Tag Archives: epa

Puerto Ricans might be drinking Superfund-polluted water, the EPA says.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

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Puerto Ricans might be drinking Superfund-polluted water, the EPA says.

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

President Donald Trump claimed in September that he did away with the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious efforts for tackling climate change. The plan was the first to set a limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Dispensing with the regulation, Trump told a rally in Alabama, was simple as, “boom, gone.”

Of course the reality is more complicated. Because the Clean Power Plan is a finalized regulation from the EPA, the agency also has to put forward its justification for repealing it. During an appearance on Monday at the coal-mining town of Hazard, Kentucky, administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to sign the draft proposal to repeal the 2015 climate rule.

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“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The Clean Power Plan was crafted to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030, by having states devise their own proposals for creating a pollution-cutting mix of renewables, gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency. But the Supreme Court stayed the rule in 2015, so its implementation stalled while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the case brought by 26 states and coal companies like Murray Energy, which is owned by Trump donor Bob Murray. So far, the court hasn’t ruled, waiting to see what the Trump administration does next.

Another wrinkle is that the Trump administration eventually has to do something because it technically can’t ignore the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health, a finding compelled by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007. If they do nothing, they still risk lawsuits for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As I reported in August:

Whatever the administration decides, it will need to publish a written justification, which will be scrutinized by environmental groups in a likely lawsuit on the decision. The administration faces a similar quandary that plagued the GOP during the health care fight: Repeal the Clean Power Plan outright, or replace it with a shell of a rule?

According to a leaked draft of the EPA’s proposal, the Trump administration is choosing the first option — but with a twist. The 43-page document lays out the reasoning for repealing the rule by stressing the costs of implementation without factoring in the benefits from air pollution reduction and its contribution to combating climate change. The public is also invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own.

Janet McCabe, former head of the EPA office of air and radiation, explained that seeking input before even proposing a replacement “is not a legally necessary step.” Agencies use this step “sometimes to seek broad input before they put their own thoughts down into a proposal, which necessarily signals a particular policy and legal direction.”

A former EPA attorney that helped craft the Clean Power Plan told Mother Jones that the agency’s invitation to the public to comment is actually its own stalling tactic. The extra step pushes back the EPA’s regulatory timeline for nine months, at least. The reason the status quo appeals to the administration’s coal allies is that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan was delayed by the Supreme Court while current legal challenges played out. The coal industry only gains by the EPA delaying a replacement climate regulation, because the longer it’s put off, the longer it can pollute without limit. By stalling, Pruitt kicks the can down the road, by betting that the status quo of no rule in place is better than a replacement.

“Pruitt doesn’t believe in this stuff, so he’s actually in a paradoxical position,” says Joe Goffman, the former EPA attorney who is now at Harvard Law School’s environmental program. “If they do propose a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, what he’ll be doing is putting his signature on the proposal which will require to some extent power plants to address their carbon emissions.”

Nothing Pruitt is proposing now changes the underlying legal and scientific reasoning for why the EPA needs to do something on carbon emissions from the coal sector. Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Director David Doniger says the administration’s strategy is basically “replacing the Clean Power Plan with a dirty power plan.”

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday, following revelations that he had taken at least two dozen private and military flights at taxpayer expense since May. But who hasn’t been taking private flights among the members of President Trump’s Cabinet? We now know that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have all flown on noncommercial or government planes rather than commercial ones, collectively racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to taxpayers. Zinke went so far as to fly on a plane owned by oil and gas executives after giving a motivational speech to Las Vegas’ new National Hockey League team.

For Pruitt, the news comes as he’s found himself battling several other mini-scandals from his short tenure. He’s faced congressional inquiries for having an 18-person, 24-hour security detail, building a nearly $25,000 secure phone booth for himself, and taking frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma. But the most jarring aspect of his plane controversy is how it looks against the Trump administration’s proposal to cut one-third of the EPA budget.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Pruitt has taken at least four trips on chartered and government flights since his confirmation, at a cost of $58,000, according to documents provided to a congressional oversight committee. The EPA has defended Pruitt’s travel by saying the four noncommercial flights were for necessary trips to meet stakeholders around the country and that there were special circumstances that prevented commercial flying.

But what exactly was Pruitt up to on these trips? On one of them, his only public meeting in Oklahoma, he and six staffers took an Interior Department plane from Tulsa to Guymon, a town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, at a cost of $14,400. The trip’s stated purpose was to meet with landowners “whose farms have been affected” by a federal rule making more bodies of water subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Pruitt has argued for overturning the rule since before his arrival at the EPA, and he has begun the process of reversing it.

