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Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

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Traverse City Record Eagle: GLRI Funding Safe for Now; Environmentalists: Trump Policies Threaten Great Lakes

Traverse City Record Eagle

By Jordan Travis

TRAVERSE CITY — Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appears to be safe through 2018, despite calls from the White House to eliminate it.

But an environmental law expert and Traverse City environmental nonprofit director fear other proposals from the Trump administration and federal lawmakers could hurt the Great Lakes’ environmental health.

Trump’s budget proposal called for eliminating the GLRI’s $300 million in funding for the coming fiscal year, the Associated Press reported. The wide-reaching program funds environmental cleanups, fights invasive species and more. It enjoys broad support from environmental advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and the proposal to blank its funding drew widespread criticism.

Great Lakes advocates can claim a small victory now that federal lawmakers have formally proposed leaving GLRI funding untouched, Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay Executive Director Christine Crissman said.

Members of a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee have called for keeping GLRI funding at $300 million through September 2018, subcommittee records state.

Their bill has yet to make it through the full committee and legislative process before Trump can sign it — or not — but it’s a good start, Crissman said. The Watershed Center has used GLRI funding for every large-scale water quality improvement project it has undertaken for the past six years.

“We should absolutely celebrate this as a huge victory and a really big win in the battle on environmental issues,” she said.

But Environmental Law & Policy Center founder Howard Learner said it’s too soon to declare victory on GLRI funding. Yet he was also encouraged by the small step, and echoed Crissman in saying there’s plenty more to fight for.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.

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PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                                                                                                       ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee acting to fully fund the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 Environmental Protection Agency’s budget:

“This is a big first step forward for protecting the Great Lakes and achieving full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee rejected President Trump’s zeroing out FY 2018 budget funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million of funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided vital funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities.  That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in and around the Great Lakes.

“Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump Administration’s completely eliminating GLRI funding in the FY 2018 is a bad idea.  We especially thank Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Marci Kaptur (D-OH) for their leadership in supporting the $300 million of appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs.

“Unfortunately, the House Subcommittee also carries out the Trump Administration’s harsh EPA budget cuts that will compromise the EPA’s ability to advance healthier clean air and protect safe, clean drinking water protections that are vitally important to our health.   The American people deserve better protection than that for our core clean air and clean water values.”

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MLive Michigan: Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order

by Garret Ellison

ALPENA, MI — A 3,850 square-mile expansion of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron could be rolled back under President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider protections for offshore waters that could be opened to oil and gas drilling.

The 30-day public comment window began June 26 on the Department of Commerce review of 11 national marine sanctuaries and monuments following Trump’s April 28 executive order, called “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The order targets any marine sanctuaries or monument established or expanded since April 2007 and halted the government from naming any more. It includes designations made under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

The order aims to expand offshore drilling, but questions remain about how that might pertain to the Great Lakes, which have been off-limits to oil & gas drilling since 2005. Michigan banned drilling in its Great Lakes waters in 2002.

The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve in Lake Huron was designated in 2000 and expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles in 2014. The sanctuary is a destination which draws shipwreck divers and tourists to Alpena. It’s the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Great Lakes or fresh water.

The boundary, which extends from Cheboygan to Alcona counties and east to the mid-lake border, protects from disturbance several hundred known and suspected shipwrecks in Lake Huron. The Alpena headquarters features a shipwreck museum and provides a staging area for scientists and researchers studying ecology, natural resources and maritime archaeology.

Thunder Bay researchers are busy this summer conducting an extensive review of the expanded area for undiscovered shipwrecks.

Environmental groups called the federal review a continuation of Trump’s “war on the Great Lakes.”

Trump’s White House has taken several actions seen as hostile to the ecology and economy of Great Lakes states, most notably eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal and blocking the release of a plan to stop Asian carp in the Illinois Waterway.

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 6, 2017                                                                      

 

Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

ELPC & Groundwork Gathering in Traverse City Urge Attendees to Fight Back Against Trump Administration’s War on the Great Lakes 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI. – Michiganders gathered in Traverse City today to hear two Midwest environmental leaders present strategies to push back on threats to the progress of restoring the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water. They focused on countering the Trump Administration’s proposed complete elimination of $300 million in funding for the bipartisan-supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 budget, which has provided $2.2 billion for about 3,000 projects since its inception, and persuading Michigan policymakers to decide on an alternative to the dangerous Line 5 pipeline.

“President Trump won his election in the pivotal Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and practices amount to a War on the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Trump Administration is eliminating funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, rolling back Clean Water standards and reconsidering the additions to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand how much Michiganders care about protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play, and which provides safe clean drinking water for 42 million people.”

