Tag: EPA

Musician playing in empty Beijing square, mouth and nose covered to protect against the pollution

The GOP’s disHONEST Act against the EPA

Yesterday, the House passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science, or HONEST, Act. Tortured use of acronym aside, this Act is anything but honest.

The GOP claims the act is to force the EPA to provide the raw data behind all of its decisions. However, the primary reason for the Act is to inhibit regulations based, in part, on confidential or proprietary raw data. The Act’s inspiration came from research published in 1993 and known as the Harvard Six Cities Study.

To summarize the Six Cities Study, the research found that people in cities with dirty air were dying sooner than people living in cities with clean air.

This research formed the basis for many of the EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations related to particulate matter. If you can clearly see the skyline of LA now, and breathe its air without a facial mask, thank the authors of the Six Cities Study.

Industries have sought to undermine the science of the Studies since the 1993 publication. To do so, they’ve demanded all the raw data behind the studies, including enough personal medical information to expose the identity of the study participants. As lead researcher, Douglas Dockery, noted in testimony in front of Congress in 1997:

… because it had promised study participants confidentiality, Harvard couldn’t share the raw data from its federally funded Six Cities study.

Is this type of raw data necessary? No.

If study conclusions and medical advancements can only be made from studies where subject identities are exposed, we’d all still be chewing tree bark in order to alleviate our pain.

Congress is still after this data at the behest of industry. In 2013, Representative Smith tried to subpoena the data from the EPA. When the request went unfulfilled, in large part because the EPA didn’t control the raw data, the House passed the first of the HONEST acts. It has attempted to pass the same or similar bill every year since.

Several medical associations, including the American Lung Association, National Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association wrote a letter to Representative Smith expressing their concern about the HONEST bill and its companion, the  EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017. In it, they wrote:

This legislation would limit the kinds of scientific data EPA can use as it develops policy to protect the American public from environmental exposures and permit violation of patient confidentiality. If enacted, the legislation would:

  • Allow the EPA administrator to release confidential patient information to third parties, including industry;
  • Bolster industry’s flawed arguments to discredit research that documents the adverse health effects of environmental pollution; and
  • Impose new standards for the publication and distribution of scientific research that go beyond the robust, existing requirements of many scientific journals.

They further state:

Science, developed by the respected men and women scientists at colleges and universities across the United States, has always been the foundation of the nation’s environmental policy. EPA’s science-based decision-making process has saved lives and led to dramatic improvements in the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth we share. All Americans have benefited from the research based scientific advice that scientists have provided to EPA.

The HONEST Act—not as honest as its sponsor claim—now goes to the Senate. The Senate has not moved on previous iterations of the bill because of a threatened Presidential veto. Unfortunately, we no longer have this protection, as Trump has signaled there is no polluting bill he won’t embrace.

Thankfully, the filibuster is still in place in the Senate, and I fully expect Democrats to exercise it on our behalf. All Democrats…this is one bill where no one gets a pass.

Photo courtesy of DaiLou CC BY 2.0 

 

 

Picture of Andy Johnson's dam

Andy Johnson EPA Consent Decree

Previous coverage here and here

Andy Johnson created a “stockpond” by building a dam on a creek that is covered under the Clean Water Act. The EPA issued a violation to him for not getting a permit for unauthorized dumping in said creek. The solution outlined in the violation was to work with the agency to remediate the damage. If he didn’t comply, he could face significant fines.

Rather than work with the EPA, Johnson sued, to the accompaniment of press conferences, news storiesCongressional hearings, op-ed pieces by Paul Ryan, and videos featuring a plethora of American flags and small children.

March 22, lawyers with the US Department of Justice and representing Andy Johnson filed a consent decree in court to resolve the court case of Andy Johnson V EPA. The consent decree outlines steps that Johnson must take in order to settle the matter. These are:

  1. Plant dormant willows partially around the pond he created, and ensure they live until September of 2017.
  2. The site must be monitored for invasive species until September of 2017.
  3. Fence the north side of the pond to keep livestock away from the planted areas. The fence must be maintained until September 2017.

That’s it.

I obtained the Administrative Records for this case from the EPA. These are records the EPA maintains for any violation or possible violation, which are then submitted to the courts if the violation results in a court case. In the Administrative Records we discover:

  • That a neighbor warned Johnson he needed a permit to build the dam he was building. He was warned before he started, and again during the work. The same neighbor also asked to be notified when Johnson was informed of the complaint, as the neighbor wanted to notify the Sheriff’s office ahead of time because of other unspecified actions Johnson had taken against the neighbor.
  • That same neighbor, or neighbors, had significant problems with the work, detailed in photos showing potential points of erosion and problems with shared driveways, and silt contamination of surrounding areas.
  • Wyoming gave Johnson a stockpond permit, even though the State knew Johnson was really building a fish pond, “with the understanding that the local official could use it”. Which “local offical”? This isn’t given, but if I lived in that area, I sure would like to know which “local official”.
  • Regardless of the “local official” who would also benefit from the pond, the general feeling in the  local community was that they did not like the pond and felt “if this type of project is allowed to happen“, it would set a precedent that would then be followed by others in the area.
  • Johnson had one single horse, which is sufficient for Wyoming to give a stockpond permit, but the neighbor never saw the horse actually use the “stockpond”.
  • The construction of the simple “stockpond” required a heavy construction plow, and what looked like a whole lot of rock and concrete.
  • The resulting pond easily exceeded the State mandated 20 acre feet as maximum size for a “stockpond”.
  • The “stockpond” is an “ongoing source of irritation between neighbors“. Yeah, we caught that.
  • The County was concerned about the “stockpond”: that it was misrepresented, that it would cause problems with neighbors and an adjacent county road, and that the public wasn’t given an opportunity to comment. “It would appear from the permit that this reservoir has been constructed under the pretense of providing waters to livestock or wildlife although this is an eight (8) acre, residential subdivision.”
  • It’s necessary to maintain the same flow of water for downstream fisheries, even in low-flow times. A dam with a spillway can adversely impact this flow.
  • Though the dam doesn’t look it might blow and take out the roadways (knock on wood) it did puzzle the State engineers as to why it didn’t match the permit request to the State.
  • Andy feels entitled

Well, then. Seems there is much more to this “stockpond” than Mr. Paul Ryan mentioned in his opinion piece, or reflected in the video with all those American flags.

I’m disappointed in the consent decree. Johnson’s actions were an egregious violation of the CWA. I have received documents from the Justice Department in response to a FOIA about the communications leading to this decree, and will post an update.

 

 

 

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