Tuesday 19 February 2019
EPA Funding, Rollbacks & Federal Legislation

EPA Funding, Rollbacks & Federal Legislation (16)

The EPA has proposed a new rule to slash Clean Water Act protections for millions of people. In a blatant giveaway to the fossil fuels industry, industrial agriculture, big developers, and other major polluters, the EPA proposes to remove up to 60% of stream miles and up to 80% of wetland acres from federal protections under the Clean Water Act that safeguard drinking water for millions of people.

Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream and pollution knows no boundaries. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live. In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers, as well as a huge number of wetlands, would not receive protections under the Trump administration’s scheme to repeal the Clean Water Rule.

The Clean Water Act gave us the legal framework to clean the nation’s waterways after decades of neglect had turned some of our rivers into flowing dumps of flammable trash, chemicals, and debris by the 1960s. It gives any citizen the right to sue polluters to protect our waterways.

We oppose this repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule and the gutting of protections that have prevented reckless pollution of the nation's waterways for decades. Access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. This proposed rule would put water at risk for too many communities by removing protections for streams and wetlands across the nation and in our region.

What you can do:

1. TAKE ACTION NOW: Click here to submit comments directly to the EPA.

2. Submit you own comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/All submissions must include the Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149. Click here for tips on commenting on this rule.

All comments must be received by April 15, 2019

Thank you for taking action. This is the most consequential attack on clean water since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Congress understood then that to protect the waters of this country, we need to protect all of them.

 

Proposed rule frees industry to dump toxic waste into streams, allows the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands, and threatens drinking water.

On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposal to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with a very narrow, unscientific definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). This proposed rule contradicts the law and science that is the foundation for the Clean Water Act successes of the past 40 years, will remove Clean Water Act protections for millions of wetland acres and stream miles, and will cripple federal and state clean water initiatives for the foreseeable future. EPA’s proposal ignores the robust record in support of the Clean Water Rule, and intentionally limits the opportunity for affected communities to express their views about this proposal. This proposal would remove up to 60% of stream miles and up to 80% of wetland acres from federal protections under the Clean Water Act. 

“Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers, as well as a huge number of wetlands, would not receive protections under the Trump administration’s heartless scheme to repeal the Clean Water Rule.”

The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Clean Water Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections extended to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – that’s one in three Americans.

EPA’s proposal would eliminate federal protections for areas that contain water only after rainfall and would no longer regulate groundwater, stormwater, wastewater and land already converted for crops. It would regulate wetlands or waterways only if they are clearly adjacent to navigable waterways above ground or through “direct subsurface connection.”

The proposal would drop federal oversight of gravel and sand pits, which are commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and old quarries that fill up with water. It also would prevent federal officials from ordering changes in the handling of fertilizers that might spill into small waterways. The changes could benefit coal mining companies that lop off the tops of mountains and fill in valleys with waste, often creating ponds.

In rushing to publish the proposed rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers ignored science, violated the Administrative Procedure Act by halting enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, and failed to comply with either the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.

We oppose this heartless scheme to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to gut the protections that have prevented reckless pollution of the nation's waterways for decades. Access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. This proposed rule would put water at risk for too many communities by removing protections for streams and wetlands across the nation and our region.

What you can do: Sign this petition today and stay tuned for more actions you can take to stop this attack on your clean water!

Regulator has missed Safe Drinking Water Act deadlines for toxic and carcinogenic contaminants WASHINGTON, D.C. - Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and California Coastkeeper Alliance today notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their intent to sue the agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act because EPA has missed Safe Drinking Water Act deadlines for reviewing and regulating drinking water contaminants, including tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and others. The environmental groups are represented in this matter by Reed W. Super, Esq. of Super Law Group, LLC. EPA’s mandatory obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act include identifying unregulated contaminants for monitoring and/or regulation, regulating those contaminants, and reviewing and revising existing drinking water regulations, all according to a specific timetable mandated by Congress. If EPA does not perform its mandatory obligations, we plan to file suit in early 2019. The mandatory duties the groups intend to enforce in the upcoming lawsuit involve particular contaminants: Chromium (including hexavalent chromium, the chemical best known from the movie “Erin Brockovich”) was regulated in 1991, with an enforceable limit of 100 parts per billion, based on the assumption that it was noncarcinogenic through oral exposure even though it is known to cause cancer when inhaled. Since then, the National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” when hexavalent chromium is ingested in drinking water. California set a goal of 0.2 parts per billion and an enforceable limit of 10 parts per billion. EPA has been studying it for many years but has not…

