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Environment: Policy

What prevents industrial companies from polluting the air we all breathe and the water we all drink? Government regulations.

In this section we report on issues related to environmental protections provided by the federal government.

Related Issues

Assault on Regulations


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EPA proposing relaxed restrictions on coal plants

2018-Dec-06  (Updated: 2018-Dec-18)By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is looking to relax an Obama administration limit on how much carbon dioxide coal-fired power plants can emit.

The proposed rule is one of several coordinated actions by the Trump administration, including...

o Repealing the the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

o Replacing it with a weaker Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule.

o Relaxing the emission-controlling technology standards demanded by the Obama administration.

The announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came days after the administration released a report explaining the devastating environmental and economic effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

Administration proposes weakening Endangered Species Act

2018-Jul-19  (Updated: 2018-Aug-03)By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is proposing to weaken provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The changes would make it more difficult for a species to be listed on the Endangered Species List or to remain on the list.

They also remove automatic protections for species listed as threatened.

A 1982 amendment of the law requires that the determination of whether to include a species on the list must be based "solely" on scientific data - not on commercial interests.

The proposal would remove the phrase, "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination" from the current regulation.

It states "there may be circumstances where referencing economic, or other impacts may be informative to the public."

There are 3 proposed regulations - each dealing with a different aspect of the Endangered Species Act...

What can you do?

Because these are regulations rather than legislation, Congress cannot stop them from taking place.

However, by clicking on each of these regulations you'll be able to view comments submitted by the members of the public. You also will be able to submit your comments there. The public comment period runs through Sept. 24.

EPA proposes repeal of Clean Power Plan

2018-Jul-05By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is proposing to repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon dioxide emissions by power plants.

Administration hides study showing dangers in drinking water

2018-May-14  (Updated: 2018-Jun-14)By: Barry Shatzman

A government study shows that contaminants known as PFAS in drinking water are far more dangerous than previously reported.

So dangerous that the Trump administration is doing what it can to make sure you don't find out.

The study from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) showed that these chemicals endanger humans at much lower levels than previously believed.

The chemicals contaminate the tap water of 16 million people in 33 states and Puerto Rico. Service members at more than 35 U.S military bases - as well their families in off-base communities - drink water contaminated with unsafe levels of PFAS.

The cost of reducing PFAS in water supplies to lower safety levels could be extreme, not only to chemical manufacturing plants and military bases, but also to communities that would need to treat their water.

The study, which was written in January, has not been published due to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House.

So how is all this known?

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) obtained emails from the EPA and White House through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

James Herz - who manages environmental issues for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) - wrote in a Jan. 30 email that ATSDR was about to publish a study showing "some very, very low 'Minimal Risk Level' numbers."

He wrote of the "huge" expected reaction by the public, media, and Congress.

"The impact to EPA and DoD is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

Nancy Beck - a former chemical industry lobbyist and current deputy assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) - replied that the George W. Bush administration also worked to filter reports, whereas the Obama administration "let each agency do their own thing".

The Union of Concerned Scientists also reported on a Jan. 31 meeting - the day after the administration began its effort to quash the report - between an administration official and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The EPA has since removed the meeting calendar from its website.

In another email chain, administration officials cite flaws with the ATSDR study, claiming their recommendations are too restrictive. Normally, studies such as this are published so independent scientists can critique them.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says it currently has no plans to publish the study.

EPA could cut car emissions standards

2018-Apr-02  (Updated: 2018-Apr-09)By: Barry Shatzman

Cars made four years from now may not have the fuel economy mandated by the Barack Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards set by the Obama administration would require new cars to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

The EPA announcement doesn't say what fuel standards should be for cars that will be made between 2022 and 2025. It just says they will re-evaluate them. And that they shouldn't be that high.

Notice claims current standards based on "outdated information"

According to the announcement, reasons for the re-evaluation include...

o Car manufacturers will not be able to complete the technology needed to accomplish the standards.

o With fuel prices relatively low, consumers prefer to buy larger vehicles - making it harder for manufacturers to achieve the average mileage demanded.

o New cars would become too expensive for low-income people.

Fuel economy standards actually save Americans money

Facts, however, contradict those arguments.

Since the CAFE standards were introduced in 1975, Americans have saved $4 trillion in fuel costs.

That's because manufacturers have been able to double fuel economy in the 45 years since, according to EPA data.

Meanwhile, the cost of lower-model cars has remained relatively constant. The cost of implementing fuel savings - less than $250 per car - is less than a percent of the average new car price. It has mostly been absorbed by manufacturers.

