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EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

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Scott Pruitt just blocked expert scientists from EPA advisory boards.

Citing the risk of conflicts of interest, the EPA administrator instituted a sweeping change to the agency’s core system of advisory panels on Tuesday, restricting membership to scientists who don’t receive EPA grants.

In practice, the move represents “a major purge of independent scientists,” Terry F. Yosie, chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post. Their removal paves the way for a fresh influx of industry experts and state government officials pushing for lax regulations.

The advisory boards are meant to ensure that health regulations are based on sound science, but that role may be changing. As of Tuesday, the new chair of the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, an independent consultant, who has argued that reductions in ozone pollution have “no causal relation” to public health.

The new head of the Science Advisory Board is Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who has said that air pollution doesn’t matter because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”

The figureheads of science denial were on hand to celebrate Pruitt’s announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, called the move a “special occasion.”

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Scott Pruitt just blocked expert scientists from EPA advisory boards.

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

Citing the risk of conflicts of interest, the EPA administrator instituted a sweeping change to the agency’s core system of advisory panels on Tuesday, restricting membership to scientists who don’t receive EPA grants.

In practice, the move represents “a major purge of independent scientists,” Terry F. Yosie, chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post. Their removal paves the way for a fresh influx of industry experts and state government officials pushing for lax regulations.

The advisory boards are meant to ensure that health regulations are based on sound science, but that role may be changing. As of Tuesday, the new chair of the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, an independent consultant, who has argued that reductions in ozone pollution have “no causal relation” to public health.

The new head of the Science Advisory Board is Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who has said that air pollution doesn’t matter because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”

The figureheads of science denial were on hand to celebrate Pruitt’s announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, called the move a “special occasion.”

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

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Congress might allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In parts of the United Kingdom Monday morning, people woke up to a blood-red sun — a phenomenon seen around the globe this year.

The color was caused by smoke that blew in from wildfires across Portugal and Spain. Hurricane Ophelia deepened the reddish hue by dragging up dust from the Sahara.

Red skies have haunted the western U.S. recently as wildfires burned in Montana and ash rained down in Seattle. This month in Northern California, 20,000 people evacuated from massive wildfires under a red-orange sky.

Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images

On the other side of the world, wildfires burned in Siberia all summer long, covering the sun with enormous clouds of smoke and ash.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

To understand why this happens, you need to know a bit of optics. Sun rays contain light from the whole visible spectrum. As the sun’s white light beams into the atmosphere, it collides with molecules that diffuse some of the wavelengths. On a normal day, short wavelength colors, like purple and blue, are filtered out, making the sun look yellow.

But high concentrations of light-scattering molecules in the air (like smoke particles from a wildfire) crowd out more of those short-wavelength colors, leaving behind that hellish red color.

Since climate change makes wildfires worse, we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.

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Congress might allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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Trump promised ‘tremendous cutting’ at the EPA. We’re beginning to see what that looks like.

An AP reporter visited seven sites on Thursday, and found that all were underwater.

One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, Jason Dearen writes, was barely visible above the churning San Jacinto River, and “the air smelled bitter.” Nearby, “a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel.” At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits — which are full of dioxins and other hazardous substances — “the flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge.”

The EPA later confirmed that, using satellite imagery to check a total of 41 Superfund sites, 13 had flooded. Employees had begun inspections on Monday for damage and possible contamination, but have yet to release any findings. The agency also, bizarrely, put out a statement calling the AP’s story “incredibly misleading” and “inaccurate” — without contradicting any of its facts.

An Obama-era EPA report found Superfund sites are threatened by stronger storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. New EPA director Scott Pruitt has said he wants to double down on Superfund cleanup efforts — and that’s despite Trump’s “skinny budget” proposing significant cuts to the remediation program.

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Trump promised ‘tremendous cutting’ at the EPA. We’re beginning to see what that looks like.

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Wildfires are raging across California, too.

An AP reporter visited seven sites on Thursday, and found that all were underwater.

