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Trump’s EPA Prepares Another Gift For The Coal Industry

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s EPA administrator wants to redraw our nation’s mercury standard to benefit coal-fired power plants that belch out nearly half the nation’s mercury emissions. But the agency’s Science Advisory Board is balking.

The board, headed by Trump administration appointee Michael Honeycutt who previously opposed tougher mercury standards, told the EPA it needed to look again at how much mercury people get from fish and the harm from mercury.

“EPA should instigate a new risk assessment,” the board wrote.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA only looked at IQ losses in children born to mothers who ate freshwater fish caught by amateur anglers from lakes where the EPA had information on fish tissue. This excluded most of the fish eaten in our country, much of it imported or fish from the ocean.

“It’s absolutely incorrect,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard.

Ellen Kurlansky, a former EPA air policy analyst, said the board recommendation isn’t clear about whether ocean fish should be included in a new assessment.

“What does that actually mean?” she asked.

The Trump EPA packed the Science Advisory Board with industry-friendly appointees like air pollution researcher Robert Phalen who said air can be “a little too clean” for children’s health and consultant Brant Ulsh who claims radiation at low doses may not be dangerous.

The mercury report mentioned a discredited study by consultant and board member Tony Cox that claimed soot in the air can be beneficial.

But even this tainted board couldn’t stomach what the Trump EPA wants to do to our planet. The board also questioned a proposed rule that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act and the rollback of clean car standards.

Mercury exposure at its worst can mimic cerebral palsy. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

Mercury raises the risk of diabetes and causes cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack. Even how birds sing is affected.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justifications for limiting mercury emissions, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was children’s IQ loss.

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Murray Energy, once the largest privately held coal company in the country, filed for bankruptcy in October. At least seven coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

EPA is required by law to base decisions on the “best available science.”

The Obama restrictions on mercury have worked. Mercury emissions from U.S. power plants plunged by 65 percent from 2015 to 2017. The standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, according to EPA estimates.

The Trump EPA also wants to quash rules on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants which cause acid rain.

EPA Will Ease Rules On Storage Of Deadly Coal Ash

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Utilities soon could get federal approval for the riskiest way to get rid of coal ash.

The latest Trump EPA proposal to prop up the financially struggling coal industry would make water supplies more vulnerable to the ash, the toxic remnants of burning coal.

report from the Environmental Integrity Project warns that the enduring legacy of coal ash will be groundwater pollution such as that in Memphis where city water is threatened.

The EPA proposal to set up a permit program to dispose of coal ash applies in Native American territory and states except two. Oklahoma and Georgia have set up their own permit programs. The Oklahoma program, which allows dumping in unlined ponds unless they leak, is being litigated.

Coal-burning power plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash yearly. Arsenic, lead and mercury lace the ash. Companies mixed the ash with water and stored  it in unlined pits called coal ash ponds.

Such carelessness led to catastrophes, including 130 million gallons of coal ash and water being released into the Clinch River near Cleveland, Va., in 1967. The spill killed an estimated 217,000 fish and damaged the river for 35 years. In 2014, a break in a pond at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden, N.C., sent 27 million gallons of  sludge into the Dan River.

Jenny Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the language in the proposed Trump regulations would allow utilities to seek permits to continue to operate coal ash ponds which fail more frequently than landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project found that 92 percent of plants with regulated ponds have at least one that leaks. Also, 76 percent of plants with regulated landfills have at least one leaking landfill. Researchers found the groundwater often has unsafe levels of four or more pollutants. They included arsenic, which causes cancers, and lithium, which can cause kidney damage and birth defects.

The levels of contamination at many sites are hundreds of times greater than what could be considered safe. For example, some of the wells at New Castle Generating Station in West Pittsburg, part of TaylorTownship, Pa., and Allen Fossil Plant near Memphis, Tenn., have enough arsenic to cause cancer in one out of six people.

The contaminated groundwater near Memphis is connected to the aquifer that supplies the drinking water for Memphis. About a third of coal ash ponds are within five miles of a public drinking water intake or reservoir. About 80 percent are within five miles of a drinking water well.

