Category Archives: EPA

Local Water, the EPA: Beyond Goodsprings

Water Faucet EPA

The Reno Gazette Journal reports that there are 23 local water systems in Nevada which are not in compliance with drinking water standards (there are currently 22, but more on that later).  Three local systems listed in the article have lead contamination levels exceeding the lead standard, 15 ppb (parts per billion) as the “action level.”  The public needs this information. However, the agency responsible for establishing the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards is the whipping boy of choice for the Republican Party.  In short – it really doesn’t do to get up in arms about water or air pollution levels and then call for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The regulatory system isn’t all that complicated. The EPA establishes the standards and then it’s up to the states to devise the implementation.  There’s a reason for this. Setting national standards means that states can’t compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which some states seek to attract industry by lowering standards until they are in competition to achieve the status of “Worse Than Any Pig Would Ever Consider in a Sty.”  And, potentially damaging everyone else’s air and water in the process.  However, this hasn’t stopped Over-Hyped Demagogue Donald Trump from calling for handing over environmental regulation to the individual states.  [WaPo]

Nor has this made much of an impression on Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz; “Cruz has called the EPA a “radical” agency that has imposed “illegal” limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. “I think states should press back using every tool they have available,” the Texas senator has said. “We’ve got to rein in a lawless executive that is abusing its power.” [WaPo]

Ohio Governor John Kasich has been critical of the Michigan attempts to address its man-made, GOP inspired, water quality issues in Flint, MI, but hasn’t been on top of the situation with the Sebring, OH water contamination. [TP]

The 2008 Republican national platform was exceptionally mealy-mouthed about environmental protection:

“Our national progress toward cleaner air and water has been a major accomplishment of the American people. By balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation, our diverse economy has made possible the investment needed to safeguard natural resources, protect endangered species, and create healthier living conditions. State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites — brownfields — have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multiuse approach to resources.”

It’s not likely that much more will come from a 2016 version.   Nor should we expect much in the way of support for addressing the national problems associated with our drinking water systems.  Remember the ASCE’s Report Card on American Infrastructure (2013)?

“At dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but as a nation we’re running on a Run-to-Ruin system in which local water distributors are functioning with outdated infrastructure while trying to maintain acceptable levels of quality.  Goodsprings Elementary School offers us an example of what can happen given a 1913 building and 21st century water quality standards. [RGJ]  If Goodsprings was an isolated example, then we could address the aging pipes and move on, but it’s not that isolated, nor that uncommon.  Current EPA estimates indicate we are having to replace between 4,000 and 5,000 miles of drinking water mains in this country on an annual basis, and that the annual replacement rate will peak sometime around 2035 with 16,000 and 20,000 miles of aging pipe needing to be replaced each year. [ASCE]

Putting The Public Back In Public Utility

I am going to start with some basic assumptions. First, that a family or person should be able to move to any part of this great land and expect to find clean water running from the faucet.  Secondly, that it is not a good idea to allow individual states to set drinking water standards, since some might find it inconvenient or inexpedient to set scientifically reliable standards in the interest of “development” or “industrialization.”  Such a piece meal approach would put paid to the first basic assumption.   So, if we’re agreed that any person in this country should have a reasonable expectation of clean drinking water then we need national standards.

Some of the standards are easier than others.  Arsenic contamination levels offer an example of a complex problem with some nuanced related issues.  The MCL (maximum contaminant level) for arsenic was lowered in 2001 from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Public water systems were to be in compliance by January 23, 2006. [EPA] [More information at FAS pdf] The Reno Gazette Journal reports ten Nevada water systems not in compliance.  One, the McDermitt GID has recently been declared in compliance with a current projected annual running average below 10 ppb after the system put in a new central well.

Arsenic enters the drinking water systems one of two ways, either through industrial activity or as a naturally occurring contaminant.  If the system is west of the Rocky Mountains it’s a reasonably good bet that the arsenic is naturally occurring.  It’s probably not too far off the mark to say that if the standard were set at 15 ppb most Nevada water systems would be in compliance, but the standard is 10 and that’s ultimately what matters.

The smaller public water systems have more trouble meeting the standards than the larger ones, as described by the BSDW:  “The smaller systems are the ones that tend to struggle with regaining compliance because they typically have limited financial resources so we have to collectively figure out ways to help that community get back to compliance,” said Jennifer Carr, NDEP deputy administrator. “Larger systems such as TMWA also have more personnel to tackle projects whereas some of our smaller water systems are operated by one person who might be doing another side job.” [RGJ]

And, now we’re down to the gritty part: Where does the money come from to resolve contaminant problems with arsenic? Or, for that matter, other water infrastructure issues?    The State Revolving Fund provides low interest loans for water infrastructure projects in the state; and can in some circumstances offer “forgiven” loans to small public water services.  The “bottom line” is that in 2016 there will be a need for approximately $279 million for arsenic treatment, groundwater treatment, storage tank replacements, metering systems, and distribution lines in Nevada.  And, the worse news, “Not all will be funded.” [KTVN]

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was created in 1996 to support water systems and state safe water programs.  “The 51 DWSRF programs function like infrastructure banks by providing low interest loans to eligible recipients for drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is paid back into the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans to other recipients. These recycled repayments of loan principal and interest earnings allow the state’s DWSRF to “revolve” over time.”  [EPA]   As of 2014 this system had provided $27.9 billion to water suppliers to improve drinking water treatment, improve sources of drinking water, providing safe storage tanks, fixing leaking or aging distribution pipe, and other projects to protect public health. [EPA] The EPA estimates that small public water systems nationwide, those serving populations less than 3,330,  will need approximately $64.5 billion for infrastructure needs. [EPA 5th report pdf]

What was the Republican controlled Congress’s response? They may have avoided a shutdown, but the waters weren’t exactly flowing:

The bill provides $863.2 million for the DWSRF  well below President Obama’s request of $1.186 billion and more than $40 million below the programs FY2015 appropriation.While the figure represents the lowest DWSRF appropriation in several years, it is significantly above the FY16 funding levels originally proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, each of which would have cut DWSRF funding to below $780 million. [UIM]

What have we learned?

