlands expert, Connie Bersok, balked at issuing the permit, she wound up being suspended then removed from reviewing that permit. She had refused an order from the deputy secretary of the DEP to bend the rules to cater to the wishes the applicants. A judge later ruled that she was right about everything.

Bersok retired in 2017 after 30 years, so I called her up to ask what she thought about her former co-workers taking over issuing federal wetlands permits. She called it “a terrible plan.”

She also said Khoury’s claim of having 400 DEP employees working on wetlands permitting sounded, shall we say, “inflated.” The only way to get to 400 is to count every single state employee involved in every kind of permitting, including issuing permits for air pollution and other things that have nothing to do with wetlands.

“We’ve always been shorthanded,” she told me.

A lot of DEP’s permitting has been handed off to the state’s five water management districts and even to some of the counties, she said. According to Hughes, if the DEP does that with federal wetlands permits, that would be even worse for the wetlands than if DEP handled them alone.

Florida’s water boards tend to be run by well-connected gubernatorial appointees from the development and agricultural industries. In 2015, the developer who was chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District board pushed through approval of a wetlands permit for a friend and former business partner, then insisted he had no conflict of interest.

Last year, the chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District faced ethics complaints because he tried hiding conflicts of interest involving permits for clients of his environmental consulting business. One of DeSantis’ first actions as governor was to demand the resignations of all nine members of the South Florida water board because they kowtowed to Big Sugar.

More than just the Everglades

I asked Khoury if the DEP plans to dump its new federal permitting duties on the water management districts. Instead of saying “no,” she replied, “Any consideration for the delegation of the program to the water management districts would be considered after the program is implemented.”

To me that sounds like, “Yes, but we don’t want to say anything about that yet.”

The funny thing, Bersok said, is that legally the builders and developers aren’t getting what they really want. Even if state employees are the ones reviewing federal wetland permits, those permits would not be subject to state deadlines, she explained.

In other words, if the DEP handled the permits the way it should under the Clean Water Act, then the federal wetland permits would not be issued any faster — unless, of course, the permits are just going to be rubber-stamped, especially those involving a developer with major political connections.

 

Craig Pittman

Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. In 30 years at the Tampa Bay Times, he won numerous state and national awards for his environmental reporting. He is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, which won a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards. His latest, published in January, is Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther. The Florida Heritage Book Festival recently named him a Florida Literary Legend. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and children.



Environmentalists Trump and DeSantis, and don’t forget Andrew Wheeler

Wheeler, Trump, DeSantis, self proclaimed “environmentalists” and our manifest destiny, well defined by Ms. Roberts.

 

 

One of our favorite columnists of all time, Diane Roberts, penned the following article.  As a non-profit organization, we are not allowed to push politicians, but here we are simply reporting on environmental issues.

We have many people, including some water board members, phosphate companies, water bottling companies,  state departments of transportation, state departments of environmental protection,  and the world’s worst polluters who all claim to be good stewards of the land, good conservationists and environmentalists.  Much of this amounts to lies of the type  you might find on social media or in the Rose Garden (sort of same thing.)

Environmentalist – “one concerned about environmental quality especially of the human environment with respect to the control of pollution”  Merriam-Webster.

Our present administrations (federal & state) are the definition of the opposite.  Something akin to saying someone “writes his/her own jokes,” these guys define themselves, making Ms. Roberts’ job much easier.

Read this original gem here in the Florida Phoenix.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


 

Donald Trump’s and Ron DeSantis’ alternative reality: If you call yourself a ‘great environmentalist’ you are one

President Trump, flanked by Gov. Ron DeSantis, displays his signature after signing a presidential order extending the moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic Coast on Sept. 8, 2020, in Jupiter. Credit: White House

You will be thrilled, if perhaps surprised, to hear that Donald Trump is a “great environmentalist.”

He said so himself — in Jupiter (the town in Florida, not the planet), where he declared he was “number one since Teddy Roosevelt,” bragged about his eco-friendliness, and signed an order extending the ban on oil drilling off his new home state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The president then allowed Ron DeSantis to detach his lips from the seat of Trump’s trousers and throw pens to the hooting crowd.

Blue Mountain Beach, in Florida’s Panhandle. Credit: youtube.com

Readers with an attention span greater than a goldfish will recall that until Trump took a gander at the polls a few days ago he was all for drill-baby-drilling offshore and Florida beaches be damned.

Then Ivanka or Jared or some other member of his oleaginous brain trust whispered in Trump’s ear that: 1. At best, he’s tied with Joe Biden in Florida; 2. Florida voters really, really hate the idea of their pompano washing up dead on crude-covered white sands; and 3. If he loses Florida, he loses the election, and next thing he knows, a couple of loser-sucker Marines are perp-walking him out of the White House to his orange jumpsuit-fitting.

