“Having the [#WOTUS] rule removed doesn’t remove the regulation…It doesn’t remove the protections that are still there. So I don’t think people have to worry.” — Chris Treese

Wetland on the west side of La Poudre Pass, July 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From Aspen Public Radio (Alex Hager):

Now that the 2015 extensions have been rolled back, federal water rules revert back to where they were in 1986. Experts say while the move has created uncertainty, it does not erase the bulk of federal water protections.

“Having the rule removed doesn’t remove the regulation,” said Colorado River District spokesman Chris Treese. “It doesn’t remove the protections that are still there. So I don’t think people have to worry.”

[…]

“There is state permitting and there is local permitting that would protect from any of the horribles that people suggest could happen.” Treese said. “That you could dump a toxic waste with impunity if the Trump era rule were in place. I don’t believe that’s true.”

@EPA finalizes repeal of #WOTUS rule, promises new definitions in December

A wetland along Castle Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From KOAA.com (Colette Bordelon):

The 2015 rule expanded the types of waterways that can receive federal protection under the Clean Water Act. Now, WOTUS will go back to it’s form before 2015. A member of the local Sierra Club disagrees with the decision. “Would allow people to pollute much more easily, there’s no longer a permit requirement, and because of that they can carry on activities without the government oversight,” said Jim Lockhart, the Conservation Chair of the Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

Lockhart said the 2015 rule defined what waterways should be protected more specifically, and now he’s interested to see what the new definition will be. “Rescinded the rule and promised new definitions, they could have waited and created the new definitions and then let the public see them and then let the public decide,” said Lockhart.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new definition will come in December, and would mean farmers, landowners, and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit.

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

From The Cronkite News (Kailey Broussard) via KOAA.com:

…while some welcomed the end of the “Waters of the United States” rule, environmental groups warned that the change would mean virtually no environmental protection for the nation’s waterways – particularly in the West.

“We know where we are going, and that is going to be a world where wetlands, especially in the arid West, get almost no protection,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

A 2018 report by the center estimated that more than 3,000 U.S. watersheds would lose Clean Water Act protections under the replacement plan proposed by the Trump administration. That, in turn, could accelerate the extinction of more than 75 endangered species, the report said.

Critics of the Obama-era rule – known as WOTUS – disagree, saying the full range of federal pollution regulations does more than enough to protect waterways…

In the meantime, federal officials are developing and presenting a new plan. That process has garnered more than 621,000 comments on the federal regulations website…

…Sandy Bahr, president of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said the EPA is “not being honest” about the change’s impact. WOTUS protected arterial waterways, she said, by protecting the less-obvious waters.

“If you take a very narrow view of that and say, ‘Oh, only waters that are navigable,’ then you’re not even going to be protecting those navigable waters,” she said.

Bahr and others have pointed to the San Pedro River, a ribbon-like stream that meanders some 140 miles through southern Arizona and part of Mexico. The stream’s limited navigability means it most likely would not receive protection under the repeal.

“You can talk about these things in the abstract, but when you look at what is happening on the ground already, we’re struggling to protect rivers like the San Pedro River, which is so important ecologically and economically,” Bahr said. “Something like this rollback makes it so much more difficult to do.”

Hartl said that, except for the Colorado River, the change would mean most of Arizona would not be protected. A map included with the center’s study showed much of the Southwest losing Clean Water Act protection without WOTUS…

Meanwhile, Bahr is certain the proposed rule will be challenged.

“We need to have the most stringent requirements possible to protect what we have left because we have lost so much,” she said.

@EPA finalizes repeal of #WOTUS rule

A wetland area along Homestake Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Another Obama administration environmental rule is now history, as the Environmental Protection Agency on Thurday finalized its repeal of a 2015 rule expanding waterway and wetlands protections.

The 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule had support from environmentalists but faced criticism from agricultural and other interests…

Its action restores regulations that were in place prior to the 2015 rule, ending inconsistent regulations in different states as a result of various court actions on that rule. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release that the action Thursday “fulfills a key promise of President Trump” and sets the stage for a second EPA action, a new waters of the U.S definition “that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide.”

[…]

…the conservation group Western Resource Advocates said the EPA actions will significantly weaken protections for thousands of miles of waterways and millions of acres of wetlands across the West. It said the EPA’s efforts aim to remove protections for rivers and streams that flow intermittently after rain or snow, and its proposed new definition threatens Western water supplies.

It says the EPA estimates that in Colorado and Utah alone, more than 5 million people receive drinking water from public systems relying at least in part on intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

“This assault on the Clean Water Act makes it more important than ever for local lawmakers and water leaders to enact state-level policies that protect our rivers and our communities,” Robert Harris, a senior staff attorney for the group, said in a statement.

