Archives for category: Regulation

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.

Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

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 »

Rena Steinzor has posted her article “The Truth About Regulation in America (Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 5, pp. 323-346, 2011) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The special interests leading the accelerating crusade against regulation have re-ignited a potent coalition of industry lobbyists, traditional conservatives, and grassroots Tea Party activists. The politicians speak in generic terms for public consumption: “the nation is broke,” “big government is bad,” “regulation costs trillions.” Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists target for repeal dozens of regulations that are designed to control pollution, ensure drug, product, and food safety, and eliminate workplace hazards. In an effort to bring light and air to an often misleading and always opportunistic national debate, this essay presents five truths about the state of health, safety, and environmental regulation in America: First, regulatory dysfunction hurts many people. At the same time, big, bad government and powerful, protective regulation are two different things. The current system is sufficiently weak, especially with respect to enforcement, that even scoundrels are not stopped. Fourth, regulated industries understand the benefits of regulation and could negotiate compromises with agencies and public interest representatives if deregulatory opportunists would back off. Finally, if left alone, health, safety, and environmental agencies could accomplish great things.

Six “protector agencies” with the mission to safeguard people and natural resources from the hazards of the industrial age are the focus of the essay. In the descending order of size include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In a nutshell, I argue that stringent regulation has enabled this country to achieve a remarkable level of industrialization while maintaining its natural environment to a remarkable degree, with the admittedly huge exception of the eroding ozone layer that is causing severe climate change. For verification of this observation, we have only to consider China, where a break-neck pace toward industrial development has left the environment in shambles, causing as many as 2.4 million deaths annually as a direct result of contaminated water and air (adjusted for population, the American equivalent would be 558,000 deaths).

The truth about regulation in America is that we cannot prosper without it, as many corporate executives will admit when they are standing outside the herd. The agencies that protect health, safety, and the environment cost less than one percent of the federal budget and projected benefits exceed costs by at least two to one. But the agencies are growing weaker and less able to enforce the law effectively. Further, as happened on Wall Street, even egregious violators continue business as usual until disaster strikes (and, in some painfully notorious cases, even afterwards — see, for example, British Petroleum’s chronic violations of worker safety and environmental laws that were left undeterred over the decade leading up to the Gulf oil spill).

Download the paper for free.

From

As of Monday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had received a record-breaking 20,800 public comments on the latest draft of its review of hydrofracking.

The document, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) has sparked a major public debate in New York.

But by Tuesday, the agency had its hands full with thousands of more comments arriving at the 11th hour.

The deadline for submitting a public comment to the DEC about hydrofracking is Wednesday, January 11th.

From the Argus Leader:

McDonald’s and two other fast-food chains have stopped using an ammonia-treated burger ingredient that meat industry critics deride as “pink slime.”

The product remains widely used as low-fat beef filling in burger meat, including in school meals. But some consumer advocates worry that attacks on the product by food activist Jamie Oliver and others will discourage food manufacturers from developing new methods of keeping deadly pathogens out of their products.

The beef is processed by Beef Products Inc. of Dakota Dunes at plants at Waterloo, Iowa, and in three other states. One of the company’s chief innovations is to cleanse the beef of E. coli bacteria and other dangerous microbes by treating it with ammonium hydroxide, one of many chemicals used at various stages in the meat industry to kill pathogens.

“Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs, and after this process we can give it to humans,” Oliver said in a segment of his ABC television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, that aired last spring.

BPI, which once boasted of having its product in 70 percent of the hamburger sold in the country, has lost 25 percent of its business. McDonald’s has been joined by Taco Bell and Burger King in discontinuing use of the product, and the company is worried other chains and retailers will follow them.

“It’s just a shame that an activist with an agenda can really degrade the safety of our food supply,” said David Theno, an industry consultant who has advised BPI and is credited with turning the Jack in the Box burger chain into a model of food safety after a deadly E. coli outbreak in 1993. He called the BPI process “extraordinarily effective” in making beef safer.

* * *

Lean beef long has been added to fattier meat to produce the blends of hamburger meat that’s sold in supermarkets and restaurants. BPI’s innovation was to develop high-tech methods of removing bits of beef from fatty carcass trimmings that had previously been sold for pet food or animal feed and then treating the beef with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. Ammonia is used extensively in the food industry and is found naturally in meat. The gas BPI uses contains a tiny fraction of the ammonia that’s used in household cleaner, according to the company.