One of the things Pruitt reportedly talked about in his meetings with farmers in late July was closing the EPA’s 10 regional offices and reassigning staff to work in state capitals. According to an affiliate of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau that helped organize the event and was tweeting about his remarks that day, Pruitt floated the idea to an audience of farmers assembled in Guymon.

A screenshot of the tweet provided to Mother Jones. The original tweet appears to have been deleted.

The farm policy publication Agri-Pulse took note of the tweet and requested comment from the EPA at the time. Agency spokesperson Liz Bowman told the publication that Pruitt “believes it is his responsibility to find the best and most efficient way to perform environmental protection” but repeated that there weren’t plans to close any regional offices “in the foreseeable future.”

Politico reported earlier this year that the White House was looking at shutting down two of the EPA’s 10 regional offices in its budget request. A Chicago Sun Times columnist reported that the Chicago EPA office, where 1,000 people work, could be on the chopping block. Though the agency quickly denied the rumors, there were protests not just from EPA staff, but from Democratic and Republican politicians representing areas that would be affected. By June, the idea appeared to be off the table. That month, Pruitt told members of the House Appropriations Committee that he did not intend to close regional offices. He dismissed the reports that he was considering closing the Chicago office as “pure legend,” saying, “It is not something that is under discussion presently.”

The EPA employs roughly 15,000 people, many of whom work across the country in regional offices, carrying out day-to-day environmental oversight and delivering grants to fund state environmental programs. In early May, Democratic senators who sit on the oversight committee for the EPA wrote to Pruitt, “Whether reviewing discharge permits for compliance with Federal pollution standards and state water quality standards, or inspecting facilities to see if they are operating in compliance with their permits, we count on regional staff to provide guidance to state pollution control staff, the public and regulated entities.” Regional staff, for instance, have played a key role in the response to recent hurricanes, analyzing soil and water samples for contamination. It’s unlikely that Pruitt would seek simply to move the EPA’s regional office staffers to state offices. He has already sought to cut more than 1,000 positions from the agency through buyouts, and the closure of regional offices could be an additional pretense to eliminate jobs.

On Thursday, the EPA declined to give Mother Jones more context on Pruitt’s remarks about regional offices that day or why he would be floating the idea well after denying it was under consideration. Instead, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox offered this statement: “Anyone that takes time to read President Trump’s budget will realize that no money is allocated to close down regional EPA offices.”

The president of the EPA employees union, John O’Grady, commented that closing regional offices and moving the regulators into state capital buildings would be “a whole ball of wax” that the administration hasn’t thought through.

“If they do that, I’m going to come out and say quite frankly we’re thrilled that the administration has decided to put U.S. EPA employees at the state office,” he said. “Now we can tell for sure that the states are following federal laws correctly.” He added, “They’re trying to dilute the EPA as a cohesive unit. They’re trying to get rid of us.”

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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

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EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”

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EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

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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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Science for Sale – David L. Lewis, PhD

READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS

Science for Sale

How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits

David L. Lewis, PhD

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: June 3, 2014

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Seller: The Perseus Books Group, LLC


When Speaker Newt Gingrich greeted Dr. David Lewis in his office overlooking the National Mall, he looked at Dr. Lewis and said: “You know you’re going to be fired for this, don’t you?” “I know,” Dr. Lewis replied, “I just hope to stay out of prison.” Gingrich had just read Dr. Lewis’s commentary in Nature , titled “EPA Science: Casualty of Election Politics.” Three years later, and thirty years after Dr. Lewis began working at EPA, he was back in Washington to receive a Science Achievement Award from Administrator Carol Browner for his second article in Nature . By then, EPA had transferred Dr. Lewis to the University of Georgia to await termination—the Agency’s only scientist to ever be lead author on papers published in Nature and Lancet . The government hires scientists to support its policies; industry hires them to support its business; and universities hire them to bring in grants that are handed out to support government policies and industry practices. Organizations dealing with scientific integrity are designed only to weed out those who commit fraud behind the backs of the institutions where they work. The greatest threat of all is the purposeful corruption of the scientific enterprise by the institutions themselves. The science they create is often only an illusion, designed to deceive; and the scientists they destroy to protect that illusion are often our best. This book is about both, beginning with Dr. Lewis’s experience, and ending with the story of Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

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Science for Sale – David L. Lewis, PhD

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Trump halted a study of coal’s health effects in Appalachia

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Trump administration has told the National Academy of Sciences to stop working on a study about the potential health risks for people living near mountaintop coal-removing sites in Central Appalachia.

