US EPA

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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EPA Should Keep Super Dirty Diesels Off the Road

By Ann Mesnikoff

Most everyone would agree that letting super dirty diesel trucks with old engines inside new truck bodies belch out dramatic amounts of pollution that causes smog is a bad idea – that’s everyone except for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headed up by Administrator Scott Pruitt. The EPA proposed to repeal standards for these trucks last year. But, there’s been a new development in this dirty tale.

The New York Times recently ran a compelling story on “How $225,000 can help secure a pollution loophole at Trump’s EPA.” The loophole in question is one that would allow an unlimited number of super polluting diesel “glider” trucks on our highways and in our cities. These “gliders” are new truck bodies with dirty old engines inside. The story covered how the leading glider maker, Fitzgerald, had paid for a Tennessee Technological Institute study that would show gliders really aren’t all that dirty. Fitzgerald then used that study to push EPA to withdraw its standards. Shortly after the story ran, Tennessee Tech withdrew that flawed study.

The question now is: what will EPA do now that a key rationale for repealing standards has been exposed and withdrawn?
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Back in 2016, the EPA (under President Obama) estimated that setting standards for dirty glider trucks would prevent up to 1,600 premature deaths over the lifetime of the trucks sold in 2017 alone (1). The Trump EPA is now in the process of repealing those standards for these super polluters. The New York Times story makes clear that “the survival of this loophole is a story of money, politics and suspected academic misconduct, according to interviews and government and private documents, and has been facilitated by Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has staked out positions in environmental fights that benefit the Trump administration’s corporate backers.”

ELPC submitted comments to EPA back in December opposing the repeal of essential air pollution standards for gliders. Here are a few key points from our comments (our full comments can be found here).

Midwestern states experience some of the most intense freight truck traffic in the country. We are ground zero for much of the nation’s manufacturing and agricultural activities, and that means millions of truck miles on our highways and in our densely populated urban areas. Regionally, the Midwest leads in terms of freight traffic too—according to the US Census, 28% of all truck traffic in the US flows through the Midwest (2).

We pointed out that because of all this truck traffic Midwesterners are likely to be disproportionately affected by excess emissions from dirty diesel gliders. Across the Midwest, cities are struggling with air quality; high asthma rates and other health consequences remain a persistent concern. In fact, several Midwest cities — Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati– are cities where air quality does not meet the 2015 ozone health standard. These cities can’t afford to have an unlimited number of super polluting trucks running through them. And, these trucks don’t emit just a little more pollution – EPA’s own tests show they emit 43 times higher NOx emissions and 55 times higher PM emissions than comparable model year 2014 and 2015 vehicles (3).

We concluded our comments by noting clean air is essential to life and health.

The New York Times told a story about how easy it was for one company to buy itself out of an essential air quality safeguard and threaten the health of Midwesterners and all Americans. EPA should stop its repeal of this rule and leave the common sense public health safeguards alone.

 

[1] Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles – Phase 2 Response to Comments for Joint Rulemakinghttps://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P100P8IS.PDF?Dockey=P100P8IS.PDF  p. 1965

[2] https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=CFS_2012_00A02&prodType=table

[3] HD Chassis Glider Final Report 11202017  https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0827-2417 p. 3.

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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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

 

New York Times: Advocacy Groups Say EPA Not Doing Enough to Protect Lake Erie

By The Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — Environmental advocates who sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because they believe not enough is being done to address the toxic algae problem in Lake Erie said they think the agency’s response to the suit only bolsters their argument.

The groups want the EPA to declare that the western end of the lake is impaired by the algae that’s a threat to drinking water and fish. Such a designation could lead to stricter pollution controls.

The federal agency last spring sided with Ohio’s environmental regulators who recommended not listing the lake’s open waters as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act.

Algae blooms have turned the lake unsightly shades of green most summers over the past decade. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

While steps have been taken to reduce the farm fertilizer runoff and municipal sewage overflows that feed the algae, environmental groups and some political leaders have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts and have called for the impairment listing.

The EPA in court documents filed last week said Ohio’s environmental regulators didn’t look at whether the lake’s open waters were meeting the state’s water quality standards.

“They’re owning up to the fact that Ohio didn’t do this,” said Madeline Fleisher, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

She said the EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision not to seek the impairment designation shows that the federal agency isn’t willing to address the algae problem in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

“We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment,” Fleisher said.

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Cleveland NPR: US EPA Responds to ELPC Lawsuit for “Impaired” Lake Erie

Cleveland NPR: Ideastream 

US EPA Responds to Lawsuit for “Impaired” Lake Erie
By Elizabeth Miller

The US Environmental Protection Agency says the Ohio EPA did not fully look at research on harmful algal blooms when considering adding Lake Erie to its list of “impaired” waters.

Two organizations are suing the US EPA to request an “impaired” designation for the open waters of western Lake Erie. Calling the lake “impaired” would set limits on pollution sources including agricultural runoff and wastewater treatment plants.

Madeline Fleisher is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups in the lawsuit. “Since Ohio failed to evaluate the open waters of Lake Erie, what does that mean? Did that violate the Clean Water Act? We’ll need to argue that question to the judge, and he will give us a ruling,” explains Fleisher.

Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie is the other organization. In a statement, the organization’s leader, Mike Ferner, said “the Clean Water Act is still the law of the land and we intend to make the EPA do its job to protect our environment, our health and Toledo’s drinking water.”

LISTEN HERE

Press Release: EPA Admits Ohio Failed to Evaluate Open Waters of Lake Erie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                             

EPA Admits Ohio Failed to Evaluate Open Waters of Lake Erie

 ELPC warns EPA’s reluctance to designate all of Lake Erie impaired endangers drinking water for Ohioans & imperils the environment

Toledo, OH – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted late Friday that it does not believe Ohio EPA fully evaluated pollution in Lake Erie in response to a lawsuit by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and co-plaintiffs Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), Susan Matz, and Michael Ferner, that was filed in July. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo, seeks a designation of the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act because periodic harmful algal blooms are preventing those waters from meeting basic state water quality standards.

U.S. EPA’s response to the complaint expressly admits that Ohio EPA did not assess whether these algal blooms are impairing the open waters of Lake Erie, despite the existence of information that the state could have evaluated to determine the status of the open waters.  This is a central allegation by the plaintiffs in their argument that U.S. EPA should have rejected Ohio’s decision not to designate the open waters of the Lake’s western basin as impaired.

“EPA’s response shows that Ohio has no excuse for its failure to recognize the full scope of the effects of harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC senior attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision despite this lapse exemplifies the agency’s unwillingness to take aggressive action to address this problem in Ohio and the Lake Erie region. We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment.”

“The Clean Water Act is still the law of the land and we intend to make the EPA do its job to protect our environment, our health and Toledo’s drinking water,” said Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator.

Algal blooms can produce toxins that make people and pets seriously ill when ingested, and can also harm aquatic species by poisoning water or using up oxygen to create “dead zones” in the lake. The algal blooms are caused by phosphorus pollution that primarily comes from manure and fertilizer running off of agricultural land.

“Without the impairment designation, Ohio is likely to continue relying on unenforceable, voluntary measures to reduce phosphorus pollution that won’t do enough to fix the problem,” said Fleisher

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