Mountaintop Removal Update: EPA May Grow a Spine

by Holly Doremus | September 11, 2009

This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

EPA today announced that it would review 79 pending applications for Clean Water Act section 404 permits for surface coal mining projects in Appalachia (hat tip: Coal Tattoo). This review is good news, and an indication that EPA may be developing a backbone with respect to the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s waterways. It remains to be seen how firm that spine will be, that is, how much EPA will demand in the way of changes before it allows the projects to go ahead.

EPA’s announcement suggests a new level of resolve on its part because the review will cover all the remaining applications that were pending before March 31, 2009. In June, in connection with the administration’s issuance of a new coordinated policy on mountaintop removal mining, EPA and the Corps announced new procedures for permit review, under which EPA would identify two groups of permits: those requiring further review, and those that could go ahead as planned. In an earlier round of reviews, EPA had allowed 42 of 48 permits to go ahead as approved by the Corps. So the fact that EPA now says that all the remaining projects “would likely cause water quality impacts requiring additional review under the Clean Water Act” is itself a victory for environmental interests.

Another encouraging sign is that EPA has sent the Corps ...

Newly Confirmed Regulatory Czar Needs to Close OIRA’s Backdoor for Special Interests

by Rena Steinzor | September 10, 2009
After weeks of sustained attack from the right-wing on issues that are marginal to the job the President asked him to do, Cass Sunstein has emerged from the nomination process bloody but apparently unbowed (here's this afternoon's roll call). He is now the nation’s “regulatory czar,” Director of the White House OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  Although Professor Sunstein has been sitting in the Old Executive Office Building for months, he has undoubtedly been preoccupied with his nomination battle. Having ...

EWG: Mandatory Controls on Agriculture Needed to Restore Chesapeake Bay

by Yee Huang | September 10, 2009
On Tuesday the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report on the status of state and federal agriculture policies for five Chesapeake Bay watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia.  The report focuses on agriculture policies that impact water quality and highlights a gaping hole in the regulation of animal-based operations. Past and ongoing efforts to improve the water quality in the Bay have focused on agriculture, where pollution control measures are fairly cost-effective (compared to wastewater treatment ...

EPA's Chesapeake Bay Reports: A First Look

by Shana Campbell Jones | September 10, 2009
Today at 12:30pm the Federal Leadership Committee released, pursuant to President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, seven draft reports to improve Bay restoration. Each report is about 50 pages, so there’s a lot of information to take in – from strengthening water quality to strengthening storm water management to assessing the impacts of climate change. After a quick look, here are my initial thoughts: 1. EPA Special Advisor Chuck Fox’s diligence and energy is impressive. Not only ...

Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration: Reason for Optimism?

by Yee Huang | September 09, 2009
A feature article Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Sandy Bauers, describes the impressive restoration of the Lititz Run, a stream located in the Lower Susquehanna Watershed in Pennsylvania.  Lititz Run flows into the Susquehanna River, which contributes about 40 percent of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as a significant amount of phosphorous and sediment. Efforts to curb runoff, change agriculture practices, and upgrade sewer treatment plants by the local community changed the run from a fetid, ...

New FDA Database on Food Safety Has Good Potential. The Proof Will be in the Pudding

by Thomas McGarity | September 09, 2009
Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a 2007 food safety statute by promulgating a rule requiring food manufacturers to report instances of foodborne diseases to an electronic database that the agency has just established (the Reportable Food Registry). This long-awaited database will help epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, state health agencies and academia identify "clusters" of illnesses that should contribute to a better assessment of the extent and magnitude of the foodborne disease problem in this country. ...

Cass Sunstein Nomination Clears Cloture Vote in Senate

by Ben Somberg | September 09, 2009
Late this afternoon the Senate ended debate, in a 63-35 cloture vote, on the nomination of Cass Sunstein for Administrator of the Office of Information and Reuglatory Affairs (OIRA). Here's a quick look back at what CPR scholars have said about the Sunstein nomination and the role of OIRA in regulatory policy: CPR Member Scholars' Jan 2009 report, Reinvigorating Protection of Health, Safety, and the Environment: The Choices Facing Cass Sunstein Rena Steinzor: Some troubling words at Sunstein's confirmation hearing, ...

Rohlf in Oregonian on Mercury Fight in Oregon

by Matthew Freeman | September 06, 2009
CPR's Dan Rohlf had an op-ed in The Oregonian on Friday, taking the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to task.  Faced with news that the nation's largest emitter of mercury pollution is a cement plant in the state, DEQ moved quickly to...defend the polluter.  Rohlf writes: The biggest mercury polluter in the entire United States is a cement factory in eastern Oregon. This fact has not escaped notice of the state's environmental watchdog, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The ...

