Up to 16.6 million people in the United States may be drinking water laced with a chemical found in rocket propellants and fireworks. It’s called perchlorate, and although the Bush administration decided against regulating it, the Obama administration’s EPA has reversed course and announced plans to set a limit for the amount of perchlorate drinking water can contain.
Research by the Food and Drug Administration, among others, found perchlorate contamination in food and water in 45 states, and a small study in the Boston area found perchlorate in the breast milk of nursing mothers. [Los Angeles Times]
While the chemical is found nationwide, it’s particularly a problem in California, near the state’s old manufacturing sites and military bases. Before companies wised up, it used to be common practice to dump perchlorate into unlined pits which–surprise!–leads to the chemical seeping into groundwater. This water eventually finds its way into many places, including public drinking water supplies and irrigation systems.
Because that water irrigates crops and rangeland, perchlorate also taints a variety of foods. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study of raw and prepared foods in 2006 found elevated perchlorate levels in everything from ice cream and chocolate bars to raisins and spinach…. Its presence in baby cereal and formula — and breast milk — is particularly worrisome given perchlorate’s impacts on the thyroid gland. Chronic exposure to perchlorate can dampen the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodide and produce hormones. That, in turn, can disrupt metabolic functions in adults and impede physical and mental development in unborn children and infants. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Relations have been more testy than usual between the Environmental Protection Agency and mountaintop removal coal miners since last April, when EPA issued new rules to crack down on the practice. This week the agency went one step further—a step has never taken before. EPA revoked an already-approved permit for a mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia.
The decision to revoke the permit for Arch Coal Inc.’s Spruce Mine No. 1 in West Virginia’s rural Logan County marks the first time the EPA has withdrawn a water permit for a mining project that had previously been issued. It’s also only the second time in the 39-year history of the federal Clean Water Act that the agency has canceled a water permit for a project of any kind after it was issued, according to the agency. [Wall Street Journal]
The mine, located south of the West Virginia capital of Charleston, has been fighting to begin operation for more than a dozen years.
The Obama EPA began looking more closely at the Spruce Mine in September 2009. But debate over the proposed operation dates back to the late 1990s, when then-U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II issued an injunction that blocked the mine, which then was proposed for more than 3,000 acres. After the Haden ruling, the company reduced the size of its proposal and the operation underwent much more intense scrutiny, in the form of a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement by the Corps of Engineers, which approved the new mining configuration in January 2007 [Charleston Gazette].
For several years now, the Environmental Protection Agency has been lurching toward enacting rules to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Yesterday, the first steps of the EPA’s new rules went into effect.
The new regulations come in two parts, the first of which limits the emissions allowed by new cars and light trucks.
The rules apply to 2012 model vehicles, which can be sold starting Sunday. They must now follow toughened CAFE fuel efficiency standards laid out in May. With industry on board—though there’s some grumbling—these steps are relatively uncontroversial. [ScienceNOW]
The second and more contentious part of EPA’s action are new rules for power plants, factories, and refineries. Beginning yesterday (January 2), any new plant that will emit more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent) annually will need an EPA permit, as will existing plants that install new capacity that emits 75,000 tons or more. The regulations for all existing plants will follow this July, when those that emit the equivalent of 100,000 annual tons will need permits to do so.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear what could be the most important environmental case it will decide this year: Huge power companies like Xcel Energy and Duke Energy are appealing a ruling by an appeals court that they can be sued under public nuisance law. If that ruling is confirmed at the highest level, it could open the door to a flood of lawsuits claiming the power companies’ greenhouse gas emissions constitute a nuisance to the general public.
This one has been a long time coming. The case, brought by eight states including New York and California plus some environmental groups, dates back to 2004. First a federal judge threw out the states’ claim, essentially saying that emissions should be dealt with in legislative bodies, not courtrooms. Then the appeals court reversed that ruling, recognizing the eight states’ claim that these emissions contribute to global warming and could be considered under public nuisance law, prompting the power companies to balk and appeal.