One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, Jason Dearen writes, was barely visible above the churning San Jacinto River, and “the air smelled bitter.” Nearby, “a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel.” At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits — which are full of dioxins and other hazardous substances — “the flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge.”

The EPA later confirmed that, using satellite imagery to check a total of 41 Superfund sites, 13 had flooded. Employees had begun inspections on Monday for damage and possible contamination, but have yet to release any findings. The agency also, bizarrely, put out a statement calling the AP’s story “incredibly misleading” and “inaccurate” — without contradicting any of its facts.

An Obama-era EPA report found Superfund sites are threatened by stronger storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. New EPA director Scott Pruitt has said he wants to double down on Superfund cleanup efforts — and that’s despite Trump’s “skinny budget” proposing significant cuts to the remediation program.

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Wildfires are raging across California, too.

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Your previously worthless tweets could be used for science.

The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, filed a lawsuit on Friday to get the agency to say how it plans to handle Administrator Scott Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest. Pruitt is now in charge of enforcing rules that he tried to unravel with numerous lawsuits as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

“Administrator Pruitt’s ability to serve as an impartial decision maker merits close examination,” Becerra said in a statement.

In April, Becerra filed a broad Freedom of Information Act request for documents tied to Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest and efforts to follow federal ethics laws. Generally, agencies must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, though they have some wiggle room. But four months later, the EPA has yet to turn over anything.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times that the agency had twice told Becerra’s office they were working on assembling the documents. She said the lawsuit was “draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment.”

The suit from the Golden State is just part of the legal backlash Pruitt’s staring down: He’s already been sued over ozone regulations and the suspension of methane restrictions for new oil and gas wells.

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Your previously worthless tweets could be used for science.

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More bad news for the coal industry with layoffs in Mississippi.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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More bad news for the coal industry with layoffs in Mississippi.

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It’s ‘Energy Week.’ Here’s how Trump could convince America to care.

On Monday, 38 of the EPA’s research advisers found out that their terms, set to end in August, would not be renewed.

One of them is Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It creates a huge void in terms of scientific capacity,” Craft told Grist. “Systematically gutting these committees is essentially cutting off access to some of the greatest science advisers really in the world.”

The purge will leave 11 members on the Board of Scientific Counselors’ subcommittees. The latest move follows sweeping cuts to federal agencies in April. The empty seats on the EPA’s advisory board are expected to be filled with a more industry-friendly bunch.

Craft said that after the announcement, Robert Kavlock, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s research arm, told the advisers in a phone call that he expected the board to pay less attention to climate change.

The board of experts has counseled the EPA on its research programs for two decades. Last year, the board’s subcommittees recommended that the agency work on engaging with communities in its clean-air programs and investigate environmental risks from toxic chemicals. All this advice comes free of charge.

“For an agency that is slated to have its budget cut fairly significantly, cutting out all of the free labor and free help doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Craft said.

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It’s ‘Energy Week.’ Here’s how Trump could convince America to care.

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EPA cutbacks are real, and they’re here.

In seemingly choreographed lockstep with President Trump’s revelation that the U.S. would exit the Paris Agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday a buyout program to begin the process of cutting its staffing levels. 

According to an internal memo from Acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn (not that Mike Flynn), the EPA’s offer encourages “voluntary separations” that would cause “minimal disruption to the workforce.”

The workforce was plenty disrupted, however, by the budget proffered earlier this year by the Trump administration. It basically suggests taking a blowtorch to the agency — proposing a 31 percent budget cut and the elimination of 3,200 out of the EPA’s 15,000 jobs.

The proposed buyout will cost $12 million, and will first have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget. The agency hopes to complete the cuts by September.

If approved, the buyouts may be popular. After Trump was elected, some EPA career staff cried, others set up rogue Twitter accounts, some quit, and others just waited anxiously for what would come next. Now we know: The newly arrived EPA honchos are sharpening their knives.

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EPA cutbacks are real, and they’re here.

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