“Everyone knows there are major health risks living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites,” Bill Price, the senior Appalachia organizer at the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “It’s infuriating that Trump would halt this study on the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, research that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years.”

In 2014, a West Virginia University study found that dust from mountaintop removal coal-mining sites was linked to increased incidences of lung cancer. The following year, the state formally asked the Obama administration for help in studying these health effects, and in 2016, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) gave the NAS $1 million to determine the human health effects for people living near coal mine operations.

But last week, in an Aug. 18 letter to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the OSMRE said that the Department of the Interior has begun an agency-wide review of all its grants and cooperative agreements that exceed $100,000, as part of the department’s “changing budget situation” and that the agency should halt all work on the study. The NAS says that it is ready to resume work on the study when the review is complete.

“Communities living with daily health threats were counting on finally getting the full story from the professionals at the National Academies of Science,” Price said. “To take that away without warning or adequate reason is beyond heartless.”

Not only can coal have an impact on public health, burning it releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has been aligned with climate skeptics, and throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump expressed support for the coal industry.

When he announced a new agenda for the EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt told a group of coal miners that “the coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners.” At an Iowa rally in June, Trump promised to put coal miners back to work. “We’ve ended the war on clean, beautiful coal,” he said.

Bill Price, from the Sierra Club, says that revoking this study demonstrates the administration’s real priorities when it comes to coal. “It appears that the only people Trump cares about in Appalachia are coal executives,” he wrote, “not the people who’ve lived and worked here for generations.”

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Trump halted a study of coal’s health effects in Appalachia

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The oil industry fears Trump’s regulatory rollback could backfire.

ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline poured more than 200,000 gallons of heavy crude into a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, in 2013. Twenty-two homes had to be evacuated, and in the aftermath, hundreds of residents complained of nausea, nosebleeds, and respiratory problems.

In 2015, the EPA fined Exxon more than $4 million in penalties over the spill. Separately, a federal pipeline regulator accused the company of violating safety standards and imposed an additional $2 million in fines.

Exxon disputed those punitive damages, arguing that it met legal obligations. On Monday, an appeals court overturned a majority of the violations and fines. According to its decision: “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, oil spills still do occur.”

Exxon, however, was aware of issues with this particular pipeline prior to the Mayflower incident, and an argument can be made that it should have done a better job of planning for an accident. The pipeline was 70 years old at the time of the spill, and Exxon knew it was prone to cracking along its seams. (Pegasus had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times before.)

But you know what they say, “Pipelines will be pipelines.”

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The oil industry fears Trump’s regulatory rollback could backfire.

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Glacier National Park is overcrowded. Thanks, climate change.

During a Thursday interview on a Texas radio show the EPA administrator said his agency wants objective science to buttress its mission. Sounds like something Pruitt and scientists can agree on, right?

Not exactly. Right after endorsing peer-reviewed science Pruitt dropped this: “Science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

Experts at NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and Pruitt’s own agency have said they think science is exactly what policy should be based on.

On air, Pruitt touched on his usual topics: Superfund, how the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the U.S., and, of course, CO2. The radio station’s meteorologist asked Pruitt why the country has such a preoccupation with the greenhouse gas. “It serves political ends,” Pruitt said. “The past administration used it as a wedge issue.”

Besides the conflicting statements on science, it was a pretty classic Pruitt interview. But we can finally put one burning question to rest about our newish EPA administrator: Does he separate his trash into the proper bins? “I have,” Pruitt said coyly. “I have recycled.”

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Glacier National Park is overcrowded. Thanks, climate change.

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How can Pruitt sue himself? California wants to know.

During a Thursday interview on a Texas radio show the EPA administrator said his agency wants objective science to buttress its mission. Sounds like something Pruitt and scientists can agree on, right?

Not exactly. Right after endorsing peer-reviewed science Pruitt dropped this: “Science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

Experts at NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and Pruitt’s own agency have said they think science is exactly what policy should be based on.

On air, Pruitt touched on his usual topics: Superfund, how the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the U.S., and, of course, CO2. The radio station’s meteorologist asked Pruitt why the country has such a preoccupation with the greenhouse gas. “It serves political ends,” Pruitt said. “The past administration used it as a wedge issue.”

Besides the conflicting statements on science, it was a pretty classic Pruitt interview. But we can finally put one burning question to rest about our newish EPA administrator: Does he separate his trash into the proper bins? “I have,” Pruitt said coyly. “I have recycled.”

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How can Pruitt sue himself? California wants to know.

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