The biggest beneficiaries have been low- and middle-class households. The increased fuel efficiency has saved them up to 2 percent of their annual income. Repealing the standards could cost them $1,000 per year.

Did anyone mention the environment?

The request to lower the standards came a month into the Trump administration with a letter from a manufacturers' lobbying group.

Neither the letter nor the EPA announcement pay much attention to environmental concerns - which the CAFE standards are meant to address. Yet the 1.5 trillion gallons of gasoline saved would power all the cars and light trucks in the U.S. for a decade.

Using less gasoline means less carbon dioxide (CO2) - a greenhouse gas - emitted into the air. Transportation makes up about a third of America's CO2 emissions.

Manufacturers still might build cars to higher standards

The standards proposed by the Obama administration actually were copied from California. Because California had implemented standards prior to the 1970 Clean Air Act, the law allows it to adopt its own standards. Though it is the only state with such a waiver, other states may choose to adhere to the California standard. More than 10 states - which make up a third of U.S. auto market - abide by the California standard.

Car makers could decide it's better for them to make all their cars conform to the California standard - rather than build separate models for different states.

The Trump administration says it is looking into repealing California's waiver.

The Obama administration standards also are in line with those of other advanced countries.

Trump loosens restrictions on elephant hunting

2018-Mar-05  (Updated: 2018-Mar-14)By: Barry Shatzman

If you're a big-game hunter and you want to bring African elephant tusks and lion heads into the country, it's now easier.

The Trump administration announced in a memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that it is reversing a 2016 Obama administration restriction on importing certain animal trophies. African Elephants (as well as Asian Elephants) are on the Endangered Species List.

The Obama administration's policy limited the number of sport-hunted trophies a person could bring into the country to two per year.

A 2017 lawsuit by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club International put the restrictions on hold, when a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration failed to correctly adhere to the required rule-making process.

Anyone wanting to bring trophies into the country from animals they killed still must apply for permission from the FWS - which says it will decide on a case-by-case basis. The new policy loosens restrictions on other animals also - such as lions.

Hunting... The good, the bad, and the ugly

Hunters claim that hunting the elephants actually helps the species survive. The fees they pay, which run in the tens of thousands of dollars according to National Geographic, are used for conservation efforts. African communities also can benefit - they get part of the fees and all the meat from the killed animals. The hunter takes home the tusks.

National Geographic also points out that the results vary by country. Where governments are unstable or corrupt, they simply keep the money. The Obama administration considered it a national security concern, as that money gets funneled to terrorist organizations.

USDA agency to staff... Don't say climate change

2017-Aug-08By: Barry Shatzman

It's not climate change. It's weather extremes.

At least, that is, if you work for the agency the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that advises farmers on land conservation.

Administrators of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have instructed staff members on the terms to use when talking about issues related to Global Warming, according to emails obtained by The Guardian.

The emails were dated soon after the start of the Trump administration.

Among other suggested terminology, the emails tell staff members to use weather extremes instead of climate change, and to build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency instead of reduce greenhouse gases.

NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs Jimmy Bramblett wrote in other emails that, "It has become clear one of the previous administration's priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch."

Bramblett also suggested that NRCS projects to reduce greenhouse gases could be discontinued.

Arctic oil exploration could resume in December

2017-Jul-13By: Barry Shatzman

Half a year after former President Barack Obama banned oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, the Trump administration has announced it will allow an Italian energy company to drill four exploration wells this winter.

The wells will be drilled from Spy Island - a man-made gravel island just outside of Prudhoe Bay used to support oil production. They will extend six miles - reaching into federal waters and making them the longest ever drilled in Alaska.

The administration provided only a 21-day public comment period for the exploration plan.

US to withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

2017-Jun-02By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to limit climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States is responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions - making it second-largest emitter behind China.

Almost 200 countries are included in the agreement. Only two are not participating - Syria and Nicaragua.

The agreement is non-binding, and each country sets its own targets for reducing emissions. There are no penalties for countries falling short of those targets. The Obama administration pledged to cut U.S. emissions to more than 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That reduction would comprise 20 percent of the world's reduction by 2030.

How might a withdrawal take place?

Withdrawing is a lengthy process, however. A country can request to withdraw starting in Nov. 2019 - three years after the agreement took force. The withdrawal would be effective in 2020.

A future administration could opt to rejoin.

A shorter path would be for the U.S. to withdraw from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Climate Agreement was created under this convention, and states that "any party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement." Withdrawing from the convention, however, would require Senate approval.

What might the effects be?

A study by the Rhodium Group predicts that greenhouse gas reduction without further environmental policies would be as low as 15-20 percent by 2025 - rather than the more than 25% goal set by the Obama administration.

