Monday, February 27, 2017

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 5


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.



Executive Order Alert!

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order designed to impose additional roadblocks to government regulators ranging from FDA to EPA. The EO, titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, designates officials within government agencies to monitor rule-making and identify needed policy changes. A familiar refrain from Trump has been and continues to be “Excessive regulation is killing jobs”, even while many independent analyses of environmental regulations show clear economic benefits from regulating pollution from powerplants, and other efforts. (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/new-report-disproves-trump-administration-claims-of-job-killing-environmental-regulations/).



Bannon Lays Out the End Goal

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon both spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and bragged about their early efforts to revamp how the federal government imposes regulations. The most interesting and alarming statement was made by Bannon, and cuts right to the core of the last 4 week’s executive orders and nominations: I think the consistent, if you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can't get it passed, they're just gonna put in some sort of regulation in — in an agency. That's all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that's why this regulatory thing is so important.

When Steve Bannon casually mentions the “deconstruction” of regulations, remember that he is talking about clean water and air, habitat and species, and public health. Bannon's comment clarifies why agency appointments have generally been directly hostile to the mission and purpose of the agency they are meant to head. Their job directive is clear; to dismantle regulatory controls.


Pruitt’s Communications

While Scott Pruitt has been confirmed as EPA Administrator, thousands of emails and communications from Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma Attorney General were released this week as a result of an Open Records Act request and eventual lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy. Many Senate and Congress Representatives called for the release of these documents prior to the confirmation vote. Unfortunately that did not happen. However, as these records are sorted and read through, it is clear that the well-known relationship between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry will be further illuminated.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, repeatedly requested that Pruitt disclose such communications during Pruitt’s Senate confirmation.  Rather than release them, Pruitt referred Whitehouse and other colleagues to his office’s Oklahoma Open Records Act process—the same process that forced the Center for Media and Democracy to wait over two years to receive a response.  Whitehouse released the following statement today on the newly released emails:

 “These emails, which Scott Pruitt wanted to keep from public view, show an elected official cultivating a cozy relationship with regulated industries as he helped them through his official work.  Seeing industry representatives fawning over Pruitt’s efforts to attack the EPA, it’s clear that this information should have been closely examined by the Senate as we considered his nomination to run that agency.  But even after Republicans rammed his confirmation through and a court ordered the materials released, we still don’t have the full picture.  The Center for Media and Democracy and others are waiting on troves of documents related to Scott Pruitt’s work on behalf of the polluters he now regulates.  The American people must know the full extent of that relationship.”


Zinke Nomination progressing - slowly

The nomination of Representative Ryan Zinke (R- MT) to lead the Department of Interior, will likely be delayed until Marsg as the U.S. Senate goes on a week-long break starting this weekend, and returns the week of Feb. 27. 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. The arc of his career suggests that he will work to privatize public lands for private benefit; for logging, fossil fuel, and other extractive interests.


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) pledged this week to "restore access to our lands and waters" for development in her home state, and mentioned Zinke by name as a key player in her push to open up sections of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and other protected areas to fossil fuel development.







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


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 4

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 4

Nominations Continue

On Friday, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to run the EPA, putting a career fossil fuel subsidized, EPA suing, deregulating, climate skeptic in charge of the federal agency tasked with protecting the environment and human health. It is clear that this nomination puts the Trump Administration one step closer to dismantling major regulations on climate change and clean water, and to cut the size, scope, and funding of EPA; funding that supports everything from Superfund Cleanup to Water Quality testing. In our corner of the world, these two funding cuts will be felt most acutely. The climate impacts will be felt world wide, and for decades to come.

Senators voted 52 to 46 to confirm Mr. Pruitt. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, crossed party lines to vote against Mr. Pruitt, while two Democrats, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both from coal-rich states where voters generally oppose environmental rules, voted for him. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/us/politics/live-congress-votes-scott-pruitt-epa.html

While the nomination of Pruitt to EPA administrator is a major blow to all those who care about clean water and climate change mitigation, there is still time to contact your elected officials and make it absolutely clear that clean water and a stable climate are not negotiable.

