Summer: The Season of Sickness for America's Waters

by Evan Isaacson | August 16, 2017

It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean time for back-to-school sales, last-ditch beach getaways, or Shark Week re-runs. Instead, I'm referring to the time of year when we're once again reminded just how sick our waterways are.

Every year around this time, we read about massive dead zones and toxic algal blooms infecting large swaths of our nation's inland and coastal waters. The combination of warming water temperatures and fertilizer runoff during the growing season leads to vast areas of lifelessness for many waterways and aquatic ecosystems.

America's rivers and streams flush the excess nutrients that are applied to, or fall upon, our landscape. When these pollutants finally settle out in our estuaries, deltas, gulfs, and coastal bays, they feed a great swirl of life and death. The fertilizers not taken up by crops or land-based ecosystems instead feed algae, which decompose in a process that consumes oxygen and sucks the life right out of everything from the tiniest stream to our mightiest seas.

At the surface, this appears as thick blankets of vibrant green, blue, red, brown, or other colorful algae. In deeper and open waters, like the Gulf of Mexico, this stage of the nutrient lifecycle causes massive dead zones.

Last month, scientists announced that the annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest in history. In an area the ...

200 Days and Counting: Pollution and Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | August 11, 2017
Rolling back EPA regulations is one of the Trump administration's priorities. The most notable example is Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut CO2 emissions from power plants. The other rule that has gotten considerable attention is the so-called WOTUS rule, which defines federal jurisdiction to regulate wetlands and watersheds. But these are not the only rules in the crosshairs. EPA has announced plans to reconsider a rule limiting emission of toxic substances from power plants, rules dealing with ...

New Report Shows State Endangered Species Laws Come Up Short in Protecting Imperiled Plants, Animals, Habitats

by Alejandro Camacho | August 04, 2017
In spite of its documented success in conserving vulnerable species and ecosystems, as well as robust and enduring support among American voters, the federal Endangered Species Act has not been spared from calls to devolve funding and authority from the federal government. As this trend has gained increasing support within the 115th Congress and the Trump administration, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is widely expected to introduce legislation that seeks to erode ...

When Deciding Which Endangered Species to Prioritize, What Role Do Biodiversity and Ecosystem-Level Assessments Play?

by Jarryd Page | July 31, 2017
This post is the second of a pair focused on the challenges facing the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 21st century. You can read the first post here.  In drafting the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA), Congress gave explicit attention and priority, and therefore funding, to individual species. Rather than approaching species conservation through a more holistic consideration of a species' importance within its ecological community, giving broader attention to biodiversity, or looking ...

Does Species Triage Make Sense for the Fish and Wildlife Service?

by Jarryd Page | July 31, 2017
This post is the first of a pair focused on the challenges facing the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 21st century. You can read the second post here. Imagine yourself in a sinking ship. The water is rising quickly. Around you are 20 unique, precious artifacts, among the last of their kind to exist on Earth. You only have the capacity to rescue 10 pounds of these objects – if you try to take on ...

Does TSCA Reform Have a Future?

by Katie Tracy | July 17, 2017
June 22 marked the one-year anniversary of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the first major update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since its original enactment in 1976. The measure set a one-year deadline for EPA to complete several actions to implement the law, including finalizing its procedural rules on chemical prioritization and risk evaluation and releasing key documents related to the initial ten chemicals the agency has chosen to evaluate. (See all ...

The Unclean Water Rule

by Evan Isaacson | July 13, 2017
This post builds from an interview with the author for WYPR's The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton, a portion of which aired on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. One question I've been asked a number of times over the last several years is, "What does the Clean Water Rule mean for the Chesapeake Bay?" With EPA's recent proposal to repeal the rule, I'm once again hearing questions and speculation about what this repeal will mean for the Bay watershed. I ...

Trump's EPA Budget Plan Would Harm Many Everyday Americans

by Joel Mintz | July 11, 2017
Imagine that a hostile foreign power covertly manipulated our democracy and government to impose on Florida and other coastal states heightened risks of catastrophic sea level rise and an intensification of hurricanes, floods, droughts, and diseases carried by insects and parasites. Suppose, too, that the same foreign government then set about to demolish the work of American institutions that prevent serious diseases and avoidable deaths to our people. Without doubt, we would regard those acts as threats to our national ...

