Tag Archives: Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act

H.R. 2279 and Amodei’s Arithmetic

Amodei pollutionRepresentative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is delighted to tell us how much he values Freedom and Limited Government — unless, of course, the legislation in question would benefit the Big Corporations and their deregulation agenda.  We are also given to know how he’s all in to protect the Little Guy, the average Joe, the Great American Taxpayer — unless, of course, the legislation in question would lift the burden from the shoulders of corporate America and place it squarely on the backs of The Little Guys, those Great American Taxpayers.  Witness: The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act. While the citizens of West Virginia were trying to figure out whether or not to stock up on yet more bottled water, the Congress of the United States of America passed this highly dubious act for the benefit of major corporations, “that will greatly reduce the EPA’s ability to monitor environmental and health violations, leaving that responsibility to the states, many of which are constrained in their ability by tight budgets.” [Contributor]

“The three separate pieces of legislation included in the packet (combined in the bill)  were proposed by Republican representatives Cory Gardner of Colorado and Bob Latta and Bill Johnson of Ohio.  Altogether, the three Republicans have received more than $1,190,000 from the dirty energy industry.”  [Contributor]

Whether or not one wishes to refer to the energy lobby as “dirty,” the fact remains that the letters of support for the enaction of H.R. 2279 the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, represent a Who’s Who of the energy and chemical industries:  the American Chemistry Council, the American Coke and Coal Chemical Institute, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Mining Association, the American Exploration and Mining Association, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates,  the Fertilizer Institute, and the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group.  [EC House] So, what did these industry lobby groups get for their efforts?  A bill that would “… require the President to consult with states before enforcing federal environmental law. The measure also would prohibit the EPA from imposing overlapping regulations on states that have rules on solid waste disposal and require all federally owned facilities to comply with state requirements on hazardous substances.” [AllAg] Actually, there was more than merely turning the current environmental regulations upside down, leaving the states to literally clean up messes created by industrial waste disposal and accidental emissions.  There was the matter of who would PAY for the clean up of toxic or unsanitary conditions created by waste disposal and hazardous contamination.   Here’s the gory part:

“No owner or operator of a vessel or facility who establishes  and maintains evidence of financial responsibility associated with the production, transportation, treatment, storage, or disposal of  hazardous substances pursuant to financial responsibility requirements  under any State law or regulation, or any other Federal law or regulation, shall be required to establish or maintain evidence of financial responsibility under this title, unless the President determines, after notice and opportunity for public comment, that in the event of a release of a hazardous substance that is not a federally permitted release or authorized by a State permit, such other Federal or State financial responsibility requirements are insufficient to cover likely response costs under section 104. If the President  determines that such other Federal or State financial responsibility  requirements are insufficient to cover likely response costs under  section 104 in the event of such a release, the President shall accept  evidence of compliance with such other Federal or State financial responsibility requirements in lieu of compliance with any portion of the financial responsibility requirements promulgated under this title to which they correspond.”  [GPO]

Translation:  We’re going to junk the long-standing requirements that those who caused the pollution in the first place are responsible for paying to clean up behind themselves by by allowing “insufficient existing requirements to block Superfund obligations,” and as a result saddle state and local governments with the clean up costs. Representative Amodei certainly sat on a rickety fence in regard to H.R. 2279.  Either he wanted to protect the average Nevada taxpayer from the obligation to finance the clean up after an industrial or mining pollution event — or — he wanted to protect the industry from having to pay to clean up after itself, and dump the financial obligations on the state and counties.  He opted for protecting the Big Industries.   Thus the next time Representative Amodei speaks of “burdensome” rates of taxation, and talks of removing that burden from the backs of the tax paying public, the appropriate response could easily be — What about your vote on  H.R. 2279?

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, Politics, public safety

Almost Hell, West Virginia, and Amodei Helped?

water pollutionMeanwhile back in West Virginia.

The D.C. media continued to demonstrate its disconnection from issues concerning Americans in the portion of the country located outside Interstate Highway 495 when its Sunday morning chatterati confabs assiduously avoided any discussion of the chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.  There was plenty of information worthy of a few moments, but none deemed worthy of broadcast time which might otherwise be devoted to interminable speculation on the political ramifications of speculated political implications of endless political assumptions.  Meanwhile back in West Virginia.

There’s a lesson here about government regulations.  Those “burdensome” government regulation which are “stifling employment,” and “hurting the economy,” to hear the Republicans tell it.

“The spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in the coal industry, occurred on Thursday on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia’s capital and largest city, upriver from the plant run by West Virginia American Water.”  [YahooNews] (January 10, 2014)

The good news is that the stuff  isn’t highly lethal.  The bad news is that the preliminary reports don’t tell us exactly how much of the the stuff  was accidentally spilled into the river, the current estimate is 5,000 gallons.  Those 5,000 gallons flowed into the water supply in nine West Virginia counties.  Charleston, WV’s 51,000 residents are still struggling.