The last environmentally related cabinet positions awaiting approval are Department of Energy and Department of Interior. We will update as the process moves forward...

Congressional Repeal of Obama Administration’s Regulations Finalized

On Tuesday, President Trump signed the first successful use of the Congressional Review Act since 2001 into law. The resolution (H.J. Res. 41) nullifies a Security and Exchange Commission rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments and bar the agency from issuing a "substantially similar" version in the future. According to the Center for American Progress using data from Maplight.org “oil and gas industry opponents of the rule have donated $2,321,165 to the members of Congress who sponsored the resolution to repeal the rule. Leading the charge against the rule is Exxon Mobil, who was led by then-CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The company has fought this rule from the outset and has been investigated on more than one occasion for dubious financial payments to secure access to oil in foreign countries. Exxon Mobil has challenged these claims and argues that the company follows American anti-bribery and anti-corruption law when operating abroad.”

Keeping an Eye on Zombie Projects


With the Trump Administration’s emphasis on fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure development, several large fossil fuel projects that were thought to be dead have been recently revived. These include the high profile Dakota Access natural gas pipeline, as well as the lesser known Jordan Cove LNG terminal and pipeline project in Oregon. The Jordan Cove revival in particular is worrisome news for those of us in the mid-Atlantic who fought for nearly a decade to prevent a liquefied natural gas port from being built off of our coasts, as it raises the specter of a zombie project being pursued yet again in our waters. We will continue to monitor for old and new harmful industrial projects in the mid-Atlantic, with the knowledge that in a Trump presidency, it is more likely that they could return…


The Senate Targets the Endangered Species Act
A Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) unfolded Wednesday with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs. At least one Republican has vowed to wage an effort to repeal the Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is a critical piece of legislation that protects plants and animal species, as well as the areas they need to survive. Furthermore, this piece of legislation can be viewed as 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.


New York State Block's NYC's Bag Fee
The problem of single use plastics and their harmful impact on our waterways and oceans is well known.  Many diverse environmental and governmental entities, including COA, are working on different strategies to reduce or eliminate single use plastics from our everyday lives.  New York City lawmakers investigated the issue of plastics pollution management for two years, and introduced a plastic bag fee legislation in 2016.  This NYC plastic bag fee law required retailers to charge an additional 5 cents for every plastic bag, and was to go into effect on Feb 15, 2017.  Critically, the fee would have gone back to the merchants – this is a very important point that we will get back to.

In a significant setback, NY state Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed a bill into law which postpones all city led bag fees until at least 2018.  COA advocates for the reduction and elimination of single use plastics through well-designed policies and programs, wherein any fee collected would go towards the management of these wastes, and not back to the merchants. This approach has worked extremely well in many cities, such as Washington D.C. Regardless of the structure of the fee,  it is disappointing that regulations to reduce the use of single use plastic bags in New York city have been delayed once again. Hopefully Governor Cuomo’s promised “statewide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem” will result in rapid and concrete action on this issue. Note that in New Jersey, bills to impose a nickel-fee on single use plastic bags have stalled in Trenton after being introduced last spring. Call your Governor and State elected officials and tell them you support laws that will discourage the use of single use plastic!


US Army Corps of Engineers Beneficially Reuses Dredge Material
The US Army Corps of Engineers New York District announced the details of a navigational dredging project for the Sandy Hook Channel – a major artery for shipping and recreational boating. What makes this project so unique is that the sand and gravel excavated from the channel will be placed at the Sea Bright Borrow Area – the main source of beach nourishment sand for Northern coastal New Jersey. COA has been advocating for many years for the placement of material from these types of locations back to the borrow area to spare other natural sand formations from harvest, and beneficially use the dredge material from the channel. This is an example of a win-win – for navigation, for coastal communities, and for marine life that live on these natural lumps. The goal is that the replenishment of these borrow areas will alleviate some of the need for harvesting from untouched areas. There are other areas in New Jersey that can make this work, including major inlets and other areas of sand accretion. We are working to identify these locations, and the borrow areas close to them that have been used in the past so that the USACE can then dredge them for navigation and place that material in the borrow area for storage. While not a blanket solution, this type of project can at least minimize the impact of nourishment activities by alleviating the need for borrowing from new areas while providing for navigation and coastal protection. A final note: we recognize that this material is not going out to the HARS site for remediation (for capping the contaminated area) as it has been placed there in the past, however COA believes that at this point in time, that material can be used to greater effect by being “stored” at the Sea Bright borrow area for further beach nourishment placement. This does not mean HARS is remediated and no longer needs clean sand, it does and we keep a close and watchful eye on any placement out there. http://www.nan.usace.army.mil/Portals/37/docs/regulatory/special_publicnotices/2017/PublicNoticeSandyHook2017.pdf