  • The Republican candidates for the presidency show little to no enthusiasm for infrastructure investments in general, and beyond bemoaning the state of Flint’s water system which must be someone’s fault “just not ours,” even less enthusiasm for funding local drinking water improvement projects.
  • The Republicans in Congress were only too happy to cut funding for the best source for local public water companies projects, in the name of “fiscal responsibility” – meaning, one could think, that preserving tax cuts for the rich is preferable to providing clean drinking water to everyone.
  • The infrastructure needs in this country are serious and go well beyond fixing bridges and filling pot-holes.  This, and we’ve not yet reached the peak of distribution line replacement needs coming up in the next 20 years.
  • “Austerity” is a lovely buzz word, and “We’d love to do it but we just can’t afford to” is a fine campaign trail stump speech phrase, but these won’t keep the water coming from the tap clean and safe.  We need to stop thinking of our infrastructure as an expense and begin to consider it for what it is – an investment; an investment in the capacity of our cities and towns to provide basic services so that economic activity can take place.
  • And, NO it isn’t a good idea to abolish the EPA.

Comments Off on Local Water, the EPA: Beyond Goodsprings

Filed under Appropriations, Congress, conservatism, Economy, EPA, Infrastructure, nevada health, Politics, public health, Water

Unleaded Truth Part II: Nevada’s Lead Contamination Issue

lead paint As noted yesterday, there are three jurisdictions in Nevada which have county health departments.  Health departments in the two metropolitan areas (Clark and Washoe counties) have addressed the issue of lead contamination in their areas.  In the remaining jurisdictions it appears to be a matter of state regulations, and the interest of county commissioners, as to whether particular attention is paid to toxic contamination in homes and businesses; and, it’s a matter of reliance on EPA regulations to protect renters and buyers.

All jurisdictions are required to uphold the provisions of the “federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act enacted in 1992. This law is commonly known as Title X (ten). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations implementing Title X apply to rental property built before 1978.” [Openjurist]

“Before ratification of a contract for housing sale or lease, sellers and landlords must disclose any known information concerning potential lead-based paint hazards and available records, must provide purchasers and lessees with a lead hazard information pamphlet, and must include specific language in the lease or contract related to lead. In addition, sellers must give buyers time to conduct a lead inspection. Most private housing, public housing, federally-owned housing, and housing receiving federal assistance built prior to 1978 are affected by this rule.” [EPA]

One issue raises up when we look at the forms for renters and prospective buyers.  The rental agents and sellers may check off a box on the forms indicating they have no knowledge of real, potential, or unsuspected lead contamination in housing constructed prior to 1978.  The form does not require the renter or seller to conduct any inspection to determine if lead contamination exists on the premises.  That’s left to the renter or buyer.

“Before ratification of a contract for housing sale or lease, sellers and landlords must disclose any known information concerning potential lead-based paint hazards and available records, must provide purchasers and lessees with a lead hazard information pamphlet, and must include specific language in the lease or contract related to lead. In addition, sellers must give buyers time to conduct a lead inspection. Most private housing, public housing, federally-owned housing, and housing receiving federal assistance built prior to 1978 are affected by this rule.” [EPA]  (emphasis added)

The current provisions require those renting property or selling property to give their renters information about the dangers of lead contamination, any known information about lead in the housing or common areas, and an attachment to the lease about the proper issuance of a lead contamination warning.   The expression caveat emptor comes to mind.

And, this can be a problem for residents of rural Nevada counties because the EPA list of certified lead contamination inspectors,  and those firms which are certified for lead contamination abatement projects are based in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Reno, and Sparks.  As we’d suspect, state law (NRS 439.4797) puts those counties having more than 700,000 residents in charge (read: Washoe and Clark) and those with less than 700,000 (every other jurisdiction) under the auspices of the State Board of Health.

Advice from the state board of health might be cold comfort to those seeking affordable rental housing in those outlying jurisdictions, it begins with:

“Tenants and landlords should work cooperatively to investigate and correct lead based paint or other hazards. Nevada law requires that a landlord must provide a habitable condition inside of the dwelling (NRS 118A.290). Check your rental or lease agreement to determine your responsibility to address daily maintenance issues or repairs.”  [ pdf]

Indeed, NRS 118A.290 requires a residence be suitable for human habitation, the operative phrase may be: “A dwelling unit is not habitable if it violates provisions of housing or health codes concerning the health, safety, sanitation or fitness for habitation of the dwelling unit…” and, no, there is no specific mention of lead contamination.

Let’s focus in on rental property for the moment and the problems which may be faced by middle or lower income level inhabitants of these properties when it comes to coping with the state guidelines for lead contamination issues.  A tenant is advised to document instances of lead contamination with letters, photos, “evidence of health problems,” and work orders from private inspectors or contractors. This raises a reasonable hypothetical question.

