Monday, March 13, 2017

COA Storm Watch







A winter storm warning has been issued for our coastal area.  There is an increased threat from coastal flooding, flying debris, power outages and downed trees in numerous locations, especially along the Jersey shoreline.  While storms presents public safety and property impacts, COA would also like to recommend actions to prevent pollution impacts as well.



·         Minimize the escape of trash and debris:

o   Remove all objects left outdoors that may escape due to winds and water (garbage cans, bikes, patio furniture, etc.) and bring them indoors, where possible.  If you cannot bring these items inside, secure them tightly so they don’t fly or float away. Waste management in particular, is critical during storm events. Keep trash cans and recycling lids secured with lids on. Better yet, keep them inside until the storm is over. If you see unmanaged dumpsters and waste receptacles in your town, call your Public Works department or the company that owns or manages the dumpster. improperly managed wastebins and dumpsters are sources of litter that will end up on our beaches and in our waters. 

·         Minimize the escape of solid waste and microbial pathogens:

o   To minimize the entry of microbial contaminants and solid waste into our waterways, cover and secure all outdoor garbage cans including pet waste trash collection bins, recycling cans etc.

o   Dispose the contents of outdoor litter boxes by flushing them down the toilet.

o   Bring pets indoors and close down “outdoor” pet housing securely.

o   Make sure that pet waste is properly disposed of prior to a storm - large rain events will flush these potent sources of bacteria directly into waterways

·         Minimize entry of organic and inorganic contaminants:

o   Move any chemicals such as pesticides, household cleaners, etc. oil, salt and de-icers, fertilizers off the ground of your garage or basement if you are in a flood prone area. Ensure that these items are properly contained and put them high up on shelves above the flood zone.

o   If you must store these items outside, make sure they are properly secured and high above a flood or puddle zone outside homes, businesses, municipalities.

·         Park your car and other mechanical equipment above flood waters

o   Not only is flood water damaging to your car, but these waters can also flush fuel, grease, oils, and other contaminants from vehicles directly into waterways. If you live in a flood prone area, make sure your car, lawnmower, and other mechanical equipment is secured away from these flood zones.

·         Consider reducing your use of Showers and Bathrooms during Storms

o   Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed and damaged numerous wastewater treatment facilities in our region, resulting in 11 billion gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage flowing directly into rivers, bays, canals, and in some cases, city streets. 

o   During a storm event, try to minimize the amount of wastewater you are sending to your wastewater treatment plant or septic tank. Large amounts of precipitation can impact the ability of septic systems and wastewater treatment plants to function. The less wastewater you are sending down the drain, the less chance of a malfunction at the plant or tank.

Mid- Atlantic Ocean Watch Week 7


Welcome to Ocean Watch; a weekly recap of federal and regional actions that impact the coastal and marine water quality and ecosystems of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Clean Ocean Action will aggregate and analyze these actions, and signify the impact and threat level to the Mid-Atlantic using color coding – Red is a high level threat, orange is intermediate, yellow is a caution, and green would be a positive action. While many of these actions have taken place in Washington DC, and don’t affect the mid-Atlantic directly, the direction of national energy, climate, and regulatory policy will have implications and impacts for the mid-Atlantic region.


Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 7


NOAA Funding Chop

According to an inter-administration memo obtained by the Washington post, the Trump Administration will seek to cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget by 17 percent, specifically focusing deep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Budget cuts would also eliminate funding for numerous other NOAA programs including grants for external research, coastal management, estuary reserves, and “coastal resilience”. NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose $126 million, or 26 percent, of the funds it has under the current budget. Its satellite data division would lose $513 million, or 22 percent, of its current funding under the proposal.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service would be fortunate by comparison, facing only 5 percent cuts, however, ask most fisheries scientists, and they will tell you that their programs were already underfunded significantly. In the Mid-Atlantic region, NOAA funding goes directly toward sea level rise adaptation, fisheries science, estuary programs, nonpoint source pollution abatement, and much more. Not to mention, our coastal communities have a vested interest in federal funding for satellites and research for climate and meteorological data. Finally, another proposed cut would eliminate a $73 million program called Sea Grant, which supports coastal research conducted through 33 university programs across the country. NJ Sea Grant has invested in coastal nonpoint control, and the maintenance of pump out stations for boats to empty their marine heads; a critical investment for our heavily used coastal waters.