Obama administration regulations would have allowed unlined ponds to remain open until they showed statistically significant evidence of contamination.

In August 2018, the Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit threw out this part of the law, writing that many of the 575 known unlined ponds are likely to contaminate groundwater. The Trump EPA recently proposed that unlined ponds stop accepting coal ash by Aug. 31.

Trump EPA Guts Chemical Plant Safety Regulation

Reprinted with pemrission from DCReport

Just before the holidays, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency quietly threw out regulations protecting an estimated 177 million Americans who live and work near dangerous chemical plants. The EPA’s move came just 22 days after horrendous fire and multiple explosions 95 miles east of Houston threatened thousands.

The Chemical Disaster Rule, written under former President Barack Obama, covered about 12,500 industrial facilities nationwide using or storing highly hazardous chemicals. It included safeguards such as requiring an independent party to investigate spills and explosions and plant owners to keep safety information current.

‘People Will Die’

“People will die,” said Eric Whalen, a spokesman for Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.

For example, the explosion at Texas Petroleum Chemicals Group in Port Neches on Nov. 27, Thanksgiving eve, killed one person and forced out 50,000 people.

The plant manufactures butadiene, an extremely flammable, colorless gas used to make tires and plastics. Butadiene is a known human cancer-causing agent. It can cause blurred vision, nausea, unconsciousness and respiratory paralysis.

The EPA finalized the Chemical Disaster Rule just a day before Obama left office in 2017. The rule was supposed to prevent tragedies like the April 17, 2013, explosion near Waco, Texas, at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. That inferno killed 15 people, injured more than 250 and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

No Inspections

The fertilizer plant stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate,1,350 times the amount that would ordinarily trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There was no full plant inspection in almost three decades.

“The American people and American politicians, they have a short memory,” said West Mayor Tommy Muska. “They’re going to say everything is fine, and every few years something like this is going to happen again.”

At least one in three children attend school near a hazardous chemical facility. School in Port Neches was canceled after the explosions. People had to shelter in place because of the levels of butadiene.

Environmental Groups Sue

Thirteen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Air Alliance Houston, sued the EPA over gutting the Chemical Disaster Rule.

The EPA previously calculated that its protections before the rule failed to prevent more than 2,200 chemical fires, explosions, leaks and other incidents during a 10-year period, including about 150 a year that caused injuries.

Industrial groups including American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce worked to kill the rule.

Trump Appointees Blast His Anti-Science Environmental Policy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was founded in 1970 under executive order from President Richard Nixon. The EPA has existed under nine presidents; President Donald Trump arguably has the worst environmental record of all of them, and new changes in environmental policy are drawing vehement criticism from a panel of advisers — including those Trump has appointed.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin is reporting that the proposed changes would “weaken standards that govern waterways and wetlands across the country, as well as those that dictate gas mileage for U.S. autos.” Moreover, Eilperin reports, the changes would “restrict the kinds of scientific studies that can be used when writing new environmental regulations” and “change how EPA calculates the benefits of limiting air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.”

Three out of four draft reports that were published online on Tuesday, according to the Post, assert that proposals by Trump’s administration are at odds with established science. The reports were prepared by the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, which Congress created under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Steve Hamburg, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, wonders if the changes are “politically motivated” rather than “fact-based.” Other new environmental rules would affect the types of chemicals that could be used near waterways and weaken fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

According to Hamburg, “The board has consistently said there (are) substantive scientific issues related to many of the proposed rules. Slow-walking any response to those requests and then saying there isn’t time is a deliberate effort to block any scientific input.”

Christopher Frey, who served on the Scientific Advisor Board from 2012-2018, complains that Andrew Wheeler (EPA administration under Trump) has marginalized the Board’s expertise. Eilperin quotes Frey as saying, “In effect, (Wheeler has) said, ‘No, I’m not interested in your advice.’ He’s just sidelining the Scientific Advisory Board. He obviously has an ideological agenda of pursuing regulatory rollbacks, and the science is not always going to be consistent with that ideological agenda.”