US EPA

MinnPost: Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

Why a Clean Water Rule May – Or May Not – Be a Big Issue in Minnesota’s First Congressional District

By Walker Orenstein

As farmers in southern Minnesota grapple with President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war — testing the alliance between the agriculture industry and the GOP that substantially benefited Trump in 2016 —  First Congressional District Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn is making sure to showcase the administration’s industry-friendly policies as part of his effort to persuade voters to send him to Congress.

That means highlighting support for mining in northern Minnesota, including the recent decision to end a study of potential impact from copper-nickel mining on the Superior National Forest and the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But it also includes touting a Trump administration effort that hits much closer to home in southern Minnesota: the rollback of a 2015 update to the Clean Water Act that expanded protections to small bodies of water feeding larger rivers and lakes — a policy that happened to be one of President Barack Obama’s signature environmental initiatives.

“It’s one of the biggest regulatory issues in agriculture,” Hagedorn said. “I bring it up all the time.”

A fight over water protections

The Obama EPA’s 2015 rule change has a long backstory. It starts more than 40 years ago, when Congress first approved the Clean Water Act. That original bill gave the federal government jurisdiction over the “waters of the United States.”

Ever since, people have not stopped arguing what that actually means, and how broad the government’s authority is under the law. Does it apply only to  lakes and rivers and water that feeds directly into them? Or does the law cover even small wetlands, bogs, streams and other isolated or seasonal bits of water?

Supreme Court rulings on the matter have never quite cleared things up, so under Obama, the EPA stepped in to make firm — and far-reaching — guidelines on what could be considered a Water of the United States. John Kolb, a St. Cloud-based attorney who focuses on water and natural resources regulations, says a long study conducted by the EPA used to justify its rule boiled down to: “All water is connected.”

Many farmers took issue with the decision, however. Beyond their general opposition to government expansion, industry groups said the rule change meant they were going to be targeted and penalized for standard agricultural practices. Kirby Hettver, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said farmers out West were found in violation of Obama-era Clean Water Act “just for tilling their soil.”

He was referring to a case that began in 2012 in which the government ordered a farmer in Northern California, John Duarte, to pay millions in fines and penalties after it said he broke the law by “deep ripping” his field to plant wheat without a permit, and disturbing seasonal wetlands called vernal pools that are notably home to fairy shrimp. (While there are plenty of agricultural exemptions to the Clean Water Act, the government said the field wasn’t subject to them since it hadn’t been plowed in decades. The case was eventually settled.)

While Duarte’s legal saga started before Obama’s update to the Clean Water Act, it became a rallying cry for conservatives worried about government overreach, a charge that found a sympathetic reception within the Trump administration. Earlier this year, the EPA withdrew the rule and is now in the process of writing a more narrow definition of which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Effect in Minnesota

And yet, whether any of this means much for Minnesota remains a topic of debate. One reason is that despite the Trump EPA’s withdrawal of Obama’s Waters of the United States rule, litigation has reinstituted the Obama rule in more than 20 states, including Minnesota.

For another, Minnesota administers much of the Clean Water Act for itself, and it adopted its own stringent definition of protected waters decades ago, said Jean Coleman, an attorney for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In fact, Minnesota’s rule is far broader than the Obama-era water rule, and includes everything from irrigation and drainage systems to all “accumulations of water, surface or underground, natural or artificial, public or private,” within the state, she said.

“The definition of ‘Waters of the State’ is extremely expansive and it captures all waters that would be under the Obama definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ or under any other definition of ‘Waters of the U.S.’ because it is so expansive,” Coleman said.

She added: “I don’t think you can think of anything that’s liquid water that falls from the sky that’s not a water of the state.”

The state also has its own tough laws protecting wetlands and more, said Scott Strand, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. Those laws blunt any given update or reversal of the federal Waters of the United States rule. “It will have a more dramatic impact in states that don’t have vigorous state clean water protections,” Strand said of the changes to the Waters of the United States rule.

 

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Greenwire: EPA’s New Oil & Gas Proposal: Increased Emissions, ‘Adverse’ Health Effects

EPA Plan: Increased Emissions, ‘Adverse’ Health Effects
By Niina Heikkinen

The agency this morning released its proposed revisions to the Obama administration’s New Source Performance Standards for new and modified oil and gas sources (Greenwire, Sept. 11).

