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.
Mid-Atlantic Ocean Watch – Week 1
It has been a busy week for the Trump Administration. 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. Uncertainty and a lack of transparency have come to define the first week of the Trump Administration’s actions on the environment. Yet, what may look like purposeful actions to undermine environmental protections may turn out to just be continued evidence of a chaotic transition (or perhaps evidence of both). Regardless, this is not comforting news for those who value clean water and air.
A quick rundown for the week:
EPA Subjected to Political Review, Regulatory Freeze, Grants and Contracts Freeze, Gag Order, and Climate Cleansing – THREAT LEVEL ORANGE
Several actions from the Trump Administration have targeted EPA, ordering the agency to:
o have all scientific findings and research reviewed by political staff prior to publication,
o halt the issuance of any pending regulatory actions
o been placed under a de facto gag order, silencing the ability of the agency to transmit information to the public.
o had their ability to disburse grants, contracts, and funding frozen pending review, before the majority of funding was once again allowed to flow within 24 hours,
o take down their climate change webpage, before walking back that directive in the same 24 hours.
· Specifics Below:
Political Review: On Tuesday, the head of communications for the Trump administration's EPA transition team, stated that scientific findings would be reviewed by the administration on a case-by-case basis. However, current regulations prevent anyone from impeding the timely release of scientific findings by EPA’s research and development scientists. We will continue to monitor the effects of this policy… http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-epa-studies-20170125-story.html
§ Regulatory Freeze: as part of Executive Order 1, signed on January 20, the Trump Administration delayed for 60 days the implementation of all regulatory actions currently pending in all Agencies (with few exceptions). At EPA, at least 30 regulations met these criteria including air quality management actions, renewable fuel standards, and removal of PCBs from lighting fixtures in public schools. Furthermore, important decisions from EPA on designating, approving, and funding contaminated site cleanup along the Hudson, Passaic, and Hackensack Rivers hang in this cloud of uncertainty created by the regulatory action freeze. http://thehill.com/regulation/316049-trump-delays-dozens-of-epa-regs. To find contaminated sites near you, use this very helpful website: http://www.toxicsites.us/ . New Jersey is number one in the country with 113 Superfund Sites. NY is number four with 86.
§ The Gag: The Trump Administration has also imposed a comprehensive gag order on employees of the EPA. According to the leaked memo, “no press releases,” “no blog messages”, and “no new content can be placed on any website” until further notice.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/24/epa-department-agriculture-social-media-gag-order-trump
§ The Funding Freeze: EPA grants are used to support private, state, and municipal level environmental testing, remediation, research, and education projects. On the 24 (Tuesday), the Trump administration ordered over 3 billion grant funding to be frozen, throwing into uncertainty which programs and actions would be impacted, with the potential to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing, according to records and interviews conducted by ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-administration-imposes-freeze-on-epa-grants-and-contracts By Thursday, reports surfaced that the freeze had been lifted on the majority of funding, however the lack of communication and uncertainty regarding the status of funding has left many federal and state employees unsettled.. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/26/allaying-concerns-epa-lifts-temporary-freeze-grants-states/97103198/ .
§ EPA Climate Webpage: On Wednesday, January 2, it was reported that the Trump Administration had instructed EPA to remove the climate change page from its website. The page includes links to scientific research, emissions data from individual industrial facilities, and the multi-agency Climate Change Indicators report, which describes trends related to the causes and effects of climate change. According to one EPA staffer, “If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear." It was also reported that EPA staffers were scrambling to save data and working to convince the administration to reverse their decision, at least partly. http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN15906G that the EPA's Office of General Counsel was now "walking through pages on the site" to see what was legally removable, and what legally needed to remain. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-administration-backtracks-on-plan-to-take-down-epa-climate-web-page/ . In the meantime, the page remains up.