Coast Guard Budget Cuts Too!

In stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s proposed budget increase of 9.2 percent ($54 Billion increase) in Defense spending, this military buildup will not apply to the US Coast Guard. In fact, the Coast Guard is being targeted for a roughly 10 percent budget cut according to documents from the Office of Management and Budget.

The US Coast Guard is continually underfunded and undermanned, with a total force of 56,000 (slightly larger than NYC’s police department) tasked with protecting the 95,000 miles of American coastline, and responsible for rapid response on issues ranging from navigational safety, shipping related pollution and discharge monitoring, oil spill monitoring and response, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, vessel rescue and response, among many other services.  It is unclear how President Trump can justify a cut to such an essential branch of Government whose services are overwhelmingly geared toward protecting domestic interests.



EPA Administrator is a Fossil Fuel Industry Parrot

On Thursday, Scott Pruitt, the new chief at the Environmental Protection Agency, and NOT a scientist himself, took a line right from the fossil fuel industry’s playbook and issued the newer, softer form of climate denialism that has been making its rounds within the Trump Administration. Pruitt said measuring the effect of human activity on the climate is "very challenging" and that "there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact" of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is of course false, as over 97% of scientists working in the climate field agree that the climate is warming, and that warming is overwhelmingly due to human caused emissions of greenhouse gases. This has not been a serious scientific debate in over 30 years, and Pruitt’s statement is at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus, the very agency he oversees, as well as NASA and NOAA, and of course, reality. Consider:

·         NASA and NOAA reported in January that earth's 2016 temperatures were the warmest ever. The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, "a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere," the agencies said in a joint statement.

·         The EPA says on its website that "carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change." The agency notes that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, "release large amounts of CO2, causing concentrations in the atmosphere to rise."

·         New Jersey just experienced the warmest February on record, with a statewide average temperature just one degree below the typical average for March. Numerous other Cities and States throughout the region and country experienced the warmest February and/or warmest February day ever recorded as well.



Lobbyists in the Swamp

While the high profile nominations get much of the press and publicity (along with Senate confirmation votes) the Trump Administration has also quietly moved to fill the hundreds of lower level government positions. ProPublica recently published a list of 400 or so lower level “beach head” positions meant to implement the Trump Administration’s agenda and report on agency activities.


Most relevant to COA’s work in advocating for stronger clean water and environmental protections, is the number of former lobbyists from industry appointed to work in agencies that directly regulate their former professions. This conflict of interest was a key reason Trump campaigned on banning former lobbyists. However the ProPublica list proves otherwise, as they “found at least 36 (former lobbysits), spanning industries from health insurance and pharmaceuticals to construction, energy and finance. Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.” According to ProPublica, that number is also probably a vast underestimate, as they included those who formally registered as lobbyists, a process 
increasingly avoided by many in Washington. See the full list at: https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/beachhead

The Gulf of Mexico is a Sacrifice Zone

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced that the Department will offer 73 million acres offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for oil and gas exploration and development. The proposed region-wide lease sale scheduled for August 16, 2017 would include all available unleased areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. For comparison sake, New Jersey is a hair under 4.5 million acres.

The Gulf of Mexico continues to support heavy fossil fuel extraction activities, including routine and accidental discharges, spills, and leaks, as well as disruptive exploration activities. In a region heavily impacted by sea level rise and storm surge, the continued sacrifice of this amazing bioregion to the fossil fuel industry is self-defeating, and a clear warning to all those on the Atlantic Coast that a clean ocean economy does not mix with fossil fuel extraction.

Next Week

Next week, sources have indicated that the Trump Administration is expected to sign an Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan – President Obama’s signature climate change regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. This will be a lengthy process of withdrawing and rewriting these rules complete with notice and comment opportunities.

In the coming weeks, Trump is also expected to begin the process of overturning President Obama’s moratorium on new federal coal leases on public land, automobile vehicle efficiency standards, United Nation climate program funding, and potentially withdrawing the US from the 200-nation Paris Climate Agreement (a step that would undermine the international effort to confront global climate change).