Under the proposal, the industry would have to monitor wells on an annual basis, and low-production ones every other year. The Obama-era rule required methane monitoring twice a year.

EPA is also suggesting semiannual and annual monitoring for compressor stations and annual monitoring for compressor stations on the Alaska North Slope. The Obama-era rule required methane monitoring twice a year.

The agency is taking a look at various technical requirements in the Obama rule. EPA is re-evaluating certification requirements for closed vent systems.

It is also studying provisions on alternate emissions limitations, well completions, onshore natural gas processing plants and storage vessels, and is planning some technical corrections.

The proposed amendments are the third in a series of regulatory rollbacks aimed at greenhouse gases, following moves to change the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards.

The Interior Department is also expected to release its own revisions to methane rules covering the oil and gas industry on public lands.
EPA said changes in monitoring frequency would provide cost savings. At the same time, it estimated the changes would lead to higher emissions, degraded air quality, and “adverse health and welfare effects.”

EPA estimated the foregone climate-related benefits of the rule at between $13.5 million and $54 million between 2019 and 2025.

This calculation is based on a domestic social cost of carbon, which considers a dollar value for the harm caused by climate change.

The metric is different from the one adopted by the Obama administration, which relied on a global social cost of carbon value.

The agency’s analysis of the proposal found that monitoring emissions on an annual basis from compressor stations between 2019 and 2025 would increase fugitive methane emissions by 100,000 short tons, volatile organic compounds by 24,000 tons and hazardous air pollutants by 890 tons, compared with monitoring on a semiannual basis.

Reactions
Janet McCabe, who was acting head of EPA’s air office as the Obama rule was finalized, noted that the oil and gas industry is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, after mobile sources and power plants.

“There is nothing ground-breaking about the technologies or activities called for in the 2016 rule. In this Administration’s drive to de-regulate, they are heedless of the cost to the public health and the cost to the future of the planet,” McCabe said in an email.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, slammed EPA for moving to undo “common sense” methane reduction standards.

“The Administration’s ideology is trumping common sense methane reduction standards that avoid energy waste and protect the public and our environment from dangerous smog-forming pollution,” Learner said.

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Detroit Free Press OpEd: President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

 

August 30, 2018

President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

OpEd

By Howard Learner

Summertime reminds us that the Great Lakes are a great natural treasure. Forty-two million people rely on this freshwater for safe drinking water supplies, but it’s more than that. The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play.

President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to get it. He won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but Trump’s policy shifts and budget cuts amount to a war on the Great Lakes. The President’s budgets have proposed to zero-out or cut 90% of funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Congress has twice rejected those cuts and restored full funding of $300 million annually.

The Department of Commerce is proposing to cutting the acreage of the popular Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena to Mackinaw City shoreline. The EPA is attempting to roll back common-sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water. What is President Trump thinking?

Both Michigan Republican and Democratic leaders have publicly disagreed with these misguided proposals. So have business, civic and environmental groups. Protecting the Great Lakes is bipartisan and nonpartisan.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21% of the planet’s fresh water supply and provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species. The Great Lakes support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and draw tourists who support shoreline communities’ economies.
Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. We can’t afford to mess it up. So, why this war on the Great Lakes?

First, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a common-sense program that supports shoreline and wetlands protection projects, keeping out invasive species and reducing harmful algae blooms. Congress has again rejected the President’s budget cuts and restored full funding for this important program. The White House’s response: a new Statement of Administration Policy opposing this funding. The bipartisan Congressional delegation and Governors strongly disagree.

Second, the Department of Commerce continues to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s only such freshwater preserve, and proposes to cut its size down by 90% from 4,300 to 448 square miles. Six Michigan Congress members wrote to Commerce Secretary
Ross explaining the economic, tourism and ecological value of this National Marine Sanctuary, which is a source of pride and income to northeast Michigan shoreline communities.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore “Shipwreck Alley” where 100 ships rest on Lake Huron’s bottom, and learn about Great Lakes maritime history. It’s not controversial. Gov. Snyder formally requested that Secretary Ross end the review and leave the Sanctuary boundaries alone, but the Secretary denied that request. Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, an adjacent state’s governor can veto a boundary change. Gov. Snyder should publicly announce that he’ll do so, and call on governor candidates Schuette and Whitmer to agree.

