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EPA scores big win to limit mercury in power plants

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The Environmental Protection Agency took home a sweeping victory Tuesday when an appeals court upheld the agency’s pollution limits for mercury and air toxics from power plants.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA’s rule,known as MATS, denying challenges from states, utilities and industry groups that argued the rules came out of a flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on power producers that will force dozens of power plants to shut down.

Tuesday’s decision, which also shot down arguments from environmental groups that it was too weak, was the latest chapter in a saga that began during the Clinton administration. Its strict pollution control requirements will push many of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants into retirement when it takes effect in 2015.

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The court upheld EPA’s decision to take into account environmental damage from the pollutants, rather than just health-based harms, when it decided to regulate. And the agency based its decision on the impacts of hazardous pollution broadly, rather than just emissions from power plants — a “commonsense approach,” wrote Judge Judith Rogers, to “statutory ambiguity” that was within the bounds of EPA’s discretion.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia lauded the ruling, which will keep in place a rule the agency hassaid will eliminate 90 percent of coal-fired power plants’ mercury pollution, 88 percent of their acid gas emissions and 41 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions.

The standards “will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn,” Purchia said.

All three judges backed EPA on most of the issues raised by the case, although Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion on when EPA should have considered the costs of the rule.

(Also on POLITICO: Full energy and environment policy coverage)

The coal industry and its supporters have charged EPA with a regulatory assault on the power source, which has long been the primary power source for much of the country.

MATS “imposes enormous costs upon households and businesses but provides little additional environmental benefit. The court recognized the EPA has the authority to consider costs but upheld EPA’s decision to ignore them,” National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said Tuesday, lamenting the court loss.

At the start of 2012, coal made up nearly a third of the U.S. power generating capacity, or about 323 gigawatts, according to the research firm SNL Energy. Coal-fired power plant shutdowns in recent years are approaching 20 gigawatts, according to the Energy Information Administration and are likely to reach 60 gigawatts by the end of the decade.

Environmental groups, who had sought but failed to win even stricter regulations from the court, cheered Tuesday’s ruling.

(Also on POLITICO: EPA’s coal ash rule still not done)

The ruling “upholds significant health protections for women, children, those who live near existing coal-fired power plants, and the environment due to air toxic emissions like mercury, arsenic, chromium and other metals, and acid gases,” said Ann Weeks of Clean Air Task Force, which has represented 10 regional and local environmental organizations in the case since 2005.

“We are very pleased with this ruling, and we look forward to working with the agency to realize these health and environmental protections, as the existing source standards are implemented at power plants in the coming years,” she added.

The MATS regulation has taken a twisted route, depending on the stance of the administration in power.

In December 2000, the waning days of the Clinton administration, EPA issued a determination that it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. That included not only mercury but also arsenic, chromium, nickel, cadmium, dioxins, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride.

The George W. Bush administration reversed that decision in 2005, but that effort was blocked by a court that ruled the move was unlawful.

The Obama administration pushed forward with a new rule, which was issued with great fanfareunder then-Administrator Lisa Jackson, including a video statement from President Barack Obama.

In its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court said that EPA’s review of the science behind the regulation was sufficient and legal.

“EPA determined that mercury emissions posed a significant threat to public health based on an analysis of women of child-bearing age who consumed large amounts of freshwater fish,” Kavanaugh said.

The court also denied one of industry’s main complaints about the rule: that EPA cherry-picked the best data to deliver a “franken-MACT,” or “maximum achievable control technology” requirement. The law requires EPA to set a “floor” — the minimum emissions control — based on the best 12 percent of facilities. While approximately 1,100 electric power plants must follow the rule, EPA used data from 388 best-performing sources.

But the evidence doesn’t show that EPA — intentionally or not — used skewed data to set the MACT requirement, the ruling said. EPA had to take into account that some of the best power plants for mercury controls were some of the worst for controlling particulate matter, and vice versa, the ruling said. “In short, EPA’s data-collection process was reasonable, even if it may not have resulted in a perfect dataset,” the opinion said.

And the rule didn’t distinguish between “area sources” and “major sources,” or between some types of generating units, as some in the energy industry had hoped. That, the court ruled, was also a reasonable decision by EPA.