The irony: New Jersey just experienced the warmest February on record, with a statewide average temperature just one degree below the typical average for March. Numerous other Cities and States throughout the region and country experienced the warmest February and/or warmest February day ever recorded as well.



YOUR VOICE IS NEEDED!

·         The executive orders and congressional actions of the last week have reinforced how vital it is that every citizen engage with their elected officials. In this day and age of instant communication, there is no excuse for not contacting your elected officials. Use the links below to find your representatives and let them know how important clean water and strong environmental protections are.

o   Federal:


§  Call your US House of Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/

o   State Level:

§  Contact your Governor: https://www.usa.gov/state-governor

§  For NJ residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/njmap210.html

§  For NY residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives: http://www.elections.ny.gov/district-map/district-map.html


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Large Yellow-ish Slick Spotted and Sampled thanks to Navesink River Watchers in Fair Haven





Here’s a text-book case of  “see it, report it” citizens in action.  Thanks to watchful eyes on the river off Lewis Point and Batten Road, on March 1, a large brownish/yellowish slick was spotted on the Navesink River moving with the incoming tide. They contacted Clean Ocean Action who trained them on action steps.  As a result the river sleuths:

  • ·         Photographed the slick,
  • ·         were able to take a sample (thanks to tide and winds bringing slick under the dock),
  • ·         and called NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Hotline 877-WARNDEP.  Importantly, they requested and received a case number—which allows for follow up and tracking of the incident in the future.


NJDEP contacted David Sorensen, Senior Environmental Health Specialist at the Monmouth County Health Department who arrived on the scene, unfortunately the slick had passed.  Fortunately, the river watchers had photos and a sample.  David arrived after the slick had passed, but they were able to give him the sample and images they had taken. 

Under a microscope, Sorensen identified the slick as an algal bloom of the species, Heterocapsa rotundata, caused by strong sunlight and the way above average February weather.  According to Sorensen, blooms like this can be magnified by pollution, and “raise concerns towards shellfish and fin fishes at this time of year.  If it was summertime the health department would monitor it closer to see if a health advisory was needed.”

While this turned out to be a “natural event” it is very important to capture them for the record.  Algal blooms can be an indicator of fertilizer and other nutrient runoff issues, can affect dissolved oxygen levels in the river which limit the amount of marine life, and certain algal blooms can even release toxins that impact shellfish, finfish, and recreational opportunities.  

Great job river watchers!

You too can be a voice for the river, if you see any suspicious pollution, or potential pollution, call DEP and report it.  Put this number into your cell phone or keep it handy: 877-WARN DEP

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ocean Watch - Week 6


Welcome to Ocean Watch; a weekly recap of federal and regional actions that impact the coastal and marine water quality and ecosystems of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Clean Ocean Action will aggregate and analyze these actions, and signify the impact and threat level to the Mid-Atlantic using color coding – Red is a high level threat, orange is intermediate, yellow is a caution, and green would be a positive action. While many of these actions have taken place in Washington DC, and don’t affect the mid-Atlantic directly, the direction of national energy, climate, and regulatory policy will have implications and impacts for the mid-Atlantic region.

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 6



ALL Waters of the US Deserve Protection


On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing his administration to oll back the controversial Obama-era “Clean Water Rule”. That rule was drafted and promulgated by EPA, and clarified the federal government’s jurisdiction over ephemeral streams ad tributaries, seasonal bogs and vernal pools, and isolated wetlands  under the Clean Water Act.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 25 years ago, it defined its jurisdiction over waters using the term “navigable”, linking CWA protections to the size of the waterway. In short, if you could paddle or boat on the river, it was clear that the CWA applied. However, smaller streams and tributaries, and ephemeral and seasonal pools and isolated wetlands were left in a grey area. Numerous court interpretations, including a controversial Supreme Court split decision, left this boundaries of CWA jurisdiction incredibly muddled. The Obama era “Clean Water Rule” gave much needed clarity and protection to these essential headwater streams, tributaries, and wetlands. The EPA estimated the Waters of the U.S. Rule would have resulted in an increase of regulated waters of just three percent (or around 1500 acres NATIONWIDE), and was written in such a way as to avoid the regulation of “ditches” – of particular concern to famers and ranch owners. In short, it was never a "federal land grab" or "assault on private property" that many had made it out to be.