#PFAS: Chemical manufacturers DuPont de Nemours, Inc. and The Chemours Company announce support for policies for inclusion in National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

From The Ann Arbor Sun Times News (Seth Kinker):

As an increasing number of communities across the country continue to grapple with contamination of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water sources, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), reacted to a breakthrough moment in this afternoon’s U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight on Government Reform (OGR) Subcommittee on Environment hearing, in which two major chemical manufacturers announced their support for policies that would clarify polluter liabilities and clean up contaminated sites.

Just one day after members from the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate returned to Washington this week to negotiate PFAS provisions to be included in theNational Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA) – and, just days after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned Congressional leaders about the president’s “strong” opposition to those provisions – today, chemical manufacturers DuPont de Nemours, Inc. and The Chemours Company announced their support for policies that are currently being negotiated for inclusion in NDAA. The companies signaled their support for setting a national drinking water standard, enhancing public awareness of chemical releases and designating legacy PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law to ensure contaminated sites are cleaned up.

“This is a breakthrough moment on PFAS solutions. It should send a clear message to the president and any member of Congress who might still have some misplaced concerns about potential regulatory burdens associated with PFAS solutions, including declaring some PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law,” Senator Carper said. “Some of the companies that would be regulated under these policies have now publicly declared their support for them – that’s consequential, and I commend them for their constructive engagement on the legislation being considered by Congress.”

[…]

The measures supported by these two companies include measures added to the Senate version of the NDAA by Senators Carper, Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) and EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), including requirements that EPA set a national primary drinking water standard for some legacy PFAS chemicals and require PFAS manufacturers to report environmental releases of PFAS as part of Toxic Release Inventory releases.

In today’s hearing, the companies also declared their support for designating some legacy PFAS as hazardous substancesunder the Superfund law. Senator Carper’s bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, would mandate EPA within one year of enactment declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation. The legislation currently has 43 cosponsors and its companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, authored by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), was approved unanimously by the House as part of the House NDAA in July.

@EPA and the shame of this @POTUS administration: “They’re gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government” — Christine Todd Whitman

In a historic win of the common man against a powerful corporate, chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m damages to a man who claimed he got cancer after being directly exposed to the company’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, including the widely used Roundup. Screenshot from meaww.com

From the Associated Press via the The Aurora Sentinel:

EPA won’t approve warning labels for Roundup chemical

The Trump administration has instructed companies not to warn customers about products that contain glyphosate, a move aimed at California as it fights one of the world’s largest agriculture companies about the potentially cancer-causing chemical.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will no longer approve labels warning glyphosate is known to cause cancer. The chemical is marketed as a weed killer by Monsanto under the brand Roundup.

California requires warning labels on glyphosate products because the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said it is “probably carcinogenic.”

The EPA disagrees, saying its research shows the chemical poses no risks to public health.

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.”

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, approved by voters in 1986, requires the government to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, as determined by a variety of outside groups that include the EPA and IARC. The law also requires companies to warn customers about those chemicals.

California regulators have twice concluded glyphosate did not pose a cancer risk for drinking water. But in 2015, the IARC classified the chemical as “probably carcinogenic,” triggering a warning label under California law. Monsanto sued, and last year a federal judge blocked California from enforcing the warning label until the lawsuit is resolved.

Federal law regulates how pesticides are used and how they are labeled. States are often allowed to impose their own requirements, but they can’t be weaker than the federal law, according to Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Hartl said it is unusual for the EPA to tell a state it can’t go beyond the federal requirements.

“It’s a little bit sad the EPA is the biggest cheerleader and defender of glyphosate,” Hartl said. “It’s the Environmental Protection Agency, not the pesticide protection agency.”

In a letter to companies explaining its decision, Michael L. Goodis, director of EPA’s registration division in its Office of Pesticide Programs, said the agency considers labels warning glyphosate to cause cancer to “constitute a false and misleading statement,” which is prohibited by federal law.

From CNN New via NBC4i.com:

Bristol Bay. By own work – maps-for-free.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3709948

EPA scientists ordered to allow Alaska mine to move forward; could endanger wildlife

In a major environmental reversal, EPA scientists have been ordered to get out of the way of a massive, controversial copper and gold mine slated for a highly sensitive area in Alaska.

The order may have originated from the President himself.

The meeting took place on the tarmac during an Air Force One stopover June 26. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a pro-mining, pro-business, anti-EPA governor, met with Donald Trump for nearly a half-hour.