Climate Change Related Actions – THREAT LEVEL ORANGE
With the appointment of fossil fuel industry insiders to key positions, and an aggressive emphasis on the extraction of fossil fuels, Trump’s first week in office has been bad news for a climate that is already nearing an irreversible tipping point. Actions at the national level impact our region’s coastal communities and marine environment. It is imperative for the ocean that fossil fuel extraction, production, and use be immediately reduced and phased out. With this in mind, we will review several climate and air quality related actions that have the potential to cause ocean acidification, sea level rise, and direct water quality impacts in our region:
§ Trump Energy Plan – one of the first actions of the Trump Administration was to take down the White House webpage on climate change and in its place, post the “America First Energy Plan”. The plan calls for the elimination of environmental regulations such as the Clean Power Plan (which would also reduce particulate emissions) and the “Waters of the US rule” which protects headwaters, tributaries, vernal ponds, and isolated wetlands, as well as emphasizes the expansion of shale oil and gas development and coal mining.
· Not only does Trump’s energy plan spell disaster from a climate perspective (sea level rise, ocean acidification), but an increased emphasis on fossil fuel development would also accelerate the development of pipeline, liquefaction, and other industrial infrastructure across the state which would have direct construction and operation impacts to air, water, and ecosystems.
· This is also alarming news for the continental shelf, as it appears that Trump is moving towards reversing the section 12(a) OCSLA protections that the Obama Administration implemented prior to leaving office, as well as the potential for rewriting the OCS lease plan to include the Mid-Atlantic region in drilling exploration and leasing in the future. New Jersey officials have long opposed drilling in the Atlantic because any spills could put New Jersey’s estimated $700 billion in coastal properties at risk as well as its $45 billion Shore-based tourism industry and the state’s commercial fishing industry, which generates $8 billion annually and supports about 50,000 jobs.
§ Nominations - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues to go through the nomination process for confirmation as head of EPA, as does Rex Tillerson, Former CEO of Exxon Mobile, as nominee for Secretary of State. Both of these choices are clear wins for the fossil fuel lobby. Both men have strong oil and gas industry ties. Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt is an avowed climate change denier with close ties to the oil and gas industry who has sued the EPA over a dozen times to block air, water, and climate regulations. In the past six years, he filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the E.P.A., in many cases acting in concert with the very industries that the regulations were aimed at. Meanwhile, a super pac close to Pruitt, called Liberty 2.0, was from these same industries; Murray Energy, the country’s largest coal company, for instance, gave fifty thousand dollars in August. http://oklahomawatch.org/2016/12/08/nearly-half-of-donations-to-pruitt-pac-came-from-energy-sector/ Tillerson was CEO of one of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world, which funded and spread climate denial science. The CEO of Exxon-Mobil taking over the State Department (and hence the international dimensions of U.S. climate change policy) would be a clear victory for oil and gas interests. Stay tuned for the eventual appointment of the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 2 (which encompasses the NY and NJ region).
§ Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline – President Trump signed executive orders 6 through 10, a set of orders that seek to revive and streamline the permitting process for two high profile fossil fuel pipeline projects; the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline would largely pump oil from Canadian tar sands ― a source that is highly energy and water intensive to extract and considered one of the dirtiest fossil fuels ― to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sand oil. In 2015, the Obama administration halted the project by denying permits. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/us/politics/keystone-dakota-pipeline-trump.html?_r=0
Stay Tuned for Next Week – THREAT LEVEL YELLOW
o Congress readies to wipe out newly passed environmental regulations: Reuters is reporting that Congressional republicans are ready and raring to use the Congressional Review Act (which requires simple majority votes) to stop recently passed regulations from taking effect. On the chopping block include EPA’s efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands, coal ash management regulations, and stream protection rules for coal mining, among other recently implemented regulatory actions. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-congress-regulation-idUSKBN1592AT
o More appointments on the way: It is being reported that FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur will be President Donald Trump’s preferred choice to replace current chairman Norman Bay as the head of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC regulates interstate electricity generation and transmission and natural gas pipelines. The consensus among industry is that LaFleur, a former utility executive, will be friendlier to energy industry needs than Bay, who previously led FERC’s enforcement office, and has led some of the agency’s recent investigations into market manipulation by energy giants. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/how-trumps-reported-ferc-chair-pick-could-push-a-more-fossil-fuel-friendly?utm_source=Daily&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=GTMDaily