Hans Voss, Executive Director of Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a leader in the campaign to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline, urged attendees to comment this month on safer alternatives proposed by the State Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“The time for state decision-makers to study and debate what to do about the Line 5 pipeline is over,” said Voss. “Now is the time for citizens to speak up and push for lawmakers to shut down the pipeline once and for all.”

The gathering took place at the Bluewater Event Center in Traverse City.

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PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron & Elsewhere

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 30, 2017

Environmental Law & Policy Center Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron and Elsewhere 

 “Efforts to Scale Back Only Fresh Water Marine Sanctuary is Misguided”

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in response to the Trump Administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy Executive Order that directs the U.S. Commerce Department to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries:

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.

“Shrinking the protected area of the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is yet another Trump Administration attack in its War on the Great Lakes and should be stopped in its tracks.

“ELPC will work with bipartisan partners across the region to oppose the White House’s War on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes is a national treasure that provides fresh drinking water to 42 million people and represents 21% of the world’s fresh water supply.“

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Reuters: ELPC’s Learner Says EPA Rollback of Clean Water Rule Imperils Safe Clean Drinking Water

Reuters
EPA and Army Corps seek to rescind clean water rule
June 27, 2017
By Valerie Volcovici 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released a proposal on Tuesday to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, the latest move by the Trump administration to unwind environmental regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama.

The agencies are working to rescind the rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, and reinstate the language of the rule before it was changed in 2015.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

In 2015, EPA and the Army Corps issued what they called the Waters of the United States rule to clarify which bodies of water should be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The act, passed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, is intended to protect the nation’s waters from pollution.

In February, President Donald Trump said during the signing of an executive order calling for a review of the rule that the act should apply only to navigable waters that affect interstate commerce.

Some lawmakers from states with large rural areas praised the move.

“Out of state D.C. bureaucrats shouldn’t impose regulations that hurt Montana farmers, ranchers and landowners,” said the state’s Republican senator, Steve Daines.

Environmental groups criticized the move, saying it ignores public input and would put parts of the country like the Midwestern Great Lakes at risk.

“This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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CBS News Kalamazoo, Mich: Environmental Groups Push to Replace Diesel Buses with Electric

Environmental Groups Push to Replace Diesel Buses with Electric

Saturday, June 17th 2017

by Keith Thompson

THREE RIVERS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Most of West Michigan’s school buses have made their final runs for the school year, but could it be the end of the road for the iconic diesel buses?

Environmental groups want to replace the big yellow, diesel-burning buses with electric buses.

The replacement won’t be cheap, either, making it a hard sell for already cash-strapped districts.

Newschannel 3’s Chief Meteorologist Keith Thompson found out that one of the world’s biggest car-makers may help schools foot the bill.

At the end of a typical school day, about a dozen buses line up in front of Three Rivers High School and Middle School to take students home. As those buses sit idling while loading, they pump dangerous exhaust into the air.

Margrethe Kearney, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Grand Rapids, said, “My 6-year-old, no matter where she goes to school in the state of Michigan, shouldn’t have to stand in line waiting to get on the school bus breathing in dirty, diesel exhaust.”

WATCH HERE

Press Release: Michigan Public Service Commission Opens Door to Renewable Energy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

Michigan Public Service Commission Opens Door to Renewable Energy
Electric Customers and Clean Energy Developers Should Welcome Updates to Ratepayer Protections, Compensation in Consumers Energy Case

LANSING, MI – An order updating the terms available to renewable energy developers from regulated utilities should open the door to more clean and renewable energy projects in the state, while making sure utility customers are not asked to pay more for their electricity.

“The updates to the methodology for how smaller renewable energy projects will be compensated by utilities sends a strong signal to developers that Michigan is a good place to do business,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, MI.

On Wednesday the Commission approved a fair method for calculating rates Consumers Energy must pay to renewable energy facilities in Michigan for the power those facilities supply to the grid.  The order is the Commission’s first update in 25 years of the approach utilities must take under federal law to compensate the owners of qualified clean energy facilities.

Passed in 1978, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act was created to encourage renewable energy development, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and promote energy independence. It requires utilities to purchase energy from small qualified cogeneration and renewable energy providers and establishes what are known as “avoided costs” and “must-buy prices” that utilities pay to small renewable energy providers.

Through Wednesday’s order, the Commission established avoided cost calculations based on the costs of energy and capacity from new natural gas facilities, creating an even playing field for independent developers of qualified clean energy projects. The order also simplifies the development and financing process for small projects by establishing 20-year contracts at a standard rate for projects up to 2 megawatts in size. Previously only projects up to 100 kilowatts were eligible.

“The Commission’s order today will provide Michigan customers with more renewable energy at no higher cost, increase our energy independence, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Kearney said.

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