Archives for category: Environmental Protection Agency

From Earth Justice:

Each year, nearly one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed into fields and orchards around the country. As the families who live nearby can tell you, those pesticides don’t always stay in the fields and orchards.

Lisa Jackson

From the Washington Post:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who pushed through the most sweeping curbs on air pollution in two decades, announced Thursday morning that she will resign her post.

Jackson, who will step down shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address next month, said she was “ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.” Many had expected that she would not remain for the administration’s second term; Jackson herself joked about it recently.

Outspoken on issues including climate change and the need to protect poor communities from experiencing a disproportionate amount of environmental harm, Jackson pressed for limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants and on dumping mining waste into streams and rivers near mines.

The slew of rules the EPA enacted over the past four years included the first greenhouse-gas standards for vehicles, cuts in mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants and a tighter limit on soot, the nation’s most widespread deadly pollutant. Many congressional Republicans and business groups claimed Jackson was waging a “war on coal.” But she was a hero to the environmental community.

The president issued a statement praising Jackson.

“Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act, and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump while also slashing carbon pollution,” Obama said.

Read the entire article here.

From Big Think:

William Souder’s 2004 autobiography of John James Audobon, Under a Wild Sky, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  His newest book, On a Farther Shore, chronicles the life and times of Rachel Carson, author of the controversial book Silent Spring — a tome that many consider to be the Bible of the environmental movement.  Souder discuses why Carson is such an inspiration, how Silent Spring might be received if it were to be released today and why it’s important to read biographies of notable figures in science.

Q:  What inspired you to write Rachel Carson’s biography?

William Souder:  My interests are diverse, but I write mainly about science, history, and the environment. A really vexing question is why we have this divisive, intensely partisan disagreement over environmental issues. Why should the left and the right feel differently about the environment we all share? I knew Rachel Carson had been at the forefront of the modern environmental movement—it can be argued she was its founder—and so I thought there might be answers to how we got to where we are on the environment that were embedded in her story. And that turned out to be true. The language and the shape of the continuing environmental debate were formed in the response to Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring. Now that book is about the collateral damage caused to the environment by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. But you could substitute climate change for pesticides and the case would be argued out the same way—now as it was a half century ago. On one side you have the interests of industry and its allies in government and on the political right that resists the regulation of economic activity. On the other you have science and the voices that speak for a reasonable preservation of the natural world.

That seems like a simple confrontation between greed and morality, but it’s more complicated than that. The critics of Silent Spring attacked the book by claiming it was hysterical and one-sided—but more importantly that it was un-American, an attempt to strangle the free enterprise that was our advantage over the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. To its detractors, Silent Spring wasn’t science. It was ideology. The irony, of course, is that it’s the reverse.

I should add that, as a practical matter, Rachel Carson is a terrific subject—and you cannot hope for more as a writer. She lived a consequential life that peaked just before her death from breast cancer in 1964. And she left an enormous legacy that includes the creation of the EPA and a motivated—if insufficiently effective—environmental movement. She also left behind the kind of vast paper trail of correspondence that is gold to a biographer.

Q:  As you did your research, what most surprised you about her?

William Souder:  I think most readers of my book are going to be shocked by the extent of atmospheric nuclear testing that took place during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s—and surprised at how the roots of the environmental movement can be found in the chilly voids of the Cold War. All-in, more than 500 nuclear devices were exploded in the atmosphere between 1945 and 1963, when most of the nuclear powers agreed to halt above-ground testing. The United States accounted for more than 200 of these tests—including ten in June of 1962, or one about every three days. That was the same month Silent Spring—in which Carson argued that pesticides and radiation were parallel threats to the environment—was serialized in the New Yorker magazine.

I knew Carson had argued a connection between pesticides and radiation, but I didn’t realize how important it was until I closely re-read Silent Spring as a commentary not just on pesticides, but on American sensibilities in the Cold War. When you read the short, bleak opening chapter of Silent Spring—it’s one of the great set-pieces in American literature—it’s easy to see that gray, lifeless town, where no birds sing, where farm animals sicken and die, and where a pale residue lies in the gutters and on the rooftops as the result of either pesticides or the fallout from a nuclear apocalypse. And in that lifeless, colorless void was also the shadow of an existence Americans imagined inside the Soviet Union—the cold hardness of totalitarianism that was our darkest fear. It’s no accident that baby boomers became the vanguard of the environmental movement. They came of age with such images and terrors. When they read Silent Spring, they got it.