Third, the Trump EPA is rushing to rollback clean water standards that protect safe drinking water and preserve fish and wildlife habitat. Likewise, in federal court, the EPA is resisting sensible regulatory standards to reduce agricultural runoff pollution that causes toxic blue-green algae blooms in Lake Erie, which threaten drinking water for 500,000 people in the Toledo area and harm commercial fisheries.

Good policy is good politics. The battle for Great Lakes protection is well worth fighting for and winning, but it shouldn’t have to be fought. The public and wise political leaders know better

READ OpEd HERE

Indy Star: Trump EPA’s New Energy Plan Tries to Save Coal Industry, but Puts Public Health at Risk

by Sarah Bowman

Under a new federal energy proposal aimed at dismantling Obama-era limits on greenhouse gas emissions, Indiana utilities could scrap plans to shut down several coal-fired power plants.

It’s unclear how the utilities will react if the plan released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency is eventually adopted, but advocates and opponents are already lining up.

Coal industry officials see the Affordable Clean Energy plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration as a life preserver at a time when utility executives are increasingly turning to natural gas and renewable energy sources.

“We are very hopeful and encouraged that this will now provide the opportunity for utilities in Indiana who have announced or are considering coal plant closures, that there will be some reconsideration,” said Bruce Stevens, president of the Indiana Coal Council.

But the Trump Administration’s own analysis predicts the plan would put higher levels of dangerous pollutants in the air, causing as many as 1,500 additional premature deaths annually by 2030 from heart and lung disease.

The proposal is expected to meet stern resistance from people concerned about climate change and air pollution, during what is expected to be a lengthy approval process.

“The Trump proposal is unlawful, unacceptable and won’t succeed at saving the coal industry,” said Wendy Bredhold, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal efforts in Indiana. “Trump’s Dirty Power Plan won’t stop our progress.”

Whether the plan is eventually adopted, or becomes tied up in litigation like a previous Obama proposal remains an open question.

 

 

McCabe, who worked on the Obama Administration’s plan, sees the Trump plan as undermining efforts to slow climate change and protect public health. “I think this plan shows there is no commitment from the current administration to address climate change,” she said. “Zero.”

She said the word “health” is rarely mentioned in the plan, “but that is what the Clean Air program is about, protecting public health and welfare and the environment.”

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Toledo Blade: Toledo, Oregon Become Parties to ELPC Lawsuit against US EPA for Stronger Lake Erie Protections

Toledo, Oregon Push for Stronger Lake Erie Protections
By Tom Henry

Toledo and Oregon have become parties to a lawsuit filed by two groups that calls upon U.S. District Judge James G. Carr to order the most comprehensive cleanup strategy for western Lake Erie, known as a total maximum daily load.

The next court date is Aug. 21.

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is opposed.

The two plaintiffs, the Midwestern-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, contend the federal Clean Water Act requires the highly aggressive TMDL cleanup strategy to be followed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency once the Kasich administration finally relented in March — after years of resistance — and declared western Lake Erie’s open waters to be impaired.

They want the judge to impose a TMDL order on the U.S. EPA, with the understanding the federal agency would then require the Ohio EPA to carry out the program.

Toledo’s decision to get involved dates back to May 1, 2017, a day before Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced his candidacy for that office.

During an all-day tour of southeast Michigan factory farms, Mr. Kapszukiewicz, a Democrat, told The Blade there were two things he would do if elected: First, call for the impairment status and, second, have Toledo assist the two plaintiffs in their lawsuit.

He never had to call for the impairment status once elected because former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson — a Democrat who had long sided with the Kasich administration on that issue — had a sudden change of heart last September, weeks before the election, after a thick blanket of algae appeared in downtown Toledo just as ProMedica was preparing for a major regatta near Promenade Park.

“I campaigned on cleaning up the lake and we are following through on that today by filing this motion,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said in his prepared remarks Friday, referring to a court filing known as an amicus brief.