Ammonium hydroxide, a mixture of water and ammonia, is used in baked goods, cheeses, candy and other products, according to the International Food Information Council. The Food and Drug Administration approved the chemical for leavening, acidity control and other purposes. The ammonium hydroxide lowers the acidity of meat, making it inhospitable to bacteria.

A Washington Post report in 2008 described a BPI plant in South Sioux City, Neb., as a technological marvel that could be the “key to a safer meat supply.” But the good publicity didn’t last.

That same year, the documentary Food Inc., featuring authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, portrayed the ammonia treatment as typical of “high-tech fixes” that agribusiness giants use to ameliorate the public health problems that the filmmakers contended are created by industrial-scale agriculture.

A 2009 New York Times story raised questions about the safety of the BPI product, citing government and industry records of E. coli and salmonella contamination of meat sold for school lunches. One of the company’s plants was barred by the USDA for a time from selling meat for schools.

* * *

The newspaper story included a quote from an email in which an Agriculture Department microbiologist called the pale-colored product “pink slime,” a term critics seized upon.

OIiver’s TV segment didn’t so much portray the product as unsafe as simply disgusting.

“To me, as a chef and a food lover, this is shocking,” he said.

Burger King issued a statement confirming that it was discontinuing use of the BPI product but was not clear as to why.

“The decision to remove BPI products from the BK system is not related to any particular event but rather part of the company’s normal course of business,” the company said.

McDonald’s and Taco Bell did not respond to requests for comment.

BPI officials said they still have other fast-food chains as customers but would not identify them.

Superficial fix or preventive process?

Patty Lovera, who follows food safety policy for the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said the BPI product raises legitimate questions about whether the food industry is relying too heavily on chemical washes and other technology to kill bacteria instead of doing more to prevent the contamination.

More.

Image from EASY BEING GREENer.

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.

Roger Magnusson, Lawrence O. Gostin, and David Studdert recently posted their paper, “Can Law Improve Prevention and Treatment of Cancer?” on SSRN:

The December 2011 issue of Public Health (the Journal of the Royal Society for Public Health) contains a symposium entitled: Legislate, Regulate, Litigate? Legal approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. This symposium explores the possibilities for using law and regulation – both internationally and at the national level – as the policy instrument for preventing and improving the treatment of cancer and other leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In this editorial, we argue that there is an urgent need for more legal scholarship on cancer and other leading NCDs, as well as greater dialogue between lawyers, public health practitioners and policy-makers about priorities for law reform, and feasible legal strategies for reducing the prevalence of leading risk factors. The editorial discusses two important challenges that frequently stand in the way of a more effective use of law in this area. The first is the tendency to dismiss risk factors for NCDs as purely a matter of individual ‘personal responsibility’; the second is the fact that effective regulatory responses to risks for cancer and NCDs will in many cases provoke conflict with the tobacco, alcohol and food industries. After briefly identifying some of the strategies that law can deploy in the prevention of NCDs, we briefly introduce each of the ten papers that make up the symposium.

You can download the paper for free here.

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 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 Pittsburgh City Paper, an outstanding article (the second in a series) touching on many of the themes behind Upstream

In October 1996, Lance Armstrong, then 25 and the world’s seventh-ranked professional bicyclist, learned he had testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen. He was given a 40 percent chance of survival.

“I intend to beat this disease,” he told reporters.

Armstrong survived, of course — the brain surgery, the grueling rounds of chemotherapy — and went on to seven straight Tour de France titles.

Armstrong’s recovery was received joyously. Headlines like “With Each Day, a Triumph” were standard; thousands of fan letters and emails arrived weekly. In 1999, Armstrong told Bicycling magazine, “The cancer — I owe my life to it. … I wouldn’t be married. I wouldn’t have a kid on the way. And I’m a [better] rider.”

News accounts noted everything from testicular cancer’s predilection for young men to survival tips from psychologists. But readers were rarely, if ever, informed that testicular cancer was becoming increasingly common. In the 20 years preceding Armstrong’s diagnosis, its incidence in the U.S. had risen by 41 percent. And it has kept rising: By 2007, testicular cancer was 75 percent more common than in 1975. And no one knows why.

Armstrong himself seemed disinterested in what causes testicular cancer. While his Lance Armstrong Foundation, created in 1997, has distributed countless yellow “Livestrong” wristbands, like most cancer initiatives it’s all about supporting cancer sufferers, not pursuing root causes.

