EPA Funding, Rollbacks & Federal Legislation (15)
- Wednesday, 12 December 2018 16:07
- Written by Robin Broder
Proposed rule frees industry to dump toxic waste into streams, allows the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands, and threatens drinking water.
On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposal to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with a very narrow, unscientific definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). This proposed rule contradicts the law and science that is the foundation for the Clean Water Act successes of the past 40 years, will remove Clean Water Act protections for millions of wetland acres and stream miles, and will cripple federal and state clean water initiatives for the foreseeable future. EPA’s proposal ignores the robust record in support of the Clean Water Rule, and intentionally limits the opportunity for affected communities to express their views about this proposal. This proposal would remove up to 60% of stream miles and up to 80% of wetland acres from federal protections under the Clean Water Act.
“Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers, as well as a huge number of wetlands, would not receive protections under the Trump administration’s heartless scheme to repeal the Clean Water Rule.”
The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Clean Water Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections extended to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – that’s one in three Americans.
EPA’s proposal would eliminate federal protections for areas that contain water only after rainfall and would no longer regulate groundwater, stormwater, wastewater and land already converted for crops. It would regulate wetlands or waterways only if they are clearly adjacent to navigable waterways above ground or through “direct subsurface connection.”
The proposal would drop federal oversight of gravel and sand pits, which are commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and old quarries that fill up with water. It also would prevent federal officials from ordering changes in the handling of fertilizers that might spill into small waterways. The changes could benefit coal mining companies that lop off the tops of mountains and fill in valleys with waste, often creating ponds.
In rushing to publish the proposed rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers ignored science, violated the Administrative Procedure Act by halting enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, and failed to comply with either the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.
We oppose this heartless scheme to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to gut the protections that have prevented reckless pollution of the nation's waterways for decades. Access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. This proposed rule would put water at risk for too many communities by removing protections for streams and wetlands across the nation and our region.
What you can do: Sign this petition today and stay tuned for more actions you can take to stop this attack on your clean water!
- Friday, 16 November 2018 10:47
- Written by Robin Broder
- Monday, 09 July 2018 14:14
- Written by Robin Broder
Last week, the scandal-ridden EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned. We, along with other environmental groups, rejoiced in his resignation – but unfortunately our work to stop rollbacks of environmental protections and to fight the take over of the EPA by the fossil fuels industry is not over. The likely new head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is expected to be just as bad as Pruitt, and maybe worse given his expertise in navigating the federal legislative and regulatory spheres.
Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live. Here are two examples of direct assaults on our clean water and drinking water resources and how we are joining fights against these outrageous threats to your health and your communities.
Clean Water Rule
In 2015, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in better protections for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.
Despite this -- last year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.
The proposed bad “replacement rule” to severely constrict Clean Water Act jurisdiction (superseding the 2015 Clean Water Rule) is at the Office of Management and Budget for a last review before publication, most likely sometime in August. That publication will initiate a public comment period. Follow us on social media and sign up for our email to stay up to date and to take action against this assault on our clean water resources. Also visit www.protectsouthernwater.org to get the latest updates and to take action.
Loophole to Allow Polluted Groundwater
The EPA and courts have historically interpreted the Clean Water Act does regulate pollutants that travel a short distance through groundwater, soils, or the air before reaching surface waters. Incredibly, EPA is now considering a change to this long-standing interpretation. The EPA wants to allow a company to release pollutants from a pipe a few feet short of a waterway. These pollutants would travel a short distance underground before entering the surface water and would not be regulated under the Clean Water Act. In May, Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over 130 other Waterkeeper organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance and national groups in submitting comments on the baseless regulatory change. There is no legitimate basis for the EPA to call into question the interpretation of the Clean Water Act that a pollutant discharge which travels from a point source to surface water across hydrological connections may be subject to NPDES permitting requirements. The EPA’s Notice published in the Federal Register provides no meaningful support for a contrary conclusion.
- Thursday, 05 July 2018 17:23
- Written by Robin Broder
In response to the resignation of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, Waterkeepers Chesapeake released this statement:
“Scott Pruitt was unfit to lead the EPA. He demonstrated this with his disdain for protecting the environment and public health, his systematic attack on the EPA itself and any science-based regulations, and his unapologetic support of polluting industries. We are happy to see him go. We thank our nonprofit partners like the Environmental Integrity Project and the free press for their relentless pursuit of the truth about Pruitt’s unethical management of the EPA and his long list of scandals.
We will continue to oppose any cabinet or agency head, including Pruitt’s replacement, who attacks our environmental protections, poses a danger to public health, and ignores basic ethical standards in running a government agency.”