Unfortunately, the targeting of this rule is no surprise. President Trump’s campaign included the rollback of this rule as part of his platform: “The regulations are horrible, what’s happening with regulations, horrible,” Trump said to the National Home Builders Association in a speech last August. Furthermore, Trump’s new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt sued the agency when he was attorney general of Oklahoma over the Waters of the U.S. Rule. That lawsuit has meant the new rule has never been implemented.

With the confirmation of Pruitt to EPA head, and the announcement of this executive order which directs Pruitt to eliminate the Waters of the US rule, thousands of headwater streams, tributaries, ephemeral bogs, vernal pools, and isolated wetlands are in direct danger of losing federal pollution protection. Yet, the process for dismantling a rule is a lengthy and complicated legal process that could take longer than Mr. Trump’s first term. The process will also be required to comply with due process requirements including a public notice and comment period.

Therefore, while this is yet another bad piece of news for all those who depend upon and care for clean water, and once again, this is yet another opportunity for clean water supporters to advocate for environmental protections, and accountability from our elected and governmental officials.

A Trump Budget

On Monday, President Trump announced the framework of a budget plan that would increase the military and defense budget while making sharp cuts to EPA and the State Department. Defense spending in the most recent fiscal year was $584 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, so Trump's planned $54 billion increase would be a rise of 9.2 percent. According to senior administration officials, the plan will demand “tens of billions” of dollars in reductions to EPA and State Department budgets. The EPA’s roughly $8 billion budget, around half of which goes to state and local governments, is squarely in the crosshairs as even modest projections have suggested cuts of $1 billion or more. If enacted, sources said, EPA’s budget would drop from its current level of $8.1 billion to $6.1 billion, a level not seen since 1991, and one source said the agency’s 15,000-strong workforce would drop to 12,000, a level not seen since the mid-1980s.


Specifically, President Trump has proposed:
 
·         BEACH water quality testing state grants – 100% cut

·         Multipurpose State Grants – 100% cut

·         EPA Climate Protection – 69% cut

·         Nonpoint Source Pollution State Grants – 30% cut

·         Water Pollution Control State Grants – 30% cut

·         EPA Marine Pollution – 15% cut

·         Brownfields State Grants – 31% cut

·         Wetlands State Grants – 31% cut

·         EPA Brownfields program – 44% cut

·         EPA Safe and Sustainable Water Resources – 35% cut

·         EPA Lead RRP – 29% cut

·         Drinking Water State Grants – 30% cut

·         Lead State Grants – 30% cuts



In New Jersey alone, roughly 100 million dollars in EPA funds go to supporting wastewater and drinking water investments, contaminated site cleanup, source tracking for pollution, water quality testing for swimmer safety, and more. According to many sources, Federal Funds accounts for close to 40 percent of the NJDEP’s budget, and documents indicate that in the current and past fiscal years, NJDEP has spent more on federal funds than state funds on “protecting the land, air, and waters of New Jersey.


In the most densely populated state in the country, with the most listed Superfund contaminated sites in the country, documented evidence of water quality deterioration due to failing infrastructure and nonpoint source pollution, and a history of widespread industrial pollution, cuts to EPA funding will have a direct impact on the public health and safety of the State, and the ability of the NJDEP to protect its environment and citizens.

NOTE: Residents of East Chicago, Indiana, and several environmental and community groups on Thursday petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take emergency action to remove lead and arsenic contamination from the city's drinking water. This follows the Flint drinking water crisis in Michigan, as well as the discovery of numerous schools in NJ with high levels of lead in drinking water. All this while the Trump Administration pushes for drastic cuts to those very EPA programs that would work to remove lead and arsenic from infrastructure.

Endangered Species Act on the chopping block

Rep. Pete Olson (Texas) recently introduced a bill  would require government agencies to take into account the financial costs of protecting our most at-risk species.  At its core, this bill is an attempt to undermine the ESA and make the listing of species and protection of critical habitat much harder.


