Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Supreme Court delivers blow to EPA’s mercury rule

Monday, June 29th, 2015 - posted by brian
Photo: ©hicagoenergy, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo: Creative Commons/Flickr

In a major decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency did not properly consider costs when it created a rule to limit mercury emissions from power plants.

Finalized in 2012, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard is one of the Obama administration’s most significant efforts to combat harmful air pollution and protect public health. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can bypass the body’s placental and blood-brain barriers, threatening cognitive development and the nervous system.

The rule, which also targets pollutants such as arsenic, chromium and hydrochloric acid gas is expected to prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

While difficult to quantify, the rule’s the health benefits would well exceed the estimated $9.6 billion cost in annual compliance costs. In fact, a formal analysis found the quantifiable benefits of the rule could reach $80 billion each year — as much as $9 for every dollar spent.

Still, industry groups and several states argue the EPA did not adequately consider costs when determining whether regulating mercury under the Clean Air Act is “appropriate and necessary.”

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the EPA, leading the challengers to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. Today’s 5-4 ruling remands the case back to the D.C. Circuit Court, which could order the EPA to reconsider the costs of compliance or to craft a new plan to regulate mercury altogether.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Campaign Director Kate Rooth:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a disappointing setback; for far too long the costs of unregulated pollution to human health and the environment have not been adequately weighed in determining our energy future. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard is a critical component of the Obama administration’s effort to curb pollution from power plants. Already this rule has resulted in many of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants being retired or updated and it is critical that these safeguards remain in place in order to protect communities and future generations from mercury and other toxic air pollution.

The Supreme Court decision still provides a clear path forward for the EPA to limit dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in our air. We are confident that the agency will be able to respond to the court’s ruling by demonstrating that the health costs of continued power plant pollution greatly outweigh the costs of the rule itself.

Appalachian legislators give POWER+ the cold shoulder

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - posted by Adam
Tell your Senators to support a positive future for Appalachian communities.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your Senators to support a positive future for Appalachian communities.

Virginia’s coal-bearing counties would directly benefit from the adoption of the POWER+ plan, a proposal in the Obama administration’s 2016 budget that would direct more than a billion dollars to Central Appalachia.

But the U.S. House budget cuts Virginia entirely out of the forward-thinking Abandoned Mined Lands funding reforms that were spelled out in the POWER+ Plan. That component of the plan would send $30 million directly to the Virginia coalfields for economic development and put laid-off miners back to work cleaning up the messes left by coal companies.

Last week, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee passed a budget bill the leaves out any mention of POWER+.

Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.

For more background, we recommend this piece by Naveena Sadasivam for InsideClimate News, which details the curious quiet around POWER+ and how the plan has been pulled into the partisan bickering that’s embroiled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the 2016 budget process as a whole.

Under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, sites that pose a threat to safety are prioritized over sites that offer a potential economic benefit if cleaned up. While this program has reduced potential hazards in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia and the U.S., it has done little to positively impact local economies.

The POWER+ Plan, however, calls for funds to be used for projects that not only improve the environment and reduce hazards, but also create an economic benefit for local economies.

There’s still time for both House and Senate to include the meaningful funding proposals outlined in POWER+. But in order for that to happen we need to make sure that Virginia’s U.S. Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, hear the clear message from you to make sure Appalachia gets this much needed funding!

Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.

Duke expands coal ash cleanup, but leaves N.C. communities in danger

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 - posted by amy
Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

Duke Energy announced plans for its future coal ash cleanup efforts. But the fates of several coal ash sites threatening North Carolina communities remain unclear.

On Tuesday, Duke Energy announced it plans to excavate coal ash from ponds at three power plant sites in North Carolina, along with two more at its South Carolina facilities.

But the fates of several sites that pose significant threats to drinking water and nearby communities remain unclear.

Duke is already required by North Carolina’s Coal Ash Management Act to clean up four sites deemed “high-priority” by lawmakers. By recommending additional sites be excavated, Duke is committed to cleaning up ponds at seven of its 14 power plants across the state. That is, as long as the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is on board.

The total amount of coal ash now planned for excavation is 35.4 tons of ash. Duke plans to move the excavated ash to lined landfills or use it as structural fill material.

Although the company has now committed to cleaning up the ash at half of the sites in North Carolina, the majority of the ash polluting the state’s waterways remains largely unaddressed. As for the seven sites not included in today’s announcement, the company says further environmental testing is needed to assess contamination and determine clean up plans.

