Sept. 2, 2010 by Yee Huang

For the Price of a Speeding Ticket: Raw Sewage in a River Near You

The Capital of Annapolis reported recently on the alarmingly low penalties assessed by the Maryland Department of Environment for massive spills of raw sewage—containing a mix of untreated human, residential, agricultural, and industrial wastewater—into the state's waters. This article supports one of the key findings from CPR’s report, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short, released earlier this year. These low penalties, sometimes “about the same as a speeding ticket,” do not and cannot serve as the basis of an effective, deterrence-based enforcement program—precisely what is needed to compel compliance with the Clean Water Act and state water quality laws.

The article reports on raw sewage spills from publicly operated sewer management systems, using information obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request. In 2009, the sewer system operated by the Anne Arundel County government spilled nearly 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into local streams, creeks, and rivers, which eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay. For this, the county paid only $3,950 in fines, or slightly less than 2 cents per gallon of sewage. Currently, the maximum penalty is $5,000 per day of discharge violation, but some of …

Aug. 23, 2010 by Yee Huang

a(broad) perspective

No single substance is more necessary to humans than water. For people in developed countries, clean, potable water arrives with the simple turn of a faucet knob. For much of the world’s population, however, getting access to clean water is much more complex, if not impossible, and not having clean water leads to a host of diseases and conflict and is intimately tied to poverty.

In late July, the 192-member General Assembly of the United Nations adopted, without opposition (though not unanimously), a resolution on the human right to water. Specifically, the General Assembly declared that “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”. The resolution notes that approximately 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that more than 2.6 billion …

Aug. 18, 2010 by Yee Huang

In June, the Food and Drug Administration issued Draft Guidance on the Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals. The FDA recognizes in the guidance that the “overall weight of evidence available… supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes… in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.” The public health concern arises where bacteria in these animals develop resistance to the drugs and then are transmitted to food workers and consumers, who then introduce the drug-resistant bacteria into their communities. 

In a new book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, journalist Maryn McKenna details the emergence of one of the most common and increasingly prevalent drug-resistant bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). While MRSA was once primarily found in hospitals, McKenna traces the emergence of community-based strains of the bug that …

Aug. 11, 2010 by Yee Huang

In June, I wrote about a settlement between EPA and environmental groups that requires EPA to publish guidance on the implementation of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and to propose a rule to collect more information on these operations. In that post, I cited numbers from EPA showing that states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed had many CAFOs without NPDES permits; for some of the states, not a single CAFO was permitted. Maryland had an estimated 220 CAFOs and only 7 with NPDES CAFO permits.

In response, the Maryland Department of Environment’s Secretary Shari T. Wilson provided an update to the status of the state’s CAFO permitting program, showing nearly twice as many CAFOs and improvements in CAFO permitting statistics. The updated numbers are:

Progress on CAFO Permits (as of June 30, 2010)

Notices-of-Intent (NOI) Received

529 …

Aug. 9, 2010 by Yee Huang

In the past 15 months, the combination of President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order and the EPA’s Bay-wide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process has established a framework for ensuring accountability and success in Bay restoration efforts. No aspect of this new framework is more important than the Bay states’ and the District of Columbia’s Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), which will demonstrate how they will meet the pollution targets in the applicable TMDLs. While the soundness of states’ WIPs depends on a broad array of technical, financial, and administrative factors, our bottom line expectation is that states write clear, objective, and transparent plans so that all watershed partners achieve their TMDL pollution reductions and ultimately restore the Chesapeake Bay. These WIPs will also enable the public to vigorously monitor the progress in meeting those commitments.

The Center for Progressive Reform has …

July 23, 2010 by Yee Huang

July 1 marked the 35th anniversary of the effective date entry-into-force of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). While CITES is among the stronger international conventions, its strength is diminished by a lack of an enforcement mechanism and political maneuverings.

The arrests and cargo seizures may not make headlines often, but international trade in endangered species is one of the most valuable illegal markets, behind drugs but potentially comparable to arms and human trafficking. According to a 2008 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the global trade in illegal wildlife is valued at more than $5 billion and potentially exceeds $20 billion annually. For example, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly (Orinthoptera alexandrae), which can have a wingspan of up to 14 inches, sells for as much as $10,000! Some of the more valuable species commodities are tiger parts, caviar, elephant ivory, rhino horn …

June 23, 2010 by Yee Huang

a(broad) perspective

Across the Atlantic Ocean is another catastrophic, persistent, and pervasive oil disaster, ongoing for the past fifty years with no end in sight. The oil fields in the Niger Delta, occupying the southern tip of Nigeria, are rich with petroleum reserves, natural gas, and other natural resources. What should be a source of immense economic wealth for Nigeria instead turned into a poisonous cocktail of corruption and violence with disastrous consequences for the environment and human rights. The BP Oil Spill in our country has turned the spotlight on other oil disasters in international waters and foreign countries, and today’s international environmental post focuses on the devastation caused by oil operations in the Niger Delta.  

The Niger Delta is one of the most densely populated regions on the African continent, home to 30 million people. The vast majority of this population relies on …

June 8, 2010 by Yee Huang

Hundreds of offshore extraction platforms dot the world’s oceans, funneling millions of gallons each day of oil, natural gas, and other extracted resources to the surface. While these operations are regulated by the country where they’re located, they have the potential to cause international environmental disasters when located near boundary waters or near large currents. The New York Times looked at the international law implications of the ongoing BP Oil Spill and came to one conclusion: the international law governing oil pollution from offshore platforms is at best thin. 

Much of the international law governing oil pollution applies directly to tankers and ships used to transport the oil, which makes sense since these transport vessels constantly cross in and out of territorial waters. But countries are increasingly exploring their offshore resources, leading to the need to create a stronger legal framework for international environmental harms …

June 3, 2010 by Yee Huang

EPA and a coalition of environmental groups recently settled ongoing litigation related to the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The litigation dates back to 2003, when EPA finally proposed comprehensive regulation of CAFOs, and it centers on what actually constitutes a CAFO. The original Clean Water Act labeled CAFOs as point sources that require a permit to discharge pollution into water, but EPA dragged its feet not just on regulating CAFOs, but on deciding what was and wasn’t a CAFO. In 2003, EPA published a final rule that required all CAFOs to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit unless they could demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge pollution. In 2005, a federal court invalidated this rule, and the EPA reissued a rule in 2008 that was promptly challenged by environmental groups and industry. That’s the case that …

May 12, 2010 by Yee Huang

Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection, which commits federal agencies to a new leadership role in Bay restoration. This morning the Federal Leadership Committee, headed by EPA and comprised of many of the major federal agencies, released its final Strategy for Restoration and Protection of the Chesapeake Bay. While the final Strategy is not significantly different from the draft Strategy, it contains new detail about a watershed-wide nutrient trading program and the independent evaluator.

Since the Order was issued, the federal government has promised to take a strong leadership role in compelling state governments to fulfill a series of broken promises, demanding that states establish deadlines for concrete action that would trigger economic consequences if missed. Given stunning failures in 2000 and 2010 to meet pollution reduction goals, EPA’s commitment to become the enforcer and …

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