In their appeal, the companies argue that the states lacked the legal right, or standing, to sue because they can’t show that they were harmed by anything the utilities did or that they would benefit from a ruling against the power companies. “A court is not a regulator and may not enter relief against a particular defendant where the plaintiff’s injury is not traceable to that defendant and where relief against the defendant would not redress that injury,” the companies argued. [Bloomberg]
When we last left Washington’s attempt at climate and energy legislation this summer, the House of Representatives had narrowly passed its bill, but the Senate’s crashed and burned. With the dust settling from from Tuesday’s midterm elections and Republicans preparing to assume majority in the House, what’s next?
Yesterday President Obama conceded that legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions is not going to happen under the incoming Congress.
“Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way,” Obama said at a news conference Wednesday, a day after Democrats lost control of the House. “I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.” [AP]
When the Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules in April attempting to crack down on mountaintop removal coal mining, you knew it was only a matter of time before the major push-back arrived. With elections looming and politicians looking to score some points at home, that time is now.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic governor of coal-rich West Virginia, says his state will sue the EPA and ask a U.S. District Court to throw out the agency’s strict new guidelines. For Mr. Manchin, the timing is certainly good:
Mr. Manchin is running for the U.S. Senate seat, formerly held by the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, against Republican businessman John Raese, who has pulled ahead in some polls. The EPA’s policies on mining and climate change are controversial in West Virginia, where coal mining is a major industry supporting thousands of jobs. [Wall Street Journal]
Plant genetically modified corn, help your neighbor? That’s the argument of a study out in Science today—corn modified to keep pests away creates a “halo effect” that also reduces crop damage at neighboring farms that don’t plant the pest-resistant variety.
Bill Hutchison of the University of Minnesota led the study, which surveyed the records going back to 1996 for Minnesota and four other Corn Belt states: Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. 1996 is the key year because that’s when farmers first planed Bt corn, a variety modified to produce a toxin that keeps away the European corn borer. As the name suggests, that insect is an invader from across the pond that likes to devour corn, and Hutchison and colleagues wanted to see how effectively Bt corn kept the pest at bay during the last decade and a half.
An EPA report published Tuesday told residents near Pavillion, Wyoming to avoid drinking and cooking with well water after tests revealed petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants in 17 out of 19 wells near the town. Many residents worry that local drilling for natural gas is to blame. The EPA is still investigating.
“EPA has not reached any conclusions about how constituents of concern are occurring in domestic wells,” the report said. [Reuters]
As the agency continues its investigation, it along with other government organizations and the natural gas company EnCana, will provide alternative drinking water sources for affected residents. EnCana volunteered to provide the water, though a company representative told the AP that company’s tie to the contaminated the wells is unclear–since the chemicals appeared in earlier EPA tests, before EnCana’s drilling started in 2005.
There will be no carbon cap-and-trade provision in this summer’s energy legislation in the Senate. Nor will there be a renewable energy standard (RES)—a mandate that a certain percentage of national energy come from renewable sources. Those are the two major losses for climate-watchers today as Senator Harry Reid and other Democrats announced they would drastically scale back their energy proposals in the face of what looks like an non-winnable fight before the 2010 midterm elections.
Instead, the Senate will consider a much smaller bill before the August recess.
The measure would include money for home energy-efficiency retrofits, for encouraging natural-gas-powered vehicles and for land and water conservation, Reid said [Los Angeles Times].
So what now for the more ambitious ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt renewable energy technologies?
Are we finally going to clean the skies of smog-causing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide? The Environmental Protection Agency proposes new rules this week that would force power plants in 31 states, mostly in the East, to cut emissions of both to more than half of their 2005 levels by 2014.
The new rules take advantage of the “good neighbor” provision of the Clear Air Act to cut interstate transport—not cars and trucks, but the drift of air pollutants across state borders. (Air pollution, not unlike oil spills, does not respect the lines of the map) [TIME].
The Bush Administration tried to adopt a similar rule, but two years ago a U.S. Court of Appeals said the EPA had overstepped its bounds and nixed the regulations.
As a result, many power companies scaled back their investments in pollution controls. Now those companies will have to decide whether it is more cost-effective to retrofit their dirtiest power plants or shut them down [Los Angeles Times].