Wisconsin

Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL., & EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

ELPC Breaking News – Actions and Decisions on Multiple Fronts – Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL, and EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

To ELPC Colleagues and Supporters:  There is a lot happening – fast – at ELPC.  Four important actions yesterday on different fronts.  ELPC’s talented staff is drinking out of a firehose and playing to win.

  1. Good News on ELPC petition to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenging First Energy Solutions’ nuclear decommissioning shortfalls as the company is in bankruptcy. We just received word that ELPC’s 2.206 citizen petition cleared the first step of the NRC review process. The NRC’s Petition Review Board (PRB) met and decided to accept our petition for review.   Notably, they accepted ELPC’s petition in entirety—no parts of it were rejected.  The next step is for the PRB to substantively review the petition and come up with recommendations for action, which it will send to the Director.  The Director ultimately makes the final decision on what actions, if any, the NRC will take against the licensee.   Kudos to ELPC attorneys Andrene Dabaghi and Margrethe Kearney.

 

  1. Bad News:  The Trump Administration announced its misguided attempt to rollback federal clean cars standards and (probably unconstitutional) attempt to constrain California’s and 12 other states’ “waiver” to adopt strong state standards.  As the transportation sector has passed the energy sector for carbon pollution in the United States, the federal and state fuel efficiency standards are vital to save consumers money at the gas pump, drive technological innovation in vehicle manufacturing to keep American manufacturing competitive, gain manufacturing jobs of the future for American workers, reduce American imports of foreign oil and avoid pollution.  ELPC will be among the lead groups nationally challenging the proposed new weaker DOT/EPA clean car standards in both the court of law (comments to US Dept. of Transportation and, then, likely litigation in the federal courts) and in the court of public opinion.  Please see ELPC press release criticizing this Trump Administration regulatory rollback.  (“Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy and Pollution Standards is a Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward”).   ELPC Senior Law Fellow Janet McCabe and ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner will be doing a “breaking news” briefing via conference call for ELPC colleagues, donors and friends today at 10:00 am. (Register to join the briefing if you’d like.)

 

  1. ELPC and ten environmental and civic group partners are fighting back and winning against the Illinois Tollway Authority’s attempt to short-circuit and play “hide the ball” on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the economically unsupportable and environmentally destructive Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County. As ELPC Board Chair Harry Drucker put it, this “zombie” bad tollway proposal keeps coming back.  While the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is moving to put on the brakes by downgrading the proposed Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County from a priority project to non-priority status, the Illinois Tollway Authority is spending $25 million to accelerate the EIS process.  On Wednesday, ELPC attorneys Howard Learner and Rachel Granneman and partners sent a letter to the Illinois Tollway Authority challenging the legality of the EIS process, and yesterday, the Illinois Tollway Authority backed off, saying that would extend the comment period on the EIS scoping comments to late September.  Please see Greg Hinz’s good article in Crain’s Chicago Business here and pasted below.

 

  1. New ELPC Litigation to Protect Healthier Clean Air in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin:  ELPC and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA) yesterday sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final ozone air health standard rule, published in June 2018, that excluded certain areas in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 ozone standard.  ELPC’s press release explains:  “EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners.  Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”   The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local air pollution contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions that cause smog.  In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin.  In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but then excluded certain areas in its June 2018 final decision in response to opaque last-minute requests from Governors Rauner and Walker.  ELPC attorneys Scott Strand and Rachel Granneman are litigating this case with policy and technical engagement from Janet McCabe.  Please see Michael Hawthorne’s good article in the Chicago Tribune here.

ELPC is fully engaged both on offense and defense to protect the Midwest’s environment, public health and vital natural resources.  Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Best wishes, Howard

Howard A. Learner

Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

Environmental & Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

 

Washington, D.C. — On August 2, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Respiratory Health Association (RHA) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final rule, published in June 2018, that identified areas that meet and fail to meet the 2015 ozone air quality health standard.

ELPC and RHA are challenging the exclusion of certain areas in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 standard.

“EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners. Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions of the air pollution that cause smog.

