Archives for the month of: August, 2011

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Editor Sandy Johnson speaks with reporter Jack Farrell about the his story on the Koch Industries’ lobbying.

 

Link to related  iWatch article.

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From Green (New York Times Blog):

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP sought and obtained permission to use dispersants, detergent-like compounds, to break up the 200 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude, into tiny droplets that would mix throughout the water column, trying to lessen the immediate impact of the oil slick on fragile coastal ecosystems.

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A review has now been published by Earthjustice, in collaboration with Toxipedia, an online toxicology Wiki, of all the scientific literature concerning the potential health impacts of these 57 chemicals. The report finds that “Of the 57 ingredients: 5 chemicals are associated with cancer; 33 are associated with skin irritation from rashes to burns; 33 are linked to eye irritation; 11 are or are suspected of being potential respiratory toxins or irritants; 10 are suspected kidney toxins; 8 are suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic organisms; and 5 are suspected to have a moderate acute toxicity to fish.”

While words like “associated with” or “linked to” may sound weak and unconvincing, the syntax highlights just how little is actually known about these chemicals. For 13 of the dispersant ingredients, no relevant data could be found.

“BP had a particular set of dispersants on hand and no one at the time seemed to know if they were safe, whether they were safer than other dispersants products that could be used or even whether they were safer for people and the environment than oil alone,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice. “BP chose Corexit because it was the dispersant on hand, not because it was the safest. However, regulation of dispersants is so inadequate that BP didn’t have enough information to figure out how it compared with other dispersants or oil alone.”

Nick Thorp, a project manager at Toxipedia, said:

There is just not a lot known about these chemicals and their linkages to potential health impacts. More research is really necessary to determine what exposure levels are, and aren’t safe. Ideally these questions would have been answered before the dispersants were approved for use. We’re now backtracking trying to answer these questions, after the public and the environment have already been exposed.

Earthjustice is calling for “more research, greater disclosure of the information that is known, comprehensive toxicity testing, establishment of safety criteria for dispersants, and careful selection of the least toxic dispersants for application in oil spill response.”

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Download Complete Report: The Chaos Of Clean-Up

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Upstream contributor, Peggy Shepard is participating in the “Promoting Healthy Communities” Conference.  Here is the agenda.

PROMOTING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: Developing and Exploring Linkages Between Public Health Indicators, Exposure and Hazard Data

Grand Hyatt Washington
1000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Monday, September 26 – Tuesday, September 27, 2011
DRAFT AGENDA

Print Version (PDF) (4 pp, 36 K)

See conference schedule under the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

From :

Editor Sandy Johnson interviews reporter Jack Farrell about the latest story by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News’ latest piece on Koch Industries: how the refinery giant has been spending money lobbying against federal regulations for securing chemical plants.

Link to related  iWatch article.

From Los Angeles Times:

We’ve all heard that the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective and fueling the rise of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. But did you know it may also be fueling the rise of obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma?

So says Dr. Martin Blaser, microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center who studies the myriad bacteria that live on and in our bodies. He explains his theory in a commentary published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

In recent years, scientists have developed a growing appreciation for the “microbiome,” the collection of mostly useful bacteria that help us digest food, metabolize key nutrients and ward off invading pathogens. Investigators have cataloged thousands of these organisms through the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, begun in 2008.

Blaser is interested in why so many bacteria have colonized the human body for so long – the simple fact that they have strongly suggests that they serve some useful purpose. But these bacteria have come under attack in the last 80 or so years thanks to the development of antibiotics. The drugs certainly deserve some of the credit for extending the U.S. lifespan, Blaser notes – a baby born today can expect to live 78 years, 15 years longer than a baby born in 1940. But in many respects, an antibiotic targets a particular disease the way a nuclear bomb targets a criminal, causing much collateral damage to things you’d rather not destroy.

“Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t,” Blaser writes. “Sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover.”

And that can leave us more susceptible to various kinds of diseases, especially considering that the typical American is exposed to 10 to 20 antibiotics during childhood alone. Blaser points out that the rise (let along overuse) of antibiotics coincides with dramatic increases in the prevalence of allergies, asthma, Type 1 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. That isn’t proof that the two are related, but it’s a question worth exploring, he says.

Take the case of Helicobacter pylori. As Blaser explains, this bacterium was “the dominant microbe in the stomachs of almost all people” in the early 1900s. But 100 years later, it is found in less than 6% of American, Swedish and German kids. One likely reason is that a single course of amoxicillin or another antibiotic to treat an ear or respiratory infection can wipe out H. pylori 20% to 50% of the time.