The court also upheld agency decisions about how to regulate acid gases and chromium, despite questions about the health risks posed by the pollutants, and decisions to separate out some types of coal-fired power plants and not others.

The court shot down some environmentalists’ arguments against “averaging” of emissions that EPA allowed for monitoring of pollution, backing EPA’s desire to give power plants flexibility and disagreeing with arguments that it weakens the rule.

The main dispute between judges came regarding the agency’s decision on weighing the costs of regulating the pollutants. The lead opinion by Rogers, who was joined by Chief Judge Merrick Garland, backed EPA’s decision to consider costs during the regulatory impact analysis of the rule, rather than before deciding to regulate.

Kavanaugh disagreed, and he penned a dissent focused on that part of the case, saying that EPA’s failure to consider the costs before regulating “is no trivial matter.”

“The estimated cost of compliance with EPA’s Final Rule is approximately $9.6 billion per year, by EPA’s own calculation. … To put it in perspective, that amount would pay the annual health insurance premiums of about two million Americans. It would pay the annual salaries of about 200,000 members of the U.S. Military. It would cover the annual budget of the entire National Park Service three times over,” he wrote.

And the benefits are disputed, Kavanaugh wrote. The power industry argues that the rule costs nearly $1,500 for every $1 of health and environmental benefits, he said in his dissent. EPA, adding in the benefits from the reductions of fine particulate matter, estimated benefits of $37 billion to $90 billion.

Kavanaugh had said at oral arguments in December that it seemed “weird” not to consider the costs before deciding whether to issue regulations.

“What’s really going on in this case — let’s not sugarcoat it — is bankrupting part of the industry,” Kavanaugh said at the time. Nevertheless, he added, “that may be good. … The benefits may be worth the costs.”

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EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites

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By Neela Banerjee for The Los Angeles Times


April 14, 2014, 5:44 p.m.

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Carbon dioxide released by the combustion of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change, but methane — the chief component of natural gas — is about 20 to 30 times more potent when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane emissions make up 9% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and are on track to increase, according to the White House.

The Pennsylvania study was launched in an effort to understand whether the measurements of airborne methane matched up with emissions estimates based on readings taken at ground level, the approach the EPA and state regulators have historically used.

Researchers flew their plane about a kilometer above a 2,800 square kilometer area in southwestern Pennsylvania that included several active natural gas wells. Over a two-day period in June 2012, they detected 2 grams to 14 grams of methane per second per square kilometer over the entire area. The EPA’s estimate for the area is 2.3 grams to 4.6 grams of methane per second per square kilometer.

Since their upper-end measurements were so much higher than the EPA’s estimates, the researchers attempted to follow the methane plumes back to their sources, said Paul Shepson, an atmospheric chemist at Purdue University who helped lead the study. In some cases, they were able to quantify emissions from individual wells.

The researchers determined that the wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a period that has not been known for high emissions. Experts had thought that methane was more likely to be released during subsequent phases of production, including hydraulic fracturing, well completion or transport through pipelines.

The airborne readings were a snapshot over two days, Shepson cautioned, and further research over a longer period and at other sites are needed to know whether the Pennsylvania measurements are typical.

Much of the natural gas drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania goes through coal beds, which contain methane that might be leaking out, according to the study. The researchers speculated that underbalanced drilling methods — in which the pressure in the well-bore is lower than the surrounding geology — allows fluids and gases to enter the well-bore and travel to the surface. Energy producers use underbalanced drilling because it allows them to capture valuable supplies of ethane and butane, Shepson said.

The disparity between the researchers’ measurements and the EPA’s data illustrates the limits of the methods used by regulators, Shepson said. The EPA’s approach puts regulators at the mercy of energy companies, which control access to the wells, pipelines, processing plants and compressor stations where methane measurements should be made.

“It’s tough,” Shepson said.

Last year, researchers from Stanford, Harvard and elsewhere reported in PNAS that methane emissions in the continental U.S. might be 50% greater than the EPA’s official estimates. Another study by Stanford researchers, published in February in the journal Science, also concluded that theEPA underestimates methane leakage from the natural gas industry and other sources.