Some of Trump’s fat-pocketed enablers weren’t happy: One oil industry honcho called it “a complete ambush,” adding that Trump’s move “totally seems like a campaign sort of thing.”

The boys from the planetary rape-and-pillage bidness shouldn’t worry though, since Trump can — and probably will — change his mind again after the election.

Now, what about what Trump calls his “incredible record of natural conservation and environmental protection over the last four years”?

“Incredible” is indeed the word — as in “not credible,” or “staggeringly bad.”

Trump has reversed nearly 100 environmental rules and regulations, weakening protections for wetlands, drastically reducing the size of wilderness areas, telling oil and gas companies they needn’t report methane emissions any more, and opening up millions of acres of public lands for drilling, logging, and hunting.

He’s refused to protect wildlife habitat, assaulted the Clean Water Act, ignored air pollution (not helpful during a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system) and suggested “sweeping the forest floor” as a solution to climate change-driven fires in the West….

Andrew Wheeler, the sitting EPA administrator, is a coal industry lobbyist; David Bernhardt, now Secretary of the Interior, is an oil industry lobbyist; and William Perry Pendley, the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (a Trump pick so godawful he couldn’t win confirmation even in Mitch McConnell’s degenerate Senate), the person in charge of America’s public lands, does not believe public lands should exist.

It’s fitting that Trump flew to Florida to gaslight voters and try to greenwash his appalling record: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is Trump’s chief sycophant, an expert greenwasher himself who came into office in 2019 calling himself “a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.”

Sound familiar?

Photo by Chase Conley, from Facebook

DeSantis made grand noises about fighting Big Sugar, cleaning up our algae-choked, degraded waters, and getting serious about climate change, even appointing — to great fanfare — a “chief resilience officer” who would promote clean energy and chair a task force on sea-level rise.

She resigned after six months and has not been replaced.

DeSantis dropped his spurious interest in green issues about the same time.

He appointed builders, chamber of commerce types, and campaign donors to important water boards, but no scientists or environmentalists.

Instead of choosing, say, Dr. Bob Knight, head of the Florida Springs Institute and an aquifer expert, for the St. Johns Water Management District, DeSantis went with a former lawmaker whose signature achievement in the Florida House was blocking septic tank inspections.

Instead of vetoing developer-coddling bills preempting local tree ordinances and awarding costs to winners in challenges to developments, making it nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to file suit against environmentally damaging projects, he signed them.

And instead of slapping down the three ecologically heinous and completely redundant new toll roads tearing through heart of the state, DeSantis is cheering them on: “I think we need new roads in Florida to get around,” he said.

Actually, we don’t.

Just for a minute, wrest yourself free from the Trump-DeSantis fantasy of an America where the nasty virus is just a bad memory, the bars are open, the flag is waving, and football is ON, baby!

Lately, Florida is averaging 2,500 COVID-19 cases per day; our economy is suffering a $2.7 billion shortfall; state agencies have to cut their budgets by 8.5 percent. Education, conservation, health care, programs for the poor, the elderly, and children will all take a hit.

M-CORES projects through Florida, including toll roads. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation

Yet DeSantis is happy to spend $738 million to get started on toll roads nobody (except the asphalt lobby and a handful of Republican billionaires) wants.

The $738 million, by the way, does not include any road building: that cost is expected to run into the tens of billions.

DeSantis’s roads will destroy many acres of wetlands, woodlands, and other natural habitat, encourage strip malls and big box stores, kill small towns, and wreck what’s left of the Florida panther’s ever-shrinking habitat.

If Donald Trump doesn’t beat him to it.

Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman recently reported that the current occupant of the White House issued one of his executive orders rolling back pesky environmental review regulations, which would (among other things) faciliate a gargantuan new development in Collier County: 45,000 acres of houses, businesses, a “54-hole golf course,” roads, sand mines, and gravel mines.

In the middle of this excrescence, surrounded by McMansions and Targets, there’d be a patch of land set aside for panthers — the few who hadn’t been run over by these fine white folks in their Escalades and Range Rovers.

This is Donald Trump’s and Ron DeSantis’ alternative reality, in which if you call yourself a “great environmentalist” you are one, and if you declare that you love clean water, discharges from Big Ag, Big Phosphate, Big Sugar, and Big Poop aren’t really fouling Florida’s rivers, lakes, and springs, and if you utter the magic words “climate change,” your voters will somehow think you’re doing something about it.