In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin. In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but excluded certain areas in its final decision in June in response to requests from the states.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

Ozone is formed when pollution emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other activities reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone, also known as “smog,” is a lung irritant and harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot sunny summer days  and put outdoor workers at risk.

###

Chicago Sun-Times: Trump Heading to Wisconsin for Groundbreaking of Controversial Foxconn Factory

June 27, 2018
Trump Heading to Wisconsin for Groundbreaking of Controversial Foxconn Factory
By Stefano Esposito

President Donald Trump is heading just north of the Illinois border Thursday to break ground for a massive Foxconn electronics factory that could bring 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin, but also faces opposition from environmental groups and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Madigan is expected to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule change allowing the Taiwanese manufacturer to skirt air pollution standards for a plant planned for Racine County.

[…]

“We are concerned that air quality will get worse rather than better if the Foxconn facility is built as proposed and the EPA allows Wisconsin to weaken the clean air standards,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental protection and economic development advocacy organization.

READ FULL ARTICLE

 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Wants Break from Ozone Rules in Advance of Foxconn Development

Wisconsin Wants Break from Trump Administration on Ozone Rules in Advance of Foxconn Development
By Lee Bergquist

Despite evidence that southeast Wisconsin is violating new and tougher emissions standards for smog, state officials are asking the Trump administration to set aside a recent federal finding and conclude the state is complying with the law.

Falling short of that, the state Department of Natural Resources is recommending federal officials carve out narrow strips of land of a few miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline as violating the new standard for ozone pollution and declare the rest of the state in compliance.

The state’s request to the U.S. Environmental Protection would weaken the impact of stricter regulations on factories and other large sources of air pollution — including Racine County where Foxconn Technology Group is planning to build a giant manufacturing campus.

To justify their request, DNR officials are arguing that meteorological and air emissions data show that Illinois and Indiana are primarily responsible for pollution that blows north along the lake and creates smog.

But environmental groups say the claim ignores Wisconsin’s own contribution of ozone pollution.

If the Trump administration sides with Gov. Scott Walker and other state officials, it could benefit Foxconn and comes after Wisconsin promised environmental exemptions for the company as part of a state and local financial incentive package totaling $4 billion.

Regardless of the outcome, motorists in southeastern Wisconsin will still be required to buy reformulated gasoline, said Gail Good, director of air management for the DNR. Reformulated gas, which is more expensive, has been sold in the Milwaukee area since 1995 and is a tool regulators use to reduce smog.

Ozone is a summer pollutant and is created when heat and light interact with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The pollutants come from sources such as factories, power plants and emissions from cars and trucks.

Depending on how the EPA responds, the outcome could have far-reaching health and economic impacts for counties stretching from Kenosha to Door. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is evaluating Wisconsin’s proposal.

Higher levels of ground-level ozone can lead to reduced lung function for people working and exercising outdoors or those with respiratory problems like asthma. The stricter regulations would help to lower ozone levels in the region and were advanced after a five-year scientific review.

If the EPA declares all or parts of nine Wisconsin counties as violating the stricter ozone standard, factories could face higher costs, especially new or expanding plants that would be required to purchase top-of-the-line pollution controls regardless of cost and make other changes to their operations.

“EPA’s intended designations threaten Wisconsin’s economic engine and could result in severe and unnecessary economic consequences,” DNR Secretary Daniel L. Meyer said in a letter to the EPA on Feb. 28.

The ozone rules have taken on a political dynamic because of the potential impact on Foxconn and future development near the plant and because the rules were advanced in 2015 under the Obama administration.

Wisconsin and other like-minded states filed a lawsuit against the rules in 2016, arguing the stiffer ozone limits failed to take pollution into account that was outside a state’s control.

Also, an EPA spokeswoman said Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp recently recused herself in the Wisconsin request. Stepp had advocated against the Obama rules as Wisconsin DNR secretary.

President Donald Trump attended the announcement in Washington, D.C., that Foxconn had chosen Wisconsin for its plant.

Foxconn is building a $10 billion plant to produce liquid crystal display panels. The plant could employ as many as 13,000 people.