[Updated 10 a.m. PDT, April 15: The EPA said it was aware that non-government scientists had come to “different conclusions about the level of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.” Some of those estimates are higher than the EPA’s and some are lower, the agency said in a statement.

A slew of new data about methane and drilling is expected over the next few years, and EPA officials will be reviewing all of it and updating its emissions estimates as necessary, according to the statement.]

The new study comes two weeks after the White House ordered the EPA to identify ways to cut methane from oil and gas production. If the agency decides to issue new rules, they must be in place by the end of 2016.

In February, Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, requiring the industry to detect and fix leaks and install equipment to capture 95% of methane emissions. Last week, Ohio adopted rules to get companies to reduce methane leakage from above-ground equipment used in natural gas development, like valves and pipelines. Those rules do not appear to address leaks during drilling.

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HOUSE PANEL LIKELY TO SCALE BACK TOXIC CHEMICALS BILL

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A proposal to regulate toxic chemicals found in products sold in the state would be one of the toughest in the nation, business groups say, and now lawmakers are considering scaling it back.

Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, said Thursday the bill could soon be “harmonized” with Washington state’s reporting program for chemicals found only in children’s products.

“We want to do what’s helpful to protect the people of Vermont. And if harmonizing with other states gets us a level of protection we do not have now – and gets businesses on board, at least neutral about the bill – yeah, I think that’s where it’s headed,” he said.

Retailers, electronics producers, and automobile and toy manufacturers this week testified against a bill, S.239, designed to give the Vermont Department of Health the authority to require companies to disclose, label or not sell products containing chemicals it considered toxic to human health.

Business groups have cast their weight behind an effort to scale back the bill and let the federal government take on the issue, citing the costs to comply with a “patchwork” of state regulations and reporting fees.

Greg Costa, a lobbyist with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, testified before the committee Wednesday to oppose the bill because he said it would impose costs on businesses that they would then pass on to consumers.

“When we’re talking about duplicating and really starting from square one a process that already exists at the federal level, that can be improved upon, it’s quite an undertaking and I’m not sure it has the same cost-benefit ratio to consumers as it might seem on paper,” Costa said.

Andy Hackman, a lobbyist for the Toy Industry Association, which represents about 35 companies in Vermont, estimated the Washington program will cost the toy industry about $27.6 million in the first year for paperwork and testing. Imposing additional reporting requirements in Vermont will increase that cost, he said.

“Consistency with other states is absolutely critical to try to avoid some of the costs that we have already incurred to show compliance,” Hackman said.

Representatives from the retail industry in Vermont voiced similar concerns.

“Maine, Washington, California and Europe have already taken action. Vermont should harmonize with these efforts,” Tasha Wallis, executive director of the Vermont Retailers Association, told lawmakers. “I really think that that makes sense for a really small state where you really want to achieve something.”

She said it would be time consuming for retailers to understand and identify the chemicals in their products.

“It can take a while for a retailer to figure out what’s in a product if you are looking at a chemical that has not been examined before,” Wallis said.

Deen pointed out the potential cost to the state if it administered a program that regulated all consumer products, such as a program in California.

“They have resources that we simply do not have — they do their own testing, they do their own screening, they’ve got 39 people,” he said.

The program in Washington is weaker than the proposal in Vermont, consumer advocates say, because it only requires companies to report (and not always remove) chemicals found in children’s products.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which supported the original bill, supports looking to other states for a list of chemicals. But a bill that mirrors Washington’s would take away the health department’s authority to require chemicals to be labeled or banned from all consumer products.

“That’s not an achievement we’re trying to bring about here. We’re actually trying to make products safer so that fewer people get sick,” he said. “And that will come when we get rid of those dangerous chemicals.”

Vermont has passed legislation to regulate the use of certain chemicals one at a time, including flame retardants, Bisphenol A (BPA), mercury and lead. The new proposal would allow the health department to expand this list every other year without legislative approval.

“That was an important part of what made this bill different from the power that we already had – to come to the Legislature every year, chemical by chemical. It’s very important to us that the state retain the authority to take action once the chemicals have been identified,” Burns said.