Or, as Armstrong said shortly after his diagnosis: “I don’t want to waste my time saying, ‘Why me?’ I have a problem and I want to fix it.”

* * *

It’s hard to believe we’d need to argue that preventing illness is preferable to trying to cure it. It’s as if we’d abandoned sewage-treatment systems because we have antibiotics for cholera.

And curing cancer is proving much harder than developing antibiotics.

Forty years into America’s “war on cancer,” you’re 50 percent more likely to get cancer than when it began. Childhood cancer rates have grown steadily for decades, according to National Cancer Institute statistics, and cancer is rising in people under 50. Yet the Institute’s own funding patterns emphasizes new treatments over prevention.

For instance, in 2010, the National Cancer Institute spent $364 million on prevention programs — and $1.16 billion on treatment research. (Asked about research priorities, an NCI spokesperson said “grants are awarded on a competitive basis” and research categories “[don’t] fully capture the complete range of research objectives” because some research applies in multiple categories.)

Treatment is likewise the focus of the vast majority of funds raised by your average “race for the cure” fundraiser.

* * *

So why not put more effort into prevention?

It’s not a new question.

In his controversial 1979 book The Politics of Cancer, Samuel Epstein, a professor of environmental medicine, asserted that “cancer is caused mainly by exposure to chemicals or physical agents in the environment.” If those chemicals were removed, he argued, cancer would be “essentially preventable.” But he charged mainstream experts with downplaying the role of industrial carcinogens — and with pursuing lucrative treatments for cancer at the expense of prevention. Epstein cited ties between what he called “the cancer establishment” and the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries; in the 1980s, for instance, the NCI Executive Cancer Panel was chaired by oil magnate Armand Hammer.

Epstein’s attacks were roundly criticized by the medical establishment. But little has changed, says epidemiologist Devra Davis, author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer.

* * *

Popular culture too prefers “beating” cancer to sussing its source: For every movie about what carcinogens do, like Erin Brockovich, there are 10 Brian’s Songs or 50/50s, celebrating cancer’s noble victims or plucky survivors.

Public officials follow suit. When President Richard Nixon was pushing the National Cancer Act, in 1971, he issued a 1,300-word statement. While it briefly acknowledged evidence that “human cancers can be prevented by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals,” just 100 words of the statement concerned prevention. (Seven years after the surgeon general’s announcement that cigarettes cause cancer, Nixon’s statement didn’t even mention smoking.) Nixon’s repeated references to a “cancer cure,” meanwhile, signaled the chief goal.

Critics say those priorities are no accident. As difficult as curing cancer might be, it could be harder to reduce the malignant growth of special interests.

More scientists are now, like Epstein, raising alarms that synthetic chemicals drive cancer. Consider testicular cancer. Studies have linked exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals (like those found in some pesticides and plastics) to reproductive abnormalities including undescended testicles, a cancer risk factor. Meanwhile, a 2008 study suggested that a byproduct of the pesticide DDT (still found in most Americans’ bloodstreams) increases the risk of testicular cancer.

And DDT is just one of at least 84,000 synthetic chemicals. Some are known carcinogens; the vast majority remain untested for health effects.

But passing laws to reduce exposure to such chemicals is difficult, partly because of the chemical industry’s political influence. According to opensecrets.org, the industry employs nearly 500 federal lobbyists and regularly spends $50 million a year on lobbying; top spenders this year include Dow Chemical, the American Chemistry Council and DuPont Co.

Epidemiologist Davis says she and other researchers who confront industry face threats to their funding or careers. Her Secret History of the War on Cancer documents the derailing of several researchers who explored tobacco or industrial pollutants. She cites, for instance, Wilhelm Hueper, whose pioneering research into industrial carcinogens got him fired by DuPont; he later worked for the National Cancer Institute, where industry pressure hamstrung his efforts until he left, in 1968.

When concerns about chemicals do arise, Davis observes, business interests take a page from the tobacco industry: They tout bought-and-paid-for studies showing their products are safe, and question the science behind the alarm bells.

Consider BPA, a plastics additive that’s caused cancer and reproductive problems in lab animals. For years, industry fought state-level bans on BPA in products like baby bottles and sippy cups; in 2009, the American Chemistry Council said that California’s effort would “needlessly restrict consumer products deemed to be safe by scientific experts worldwide.” In fact, there was some scientific concern about BPA, and a sign-off by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was later revealed to have been heavily influenced by industry input. Then, just this past October, the ACC announced that manufacturers had quietly removed BPA from such products. “[T]hese products are not on the market. There is no need for parents or consumers to worry about them,” said an ACC spokesman.