Q: Do you think the reception of Silent Spring would have been different today? Why or why not?

William Souder:  It’s hard to imagine the same circumstances today because so much has changed that would reshape the response to this kind of work. Rachel Carson was one of the most famous and beloved authors in America when she published Silent Spring, and it was a startling departure from her earlier works, which were lyrical, moving portraits of the sea. But her credibility was enormous, as was her audience. That was a world still dominated by print—by many newspapers and magazines that no longer exist, but which back then devoted substantial space to covering the world of literature. I think books mattered then in a way that, sadly, they no longer do. And it has to be conceded that after years of a concerted attack on the media from the right, a significant portion of Americans don’t believe what they read or hear, regardless of how credible the source is.

The fact is, we have seen the perils of climate change exhaustively reported on for years now. And the country is pretty much evenly divided on whether it’s a problem and so we’ve done next to nothing to address it. So, no, I don’t think Silent Spring would have the same impact today. In fact, I think it’s more influential for being half a century old and still relevant.

Read the entire interview here.

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 4 of their series on EPA’s inefficacy in regulating toxic chemicals.

Regulators have allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without thoroughly assessing the health risks. One chemical touted as safe is now turning up in wildlife around the world. Read »

From Environmental Health News:

A study raises concern about children’s exposure to mercury through fish eating, tying it for the first time to hormone changes that increase chronic stress and associated immune system dysfunction.

The mercury levels measured in the children were well below the levels considered a health risk by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This new study from Oswego County, New York, finds that higher mercury levels measured in the children’s blood are significantly associated with lower cortisol levels. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress and is important for metabolism, immune responses and blood pressure. Its levels naturally fluctuate during the day – levels are higher in the morning and lower in the afternoon.

Even lower cortisol levels and responses can result in chronic stress even though stress increases the hormone’s level. The study’s results suggest that mercury exposure at levels commonly seen in fish eating populations may do this. It may act as a chronic stressor and disrupt the stress response. Chronic stress means the body doesn’t relax – cells continually function in high gear and do not return to a normal state. Long-term stress can have many negative health effects such as increased heart disease, more metabolic disorders and lowered immunity.

The findings are in line with prior studies in people and fish. The toxic metal increased inflammation in miners exposed to mercury. Animal studies find reduced cortisol levels in mercury-contaminated fish after capture stress.

Fish consumption is a major source both of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and toxic mercury. Omega-3s benefit health by protecting against heart disease. Mercury is potentially harmful because it affects the brain and nervous system in children. Although there are fish advisories in many states, it is still uncertain whether the benefit of eating fish outweighs the potential harm in children.

To address the pros and cons of fish eating in children, the researchers examined 100 children from 9 to 11 years old in New York State. Parents reported children’s fish consumption, which was categorized as eating or not in the analysis. Blood mercury levels, blood lipids, cortisol in saliva and inflammation markers were measured. Blood lipids indicate future heart disease risk; cortisol reflects changes of stress response; and inflammation markers indicate immune response differences.

Fish eaters had higher HDL – or so called good cholesterol – related to lower heart disease risk, than non-fish eaters. However, the fish eaters also had much higher – almost three times higher – mercury levels than non-fish eaters (1.1 and 0.4 microgram per liter, respectively).

More.

From Environmental Health News:

Paul Anastas, one of the fathers of green chemistry, is leaving his high-ranking post at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next month and returning to Yale University. During an interview with Jane Kay of Environmental Health News, Anastas, who will remain at his post for another month or so, said there has been a “growing realization across EPA” that green chemistry “can meet environmental and economic goals simultaneously.” During his two years as science advisor and assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Anastas played a key role in many controversial issues, including use of dispersants during the Gulf oil spill and the agency’s long-awaited analysis of dioxin.  –Marla Cone, Editor in Chief

Q
: Why are you leaving the EPA to return to Yale University?

A: I was just describing to some folks in Washington that people always say they’re leaving their positions to spend more time with their family. Sometimes it’s actually true. In the confirmation hearings, I was asked why I’d leave a perfect life. I said I considered it to be an extension of my love for my family, for my children. That fact in so many ways was necessary for me to leave them for this time. We’ve made some important changes at the EPA. It’s time for me to go home.