A landlord in a jurisdiction outside of the two major metropolitan areas has signed off on a statement indicating he or she has no prior knowledge of any lead based paid issues in the building.  A tenant later notices peeling and chipping paint on window sills. The landlord again explains that he or she has no knowledge that lead based paint was ever used in the building, and doesn’t know if the underlying coat(s) of paint were lead based.  It would appear that the landlord has done all that is required at this point. After this point in the process it’s up to the tenant to provide certified mail notification to the landlord; allow the landlord 14 days to respond; and, then if nothing happens (like a certified inspection) launch the legal process. The question becomes: Who is responsible for paying for the certified inspection? For the cost of the “work orders, and private inspections?”  Return with us now to the real world – the one in which a lower or middle income family may not have the monetary resources, or the time required, to get an inspection, and launch into the legal processes required to get an intransigent landlord to move on the issue.

Yes, it would be nice if the tenant and the landlord worked cooperatively to resolve lead contamination issues – and, again in the real world, if this cooperation is going to bite into the landlord’s bottom line how realistic is it to believe that the tenant isn’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to bring the issue to the landlord’s attention, the attention of local authorities, and the attention of those who may assist in the resolution (and abatement) process.  It’s not like legal aid services aren’t already backed up with indigent defense cases, immigration issues, and other legal matters.

There are two elements of the situation in Nevada generally, and the rural areas in particular.  First, the onus moves very quickly to the buyer or renter when it comes to the inspection or abatement of lead contamination problems. A buyer has ten days to “check for lead,” in rural areas this means the buyer has ten days to find the list of certified inspectors (an easy enough task), then find one in the local region (not so easy outside the metropolitan areas), then find one who has time and resources to do the work within the ten days (now things are getting more complicated), and have the certified inspector perform the inspection and file the results —

Secondly, those tenants and buyers outside the metropolitan areas do not have much local support in terms of specific housing regulations other than building codes, state guidelines and statutes, and the federal lead contamination statute with EPA regulations. Again, caveat emptor is alive and well when it comes to the inspection for, and abatement of, lead contamination in local housing.

Surely, some future session of the state Legislature might offer consideration to (1) enacting statutes requiring the creation of a local board of health in areas with over 50,000 residents instead of the current 700,000; (2) empowering the local boards to enact ordinances regarding the inspection for and abatement of lead contamination; (3) requiring that sellers or landlords of property constructed before 1978  conduct an inspection of any properties offered for rent or sale – it not being enough to check off a box saying, “I just didn’t know…” or to have such an inspection record from a previous owner documenting that an inspection was indeed  conducted since 1978; (4) giving prospective buyers more than ten days to have such an inspection conducted before finalizing a sale. 14 would seem more reasonable, and 21 might be better.

The kind of contamination we’re discussing here isn’t an “inconvenience,” or some “tree hugger’s burst of imagination,” it’s a cause of damage to the brain and nervous system, behavioral problems, anemia, liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, hyperactivity, developmental delays, and in extreme cases, death in children. [EPA]  Additionally, in adults it can also cause abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches and irritability, loss of appetite, muscular weakness, and memory loss. [CDC]

There’s really no level of lead contamination that is acceptable, and there should be no question that in some instances caveat emptor isn’t really an appropriate civic response to the problem.

Comments Off on Unleaded Truth Part II: Nevada’s Lead Contamination Issue

Filed under EPA, health, nevada health, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, public health

Clean Up In My Back Yard: Record Fine for Henderson Contamination

Memories! Remember when Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle proposed eliminating the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency?  Hint: March 22, 2010. [Politifact] Fast forward to 2011 during which House Republicans introduced amendments to H.R. 1 which would have drastically cut funding to the EPA? [TP]  In 2012 Republicans wanted to enact the REINS Act (thinly disguised attack on the EPA) [Grist] and in 2013 a House Committee approved a 19% funding cut to the beleaguered agency. [Politico]  Fast forward —

What has the EPA and its state counterpart, the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection done for us lately?

“One of the world’s largest titanium manufacturers has agreed to pay a record $13.8 million penalty for producing and dumping banned cancer-causing chemicals at its Henderson factory.  Under a settlement with federal regulators announced Wednesday, Titanium Metals Corporation, or TIMET, also agreed to perform an extensive investigation and cleanup of potential contamination from the unauthorized manufacture and disposal of PCBs at its 108-acre site on Lake Mead Parkway east of U.S. Highway 95.” [LVRJ]

What’s close to the dump site?  A Target store and a hospital. Let’s review:  No EPA/NDEP, no fines. No EPA/NDEP no required clean up.  And, the Target store and the hospital would still be sitting there amidst the carcinogens.

Those harboring the delusion that contamination is a minor problem and Mother Nature will take care of things in her own time, might want to harken back to the Carson River mercury problem which affects residents of (and tourists to) Churchill, Lyon, and Storey counties.  The mercury went into the river during the Virginia City boom years — the effect is a current warning from the state of Nevada:

“Due to elevated levels of methylmercury in fish, the Nevada State Health Division has issued health advisories recommending no consumption of any fish from Big and Little Washoe Lakes, Lahontan Reservoir, and the Carson River from Dayton downstream to the reservoir. Mercury can cause permanent damage to the nervous system and serious disabilities for developing fetuses and children. Catch and release of fish, swimming, and recreation are safe.”