In a statement, Foxconn said it is monitoring the situation. Foxconn said it supports the DNR’s recommendation, adding that it is “grounded in science, and supports Wisconsin’s economic goals while effectively meeting air quality requirements.

READ MORE

Chicago Tribune: Another Break for Foxconn? EPA Office Led by Gov. Walker’s Former Aide to Decide Smog Pollution Rules

Another Break for Foxconn? EPA Office Led by Gov. Walker’s Former Aide to Decide Smog Pollution Rules

By Michael Hawthorne

Armed with years of air quality testing and other evidence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tentatively concluded late last year that most of southeast Wisconsin needs to take more aggressive action to reduce lung-damaging smog.

The decision infuriated Gov. Scott Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate who had wooed Foxconn Technology Group to Racine County a few months earlier with $3 billion in financial incentives, promises to relax state environmental laws and access to Lake Michigan water for a sprawling new electronics factory, just north of the Illinois border in an area with some of the state’s dirtiest air.

Walker and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources blame Chicago for making the air unhealthy to breathe in parts of the state. “Wisconsin is not the issue,” a Walker spokeswoman said. But an EPA analysis of industrial pollution, traffic patterns and weather shows Wisconsin is at least partially responsible for its own smog problems.

Within the next three months, the same regional EPA office that prepared the Wisconsin analysis will make a final decision about how much — or how little — Foxconn and other companies must do to curb smog-forming pollution. Only now the Chicago-based office is led by Cathy Stepp, a former top aide to Walker who spent the past three years urging EPA officials to exempt Wisconsin from the smog regulations.

Walker once said he chose Stepp to lead the Natural Resources Department because she has a “chamber of commerce mentality.” During her six-year tenure at the state agency, Stepp rolled back enforcement of environmental laws, cut funding for scientific research and scrubbed references to human-caused climate change from the department’s website.

She also has been an enthusiastic backer of Walker’s Foxconn incentives, calling the planned liquid crystal display factory a gift to an area she represented as a Republican state lawmaker during the mid-2000s.

Asked by the Tribune if she has a conflict of interest in her new job at the EPA, a spokesman emailed a one-sentence statement announcing that Stepp will recuse herself from any involvement in the Wisconsin smog case after consulting with the agency’s ethics office. Her staff declined to make Stepp available for an interview.

Former top EPA officials from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations welcomed Stepp’s decision. But they still are concerned that the Trump administration will undermine the health-based smog standards as part of a broader attack on clean air and water regulations, noting that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt already has attempted to delay the regulations from taking effect.

“You might be able to play politics when you represent a state, but when you are at EPA your mission is to protect public health,” said Mary Gade, who played a major role in earlier initiatives to improve Midwest air quality as head of the Chicago EPA office under Bush and the Illinois EPA director in former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar’s administration.

Janet McCabe, who helped develop the new smog standards as the U.S. EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation in the Obama administration, said the smog regulations have withstood several court challenges and are grounded in well-documented medical research.

“I don’t know how anyone can justify exempting areas with dirty air,” said McCabe, now an Indiana University law professor and senior fellow at the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “These areas already have too much pollution, so the idea is you shouldn’t be adding new sources unless you ensure there is an overall decrease in pollution that is protective of public health.”

Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is formed by a reaction between sunlight and pollution from car tailpipes, power plants and factories, fumes from volatile solvents and gasoline vapors. Breathing even low levels can inflame the lining of the lungs and trigger asthma attacks; long-term exposure can cause heart disease and shave years off of lives.

After a scientific review required every five years by the federal Clean Air Act, the Obama EPA tightened the national smog standard in 2015 to 70 parts per billion, down from the 75 ppb limit set during the Bush administration.

Average smog concentrations in all of the Wisconsin areas targeted by the EPA exceeded the new federal limit during the past three years, according to state monitoring data. Smog levels peaked at 83 ppb last year in Racine County and averaged 75 ppb between 2015 and 2017.

To help clean up the air, Foxconn’s new factory and existing sources of smog-forming pollution likely would need to install more effective pollution-control equipment, scale back production or broker emissions-trading agreements with cleaner facilities.