Lauren Hierl, a lobbyist with the Vermont Conservation Voters, a political arm of an environmental research and advocacy group, said stakeholders on both sides of the issue have already worked out a compromise bill to include more involvement from businesses in the decision to regulate chemicals.

She opposes removing the health department’s authority to regulate chemicals.

“That would be a huge downgrade in public health protection if they go that direction,” she said.

Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, told lawmakers they should work with other states to regulate the chemicals because little is happening on the federal level.

“There’s a lot going on, but nothing is happening,” he said. “I’m not expecting action anytime soon.”

Johnson chairs the Cross-Media Committee of the Environmental Council of the States, an association of state environmental agency leaders. He has been working with other states to discuss the phase-in of similar programs.

“I would support the idea that Vermont not do this on their own – that Vermont needs to be working with other states,” Johnson said. If the feds can’t get their act together, then Vermont should work with a state or states to do something that is robust and actually gets to the heart of the problem but doesn’t put it all on Vermont, because we don’t have the resources to do everything.”

The Department of Health has said it can compose a list without additional resources.

Deen said Vermont could add additional provisions to Washington’s policy.

“I don’t mean that Vermont would be a carbon copy with Washington,” he said. “There are just some issues that Washington isn’t to going to serve to meet the Vermont’s needs. So there will be difference.”

Nonetheless, he said Vermont’s policy would look like “a children’s product bill, not a consumer product bill.”

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OH Links Fracking & Earthquakes

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Ohio geologists linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing. Ohio state government reacted by issuing new permit conditions in certain areas. This makes Ohio’s restrictions among the nation’s strictest (at least for the limited areas). Read More.

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Federal Cuts to Black Lung Programs Expected to Hit W.Va. Hardest

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By  for West Virginia Public Radio

A McDowell County clinic is worried that federal cuts could compromise care for coal miners and their families.  The concern comes after grants for the Black Lung Clinic Programs were capped at $900,000. Since West Virginia was the only state to receive more than that annually, it’s expected to hit home the hardest.

It’s not yet clear how much money individual clinics will lose as a result of the federal cuts but for Joyce Sherman she worries that any amount of money lost could mean less service for the miners.

“It may even take some of our hours away but we really don’t know what we’re going to be facing just yet and that’s the scary part,” Tug River Health Associates Black Lung Program Director Joyce Sherman said. Black lung, or pneumoconiosis, is a deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust that causes a person’s lungs to fail.

Sherman said funding for the program helps pay for equipment maintenance, staffing and more. She says the program helps miners with everything from medical examinations to education and even filling out black lung benefits applications.

Earlier this week, Tommy Curry, a benefits counselor at Tug River, met with representatives from the United States Department of Labor met at a Princeton hotel to provide help to miners looking to fill out applications for black lung benefits.

The process of applying and even re-applying for benefits can take years. It’s a multi step process that begins with filling out paperwork, trips to qualified doctors, but that’s just the beginning.

Miners undergo what’s called pulmonary function testing to measure their ability to get air in and out of the lungs. Only miners with 60% or less of a person’s vital capacity are eligible for benefits.

Black lung is a progressive disease, so if a miner is diagnosed, the disease will eventually leave them breathless, if they live that long.

“One year they could be fine but next year a year later they could be at a point that they can’t breathe at all,” said Teresa Blackwell, a respiratory therapist at Tug River.

Blackwell said her father was diagnosed with black lung, but it wasn’t bad enough to get benefits.

“Eventually he will make it but I kind of hope he doesn’t make it because … I just want I want him to stay healthy,” Blackwell said.

After the medical records show sufficient pulmonary dysfunction, the Department of Labor has to approve the application. Even so, the coal or insurance companies can fight the claims.

Tommy Curry says he helps with court battles as well.

“If we find out about it that’s when we start fixing them with a lawyer,” he said. “We try to put them with somebody that we know that knows how to fight a black lung case.”


Credit Department of Labor


A recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity revealed even more challenges for miners in the courtroom in which attorney’s use ‘cut throat methods’ to fight the claims.

“A coal company can get the best doctors in the world,” Curry said. “A coal miner he can only get so much.”

In February, about a month before the cuts were announced, the department of labor revealed changes meant to help miners obtain benefits easier and potentially faster as was reported by CPI. The report says that the changes will provide “some miners with an additional medical report” as well as help for government attorneys that represent the miners.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding the expected cuts to clinics. Members of the West Virginia congressional delegation have also expressed concerns through news releases.

If the cuts aren’t reversed, the state will likely lose about $500,000 across eight clinics. Joyce Sherman at Tug River Health Associates fears that her clinic would be forced to cut staff and services, possibly further delaying treatment and care for miners with black lung and their families.

“It will definitely be a problem for the coal miners,” Sherman said. “When they come to see you, you want to be present. But if you don’t have the funds and the funds are cut then that means that you’re going to have to find ways to cut back that you can still provide services but it won’t be to the extent that the miner needs.”

As a coal miner’s daughter who watched her father’s health deteriorate because of black lung, Sherman said she’s disappointed.

“The coal miners have spent their life mining coal for this country not just for West Virginia but for this country,” Sherman said, “and it is our duty to provide services for them and we need funding. These people have paid taxes they’ve worked hard now they can’t breathe and you know it is our duty to help them with their medical problems and provide services for them.”

In 2012 a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that black lung cases were on the rise in West Virginia and across Appalachia.

Despite the cuts, Tommy Curry is encouraging coal miners to apply for benefits, even if they were turned down before. Again, black lung is a progressive disease that only gets worse with time so consistent therapy and treatment can be critical for a better quality of life.

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New Report Reveals High Risks, No Reward of Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion

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A new report released today by the Sierra Club and 13 other groups including the Indigenous Environmental Network, examines the proposed expansion of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline and concludes that there are significant threats to water, health and climate. The report, All Risk, No Reward: The Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion, comes in advance of a rally to stop the Alberta Clipper expansion that will take place before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission public hearing in St. Paul, MN on April 3.

“The risks are too high, said Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Any spill, leak or explosion could have a devastating effect to the rich biodiversity and cultural diversity of northern Minnesota. The human rights of Native people in northern Alberta, Canada where this crude oil comes from are already being violated. There can be no reward when it comes to dirty oil that ruins the quality of water, ecosystems and the life of people.” 

“This report confirms our worst fears about the proposed Alberta Clipper expansion,” said author Sarah Mine. “This tar sands expansion project is far too risky to communities in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, who would be subjected to extreme environmental degradation, extreme carbon pollution, and tremendous threats to their land, water, and health.”

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. plans to pump 800,000 barrels per day of one of the planet’s dirtiest sources of oil through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This expansion project would almost double the pipeline’s current capacity and put it on par with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Expanding Alberta Clipper’s capacity would expose communities and tribes to tar sands’ full complement of disturbing climate, safety, and environmental implications; potentially devastate cultural and historical resources; give the landlocked tar sands industry access to ports and enormous new overseas markets; and enable the massive, environmentally devastating tar sands growth planned by the industry.

Tar sands crude can be far more dangerous than conventional crude, especially in water, and the proposed expansion project could put the region’s clean water at risk. The tar sands dilbit sinks in water, where standard cleanup techniques do not work. The Alberta Clipper route crosses many bodies of water that are critical as drinking water sources and cultural and ecological sites. 

Enbridge Inc. has a disgraceful history of spills, including the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history when a ruptured Enbridge pipeline poured 843,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.


ALL RISK, NO REWARD
The Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion


Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. plans to pump 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of one of the planet’s dirtiest sources of oil through  North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, endangering our water, health, and climate. Expanding the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline would put federal, state, and tribal lands and waters at risk of devastating oil spills, including the Great Lakes and Anishinaabe/Ojibwe ceded territories. Communities and Native Nations across the Great Lakes region and beyond are fighting this unnecessary and dangerous pipeline expansion, calling instead for clean, renewable energy solutions and a 100% clean energy future.The Alberta Clipper, also known as Line 67, currently pumps up to 450,000 bpd of tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. From the Canadian border, the pipeline traverses 327 miles across North Dakota and Minnesota to Wisconsin and the shores of Lake Superior, passing through state, tribal, federal, and private lands, including prairie, forests, farms, rivers, and lakes. Enbridge seeks to almost double the pipeline’s capacity to 800,000 bpd, nearly the same as TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and to construct two new tar sands storage tanks on the shores of Lake Superior.1 Capacity in an existing pipeline is increased by ratcheting up the pressure inside the pipeline, forcing more tar sands through and increasing the physical stress on the pipeline.

Expanding Alberta Clipper’s capacity would expose our communities and tribes to tar sands’ full complement of disturbing climate, safety, and environmental implications; potentially devastate cultural and historical resources; give the landlocked tar sands industry access to ports and enormous new overseas markets; and enable the massive, environmentally devastating tar sands growth planned by the industry. Click here to Read / Download the full Report (PDF)

Click here to read more about the Alberta Clipper Pipeline Expansion and the fight to stop Enbridge Inc.’s efforts to transport more tar sands oil to the U.S. and eventual export to foreign markets.


Contacts:
Mark Westlund, Sierra Club
415-977-5719mark.westlund@sierraclub.org
Tom BK Goldtooth, IEN Ex. Dir. 
(218) 751-4967ien@igc.org

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200,000 Pounds Of Oiled Sand Found Along Texas Coastline After Spill

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The March 22 collision between a ship and a barge carrying up to 4,000 barrels of “sticky, gooey, thick, tarry” bunker fuel oil in Galveston Bay, Texas has resulted in more than200,000 pounds of oiled sand and debris accumulating along some 22 miles of shoreline on the Texas coast.

The spill, which shut down the busy Houston Ship Channel for three days, has had wide-ranging economic and ecological impacts. Areas surrounding the spill are environmentally sensitive and provide crucial stopover points for a number of migrating bird species. These include whooping cranes, one of North America’s rarest birds, which winter on the nearby Matagorda Island. Parts of the island have been contaminated by oil from the spill. Fewer than half of the whooping cranes have started this year’s migration north, and officials are taking extra precaution not to disturb them during cleanup efforts.

As of Thursday, the Coast Guard had recovered 329 oiled birds from Galveston Bay to North Padre Island, most of them dead. According to the Texas Tribune, birds affected by the spill include ducks, herrings, herons, brown and white pelicans, sanderlings, loons, willets, black-bellied plover and the piping plover.

Task force members remove oil-contaminated sand from the beach on the North Padre Island National Seashore, Texas, April 1, 2014.

Task force members remove oil-contaminated sand from the beach on the North Padre Island National Seashore, Texas, April 1, 2014.

CREDIT: FLICKR/COAST GUARD NEWS

Marine life in the area is also suffering. Since the ship and barge collided, 29 dead dolphins have been found in the vicinity of Galveston Bay. A total of 47 dead dolphins were found in March, above the average of 34 and triple last years’ 15. Scientists are working to determine if the oil spill played a role in the elevated number of deaths. A high number of deceased dolphins are typically found during what’s referred to as the “stranding season” between January and March, and it’s possible that more are being found this year because of the increase in coastal workers helping with the cleanup.

Whether oil is responsible for the deaths of the dolphins or not, there will likely be long-term chronic health impacts for marine life, including irregular heart rhythm and cardiac arrest, which have been found to be associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf several years ago.

A shrimp boat captain also reportedly caught an entire catch of shrimp coated in oil, furthering concern about the spill’s impact on the seafood industry. Already local businesses are saying shrimp sales have taken a hit because of public perception. Fishermen and bait shop owners are suing over the spill, and on Friday a federal judge ordered the seizure of the cargo ship involved in the collision. The ship, called the Summer Wind, must remain in the area as an ongoing Coast Guard investigation attempts to determine who was at fault for the collision.

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Office Still Closed

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We won’t be able to get into our offices we’re told until May. Yikes I wish I was as happy as Sparky the fire dog.There was a Two-Alarm fire in our building, one floor below our offices on March 21st. No one was hurt. However, our ability to continue to respond to calls for assistance and keep our programs moving forward has been very difficult. Please e-mail us at info@chej.org or call 703-237-2249 ext 11 if you need assistance. Our voice mail and e-mails are functioning.

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Is there Atrazine in your drinking water?

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By  and  for Global News Canada

For more than 50 years farmers across North America have been spraying atrazine, a pesticide, on crops, mainly corn, applying millions of pounds a year.

That widespread use of the weed killer has also led to runoff. Atrazine can end up in lakes, streams and sometimes in drinking water.

“Atrazine is the number one contaminant found in drinking water in the U.S. and probably globally probably in the world”, says University of California Berkeley, scientist Tyrone Hayes.

Health Canada is aware that atrazine can make its way into drinking water. According to the agency, “because atrazine has been classified in Group III (possibly carcinogenic to humans)” an acceptable amount in drinking water has been set at 5 parts per billion. In the United States, the level has been set at 3 parts per billion.

That means as long as the amount of atrazine stays below that limit, Health Canada believes it is safe for human consumption.

Atrazine levels in drinking water vary in different regions of the country and during different times of the year. For example, in areas where there are more corn crops and greater application of the pesticide there is the potential for higher runoff.

According to Health Canada, “in areas where atrazine is used extensively, it (or its dealkylated metabolites) is one of the most frequently detected pesticides in surface and well water. Atrazine contamination has been reported in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan.”

Atrazine is manufactured by Syngenta, the world’s largest agribusiness. The European Union removed atrazine from the market in 2004.

In 2012, as part of a class action lawsuit settlement, Syngenta paid $105 million to more than 1000 municipal water systems in the U.S. to help pay for the removal of atrazine from drinking water. Syngenta denies any liability.

There is a lot of research examining amphibian and wildlife exposure to atrazine.

“Atrazine is probably the most well studied pesticide on the planet,” says University of South Florida professor Jason Rohr, “perhaps only rivaled by DDT.”

READ MORE: Debate rages over health effects of pesticide atrazine

But there is less information about atrazine and human health. Some studies suggest a possible association between atrazine and ovarian, breast and prostate cancers and birth defects including smaller male genitals and gastroschisis (a congenital birth defect in the abdominal wall, in which the baby’s intestines can be outside the belly).

“So for humans there are studies showing a correlation between atrazine exposure and low sperm count or low fertility, increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of prostate cancer, deformities of the genitals”, says Hayes.

Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine, says these studies regarding humans that cite risks or potential risks are scientifically flawed, and that other experts have reviewed the research and say it’s unreliable. Syngenta reaffirms that Atrazine is safe, and approved for use by Health Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“Regarding other impacts of atrazine, the EPA stated very clearly in its presentation to the July 2011 Scientific Advisory Panel that the available data do not support any association between atrazine exposure and cancer”, Ann Bryan, Senior Manager for Syngenta, told 16×9, in a statement.

That same advisory panel to the EPA criticized the Agency for putting all cancers into one category in its atrazine assessment. “It would be useful and appropriate to make conclusions for individual cancers as opposed to making a blanket determination for cancer in general.” It then provided a list of cancers with “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential”: ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia, and thyroid cancer. The panel recommended follow-up studies.

Filtering out atrazine?

What can you do if you are concerned about atrazine in your drinking water? Check with your local water provider to see if it monitors and tests atrazine and how often. Also, you can purchase a home water filtration system that will remove atrazine from your water.

Water monitoring

In Canada, the federal government sets the guidelines for the acceptable limit of atrazine in water, and then the provincial governments establish the regulation and municipalities and local public health offices and agencies are responsible for monitoring and reporting. It can be complicated, the Canadian Council Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment explains the system this way:

“In Canada, water quality monitoring is carried out within partnerships amongst provincial, territorial, and federal governments, municipalities, universities, water associations, environmental groups and volunteers. In general, provinces conduct much of the water quality monitoring within their boundaries. The federal government’s monitoring focuses on inter-provincial and international boundary waters (e.g., Great Lakes) and other areas of federal authority (i.e., Territories, National Parks, and other federal lands). Monitoring of recreational waters is generally carried out by local municipalities. Monitoring of tap water, delivered through municipal supply systems, is also usually undertaken by local municipalities, often in partnership with provincial agencies.”

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Anadarko Petroleum to pay $5.15 billion to settle pollution case, Justice Dept. says

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By  and  for the Washington Post

The Justice Department announced the biggest environmental cash settlement in history Thursday, securing a $5.15 billion deal with Anadarko Petroleum to clean up dozens of sites across the country and compensate more than 7,000 people living with the effects of the contamination.

The agreement resolves claims stemming from the toxic legacy of one of the oil firm’s subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, which operated a range of U.S. chemical, energy and manufacturing businesses over 85 years.

At a news conference, Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York, said Kerr-McGee, which Anadarko acquired in 2006, left a trail of pollution in its wake and tried to evade responsibility by forcing U.S. taxpayers to pay for its actions.

The deal grew out of a lawsuit in U.S. Bankruptcy Court concerning Tronox, a paint materials manufacturer and unit of Kerr-McGee that was spun off in 2005 and later went bankrupt. The Anadarko Litigation Trust alleged that Kerr-McGee deliberately transferred its environmental and tort liabilities from its legacy businesses to Tronox before severing ties.

“Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. “It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill.”

Despite those harsh words, investors — who had been worried about Anadarko’s financial outlook since December, when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper said Kerr-McGee acted “with intent to hinder” by severing ties with Tronox — appeared relieved at news of a deal: The company’s stock rose Thursday, closing at $99.02 a share, up 14.5 percent.

“This settlement agreement with the Litigation Trust and the U.S. Government eliminates the uncertainty this dispute has created, and the proceeds will fund the remediation and cleanup of the legacy environmental liabilities and tort claims,” Al Walker, Anadarko’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “Investor focus can now return to the tremendous value embedded in Anadarko’s asset base, allowing our peer-leading operational and exploration results to again become the basis for valuation.”

The firm also estimated that it would receive a net $550 million tax benefit from the deal.

The stretch of Kerr-McGee’s operations over nearly a century was vast, Justice Department officials said, encompassing everything from wood treatment to rocket fuel processing. Its perchlorate business contaminated Lake Mead, a major source of drinking water for the Southwest; its uranium mining operations left radioactive waste piles throughout Navajo Nation territory.

The litigation trust that reached the agreement with Anadarko represented the federal government, 11 states, the Navajo Nation, a trust for individual plaintiffs and some environmental response trusts.

“If you are responsible for 85 years of poisoning the Earth, then you are responsible for cleaning it up. That is why this case was brought. That is why we are here today,” Bharara said, adding that the company “polluted indiscriminately and left others holding the toxic tab.”

The settlement will provide nearly $1 billion to clean up drinking water and address health risks for the Navajo Nation; Bharara noted that members of the community were so worried local children might swim in the contaminated water that “the Navajo Nation felt compelled to distribute a comic book warning children to avoid the radioactive uranium.”

“That’s what it came to,” Bharara said. “Kerr-McGee avoided its responsibilities, and children had to be warned away from swimming in contaminated water.”

Other money will be spent on cleanup sites in small towns and major urban centers, from a series of bluffs in Riley Pass, S.D., to the streets of Chicago. It will reimburse the Environmental Protection Agency for $217 million the agency has spent addressing lingering pollution from a wood treatment facility that used coal tar creosote and operated from 1910 until the mid-1950s in Manville, N.J, and give the state of New Jersey $4.5 million to compensate for the fact that the area’s groundwater resource can not be brought up to meet federal standards.

Fadel Gheit, a senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer, said the agreement was far lower than some of the projections analysts had been making; the plaintiffs had been seeking as much as $20.8 billion, while experts projected it would range between $5.2 billion to $14.2 billion.

“They settled on the low end of the range, so that’s why the market was happy with it,” he said, adding that it was “the lesser of two evils.”

Still, Gheit added, the size of the accord will put companies on notice that they can’t evade legal liability for environmental damages by severing their relationship with subsidiaries. “It tells you that you can run, but you cannot hide.”

Environmental Integrity Project director Eric Schaeffer, who led the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002, said in an interview that the settlement was “great news” because it would make major companies take the financial implications of their actions more seriously. He noted that as a federal enforcement official, he envied the Securities and Exchange Commission for the huge legal settlements it could reach with Wall Street firms.

“I’ve always been frustrated that environmental violations haven’t been valued and weighted in the same way,” he said.