- Monday, 30 April 2018 18:11
- Written by Katlyn Schmitt
- Monday, 12 February 2018 16:18
- Written by Robin Broder
Proposed 90% Cut Ignores Overwhelming Bipartisan Support of Program
(Monday, Febraury 12, 2018) President Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 essentially eliminates federal funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest program to restore a body of water in U.S. history, just as the effort reaches its halfway point. The budget recommends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program budget be slashed from its current allocation of $73 million to just $7.3 million – an exact 90 percent cut to current funding. These funds would only be designated for monitoring and would effectively shutdown all other aspects of the restoration effort.
“By slashing the Chesapeake Bay Program funding, the president is giving polluters a green light to destroy the United States’ largest estuary and its already-imperiled tributaries,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesaeake. “The multi-state restoration work of the Bay and our rivers and streams is just beginning to pay dividends in the form of cleaner water and restored habitat. We can’t reverse course.”
A multi-state, federally supported program is the only way to restore the Chesapeake Bay, because the tributaries to the Bay cross state boundaries and provide clean drinking water to millions. In addition, the Bay is the economic engine for the region, providing an estimated one trillion-dollar value in fisheries, shipping, tourism, and other industries.
The president’s proposed budget is a direct attack on our rights to clean water and air. In addition to gutting the Bay Program, it calls for a 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, cutting funding for the agency to $5.4 billion — its lowest funding level since 1990. In addition, the president’s infrastructure plan proposes to replace our nation's public highways and bridges with toll roads, cut existing highway funds, sell off our public lands, and gut basic environmental protections that have long protected our water, air, land, and wildlife.
Last year, the president recommended completely eliminating funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.This was met with resistance from not only the environmental community, but members of Congress.This funding results in millions of dollars in support for projects that are improving communities and protecting local waterways around the watershed. Both the House and the Senate ignored the president’s recommendation, and increased the funding in their respective appropriations bills. We call on our Congressional leaders to do the same this year.
- Wednesday, 06 December 2017 15:53
- Written by Katlyn Schmitt
- Tuesday, 17 October 2017 15:20
On this 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we reflect on how our local Waterkeeper programs are needed more than ever to safeguard our clean water resources.
Over the past few years, Waterkeepers Chesapeake has successfully brought together 19 local Waterkeepers programs to collaboratively advocate for and bring legal action to protect communities and waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bay regions.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake has focused on unifying Waterkeeper efforts behind important clean water priorities, like the passage of the fracking ban in Maryland and the passage of protective coal ash laws in Virginia. Waterkeepers Chesapeake also works on issues at the federal level - coordinating efforts against EPA's rollback of clean water protections, the slashing of EPA funding, and Scott Pruitt's appointment.
Through the Fair Farms campaign, Waterkeepers Chesapeake is addressing agricultural pollution while supporting sustainable farming efforts. This year, we worked to pass a second-in-the-country law to restrict the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock.
At the core of our work we empower people to stop pollution and encourage better local water quality through tools and legal rights under the Clean Water Act. Waterkeeper programs were founded to engage and organize citizens to protect their right to clean water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to promulgate and enforce laws and regulations to protect human health and the environment. Sadly, under this administration, the EPA has been fully captured by the fossil fuels industry and industrial polluters. To date, the EPA has rolled back or repealed the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and effluent limits on the discharge of toxic coal wastewater.
Now, our Waterkeepers are the last line of defense for citizens to protect their clean water. Some examples of how our Waterkeepers are encouraging public participation in protecting our waters include:
- For the past several years, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) has conducted compliance sweeps of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued under the Clean Water Act to assess violations before a major incident occurs. In a recent sweep, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper found that 38 out of 291 facilities had severe violations. PRKN’s first step is to communicate pollution concerns with the facility, and to offer assistance in mitigating the problem. If there is no cooperation or development of a remedy, then they notify the State. If the State does nothing to remedy the problem, then they escalate to legal action on behalf of the impacted citizens.
- Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Chesapeake Legal Alliance (CLA), produced the Citizen Guide – Public Participation in Maryland’s NPDES Permitting Program. The Guide was produced for the purpose of improving the vital component of citizen involvement in environmental decision-making in Maryland. The Guide is used as an outreach tool to engage organizations and citizens to get involved with the many key avenues for public participation in protecting our waters. It is critical that those impacted by permit violations be engaged in the early stages.
- The Lower James and Upper James Riverkeepers have created an advocacy tool called Our River at Risk to educate and rally citizens around toxic pollution threats like coal ash. They use maps, online petitions and email updates to elevate the public’s voice and participation in regulatory and permitting processes.
- The South Riverkeeper published a report on a county’s enforcement of its environmental code to show the county that it needs to step up resources for clean water enforcement. The report clearly showed that current penalties are not effective deterrents for environmental carelessness.