And then there are those 3,400 acres in Mason Valley associated with the old Anaconda mine site.   Atlantic Richfield is still reporting to Region 9 EPA authorities on the monthly progress made to clean up that mess. [pdf]

Meanwhile back in the 4th District in Texas, Congressman Ralph Hall wants us to know about ‘guv’mint regg-u-lations:’

“I know firsthand how burdensome government regulations are on small businesses. In order to reignite our economy, we need to curb stifling regulation, reduce taxes and, as part of the effort to bring back jobs, we must eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” — March 25, 2014.

I am having a bit of trouble seeing Atlantic Richfield, once part of British Petroleum, and sold to Tesoro, Inc. in June 2013 for $2.5 billion, as a struggling small business.  Meanwhile, the Washoe County Republicans are pleased to offer a link to a Heritage Foundation article on preventing the EPA from regulating extraction industries on their Facebook page:

Washoe GOP EPA


And this would prevent… fines for dumping carcinogens? Efforts to monitor mercury pollution on the Carson River?  Clean up management at the Anaconda site?

The most recent Heritage paean to the Oil and Gas Giants comes with some interesting quirks. (1) It doesn’t mention any of the benefits of cleaning up our messes; (2) It radically overstates estimates costs and job losses; (3) It comes to quite different conclusions than three other independent studies; (4) It devises its very own statistical model and then proceeds to operate therefrom = no transparency; and (5) It has a financial incentive to be misleading, read: Koch Brothers donations.  [MMA]

In short, eliminating the regulations and the regulatory agencies doesn’t do a thing for people who shop in stores located near old chemical dump sites, or for people using bottled water to avoid contaminated drinking water, or for people who want to go fishing and release a few of the ‘specimens to grease’ on a weekend outing.  It merely serves to pad the bottom lines of those with already well padded bottoms.

Comments Off on Clean Up In My Back Yard: Record Fine for Henderson Contamination

Filed under ecology, EPA

Yes, West Virginia, there is a Grinch

Freedom IndustriesAs thousands of West Virginia residents get first hand experience in what it’s like to live in a region without potable water, House Speaker John Boehner’s knee jerk reaction is, “We have enough regulations.” [HuffPo]

The extension of his remarks is instructive:

“The issue is this: We have enough regulations on the books. And what the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs,” Boehner said at a press conference. “Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991?”

“I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people,” he added. “Somebody ought to be held accountable here. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That’s where our focus continues to be.”  [HuffPo]

There are three questionable assertions included in the Speaker’s remarks.  First, do we have a sufficiently robust regulatory regime in place to help prevent future chemical spills of the type created by Freedom Industries?  Secondly, if the Freedom Industries facility was not inspected was this a function of (a) inadequate implementation of existing regulations; or, (b) because the plant was not deemed to be included in those facilities which should be inspected?  Third, by what standards are regulations considered to be “cumbersome, over the top, job killers?”

Question One

First, do we have a sufficiently robust regulatory regime in place to help prevent future chemical spills of the type created by Freedom Industries?

The Environmental Protection Agency, often a target for conservatives some of whom have advocated for its abolition, publishes a brochure outlining its inspection authority (pdf).  Under the terms of the TSCA (Toxic Substance Control Act) the EPA  may “Enter and inspect any premises at which chemicals are manufactured, processed, stored or held, and enter and inspect any means used to transport chemicals, to inspect records, files, processes or controls to determine compliance with TSCA. 15 U.S.C.A.§2610(a)–(b)

The phrase “manufactured, processed, stored, or held” appears to indicate that the facility in West Virginia operated by Freedom Industries would fall in the category of those which should be regularly inspected by the EPA for compliance.   However, where there are laws there are often loopholes and the West Virginia incident appears to have been such a case:

“I think the loophole, if you will, that this facility fell into is because it was not a hazardous material, it flew under the radar,” said Secretary Randy Huffman, head of the state Department of Environmental Protection. This isn’t the only potential loophole.  The DEP never inspected the facility because the company didn’t produce any chemicals or have any legal emissions.”  [PPG]

What we may have in this instance is a chemical which was perfectly capable of contaminating drinking water, and of creating health and safety hazards, but which did not fall under the provisions of the TSCA?  And, further if we require inspections only if there is manufacturing going on, or if there are emissions which pose an issue of air or water quality standards, then the regulations didn’t extend far enough to require the inspection of a ‘storage’ facility such as the one run by Freedom Industries.  Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) offers his proposal:

“… West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) said he has a plan to make his colleagues pay attention: a renewed push for legislation that would require more disclosure and testing for chemicals. The current federal law, known as the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, has been in place since 1976 and requires very little public disclosure about the safety of chemicals. As a result, there are tens of thousands of chemicals like the one at the heart of the West Virginia disaster that are in use, even though there is scant data available about their hazards.”  [HuffPo]

The West Virginia Senator’s proposal encompasses two questions.  Are the provisions of the TSCA sufficiently broad to embrace the control of chemicals which while not lethally toxic are known to be hazardous?  And secondly, should more facilities (manufacturing, storage, and transport) be subject to inspection?

If Senator Manchin is referring to S. 1009, then his support could give new impetus to the efforts toward improving public information about, and regulatory inspection of, those plants which handle hazardous chemicals.

Question Two

Secondly, if the Freedom Industries facility was not inspected was this a function of (a) inadequate implementation of existing regulations; or, (b) because the plant was not deemed to be included in those facilities which should be inspected?