The effects may be mitigated by states, companies, and other countries continuing to work toward cleaner energy - in spite of Trump administration policies.

A larger effect might be felt by poorer countries. As part of the Paris agreement, the U.S. agreed to contribute $3 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) - an international fund that helps the world's poorest countries reduce emissions. The Obama administration already paid $1 billion of the pledge. Trump said his administration will not pay the remainder.

Influenced by money?

Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement might have been influenced by a letter from 22 Republican senators - including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Combined, these senators received more than $10 million from oil, gas, and coal companies the past three election cycles.

Methane Reduction Rule survives attempt to revoke it

2017-May-10By: Barry Shatzman

The Senate has rejected an attempt to revoke the Obama administration Methane and Waste Reduction Rule.

Now that the rule will be allowed to take effect, it will drastically reduce the amount of methane emitted from oil and natural gas drilling. Methane emitted from such drilling is the country's second-largest industrial contributor to climate change, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The rule will result in a reduction of pollution equivalent to almost 1 million cars per year, and recover enough gas to supply about three-quarters of a million homes per year.

Congress was attempting to repeal the rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows recently enacted rules to be negated by a simple majority in Congress. Only 49 senators voted for the repeal, however. Had one more senator decided to support the repeal, Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol to break the tie, which would have allowed the rule to be revoked.

The Trump administration has said it will work to repeal the rule using the government's rule-making process.

EPA allows pesticide it previously recommended banning

2017-Mar-30By: Barry Shatzman

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will not ban a widely used insecticide - in spite of a conclusion last year by the agency itself that the chemical damages the brains of children.

The insecticide, chlorpyrifos, was banned from most household uses in 2000, but continues to be used on farms for about 50 types of crops including apples, peaches, and almonds.

The EPA under Barack Obama had proposed the ban on agricultural uses in 2015.

Studies have shown that the chemical can have long term effects such as learning and memory problems. Exposure can be through drinking water and other sources. These issues have occurred mostly in farm workers and their children - the only places that chlorpyrifos is legal to use.

It still can reach consumers, however, as the residue can found on foods such as strawberries and broccoli sold in supermarkets.

In December, Dow Chemical Co. - the maker of chlorpyrifos - contributed $1 million to President Trump's inaugural committee, the Center for Public Integrity reported.

Bill would terminate Environmental Protection Agency

2017-Feb-03  (Updated: 2017-Feb-16)By: Barry Shatzman

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that is one sentence long...

"The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

The bill was introduced the day after the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to be EPA administrator.

At least four of the bill's sponsors, Reps. Matt Gaetz, Thomas Massie, Barry Loudermilk, and Steven Palazzo have received large contributions from energy companies.

Congress revokes Stream Protection rule

2017-Feb-03  (Updated: 2017-Feb-16)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

Congress has prevented a regulation barring coal-mining companies from dumping mining waste in streams from taking effect.

The Stream Protection Rule would have required coal-mining companies to avoid practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests.

Companies also would have been required to monitor streams that could be affected by their mining operations - in order to return them to the condition before they began mining.

Though one of the arguments made against the regulation was that it would cost jobs, a study by the Congressional Research Service showed that it likely would create about the same number of jobs.

Congress was able to easily negate this rule because the Congressional Review Act allows recently enacted rules to be negated by a simple majority in Congress. President Trump signed the bill on Feb. 16.

They are seeking, however, the ability to easily revoke any rule issued during the past decade. For more on this, read our report.

Congress proposes revoking protection from explosions

2017-Feb-01  (Updated: 2017-Feb-10)By: Rob Dennis

A resolution introduced in the House of Representatives would overturn a regulation to improve safety at facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals.

The regulation requires facilities to...

o Identify the underlying causes of an accident

o Have an independent compliance audit after an accident

o Use and to evaluate safer technologies and designs.

It also requires facilities to coordinate with local emergency response agencies at least once a year, to provide basic chemical hazard information to the public when requested, and to hold a public meeting within 90 days of an accident.

It came as a result of an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in response incidents such as a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer company that killed 15 people.

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin, would use the Congressional Review Act to revoke the regulation - meaning it would not be subject to a Senate filibuster.

Coal states sue to stop Stream Protection Rule

2017-Jan-19By: Barry Shatzman

A group of coal-mining states has sued the federal government to prevent it from enforcing the 2016 Stream Protection Rule.

The rule requires coal-mining companies to avoid practices that could permanently pollute streams - including those supplying drinking water.

