US EPA

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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Press Release: Five-year Anniversary of Fuel Economy & Pollution Reduction Standards Affirms Rules Still Sound and Sensible

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Five-year Anniversary of Fuel Economy and Pollution Reduction Standards Affirms Rules Still Sound and Sensible

Recent EPA announcement to re-open review of common sense pollution reduction standards could cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution harming health, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER         

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director, said in connection to the five-year anniversary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation establishing joint fuel economy and pollution reduction standards for vehicle Model Years 2017-2025:

“Five years ago, the EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation issued fuel economy and pollution reduction standards for American automakers that are still sound and sensible today,” Learner said. “The standards EPA and DOT rolled out in 2012 ensure that America’s new cars and light trucks will use less oil and emit fewer greenhouse gases through 2025.

“Despite the success of Clean Car standards, the Trump administration is working to roll them back. Earlier this year, EPA determined its standards remained achievable and cost effective, but the agency has now taken the misguided step of reopening that review. DOT is also working to weaken its fuel efficiency standards. A rollback of the joint standards threaten to shift America into reverse and put U.S. car manufacturers behind in the global competition for cleaner, fuel efficient cars.

“Keeping the joint standards in place that were set five years ago will continue to drive innovation, maintain the American auto industry’s competitiveness, boost jobs in the Midwest, and save Americans money at the gas pump. Across the Midwest there are more than 150,000 jobs in 480 facilities engaged in making cleaner vehicles. Let’s keep the cleaner car job sector growing.”

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Great Lakes Now: Chicago Group Files Suit Over Lake Erie Pollution

Great Lakes Now

Chicago Group Files Suit Over Lake Erie Pollution

By Gary Wilson

With the peak algae season nearing, pressure is mounting on the federal government and Ohio to be more aggressive in combating nutrient pollution from farms that discharge to Lake Erie.

Last week the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) filed suit in Ohio alleging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to protect Lake Erie by not holding Ohio to its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

Specifically, the suit alleges that U.S. EPA should have disapproved Ohio’s list of officially designated “impaired waters” because western Lake Erie was not included.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said attorney Madeline Fleisher in an ELPC press release. Fleisher is based in Columbus, Ohio.

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WATCH Gary Wilson’s interview with ELPC’s Kevin Brubaker

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Environmentalists Sue EPA to Designate Ohio’s Portion of Lake Erie ‘impaired’

Environmentalists Sue EPA to Designate Ohio’s Portion of Lake Erie as “Impaired”

By Eric Heisig

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Advocacy groups are challenging the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to accept Ohio’s assertion that its portion of Lake Erie does not meet the definition of impaired waters.

The Ohio EPA did not include the state’s open waters on a list of impaired waterways when it submitted the list to the U.S. EPA last fall.

The federal EPA approved the list May 17 and both the state and federal agencies’ decisions were met with criticism from environmentalists who say the designation is necessary to curb the encroachment of harmful algal blooms.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie contends in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the federal EPA’s decision violates the Clean Water Act. More confounding is that the list of impaired waterways the state of Michigan submitted to the federal EPA included its portion of Lake Erie, and the agency approved Michigan’s list, the suit says.

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Sandusky (Ohio) Register: ELPC & Others Sue to Have Lake Erie Declared ‘Impaired’

Sandusky Register

Groups Sue to Have Lake Erie Declared “Impaired”

by Tom Jackson

SANDUSKY — Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Toledo, seeking to have the open waters of Lake Erie declared “impaired” under the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit essentially seeks to overturn the U.S. EPA’s decision to approve a declaration by the Ohio EPA that the open waters of the lake are not impaired. Michigan, however, has declared that the lake is impaired.

The groups argue that harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, an annual event, have impaired the lake’s waters. Hundreds of thousands of people in Toledo were told not to drink the water in August 2014 after toxins from that year’s HAB poisoned the water supply.

An attorney involved in the lawsuit says that designating the lake as impaired would force stronger action to deal with harmful algal blooms.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio, for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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Greenwire: Enviros Sue EPA Over Approving Ohio’s Lake Erie Plan

Greenwire
Enviros sue EPA over approving Ohio’s Lake Erie plan
By Ariel Wittenberg

In May, EPA approved Ohio EPA’s 2016 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, which found that certain sections of Lake Erie were “impaired,” a designation that has legal implications under the Clean Water Act.

Groups sued EPA to force a decision on the report. Now the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie are challenging that approval, filing a complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The groups say that Ohio wrongly limited its impairment finding to shorelines and areas near drinking water intakes and that the open waters of Lake Erie are also impaired by the toxic algae blooms that have plagued the lake for many years. EPA, they say, approved Ohio’s determination without enough analysis.

“U.S. EPA rubber-stamped something that Ohio did that is not going to protect water quality in Lake Erie and isn’t fully recognizing a serious problem that the federal government is supposed to have a role in solving,” said a statement.

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PRESS RELEASE: Environmental Groups Sue EPA for Rubber-stamping Ohio EPA’s Refusal to Call Open Waters of Lake Erie “Impaired”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 18, 2017                                                                                                                                                                               

 Environmental Groups Sue EPA for Rubber-stamping Ohio EPA’s Refusal to Call Open Waters of Lake Erie “Impaired”

 ELPC warns nutrient pollution reduction won’t occur without comprehensive approach to algal bloom problem

Toledo, OH – Today, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and co-plaintiffs Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), Susan Matz, and Michael Ferner sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a federal court in Ohio to challenge its decision to approve Ohio EPA’s refusal to assess whether the open waters of Lake Erie are “impaired” under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo against the EPA, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Acting Regional Administrator Robert Kaplan. The environmental groups charge the open waters of Lake Erie should be designated impaired under the Clean Water Act because harmful algal blooms that form there most years are preventing those waters from meeting basic state water quality standards.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has already designated the entire neighboring portion of Lake Erie within its boundaries as “impaired” by the same algal blooms.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC’s staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “The impairment designation is a key first step in the Clean Water Act’s process for addressing serious water quality issues. 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.”

Ohio EPA recognized that algal bloom problems are impairing Lake Erie’s shoreline and areas which are used as a source of public drinking water. However, the agency refused to address the algal blooms’ effects on the full extent of the lake’s waters even though it’s a single water body.

The 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.

“The lake isn’t ‘sort of’ impaired in a couple places — it’s impaired throughout the western basin,” said Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator. “Public officials need to acknowledge it will take mandatory steps to get Lake Erie back to health. Toledo spent tens of millions of dollars on chemicals and new facilities to decontaminate our drinking water after hundreds of factory farms in the watershed use it as their toilet.”

Earlier this year, Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Administration released an action plan for reducing nutrient pollution in Lake Erie, which contributes to toxic algae blooms that can endanger drinking water and make it unsafe for recreation. The plan was criticized for proposing very little action beyond voluntary measures that aren’t enough to achieve Ohio’s 40% phosphorus reduction commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement intended to clean up the Great Lakes.

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