Lomborg Plays Economist-as-Philosopher-King on Climate Change

by Douglas Kysar | September 05, 2009
Prominent environmental commentator Bjorn Lomborg is at it again, this time convening a blue ribbon panel of five economists to assess the relative merits of different possible methods for addressing climate change.  As reported by Reuters Friday morning, Lomborg's panel concluded that "'climate engineering' projects, such as spraying seawater into the sky to dim sunlight, would be a more effective brake on global warming than increasing taxes on energy."  In a blog entry, The Wall Street Journal added that the ...

Drywall News Update

by Ben Somberg | September 04, 2009
The AP reports: A federal judge presiding over hundreds of lawsuits against Chinese drywall makers and installers said Thursday that he plans to hold the first trial in January for the cases, which claim the imported products emit sulfur, methane and other chemical compounds that have ruined homes and harmed residents' health. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told attorneys that he expects them to pick six plaintiffs whose cases could be tried in early 2010, with the first trial starting ...

The Royal Society’s Geoengineering Report

by Holly Doremus | September 03, 2009
This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. We had a flurry of posts on geoengineering a while back (see here, here, here, and here). If you want to learn more about geoengineering, a great resource is this report, just issued by the Royal Society. It clearly explains the background, the approaches being proposed (which divide broadly into technologies for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and technologies for reducing the input of solar radiation), and the risks associated with ...

Climate Change Schizophrenia: Cash For Coal Clunkers, Anthems for Natural Gas, and Delaying Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing Won't Win this Epic Battle

by Rena Steinzor | September 02, 2009
Those of us worried sick over climate change confronted a depressing piece of excellent reporting in Monday's Washington Post. Environment reporter David Fahrenthold wrote that environmental organizations are getting their proverbial clocks cleaned by a well-organized and pervasive campaign mounted by affected industries in small and mid-size communities throughout America. “It seems that environmentalists are struggling in a fight they have spent years setting up,” Fahrenthold wrote. “Even now, these groups differ on whether to scare the public with predictions ...

Cheaper to Pollute in China than in the United States? Yes, But...

by Ben Somberg | September 01, 2009
A recent article on, "China: Where Poisoning People Is Almost Free," gave great examples of just how cheap it often is to pollute in China. And it pointed to potential consequences: While companies can get away with pollution atrocities for years, the Chinese government, in the long run, may have to pay a high price for allowing it: political instability triggered by the unanswered grievances of pollution victims. Manufacturers, of course, can and have moved overseas to countries -- ...

New EPA White Paper on Probabilistic Risk Assessment

by Matt Shudtz | August 31, 2009
Earlier this month, EPA released for public comment a new white paper on probabilistic risk assessment, marking the Obama Administration’s first major foray into the contentious debate about EPA's evolving risk assessment methods. Back in May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced changes to the way the Office of Research and Development (ORD) will update risk assessments for the IRIS database, but that announcement was made without any real public input and it only implicated the inner workings of one program ...

Nationwide Implications from EPA Nutrient Pollution Settlement

by Yee Huang | August 28, 2009
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to set specific, statewide numeric standards for nutrient pollution in Florida, marking the first time the EPA has forced numeric limits for nutrient runoff for an entire state. This settlement, based on a 1998 EPA determination that under the Clean Water Act all states were required to develop numeric standards for nutrient pollution, has implications for the thousands of impaired rivers, lakes, and estuaries across the United States. Under the Clean Water Act, ...

Lake Lanier Case a Lesson on Water Resources and Land Use Planning

by Yee Huang | August 27, 2009
In July, a federal judge settled a nearly 20-year legal dispute among Alabama, Florida, and Georgia over the use of water from Lake Lanier, dealing a tough blow to Georgia. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed Buford Dam in the 1950s, creating Lake Lanier as a reservoir for flood control, navigation, and hydropower. But Atlanta and its sprawling metropolitan area came to rely on the reservoir as a water supply, and Lake Lanier today supplies water to 75 percent of ...

Would a CO2 "Monkey Trial" Improve Scientific Integrity and Transparency?

by Holly Doremus | August 26, 2009
Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. As reported in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has petitioned EPA to hold a trial-type hearing before finalizing its proposed finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. (We blogged about the proposed endangerment finding here.) The main argument in the petition is that a formal hearing is required to effectuate the administration’s stated commitment to scientific integrity and transparency. Don’t be fooled. Scientific integrity ...

Why a Cap-and-Trade System Needs a Regulatory Backstop

by Alice Kaswan | August 26, 2009
As fellow environmental law professors David Schoenbrod and Richard Stewart take their advocacy for market mechanisms and skepticism about regulation public, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, I thought it was time to speak out in favor of a role for regulation. They claim that the climate change bill that passed the House in July, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (the Waxman-Markey bill), relies too much on “top-down” regulation and not enough ...

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