Even if they then wonder why the Gulf of Mexico is so hot hurricanes turn into monsters in a matter of hours, why the river stinks, why the fish lie dead on the beaches, and why the streets of Miami and Fort Lauderdale keep flooding, even while the sun keeps shining.

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.



Polluters given free ride under guise of virus difficulties

Photo public domain from Wikipedia.

It’s all about money.
Read the complete article here at APNews.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Thousands allowed to bypass environmental rules in pandemic

yesterday
August 24, 2020

Thousands of oil and gas operations, government facilities and other sites won permission to stop monitoring for hazardous emissions or otherwise bypass rules intended to protect health and the environment because of the coronavirus outbreak, The Associated Press has found.

The result: approval for less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky, manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, and other risks to communities as governments eased enforcement over smokestacks, medical waste shipments, sewage plants, oilfields and chemical plants.

The Trump administration paved the way for the reduced monitoring on March 26 after being pressured by the oil and gas industry, which said lockdowns and social distancing during the pandemic made it difficult to comply with anti-pollution rules. States are responsible for much of the oversight of federal environmental laws, and many followed with leniency policies of their own.

AP’s two-month review found that waivers were granted in more than 3,000 cases, representing the overwhelming majority of requests citing the outbreak. Hundreds of requests were approved for oil and gas companies. AP reached out to all 50 states citing open-records laws; all but one, New York, provided at least partial information, reporting the data in differing ways and with varying level of detail.

Almost all those requesting waivers told regulators they did so to minimize risks for workers and the public during a pandemic — although a handful reported they were trying to cut costs.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the waivers do not authorize recipients to exceed pollution limits. Regulators will continue pursuing those who “did not act responsibly under the circumstances,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in an email.

But environmentalists and public health experts say it may be impossible to fully determine the impact of the country’s first extended, national environmental enforcement clemency because monitoring oversight was relaxed. “The harm from this policy is already done,” said Cynthia Giles, EPA’s former assistant administrator under the Obama administration.

EPA has said it will end the COVID enforcement clemency this month.

“We believe that by taking these measures, we can do our part to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Tim Peterkoski, environmental auditing and processes manager for Marathon Petroleum, told the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Marathon also pushed for and was granted permission to skip environmental tests at many of its refineries and gas stations in California, Michigan, North Dakota and Texas.

Spokesman Jamal Kheiry said Marathon sought broad regulatory relief early in the pandemic, when it was uncertain how long lockdowns would last or how its operations would be affected. But the company continued emissions monitoring and other activities and usually met deadlines, he said.

Penny Aucoin, a resident of New Mexico’s oil-rich Permian Basin, said since the pandemic, she and her husband have spent days begging regulators to investigate surges of noxious gas or hisses that they feared could signal a dangerous leak from one of the many oil and gas companies operating near their mobile home.

“There’s nobody watching,” Aucoin said. “A lot of stuff is going wrong. And there’s nobody to fix it.”

Maddy Hayden, New Mexico’s environmental spokesperson, said her agency stopped in-person investigations of citizen air-quality complaints from March to May to protect staff and the public but stood ready to respond to emergencies.

Almost every state reported fielding requests from industries and local governments to cut back on compliance. Many were for activities like delaying in-person training or submitting records by email rather than paper. Others, however, were requests for temporary exemptions or extensions on monitoring and repairs to stop the flow of harmful soot, toxic compounds, disease-carrying contaminants or heavy metals, AP found.

Regulators, for example, waived in-person inspections at parts of a former nuclear test site in Nevada, switching to drive-by checks.

North Carolina allowed Chemours Co., which is cleaning up dangerous PFAS industrial compounds in drinking water, to pause sampling of residential wells because it would require entering elderly residents’ homes.

Saint-Gobain, whose New Hampshire plant has been linked by the state to water contaminated with PFAS chemicals, has requested delaying smokestack upgrades that would address the problem. The company says the delays are necessary partly due to problems the company’s suppliers and contractors have faced because of the coronavirus.

State Rep. Rosemarie Rung, a Democrat who uses bottled water due to the PFAS contamination, said the company was “just dragging their feet.”

The AP’s findings run counter to statements in late June by Susan Bodine, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement, who told lawmakers the pandemic was not causing “a significant impact on routine compliance, monitoring and reporting” and that industry wasn’t widely seeking relief from monitoring.

A separate analysis of EPA enforcement data shows 40% fewer tests of smokestacks were conducted in March and April compared with the same period last year, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a network of academics and non-profits.

Hewitt, the EPA spokesman, said the agency did not know why there were fewer tests but pointed to the plunge in economic activity accompanying the pandemic, and said closed facilities would have been unable to test smokestacks.