If the chemical involved in the West Virginia drinking water contamination did not appear on the current list of toxic substances, then regulation and enforcement would be a haphazard thing.   The plant may not have been inspected since 1991 because existing regulations permitted it to slip into a loophole in which while the chemical was hazardous it was not necessarily lethal or was not included in a listing of dangerous substances.   In short, the “existing regulations” were inadequate.

Question Three

Third, by what standards are regulations considered to be “cumbersome, over the top, job killers?”

The phrasing isn’t a specific objection to S. 1009, but a shorthand expression for Republican opposition to any restrictions of corporate operations.  The phrase has been applied to statutes requiring compliance with corporate accounting standards, compelling inspections of food manufacturing and processing, and laws demanding that banks treat their customers fairly and honestly.   In short, Republicans have been advocates of de-regulation across the board.

Thus, any proposal from any quarter which might impinge — even ever so slightly — on corporate management is declared “cumbersome,” or “burdensome,” or a “job killer.”  No particular form or quantity of substantiation is required to support the assertion.

A Fourth Question

Is the enactment of S. 1009 an improvement on the situation?  Ironically, one of the panelists called to testify before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works concerning this bill last July 31, 2013* was the chief of the West Virginia emergency response division of their Department of Environmental Protections.

H. Michael Dorsey’s testimony (pdf) made two major points which deserve more consideration.  His first comments highlighted the fact that the TSCA was outdated and in great need of upgrading and updating.  He also commented that there were states which had inserted language into their environmental protection laws directing that the state law may be no more stringent than the federal statutes.  However,  Mr. Dorsey’s testimony also caught the other side of this issue, as noted by Daniel Rosenberg’s testimony on behalf of the NDRC. (pdf)

Rosenberg put a spotlight on one of the crucial weaknesses of S. 1009, the usurpation of state efforts to protect citizens from toxic and hazardous chemicals, the usurpation of the capacity of the states to control environmental hazards:

“The CSIA imposes limits on the ability of States to protect their citizens limits that are in critical ways worse than current law. S. 1009 blocks states from taking new action on a chemical as soon as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed the substance as a “high priority” and scheduled an assessment. This is especially damaging because years could elapse between the time EPA schedules an assessment and the time it conducts the assessment and decides whether to regulate.”

“Numerous chemicals deemed “high priority” by EPA could be languishing on the schedule, which as noted above, would be unenforceable. The waiver provision of the bill is too narrow and onerous to mitigate the fundamental flaws in the preemption section of the bill. The bill also would preempt existing state laws on high priority chemicals, once EPA has adopted a
restriction on the substance, even if the State provision may be broader in scope and more protective of the public but not directly in conflict with the federal provision.”

Dorsey’s testimony referred to states which lack laboratory, staff and other necessities required to property test, analyze, and evaluate potentially hazardous chemicals, indicating that it would be preferable to have the Feds do it.   Rosenberg’s testimony highlights what happens when the task is transferred to the federal level leaving states in limbo as the tests and reports are completed, and contends that the result may very well be that the federal activities could result in standards less stringent than those of the states.  In other words, the bill might propel environment standards in reverse.

What Do We Want?

The obvious answer is that we want safe drinking water, and breathable air.  We’d prefer not to have contaminants in our coffee cups, washing machines, dish washers, and sinks.   This requires some differentiation, and we enter into the sticky realm of cost-benefit analysis: Are we getting the results we desire in one category at a price we are willing to pay in another?

Even within this framework there are further differentiations to make.  For example, we know that lead and mercury are toxic substances, potentially lethal, always harmful.  Are we willing to absorb the production costs of paint which does not contain lead? And, who’s “we?”  Should the manufacturers of a product absorb the costs of keeping their merchandise free of contaminants in order to keep their prices “competitive?” Or, should the consumers be required to select products free of contaminants in which the costs are passed along to them?

The essential problem with the cost-benefit format is that no matter how artfully presented in mathematical terms, both “cost” and “benefit” are subjective words.   “Cost” is informed by marketplace selections, projected revenues, and estimated expenses.  What is, or is not, acceptable is related to corporate policies which may have little to do with environmental benefits — stock prices, bond yields, compensation for management and workers.  We can objectively identify if a corporation is profitable; we cannot unilaterally announce that a corporation is profitable enough; that’s a subjective judgment.

“Benefits” may be informed by such concepts as standards for emissions or contaminants,  measurements along a scale from dangerous to safe.  Do we accrue benefits when the emissions are reduced to zero?  Or, is 50 ppb sufficient to insure safety?  How do we measure those benefits?  Do we measure only the emission or contaminants and evaluate them based on scientific  standards?  Or, do we create measurements predicated on human health reports? Fewer reports of asthma? Lead poisoning?  We are willing to put up with 10 ppb of arsenic in our water supplies, assuming some occurs naturally, but are we ready to agree to having any dangerous forms of mercury in our food sources?  Again, the benefit side of the equation is fraught with differentiations requiring human judgment.

There is a Grinch

In view of the problems associated with the manufacturing, storage, transport, and use of chemicals in our economy, and in light of the insistence of the cost-benefit format for evaluating our efforts to mitigate contamination,  we’ve created our own Grinch.  He’s not out to hold Whoville hostage, he is Whoville — he wants the cheapest price, the lowest cost, and the most competitive products, but he also wants to be as safe as possible.   He wants local control, but national standards; national standards but not ones which reduce local control.   S. 1009 is therefore not the answer.  What’s probably necessary is a better informed, less contentious, national conversation about what we want to experience in our physical and economic environments and how we should go about getting it.