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From Deseret News:

These days, Steve Norcross glimpses less and less of the sun setting from his front lawn in Magna, but tonight, he looks up and sees the clouds are turning peach and gray, with a slightly brown haze on the horizon.

“Pretty nice view, huh?” he asks with a smile, and a slight edge to his voice. Over his shoulder to the west, there is a berm, a hill and a giant yellow and black sign painted on the side of a Kennecott Utah Copper building that reads: “It’s your safety — think about it.” The message makes Norcross bristle.

Norcross lives across the street from the southeast corner of Kennecott’s south tailings pond, a massive holding area for the pulverized rock that’s been stripped of all value during the mining process and crushed to a powder-like substance. The site has caused conflict in the community over its instability in the event of an earthquake and several incidents in the late 1980s when thick clouds of tailings covered the town. Now, as Kennecott looks to expand their operations until 2039, the company has applied for a permit to increase their tailings impoundment, including building on a portion of the south pond — the idea of which makes Norcross angry.

“This is about profit,” he says. “That is all this is about. … The residents of Magna are not a concern. … For me, it’s about quality of life. It’s about being able to live in the town you grew up in, and live peacefully and not worry about health and not worry about big man-made mountains blocking the sunset. It’s about my kids and grandkids.”

Norcross has embroiled himself in a battle that wages between the world’s need for natural resources, a company that serves that appetite and an environment that will be indelibly impacted by the decisions made today. Stricter government regulations and programs like Superfund have helped companies like Kennecott assume more environmental responsibility for their operations, but when it comes to Kennecott’s assurances that its plans will be safe for the environment and his family, Norcross is not convinced, and he is not alone.

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Slow Death by Rubber Duck argues that our daily lives create a toxic soup inside each of us.

Studies have shown that significant levels of toxic substances can leach out of commonplace items in our homes and workplaces. How do these toxins make their way inside us and what impact do they have on our health? And more importantly, what can we do about them? Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, two of Canada’s leading environmental activists, tackle these questions head on by experimenting upon themselves. Over a four-day period, our intrepid (and perhaps foolhardy) authors ingest and inhale a host of things that surround us all every day, all of which are suspected of being toxic and posing long term health risks to humans. By revealing the pollution load in their bodies before and after the experiment – and the results in most cases are downright frightening – they tell the inside story of seven common substances.

The pollution inside us is insidious. “We cannot see it; we often have trouble measuring it and it is very difficult assigning specific damage to chemicals that are so widely used. But the alarm bells are starting to sound.” Doctors, nurses, mothers and community activists are questioning why these toxic substances can be put into products without our knowledge and with no evidence that they will not harm us and legislators are just beginning to listen.

Ultimately hopeful, Slow Death By Rubber Duck empowers readers with ideas for protecting themselves and their families and changing things for the better. If you are concerned about the level of toxins in your body and want to understand the hidden threats already in your home, you must read this book.

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From iWatch:

Children of the nation’s military personnel aren’t the only students who have reason to worry about decrepit, sometimes hazardous conditions at their schools. Hundreds of Native American children attend schools that haven’t properly disposed of hazardous waste, haven’t contained asbestos in heating systems, and whose water systems exceed the maximum allowable level for arsenic in tap water – conditions barred under federal environmental laws.

As part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior has agreed to pay a $234,844 civil penalty after inspectors found a raft of alleged violations of federal waste, water, air, toxics and community right-to-know laws involving 72 schools and 27 water systems on or near the lands of 60 different tribes around the country. The settlement affects 160 schools in almost every part of the country (the full list is on page 84 of this consent agreement ).

The EPA discovered the violations between 2008 and 2010 while conducting inspections at 100 schools overseen by the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs. Under the settlement, Interior will be required to undergo audits to check for environmental compliance at the schools, and the settlement money must be used in part to correct violations of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.

“Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults, which is why ensuring that schools provide safe, healthy learning environments for our children, particularly in tribal communities, is a top priority,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  Added Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest office, “The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect human health and the environment in Indian country.”

The EPA has a special program intended to identify environmental risks on reservations. “Pollution of the air, water and land in Indian country and in other tribal areas may pose significant threats to the health and environment of members of the 564 federally-recognized Indian tribes,” the EPA states on the Web site of an enforcement initiative that specifically targets issues on tribal lands. “Pollution may seriously damage ecosystems and tribal members can face increased risk from pollution because of subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering practices.”

To be sure, schools attended by the children of the U.S. military don’t appear to have problems on the same scale or that would draw such attention from federal environmental regulators – or big penalties. But many military schools are decrepit, fail to meet the Pentagon’s own standards, and have proven worrisome to parents and teachers over air and water quality issues.