Obama bans oil drilling off much of Alaska and east coast

2016-Dec-20By: Barry Shatzman

Following up on the Department of the Interior's 5-year ban on oil drilling off the Alaskan and southeast US coasts, President Obama has announced that some of those bans would be permanent.

The administration says that a provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) allows the president to act unilaterally . His announcement would ban drilling along much of the Alaska coast as well as the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia north.

President-elect Donald Trump has said that he wants to increase U.S. oil drilling. It is unclear how much of an additional hurdle this would put in his path of doing so.

Arctic drilling banned through 2022

2016-Nov-18By: Barry Shatzman

The Department of the Interior has released a 5-year plan for energy management in federal waters, and it does not allow for offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

The plan calls for offering 10 leases in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska's Cook Inlet.

No leases will be offered in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas (the portion of the Arctic Ocean in U.S. territory) through 2022. Oil drilling also will be prohibited in the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Because the rule was issued right at the end of President Barack Obama's term, the next Congress could possibly nullify it using the Congressional Review Act. If that happens, it is not clear how soon drilling could begin in the Arctic - but it possibly could be several years.

Wisconsin town to tap drinking water from Lake Michigan

2016-Apr-21  (Updated: 2016-Jun-01)By: Barry Shatzman

A Wisconsin city is about to become the first to tap drinking water from the Great Lakes since an agreement was signed 8 years ago to protect the lakes.

Waukesha - a suburb of Milwaukee - was granted approval by the governors of the eight states that border the Great Lakes. A unanimous decision was required.

Waukesha officials say they need the lake's water because their own water exceeds the limit for radium and its aquifers are drying up.

Critics claim there are cheaper ways to meet the city's drinking water needs, and that requesting the additional Lake Michigan water is a gift to developers who want to expand the city.

Critics also have expressed concern that allowing Waukesha to take water from the lake will set a precedent for other cities to do the same. A board member for the environmental group Restore Our Water International reports being told by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that at least 20 other cities are considering applying to use Lake Michigan water of Waukesha's application is approved.

The request also is seen as a short-term bandage for a longer-term problem. Groundwater is being used faster than it can be replaced in many places - a situation likely to occur in many other places as populations grow.

Microbeads in soaps and cosmetics banned

2015-Dec-31By: Barry Shatzman

Those tiny beads in liquid soaps and toothpastes used for scrubbing and exfoliating soon will be outlawed.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act, signed by President Obama, will ban the manufacture of most products containing plastic microbeads in mid 2017. They will be off store shelves by mid 2018.

More than 8 trillion microbeads wash into U.S. waters every day, according to a study cited by CNN - threatening creatures who live in the water and people who eat them. The effects on creatures who live in the water and people who eat them still are being studied.

Obama rejects construction of Keystone XL Pipeline


President Obama announced that is rejecting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline - which would have carried petroleum through the United States from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

EPA to cut emissions from coal-fired powerplants

2014-Jun-01  (Updated: 2015-Oct-23)By: Barry Shatzman

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is about to announce new regulations to reduce carbon pollution from the country's power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels. The results will need to be achieved by 2030.

The 1970 extension to the Clean Air Act allows the agency to set limits on emissions that are considered harmful.

The Clean Power Plan allows each state to decide how to conform to the overall emissions limits. President Obama has told the EPA to have the new rules in place by June, 2015.

A related regulation would require new coal plants to capture their emissions and bury them underground.

U.S. fisheries recovering as result of 1996 law


U.S. ocean fisheries are recovering as a result of the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Many of the nation's ocean fish populations were declining in the early 1990s as a result of overfishing, the report stated. The law required overfished fisheries to be rebuilt to healthy levels by 2006. 28 of the 44 fisheries studied for the report were deemed to be rebuilt or to have made significant progress toward recovery.

Continued overfishing is a likely culprit for those that are not recovering, according to the report.

Healthy fisheries are important to the economy as well as the environment, the reprt said. The yearly gross commercial revenue from the 28 successfully rebuilt fisheries has almost doubled since the rebuilding began. Recreational fishing has grown by almost 30 percent, creating more than 300,000 jobs and contributing $73 billion to the economy in 2009.

Court invalidates EPA Cross-State Pollution Rule


A federal court has struck down an Environmental Protection Agency rule that limited the amount of pollution from coal plants is allowed to drift from one state to another.

EPA delays implementation of coal pollution regulation

2010-Feb-22By: Barry Shatzman

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said it will only implement regulation of carbon emissions from the biggest sources of greenhouse gases before 2013. Smaller sources will not be regulated until 2016.

Members of Congress from states that depend on coal-generated power had requested that the regulations be put off.

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