These are just a few examples of how our Waterkeepers bring the Clean Water Act to life on the local level and empower citizens to participate in the protection of their right to clean water. In an era when the EPA administrator only meets with corporate polluters and ignores the public, an engaged and active citizenry on the local level is more important than ever.
What You Can Do
- Visit our website to get involved and support your local Waterkeeper program
- Support Waterkeepers Chesapeake
- Use our Water Reporter app to report pollution to your local Waterkeeper
- Take Action! Tell your federal representatives to resist any rollbacks or repeals of clean water protections, to stop any reductions in funding of the EPA, and to protect citizens’ right to sue when government fails to enforce the law.
- Tuesday, 03 October 2017 16:30
Waterkeepers Chesapeake Joins Over 115 Waterkeeper Organizations and Other Groups In Opposition to Repeal of the Clean Water Rule
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in a victory for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.
The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections would extend to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – every one in three Americans.
Despite this – earlier this year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition adopted in 2015, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of WOTUS that have been in place since the 1970s.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. Waterkeeper Alliance took a comprehensive look at the EPA’s proposed rescinding of the rule and found that it violates requirements under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13778. Further, Waterkeeper Alliance noted that neither EPA nor the Corps provided meaningful public participation required under federal law for these types of actions. The comments went on to state:
These failures are not mere technicalities and, if unaddressed, will severely undermine or eliminate fundamental CWA protections across the country – endangering our nation’s water resources…It would be difficult to overstate the critical importance of the CWA regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” and thus this Proposed Rule, to the protection of human health, the wellbeing of communities, the success of local, state and national economies, and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems, as well as the many threatened and endangered species that depend upon those resources. If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the definition of “waters of the United States,” untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways could be dredged, filled and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard – the prohibition on unauthorized discharges in 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) – would no longer apply. Because “isolated” waterways do not exist in reality but are merely a legal fiction of recent vintage, unregulated pollution discharged into waterways that fall outside the Agencies’ definition will not only harm those receiving waters, but will often travel through well-known hydrologic processes before harming other water resources, drinking water supplies, recreational waters, fisheries, industries, agriculture, and, ultimately, human beings.
In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the repeal of the Clean Water Rule is upheld. The repeal will mean more pollution to the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water supply or for fishing and swimming, and a green light for the rampant destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding.
Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake will keep you informed with any updates on this rollback as we continue to fight its implementation.
- Wednesday, 02 August 2017 09:52
- Written by Robin Broder
EPA’s Action to Delay Protections Means Dire Local Impacts & Is Illegal
Waterkeepers Chesapeake strongly oppose EPA’s proposal to delay compliance deadlines for the Steam Electric Effluent Limitations and Guidelines (ELG), which became final in November 2015 and went into effect at the beginning of 2016. EPA should immediately reinstate all compliance deadlines for the 2015 ELG rule. EPA should also notify state permitting authorities and power plant utilities that the ELG rule is in effect and must be implemented according to the compliance deadlines outlined in the 2015 rule, which already allow utilities plenty of time to come into compliance.
“By allowing toxic pollutants from power plants, such as toxic metals, arsenic, selenium, and lead, into our waterways there will be a tremendous impact on our entire region. Our waterways, communities and children will be irreversibly harmed if EPA delays the compliance deadlines of the ELG rule,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
Prior to being finalized in 2015 these standards had not been updated since 1982, despite the fact that coal-burning power plants and other steam electric power plants are THE largest toxic water polluters in the country, responsible for approximately 30% of all toxic pollution dumped into surface waters by industries regulated under the Clean Water Act. The 1982 rules didn’t place limits on toxic pollutants in power plant discharges. Delaying the new toxic water pollution protections sets us back three and a half decades.
The Delay Has Dire Local Impacts
In June, the Trump administration proposed delaying the compliance dates, explaining they would be postponed until the EPA “completes reconsideration of the 2015 rule,” a rule that took years to draft, with several opportunities for public review and input. After the short 30-day comment period ended, the EPA held one public hearing on July 31st in Washington, DC, only after environmental groups demanded it. Phillip Musegaas from Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren, Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux LeGardeur and Betsy Nicholas gave testimony highlighting how since the EPA proposed the delay in complying with the guidelines, some states and utilities have pulled back on preparing to limit the amount of toxins in their wastewater. Utilities that were planning to clean up polluting facilities are now putting those plans on hold while they wait to see the fate of the rule.
