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.


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.

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:

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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