The GOP's EPA Ambush
Republicans want to cut the agency's budget by a third—and that's just for starters.
By Kate Sheppard
Can the 112th Congress officially claim the mantle of "most anti-science" ever? So says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a 36-year veteran of congressional wrangling over environmental matters. Even the contentious fights over issues like the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments pale in comparison to the environmental battles of the current Congress, the 71-year-old lawmaker noted earlier this week: "I've never been in a Congress where there was such an overwhelming disconnect between science and public policy."
It's not just that the House GOP is pushing—and will likely pass—a bill that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating planet-warming emissions and nullify the agency's scientific finding that those gases endanger human health. Congressional Republicans have mounted an all-out assault on the EPA, pushing a lengthy list of measures to handcuff the agency from exercising its regulatory authority. For good measure, they are also trying to slash the agency's budget by a third.
The continuing resolution—the seven-month measure to fund the federal government, which the House passed on February 19—included 19 separate riders that have almost nothing to do with cutting the deficit and everything to do with derailing the EPA's regulatory clout. These provisions would block the agency from issuing regulations on particulate pollution, emissions from cement plants, and emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. The riders would also restrict oversight of mountaintop-removal coal mining, block pending regulations on coal-ash disposal, and bar the EPA from moving forward with its plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and other national waterways.
Taken as a whole, says Franz Matzner, climate and air legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the House GOP's EPA onslaught represents "a cut-by-cut attack on fundamental public health laws." Beyond the specific riders blocking the agency from issuing new regulations, he says, the "draconian cuts" would mean fewer environmental officials on the ground to ensure that existing regulations are being upheld.
"This is the most anti-science body since the Catholic Church ostracized Galileo for determining that the earth revolves around the sun," says Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
The most immediately consequential, should it become law, is the Republican rider blocking the EPA from issuing new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants. The rule, which the EPA is under a court order to issue by March 16, would mark the next stage in a 20-year fight; the Clean Air Act amendments that were passed in 1990 identified 189 hazardous pollutants, but exempted coal-fired utilities from the emissions standards that other large industrial sources were required to meet. The courts threw out a Bush-era bill that would have dealt only with mercury pollution in 2008, forcing the Obama EPA to issue new, more comprehensive rules for these power plants.
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 40 percent of mercury pollution in the US and 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, according to the EPA. Public health advocates have high hopes for the new EPA rules on toxic emissions, which would be the first federal standards. Without limits on those pollutants, says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association, "People die. Bottom line."
The fight over the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act took center stage this week, with two hearings by the House energy and power subcommittee. On Tuesday, the panel held a hearing on climate science at the request of Democratic members. The session boiled down to the Republican members dismissing concerns over human-induced global warming and the Democrats accusing them of sticking their heads in the sand. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to deflect that claim, with cosponsor Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) declaring at Tuesday's hearing that their bill is "not about global warming science—it's about stopping regulations that are going to do more harm than good."
The hearing was mostly theater, as was Thursday's markup of the bill to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Democrats on the committee don't have the votes to block the legilation. They didn't even attempt to offer any amendments. Instead, their strategy is primarily to push the message that Republicans are ignoring science.
And Democrats sure are hammering the point home. While Waxman may have accused Republicans of presiding over the "most anti-science" Congress in history, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tells Mother Jones that his colleague's characterization doesn't even go far enough: "This is the most anti-science body since the Catholic Church ostracized Galileo for determining that the earth revolves around the sun."
Consol will pay EPA $5,5m over water pollution
By: Liezel Hill
TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – US coal and natural gas producer Consol Energy has agreed to pay a $5,5-million civil penalty over Clean Water Act violations at six mines in West Virginia, and will spend another $200-million on pollution controls to reduce harmful discharges into streams and rivers.
The company said in a statement it did not admit any liability and that the penalty amount was recognized in its financial statements and will have no impact on 2011 earnings.
The agreement with the US Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is related to an algae bloom in 2009 that killed large quantities of fish and other acquitic life in a tributary of the Monongahela river.
A complaint alleged that discharges of high amounts of chloride and dissolved solids from Consol's Blacksville number 2 and Loveridge operations resulted in the “severe impairment” of acquatic life and created conditions for golden algae to thrive in the creek.
The complaint also alleged that six Consol mines violated pollution discharge limits in the Clean Water Act permits “hundreds of times” over the last four years.
Consol maintains that its operations were not the cause of the algae bloom in Dunkard Creek, and said it took voluntary action to temporarily stop permitted discharges of water from its mines to the creek.
Under the settlement agreement announced on Monday, the company has designed a multi-phase management programme for discharges from its mines to collect the water and remove chlorides and other salts from permitted discharge water.
The new system should be fully operational by May 2013, Consol said.
The treatment plant will be the largest of its kind in Appalachia and capable of treating 3 500 gallons of water a minute.
The treatment will eliminate more than 96-million pounds of total dissolved solids, including over 11-million pounds of chlorine.
“The centerpiece of this settlement – a new advanced wastewater treatment plant – will substantially reduce pollution by keeping nearly 100-million pounds of total dissolved solids, including chloride, from reaching these waterways each year,” EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin said.
Besides the civil penalty and commitment to build the new treatment system, Consol also said it was resolving alleged natural resource damages claims in a cash settlement of $500 000 with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.
“This agreement will not only avoid pointless litigation, but will also provide resources to the state to enable them to further address stream degradation issues such as poor stream habitat and poorly managed sewage discharges along the creek,” the firm said.
Consol Energy mines coal in Utah, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Newt Gingrich proposes abolishing EPA
by CASIE HUNT
Former House speaker and possible 2012 candidate Newt Gingrich called for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency in a Tuesday speech in Iowa
In an address at the Renewable Fuels Summit, Gingrich told attendees, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a key figure in the state’s first-in-nation Republican presidential caucuses, that the EPA should be replaced with a new “Environmental Solutions Agency.”
The replacement agency “would encourage innovation, incentivize success and emphasize sound science and new technology over bureaucracy, regulation, litigation and restrictions on American energy,” according to materials provided by Gingrich aide Rick Tyler.
“We need to have an agency that is first of all limited, but cooperates with the 50 states,” Gingrich told The Associated Press in an interview.” The EPA is based on bureaucrats centered in Washington issuing regulations and litigation and basically opposing things.”
Gingrich also used his speech to challenge President Barack Obama to use his State of the Union address to outline what Gingrich dubbed an “all of the above” energy strategy that would “truly demonstrate he is serious about governing from the center.”
Gingrich’s list of energy policies includes providing incentives for flex fuel vehicles that can use corn-based ethanol rather than gasoline — a key issue for Iowa’s farm economy.
He also won the promise of a key Iowa endorsement if he does run for president. Linda Upmeyer, the Iowa House majority leader, introduced Gingrich and called him “the right guy to be president of the United States.”
After the speech, Upmeyer told the Des Moines Register that she’s a “real fan” of Gingrich who is “pretty likely” to back him if he does run for president.
Also speaking at the Iowa summit was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is also considering a 2012 presidential bid. The appearance is Santorum’s ninth visit to Iowa since the 2008 elections.