Environmental Protection Agency

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.

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.

Exclusive: Battle Over Flaming Water and Fracking Reignites As Analysis Prompts Call for Renewed EPA Investigation

At the heart of the international controversy over fracking has been the contention that the oil and gas drilling technique can contaminate people's drinking water, sometimes even causing it to light on fire. One poster child for this claim has been Steven Lipsky, a Texas homeowner who has appeared in a viral video with a garden hose spewing flames and says his water was fouled by fracking.

For years, Mr. Lipsky has fought legal battles — most often with federal EPA investigators finding his claims of contamination credible, while Texas regulators and the drilling company, Range Resources, taking the opposite view.

An analysis released this week, describing research by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, may open this case once again. It offers new evidence that the tests taken at Mr. Lipsky's well water by Range Resources and Texas regulators, who reported little or no contamination, were flawed and potentially inaccurate.

Prime Minister Harper’s Inaction on Climate Killed the Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline

Stephen Harper climate change

With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.

The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”

The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.

Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.

While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.

For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.

EPA Called On To Stop States From Permitting Polluting Facilities Through Discriminatory Processes

The US Environmental Protection Agency was recently called on to respond to a decade’s worth of complaints regarding discriminatory practices on the part of states issuing permits to polluting facilities sited in marginalized communities already overburdened by environmental degradation.

A lawsuit filed in a US District Court for the Northern District of California seeks to compel the agency to fulfill its duty to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government.

Biomass Industry Intensifies Fight For Carbon-Neutral Status As Obama Admin Carbon Rules Draw Near

The science is fairly convoluted but also entirely clear: Bioenergy — burning wood and other forest biomass as a fuel source — produces more carbon emissions than coal.

Even if all the forests we fed into power plants were to one day regrow, in theory sucking all that carbon back out of the Earth’s atmosphere, it would be far too late to be any kind of solution to the global climate crisis.

Yet 21 members of Congress recently wrote a letter urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to “take action to remove regulatory ambiguities in the treatment of utility-scale biomass power as a renewable resource.”

Dirty Money vs. Clean Power: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Hopes to Kill EPA’s Climate Rule

This is a guest post by Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

The fossil fuel industry is pulling out all the stops in an effort to derail President Obama’s Clean Power Plan being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.

The proposed plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, is due to be published as a final rule this summer. Launching a preemptive strike, the coal industry filed suit earlier this year seeking an “extraordinary writ” to stop the rulemaking in its tracks. This would be an unprecedented act of judicial intervention.

EPA Study: Fracking Puts Drinking Water Supplies at Risk of Contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its long awaited draft assessment of the impacts that fracking has on the nation's drinking water supplies — confirming that the process does indeed contaminate water.

“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the EPA wrote.

The impacts take a variety of forms, the EPA wrote, listing the effects of water consumption especially in arid regions or during droughts, chemical and wastewater spills, “fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources,” the movement of liquids and gasses below ground “and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”

The agency wrote that it had documented “specific instances” where each of those problems had in fact happened and some cases where multiple problems combined to pollute water supplies.

Biomass Is Not A Zero-Carbon Fuel Source, So Why Does The Clean Power Plan Propose To Treat It That Way?

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is the foundation of President Obama’s climate strategy. The plan, which is to be finalized later this year, sets state-by-state targets for reducing emissions from existing power plants, especially coal-fired power plants, which will be essential to meeting the commitments made in the climate deal President Obama struck with China late last year.


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