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

·    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

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