Importantly, the sites Duke has not committed to excavating are the largest in the state, including the 12.5 million tons of ash at Belews Creek, the 11.5 million tons at G.G. Allen, and the 27 million tons of coal ash stored at the Buck and Marshall plants. That amounts to more than 70 million tons — the bulk of Duke’s coal ash — still sitting in leaking, unlined ponds seeping and discharging into our waterways.

Around these unaddressed sites, nearly 500 households have been warned by the N.C. Department of Health that their well water is unsafe for drinking or to use for cooking due to contamination possibly associated with nearby coal ash ponds.

While Duke’s announcement is welcome news for the communities living near Moncure, Goldsboro, Lumberton and those who rely on the Cape Fear, Neuse and Lumber rivers for drinking water, others worry they’re being left behind and are concerned about potential harm caused by coal ash stored in landfills — and who is responsible for it.

A year and a half after the Dan River spill, Duke is certainly taking steps in the right direction. But there is still much work to be done for the company to prove it is the “good neighbor” it claims to be.

As the company’s coal ash cleanup efforts expand, we have just a few questions: Does Duke plan to leave more than 70 million tons of toxic ash in unlined ponds polluting North Carolina’s waterways? Will the company ensure the health and safety of workers and residents throughout the clean up process?

Until Duke makes an announcement that takes into account the safety of all its current and future neighbors, we’ll hold our applause.

Learn about the threat of coal ash pollution. Stay up to date by subscribing to the Front Porch Blog.

White House Unveils New Plans to Protect Honeybees

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Laura Marion

The White House unveiled its federal honeybee protection plan less than a week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that honeybee populations further declined by 40 percent between April 2014 and April 2015.

The agency’s National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators plan will provide funding for research and improvements to seven million acres of habitat. The EPA has proposed a rule that will establish temporary pesticide bans in some areas when bees are being used for commercial agriculture and certain crops are in bloom. The bans would apply to more than 1,000 pesticides.

Tammy Horn, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s state apiarist, notes that Appalachia could be a particularly important location for bee research due to the region’s biodiversity and historically lower use of agricultural pesticides compared to other parts of the country.

The environmental organization Friends of the Earth has criticized the White House plan for failing to restrict neonicotinoid use. Research has linked these widely used insecticides to the decline of certain pollinator populations such as honeybees and monarchs. The plan requires the EPA to expedite their re-evaluation of neonicotinoids.

Public Comment Period on Key Ingredient of RoundUp

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Laura Marion

This May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Reuters news agency that it has finished a review of the health and environmental impacts of glyphosate — a chemical used in popular herbicides such as RoundUp — and will release a preliminary human health risk assessment this July. After this release, the EPA will take public comments before finalizing the updated regulatory status of the herbicide for the next 15 years.

On March 20, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization reclassified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic,” changing their 1996 stance that glyphosate was “unlikely to present an acute hazard.” The EPA has classified glyphosate as noncarcinogenic since 1991.

The EPA is also scheduled to update the human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, a common insecticide used for agricultural and residential pest control. The public comment period closed this March. Using a model created by Dow Chemical Company, the producer of chlorpyrifos, the EPA identified cause for health concern. Their upcoming decision could change label requirements for the insecticide and require increased safety precautions for agricultural field workers.

Tennessee Rivers at Risk

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Cody Burchett

According to a report released this May by the nonprofit Tennessee Clean Water Network, surface water enforcement actions issued by Tennessee state regulators have dropped 75 percent since 2008.

Of the 53 enforcement orders issued last year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, more than a quarter were related to paperwork rather than pollution events. The Clean Water Network concludes that this low number of enforcements is not due to a lack of violations, and that TDEC “needs to be more aggressive in taking swift, effective enforcement action.”

More than 30 percent of Tennessee’s surface waterways are impaired by pollution, according to a 2012 assessment by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Among these are portions of the Holston and Harpeth Rivers located in northeast and middle Tennessee, both of which were listed in this year’s annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report by the nonprofit American Rivers. The report highlights major waterways facing an upcoming decision this year that could significantly impact the river’s health.

Clean Power Plan Comes with Options and Opportunities

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett
Citizens calling on lawmakers to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan have amplified their message ahead of the final rule’s release in August. Photo courtesy of Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club

Citizens calling on lawmakers to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan have amplified their message ahead of the final rule’s release in August. Photo courtesy of Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club

By Brian Sewell

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found a familiar foe in Sen. Mitch McConnell when it announced plans to regulate carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants last summer.

The Kentucky Republican and Senate majority leader has pledged to “pursue all avenues,” whether through Congress or the courts, to cripple the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change.

McConnell even attempted to enlist officials at the state level, asking governors to rebuke the president by simply refusing to create a plan to implement the regulations.