Walker, who is seeking re-election this year, has urged the Trump administration to reverse the Wisconsin smog designations. If he succeeds, it would amount to another break for Foxconn, a Taiwan-based company that Walker and the Republican-controlled state Legislature already has cleared to dig up environmentally sensitive wetlands and exempted from a thorough study of how the factory’s pollution will affect the surrounding area.

“We can protect our natural resources and support job creation at the same time,” said Amy Hasenberg, a Walker spokeswoman, citing Foxconn’s promise of thousands of new jobs and the state’s earlier efforts to reduce smog-forming pollution.

Illinois, meanwhile, has said it agrees with the EPA that Chicago and most of the suburbs should remain on the agency’s list of areas with dirty air, which will require the state to expand its smog-fighting efforts. Reducing pollution locally also will aid Wisconsin and other downwind communities, just as required “good neighbor” efforts in other states help Illinoisans breathe easier.

READ FULL STORY

 

Toledo Blade: Congressmen, ELPC, Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp

 
Congressmen Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp
by Tom Henry

Twenty-six members of Congress — including U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Tim Walberg (R., Tipton), and Debbie Dingell (D., Dearborn) — have joined numerous other elected officials in demanding more aggressive action from the Army Corps of Engineers against destructive Asian carp threatening to enter the Great Lakes near Chicago.

A bipartisan letter submitted Friday said the congressmen are firmly holding the Corps to an early 2019 deadline for completing the most crucial report to date for a long-term fix, called the Brandon Road Lock & Dam Study.

It affects the future of the Brandon Road lock near Joliet, Ill., and the series of Chicago-area waterways that artificially connect the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. That connection, made in the early 1900s, has made it possible for invasive carp moving north along the Mississippi to someday enter the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan.

The letter, submitted on the final day the Corps was accepting formal comments to its tentatively selected plan, mirrors one submitted earlier by several U.S. senators from the Great Lakes area, including Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), and senators from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York who are members of that task force.

“Current estimates show it will take as long as eight years to have a barrier installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam — a time frame which is unacceptable,” Miss Kaptur said. “With the Asian carp on the doorstep of our region’s most vital natural resource, we have a small window of opportunity to stop this invasive species. Once the Asian carp are in the Great Lakes, it will be too late to stop the destruction they will cause.”

The Corps is looking at fortifying electric barriers and taking other measures to thwart the movement of carp and other exotics. But it has said it is unlikely to act on several measures before 2025, a timeline that senators and now congressmen have said is unacceptable.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, likewise joined the fray late last week by telling the Corps in his formal comments that it should close the Brandon Road lock while also recognizing its obligation to meet previously agreed-upon deadlines.

While the Corps has tentatively selected a plan that uses electrical fences, noise, and water jets to keep out invasive species, Mr. DeWine and the large contingent of congressional members believe that doesn’t go far enough — especially after reports in June of a silver Asian carp found 9 miles from Lake Michigan, beyond the electric barriers.

The attorney general said the Corps should implement the lock closure alternative, which will be the most effective and cheapest to construct.

The Chicago-area decision affects Ohio because Lake Erie is the epicenter of the Great Lakes region’s $7 billion fishery, valued at more than all commercial and recreational fishing in U.S. waters along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

More fish are spawned and caught in Lake Erie than the other four Great Lakes combined.

Researchers have said Ohio’s tourism and recreation industries would greatly suffer if Asian carp found their way to western Lake Erie.

Mr. DeWine also encouraged the Corps to work on plans for a multibillion-dollar, complete hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins to block the spread of Asian carp.

A contingent of five major environmental groups — the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network, and the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club — also demanded a more aggressive response from the Corps via 21 pages of joint comments submitted Friday.

“Now is the time for all effective and necessary action steps,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said. “Further delays risk Asian carp getting into Lake Michigan while the Army Corps is fiddling. Prevention solutions now are wise investments.”