This bill comes on the heels of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing that took aim at the ESA and its impacts on preventing extraction activities in critical endangered species habitat. As we wrote then, the ESA is the “canary in the coal mine” of environmental regulations – if this Law is allowed to be repealed, weakened, or eviscerated, there is no telling which critical Environmental Regulation is next.


Furthermore, with the confirmation of Ryan Zinke to head the Interior Department, it is clear that the ESA is a target.





Pruitt's First Gift to Big Oil

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it has withdrawn a 2016 Information Collection Request (ICR) which directed existing oil and gas facilities and operators to provide data needed to help the agency determine how to best reduce methane and other harmful emissions from existing sources in the large and complex oil and natural gas industry. The ICR applied to a wide range of entities within the oil and gas industries, including onshore production, gathering and boosting, gas processing, transmission, storage, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) import/export. It sought information about the equipment used at these facilities, available emissions controls, and what is involved in the installation of those emissions control.

EPA made this decision one day after receiving a request for such action from a group of state attorneys general. State Attorney General’s signed on to this request include Texas, Alabam, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia.




ZINKE NOMINATION

On Wednesday, the US Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) to lead the Interior Department by a vote of 68 to 31. Fifteen Democrats joined Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Chris Coons(Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Martin Heinrich(N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). The Interior Department manages one fifth of the lands of the United States (about 500 million acres total) not including the millions more underground. The agency manages natural resources such as coal and timber, and also oversees the listing of endangered species. Most important to COA, the Department of Interior manages all offshore resources such as oil, gas, and sand.

As we wrote previously, Zinke has been a mixed bag in terms of his environmental credentials – strong at times on advocating for public access to public land and for certain stewardship goals related to hunting and fishing management, yet also a very troubling record of voting against the protection of endangered species — and for fossil fuel development and other extractive industries on public lands. Zinke also has strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry — which has given him more than $300,000 during his political career. While Zinke may seem more of a “moderate” in comparison to other Trump agency nominees, it is clear that the Administration will direct him to open up public lands to extraction, roll back endangered species protections, and push to drill for oil in the Arctic. The question is if Zinke is strong enough to push back.

UPDATE: After literally riding a horse into office on his first day on the job, Interior Secretary of Interior Zinke promptly signed an order overturning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's guidance to agency managers to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022. The policy was objected to by several gun rights and hunting groups becayse "non-toxic copper and steel shot is somewhat more expensive" according to the Washington Post. According to the Post, lead poisoning from fragments of shot consumed by scavengers and absorbed into the food chain is estimated to kill between 10 and 20 million birds each year, along with other species.

Next Week

Next week, sources have indicated that the Trump Administration is expected to sign an Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan – President Obama’s signature climate change regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Given the devastating impacts of greenhouse gas and other emissions from fossil generated electricity, including increased storm severity, sea level rise, ocean acidification, mercury deposition, and others, COA will be opposing these rollbacks. This will be a lengthy process of withdrawing and rewriting these rules complete with notice and comment opportunities.

In the coming weeks, Trump is also expected to begin the process of overturning President Obama’s moratorium on new federal coal leases on public land, automobile vehicle efficiency standards, United National climate program funding, and potentially withdrawing the US from the 200-nation Paris Climate Agreement (a step that would undermine the international effort to confront global climate change).

The irony: New Jersey just experienced the warmest February on record, with a statewide average temperature just one degree below the typical average for March. Numerous other Cities and States throughout the region and country experienced the warmest February and/or warmest February day ever recorded as well.

YOUR VOICE IS NEEDED!
The executive orders, appointments, budget proposals, and congressional actions of the last week have reinforced how vital it is that every citizen engage with their elected officials. In this day and age of instant communication, there is no excuse for not contacting your elected officials. Use the links below to find your representatives and let them know how important clean water and strong environmental protections are.

o   Federal:


§  Call your US House of Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/

o   State Level:

§  Contact your Governor: https://www.usa.gov/state-governor

§  For NJ residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/njmap210.html

§  For NY residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives: http://www.elections.ny.gov/district-map/district-map.html