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Electronic Reporting Requirements: A No-Brainer

The main tool available to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit the amount of pollution discharged into the nation’s waterways is a system of permits issued to polluters that restricts how much they may discharge. This permitting scheme, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), requires permittees to monitor their operations and report back to the EPA or an approved state environmental agency. On those data rest EPA’s ability to enforce the terms of the permits, and thus control pollution that is harmful to the environment and human health.

NPDES permit-holders are required to submit annual reports that include information on whether the polluter met the terms of the permit. Those reports are among the most important compliance assurance and enforcement tools available to the EPA, the states, and, by extension, the communities affected by polluting operations. 

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OSHA Urged to Pick up Its Pen for Poultry Workers

Today, Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several allied organizations sent a letter to OSHA requesting a response to their petition for a rulemaking on work speed in poultry and meatpacking plants. The groups originally submitted the petition to OSHA over a year ago, and it’s been radio silence ever since. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers, most low-income and socially vulnerable, continue to work in conditions that lead to crippling musculoskeletal disorders.

The workers’ advocates who submitted the petition had the misfortune of dropping it in the mail just days before the 2013 government shutdown, so at the time some commentators cut the agency some slack, noting that 90 percent of the agency’s staff—including everyone in the standard-setting office—were laid off. But that excuse is no longer relevant, and evidence of the need for the rule continues to pile up. 

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Steinzor Reacts to Indictments in West Virginia Chemical Spill Case

CPR President Rena Steinzor issued the following statement in response to today's announcement that a grand jury had indicted owners and managers of Freedom Industries in connection with the massive leak of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MHCM) that fouled the Elk River and triggered a drinking water ban for 300,000 residents earlier this year:

Booth Goodwin continues to distinguish himself as a tough prosecutor who is willing to use the law to punish and deter those who threaten public health.  Because this harsh chemical was never tested, we know that public health was damaged but not exactly how people were harmed or, for that matter, how much harm was done.  The spill destroyed the peace of mind of tens of thousands of people and put everyone on bottled water for weeks.  For that, the defendants should pay, with jail time and fines.

Steinzor is a professor of law at the University of Maryland and the author of the recent book, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction. 

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Why Not Jail?

When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?'

You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes:

The criminal justice system is as important to the ultimate embodiment of a society's values as it is in keeping the public peace. ... When the vicious cycle of racially discriminatory mass incarceration of poor people is juxtaposed against the vivid descriptions of the crimes committed by well-heeled corporate executives, it is hard to imagine the contrast does not have a corrosive effect on people's confidence in government institutions. Quite apart from the intrinsic unfairness of the failure to prosecute white collar crime far more aggressively, we sacrifice the benefits of deterring events that harm ordinary people.

Why Not Jail is available now on Amazon (including a Kindle edition) and from the publisher, Cambridge University Press. It's a great read, using five case studies to explore the problems--and potential--for criminally prosecuting corporate malfeasance that harms public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. Order one now for yourself and your friends. 'Tis the season!

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Will the White House Compel Rich Utilities to Clean Up Giant Coal Ash Pits?

We’ll soon learn the results of White House deliberations over EPA’s long-delayed coal ash rule, one of the Essential 13 regulatory initiatives we’ve called upon President Barack Obama to complete before he leaves office.  Under the terms of a consent decree, EPA is required to issue its new rule by Friday, December 19. As glad as we are to see this phase of the rule’s tortuous odyssey come to a close, we suspect that court, not a victory party, will be the public interest community’s next stop, despite a late-entry exposé aired by 60 Minutes last week. 

In the universe of self-inflicted environmental wounds over the last two decades, any “10 best” list must include the brilliant decision to make operators of coal-fired power plants scrub smokestacks to keep mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead particles out of the air but neglecting to prevent them from picking the bad stuff up off the grate, carting it a short distance, and dumping it into giant pits in the ground.  Utilities generate an astounding 100 million tons of such inky sludge annually.  But because the federal government has never issued minimum requirements for such dumps, and state laws are rarely adequate, these pits have been left to grow wider, deeper, and taller, contaminating drinking water and threatening catastrophic spills.  

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Maryland’s Phosphorus-Laden Farms: One More Reason for the EPA to Get Back to Work on a Comprehensive CAFO Rule

[Under an] Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large [industrial animal farms], with fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards.

—Sen. Barack Obama, 2008

The animal farms to which then-candidate Obama was referring are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and they house tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of chickens per flock. The ballooning popularity of these factory farms—at least with industry—means they now raise more than 40 percent of U.S. livestock, and that number increases annually. Along the way, the farms generate approximately 500 million tons of manure each year—three times the amount of waste the human population of the U.S. produces. This waste contains excess nitrogen and phosphorus; pathogens, including bacteria and viruses; antibiotics; and heavy metals such as copper and arsenic. Unlike human waste, livestock waste is not treated. Rather, it is stored in piles, pits, and sheds and spread onto land. These pollutants pose a threat to human health and wildlife and put our nation’s waterways—including the Chesapeake Bay—at risk.

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Media Advisory: CPR and the University of Maryland Carey School of Law to Co-Host a Luncheon with Maryland Attorney General-Elect Brian Frosh on Environmental Enforcement

Contact: Erin Kesler                                    
Email: ekesler@progressivereform.org
Telephone: (202) 747-0698 X4

What: CPR and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law will host a luncheon and Q&A session with MD Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh on the state of environmental enforcement in the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Frosh will speak to a group of Bay advocates, University of Maryland faculty, attorneys at firms that represent Maryland businesses, and interested citizens and students, and take questions from the audience, including media.