I have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. The 1-year-old was born during the Gulf oil spill. Some of the most painful time is spending time in the Gulf of Mexico away from your wife when you have a newborn-to-be. We had a large town hall meeting in the Gulf of Mexico. Someone asked how do we know that you people in Washington care about us in the Gulf. I said I have a 6-week baby and I’ve been down here for the last five weeks. You can be sure I care what’s happening. I’ve been gone half of my oldest daughter’s life, and all of my youngest daughter’s life.
Q: How have you instituted the principles of green chemistry at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

A: The most important thing is that there’s been this realization: the only reason to deeply understand a problem is to inform and empower its solutions. The EPA has a long history of understanding how toxic certain chemicals are. There’s this realization now that we can actually design chemicals and design manufacturing so they are less toxic and less polluting.

I can point to the work that’s going on in the labs in Cincinnati developing new manufacturing processes, new synthetic methodologies and new nano materials making sure that you get the new performance without the concerns and the hazards. I can point to our work at Research Triangle Park in computational toxicology, which is informing molecular design to reduce hazards. We’re doing it in our internal research, in our research grant programs to universities and in continuing the green chemistry awards that recognize accomplishments. This is part of solution orientation, how you use innovation to generate solution rather than only quantifying the problem. There is a growing realization across EPA that this approach can meet environmental and economic goals simultaneously.

Q: What do you think is your greatest accomplishment at the EPA?

A: My role in advancing the “Green Book” produced by the National Academies of Science. It is one of the best reports that I’ve ever seen from the NAS, and is something that I’m glad to be a part of. The “Green Book,” or “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA,” is a tremendously informative and powerful document that has received contributions from representatives of industry, academia, public health and non-governmental organizations. Its recommendations are currently being reviewed and deliberated by the agency this spring as part of the ongoing listening sessions to get people’s perspectives about sustainability. The whole point is that we have 25 years of knowledge. This “Green Book” outlines the scientific, technical and analytical way to put sustainability into practice. While it is directed at the EPA, it is far more broadly applicable for people who want to put sustainability into practice.

Q
: What still needs to be done at the EPA?

A: We need to strengthen scientific and legal foundations, expand the conversation on environmentalism to communities who have not traditionally been included and introduce innovation into consideration of all of the work that we do.

Q: What are your thoughts on the White House’s decision to withdraw a tougher ozone standard?

A: The president takes into account many factors in making decisions. The timing of any actions needs to be considered as well. The science of the ozone assessment is very solid and is never in question. The standards on ozone are ones that the agency will revisit in the future in accordance with the law.

More.

From the Washington Post:

The amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment nationwide in 2010 increased 16 percent over the year before, reversing a downward trend in overall toxic releases since 2006, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The spike was driven largely by metal mining, but other sectors — including the chemical industry — also contributed to the rise in emissions, according to the new analysis from the annual federal Toxics Release Inventory.

Air releases of dioxin, which is linked to cancer as well as neurological and reproductive problems, rose 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to the report. Other releases, such as landfill disposal, increased 18 percent.

Dioxins are formed as a byproduct of some processes with intense heat, such as smelting and recycling metals. The 2010 increase stemmed largely from the hazardous-waste-management and mining industries, according to the EPA.

In a statement Thursday, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson did not address the specific sources of emissions but said that the public reporting “has played a significant role in protecting people’s health and the environment by providing communities with valuable information on toxic chemical releases.”

According to EPA officials, a handful of metal mining operations helped drive the overall increase in toxic emissions.

“In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined — which EPA understands is one of the reasons for the increase in total reported releases — may lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally,” the statement read.

Some environmentalists said the new data show why the EPA should swiftly move to release a long-anticipated environmental assessment of dioxin, the first installment of which the agency plans to issue this month. EPA officials say they will issue a report addressing dioxin’s non-cancerous effects first and then later release a cancer-related report.

Some industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, have urged the EPA to hold off issuing the report in what the trade association’s president and chief executive, Cal Dooley, has called “a piecemeal fashion.” Chemical manufacturers accounted for nearly 64 percent of total disposal of dioxins in 2010, though they reported a 7 percent decrease from 2009 to 2010.

More.

