Tuesday 19 June 2018

Under the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted federal protections against the dangers posed by toxic coal ash. That rule requires closure of ash dumps in dangerous locations (including within five feet of groundwater), regular inspection of coal ash ponds, monitoring of groundwater near coal ash sites, closure of leaking ponds, cleanup when contamination is found, safe closure of dumps, and public posting of monitoring and inspection results.

Under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to weaken or eliminate the federal safeguards and protections against the dangers posed by coal ash. EPA is holding one public hearing on April 24th.

These changes put the health and well-being of communities on the Potomac, James, Susquehanna, Patuxent and many other rivers at risk!

Join your local Waterkeepers at the public hearing in Arlington on April 24th: CLICK HERE to register to speak.

When: Tuesday, April 24 (9AM–12PM; 1–4PM; 5–8PM)

Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 300 S Army Navy Drive, Arlington, VA 22202

If you cannot attend, submit your written comments by Monday, April 30th -- CLICK HERE 

EPA has proposed to:

  • Allow operators of coal ash ponds and landfills to write their own standards
  • Make cleanup of contamination discretionary (i.e., let polluters do nothing)
  • Eliminate the requirement that leaking ponds install liners or close
  • Give polluters extra time to close ponds and landfills located in unsafe areas and eliminate the strict location prohibitions entirely
  • Allow political appointees, instead of professional engineers, to decide if a cleanup is adequate or even required.

Every year, more than 110 million tons of coal ash are generated — the toxic waste left after coal is burned at power plants. It contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, radium, and other hazardous chemicals that present serious risks to human health and the environment. For decades, coal ash has been dumped in unlined pits from which toxic chemicals leak into groundwater and pollute drinking water wells and our lakes and rivers.

Make your voice heard – we will not stand for EPA rollbacks that will endanger our drinking water and put the health of millions of people at risk!

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Potomac Riverkeeper Network and other partners submitted comments on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Environmental Assessment (EA) of TransCanada’s proposed fracked gas pipeline under the Potomac River. Our comments call out the agency for a variety of failures of analysis, including outdated methodologies, reliance on inaccurate or unsupported facts, and unwarranted conclusions.

For over a year, we have joined our No Potomac Pipeline coalition partners in voicing our concerns to State and Federal authorities over the serious threats this pipeline has on the Potomac River, the drinking water for 6 million people. There has been a pattern of reluctance from those authorities to hear our concerns and to fully assess this pipeline project in its entirety.

Comments filed are extensive and detailed, but some of the highlights are:

  • FERC failed to properly evaluate the serious risk and potential impacts on public health and safety posed by horizontal directional drilling under the Potomac River and C & O Canal
  • The EA, by using methodologies which are outdated or based on inaccurate facts, fail to adequately consider impacts on climate change
  • The EA does not adequately discuss all reasonable alternatives, including an option that would attach the pipeline to a bridge over the Potomac instead of drilling underneath the river.

It is unfortunate that FERC continues to disregard the threats to our environment from pipeline companies like TransCanada, rather than assess the true costs and recognize the impacts to our citizens and neighbors. Our comments show that FERC has failed its duty to prepare its environmental assessment in accordance with law, and with common sense. Instead, they continue to rubberstamp natural gas projects like this one.

Read more about the No Potomac Pipeline Campaign. Follow campaign on Facebook.

Marylanders expect transparent government. This transparency is essential across all sectors of government and industry, including agricultural waste management. Without access to this information, local communities and citizens cannot be assured that these operations are not polluting the water that Marylanders rely on for drinking, swimming and fishing.

That’s why Waterkeepers Chesapeake along with Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) are supporting legislation to address a significant loophole in current law that makes it impossible to obtain access to public records through a Public Information Act request if those records are held by agricultural operations. Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

As currently written, Agric. § 8-801.1, a provision of the Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act, requires most farms to follow Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and annually submit a plan summary to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). These plans are not written by the farmers themselves, but with the support of professional planners who are paid for with our public dollars.

Current law requires MDA to “maintain a copy of each summary for 3 years in a manner that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Although this provision seems to only affect MDA’s disclosure of identifying information, such as the owner’s name and unique plan ID number, from the plan summaries themselves, recent court decisions have dramatically expanded the scope of this exemption. Specifically, although agencies are required to interpret exemptions narrowly, Maryland courts have read this provision as requiring MDA to redact information from any related documents if information in other records (such as publicly funded cost-share documents or pollution-related enforcement records) could potentially create a linkage to a specific plan summary.

Protecting the identities of thousands of nutrient management plan holders poses real obstacles to public oversight and transparency. MDA is tasked with ensuring that these operators comply with their plans and use public resources to do so. Access to information about the operation enables citizens to track public funding of conservation projects, compliance with NMPs to control pollution and the effectiveness of MDA’s oversight program.

In its recent report on Maryland’s Public Information Act, the Office of the Attorney General flags the current provision in the Agriculture Article that “protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” The Attorney General notes that this “one-sentence provision was the subject of seven years of litigation arising out of the Department of Agriculture’s response to PIA requests from various environmental organizations.”

The report recommends “that § 8-801.1 of the Agriculture Article be amended to specify what identifying information should be withheld when nutrient management plans are provided in response to a PIA request.”

HB 1221: Protection of Personal Information in NMPs Act will do just that. By specifying what types of “personal information” are protected under NMPs in Maryland, the bill will bring NMPs in line with other information that’s available through Public Information Act requests. The current confusion around the type of personal information protected under NMPs has increased the cost to both the Maryland Department of Agriculture and information seekers alike. By specifying exactly what is protected, it prevents a complex and costly analysis in the case of each Public Information Act request.

Polling data shows that more than three-quarters of respondents supported eliminating the exemption that makes agricultural pollution control plans secret. A 2015 Opinionworks poll found that 77 percent would support legislation to make agricultural pollution control plans available to the public.

NMPs contain vital information for the protection of the Maryland’s local waters and streams. Having access to these plans will ensure the success of Maryland’s water quality standards and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Increased government transparency around NMPs also ensures that any related tax dollars are serving their desired function of reducing pollution in our waterways.

Read Waterkeepers Chesapeake's testimony here. Read MCAC’s testimony on HB 1221 here.

— Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, MCAC co-chair