“We need to hold the nonpoint sources accountable and this is one way we can do it. We support the efforts of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and Mike Ferner, who has pushed for years to get tougher regulations for polluters,” the statement said.

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Toledo Blade: Judge Says He May Back Away from Lake Erie Algae Lawsuit

Judge Says He May Back Away from Lake Erie Algae Lawsuit
By Tom Henry

While still clearly disgusted by the lack of progress toward solving western Lake Erie’s chronic algae problem, U.S. District Judge James Carr has left open the possibility of eventually backing away from the case in front of him — but only if there comes a point in time in which state and federal agencies convince him they are taking the public health threat seriously enough.

Right now, the judge said, they’re not.

Throughout a two-hour discussion in open court Wednesday with lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, Judge Carr underscored his desire to see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its state partner, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, become “truly aggressive” and said they “should treat this as a grave condition.”

But Judge Carr, who in an April 10 filing accused those two agencies of botching the Lake Erie impairment controversy, also broadened his appeal to members of the Ohio General Assembly — especially conservatives who have made it virtually impossible to pass stricter rules on agriculture. He likewise implored agencies such as the Ohio Department of Agriculture to make algae-prevention their No. 1 priority.

Nobody, he said, can dispute Lake Erie is “sick.”

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PRESS RELEASE: US EPA’s Repeat Midterm Review of Clean Car Standards is Misguided and Flawed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             Contact: Judith Nemes

April 2, 2018                                                                           (312) 795-3706

JNemes@elpc.org

US EPA’s Repeat Midterm Review of Clean Car Standards is Misguided and Flawed

Keeping the common sense clean car standards will save people money at the gas pump, reduce  pollution, and advance America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that its pollution reduction standards for vehicle Model Years 2022-2025 in coordination with U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) fuel economy standards are no longer “appropriate.” In response, ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The EPA’s misguided decision threatens to shift America into reverse and put U.S. automakers behind in the global competition for cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. The standards that EPA and DOT issued in 2012 were grounded in extensive analysis and remain sound.

“Weakening the standards will undermine innovation and the American auto industry’s competitiveness, stall job creation in the Midwest and lead to more trips to the gas pump for many Americans. The Pruitt EPA should have confirmed the work that US EPA completed in 2017 and move forward with US DOT to ensure that standards stay strong through 2025.”

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Bloomberg Environment: ELPC’s Ann Mesnikoff Concerned Carmakers’ ‘Harmonization’ Push Could Soften Fuel Efficiency Gains

Bloomberg Environment

February 21, 2018

By Abby Smith

Automakers may already get what they want this spring as the Trump administration eyes lower fuel economy targets—but the industry is also seeking smaller, technical changes to the program that could lead to fewer fuel efficiency improvements down the road.

Automakers seek “harmonization” to secure the “one national program” sketched out in an agreement they made with the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency under the umbrella of consistent programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the California Air Resources Board.

The automakers’ request, which could make it easier for them to meet the standards, comes as the Trump administration weighs the future of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars—and considers options that would soften limits. Environmentalists say even subtle changes to “harmonize” EPA standards and the NHTSA’s fuel economy program could risk putting millions of more tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Currently, car makers need to comply with both standards.

Generally, automakers use the term “harmonization” to refer to changes that would sync the way agencies offer flexibility in how industry meets standards.

“Harmonization relief is long overdue,” Wade Newton, a spokesman with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Bloomberg Environment. The alliance represents a dozen major automakers, including the Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, BMW Group, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG, and Volvo Car Corp.

Tensions over the issue mirror broader divisions over the vehicles program’s future—and they’re likely to come to a head in the coming months.

Automakers’ “goal is not harmonization,” Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg Environment. “Their goal is providing flexibilities and effectively weakening the stringency of the rules.”

Last year, the EPA, at the request of automakers, re-opened a mid-term review of standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, reversing an Obama-era decision to maintain the program’s stringency for those years.

The EPA must decide whether it will alter its standards by April 1. NHTSA intends to release its proposed fuel economy standards March 30, the agency’s deputy administrator Heidi King has said.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during a Senate environment committee hearing last month pointed to the importance of “harmonization” with NHTSA’s program.

