Monday, February 13, 2017

Ocean Watch - Week 3

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 3

Public Health and Safety
·     Under the Trump Administration to date, the EPA has blocked about 30 pending regulations, not unusual for a new administration. But a review of those rules shows many of them were designed to protect the public from environmental hazards, including air pollution, contaminated water, and hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General known for climate denialism, fossil fuel friendliness, and general opposition to basic environmental regulations, and President Trump’s EPA Administrator nominee, could not be brought to articulate support for regulations on the most basic of environmental contaminates such as lead and asbestos (During a confirmation hearing, asked about harmful levels of lead in the human body, he said, “that’s something I have not reviewed nor know about.” And he said that the EPA would have to consider the science about asbestos before taking further action, although it is a known carcinogen.)

·    Moving forward, the big question will be how the new EPA will implement the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The law was championed by New Jersey’s Senator Lautenberg with bipartisan support, and signed by President Obama in June. The law imposed deadlines for the EPA to select and review suspect chemicals used in common household goods and found in the environment. Last fall, the EPA released its first list of 10, which the agency is now reviewing. But the next step is more contentious: The EPA must agree on the science, to decide which substances to ban. However, with all indications up to this point that the new administration favors industry over science, the future of how EPA will protect public health, and the health of our environment from dangerous chemicals is going to be a major question mark moving forward…

Nominations Continue Forward
This week, the Trump Administration and supporters in the Senate continued their work to push through key agency nominees. In the environmental realm, Department of Energy and Interior Department nominees Rick Perry and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) have been delayed as opposition to their nominations continues.

·     Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) came out with statements against Perry and Zinke, stating "Governor Rick Perry is disturbingly unqualified to handle our country's nuclear arsenal, and his close ties to Big Oil and consistent denial of the science of climate change should deeply concern every American," Schumer said. "Congressman Zinke would head an agency responsible for conservation of our public lands and natural resources, but his willingness to do the bidding of fossil fuel industry and support of expanding drilling and extraction on public lands is deeply troubling and puts that mission in jeopardy."

·    On the same day that Former Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson was voted through the Senate for his nomination as Secretary of State, the House of Representatives was busy removing the requirement for oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments; a pretty straightforward anti-bribery measure designed to rein in an industry particularly susceptible to corruption.

Congressional Actions
·     Not to be outdone by the Freshman Congressman who last week introduced legislation to terminate the entire EPA, this week Rep. Sam Johnson from Texas introduced “The Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2017”, which Johnson described as a "commonsense bill does right by the hardworking Americans." According to a press statement from Johnson, the legislation "would terminate or eliminate federal funding for 13 wasteful EPA programs, would close all EPA field offices, and require the EPA to lease or sell all underutilized properties." Among the programs it would kill are environmental justice programs and all EPA grant programs. It would strip funding for the greenhouse gas reporting program, regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, regulating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants; and climate research at the EPA's Office of Research and Development.

·    House Joint Resolution 36 – a resolution that would use the Congressional Review Act to rescind the Obama Administration’s BLM Methane venting rules, passed the House and now moves into the Senate for a vote. The rules would reduce waste of natural gas (methane) from oil and natural gas production activities on federal and tribal land. The rule includes new requirements for flaring, capture, leak detection, and venting. According to BLM, the rule could eliminate 175,000-180,000 tons of methane emissions annually (equivalent to 4.4-4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide); a boon to both tax payers and the environment.

·     Last week we wrote about the passage of a Congressional Review Act resolution that killed the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rules, designed to protect streams and drinking water supplies (which all flow to the ocean) from coal mining impacts. In a bit of good news, we wanted to highlight Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) and Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) of New Jersey, who were two of only nine House Republicans to vote no on repealing these regulations. Their vote to safeguard and protect clean water is recognized and applauded. The votes from NJ on this environment protection killing resolution:
o   Democrats — Gottheimer, N; Norcross, N; Pallone, N; Pascrell, N; Payne, N; Sires, N; Watson Coleman, N.
o   Republicans — Frelinghuysen, Y; Lance, Y; LoBiondo, N; MacArthur, Y; Smith, N.
o   In New York State, all Republican representatives of the Congressional Delegation voted in favor of the resolution, while the Democratic members voted against.

Dakota Access Moving Forward
    On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would grant an easement allowing the pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, drawing quick praise from project and congressional backers. Late Tuesday, five Democratic senators and four House members said the decision blatantly violated federal law and urged its immediate reversal. "Granting this easement without meaningful tribal consultation, nor proper review of environmental impacts, is unlawful and morally unacceptable," they wrote in a letter to Trump. "In addition, it has been the policy of the Corps to wait at least 14 days between notifying Congress of its intent to grant an easement of this nature, and actually doing so. This decision violates that policy and circumvents appropriate congressional review."

Climate Action from the GOP?
In a somewhat surprising development, some high profile Republicans and business leaders met this week with senior officials at the White House to offer a carbon tax based approach to address climate change. Their approach calls for replacing the Clean Power Plan and most Obama-era climate change regulations with a gradually increasing carbon tax that returns dividends to citizens. Co-authors of the plan include former Secretary of State James A. Baker, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Walmart Chairman Rob Walton, among others. We will continue to monitor this plan as it develops.

Look Out for Next Week's Ocean Watch

Senators are apparently in discussions to lock in votes on the majority of President Donald Trump's Cabinet by the time Congress goes on recess on Feb. 17, but GOP lawmakers are still pushing to confirm picks for EPA, Energy and Interior next week. These agency administrator nominations include Scott Pruitt (anti-environmental Oklahoma Attorney General in the pocket of oil and gas companies) for EPA, Rick Perry (former Texas Governor with clear oil and gas affiliations and no real idea about what the DEO does) for DOE, and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana who has defended public access to federal lands even though he frequently voted against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling) for DOI. 

·    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:
o   State Level:
§  Contact your Governor:
§  For NJ residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives:

§  For NY residents, contact your State Senate and Assembly Representatives:

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