Last week, the scandal-ridden EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned. We, along with other environmental groups, rejoiced in his resignation – but unfortunately our work to stop rollbacks of environmental protections and to fight the take over of the EPA by the fossil fuels industry is not over. The likely new head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is expected to be just as bad as Pruitt, and maybe worse given his expertise in navigating the federal legislative and regulatory spheres.

Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live. Here are two examples of direct assaults on our clean water and drinking water resources and how we are joining fights against these outrageous threats to your health and your communities.

Clean Water Rule

In 2015, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in better protections for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.

Despite this  -- last year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.

The proposed bad “replacement rule” to severely constrict Clean Water Act jurisdiction (superseding the 2015 Clean Water Rule) is at the Office of Management and Budget for a last review before publication, most likely sometime in August. That publication will initiate a public comment period. Follow us on social media and sign up for our email to stay up to date and to take action against this assault on our clean water resources. Also visit www.protectsouthernwater.org to get the latest updates and to take action.

Loophole to Allow Polluted Groundwater

The EPA and courts have historically interpreted the Clean Water Act does regulate pollutants that travel a short distance through groundwater, soils, or the air before reaching surface waters. Incredibly, EPA is now considering a change to this long-standing interpretation. The EPA wants to allow a company to release pollutants from a pipe a few feet short of a waterway. These pollutants would travel a short distance underground before entering the surface water and would not be regulated under the Clean Water Act. In May, Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over 130 other Waterkeeper organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance and national groups in submitting comments on the baseless regulatory change. There is no legitimate basis for the EPA to call into question the interpretation of the Clean Water Act that a pollutant discharge which travels from a point source to surface water across hydrological connections may be subject to NPDES permitting requirements. The EPA’s Notice published in the Federal Register provides no meaningful support for a contrary conclusion.

In response to the resignation of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, Waterkeepers Chesapeake released this statement:

“Scott Pruitt was unfit to lead the EPA. He demonstrated this with his disdain for protecting the environment and public health, his systematic attack on the EPA itself and any science-based regulations, and his unapologetic support of polluting industries. We are happy to see him go. We thank our nonprofit partners like the Environmental Integrity Project and the free press for their relentless pursuit of the truth about Pruitt’s unethical management of the EPA and his long list of scandals.

We will continue to oppose any cabinet or agency head, including Pruitt’s replacement, who attacks our environmental protections, poses a danger to public health, and ignores basic ethical standards in running a government agency.”

In 2015, Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined more than a half-million comments from people supporting the safeguards that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now seeking to remove in its proposed rule. The 2015 coal ash regulations were imposed after lengthy negotiations with utilities, other industries and environmentalists. Relaxing those common sense, science-based rules now – even as utilities are in the process of reporting the extent of coal-ash contamination and devising plans to address it – would mean the lessons learned from the coal ash accidents in Tennessee and North Carolina are being ignored. The proposed rule (‘remand rule’) would once again put our water and public health at risk – with more than 1.5 million children living near coal ash storage sites and seventy percent of all coal ash impoundments disproportionately impacting low-income communities – this is a risk that the EPA should be unwilling to take. Background Coal-fired power plants in the United States burn more than 800 million tons of coal every year, producing more than 110 million tons of solid waste in the form of fly ash, bottom ash, scrubber sludge and boiler slag—commonly known as coal ash. Hazardous chemicals present in coal are concentrated in the ash when coal is burned. Consequently, coal ash contains a toxic brew of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and poisons—including arsenic, boron, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, thallium, and radioactive substances. These toxics raise the risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children.…

Proposed 90% Cut Ignores Overwhelming Bipartisan Support of Program

(Monday, Febraury 12, 2018) President Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 essentially eliminates federal funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest program to restore a body of water in U.S. history, just as the effort reaches its halfway point. The budget recommends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program budget be slashed from its current allocation of $73 million to just $7.3 million – an exact 90 percent cut to current funding. These funds would only be designated for monitoring and would effectively shutdown all other aspects of the restoration effort. 