From the Associated Press:

When winter comes to Utah and atmospheric conditions trap a soup of pollutants close to the ground, doctors say it turns every resident in the Salt Lake basin into the equivalent of a cigarette smoker.

For days or weeks at a time, an inversion layer in which high pressure systems can trap a roughly 1,300-foot-thick layer of cold air — and the pollutants that build up inside it — settles over the basin, leaving some people coughing and wheezing.

“There’s no safe level of particulate matter you can breathe,” said Salt Lake City anesthesiologist Cris Cowley, who is among a number of Utah doctors raising the alarm over some of the nation’s worst wintertime air.

The doctors and a lobby group of Utah mothers are blaming a company that mines nearly a mile deep in the largest open pit in the world for contributing one-third of Salt Lake County’s pollution. The rest is from tailpipe and other emissions.

They have filed a lawsuit against Kennecott Utah Copper, accusing it of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act. The company operates with the consent of state regulators who enforce the federal law.

The company is the No. 1 industrial air polluter along Utah’s heavily populated 120-mile Wasatch Front and operates heavy trucks and power and smelter plants. It says the claims are “without merit.”

Kennecott cites the blessing of Utah regulators for expanded operations and new controls that hold emissions steady.

Utah’s chief air regulator, however, acknowledged Kennecott is technically violating a 1994 plan adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that limited the company to hauling 150 million tons of ore a year out of the Bingham Canyon Mine.

Utah has twice allowed the company to exceed that limit, most recently to 260 million tons, as the company moves to expand a mine in the mountains west of Salt Lake City. In each case, Utah sought EPA’s consent, but the EPA didn’t take any action.

The lawsuit could force EPA’s hand, said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Bird said the old limit would defeat changes Kennecott made to curb dust and emissions since 1994.

The EPA rules that set production instead of emissions limits puts many companies in a similarly “awkward position” and undermines confidence in Utah’s air pollution permits, Bird said.

Kennecott disputes the doctors’ figure and says it contributes about 16 percent of Salt Lake County’s overall emissions.

An examination by The Associated Press of emissions figures provided by Kennecott to state regulators shows the company’s share of pollutants ranges from 65 percent of Salt Lake County’s sulfur dioxide emissions to 18 percent of its particulates.

Particulates are tiny flecks of dust that doctors say can attract heavy metals. The particulates are ingested through the nose and lungs and can become lodged in brain tissue. They are especially damaging to the development of children.

Medical research has found that the first few minutes of exposure to air pollution does the most damage, with many people’s bodies able to react and fight off longer bouts of exposure, the doctors said.

Yet exposure to dust, soot and gaseous chemicals constricts vessels and send blood pressure soaring, making some people’s hearts flutter and spiking emergency hospital visits while putting fetuses in the womb at risk, the doctors say.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From iWatch News:

Three years into Lisa Jackson’s tenure as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than a dozen formal complaints alleging air pollution is disproportionately harming low-income, minority communities remain unresolved. Each of these complaints has languished — in some instances, for more than a decade — in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights despite Jackson’s stated commitment to environmental justice.

“We must include environmental justice principles in all of our decisions … especially with regard to children,” Jackson wrote in a January 2010 memo outlining the agency’s top priorities.

But EPA documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and interviews with activists and residents reveal that the administrator’s words have brought little relief to underprivileged communities overburdened with pollution.

The Office of Civil Rights — whose leader reports directly to Jackson — has in its files a total of 38 unresolved complaints dating to July 1994, according to a list published on the office’s website following a Freedom of Information Act request from iWatch News. Fifteen of these OCR complaints involve air pollution.

The EPA did not explain why so many cases remain unresolved. However, a spokeswoman said in an email that “the Agency has made meaningful progress on many of the complaints that remain on its docket.”

Environmental justice advocates are dubious. “The backlog doesn’t seem greatly improved, and it’s not clear what processes they use to evaluate the complaints” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. “Why is that progress?”

Poverty and pollution

Tammy Foster, a 39-year-old housewife turned environmental activist from Corpus Christi, Texas, has had several miscarriages in the 17 years that a complaint alleging discrimination in her community has been pending at OCR. Doctors don’t know why she’s been unable to conceive, she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say living on Refinery Row,” a 10-mile stretch of oil refineries and other industrial plants.