“As you know, there are joint equities there between [NHTSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation] and EPA. And we’re working diligently with them to harmonize these efforts, again, to provide clarity on these issues,” Pruitt said.

But he didn’t say specifically whether the EPA would address automakers’ concerns.

California’s role adds another complicating factor to the debate over the standards—separate from “harmonization” between the EPA and NHTSA regulations.

The Golden State has the ability under the Clean Air Act to set limits stricter than federal levels, and a dozen states have adopted California’s standards. California has pledged to move forward with those stronger standards, even if the Trump administration weakens the federal program.

Two auto industry trade groups—the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers—jointly petitioned the EPA and NHTSA in 2016, detailing a number of technical requests they said would match up the programs.

While NHTSA in late 2016 partially granted the petition and pledged to address automakers’ concerns when it sets fuel efficiency standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, the EPA still hasn’t responded to automakers’ requests.

The EPA had indicated it would publish a direct final rule that “would correct minor technical errors” consistent with the automakers’ petition in November 2017. The agency is working on that rulemaking but doesn’t have further information to share at this time, an EPA spokesperson told Bloomberg Environment.

Automakers argue that without harmonization changes, a manufacturer can find its fleet in compliance with EPA controls but falling short of NHTSA fuel efficiency levels.

“Compliance with one doesn’t guarantee” compliance with another, Newton said.

But it’s unclear how often auto manufacturers find themselves such in a situation, Steve Silverman, who was a staff attorney at the EPA for 37 years, told Bloomberg Environment. He noted the 2016 petition from auto industry trade groups doesn’t point to specific examples of it.

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Under Rauner, penalties sought against Illinois polluters have plummeted

Well before the Trump administration began shifting responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to the states, Illinois already had slowed down the policing of air and water pollution under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

A Tribune analysis of enforcement data shows that since the Republican businessman took office in 2015, penalties sought from Illinois polluters have dropped to $6.1 million — about two-thirds less than the inflation-adjusted amount demanded during the first three years under Rauner’s two predecessors, Democrats Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner’s enforcement record during the past three years also pales in comparison to the final year in office of the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan. Adjusted for inflation, the penalties sought since Rauner took office are less than half the amount demanded as Ryan wrapped up his four-year term in 2002.

One of the main reasons enforcement is on the decline statewide is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cut back sharply on using its most powerful tool: referring cases to the state attorney general’s office for civil or criminal prosecution.

During Rauner’s first year as governor, the EPA referred 73 cases to the attorney general — by far the lowest number since 1991. The annual average during his tenure is 80.

By contrast, the EPA sent 198 referrals a year on average during Blagojevich’s first three years in office and 144 during the same time period under Quinn, the Tribune analysis found.

“I have been dismayed by the sudden dropoff in the number of IEPA referrals to my office,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “The failure to thoroughly investigate and refer violations of the laws has dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment.”

. . .

Federal enforcement actions nationwide have declined significantly since Scott Pruitt took over as EPA administrator, the Environmental Integrity Project and others have found. Veteran staff at the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office said it has become more difficult to file cases under Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly challenged federal clean air and water regulations.

Pruitt’s new pick to lead the agency’s Chicago outpost, Cathy Stepp, is a former Wisconsin state official who rolled back enforcement of anti-pollution laws while serving in the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said cutbacks at the federal and state level threaten to erase hard-fought victories that led to cleaner air and water.

“If you don’t have enforcement, the good guys who follow the law are put at a competitive disadvantage,” Learner said. “It sends a message to polluting industries that the cop on the beat is looking the other way.”

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PRESS RELEASE: EPA Delay of Clean Water Rule Threatens America’s Safe Drinking Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                         

Contact: Judith Nemes

(312) 795-3706

Nemes@elpc.org 

US EPA Delay of Clean Water Rule Threatens America’s Safe Drinking Water

  Pausing Clean Water Standards Wrong for the Great Lakes Region and America

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

 

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rush to delay the Clean Water Rule will allow more pollution, threatening safe, clean drinking water in the Midwest,” Learner said “We can’t afford to go backwards when it comes to reducing pollution of our community rivers, lakes and streams.”

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