That plot has so far failed. Ahead of the final rule’s release in August, at least 41 states are moving to meet their emissions goals, taking advantage of the flexibility offered under the plan to craft their own path to compliance.

“We have the legal — not just right and authority but responsibility — to [finalize the Clean Power Plan],” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in April. “People expect us to do it. I don’t see any utility thinking we’re not going to do it. So the politics are one thing and reality is another.”

In reality, policy groups are acting as guides and convening state utility commissioners and environmental regulators to build a common understanding of the rule.

A range of recent analyses have found that, not only can states cost-effectively comply with the Clean Power Plan, they can create savings for consumers while reducing pollution. In May, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions compared the findings of six such analyses, all of which conclude that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions and lower demand for fossil fuels.

The models also found that adopting efficiency programs minimizes impacts of the rising price of natural gas, the fuel that will cover much of coal’s lost capacity. In models where the role of energy efficiency was limited, on the other hand, costs to consumers ballooned with climbing gas prices.

But the concept that improving energy efficiency — doing more with less — can actually save money for consumers is lost on some of the plan’s opponents.

In April, the EPA’s Janet McCabe, testified to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce that, “If we use less energy, our bills can go down. And our carbon emissions can go down.” West Virginia Rep. David McKinley was shocked. “Unbelievable,” the congressman replied. “It just seems delusional.”

As for renewable energy, the anticipated growth of wind and solar mean that they will contribute to reducing carbon with or without the Clean Power Plan. States with policies that incentivize renewable energy will see the greatest benefit.

While they don’t give the public the full story about opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan, politicians like McConnell and McKinley are rightly concerned about the rule’s impact on the coal industry. Already against the ropes, the Appalachian coal industry is expected to take a huge hit from the plan.

According to a May analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the EPA’s proposal is expected to more than double the number of coal plant retirements through 2040, which would also impact coal production. In areas already suffering the economic impacts of coal’s decline, arguments against the plan relate to coal job losses as much as energy costs.

A new study by economists at the University of Maryland and the consulting firm Industrial Economics, however, concludes that the impact of lost jobs in the coal sector would be offset by investments in cleaner energy sources and productivity gains across the U.S. economy.

Despite the flexibility given to states under the plan, those seeking to defeat it are resolute. Legislation recently introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., aims to erase the Clean Power Plan, according to language of the bill, “as though the rules had never been issued.”

Score one for the Clean Power Plan

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 - posted by cat
Opponents of the EPA's Clean Power Plan were rebuked by a panel of judges for trying to preempt a rule that has yet to be finalized.

Opponents of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan were rebuked by a panel of judges for trying to preempt a rule that has yet to be finalized.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today rebuked the first legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to cut global-warming pollution from the nation’s power plants, filed by the coal industry and a dozen states last year.

Any state regulators in central Appalachian or other coal-friendly states who were holding their breath, stalling on developing plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants in the hopes of a court victory, should take a deep breath and get back to work.

In a straightforward ruling, a panel of judges agreed that the states and the industry groups had no legal grounds to challenge EPA’s “Clean Power Plan,” which was proposed last year and is expected to be finalized in August.

“Petitioners are champing at the bit to challenge EPA’s anticipated rule restricting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. But EPA has not yet issued a final rule. It has issued only a proposed rule. Petitioners nonetheless ask the Court to jump into the fray now. They want us to do something that they candidly acknowledge we have never done before: review the legality of a proposed rule.”

West Virginia led the pack in last year’s legal challenge of the EPA proposal. As state Attorney General Patrick Morrissey pretty much acknowledged in a statement today, it was a spaghetti strategy — throw it at the wall and see if it sticks:

“When we filed this case last summer, we knew there would be procedural challenges, but given the clearly illegal nature of the rule and the real harm occurring in West Virginia and throughout the country, we believed it was necessary to take all available action to stop this rule as soon as possible.”

One problem is that West Virginia, and the other plaintiff states, have essentially squandered the hard-earned money of their tax-paying citizens.

But a far greater issue is that some state regulators, who are responsible for developing the “State Implementation Plans” specifying how they’ll meet the EPA goals, have been holding out, hoping for a court ruling that would absolve them of this important task.

It’s time to quit dallying. The bottom line is, climate change is here, now, and existing fossil-fuel power plants account for 40 percent of America’s carbon footprint. We must significantly cut carbon pollution, and the most affordable, equitable and sensible way to do that is building up our clean energy sector.

Keep the Clean Water Act going strong

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 - posted by sandra

Is the Obama administration ready to continue modernizing the landmark law?