Dunleavy has been pushing for approval of a massive gold and copper mine known as the Pebble Mine, planned for Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, home to the breeding grounds for one fo the world’s largest and most pristine sockeye salmon fisheries.

After his meeting on Air Force One, Dunleavy said, “He (Trump) really believes in the opportunities here in Alaska and he’s doing everything he can to help us on our mining concerns.”

Inside EPA sources now tell CNN the very next day, June 27, top EPA officials in Washington held an internal video conference with Seattle, and told staff the EPA was removing a special protection for Bristol Bay, and, in essence, clearing the way for what could be one fo the largest open-pit mines in the world.

That internal announcement was a “total shock” to top EPA scientists, sources told CNN, because their environmental concerns were overruled by Trump political appointees at EPA headquarters in Washington.

Bristol Bay and its tributaries are regarded as one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries, roughly half the world’s sockeye salmon come from there.

It’s been protected since 2014, when after three years of study, the Obama-era EPA used a rare provision of the Clean Water Act — to basically veto any mining that could pose a threat.

“EPA scientists writing a mine ‘would result in complete loss of fish habitat’ that was ‘irreversible.’ It’s mindboggling that it’s still being considered at all,” said Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator.

Todd Whitman is a Republican, former New Jersey governor, and under President George W. Bush, ran the EPA. She has joined several other former EPA chiefs to publically oppose the mine.

“The potential damage is overwhelming,” she said. “The opposition to it up there is amazing and everywhere. I mean, this was a huge, the potential of over 80 miles of streams, thousands of acres, could be damaged from this project.”

This is the second time during the Trump administration the political appointees at the EPA have decided to remove special protections for Bristol Bay to pave the way for this huge mine.

In 2017, President Trump’s first EPA administrator, scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt, canceled the protections after a private meeting with the mine company’s CEO.

After a report exposed the meeting and the lack of scientific debate behind the reversal, Pruitt backed down and put the protections back in place.

Now, another private meeting, this time with the president himself, has led to yet another win for the mine, and the removal of environmental protections for this pristine watershed.

“One of the most troubling things about this administration, I mean there are a lot of things that trouble me, but on the environmental side is this disregard of science,” Todd Whitman said. “They’re gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government.”

If the order is followed through with, Todd Whitman sees a number of lawsuits possibly being filed.

“Environmental groups, native Alaskans, you’ll have a host of lawsuits, I’m convinced,” she said…

At EPA headquarters, Andrew Wheeler, the former coal company lobbyist who now runs the agency, has a tie to Pebble Mine, too. He has recused himself from decision making on the project because his former law firm represents the mine.

EPA scientists said political and business favors are driving decision making.

One top EPA official said, “We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.”

The EPA said the Obama-era protections were outdated and the mine still has to go through the approval process.

When asked about the internal EPA meeting on June 27, at first, the EPA denied it happened, but when presented with evidence, they admitted the meeting took place.

Sources said the meeting is when officials told scientists the decision had been made and their work was not needed.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

From The Albuquerque Journal (Therasa Davis) via The Farmington Daily Times:

[After the August 5, 2015 spill]…The EPA paid state and tribal governments for emergency water tests, but initially denied 79 economic damage claims.

In August 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – who resigned in July 2018 – visited the spill site and said the agency would reconsider the claims. The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday that it was unaware whether any of those payments have been made.

Animas River at the New Mexico/Colorado State line August, 2015.

NMED chief scientist Dennis McQuillan said there is ongoing monitoring to determine long-term effects of the spill.

“Dozens of mines are leaking acid mine water into the watershed,” McQuillan said. “Gold King was just one of those.”

Under new administrator Andrew Wheeler, the federal agency, its contractors and mining companies asked for dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing the EPA had immunity and was already working on cleanup.

Environment Department general counsel Jennifer Howard said a federal judge in Albuquerque rejected that argument in March, so the lawsuits “should definitely start proceeding at a faster pace.”

A November 2018 EPA report showed fish had elevated metal levels in the weeks after the spill, but returned to pre-spill levels by spring 2016.

Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

Research by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Game and Fish, Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado Parks and Wildlife echo that claim.

“The farming industry is still hurting,” McQuillan said. “I’ve talked to farmers who said their sales are down 25% from before the spill because people say they won’t buy food grown on the San Juan. But our agriculture products are safe. The fish are safe to eat. The river is safe for irrigation.”

McQuillan said the federal WIIN Act (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) will provide money for the Navajo Nation to test fish in the spill area and start outreach to address the misconception that the river water is unsafe.

In 2016, the EPA designated the area around the spill site as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which opens up money for cleanup and places the site on a priority action list. Howard and McQuillan agreed that was a positive development, but Superfund cleanup is a slow process.