Foster blames emissions from the plants that border the Dona Park neighborhood on three sides for a birth defect that causes her to average four kidney infections per year and for regular outbreaks of hives and blisters. “When I’m gone, I feel great,” she said.

Dona Park, where Foster has lived most of her life, is about 70 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey found that about a quarter of all families in the community live below the poverty line.

In Ford Heights, Ill., a solidly African-American exurb of Chicago, about 40 percent of all families are in poverty, according to the American Community Survey. In April 2006, residents filed a complaint — still unresolved by OCR — against the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for failing to act on Geneva Energy, LLC, which bought a tire-burning power plant located only blocks from a community center that housed a preschool program.

The plant has operated intermittently due to financial and environmental problems that include a long list of air pollution violations. “The only way that you would know [it was running] is that the smoke was in the air,” said Melva Smith-Weaver, who worked at the Head Start program in Ford Heights until 2007.

”There was quite a few children during that time that were asthmatic. You would expect to have out of 102 kids, one or two that are asthmatic, but we had quite a few — maybe 15 to 20.” In 2009, the preschool program moved to new location about a mile away, but middle school students still attend classes just down the road from the plant.

“This facility is clean and safe for the surrounding community,” said Geneva Energy CEO Ben Rose. He acknowledged the air pollution violations but said “there is little evidence that plants such as ours increase asthma attacks.” Rose said it’s “outrageous that this complaint wasn’t addressed immediately” by OCR.

Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin agreed. In an October letter to Jackson, he noted that Geneva Energy is the city’s biggest private employer and taxpayer. “This could have been dismissed after a brief investigation, lifting the cloud of uncertainty from the facility,” Griffin wrote.

The Corpus Christi and Ford Heights complaints are among at least 15 Clean Air Act cases pending with OCR; three of these cases date to the 1990s. Twenty-three other pending complaints allege violations of laws governing water pollution, toxic waste and pesticides.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration finished crafting tough new rules Friday curbing mercury and other poisons emitted by coal-fired utilities, according to several people briefed on the decision, culminating more than two decades of work to clean up the nation’s dirtiest power plants.

As part of last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations give some flexibility to power plant operators who argued they could not meet the three-year deadline for compliance outlined by the EPA. Several individuals familiar with the details declined to be identified because the agency will not announce the rules until next week.

The new rules will cost utilities $10.6 billion by 2016 for the installation of control equipment known as scrubbers, according to EPA estimates. But the EPA said those costs would be far offset by health benefits. The agency estimates that as of 2016, lowering emissions would save $59 billion to $140 billion in annual health costs, preventing 17,000 premature deaths a year along with illnesses and lost workdays.

* * *

Several experts said the new controls on mercury, acid gas and other pollutants represent one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years. The rules will prevent 91 percent of the mercury in coal from entering the air and much of the soot as well: According to EPA estimates, they will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually by 2016.

“I think this will prove to be the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “It will soon mean the end of the smoke-spewing coal power plant as we know it today. At the same time, the administration is trying to add a bit of flexibility to extinguish the bogus claim that these standards could mean lights out.”

* * *

Congress exempted toxic pollution from power plants — which can include arsenic, chromium, lead, formaldehyde and dioxins, among other substances — when it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. In 2000, under the Clinton administraion, the EPA determined that it should be regulated, but a lengthy legal and lobbying battle ensued.

The EPA finalized the rules Friday to meet the terms of a court-ordered settlement with several advocacy groups that had sued the agency over its 10-year delay in issuing the regulations.

* * *

More.

Image from Flickr.

From Epoch Times:

Coal and oil-burning power plants have long been responsible for much of the nation’s air pollution. But a new report says that these facilities have managed to avoid emissions standards that every other industry has had to observe for decades.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) last week released an analysis identifying the nation’s most polluting power plants. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, the report examined power plant emissions of four highly toxic heavy metals. They found that most of the mercury, arsenic, and selenium released into our air can be traced to a relatively small of amount facilities.

“Half of all the mercury in the U.S. today comes from approximately 500 existing coal fired power plants,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative, in a conference call for the report.

EIP associate director Ilan Levin added that only 47 facilities were responsible for “almost 60 percent of all power plant chromium emissions nationwide.”

“These chemicals are listed as hazardous air toxics for a reason—at high levels they are dangerous to people and the environments,” continued Levin. “For example, arsenic and chromium are human carcinogens, lead and mercury exposure are known to harm brain and nervous system development in infants and children. These are dangerous chemicals.”