As iWatch News has reported , tens of thousands of children — from Georgia to Kansas, Virginia to Washington state — attend schools on military bases that are falling apart from age and neglect, and fail to meet even the military’s own standards.

Some schools have tainted water and fouled air; others are so overcrowded teachers improvise, holding class in hallways, supply closets, and in one instance, working in a boiler room. Many of the schools are old; one school in Germany was built by the Nazis.

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Big Oil’s tar sands mining is destroying our continent’s greatest songbird nursery.

From Environment 360:

Consider the African rain dance. People in tribal costumes stamping the ground to make rain — it’s nonsense, you might say. Except that we now know it could actually work. If you have enough dancers, there may be no better way to make rain, because bugs in the soil and surface vegetation make exceptionally good cloud- and ice-condensation nuclei — and rain dances stir them up.

Microbes, it turns out, are the hidden players in the atmosphere, making clouds, causing rain, spreading diseases between continents, and maybe even changing climates as well. Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union, last month reported that bio-aerosols are “leading the high life.” In the Eos article, David Smith of the University of Washington and colleagues argue that microbes are “the most successful types of life on Earth” and are the unacknowledged players in many planetary processes, particularly in the atmosphere. It’s time we caught up with them.

Back in 1979, Russell Schnell of the University of Colorado was in western Kenya wondering why the tea plantations there held the world record for hailstorms. They occurred 132 days a year. He discovered that tiny particles of dead and decaying leaves in the soil bore a close resemblance to the tiny particles around which hailstones formed. They were, it turned out, far better adapted to the task even than man-made cloud seeding chemicals like silver iodide.

Schnell, who is now deputy director of the Global Monitoring Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, concluded that “the feet of hundreds of tea pickers going about their daily jobs” were to blame for the hail. By kicking the bits of leaf into the air, he said, the tea pickers must be providing the abundant ice-nucleators that created the hailstorms. He published in Tellus in 1982, revealing that the critical actors in this Kenyan drama were the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae, that attached

‘Bioprecipitation’ is a hot topic, more so as we learn how much biological matter is in the atmosphere.

themselves to the leaves as they rotted — the tea pickers sent the leaf bits airborne as they walked the fields picking the tea leaves from the bushes.

Biologists have long known that many species of bacteria trigger frost damage on vegetation, with Pseudomonas syringae the most efficient. The bacteria have evolved a gene that promotes spontaneous ice nucleation at around minus 2 degrees Celsius, much warmer than would happen otherwise. Their ice-making skills allow them to break down the cell walls of the plants they feed on. But it seems they also use the same skill in clouds.

Mineral and salt particles are present in large numbers in clouds and can act as condensation nuclei. But many bacteria, as well as fungal spores and tiny algae, are the cloud condensation nuclei of choice because they can work at higher temperatures. Since the formation of ice is normally the first step in the creation of raindrops in clouds, they are probably critical in the creation of rain. “Numerous studies,” say Smith and his colleagues in Eos, “have shown that many… condensation nuclei responsible for climate and precipitation patterns are in fact airborne micro-organisms, living or dead.”

And that, Smith says, means any human activity that puts more bugs in the air is potentially a rain-making activity, whether it is tramping tea plantations or cooking up a big rain dance. “Exactly how higher concentrations of airborne micro-organisms will interact with other variables that drive weather and precipitation is a major unknown in the climate change equation,” he says.

Schnell’s original observation was largely ignored by the wider science community. But recent papers have made similar observations in other places. For instance, Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, reported in Science in 2008 that he had found “ubiquitous and abundant” microbes in fresh snowfall sampled from Antarctica to Montana – between 70 and 100 percent of ice nucleators found in the snow were biological.

This, Christner points out, was especially remarkable since he was sampling snow in areas where there was no local vegetation. The microbes had traveled a long way to do their job. “It’s a wake-up call,” he says. “Biological particles do seem to play a very important role in generating snowfall and rain.”

Then in May this year, at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology, Alexander Michaud of Montana State University in Bozeman reported finding high concentrations of bacteria in hailstones falling on his campus.

“Bioprecipitation” is a hot topic. And the more so as we learn how much biological matter there is in the atmosphere — more than 10,000 individual bacteria per cubic meter of air over the land, according to a 2009 study by Susannah Burrows of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. These bacteria spend an average of about a week in the atmosphere; but while some stay close to the ground, others soar into the stratosphere, says Smith. Weather balloons have even found them in the mesosphere, up to 77 kilometers aloft, according to a forgotten study by Soviet scientist A. A. Imshenetsky, published in Applied and Environmental Biology as long ago as 1978 and uncovered by Smith.