{*More testimony can be located here, in PDF form}

Additional References and Resources: CRS Summary S. 1009, Congressional Research Service;  Hart Hodges, “Falling Prices: Cost of Compliance,” EPI (pdf); Brookings Institution, “Are Pollution Controls Worth Their Cost?” July 19, 2013.  EPA, Chemical Data Reporting; US Senate, Committee on Environment and Public Works, hearing on addressing toxic chemical risks, July 31, 2013.  EWG, Opposition to Senate Chemicals Bill, July 12, 2013.  Andrew Cochran, “A Chemical Bill Everyone Should Oppose,” Legal Examiner, June 6, 2013.

Comments Off on Yes, West Virginia, there is a Grinch

Filed under ecology, Economy, EPA, Politics, pollution

The Very Pat Answer To Every Question: Three Pillars of the Financialist Creed

One of the significant problems associated with Democrats is their propensity to get wonkish when policy questions arise.  Democrats quite often take policy questions seriously and thereby offer long answers to short questions while their Republican counterparts are busy repeating the Three Pillars of the Financialist Creed: Less Government, Less Taxation, and More Freedom.

The first two elements are easily decipherable. Less government means corporations are less regulated. A less regulated corporation has greater latitude to pollute the environment in manufacturing processes, and greater license to speculate in highly dubious investments.  The targets of sustained attacks by Congressional Republicans bear this out.  What have they set their sites upon? Two examples should suffice.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — The first wave of GOP attacks assaulted the Bureau as “unaccountable,” “too powerful,” and “didn’t solve Too Big To Fail.”  The second wave came from the House action to defund the agency. The third wave focused on crippling the agency by refusing to confirm a director. [Fiscal Times] The fourth wave comes as Republicans declare the recess appointment of Richard Cordray  unconstitutional.  [TPM] A fifth wave comes in as House Republicans complain that the agency will be too expensive. [Bloomberg]   Why attack the CFPB?

Why have there been five major waves of attack on an agency the mission statement of which says its job is: “To make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans by promoting transparency and consumer choice and preventing abusive and deceptive financial practices.” [Treas pdf] Don’t we want transparency? Consumer choice? And, the prevention of “abusive and deceptive financial practices?”  Yes, but the bankers want to “self-regulate,” and we saw where that got us in 2008.

The entire point being made by the Republican opponents of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is not about our freedom from deceptive, abusive, and predatory lending practices, but the license for the bank holding companies to devise and market any financial products they believe to be profitable in the short term.

The Environmental Protection Agency — Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich have all called for the abolition of this agency.   However, when the Pew Center asked if environmental regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy only 39% of the general population respondents said yes, and only 22% of Republicans categorized as “Main Street” adherents replied in the affirmative.  [Pew pdf]  Given this gap between the positions taken by Republican leadership and the view of the general public, why would the GOP so diligently on the offensive about the EPA?

Why the emphasis on the alleged job-killing nature of regulation? “The dialogue between ‘jobs’ and ‘regulation’ is endless and repetitive, and in almost every instance, the claims by industry that new, more protective regulations would result in job losses and harm competitiveness have turned out to be dramatically overstated.” [Guardian] If the historical claims have been overblown, then why the perpetual hue and cry from conservatives?

The answer is that the American Petroleum Institute, the major oil companies, and the major chemical manufacturers would very much like to be free of government oversight and regulation.

This issue isn’t about our communities being free of air pollution, or the statistics concerning the incidence of childhood asthma declining in our cities and towns.  It isn’t about clean drinking water coming out of our taps, and the proper disposal and treatment of waste water.  It’s about the license given to major corporations to cut corners and save expenses in their production and manufacturing processes — again, in the short term.  The Republicans may bemoan the regulation of dry cleaning fluid disposal, but their bottom line corresponds more definitively with corporate quarterly earnings reports.

Lower taxes cure everything. Almost.  There’s a major exception to the general Republican rule.  It seems perfectly acceptable to allow increases in payroll taxes (those paid by most American workers) but not acceptable to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires.  The Bush Administration tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 are demonstrably beneficial predominantly to those in the highest income brackets, yet the Republicans have strenuously objected to allowing these cuts to expire.

Republican arguments are framed as “taking your hard earned money out of your pocket to give to someone else,” but it appears to be quite acceptable to them that our pockets are picked while the millionaires and billionaires secure their wallets.   Lost in the deluge of rhetoric is the answer to a rather simple question — If lower rates of taxation are the panacea for everything that ails us, why when we have the lowest rates since the Eisenhower Administration are we not awash in jobs?

Republicans oppose increasing the taxation rate on carried interest but had difficulty supporting the extension of payroll tax reductions.  This should have been a dead give-away.  It’s not OUR taxes about which they are the most concerned.  WE pay increasing state and local levels of taxation to make up for cuts in federal spending.  WE pay payroll taxes and sales taxes, while the billionaires pay 15% on their hedge fund income.   We are told we can’t have nice things (Social Security, Medicare, a modern infrastructure) because we can’t “afford them.”  The response, of course, is that we could afford them if the billionaire financialists weren’t so firmly implanted in our government.