“By slashing the Chesapeake Bay Program funding, the president is giving polluters a green light to destroy the United States’ largest estuary and its already-imperiled tributaries,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesaeake. “The multi-state restoration work of the Bay and our rivers and streams is just beginning to pay dividends in the form of cleaner water and restored habitat. We can’t reverse course.”

A multi-state, federally supported program is the only way to restore the Chesapeake Bay, because the tributaries to the Bay cross state boundaries and provide clean drinking water to millions. In addition, the Bay is the economic engine for the region, providing an estimated one trillion-dollar value in fisheries, shipping, tourism, and other industries.

The president’s proposed budget is a direct attack on our rights to clean water and air. In addition to gutting the Bay Program, it calls for a 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, cutting funding for the agency to $5.4 billion — its lowest funding level since 1990. In addition, the president’s infrastructure plan proposes to replace our nation's public highways and bridges with toll roads, cut existing highway funds, sell off our public lands, and gut basic environmental protections that have long protected our water, air, land, and wildlife.

Last year, the president recommended completely eliminating funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.This was met with resistance from not only the environmental community, but members of Congress.This funding results in millions of dollars in support for projects that are improving communities and protecting local waterways around the watershed. Both the House and the Senate ignored the president’s recommendation, and increased the funding in their respective appropriations bills. We call on our Congressional leaders to do the same this year.

EPA Guidance Falls Short of Protecting Communities

Air Releases of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste Will Continue Sometimes our job as Waterkeepers can get very wonky. And this is one of those times. Not only do we comment on and challenge flawed regulations, we also slog through the guidance documents that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafts about how these regulations should be interpreted and applied. Last month, the EPA released a Guidance regarding a new requirement that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) – known as factory farms -- report the release of hazardous substances from their facilities. This Guidance came a few months after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that CAFOs are not exempt from the reporting requirements under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). The decision was meant to close a EPA loophole that has long exempted CAFOs from reporting the same hazardous substances – like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide – as other industries. The Court reasoned that public health professionals and emergency responders would need this information to adequately respond to emergencies and community threats. Under the ruling, a CAFO owner or operator must notify federal authorities under CERCLA and state and local authorities under EPCRA after it releases a large amount of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide. The EPA estimates that nearly three-quarters of the country’s ammonia emissions come from CAFOs. According to the Government Accountability Office, the amount of manure from CAFOs ranges from 2,800 tons to 1.6…

 On this 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we reflect on how our local Waterkeeper programs are needed more than ever to safeguard our clean water resources.

Over the past few years, Waterkeepers Chesapeake has successfully brought together 19 local Waterkeepers programs to collaboratively advocate for and bring legal action to protect communities and waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bay regions.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake has focused on unifying Waterkeeper efforts behind important clean water priorities, like the passage of the fracking ban in Maryland and the passage of protective coal ash laws in Virginia. Waterkeepers Chesapeake also works on issues at the federal level - coordinating efforts against EPA's rollback of clean water protections, the slashing of EPA funding, and Scott Pruitt's appointment.

Through the Fair Farms campaign, Waterkeepers Chesapeake is addressing agricultural pollution while supporting sustainable farming efforts. This year, we worked to pass a second-in-the-country law to restrict the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock.

At the core of our work we empower people to stop pollution and encourage better local water quality through tools and legal rights under the Clean Water Act. Waterkeeper programs were founded to engage and organize citizens to protect their right to clean water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to promulgate and enforce laws and regulations to protect human health and the environment. Sadly, under this administration, the EPA has been fully captured by the fossil fuels industry and industrial polluters. To date, the EPA has rolled back or repealed the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and effluent limits on the discharge of toxic coal wastewater.