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From Melbourne Florida Today:

Nearly 1,600 children age 5 and younger live close enough to an airport in Brevard County to be at risk from leaded gasoline used by small piston planes and helicopters.

With the release of a new study from Duke University and other research identifying 1 kilometer, about 0.6 miles, as a significant threshold for health risks from lead, FLORIDA TODAY examined local data to gauge the potential lead threat to Space Coast residents. The threat is especially dangerous for young children, who suffer most from exposure to lead.

The newspaper analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Census and Brevard County housing numbers found:

  • About 13,480 homes and 25 schools, including eight elementary schools and seven day care centers are within the at-risk zone of an airport, heliport or private airstrip. Given Brevard’s average of 2.4 residents per household, an estimated 32,350 people live within that threshold distance.
  • Brevard’s 20 aviation facilities emitted 1.3 tons of lead in 2008, the most recent data available. Forty percent, or 1,043 pounds, came from Melbourne International, ranking it 52nd highest for lead emissions among the nation’s 20,000 aviation facilities.
  • 3,500 homes, or about 8,400 people, are within that threshold of Melbourne International Airport.”I’m concerned about it,” said Andrea Cattaneo, a mother of two whose home on Bridle Path in Hacienda Estates is less than a half-mile from Melbourne International. “You get that black dust. I’m constantly washing off my back porch.”

To protect her sons, Nicholas, 6, and Jack, 9, she makes sure to change out her air-conditioning filter regularly to capture any air pollutants from planes. But she still worries how lead and other air pollution might affect her family, especially as the airport expands.

“It’s really in those early years that lead can make an impact on children’s intelligence levels,” said Rebecca Anthopolos, a statistical analyst at Duke who co-authored the study on lead exposure from leaded aviation gasoline published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers found lead-blood levels increase significantly in children who live near an airport.

No level of lead exposure is accepted as safe, according to the EPA, and the agency has found serious health effects at much lower levels in blood than previously thought. The agency is considering a phase-out of lead from general aviation gasoline, called avgas, but has set no timeline.

In May, Friends of the Earth, a California-based environmental group, notified the EPA it plans to sue the agency to force a timeline.

But industry officials say there is no viable substitute for lead as an octane booster. Forcing more expensive alternative fuels too soon could batter a $150 billion industry already in a tailspin from the recession, they say, as well as create safety concerns.

“Engines could literally disintegrate on you,” said Glenn Vera, director of Florida Institute of Technology aviation, which has 54 planes at Melbourne International Airport.

Conservation groups counter that industry and the EPA have delayed for decades and must commit to deadlines for a phaseout. They list Melbourne International among 32 airports nationwide — 13 of them in Florida — that are the worst lead offenders because of high general aviation traffic and proximity to homes, schools and low-income areas.

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Image by Boltron.

From New York Times:

The maker of Dial Complete hand soap says that it kills more germs than any other brand. But is it safe?

That question has federal regulators, consumer advocates and soap manufacturers locked in a battle over the active ingredient in Dial Complete and many other antibacterial soaps, a chemical known as triclosan.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the safety of the chemical, which was created more than 40 years ago as a surgical scrub for hospitals. Triclosan is now in a range of consumer products, including soaps, kitchen cutting boards and even a best-selling toothpaste, Colgate Total. It is so prevalent that a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the chemical present in the urine of 75 percent of Americans over the age of 5.

Several studies have shown that triclosan may alter hormone regulation in laboratory animals or cause antibiotic resistance, and some consumer groups and members of Congress want it banned in antiseptic products like hand soap. The F.D.A. has already said that soap with triclosan is no more effective than washing with ordinary soap and water, a finding that manufacturers dispute.

The F.D.A. was to announce the results of its review several months ago, but now says the timing is uncertain and unlikely until next year. The Environmental Protection Agency is also looking into the safety of triclosan.

The outcome of the federal inquiries poses a significant risk to the makers of antimicrobial and antibacterial hand soaps, which represent about half of the $750 million market for liquid hand soaps in the United States, according to the market research firm Kline & Company.

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From Montreal Gazette:

People with relatively high levels of certain pesticides in their blood may have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — particularly if they are overweight, a new study suggests.

The study, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, is not the first to link chemical pollutants to diabetes.

A number of studies have found a connection between diabetes risk and exposure to older pesticides known as organochlorines, PCBs and other chemicals that fall into the category of “persistent organic pollutants.”