More freedom — to what?  We’re not “free” to take an affordable family vacation if the national parks have to close down on some days or raise the fees.  We’re not “free” to plan our retirement if we have to consider that the Social Security safety net might be privatized and added to the money Wall Street gets to play with in its casino.  We’re not “free” to shop for comprehensible and honest home loans if mortgage originators are given license to devise products that turn toxic with the first balloon payment.

We aren’t “free” from the impact of toxic waste disposal if the plant or mine upstream has license to dump whatever wherever.  We aren’t “free” to purchase products for our children and infants if we have to do our own chemical analysis to see if they contain toxic contaminants.  We aren’t “free” to make intelligent consumer purchases if we don’t have access to information about basic product safety.

We want the freedom to work. However, that doesn’t mean we want employers to have the license to demand that we labor in unsafe working conditions.  We want our high rise construction workers secure in their environs; we want our chemical workers safe from emissions. We don’t want to watch vigils of miner’s families while they wait for someone to be found alive, or not.

If our recent history is any guide, what we want is a capitalist system which rewards work, inspires entrepreneurship, and secures our futures.  What we could do without is the Financialist myopic vision of short term gains at the expense of long term economic growth, and quick revenue booked in the quarterly earnings reports at the expense of the American dream.

Comments Off on The Very Pat Answer To Every Question: Three Pillars of the Financialist Creed

Filed under consumers, EPA, Taxation

>A Small Matter, but interesting nonetheless: David R. Hill’s nomination to be anything


Yucca Mountain Blues? My, my…that was quick! President Bush sent a missive to the Senate on March 13, 2008 with a list of nominations and withdrawals for ambassadorships and judicial appointments, but one stood out among all the rest – David R. Hill is apparently the President’s choice to fill any EPA position left vacant for any length of time. Since the Senate didn’t act on Hill’s December nomination to fill one position; the President is obviously trying again to get Hill confirmed for another slot in March.

NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE: [WHPR] David R. Hill, of Missouri, to be an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vice Roger Romulus Martella, Jr.

WITHDRAWALS SENT TO THE SENATE: David R. Hill, of Missouri, to be an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vice Jeffrey R. Holmstead, resigned, which was sent to the Senate on December 3, 2007.”

Hill is the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy, described by Secretary Bodman in 2005 as, “a key player in finding balanced, legally sound solutions to some of the most complex and challenging problems faced by the Department of Energy,” Secretary Bodman said. “His knowledge, experience and insight have made him an invaluable member of our team, and he will play a key role in the implementation of the Energy Bill signed by President Bush just two days ago.” [EST]

One of the reasons for Senate reticence may be Hill’s involvement in the dispute over the re-storage and re-classification of nuclear waste in 2006, during which the Energy Department challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s interpretation of statutes governing the disposal of millions of gallons of high-level nuclear weapons waste; and DoE’s General Counsel Hill sent a letter to the NRC asking that the program be “nixed” and that new guidelines be developed. “Now constitutional, the department wants to empty the tanks of high-level, radioactive waste at various sites, fill them with concrete grout and call it low-level waste. Opponents say it still poses a risk and should only be housed with other highly radioactive waste in a permanent repository (which has yet to be built).” [UPI] (emphasis added)

Comments Off on >A Small Matter, but interesting nonetheless: David R. Hill’s nomination to be anything

Filed under energy policy, EPA, Yucca Mountain

>Coffee and the Papers: Green, Pork and Hams


Green energy producers want an extension of the promotion tax credits beyond 2009, which could be a good deal for the windblown, sun-baked, state of Nevada. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is pushing these proposals; our Republican representatives are finding excuses not to — Senator John Ensign (R-NV) is afraid that giving promotion tax credits to alternative fuel producers will reduce the subsidies for Big Oil, and Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) is scared that one of the alternatives will be nuclear, and Nevada will get ‘dumped on.’ [LVSun] Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) isn’t referenced in the article, even though he serves on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Poor Jon Porter? Molly Ball, contributes a piece “Democrats get early start with bashing of Porter.” [LVRJ] The DCCC is launching its five day radio ad campaign telling citizens that Rep. Porter voted against veterans’ benefits, and pay raises for active duty soldiers. Porter responds with the Bushian “this is old news…” rejoinder, and a ‘flip-flop’ voting against the pay raises before he was for them.
One could add that Rep. Porter didn’t vote on the passage of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S.5) [rc 443] and voted against the “Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act.” [rc 404] Interesting, how in the Review Journal, Democrats are criticized, while Republicans are bashed?”

Wounding the warriors:
Rep. Robert Filner (D-CA) expects to have veterans testify before his House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this summer about the misdiagnosis of PTSD and the military’s disability review system. Filner accused the military of “purposeful misdiagnosis” and of misleading service members into believing that accepting a pre-service personality disorder as the root of their problems would still leave them with government help. “There were lies, real lies,” Filner said. [Army Times]

One person’s pork is another person’s project:
Clark County is “earmarked” for a $212,000 wastewater treatment study in Overton, and $500,000 will be “earmarked” for Fallon’s attempt to make repairs to its wastewater treatment system. [LVRJ] Congressman Heller is careful to remind us that arsenic is a naturally occurring mineral — right, it naturally occurs in mining operations.