Additionally, the incident gives us a glimpse of why environment regulations aren’t the “burdensome,” “hurtful,” “job killing” spikes in our national economic life.

(1) At some point the newspapers will report the cost of this spill.  The cost of closed schools, closed restaurants, closed businesses, business revenue lost, earnings and wages lost.  Events postponed, events cancelled.

“Downtown Charleston is dead,” Mayor Danny Jones said in an interview. “It’s not just my city, it’s nine counties. When you don’t have water you can drink or bathe in, you’re pretty much frozen solid.”

(Charleston Mayor) “Jones said hotels, restaurants and affiliated businesses were closed in the city of 51,000 people, which swells to about 125,000 on an average workday. A convention of mayors and city council members from around the state, scheduled to begin Sunday, has been canceled, he said.”  [WaPo]

Common sense dictates that the economic costs of this chemical spill is going to be well beyond, far beyond, the cost of enforcing environmental regulations.

(2) Why do we have all these “burdensome” regulations when such accidents are rare events?   That’s the point, the entire exercise is undertaken to insure that accidents are rare events.  Yes, these events are rare, but when accidents do happen they are exceedingly expensive and harmful.  Witness some recent examples:

In December 2008, the retaining wall on a coal ash pond failed, sending 1.7 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash slurry into the Emory River, and an adjacent residential area in Tennessee. (Later estimates were raised to 5 million cubic yards)  The April 20, 2011 BP Deepwater Oil Spill poured more oil into the water than any other accident in U.S. history, and 11 workers lost their lives. The final effects of the destruction of the Fukushima Nuclear Power (March 2011) plant are still being tallied.

In August 2012 the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the Kingston facility, was judged liable for the damage caused by its coal ash spill.  It had already spent $43 million to buy contaminated properties.  The TVA’s litigation moved into new territory as plaintiffs were allowed to bring their individual cases to court.  [Reuters/HuffPo]

The Deepwater Horizon incident cost BP $25 billion, not counting fines levied by the government as of July 2013.  The corporation owes another $4.5 billion in fines. BP has set aside approximately $42 billion in estimated final costs.  [PBS]

A insurance trade group associated with the West, Texas fertilizer plant that exploded in April 2013, estimated the cost of the 90 foot wide crater and adjacent damage at approximately $100 million. [AP/HuffPo]

Meanwhile back in West Virginia.

(3) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   There doesn’t seem to have been enough attention paid to preventing the contamination of the Elk River.

“Asked late last week how much planning county officials had done for a possible leak from Freedom Industries into the region’s water supply, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper was blunt.

“Not enough,” Carper said. But Carper also pointed the finger at the water company, saying West Virginia American certainly knew Freedom Industries was there and should have prepared for an accident like this one.” [WVGM]

If Kanawha County wasn’t as prepared as it should have been, how about federal inspections and enforcement?

OSHA began an inspection in November, 2009, resulting from industrial accident and injury reports, but found that the firm was misclassified for the inspection program implemented and the inspection never took place.  [WVGM]

What of state Department of Environmental Protection?   Because Freedom Industries was categorized as a storage (as opposed to a manufacturing facility) and because it created no emissions — it wasn’t on their radar.  [WVGM]

At some point the U.S. Attorney will complete his investigation of the contaminant spill, and West Virginia American and its subsidiary Freedom Industries will discover what TEPCO, the TVA, BP and others have already known — it’s less expensive to create the safest possible industrial operations plan than it is to pay for the damages later.

It’s easy to be glib about industrial accidents, and contaminating chemical spills, and generalize about how statistically “safe” our energy and chemical sectors are.  It’s easy to generalize about “burdensome” regulations, but much more difficult to explain away destroyed homes, lost revenue, undrinkable water, and economic damage when specific incidents highlight how important those regulations actually are.

The question we should be asking is NOT how to reduce regulations related to the use, storage, and safety of our chemical and energy operations, but how we can strengthen those regulations to prevent as many such accidents as possible.   However, that’s precisely what the House did.

“As West Virginians were learning Thursday of a devastating chemical spill in the Elk River that has rendered water undrinkable for 300,000 people, the US House of Representatives was busy gutting federal hazardous-waste cleanup law.

The House passed the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act that would ultimately eliminate requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to review and update hazardous-waste disposal regulations in a timely manner, and make it more difficult for the government to compel companies that deal with toxic substances to carry proper insurance for cleanups, pushing the cost on to taxpayers.”  [RT] (emphasis added)

The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act passed 225-188, on January 9, 2014.  [roll call 10]  Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of the bill, Representatives Dina Titus (D-NV1) and Steven Horsford (D-NV4) voted against it. Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is recorded as not voting.   Representative Amodei may wish to explain, why, when his fellow Americans in West Virginia were struggling to find potable water, he voted to prevent the government from requiring that corporations carry enough insurance to cover the cost of their accidents.  And, why tax paying citizens in Nevada should be forced to pick up part of that tab?

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