“It was a significant issue four years ago and remains a significant issue,” Howard said. “The motivation for our lawsuit is to have EPA step up to the plate and address the economic impact this (spill) had on agriculture and tourism for our state.”

The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

@USBR/@EPA: Federal Officials Announce Priority Actions Supporting Long-Term #Drought #Resilience

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation and Environmental Protection Agency (Theresa Eisenman and the EPA Press Office):

Today, senior administration officials participated in the Second National Drought Forum where they announced Priority Actions Supporting Long-Term Drought Resilience. This document outlines key ways in which federal agencies support state, tribal and local efforts to protect the security of our food supply, the integrity of critical infrastructure, the resilience of our economy, and the health and safety of our people and ecosystems.

The document was developed by the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a federal collaborative formed to promote long-term drought resilience nationwide. While authority lies with the states to manage water resources, federal agencies play a key role in supporting states, tribes, communities, agriculture, industry, and the private sector owners and operators of critical national infrastructure to prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from drought.

The following statements were released after today’s panel:

“Under the leadership of President Trump, we are taking unprecedented steps at the federal level to coordinate and empower states, tribes, local communities, and water users to promote drought preparedness and resiliency and ensure reliable water supply throughout the West. The U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation play integral parts in this, whether it’s the science or infrastructure piece of this equation,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Dr. Tim Petty.

“The Western states have experienced intense drought with the potential to severely impact agriculture, municipal water supplies and hydropower production. We’ve demonstrated that infrastructure investments, innovative approaches to conservation, and collaboration build drought resiliency and reduces risks,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

“We know we can accomplish more when we work together, and the National Drought Resilience Partnership facilitates collaboration among federal partners to help the country respond to drought and to prepare for the future” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey. “These priorities are a large part of our game plan to how we can protect our food and water supply, and to build resilience on our farms and ranches and in our communities and businesses”

“The impact of drought on public health and the environment is far reaching because it reduces both water quantity and water quality,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “Through EPA initiatives, such as the National Water Reuse Action Plan, we are working to ensure a sufficient supply of clean water for the American people.”

“Water quality and availability is a national issue and it is one that affects every American. Through this partnership, the data produced by the U.S. Geological Survey will be integrated into a comprehensive framework of information sharing that is flexible and responsive to the nation’s decision-makers, ensuring every community understands drought preparedness, mitigation, and resiliency,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly.

“The National Drought Resilience Partnership is essential to the continued collaboration amongst federal agencies regarding the nation’s water resources. I am committed to this partnership and will ensure the Corps’ support to other agencies as they work drought-related issues and coordinate to reduce duplicative and redundant efforts,” said U.S. Department of Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Ricky “R.D.” James.

“The National Drought Resilience Partnership is inspiring action across the federal government. DOE is pleased to collaborate with other agencies to stimulate American innovation and technology solutions that address drought resilience through the Water Security Grand Challenge and other activities,” said U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons.

The NDRP and the document released today focus on fostering a national dialogue about how federal agencies can support these entities in building a more drought-resilient nation for sufficient water quality and quantity and a vibrant economy at the local level. NDRP categorizes its drought resilience efforts along six goal areas, which provide a framework to systematically address how the federal government supports building long-term drought resilience:

  • Data Collection and Integration
  • Communicating Drought Risk to Critical Infrastructure
  • Drought Planning and Capacity Building
  • Coordination of Drought Activity
  • Market-based Approaches for Infrastructure and Efficiency
  • Innovative Water Use, Efficiency, and Technology
  • Background

    Established in 2016, the NDRP is comprised of federal agencies that work together to leverage technical and financial federal resources, strengthen communication, and foster collaboration among its members to productively support state, tribal, and local efforts to build, protect, and sustain drought resilience capacity at regional and basin scales.

    The NDRP co-chairs are the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. The additional interagency NDRP Member Agencies and offices include the Department of Defense; the Department of the Interior (DOI); the Department of Commerce; the Department of Energy; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; the Office of Management and Budget; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; the National Economic Council; the Council on Environmental Quality; the National Security Council staff; and such other agencies or offices as the agencies set forth above, by consensus, deem appropriate. Currently, other offices include: the Office of Water Prediction, the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Integrated Drought Information System, which all are within the Department of Commerce; the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey, within the DOI; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – National Risk Management Center; the Centers for Disease Control; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Member agencies collaborate to ensure successful outcomes with maximum efficiency and minimal duplication.

    Hydro-Illogical Cycle graphic via the University of Nebraska Lincoln.