Overall toxic emissions have declined over the past decade. But the EIP says the decrease is being driven by a few companies that are installing modern pollution controls, while the rest of the nation’s power plants are doing very little.

Nilles explained that the coal industry has managed to skirt regulations since 1990, when Congress put in place requirements for all other industries to take steps toward tougher pollution controls. When the legislation was passed, power plants were granted a special exemption, and the EPA was required to conduct a study to examine whether controlling power plant pollution was necessary and appropriate.

“If you step back and think about that, this loophole is pretty remarkable,” observed James Pew attorney for Earthjustice. “It’s essentially saying for an industrial category that everybody already knew was the worst polluter the EPA had to determine whether it was worth controlling.”

While the required study confirmed that power plants were indeed a major source of pollution, stricter standards were further delayed during the Bush administration. The industry insisted that curbing emissions was an impossible task, and some lawmakers were concerned that harsher regulations would significantly raise energy costs.

But experts say that the technology and pollution control equipment necessary to clean up toxic emissions has been widely available for years, and has already been working at some power plants across the country.

“This is not something we don’t know how to fix,” continued Nilles. “There are readily available technologies that are able to address mercury pollution and a host of other toxic pollutants that come from coal burning. We know from EPA studies that go back a decade that there is pollution technology available that would reduce mercury emissions 90 percent—from current levels of 34 tons to 5 tons.”

More.

Image from Flickr.

From iWatchNews:

In the latest challenge to regulatory Washington, the Republican-led House on Wednesday passed the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act.” The legislation, also known as the REINS Act, would allow Congress to block the costliest regulations and add new hurdles for some of the more expansive environmental, health and workplace safety protections for citizens.

The REINS Act would send to Congress for a vote any “major rule” expected to have more than a $100 million annual economic effect, significantly increase costs or stifle productivity or innovation. The category could include proposed rules to strengthen protections from toxic air pollution that still plagues hundreds of communities across the country.

Though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, it provides heightened visibility for an issue that repeatedly has surfaced on the campaign trail and in television advertising in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Republicans, calling for a shift in oversight duties from unelected bureaucrats to elected legislators, say regulations come at a big cost to jobs and the economy. Democrats contend the move would undermine protections that ensure Americans safe food, water, air, workplaces and consumer products.  Only four Democrats sided with Republicans in Wednesday’s 241-184 vote.

Republicans assert that the Obama administration has unleashed a torrent of regulations, creating uncertainty in the business community. But a recent examination of government data by Bloomberg found that, 33 months into his presidency, Obama had approved 5 percent fewer regulations than his predecessor, George W. Bush, during his first 33 months.

The proposed legislation alarms progressive groups who say it could subject crucial public protections to the whims of politicians who are easily influenced and sometimes have little understanding of the complexities involved in rulemaking.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday, threatening to veto the legislation and calling it “a radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers.”

More.

From NPR:

For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as“fracking.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study Thursday tying the technique, formally called hydraulic fracturing, to high levels of chemicals found in ground water in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo. EPA scientists found high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and synthetic glycol and alcohol, commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

The gas industry and other experts have long contended that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water. The EPA’s findings provide the first official confirmation to the contrary.

In hydraulic fracturing, companies inject chemicals deep underground at high pressure to blast fractures in formations to make the gas flow faster.

Fracking has helped spawn a gas boom across the country, which President Obama supports as a key to the country’s energy security. But many experts have raised concerns about a wide range of environmental risks.

In many areas across the country, people who live near gas production have complained that their wells have been contaminated.

People in Pavillion, located on the Wind River Indian Reservation, contacted the EPA three years ago, complaining that their water smelled and tasted bad.

The agency started sampling drinking water wells in 2009 and found low levels of methane and other hydrocarbons in most of those wells. Although the levels did not exceed drinking water standards in most cases, the agency recommended that people get other sources of water for drinking and cooking, Encana, the company which drilled the wells, started providing water. The company says it provides drinking water to 21 households at a cost of about $1,500 per month.

The agency was concerned that higher concentrations of some of the chemicals might be lurking elsewhere in the aquifer.