READ MORE

Great Lakes Now: ELPC’s Learner Tells US Army Corps to Stop Fiddling, Act Fast on Asian Carp Report

Pace of Asian Carp Plan “taking far too long”
Michigan Senators Critical of Timetable

by Gary Wilson

The debate about how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes hit another milestone last week as the Army Corps of Engineers’ extended comment period on a potential solution came to a close.

The controversy is now in its second decade.

The opportunity to comment was expanded to accommodate a previously unscheduled session in New Orleans. The extension angered Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters who say the “process is taking far too long.”

The Corps has been seeking public input on its plan, known as the Brandon Road Lock study, since September. If implemented, the plan would provide a suite of options to keep carp out of the Great Lakes.

in a letter to the Corps, Stabenow and Peters questioned why the New Orleans meeting wasn’t scheduled earlier.

The Brandon Road Lock, 50 miles from Lake Michigan, near Joliet, Illinois, is thought to be a choke point for stopping Asian carp.

But the final Army Corps report isn’t due until August of 2019, and Stabenow and Peters want that date moved up by eight months to January.

The senators expressed frustration that the Trump administration had delayed release of the report early in 2017.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti called for the report to be delayed in a column published in the Chicago Tribune in early 2017. Shipping interests in Illinois have lobbied against the Army Corps plan.

In their letter, Stabenow and Peters also questioned the Corps’ economic analysis of the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.

“The (Army Corps) should not ignore the impact of Asian carp on several important industries – including recreation and tourism – or the economic impacts to the other Great Lakes besides Lake Erie,” the senators wrote.

Lake Erie’s fishery is the largest in the Great Lakes and thought to be the most vulnerable to an Asian carp invasion.

In a similar letter to the Army Corps, 28 members of the U.S. House from the Great Lakes region called for the original project timeline to be followed.

“Fiddling”

Input from environmental groups followed previously held positions but also sought to spotlight economic impacts.

Howard Learner said in a statement released to Great Lakes Now that the Army Corps’ proposals are a “starter.”

But Learner said they are “short of what’s needed to avoid the economic and ecological disaster if our public officials don’t prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

He accused the Corps of “fiddling,” which would lead to additional delays.

READ MORE

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Been a Secret. ELPC’s Learner says “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog.”

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Happened

It’s a new day for the environment, and not in a hopeful sense.

A steel company’s request to Indiana authorities for “confidential treatment” when it dumped toxic metal into Lake Michigan last month is a worrisome sign that under the Trump administration we will be told less and less about threats to our environment.

Everyone, from environmental activists to ordinary Chicagoans who care about the safety of their drinking water, had better become much more vigilant.

The request came from U.S. Steel in an Oct. 31 letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after chromium leaked on Oct. 25 from a company facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. Just six months earlier, a similar leak from the same plant fouled a river tributary that feeds into the lake.

The request for secrecy — to keep you in the dark — apparently worked. A Chicago Tribune review of online press releases shows that neither state officials nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about the potentially hazardous leak.

The critical importance of leveling with the public in such matters also is illustrated by a new Better Government Association review and Associated Press investigate report of leaks from local nuclear power plants. The BGA and AP learned that radioactive material continues to leak from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants. The leaks were properly reported, but we now are confronted by an EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, who takes a skeptical view of environment protections. We have less confidence that Pruitt’s EPA will partner with the public, and not with the despoilers of the environment, when such leaks occur.

According to the BGA report, radioactive waste continues to leak from the nuclear power plants more than a decade after chronic leaks led to a $1.2 million government settlement and the company promised to guard against future accidents. Exelon says the amounts were too little to be a health risk, but the leaks remind us our air and water can quickly become tainted to the point of hazard. We need both industry and authorities to be in the vanguard of protecting the environment.

Clearly, we all deserve to know promptly whenever there is a leak of toxic industrial substances that could endanger public health. In the case of U.S. Steel’s recent leak of chromium, the Halloween Day letter surfaced only because it was seen by law students from the University of Chicago who were tracking pollution violations. If data about the leak had been released promptly, independent scientists could have assessed it and made recommendations. That is how the public is protected.