Oil and gas companies received a green light to skip dozens of scheduled tests and inspections critical for ensuring safe operations, such as temporarily halting or delaying tests for leaks or checking on tank seals, flare stacks, emissions monitoring systems or engine performance, which could raise the risk of explosions.

Taken together, the missed inspections for leaks could add hundreds or thousands of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and could be making refinery work more dangerous, said Coyne Gibson, a former oil and gas engineer and a member of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance in Texas.

“The whole point of leak detection is to avoid people being harmed from a leak of toxic material,” said Victor Flatt, environmental law professor at the University of Houston. “If you suspend leak detection, you don’t even know if it’s happening.”

Monitoring and other pollution regulations often are depicted as legally mandated paperwork requirements, said Philip J. Landrigan, a biology professor and director of the Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College. But air pollution alone increases risks of heart disease, stroke, lung disease and premature births, and when environmental standards are not held to, “as surely as night follows day there are going to be an increased number of deaths from those causes,” Landrigan said.

EPA’s policy was “primarily related to record keeping, training and flexibility in the timing of routine inspections where there may have been limited personnel or capabilities due to COVID-19,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president at The American Petroleum Institute, which pushed for the policy. He maintained the industry’s pollution control equipment continues to operate.

In North Dakota, regulators granted Oklahoma-based ONEOK’s request to bypass groundwater sampling at its natural gas liquids processing plant in Garden Creek, where regulators said at least 837,000 gallons of natural gas liquids have spilled from a leak since 2015.

ONEOK skipped sampling because of safety concerns about third-party contractors traveling during the pandemic, and the company resumed sampling in June, spokesman Brad Borror said.

Some states were generous with exemptions. Arkansas granted a blanket, months-long waiver to oil and gas companies for safety testing of temporarily abandoned wells and other activities.

Alaska authorized delayed inspections at dozens of massive tanks used to store petroleum, and let companies defer drills designed to ensure they can quickly respond to major oil spills. It also said the state would take no action against companies for not complying with some air pollution regulations in instances related to COVID-19.

In Wyoming, regulators gave breaks on air emissions rules in about 300 cases, mostly for oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Sinclair….

___

Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City, Bussewitz from New York City, Flesher from Traverse City, Michigan, Brown from Billings, Montana, and Casey from Boston.




Win for the environment, defeat for Trump–

In a rare win for the planet, the U.S. Supreme Court, in this instance, ruled against the constant picking away at the protections for our environment by the current administration in Washington.  The current president has made it his policy and protocol to allow industry to save money by  disregarding many regulations  keeping our air and water clean and poisons out of the earth.

Read the original article here in the Washington Post.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
[email protected]
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


Supreme Court rejects Trump administration’s view on key aspect of Clean Water Act

By Robert Barnes 

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s reading of a key part of the Clean Water Act as creating an “obvious loophole” in its enforcement, and gave a partial win to environmentalists in a case from Hawaii.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that a wastewater treatment plant in Hawaii could not avoid provisions of the act, which regulates the release of pollutants into rivers, lakes and seas, by pumping the pollutants first into groundwater, from which they eventually reach the ocean.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s compromise language said an Environmental Protection Agency permit is required when a discharge is “the functional equivalent” of a direct release into navigable waters.

Justices want to avoid extremes in Clean Water Act case

While environmentalists had won a broader victory in the lower court, they were happy to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“This decision is a huge victory for clean water,” said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to blow a big hole in the Clean Water Act’s protections for rivers, lakes and oceans.”

While the case must go back to lower courts, Henkin said, “we fully expect that Maui County’s sewage plant will be required to get a Clean Water Act permit [requiring] the county to protect the ocean from sewage discharges in a way it has refused to do to date.”

The ruling was one of three the court issued on its website Thursday, as justices continued to work mostly from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The court still must decide some cases argued earlier in the term, such as whether federal law covers LGBTQ workers from discrimination, and if the Trump administration may end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects immigrants brought to this country as children.

In the Hawaii case, environmental law experts agreed that the court’s decision will resonate.

The test endorsed by the court’s majority is “one under which environmentalists can prevail in most every kind of case that environmentalists have brought under the Clean Water Act,” said Richard Lazarus, an environmental law expert at Harvard Law School.

Some lawyers criticized it as vague, and the EPA was noncommittal about how it would be implemented, emphasizing some specifics in the ruling rather than its bottom line.

“Moving forward, we will respect the court’s finding that ‘as to groundwater pollution and non-point source pollution, Congress intended to leave substantial responsibility and autonomy to the states,’ ” EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said in a statement.