So EPA researchers drilled two wells and found lots of chemicals, which could be tied to drilling. For example, they found levels of benzene, which is known to cause cancer and other health effects, far higher than safe drinking water standards. The presence of other chemicals — like synthetic glycols and alcohols — persuaded them that the contamination was likely coming from fracking.

“Alternative explanations were carefully considered to explain individual sets of data. However, when considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing,” the EPA reports says.

The EPA has yet to find those synthetic chemicals or benzene in private or public drinking wells. However, an EPA scientist said that the agency doesn’t know how contaminants might move in the aquifer, so it’s concerned about what will happen to the drinking water wells over time.

“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver.

Read more and listen to the story here.

From iWatch:

One spring day in 2010, the haze hanging over this Mississippi River town was worse than usual. It billowed from the smokestacks of a corn processing plant and blanketed the neighborhood across the street. It enshrouded homes and, seen from a certain angle, looked almost blue.

Kurt Levetzow watched from his car. An inspector with the state agency that enforces air pollution laws, he’d been fielding more and more citizen complaints lately about Grain Processing Corp., known as GPC.

The company’s plant sits on the edge of the town’s South End neighborhood, where black soot and bits of corn collect on cars and homes and many residents worry about what they’re breathing. Even on an ordinary day, a pungent burnt-corn odor hangs in the air, and the haze can be seen from miles away.

But Levetzow hadn’t seen anything like this. Driving through the neighborhood near the plant, he snapped pictures and took notes for the memo he would write. “I went through Muscatine on 3-26-10,” he wrote. “I was amazed at what I saw.”

A pickup truck came to a stop next to Levetzow’s car. It was a company security guard.

“Is there a problem?” the guard asked.

“Yes, there is,” Levetzow answered. “GPC is fogging that residential area with a blue haze.” Levetzow pointed. “You see what I mean?”

The guard looked over. “Ah, they’re getting used to that,” he said, chuckling.

Many communities have had little choice but to get used to it. As the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has reported, hundreds of communities are beset with chronic air pollution involving toxic chemicals Congress intended to rein in years ago. Here in the heart of the Corn Belt, people endure the consequences of a regulatory system that has failed them for years.

The plant’s troubles are well-known to state and federal officials, but fixes — when they have come at all — have been slow. Memos, reports and thousands of emails obtained by iWatch News detail Levetzow’s efforts, the company’s resistance and the state environmental agency’s passivity. They also highlight gaps in a regulatory system that relies on a self-reporting honor system, spotty monitoring and ambiguous rules.

Officials at the state Department of Natural Resources, known as the DNR, have allowed GPC to avoid improvements that would reduce pollution. Even when Levetzow told his bosses he thought GPC’s apparent compliance with air pollution laws was a façade and repeatedly urged them to act, they did little, emails show.

The company says it stays within the limits outlined in its permit, has followed air pollution rules and is upgrading pollution control equipment as part of a major plant improvement project, some of which is scheduled to be finished in 2014. The improvements — some required by a court order resolving a case brought by the state for environmental violations five years ago — still may fail to keep the area in compliance with air quality standards, the state says.

GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman said other companies share responsibility for Muscatine’s air quality problems, and GPC is doing its part to clean up the skies. “We want this to be a great community with quality air, too,” she said.

While the Clean Air Act delegated enforcement duties to the states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keeps tabs on state agencies and sometimes steps in. The plant appeared on the September version of EPA’s internal “watch list,” which includes serious or chronic violators of the Clean Air Act that have faced no formal enforcement action for nine months or more. GPC was not on the list in October.

Now, after years on the sidelines, the EPA has started to get involved. The agency says it is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation of GPC — a rare step the EPA usually reserves for companies it feels have knowingly violated the law. In December 2009, a team of investigators led by the EPA raided the plant and seized documents. Sichterman said the company doesn’t know why it’s being investigated but is confident the probe will determine GPC followed all laws.

Some residents, no longer content to wait for official action, are organizing and building their own case. They are filing complaints and documenting health problems. Recently, they hired a lawyer. As in other communities, they face significant hurdles, from limited air monitoring and health studies that would help them make their case to wariness among their neighbors about taking on powerful political and economic forces.

More.

From :

In an Arizona smelter town, people have endured decades of dirty air, disease — and bureaucratic dawdling. While the EPA and state regulators clash, citizens await relief. When it comes to toxic air pollution, help often arrives late.

%d bloggers like this: