Posts Tagged ‘BP oil spill’

Dayton signs permitting speed-up

March 7, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Dayton signs permitting speed-up bill
Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill designed to streamline the state’s environmental review processes. Environmental groups say it’s a sign that natural resource protections are being unraveled in the state.

 House File 1 and Senate File 1 were the top priorities for the new Republican-controlled legislature. They sped through the House and Senate, before Dayton signed them into law.

Dayton said Minnesota needs to improve the permitting process, because “too many possible business expansions have been delayed in recent years.”

The measure sets goals that state agencies should issue or deny all environmental permits within 150 days of submission.

It also moves disputes over agency decisions directly to the Appeals Court, skipping the District Courts, which are physically closer to citizens affected by many projects.

The chief author in the House, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said in the long run the bill will create jobs.

Environmental groups say they’re disappointed with Dayton’s decision. They say the streamlining measure is one of several advancing in the legislature that “threaten to unravel Minnesota’s foundation of environmental protections.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Audit: Environmental review often delayed
Minnesota’s process for environmental review of business projects is too often burdened by delays, uncertainty and duplication of effort, according to a report released by the state’s legislative auditor.

Analysts found that “the environmental review process has not always fully met its objectives and that previous reform efforts have achieved only limited results,” read an introduction to the report written by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles.

The audit found that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources were at times guilty of inconsistencies in expertise and experience in undertaking the two main methods of state environmental oversight: environmental assessments and the more in-depth environmental impact statements. It also said the agencies lacked the data to measure and monitor the timeliness of their permitting processes and identify improvements.

The auditor’s report found that overall, the MPCA responded to 83 percent of environmental permit applications within 150 days.
–The Associated Press

GOP chairs demand environmental spending changes
A joint legislative-citizens advisory group on environmental spending agreed to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations headed to the Legislature. The action came after two key lawmakers warned the group the projects would never pass.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — the LCCMR — advises the Legislature on how to invest proceeds from the state lottery, some of which is dedicated to the environment.

 After a year of study that led to a list of more than 100 recommended projects around the state, two new members told the group that the Legislature would reject some of those projects. 

“I’m sorry folks, the rules changed on Nov. 2 last fall,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the new chairman of the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee. “The group that compiled this list is not in control anymore. They don’t have the majority in the Legislature.

“When you see a TV commercial about the lottery, they talk about a loon, and money getting on the ground and being spent on projects, and not going to studies and research.” 

McNamara teamed up with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, to comb through the list of recommended projects. They presented a list of 25 projects they said wouldn’t fly with the new Republican majority, and another dozen they wanted more information about.
–Minnesota Public Radio

  Scientists urge broader review of chemicals
Groups representing 40,000 researchers and clinicians are urging federal agencies responsible for the safety of chemicals to examine the subtle impact a chemical might have on the human body rather than simply ask whether it is toxic.

 In an open letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency published in the journal Science, the scientists say the regulatory agencies need to tap into genetics, developmental biology, endocrinology and other disciplines when they analyze the safety of chemicals used in everyday products.

“Although chemical testing and risk assessment have long been the domain of toxicologists, it is clear that the development of improved testing guidelines and better methods of assessing risks posed by common chemicals to which all Americans are exposed requires the expertise of a broad range of scientific and clinical disciplines,” said the letter, which was signed by eight scientific societies. 

Broader analysis is particularly needed for chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, said Patricia Hunt, a molecular biologist at Washington State University who helped write the letter.
–The Washington Post

 It’s National Ground Water Awareness Week
Learn to value and protect the groundwater that is the source of drinking water for most Minnesotans. This week, March 6-12, has been declared National Ground Water Awareness Week by the National Ground Water Association.
–National Ground Water Association

Hunting, fishing fee increases going nowhere
A proposal to raise Minnesota’s hunting and fishing license fees for the first time in a decade looks to be dead on arrival at the State Capitol.

It appears unlikely that Republicans, who control the Legislature, will OK an increase proposed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Dayton administration. 

“I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the key Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Star Tribune

GOP likes some of what the EPA does
Republicans have spent a lot of time this year criticizing the EPA, so one would think that President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut $1.3 billion from its budget would be well-received.

 For all their talk about the “job-killing” EPA, Republicans have a dirty little secret: They actually like many of the agency’s efforts, particularly bread-and-butter programs aimed at cleaning up drinking water and air pollution in their districts.

 It’s in those areas where Obama has suggested the most budget pain, putting Republicans in the position of defending EPA and accusing the White House of playing politics.

 Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Washington’s top climate skeptic and most vocal opponent of EPA regulations, took issue with the proposal to slash nearly $1 billion from state revolving loan funds — cash that gets doled out to local drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. 

“You can bet these cuts will be restored, because many of my colleagues believe these are worthwhile programs,” Inhofe told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a hearing.

 Who owns Texas groundwater?
It sounds simple: Who owns the groundwater in Texas? But this issue, like others in the hot-button area of aquifer planning, is embroiled in an ongoing policy battle.

 At a crowded hearing, members of the state Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill introduced by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay and the committee’s chairman, that would declare that landowners have a “vested ownership interest” in the water beneath their land. A less-discussed second  bill, filed by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, recognizes both landowner rights and the “compelling public interest” of effective groundwater management.

Both bills are part of a vigorous debate over the best way to manage the declining aquifers in this fast-growing state, where irrigated agriculture is a powerful political force. The conflict pits existing water users against prospective new users, and conservation-minded officials against businesses seeking to sell water.
–The Texas Tribune

Fine levied for Asian carp smuggling
Most of the recent Asian carp panic in Michigan and the upper Midwest has been directed at the threat posed by fish escaping the Chicago River into Lake Michigan.

But the recent seizure of a truckload of live fish at the Detroit-Windsor border — 4,000 pounds of prohibited bighead and grass carp apparently bound for consumer markets in Toronto — demonstrates how complex the threat can be.

 Feng Yang, 52, the owner of a fish import company, pleaded guilty this week in Windsor to violating the federal Fisheries Act, and was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. He was stopped Nov. 4 after crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

 Yang paid a $40,000 fine in 2006 for a similar offense.

 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Officer Bill Ingham said officials believe Yang obtained the fish in the South, where they are legally raised and sold, and then drove them through Michigan into Ontario, where possession of live Asian carp is prohibited.
–The Detroit Free Press

 Recycling no panacea  for ‘fracking’ pollution
As drilling for natural gas started to climb sharply about 10 years ago, energy companies faced mounting criticism over an extraction process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground for each well and can leave significant amounts of hazardous contaminants in the water that comes back to the surface.

 So, in a move hailed by industry as a major turning point, drilling companies started reusing and recycling the wastewater. 

“Water recycling is a win-win,” one drilling company, Range Resources, says on its Web site. “It reduces fresh water demand and eliminates the need to dispose of the water.”

But the win-win comes with significant asterisks. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, natural-gas companies recycled less than half of the wastewater they produced during the 18 months that ended in December, according to state records.   

Nor has recycling eliminated environmental and health risks. Some methods can leave behind salts or sludge highly concentrated with radioactive material and other contaminants that can be dangerous to people and aquatic life if they get into waterways.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Research on drilling allegedly withheld
When Congress considered whether to regulate more closely the handling of wastes from oil and gas drilling in the 1980s, it turned to the Environmental Protection Agency  to research the matter. E.P.A. researchers concluded that some of the drillers’ waste was hazardous and should be tightly controlled.

 But that is not what Congress heard. Some of the recommendations concerning oil and gas waste were eliminated in the final report handed to lawmakers in 1987.

“It was like the science didn’t matter,” Carla Greathouse, the author of the study, said in a recent interview. “The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”

 E.P.A. officials told her, she said, that her findings were altered because of pressure from the Office of Legal Counsel of the White House under Ronald Reagan. A spokesman for the E.P.A. declined to comment.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Toxic or not? Scientists take precautions
Dr. Ana Soto won’t use plastic in the microwave.

 R. Thomas Zoeller uses an iPhone application that flags products with potentially dangerous chemicals to help him make wise choices at the grocery store.

 Dr. Perry E. Sheffield washes her hands often — as much to get rid of potentially dangerous chemicals as germs.

 It’s nearly impossible to prove scientifically that certain diseases are caused by household chemicals, such as bisphenol-A, phthalates, and flame retardants, which are found in everything from kitchen cleaners to baby creams, carpeting to tin cans.

But as research accumulates about their potential dangers, and rates of diseases that are plausibly caused by these chemicals rise, these three scientists are anxious enough to make changes in their own homes.
–The Boston Globe

 MPCA seeks comment on Bald Eagle Lake plan
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites public comments on a water quality improvement report for Bald Eagle Lake, located on the Ramsey-Washington county line. 

  Bald Eagle Lake has contained excess phosphorus since at least the mid-1970s.  Too much phosphorus can produce frequent summer algae blooms, which interfere with recreation on the lake.

The report explains that some phosphorus enters Bald Eagle Lake through runoff from the watershed, but a larger portion comes from internal sources such as lake sediment and decaying vegetation.  In order to achieve the necessary phosphorus reduction of 58 percent, the report recommends strategies to limit phosphorus release from sediment and manage invasive plant species in the lake.  Local initiatives to improve stormwater management and better enforce existing runoff rules will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into the lake.

The draft report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load  report, may be viewed online at  For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak  at  651-757-2837. Comments must be received in writing at the MPCA office by March 30, 2011, and must include an explanation of the commenter’s interest in the TMDL report, a clear statement of any recommended changes and specific reasons for any suggested changes.
–MPCA News Release

 Eastern cougar is extinct. Or is it?
Seven decades after the last reported sighting of the eastern cougar, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct and recommended that it be removed from the nation’s endangered species list.

 There’s one wrinkle, though: it may not be extinct, exactly.

 Scientists are moving toward the conclusion that the eastern cougar was erroneously classified as a separate subspecies in the first place. As a result of a genetic study conducted in 2000, most biologists now believe there is no real difference between the western and eastern branches of the cougar family.

 Either way, the “eastern” cougar as such is no longer with us. Any recent sightings in the cougar’s historic range, which stretched from eastern Ontario and Michigan eastward to Maine and southward to Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, were actually sightings of its relatives, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
–The New York Times

Iowa State research disputes myth on invasives
Invasive plant species, although widespread, are no more abundant in their new homes than in their native area, a U.S. researcher says.

 “There is this assumption that when plants invade a new area that they become much more abundant in the new area than they were in the native areas,” Iowa State University ecology Professor Stan Harpole said in an ISU release. “It turns out that, on average, they aren’t any more abundant away from home than they are at home.”

Previous assumption held that problematic invasive species often spread widely in their new habitats because they don’t encounter predators or diseases that help keep them in check in their home ranges.

U.S. approves deep water oil permit
The federal government approved the first permit to drill the kind of deepwater oil well that was banned after last year’s BP disaster, but it’s yet to be seen whether the move will open the gates to the type of aggressive and lucrative exploration the industry has been clamoring for.

Top offshore regulator Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the approval for Houston-based Noble Energy is a milestone, even though it’s to pick up work on a well southeast of Venice that Noble had already drilled to more than 13,000 feet.

The work at Noble’s Santiago well, less than 20 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling BP’s ill-fated Macondo project, stopped when President Barack Obama imposed a moratorium blocking most drilling in deepwater from May 30 through Oct. 12. Since then, the only permits approved have been for technical work, such as water-infusion wells that are not intended to tap into oil reservoirs.
–The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Satellites show California groundwater decline
We all know the dangers of not balancing our check books: we could withdraw from our bank accounts more than we’ve deposited, and get fined-or worse-for overdrawing.

You’d think we’d manage our groundwater accounts at least as carefully as our bank accounts, especially given that the food security of this and future generations depends on them. But we don’t. Rarely is groundwater use monitored, measured or regulated. This is true for most of the world, as well as for California’s Central Valley-the fruit and vegetable bowl of the United States. Farmers in the 52,000 square-kilometer valley produce 250 different kinds of crops that together account for 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural value.

 But thanks to the National Atmospheric and Space Administration’s (NASA) satellite mission called GRACE (the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), we’re getting some excellent assessments of what’s happening to water underground-and the picture is sobering. GRACE monitors changes in Earth’s gravity field that result from changes in water storage, and the technology can give a fairly accurate picture of what’s happening to groundwater supplies.

Jay Famiglietti of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine, and eight colleagues used data from the GRACE mission to estimate that California’s Central Valley lost 20.3 cubic kilometers (16.4 million acre feet) of water between October 2003 and March 2010–a volume equal to 63 percent of the capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of that depletion occurred between April 2006 and March 2010, a period of drought when farmers pumped more groundwater to compensate for less rainfall and cutbacks in surface water deliveries to irrigators. Famiglietti’s team published their findings this month in Geophysical Research Letters.
–Sandra L. Postel in a National Geographic blog


Study: $$ penalties for water violations are rare

December 20, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Study: 11 percent of water violations yield financial penalties
At old taconite waste pits near Hoyt Lakes, Cliffs Erie had 225 wastewater violations in a five-year period ending last year.

 Yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which oversees those discharge permits, didn’t fine the operation until earlier this year, when it issued a $58,000 penalty one day before a citizens’ lawsuit was to have been filed.

“I would say if we hadn’t sent out a notice-of-intent letter, action still wouldn’t have been taken,” said Marc Fink, the Duluth lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups.

Cliffs Erie isn’t the only Minnesota wastewater polluter who hasn’t been asked to dig too deeply into its pocketbook.

A recent Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy analysis of all wastewater permit violations reported to the agency from 2005 through 2009 shows two-thirds violated permits at least once. Yet only 11 percent of those violators paid a financial penalty.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chamber sues state over mining and wild rice
The state’s largest business group filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, raising the heat in an increasingly contentious fight over mining in northern Minnesota and what’s good for wild rice.

 The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which represents PolyMet Mining Corp. and other minerals companies, accused the agency of holding them to a different standard from other industries on how much sulfate they can discharge into Minnesota’s wild rice waters.

 High concentrations of sulfates are toxic to wild rice, and the debate about how much is too much has become a flashpoint in the broader environmental conflict over the proposed expansion of mining on the Iron Range.
–The Star Tribune

U.S. files civil suit in BP oil spill
The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the complaint does not specify the damages that the administration is seeking, the fines and penalties under the laws that are cited in the complaint could reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference.

 Mr. Holder said the department was “making progress” on a criminal investigation of the companies involved in the spill.
–The New York Times

 Report: La. sand berms stopped little of BP’s oil
A chain of sand berms built by the State of Louisiana to block and capture oil from BP’s runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico stopped a “minuscule” amount of oil and was largely a waste of money, the staff of the presidential commission investigating the spill said in a report.  

 The report, a draft, found that a decision by Thad W. Allen,  the retired Coast Guard admiral who led the spill response, to approve construction of the berms was made under “intense political pressure” from federal, state and local politicians and against the advice of an expert panel advising on the spill response.

 “The decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed,” the commission staff wrote.
–The New York Times

 New study offers some hope for polar bears
Sea-ice habitats essential to polar bears would likely respond positively should more curbs be placed on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new modeling study published in the journal, Nature. 

 The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, included university and other federal agency scientists. The research broke new ground in the “tipping point” debate in the scientific community by providing evidence that during this century there does not seem to be a tipping point at which sea-ice loss would become irreversible. 

 The report does not affect the decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008 to list the polar bear as a threatened species. 
–USGS News Release

3M retirees build solar water purifier 
Bob Nepper’s North St. Paul basement is littered with strange-looking tools, some of them hand-made on his metal lathe. His garage is filled with an assortment of devices he created to make household chores easier.

But inventing is more than just a hobby for Nepper. He and his friend Bill Stevenson of Lake Elmo have created a device that may help relieve the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

 The invention is a solar-powered water pasteurizer that can cheaply and easily clean water.

 Missionary groups from Indiana and South Dakota took a few of the pasteurizers to Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in January, but the devices were held up in customs and sat idle at a dock. Now a Florida missionary group has bought another of the pasteurizers and plans to take it to Haiti. 

Contaminated drinking water has been the main cause of the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,200 Haitians in the past few months.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Army Corps says it lacks $$ for Mississippi dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is likely to run short of funds as early as next spring to fully dredge one of the nation’s busiest waterways, potentially slowing the movement of key imports and exports and raising shipping costs.

 A loose coalition of shippers, state governments, port operators and farmers up and down the Mississippi River is pressing Congress to add tens of millions of dollars to the Corps’ budget for fiscal 2011. The money is needed, they say, to allow the agency to dredge the ports and channels around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., to a standard depth and width necessary for cargo ships to pass.

 The Mississippi River is a major transportation route for American businesses and farmers to send and receive goods, but its mouth requires constant dredging to remove the silt brought down the river and its tributaries.

 The fiscal 2011 budget calls for the Corps to receive $63 million for Lower Mississippi dredging, $6.3 more than it received in fiscal 2010. But actual costs of dredging total about $85 million annually on average, and topped $110 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Corps.
–The Wall Street Journal

 Dawson, Mn., meat processor to pay for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Noah’s Ark Processors LLC, have reached an agreement that resolves alleged violations of water quality laws and rules at its meat processing plant and animal hide storage building in Dawson. The company was given a $20,000 civil penalty and is required to complete a number of corrective actions.

 An inspection Aug. 25, 2009, documented blood-contaminated water and untreated manure discharging from the facility to the ground, and discharges of animal hide salting leachate discharging from the hide building. The company has stopped the discharges and worked to recover contamination, applied for permits, and submitted reports on recovery work and plans to prevent future discharges.

 Alleged violations include operating without appropriate industrial stormwater, wastewater and industrial by-product permits, failure to notify the agency of the discharges and provide requested information and lack of a stormwater pollution prevention plan.
–MPCA news release

 Study: Cancer rate not high in ‘Erin Brockovich’ town
A state survey has not found a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley, a high-desert community that has become the symbol of public fears about exposure to groundwater tainted with carcinogenic chromium 6.

 From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.

 The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.

 In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer,” Morgan said. “However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess.”

The findings come as some residents are pushing PG&E to purchase their properties, after tests showed that chromium-tainted groundwater was migrating toward them. That miles-long plume, the result of decades of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds, was at the center of a $333-million settlement over illnesses and cancers made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 Measuring groundwater by satellite
When you dive into that salad full of lettuce grown in the American West, there’s a good chance you are enjoying the product of irrigation from an underground water source. These hidden groundwater systems are precious resources that need careful management, but regulatory groups have a hard time monitoring them, owing to a lack of accurate data. 

Now, scientists at Stanford have found a way to cheaply and effectively monitor aquifer levels in agricultural regions using data from satellites that are already in orbit mapping the shape of Earth’s surface with millimeter precision.

 The amount of water in a groundwater system typically grows and shrinks seasonally. Rainfall and melted snow seep down into the system in the cooler months, and farmers pull water out to irrigate their crops in the warmer, drier months.

 In agricultural regions, groundwater regulators have to monitor aquifer levels carefully to avoid drought. They make do with direct measurements from wells drilled into the aquifers, but wells are generally few and far between compared to the vast size of most groundwater systems.
–Stanford University News

 River bypass for California delta wins support
Federal and state officials said they supported construction of a massive structure around California’s environmentally crippled delta to make deliveries of fresh water to farms and cities more reliable.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said such a structure would divert water from north of the delta, where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers meet, to water users in the Central Valley and in the southern part of California.

It would be accompanied by the restoration of “tens of thousands of acres of marshes and flood plains” in the delta to bolster populations of endangered and threatened fish, he said in a telephone news conference.

Farmers and cities in Southern California have been at loggerheads with environmentalists over how significantly water flows to the south should be restricted to help threatened species recover. The delta is the central switching yard where water from the Sacramento River is either sent south to agribusinesses and cities or to the west, where it supports diminishing stocks of native fish as it flows into San Francisco Bay.
–The New York Times 

 Feds promise to battle Asian carp
Federal officials promised a stepped-up fight to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by better tracking their movements, blocking potential migration pathways and killing any that manage to evade a network of new and improved barriers.

 A $47 million battle plan for 2011 calls for refining technologies that detect the presence of Asian carp by identifying their DNA in water samples, and for developing better means of trapping, netting or starving carp already in waterways that lead to the lakes. It also pledges to continue initiatives begun this year, such as researching ways to prevent the unwanted fish from breeding.

 “The Obama administration has taken an aggressive, unprecedented approach to protect our Great Lakes and the communities and economies that depend on them from the threat of Asian carp,” said John Goss, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s carp program director.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 New environment chair wants mining guarantees
The incoming Republican chair of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee says he will build on groundwork laid by his Democratic predecessor.

 Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he shares a results-oriented approach with former committee chair Jean Wagenius. He said he’s interesting in streamlining government, and the permitting process in particular.

“Are there things we can do … that speed it up so business knows what’s going to happen,” McNamara said. “I think that’s possible while protecting the environment.”

On the topic of mining, McNamara said copper-nickel mining can be done responsibly, but he wants substantial guarantees from mining companies that they’ll be around to clean up when the mining is done.
–Minnesota Public Radio

USDA offers funding for conservation projects
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is seeking proposals for projects that will bring partners together to help farmers, ranchers and private nonindustrial forest landowners implement beneficial water and land conservation practices.

“Farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land play pivotal roles in protecting and enhancing natural resources,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to support projects that will improve the health of the natural resources on their land and bring the environmental and economic benefits of conservation to their local communities.”

The requirements for submitting project proposals for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative can be viewed at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers in approved project areas.
–USDA news release


Florida gets 15-month grace period from EPA

November 22, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

EPA downplays cost of Florida rules
For months, everyone from Florida’s new Republican governor to its Democratic senator to its farmers, sewer plant operators and utilities has been trying to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back off new water pollution standards for Florida.

Cleaning up the waterways, they warned, would ruin the state’s already shaky economy.

EPA officials announced they were ready to unveil the new pollution limits for Florida’s rivers, lakes and springs — but with a catch.

The federal agency will not implement the 168 pages of new standards, which could cost residents an extra 11 to 20 cents a day per household, for another 15 months.

The delay is necessary to counteract all the “exaggerated, doomsday claims” that opponents have been spreading, explained the EPA’s Atlanta regional administrator, Gwen Keyes Fleming.

For instance, a lot of the opposition to the new standards has come from agricultural concerns. However, Fleming pointed out, the standards apply only to industries that pipe their pollution into a waterway. Farmers do not do that, and therefore they won’t be affected, she said.
–The Miami Herald

$25 million prize fails to solve global warming
Not long ago, it seemed that big money and boundless optimism were all that were needed to solve some of the biggest environmental problems facing the planet.

An initiative from Richard Branson,  the shaggy-haired billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines, was emblematic. In February 2007, he offered a cash prize of $25 million to anyone who could come up within just a few years with a process that would suck large amounts of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

 Flanked by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president and the author of the book “An Inconvenient Truth,” Mr. Branson likened his offer to an 18th century competition for a method of estimating longitude accurately that eventually saved thousands of lives at seas.

 “Man created the problem, therefore man should solve the problem,” said Mr. Branson, who was referring to global warming. His initiative to help ensure the stability of the climate was “the largest ever science and technology prize to be offered in history,” Mr. Branson said.

Nearly four years later, Mr. Branson’s plans to award that prize, known as the Virgin Earth Challenge, are effectively on hold.
–The New York Times

Carp barriers planned in Washington County 
The Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District has received a $283,000 grant to pay for three rough fish barriers for Bone Lake in Scandia and Moody Lake in Chisago Lake Township, said Doug Thomas, district administrator. The district’s project was the only one in Washington County project to receive funding through a competitive grant process administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 The barriers are intended to keep aggressive fish, such as carp, from harming the lakes. They will be designed and approved next year, with plans calling for installing them in the two lakes in winter 2012, Thomas said.
–The Star Tribune

 Haiti desperately needs clean water
Aid workers in Haiti say the government has done little to improve water and sanitation since a Jan. 12 earthquake, making it likely that the cholera epidemic there will continue to spread.

 “The situation has deteriorated. We really need a massive push of political will,” says Joia Mukherjee, medical director of Partners in Health, which is helping the Haitian government halt the outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people. “This can’t just be about handing out water purification tablets.” Haiti’s leaders must expand the country’s treated water and sewer systems to prevent future outbreaks of waterborne diseases, Mukherjee says. Oxfam, an aid group focused on water and sanitation, says it’s still operating in emergency mode instead of creating permanent water and sewer systems.

