Sharon Kelly's blog

Water Pollution Trading Programs Under Fire as Report Finds Lax Oversight, "Shell Games" Put Waterways at Risk

A little-noticed federally-backed program is chipping away at the foundation of the Clean Water Act, one of the nation's core environmental laws, allowing major polluters to evade responsibility for contaminating rivers, streams and other waterways, an environmental group said in a report released Thursday.

So called “water quality trading” programs have quietly spread into more than 20 states, the report said, with a goal of establishing a water pollution credit trading market — essentially a cap-and-trade system, like those controversially proposed for climate change, but covering the dumping of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus into America's waterways.

Those nutrients are behind algae blooms that suck oxygen out of water supplies, killing fish and other wildlife and sometimes making people sick. The EPA calls nutrient pollution “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems” and warns that the hazards are likely to grow worse as the climate warms.

Programs to trade credits for nutrient pollution are still relatively small scale, but have gained the backing of the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. They are based on the idea that a free market can help identify the cheapest ways to cut pollution in a watershed.

EPA Scientists Consider Dropping "Widespread, Systemic" Language from National Study Findings

A phrase in the Executive Summary of EPA's national study on the threat that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies has come under increasing fire from environmentalists and scientists.

The EPA's draft executive summary, released this fall, included a line that has been widely quoted by supporters of the shale gas rush: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have lead to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

There are signs that the EPA's scientific advisors, currently engaged in a peer-review of the study, are now backing away from that phrasing, emphasizing instead the fact that drinking water supplies have been impacted at times, and that many factors, like sealed legal settlements and trade secrecy, have kept information out of the public eye.

"Abandoned" by EPA, Landowers from Dimock, Pavillion, Parker County Demand Inclusion in EPA National Fracking Study

For the past five years, the EPA has undertaken a highly-consequential national study on the impacts that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can have on American drinking water supplies.

The agency will look to the results of this program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing,” EPA said in a 2013 statement.

This June, the national study's draft assessment was released to the public, and while hundreds of spills, accidents, and even cases where fracking itself directly contaminated underground aquifers (a method of pollution that the oil industry had long argued had never happened) were reported by EPA, it was a phrase from the agency's press release that drew the attention of the national media: “hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

EPA Moves to Require Gas Processing Plants, for First Time, to Make Hazardous Emissions Public

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to require natural gas processing plants to start complying with federal toxic chemical disclosure laws, in response to a lawsuit and petition filed by a collection of environmental and transparency advocates.

A record-setting 19 trillion cubic feet of gas was processed by these plants — over 550 of which dot the country — last year, representing a rise in volume of 32 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Department. The EPA now estimates that over half of these plants release more than 10,000 pounds of toxic chemicals each year, making their pollution substantial enough to require federal attention.

Worries Build Among Investors Over Oil and Gas Industry’s Exposure to Water and Climate Risks

When it comes to financial risks surrounding water, there is one industry that, according to a new report, is both among the most exposed to these risks and the least transparent to investors about them: the oil and gas industry.

This year, 1,073 of the world’s largest publicly listed companies faced requests from institutional investors concerned about the companies’ vulnerability to water-related risks that they disclose their plans for adapting and responding to issues like drought or water shortages.

A New Kind of Frackademia? New Environmental Inspectors Offered Free Industry-Funded Classes on Fracking

At an industry conference in Philadelphia last month, oil and gas executives gathered to hear about a little-known public relations effort with a very precise target: newly hired state and federal environmental inspectors.

At a seminar titled “Staying Ahead of Federal and State Regulations: A Partnership with Academia and Government,” officials from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas described how gifts from companies like ExxonMobil allowed their universities, along with the Colorado School of Mines, to offer state regulators free classes on oil industry best practices, travel and accommodations included.

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