After releasing the final Clean Water Rule last week, the EPA should continue modernizing the Clean Water Act by better protecting clean water from power plant and industrial waste.

After releasing the final Clean Water Rule last week, the EPA should continue modernizing the Clean Water Act by better protecting clean water from power plant and industrial waste.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of its long-awaited Clean Water Rule, which clarifies the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act.

The finalized rule ends a decade of confusion; a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision brought into doubt the definition of “navigable waters,” which the EPA had historically interpreted to include areas connected to waters by tributaries or other smaller streams.

As The Los Angeles Times reports:

Before the new rule, up to 60 percent of American streams and millions of acres of wetlands were potentially overlooked by the Clean Water Act, EPA officials say. One in three Americans … use drinking water affected by these sources that lacked clear protection from pollution before the rule change, according to the agency.

Is the Obama administration ready to continue the trend of strengthening and modernizing the Clean Water Act — the crucial environmental law that came about due to levels of water pollution that seem unfathomable today?

As the EPA pursues updating the Effluent Limitation Guidelines, which provide standards on wastewater discharge from power plants, we hope that is indeed the case. Sixty percent of water pollution comes from coal-fired power plants alone, and these guidelines would also include natural gas and nuclear facilities.

The primary reason the EPA is even updating these guidelines is because clean water groups sued the agency for not having updated the rule since 1982.

These out-of-date standards do not contain federally enforceable limits on toxic heavy metals. Any limits are left for individual states to decide; as a result, 70 percent of current Clean Water Act permits for power plants do not have limits for heavy metals.

Even worse, the water pollution from these plants has become more dangerous since many coal-fired power plants have installed air pollution technology that “scrubs” emissions before they leave the smokestack. This is good news for air quality, but not for water quality. The scrubbed pollution has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is in waste impoundments where these pollutants supposedly “settle” to the bottom. Power plants are then allowed to dump water from these impoundments into our river and lakes, which sometimes serve as drinking water sources.

Heavy metals are dangerous at varying levels to wildlife and human health. The industry is also discovering that the chemicals used in the “scrubbing” process can interact with chemicals from drinking water treatment plants to create trihalomethanes, which have been linked to bladder cancer.

The EPA released draft options of the Effluent Limitation Guidelines in 2013 and received more 160,000 comments, most asking for the strong technological options that would create zero waste. The agency is planning to release the final standard this fall. But there is real concern among clean water advocates that the final rule may not pursue the most technically feasible option for stopping pollution from heavy metals and other chemicals, as required by the Clean Water Act.

We are going to need your help to crank up the pressure on the White House to make sure the EPA listens to us water-drinkers as it works to finalize the rule for this fall. Sign up here to receive updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Appalachian communities are still at risk

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - posted by tom

Mapping the encroaching threat from mountaintop removal


One thing we at Appalachian Voices particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to work in the realm where technology, hard data and storytelling converge.

Over the years, we’ve applied these skills to develop tools on like What’s My Connection? and The Human Cost of Coal to show in compelling and unmistakable fashion how mountaintop removal coal mining is ransacking Appalachia’s communities and natural heritage.

Last month, we unveiled our latest project, Communities at Risk, an mapping tool revealing how mountaintop removal has been expanding closer to people’s homes in Central Appalachia — even as coal is in decline — and posing increasing threats to residents’ health and the environment.

EXPLORE: The Communities At Risk From Mountaintop Removal Mapping Tool

We used Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data from SkyTruth to develop the interactive map and identify the 50 communities that are most at risk from mountaintop removal. The resulting map offers the first-ever time-lapse view of the destruction’s encroachment on Appalachian communities.

Behind all the data and coordinates, of course, are real people and communities, and that is what drives our work. The communities most at risk from mountaintop removal suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The health statistics are equally troubling; a 2011 study found double the cancer rates in counties with mountaintop removal compared to nearby counties without it.

Our goal with Communities at Risk is to ramp up the pressure on the White House to end this practice, which remains the single-most overwhelming environmental threat in the region. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, promises were made that regulating mountaintop removal would be based on science. The science on the dire impacts is definitive, yet the administration has failed to act accordingly.

WATCH: Communities At Risk — End Mountaintop Removal Now

Appalachians are working hard to reinvent their economy and outlast the fall of King Coal. Much of that future rests on protecting the air, the water, and the region’s unparalleled natural beauty.

It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations. As citizens have argued for years, cracking down on the continuing devastation of mountaintop removal is critical to moving Appalachia forward.

For Appalachia,

Tom Cormons