Background: Yesterday, the Center for Progressive Reform and Chesapeake Commons released an interactive map detailing the extent of pollution caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) along Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  The map, released concurrently with a report from the Environmental Integrity Project drawn from its data, relies on farmer-reported information to find that all but one of the sixty CAFOS examined has excessive phosphorus levels caused by over-application of manure. The pollution that results from the farms strains Maryland’s efforts to enforce its pollution-control limits as mandated by federal and state law. Maryland’s Governor-elect Larry Hogan vowed yesterday to fight any effort to implement the Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) proposed under Governor O’Malley’s Administration to deal with the pollution caused by overuse of phosphorous on the state’s farms.

 When:       Thursday, December 11, 2014
                    
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
                    
Registration opens at 11:15 

Where:         Westminster Hall
                     University of Maryland Carey School of Law
                    
 519 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD

 

 

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CPR's Steinzor Reacts to Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan's Vow to Fight the PMT

At the Maryland Farm Bureau's Annual Convention today, Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan vowed to fight against the state's proposed phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations.

CPR President and University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor reacted to Hogan's comments, "It’s truly a shame that Governor-elect Hogan is indicating so early that he is willing to jeopardize the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay by rejecting pollution controls out of hand rather than working with scientists to improve them.  As the Governor-elect will soon discover, farmers have an interest in minimizing the use of excess fertilizer because it is as expensive as it is unnecessary.  Large animal feeding operations looking for a cheap way to dispose of manure by dumping it on the ground year round, even in the dead of winter, may have an economic interest in defeating these controls.  But for the rest of us, dead zones in the Bay are an economic, as well as a recreational, disaster."

Today, CPR and the Chesapeake Commons released new interactive map  that demonstrates that all but one industrial-scale chicken farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore reported having at least one field saturated with “excessive” soil phosphorus from the spreading of manure. The farmer-reported data comes from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

New, science-based regulations would limit phosphorus application on farms with excessive soil phosphorus readings. The map, which shows soil phosphorus FIVs on fields on which farmers spread manure, demonstrates that the proposed and widely phosphorus management tool (PMT) desperately needed. 

“Maryland has a huge stake in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and it won’t get there without addressing the phosphorus pollution running off of farms,” said Steinzor, “The overwhelming phosphorus saturation along the Eastern Shore, which comes from the farmers themselves, cannot be ignored and Governor-elect Larry Hogan should reverse his opposition to the PMT for the good of the Chesapeake Bay and the millions of people who rely on this national treasure.”

Maryland already derives billions of dollars from the Bay, mainly from tourism, and stands to gain $4.6 billion more annually once the watershed is restored, according to a Chesapeake Bay Foundation report As part of the Chesapeake Bay-wide pollution diet, a federally led plan to restore the health of the Bay by 2025, Maryland must dramatically reduce water pollutants, including phosphorus. It will not be able to do this without dealing with its excess manure problem. As it stands now, Maryland farms contribute 53 percent of the state’s total phosphorus loading into the Bay, and CAFOs make up a significant part of the problem.

 

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New Map Plots Farmer-Reported Data to Show “Excessive” Soil Phosphorus Levels at All But One of 60 Large Poultry Farms in Six Eastern Shore Counties Due to Manure Usage

Without Better Phosphorus Management on Farms, Maryland Will Not Meet its Responsibility Under the Chesapeake Bay Pollution Diet

 

A new interactive map from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) and the Chesapeake Commons demonstrates that all but one industrial-scale chicken farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore reported having at least one field saturated with “excessive” soil phosphorus from the spreading of manure. The data on the 60 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in six counties was obtained from public planning documents from the Maryland Department of the Environment submitted between 2008 and 2014.

When developing required comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs), the 60 CAFOs in Dorchester, Talbot, Caroline, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties took soil samples from 1,022 fields to help plan their fertilization needs over the plan’s five-year term. Of those fields, 623—62 percent—had soil phosphorus levels, known as Fertility Index Values (FIVs), in the excessive range. Excessive values tell farmers they should not apply additional phosphorus since crops are not able to absorb it and it ends up running off of fields, into streams, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay, causing pollution. Yet, as a new Environmental Integrity Report found, farmers reported applying three times more phosphorus in chicken manure on their fields in 2012 than their crops needed.

 

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Victor Flatt in the Houston Chronicle: Pollution trading could allow more efficient water cleanup

Recent stories about "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay are a reminder that despite progress on some water pollution fronts, we still have a serious problem to address. One politically popular approach to addressing the problem is a market-based solution, in which hard-to-regulate "non-point" pollution sources (farming, run-off, other sources without a "pollution pipe") and point sources engage in pollution-credit trades. So, for example, an industrial polluter might pay farmers to control run-off of fertilizer, thus reducing the flow of nutrients that cause dead zones. The interesting idea has been tried in some places, but has faltered because very few trades have actually been made, presumably because farmers lack incentive to overcome the challenges of striking deals and then implementing the pollution-control measures. It's just not their area of expertise.

In an op-ed published today in the Houston Chronicle, CPR Member Scholar and University of North Carolina law professor Victor Flatt proposes a novel solution: Independent third-party aggregators who would serve as "market makers." In Flatt's proposal, they would assume the risk of the transaction, making it easier for farmers to simply sign on the dotted line, follow a pollution-control plan, then cash a check. He recently published research on the failings of trading systems in the Houston Law Review, along with his proposal for aggregators.

According to the piece:

In today's political environment, and with issues of agriculture and local control to contend with, no one expects Congress to act, and so the EPA and the states are left to use the legal tools they have under the Clean Water Act to address this problem. To their credit, the EPA and many states have promoted pollution "trades," wherein expensive point-source controls can be replaced with cheaper non-point-source controls.

Paying farmers and other landowners to control runoff is a much cheaper way to reduce pollution than squeezing ever smaller improvements from industrial facilities. This means that more pollution can be controlled at lower overall cost.

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