Why didn’t U.S. Steel or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, an agency considered lax by environmentalists, inform the public? Why didn’t U.S. Steel report the  leak to the National Response Center, which keeps local officials posted about spills and leaks? Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason for secrecy.

Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the handling of the U.S. Steel leak is a sign that the EPA under Pruitt is signaling to companies that it is indifference to such environmental threats.

“The message coming from Pruitt is to lay off industry,” Learner said. “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog, or the cop on the block, that leads people to be more careful.”

We pay for cops to deter crime in our city, and we pay federal inspectors and scientists to keep monitor spills and leaks that might endanger our health.

When it comes to our environment, the Trump administration is sending ominous signals.

READ HERE

 

NW Indiana Times: Feds Agree with ELPC & Reject Great Lakes Basin Rail Application

By Andrew Steele

The federal Surface Transportation Board has rejected Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s application to build and operate a 261-mile freight railroad from LaPorte County to southeast Wisconsin.

“GLBT has failed to provide the board with accurate financial information upon which the board can rely to make a determination on the transportation merits of the project,” the STB stated in its decision, dated Wednesday.

Financial statements that GLBT provided in June show the company had $802,000 in accounts payable as of Dec. 31, and investors owned $473,573 in common stock.

But, the STB observed, “The balance sheet … contains an unexplained line item for ‘net income’ (amounting to negative $1,203,545) that appears to account for a substantial difference between its assets and its liabilities and stockholders’ equity.”

Further, “GLBT’s current assets of $151 are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources,” the STB ruled.

Company attorney Michael Blaszak said Thursday that GLBT “is assessing its options with respect to the board’s decision today and will have no further comment on the decision.”

Railroad officials have said in the past they can’t secure funding commitments from investors without STB approval of the project, hence the limited amount of current resources.

Plans for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad call for 244 miles of mainline track and 17 miles of branch lines, including one connecting with the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad at Kingsbury. The railroad would have 26 connections to other railroads, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

The railroad would be able to handle as many as 110 trains per day for various-length trips along its three-state path, according to the GLBT application.
The construction cost was estimated at $2.8 billion.

The line would allow trains passing through Chicago to avoid congestion there, an opportunity GLBT officials said ensured its viability.

“A freight train can take 30 hours — more during periods of severe weather — to pass through the Chicago area, resulting in added inventory cost for shippers, suboptimal equipment utilization, air pollution, delayed passenger trains and billions of dollars in wasted productivity,” GLBT stated in its application.

Frank Patton founded Great Lakes Basin Transportation in 2011. An environmental review process, overseen by the STB, began last year, but was suspended in December at the request of GLBT so it could concentrate on completing the application. The STB decision officially discontinues the environmental review.

Opponents of the freight rail project expressed their satisfaction in the hours after the the decision was published.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said cooperation among elected officials and organized citizens was key.

“(U.S. Rep. Pete) Visclosky ensured all residents had scoping meetings in their counties, our state legislators updated our antiquated eminent domain laws creating a level playing field, various local governments including the Porter County Commissioners passed resolutions stating concerns, and our citizens banded together to create a strong grassroots effort and the best decision for the most people was made,” she said via email.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said “the board made a very sensible, very clear decision.”

READ MORE

The Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner says “This isn’t the Time for Halfway Measures” to Protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp

The Detroit News

Army Corps Unveils $275 Million Plan to Battle Asian Carp
By Melissa Nann Burke

Environmental groups and Gov. Rick Snyder demanded immediate action on Monday after the Trump administration released a long-awaited report on a $275 million plan to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

The report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lays out tentative measures that include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois. It came after five months of prodding from bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation and others.

The Army Corps stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock, citing the potential economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

Snyder said Monday that steps laid out in the report “must be taken” to stop the advancing Asian carp, calling for “immediate, decisive action.”

“It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces — and all who care about the lakes — to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp,” he said.

But construction is likely years away. The agency will collect public comments for 45 days, then begin a feasibility study, followed by reviews by federal and state agencies and a Chief of Engineers report, which is not expected until August 2019.

READ MORE

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 25 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now