Now, our Waterkeepers are the last line of defense for citizens to protect their clean water. Some examples of how our Waterkeepers are encouraging public participation in protecting our waters include:

  • For the past several years, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) has conducted compliance sweeps of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued under the Clean Water Act to assess violations before a major incident occurs. In a recent sweep, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper found that 38 out of 291 facilities had severe violations. PRKN’s first step is to communicate pollution concerns with the facility, and to offer assistance in mitigating the problem. If there is no cooperation or development of a remedy, then they notify the State. If the State does nothing to remedy the problem, then they escalate to legal action on behalf of the impacted citizens.
  • Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Chesapeake Legal Alliance (CLA), produced the Citizen Guide – Public Participation in Maryland’s NPDES Permitting Program. The Guide was produced for the purpose of improving the vital component of citizen involvement in environmental decision-making in Maryland. The Guide is used as an outreach tool to engage organizations and citizens to get involved with the many key avenues for public participation in protecting our waters. It is critical that those impacted by permit violations be engaged in the early stages.
  • The Lower James and Upper James Riverkeepers have created an advocacy tool called Our River at Risk to educate and rally citizens around toxic pollution threats like coal ash. They use maps, online petitions and email updates to elevate the public’s voice and participation in regulatory and permitting processes.
  • The South Riverkeeper published a report on a county’s enforcement of its environmental code to show the county that it needs to step up resources for clean water enforcement. The report clearly showed that current penalties are not effective deterrents for environmental carelessness.

These are just a few examples of how our Waterkeepers bring the Clean Water Act to life on the local level and empower citizens to participate in the protection of their right to clean water. In an era when the EPA administrator only meets with corporate polluters and ignores the public, an engaged and active citizenry on the local level is more important than ever.

What You Can Do

  • Visit our website to get involved and support your local Waterkeeper program
  • Support Waterkeepers Chesapeake
  • Use our Water Reporter app to report pollution to your local Waterkeeper
  • Take Action! Tell your federal representatives to resist any rollbacks or repeals of clean water protections, to stop any reductions in funding of the EPA, and to protect citizens’ right to sue when government fails to enforce the law.

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake Joins Over 115 Waterkeeper Organizations and Other Groups In Opposition to Repeal of the Clean Water Rule

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in a victory for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.

The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections would extend to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – every one in three Americans.  

Despite this – earlier this year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition adopted in 2015, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of WOTUS that have been in place since the 1970s.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. Waterkeeper Alliance took a comprehensive look at the EPA’s proposed rescinding of the rule and found that it violates requirements under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13778. Further, Waterkeeper Alliance noted that neither EPA nor the Corps provided meaningful public participation required under federal law for these types of actions. The comments went on to state:

These failures are not mere technicalities and, if unaddressed, will severely undermine or eliminate fundamental CWA protections across the country – endangering our nation’s water resources…It would be difficult to overstate the critical importance of the CWA regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” and thus this Proposed Rule, to the protection of human health, the wellbeing of communities, the success of local, state and national economies, and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems, as well as the many threatened and endangered species that depend upon those resources. If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the definition of “waters of the United States,” untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways could be dredged, filled and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard – the prohibition on unauthorized discharges in 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) – would no longer apply. Because “isolated” waterways do not exist in reality but are merely a legal fiction of recent vintage, unregulated pollution discharged into waterways that fall outside the Agencies’ definition will not only harm those receiving waters, but will often travel through well-known hydrologic processes before harming other water resources, drinking water supplies, recreational waters, fisheries, industries, agriculture, and, ultimately, human beings.

In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the repeal of the Clean Water Rule is upheld. The repeal will mean more pollution to the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water supply or for fishing and swimming, and a green light for the rampant destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding.

Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live. 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake will keep you informed with any updates on this rollback as we continue to fight its implementation.

To read the full comments, click here. 

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