Dominion Energy Virginia’s Chesterfield Power Station, located on the James River near Richmond, adjoins the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, a popular site for fishing, swimming, hiking, and other recreational activities. Wastewater from the coal ash ponds and other waste streams at Chesterfield discharge into Farrar Gut, part of the conservation area. The state permitting agency relied on the ELG Rule in its decision to reissue the Chesterfield VPDES permit, and significant resources have already been expended at Chesterfield to ensure compliance with the ELG Rule within the prescribed deadline. The feasibility of compliance is already well established at Chesterfield and any further delay in enforcing the ELG Rule’s provisions, including any weakening of the standards themselves, would be harmful to the public and to the environment surrounding the plant.
In Maryland, NRG’s Dickerson and Morgantown coal power plants on the Potomac River and Chalk Point on the Patuxent River are under a federal court settlement which requires these plants to comply with the new ELG limits on mercury, arsenic and selenium. Once EPA stayed the deadlines for these limits, Maryland regulators quickly walked back their commitment and will not require new limits on these toxic metals until a new rule or deadlines are set. Despite the state’s clear authority to set protective limits on these metals regardless of EPA’s stance, Maryland is cowing to industry pressure and blaming EPA for its failure to protect the Potomac and Patuxent and millions of people who depend on these rivers for clean drinking water. This is what happens when EPA removes the “floor” of environmental protection - states are unwilling to take up the fight in the absence of EPA leadership.
Along the Patuxent River, communities are faced with severe environmental justice issues due to coal waste and coal by-products. In Waugh Chapel near Crofton, MD, residents have been drinking bottled water for years because Constellation Energy and its contractors poisoned their well water and then the coal pit was “capped” with a commercial shopping center, which of course gave a fresh profit windfall to the folks responsible for that toxic mess. Further south, is Chalk Point power plant operated by NRG where in 2000 the plant flooded thousands of gallons of bunker fuel oil into the river, which was blown by hurricane force winds downriver, essentially killing what remained of one of the most productive shellfish areas in the state. Today Chalk Point’s coal ash goes into nearby rural Brandywine where the company’s discharge reports indicate they have managed to contaminate the groundwater at fifty times the Federal drinking water standard for cadmium, arsenic and selenium with its coal byproducts also leaching into nearby Mattaponi Creek---a significant sub-tributary of the Patuxent River. Moreover, the Brandywine coal waste site has rarely been in legal compliance over the past two decades with the waste haphazardly piled up in mounds. The dust from those mounds of coal dust blowing on windy days in great black/gray clouds into the surrounding neighborhood where researchers claim that you can likely find coal dust in the vacuum cleaner bags located in people’s homes. The legacy of coal waste in the Patuxent watershed is so egregious it will take several lifetimes to clean up the mess with an unknown toll of human health.
In the Baltimore area, the C.P. Crane power plant (now owned by Middle River Power) continues to request leniency regarding wastewater and stormwater discharge limits, while parts of the Middle River continue to experience large fish kills from contaminated sediment.
The upper Gunpowder River has a nationally recognized population of wild trout, and provides drinking water for 1.8 million people in the Baltimore metro area. The lower River has fish consumption advisories and various impairments including PCB’s and heavy metals as it empties into the imperiled Chesapeake Bay. The current ELG rule provides certainty that meaningful reductions in toxic and bioaccumulative pollutants will be implemented and would greatly benefit Maryland residents that work, live and recreate by crabbing, fishing and swimming in these waters.
These are just a few examples of the egregious harm toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants have caused in our region. A delay in complying with the 2015 ELG Rule will mean lasting harm to people’s health and a loss of jobs.
The Delay is Illegal
Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. countered the utilities’ claims that making these investments would cause harm, comparing the harm to industry profits to the lasting developmental harm that mercury has on children. He also questioned the basis for EPA’s hearing, stating: “This hearing is illegal. I know the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act backwards and forwards. Nothing in there gives you authority to suspend a rule. There has already been a rulemaking that gave us the limits that EPA is now trying to destroy.”
EPA lacks authority under both the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act to postpone these compliance deadlines. As a federal administrative agency EPA only has the authority granted by Congress through statutes.
The Clean Water Act also prohibits compliance dates beyond three years following the issuance of new ELG standards. The intent of the Clean Water Act is to require more stringent discharge limits on pollutants over time to reflect advances in pollution control technologies. Indefinitely delaying compliance standards that have already been issued clearly contradicts this intent.
EPA’s proposal to delay compliance deadlines is based solely on costs the power plant industry will allegedly incur in order to comply with these new standards, and completely ignores the public health, environmental, and economic benefits of reducing water pollution from power plants.
EPA is expected to finalize their decision on delaying the requirements of the ELG rule in August. Waterkeeper Alliance joined several other national and regional groups who filed a lawsuit to challenge EPA in court if it continues this process of rolling back crucial water protections.
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