Combating Climate Change and Health Risks through a Carbon Fee

by Amro Ali | July 06, 2017
No one is safe from the effects of climate change. That's the key takeaway from a March report by nearly a dozen highly respected medical organizations that studied the link between climate change and risks to our health. And these aren't far-off impacts or theoretical dangers: human-driven climate change is already making people sick. Here's just one example: A woman in southwestern Pennsylvania who had never heard of Lyme disease saw five of her friends contract the illness in recent ...

Murr v. Wisconsin: The 'Whole Parcel' Rule Prevails, At Least in This Regulatory Takings Case

by Robert Glicksman | July 05, 2017
Originally published by the George Washington Law Review How should a court assessing a regulatory takings claim define the "property" allegedly taken to assess the degree of the economic impact the regulation has on it? That question has plagued the Supreme Court for nearly a century, with different and conflicting answers emerging, sometimes in relatively rapid succession. In Murr v. Wisconsin,[1] the Court has provided its most comprehensive answer to the so-called "denominator" question so far, although even the analytical framework ...

Repeal First, Explain Later: The Trump Administration and the Clean Water Rule

by Dave Owen | June 28, 2017
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers just released a proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule and to return to previous regulations. The Clean Water Rule (also known as the WOTUS Rule) would have clarified the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was one of the Obama administration's signature environmental initiatives, and it was one of candidate and then President Trump's signature targets. So the ...

Partner Spotlight: A Conversation with Center for Progressive Reform's Evan Isaacson

by Kerry Darragh | June 27, 2017
This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition's website.  All month long, MCAC has been highlighting the Bay cleanup plan, also known as the Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load), in order to keep track of the progress that is, or isn't, happening within the Bay watershed to reduce pollution. We recently chatted with Evan Isaacson, policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, about tracking the progress of the Bay TMDL, what more states should be doing ...

The Message Congress Needs to Hear As It Debates Our Water Infrastructure Needs

by Evan Isaacson | June 22, 2017
Last fall, the Senate directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to conduct an independent study on affordability of municipal investments in water infrastructure. As someone who spent several years within the halls of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, I was honored to contribute to NAPA's research efforts by responding to a survey with suggestions for public administrators and communities struggling to meet the challenges ...

CPR Scholar Op-Eds Hit Assault on Our Safeguards from Trump and Congress

by Matthew Freeman | June 19, 2017
Four recent op-eds by CPR Member Scholars underscore the scope and danger of the current assault on our safeguards now being mounted by the president and the congressional leadership. Highlights of the most recent pieces follow, but you can always browse through all of this year’s published pieces from our scholars and staff on our website. On May 17, Alyson Flournoy and Mary Jane Angelo, colleagues at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, co-authored “Without Public Protections, Florida ...

As Waters Rise, Trump Wants to Cut Coastal Protection Efforts Off at the Knees

by David Flores | June 14, 2017
On Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee to explain how he plans to square the Trump administration's proposed 31-percent cut to EPA's budget with its statutory obligations to protect the environment. Spoiler alert: There's no plan. The proposition – implementing and enforcing safeguards related to water, air, and hazardous materials while cutting a quarter of the agency's workforce – is preposterous.  Some House members are likely to press Pruitt on a ...

As Pruitt Visits Congress to Discuss Massive EPA Cuts, Don't Lose Sight of Important but Less Visible Damage

by Evan Isaacson | June 14, 2017
With a massive, proposed 31 percent cut to his agency looming in the background, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is preparing to visit Capitol Hill for an appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Lawmakers, their staff, and others are likely and understandably focused on the Paris climate agreement withdrawal, the Trump administration's proposal to end federal financial support for programs that help protect and restore a variety of Great Waters like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and ...

Trump's Nominee for Top EPA Enforcement Lawyer Set to Testify. Here's What We Want to Know.

by Matt Shudtz | June 12, 2017
Susan Bodine, an attorney with significant experience on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) at the agency. She is likely to get a friendly audience tomorrow when she appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about the future of OECA. After all, she's worked closely with everyone on the panel, and there remain some aspects of federal ...

LA Times Op-Ed: EPA Scientists Said Ban the Pesticide Chlorpyrifos. Scott Pruitt Said No

by Carl Cranor | June 08, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Los Angeles Times. Miners carried canaries into coal mines; if the canary died, it was an early warning of the presence of toxic gases that could also asphyxiate humans or explode. The Trump administration has decided to use children and farmworkers as 21st century canaries, continuing their exposure to a pesticide named chlorpyrifos that has been linked to serious health concerns. The toxicity of this commonly used pesticide was demonstrated in early May when ...

Environmental Policy

The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.

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