“In holding that the Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition of pollutants to groundwater if it is the ‘functional equivalent’ of a direct discharge, the court unfortunately leaves some uncertainty for the public, including private property owners.”

All agree that sewage plants and others must get a permit under the Clean Water Act when they produce pollutants that go directly into a body of navigable water.

Maui County injects 3 million to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater into four deep injection wells about a half-mile from the shore. Some of that wastewater gets into groundwater, which tests have shown eventually reaches the Pacific Ocean. Environmentalists said the polluted water had damaged a coral reef.

But the issue also can affect agricultural interests, mining companies and home builders, and some justices worried during arguments that it could even impact individual homeowners with septic tanks.

During the Obama administration, the EPA had sided with environmentalists in the case. But it reversed its position after President Trump took office and said discharges into groundwater fell

Breyer wrote that the administration’s interpretation could not be right. All a polluter would need to avoid regulation, for instance, would be to end a discharge pipe just before reaching the water, he said.

“We do not see how Congress could have intended to create such a large and obvious loophole in one of the key regulatory innovations of the Clean Water Act,” Breyer wrote.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a permit was required if the pollution was “fairly traceable” to a source. But Breyer said that was too broad, allowing “EPA to assert permitting authority over the release of pollutants that reach navigable waters many years after their release (say, from a well or pipe or compost heap) and in highly diluted forms.”

He had proposed the “functional equivalent” standard when the case was argued, and he

acknowledged then and in Thursday’s opinion that it could be criticized as vague.

“But there are too many potentially relevant factors applicable to factually different cases for this court now to use more specific language,” he said. He proposed a seven-factor test, and said it will evolve through EPA regulations and lower court decisions.

 

 Breyer was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented….

Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis contributed to this report.

Headshot of Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He joined The Post to cover Maryland politics, and he has served in various editing positions, including metropolitan editor and national political editor. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006. Follow




We can’t afford to lose wetlands

Olivia Blondheim

The current administration running this country continues to chip away little by little to remove all the protections that we have for our environment.  Tallahassee is a miniature copy of Washington, but perhaps exhibiting a greater lack of clear thinking because Florida’s economy is so dependent on our water resources, as explained in the article below.

Industry and corporations who profit by using up our resources and leaving waste behind think only of the themselves and of the present.  If they think of the future at all, it is with the idea that succeeding generations will have to adapt and deal with whatever problems or scarcities they face.  Even if we are the cause of future problems or lack of water to drink.

See the original op-ed at this link in the Tampa Bay Times.

We can’t afford to lose wetlands

The 1972 Clean Water Act was established to restore America’s lakes, rivers, wetlands and coastal areas by regulating the pollutants entering them. It set water quality standards for all surface waters, funded the construction of sewage treatment plants that we all depend on today and gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to set industrial wastewater standards. Over the past few decades, the Clean Water Act has improved the health of local bodies of water and enhanced the quality of life for all U.S. citizens. Recently, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James signed the Navigable Waters Protection rule. This rule removes federal protection from many wetlands and streams, particularly those that may only flow for part of the year because of seasonal or other changes in rainfall. Under this new rule, phosphate mining, agriculture and other industries no longer need to get a federal permit to dispose of their waste in these unprotected waters in a safe way and consider protection to people, landscape or our coastal areas downstream.

Wetlands are habitats and breeding grounds for various organisms, including both fresh and saltwater fish species, shellfish, birds, turtles, mammals and smaller plankton that fuel the food web. Wetlands store water to reduce flooding and filter out any impurities. Many of Florida’s wetlands are naturally temporal depending on the season and the amount of rainfall. This makes this new rule particularly concerning for Florida’s wildlife, which rely on the resources these wetlands provide.

For Floridians, eradicating federal permitting for waste disposal may promote short-term economic growth, but the long-term impacts could end up ultimately hurting the economy and in many cases, our health. In 2016-2017, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection conducted a study that showed that, overall, outdoor recreation in Florida supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes $145 billion to the state economy. With $70 billion coming from visitor spending alone, Florida has a major incentive to maintain a healthy outdoor recreation industry, which includes activities such as fishing, camping, hunting and bird-watching. Healthy wetlands support Florida’s commercial fisheries, which generate $3.2 billion in income and support 76,700 jobs. By making it a state priority to protect wetlands throughout Florida, it will ultimately help promote a healthy economy for Floridians….

 

Olivia Blondheim is an integrative biology doctoral student at the University of South Florida. She also serves on the Youth Leadership Council and board of directors for the environmental non-profit organization EarthEcho International.