YOUR VOICE IS NEEDED!
·    It is vital 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 to you:
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, February 15, 2017

Sandy Hook Channel and the Sea Bright Borrow Area




The US Army Corps of Engineers New York District just announced the details of a navigational dredging project for the Sandy Hook Channel – a major artery for shipping and recreational boating. What makes this project so unique is that the sand and gravel excavated from the channel will be placed at the Sea Bright Borrow Area – the main source of beach nourishment sand for Northern coastal New Jersey. 


COA has been advocating for many years for the placement of material from these types of locations back to the borrow area to spare other natural sand formations from harvest, and beneficially use the dredge material from the channel. This is an example of a win-win – for navigation, for coastal communities, and for marine life that live on these natural lumps. The goal is that the replenishment of these borrow areas will alleviate some of the need for harvesting from untouched areas. There are other areas in New Jersey that can make this work, including major inlets and other areas of sand accretion.



See https://njbeaches.org/njdep_public_files/pdfs/sandresourcemap2012.pdf for a map of sand resources identified for current or potential future use.


We are working to identify these locations, and the borrow areas close to them that have been used in the past so that the USACE can then dredge them for navigation and place that material in the borrow area for storage. While not a blanket solution, this type of project can at least minimize the impact of nourishment activities by alleviating the need for borrowing from new areas while providing for navigation and coastal protection.

A final note: we recognize that this material is not going out to the HARS site for remediation (for capping the contaminated area) as it has been placed there in the past, however COA believes that at this point in time, that material can be used to greater effect by being “stored” at the Sea Bright borrow area for further beach nourishment placement. This does not mean HARS is remediated and no longer needs clean sand, it does and we keep a close and watchful eye on any placement out there.


New York State Blocks NYC's Plastic Bag Fee

The problem of single use plastics and their harmful impact on our waterways and oceans is well known.  Many diverse environmental and governmental entities, including COA, are working on different strategies to reduce or eliminate single use plastics from our everyday lives.  New York City lawmakers investigated the issue of plastics pollution management for two years, and introduced a plastic bag fee legislation in 2016.  This NYC plastic bag fee law required retailers to charge an additional 5 cents for every plastic bag, and was to go into effect on Feb 15, 2017.  Critically, the fee would have gone back to the merchants – this is a very important point that we will get back to.

In a significant setback, NY state Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed a bill into law which postpones all city led bag fees until at least 2018.  Read these news story for details:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/nyregion/cuomo-blocks-new-york-city-plastic-bag-law.html?_r=0

and

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/n-y-lawmakers-urge-cuomo-compromise-disposable-bag-fee-article-1.2972351

and

http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/environment/2017/02/15/plastic-bag-fee-blocked-new-york-city/97935798/


COA advocates for the reduction and elimination of single use plastics through well-designed policies and programs, wherein any fee collected would go towards the management of these wastes, and not back to the merchants. This approach has worked extremely well in many cities, such as Washington D.C. Regardless of the structure of the fee,  it is disappointing that regulations to reduce the use of single use plastic bags in New York city have been delayed once again. Hopefully Governor Cuomo’s promised “statewide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem” will result in rapid and concrete action on this issue. Note that in New Jersey, bills to impose a nickel-fee on single use plastic bags have stalled in Trenton after being introduced last spring. Call your Governor and State elected officials and tell them you support laws that will discourage the use of single use plastic!

§  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