Bloated private bureaucracy?
The Department of Homeland (in)Security decided to “save” tax dollars by privatizing its information analysis — so, the pricey consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton got one of those lovely contracts the Cheney-Bush Administration loves to hand out. Thus a $2 million dollar contract in 2003 grew to be 60 times that, and the employees hired cost $250,000 annually — about twice the pay of comparable government employees. [WaPo] The Washington Post has an instructive graphic illustrating how Booz Allen Hamilton turned a $2 million contract into arrangements worth $124 million. [WaPo]

Then there’s K-Town. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard testimony yesterday on how mismanagement “derailed the Department of Defense project to construct the Kaiserslauten Military Community Center at Ramstein AFB. An Air Force audit found there were no thorough project planning and design reviews, no plans to estimate of mitigate risks, no oversight of planning procedures, no pre-design validation reviews, and no follow up on 35% review comments to ensure they were properly incorporated in subsequent designs. [Audit pdf] The auditors found that these deficiencies resulted in 173 change orders which in turn created $6.1 million in preventable charges. [Audit pdf] And, that was just for the planning stage. In terms of schedule growth, improper payments to contractors, and the Air Force’s refusal to implement the audit recommendations, the story just gets worse. [Audit pdf]

A 2004 program approved by Congress to allow the IRS to privatize tax collection survived a challenge in the current House of Representatives that would have stripped the Treasury Department program and returned the functions to the IRS. “Since starting, the agencies have been assigned almost 38,000 cases and collected almost $20 million. The goal is to bring in more than $2 billion over the next 10 years. The IRS says it has set strict standards on the collection tactics to protect taxpayer privacy and prevent harassment. Visits to taxpayer homes are banned, as are late-night calls. But critics say tax collection is inherently a public function and inadequate IRS resources don’t justify handing over that job to private collectors. Besides the effort to curtail funding for the program, several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to kill it outright.” [full article – GovExec]

The Administration is trying out sound bites? Tony Snow told reporters that the reason Congress is unpopular is because there’s a “strategy of destruction rather than cooperation.” [WaPo] The White House version of ‘cooperation’ holds that members of the staff can’t be questioned in public, won’t be quoted in a transcript, and can’t be deposed under oath. Try telling the county DA you’d be delighted to cooperate with his or her investigation but you won’t go to court, won’t agree to having your testimony transcribed, and won’t testify under oath? Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds: “The president seems to be saying: ‘How can I stonewall? Let me count the ways,’” Schumer said. “Not since the Nixon administration have we seen a stonewalling strategy like this. I have no doubt it will backfire and it will not stand.” [The Hill] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) is contemplating contempt citations because of the White House assertion of Executive Privilege. [Roll Call sub req]

Cultured Corruption: Commerce Bancorp’s CEO Vernon W. Hill will step down and the company announced it has settled two federal regulatory inquiries involving his activities with corporate insiders. [NYT] Jurors in the case of former Alaska state representative Tom Anderson have heard FBI tapes including information about sham companies established to funnel money from a Texas prison firm. [ADN]

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) stopped a proposed conference on the “long stalled” ethics and lobbying reform package, objecting to going to conference on the bill until the Senate adopts a set of rules on earmarks that don’t need House or presidential approval. DeMint has had a hold placed on the ethics and lobbying reform legislation. [Roll Call sub req]

The Free-market talkers are evidence of a “classic market failure?” [Alternet] “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” is stirring up the right-wing squawkers because its analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom; Right-wing talk doesn’t dominate AM radio because of the magical hand of a functional free market, it dominates thanks to multiple market failures. Even worse, those failures represent a strong case for better regulation of what goes out on the public’s airwaves.” [CAP pdf]

Guantanamo Shuffle: 145 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bush asking for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. [McClatchy] The Supreme Court will review a case challenging the Guantanamo detentions. [WaPo]

It’s going so well? Unguarded Iraqi pipelines are easy targets for both thieves and insurgents. [McClatchy]

EPA ignores its own advice? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing changes to the national standard for ground level ozone (aka smog) supporting a limit substantially lower than current standards, however not low enough to meet the 0.060 ppm level recommended by the EPA’s own Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee. [OMBw]

The Supremes: While most of the attention has been focused on the “Resegregation now, resegregation forever,” ruling by the Roberts’ Court, [LT] [WaPo] the Supremes also overturned the venerable “Dr. Miles Rule.” Under the 1911 precedent “minimum retail prices established by manufacturers were deemed to be an automatic (per se) violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. [Legal Times] The Brennan Center argues that the Court’s decision in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life permits “electioneering communications” and the steering of “millions of dollars of special interest money into campaigns. It will be the Wild West all over again,”…”In other words, under this ruling, an ad run two days before an election, criticizing a candidate, in the district, can be funded with unlimited corporate or union funds, as long as it mentions an issue.” [Brennan]

CREW has released its “Best Laid Plans” report showing how the Bush Administration ignored its own gulf coast hurricane planning. “Nevertheless, despite the comprehensive SLCHP, post-Katrina FEMA documents demonstrate that the plan was never implemented. On August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an email to Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Michael Heath, Special Assistant to FEMA Director Michael Brown, with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan” stating, “I never got one – I think Brown got my copy – did you get one?” [CREW]

Just for the fun of it, try the Pew Research Center’s “typology” quiz to see where you fit in the Age of iPhone hype” … Quiz Here Are you an “Omnivore?” “Connector?” “Mobile Centric?” or, “Off the network?”

Comments Off on >Coffee and the Papers: Green, Pork and Hams

Filed under corruption, Ensign, EPA, Guantanamo, Iraq, Jon Porter, Katrina, Supreme Court