Davis now runs the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Health Trust. “Our motto is ‘Making Prevention the Cure,'” she says. “No matter how much money we spend on finding and treating cancer, no matter how good we get at treating it … if we don’t reduce the demand, we’ll never win.”

In the meantime, mystery chemicals continue to proliferate, at a clip not even Lance Armstrong could outrace.

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More.

Image from Flickr.

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.

From WisconsinWatch.org:

In 1956, 17-year-old Janis Schreiber moved to this tiny city on the Mississippi River, married and settled downtown to raise a family. Several times a week she drove her three children to the countryside to escape what she called the “dirty mess” — the coal-fired power plant in Alma and the black soot that hung over Main Street like fog.

Now, half a century later, the sky is clearer. Schreiber and other residents can hang laundry outside without it turning black. Dairyland Power Cooperative, which owns Alma’s two coal-fired plants, is investing $400 million in pollution controls.

Dairyland and other Wisconsin coal-fired plants have begun lowering emissions, but not necessarily in response to demands by regulators at the federal Environmental Protection Agency or state Department of Natural Resources.

Many of the changes have resulted from pressure and lawsuits brought by the nonprofit Sierra Club, which has campaigned for a decade to cut emissions from coal combustion.

Some polluters in Wisconsin and nationwide have violated clean-air laws for years but faced no enforcement from state or federal agencies, according to a collaborative investigation by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, National Public Radio and other nonprofit investigative news organizations across the country.

In addition, enforcement actions are inconsistent. The Wisconsin Center found three coal-fired plants in Wisconsin at which federal regulators allege violations of the Clean Air Act but state regulators do not.

The EPA lists nine coal-fired power plants in Wisconsin as being “high-priority violators” of the Clean Air Act — sites that regulators believe are in urgent need of attention, where violations may have continued for years. But the DNR and EPA have yet to take formal enforcement action against five of these plants, records show.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is involved in enforcement actions at nine coal-fired plants in Wisconsin for alleged violations but declined to name them.

“There is a pattern of companies ignoring this (clean air) law,” said Kim Bro, a Washburn, Wis., environmental scientist and former state health official. “They’re trying to stay under the radar, and if the DNR and EPA are failing to enforce, the public suffers.”

Dairyland is not on the EPA high-priority violators list. In its most recent inspection, the DNR found no violations at the Alma facilities.

Yet in 2010, the Sierra Club sued the La Crosse-based company for alleged Clean Air Act violations. The suit charged that Dairyland failed to install modern pollution controls required by federal law when it made a series of major changes between 1993 and 2009 to its plants at Alma and Genoa, about 70 miles south of Alma on the Mississippi River. As a result, the suit said, Dairyland released unlawful amounts of pollution into the air.

The complaint also alleged Dairyland did not conduct required monitoring or get permits from the DNR during the upgrades.

When the lawsuit was filed in June 2010, the Sierra Club noted that the state agency still had taken no enforcement action for the alleged violations.

In an interview last month, Marty Sellers, the DNR engineer who inspects the plant, echoed the sentiments of other DNR officials in saying his agency lacks the staff and funding to fully enforce air-pollution laws. He said the DNR couldn’t afford to install an air-quality monitor in Alma, which one resident requested in 2006.

Dairyland spokeswoman Deb Mirasola defended the company’s actions, saying in a statement, “We remain firm in our belief that we operated our plants in compliance with state and federal regulations, including the provisions of the Clean Air Act.”

The utility company, the EPA and the Sierra Club are now negotiating a possible out-of-court settlement, said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the national Sierra Club anti-coal campaign.

In recent years, according to DNR data, emissions of some pollutants from the two Alma plants 190 miles northwest of Madison have fallen by 73 percent. Mirasola said this was due to pollution controls, adding that the upgrades will help the plants comply with state and federal environmental laws. Dairyland, she said, began retrofitting its plants with pollution controls in 2007, three years prior to the Sierra Club lawsuit.

So why did the group sue Dairyland, which already was spending hundreds of millions to clean up? In part, said the Sierra Club’s Jennifer Feyerherm, it’s to make up for years when the air around Alma should have been cleaner.

“It’s not like we’re singling out Dairyland,” said Feyerherm, an organizing representative with the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter. “They didn’t put on pollution controls when they should have … It’s part of the pattern of noncompliance that we see at coal plants across the state.”

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