Organochlorines are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks. PCBs, which were once used in everything from appliances to fluorescent lighting to insecticides, were banned in the 1970s.

However, as the name suggests, persistent organic pollutants remain in the environment for years and build up in animal and human body fat.

In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

Lab research has suggested that some persistent organic pollutants impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, which could help explain the link to Type 2 diabetes.

Some of the compounds also have been shown to promote obesity, which is itself a major risk factor for diabetes, noted Riikka Airaksinen of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, who led the new study.

For the study, Airaksinen’s team measured blood levels of several persistent organic pollutants in about 2,000 older adults.

Just over 15 per cent had Type 2 diabetes. The risk was higher, the researchers found, among people with the highest levels of organochlorine pesticides.

Those with levels in the top 10 per cent were about twice as likely to have diabetes as their counterparts in the bottom 10 per cent.

But the link appeared to be limited to people who were overweight or obese.

That, the researchers write, suggests that the pollutants and body fat “may have a synergistic effect on the risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

The results alone do not prove that organochlorine pesticides were the reason for the higher diabetes risk, Airaksinen told Reuters Health in an email.

The researchers accounted for participants’ age, sex, waist size and blood pressure levels. But they had no information on things like diet and exercise habits — which might help explain the pesticide-diabetes link.

But the overall body of research, according to Airaksinen, is pointing toward a cause-and-effect relationship.

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From

Meet Dr. Erin Lipp, Associate Professor in the University of Georgia’s Department of Environmental Health Science. Her research interests include: Ecology of human pathogens in coastal and other natural waters; Role of environmental exposures in waterborne disease transmission; Coastal water quality and wastewater impacts on coral reefs; Climate change and waterborne disease; Oceans and human health.

From Reuters:

Republicans, backed by wealthy conservative lobbyists, are determined to stop the EPA and what they see as an activist agenda that is costing jobs and hurting corporate profits.

“Right now for House Republicans one of their important rally cries is that EPA regulations are excessive and even abusive,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

After President Barack Obama’s push for a climate bill in Congress collapsed last year, the EPA was left as the last bastion of hope for his environmental policy.

This led the agency, ironically founded under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon in 1970, to pursue its environmental agenda vigorously. The EPA was considered a toothless tiger under the administration of George W. Bush.

Almost on par with government spending, Republicans galvanized around the issue, using every opportunity, such as congressional hearings, relentlessly to criticize EPA chief Lisa Jackson and stymie her agency’s efforts.

While Republicans face stiff opposition in any legislation to shackle the EPA from the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House, they do have a number of options, especially in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

And the party has proven adept at outflanking the often disunited Democrats on big issues.

House Republicans could move to cut EPA funding through the appropriations process or through deficit-cutting talks in November as required by the debt-ceiling agreement.

Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was picked by Republicans to be part of the 12-member congressional committee that will decide on cuts needed as part of the debt-ceiling agreement.

He could push hard for savings from the EPA’s budget as he has led the battle against its rules.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid recently said he sees no threat to the EPA from Upton’s presence on the super-committee.

“I would assume they will make a serious effort to cut back and apply pressure to cut back EPA regulatory activity as part of this budgetary process,” Stavins said.

“I don’t know if they’ll succeed. That will depend on what the Democratic response to that is.”

Representative Ed Whitfield, another leading Republican on energy policy issues, said that outside the debt talks his party will hammer away in hearings and through legislation on its themes that the EPA has been killing jobs and growth.

Whitfield said Democrats, especially those from energy-intensive states such as West Virginia and Ohio, should know it will be a major issue on the campaign trail.

“We want to keep passing things on the House side that would reverse things EPA is doing simply because we’d like to see those 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year vote on some of this,” Whitfield said.

EPA ACTIONS INFLAME REPUBLICANS

Of the most contentious proposals, the EPA wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s major utilities. But the process has been delayed, in part, some suspect, by Republican pressure.

These rules could hit the bottom lines of such companies as American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Similar regulations are also planned for oil refineries.

In addition, the EPA has been struggling to complete a much-delayed rule on ozone pollution while also pushing new fuel-efficiency standards and measures to cut emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In protest, states and industry groups have slapped the EPA with multiple lawsuits, which could delay implementation of its rules and slow investment in energy-dependent industries.

CHOKING THE FUNDING

Republicans have tried a number of legislative moves to hamper the EPA. In April, the House passed a bill designed as a blanket ban on the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and sent it to the Senate, which voted 50-50 on it, falling short of the super-majority needed.

The House Interior-EPA spending bill introduced last month to cut funding to EPA programs is also pending.

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