EPA Gets Earful about delaying Critical Public Health & Environmental Rules

by Ann Mesnikoff 

Twice in July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency heard from a variety of voices from across the nation saying, “Stop letting polluters off the hook when it comes to protecting clean air and clean water — both are fundamental to our health and well-being!” Here’s an update on the action in the nation’s capital:

Toxic Water Rule

On July 31, EPA held a public hearing in its DC headquarters in a room graced with an enormous map of the United States. With the Great Lakes, Mississippi and other rivers easily spotted, it was an appropriate background for telling EPA to end its proposal to postpone compliance dates for the 2015 Toxic Water Rule.  This delay would lead to dangerous discharges of lead, arsenic, mercury, and other water pollution from coal fired power plants.

As ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director, I told EPA that coal-fired power plants have had a free pass to pollute our drinking water, aquatic life habitats and recreational water sources across the Midwest for too long! They have put the health of downstream communities at risk. Across the Midwest, health departments have advisories warning against eating locally caught fish that are contaminated with heavy metals. Toxic chemicals in coal plant wastewater such as mercury, lead, and arsenic can cause cancer, complicate pregnancies and stifle child development.

In the five years leading up to the 2015 Toxic Water Rule, many coal plants dumped thousands of pounds of toxic metals and other harmful pollutants into the Midwest’s rivers, lakes and streams. Here are a few examples:

  • In Illinois, the Havana Power Station discharged more than 1,000 pounds of lead into waters that flow into the Illinois River
  • In Ohio, the Cardinal Power Station discharged 11,500 pounds of arsenic into waters that flow into the Ohio River
  • In Indiana, the Petersburg Generating Station discharged 5,700 pounds of arsenic and 1,200 pounds of lead into waters that flow into the White River.

The compliance dates included in the 2015 Rule are absolutely necessary for achieving clean safe drinking water, safe habitats for aquatic life, and better recreation and tourism throughout the Midwest!

Check out the comments from ELPC members and supporters we submitted to EPA.

Methane Rule

In 2016 EPA issued final standards to cut methane and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry. These standards, called New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS, applied to new, reconstructed or modified equipment the industry uses to extract oil and natural gas. The standards required the industry to check for leaks of methane and fix them. Along with methane, a potent greenhouse gas, these sites emit pollution that forms smog. Cutting down on methane helps improve air quality today and environmental health tomorrow.

In June, the Trump Administration’s EPA decided that it wanted to reconsider the standards to cut pollution and delay the steps the oil and gas industry would have to take to begin complying with the 2016 rule. EPA is taking several paths to let industry continue to pollute – including a proposed 2 year delay which we strongly oppose.

At a July 11th EPA public hearing, ELPC argued that delaying these standards would have adverse health impacts for millions of Americans who live near more than 175,000 oil and gas well sites, compressors and other equipment across the Midwest and Plains. EPA’s proposal disregarded the public health consequences of a delay, focusing exclusively on near-term costs to industry of cutting pollution. EPA acknowledged that delaying cuts in pollution will result in imminent and irreparable harm to the public, particularly to children – but for this EPA, only industry seems to matter.

Delaying the rule not only harms public health, it would also cost jobs. Complying with the 2016 rule would generate nearly 5,400 jobs annually in leak detection and other practices to reduce emissions at covered facilities. Letting industry off the hook is a setback to employment in critical roles for workers both in the field and in manufacturing.

The 2016 rule was completed with significant input from stakeholders, including ELPC. EPA received more than 900,000 comments and EPA considered the input it received from industry and others, making numerous adjustments in the final rule so that it was cost-effective while providing significant public health protection. To read the full testimony click here.

This is just a summary of the actions EPA held public hearings on in Washington, D.C.! ELPC also submitted comments to the Department of Commerce opposing the review of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. EPA is also taking comments on the repealing the Clean Water Rule, threatening progress made to protect the Midwest’s vital lakes, rivers and streams, including the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins. We hope you’ll stand with us to make your voices heard about these vital clean water issues!

 

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