California utility to buy ‘Erin Brockovich’ homes
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. confirmed that the utility has sent letters to more than 100 residents of Hinkley this week, offering to buy their properties.

 The High Desert town has long been threatened by a toxic plume of groundwater contaminated with cancer-causing chromium 6; the situation was made famous by the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.”

 PG&E previously settled with more than 600 Hinckley residents for $333 million. But company officials say they are now expanding their property purchase program due to residents’ demand.

 “More residents have expressed concern and want to relocate,” said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman. He added: “We have complete confidence in our remediation efforts in the area.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Report: BP sharply criticized for oil spill 
An “insufficient consideration of risk” and “a lack of operating discipline” by oil giant BP PLC contributed to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to a report from a team of technical experts.

The report from the National Academy of Engineering represents the most comprehensive examination so far of the causes of the disaster. The panel’s interim report reaches few firm conclusions, repeatedly saying that possible causes require further investigation.

 Nonetheless, its tone is sharply critical of the companies involved, especially BP, which owned the troubled well that exploded on April 20. Eleven rig workers died in the accident.

 The panel also criticizes regulators and the broader industry, according to a copy of the report viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked the academy in May to probe the Gulf disaster, saying he wanted “a set of fresh eyes on the issues surrounding” the incident and an independent, science-based understanding of what happened.
— The Wall Street Journal

EPA names chemicals to be screened 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified a list of 134 chemicals that will be screened for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and possibly disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by the human or animal endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction.

 “Endocrine disruptors represent a serious health concern for the American people, especially children. Americans today are exposed to more chemicals in our products, our environment and our bodies than ever before, and it is essential that EPA takes every step to gather information and prevent risks,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

The list includes chemicals that have been identified as priorities under the Safe Drinking Water Act and may be found in sources of drinking water where a substantial number of people may be exposed. The list also includes pesticide active ingredients that are being evaluated under EPA’s registration review program to ensure they meet current scientific and regulatory standards.

The chemicals listed include those used in products such as solvents, gasoline, plastics, personal care products, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals, including benzene, perchlorate, urethane, ethylene glycol, and erythromycin.
–U.S. EPA News Release

DNR seeks input on Grand Marais-area waters
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reviewing proposals for changing the ways it manages fish populations and fish stocking over the next 5 to 20 years in a number of lakes and streams near Grand Marais. 

 Some management changes also are considered for several popular lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Citizens have until Dec. 31 to ask questions about the proposals or comment on them.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Coal to fuel power plants for years to come
LIVELY GROVE, Ill –On the coasts, states are limiting carbon dioxide output, banning new coal-fired power plants and building wind turbines to fend off global warming. But here in the heartland, thousands of workers are building a $4 billion new coal plant with a 700-foot chimney, 70 feet higher than the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Around the country, construction of coal plants has been slowed, partly by opposition but also by the recession, which has stunted electric demand and forced cancellation or deferral of all kinds of utility projects. But numerous coal plants under construction today are likely to be pumping out carbon dioxide profusely until at least 2050, when, as President Obama would have it, American carbon output will be 80 percent lower.

 And the project here is not just a power plant; it is the Prairie State Energy Campus,  because it includes a vast new coal mine as well, which will supply 6.5 million tons a year. Everyone here, 40 miles southeast of St. Louis, has heard about the idea of cap and trade or other strategies for limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Some day, one might get enacted, they believe. But it does not keep them awake at night.
–The New York Times

 Iowa feedlot penalized for water pollution
The owner of a cattle and hog feedlot in Plymouth County, Iowa, has agreed to pay a $5,850 civil penalty to the United States to settle alleged violations of the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

 Mark Beitelspacher, doing business as Beitelspacher Farms, of LeMars, Iowa, did not maintain adequate records associated with the land application of liquid effluent from his feedlot, as required by the NPDES permit.

 Beitelspacher Farms’ facilities have the capacity for approximately 3,000 cattle and 4,700 hogs, according to an administrative consent agreement filed by EPA Region 7 in Kansas City, Kan.

 An EPA representative conducted a compliance inspection of Beitelspacher Farms on April 28, 2010, and found that the facility did not maintain adequate records of its liquid effluent land applications.
–U.S. EPA News Release