Dec. 30, 2010 by Yee Huang

An Environmentally Disastrous Year

a(broad) perspective

In 2010, natural (and unnatural) environmental disasters around the world killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions more, and caused significant air and water pollution as well as human health catastrophes. Insurance giant Swiss Re estimated that these disasters caused an estimated $222 billion in losses. Disasters are overwhelming to begin with, but for countries with limited infrastructure and capacity to respond, these disasters also show that the human rights consequences of an environmental disaster can be severe. Despite the different countries in which these disasters originated, they illustrate a common need for better disaster response and enforcement of laws and regulations to protect the environment.

  • Pakistani Floods. In July, unprecedented monsoon rains led to severe flooding, at one point leaving one-fifth of the country underwater and affecting an estimated 20 million people in the Indus River basin. The floods overwhelmed the country’s infrastructure and led to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, claiming an estimated nearly 2000 lives, including some of the most vulnerable victims, children.
  • Russian Wildfires. In August, more than 800 wildfires ignited the Russian countryside, amidst the worst heat wave in 130 years. The fires and smoke led to severe air pollution, elevating …

Dec. 29, 2010 by Yee Huang

Today EPA released the final Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is a cap or limit on the total amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that can enter the Bay from the District of Columbia and the six Bay Watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Bay TMDL culminates years of cooperation between EPA and these Bay jurisdictions in working toward a new plan to restore the Bay, a vital economic, recreational, and aesthetic resource for this region. This TMDL is the largest and most complex of all such pollutant limits to date, and truly marks the beginning of a new era for Chesapeake Bay restoration. We've seen many plans on paper over the years for Chesapeake restoration, but this one is a much bigger step with a stronger outlook.

Part of today’s release includes EPA’s evaluation …

Dec. 28, 2010 by Yee Huang

The 111th Congress saw two attempts to provide legislative impetus to restore the Chesapeake Bay.  Now that the lame duck session has ended, the results are in:

  • The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Protection Act, S. 1816.  Introduced in October 2009 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would have reiterated EPA’s authority to establish a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  This TMDL, which EPA is promulgating on schedule as required by consent decrees and an Executive Order by President Obama, establishes a pollutant diet by looking holistically at all the sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the entire Bay watershed.  In July 2010, as a result of a compromise with Republican Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with significant changes—namely, establishing as the overarching goal the achievement of water quality standards, as …

Dec. 28, 2010 by Yee Huang

Tomorrow, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue its final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay, setting a pollution cap for the Bay that is comprised of 92 individual caps for each of the tributary segments that flow into the Bay.  The Bay TMDL represents another important milestone in the long-running effort to clean up the Bay, the largest estuary in North America, and return it to health.  Part of EPA’s release will include its response to the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) submitted to EPA this fall by the six watershed states and the District of Columbia, which all contribute to nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Bay.  The WIPs set forth the states’ planning to date to implement the pollution-control efforts that the TMDL will demand.

Since the states submitted their plans, a panel of CPR Member Scholars has been evaluating them …

Dec. 24, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

The environment received an early Christmas present from the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday, with EPA’s announcement that it would propose New Source Performance Standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants and refineries in 2011, and then finalize the regulations in 2012.  The decision resolves a lawsuit brought by states, local governments, and environmental groups. EPA’s initiative will impose cost-effective controls on stationary sources of GHGs, and complement the agency’s existing initiatives for mobile and stationary sources of GHGs.  While the CAA might not be as flexible or comprehensive as recently proposed congressional GHG legislation, EPA is making sorely needed progress to control the nation’s GHG emissions.

Notwithstanding industry’s ongoing criticism of applying the CAA to GHGs, the initiative is hardly a surprise.  The Supreme Court made clear in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision that GHGs are “air pollutants …

Dec. 23, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Two years ago this week, an earthen wall holding back a giant coal ash impoundment failed in Kingston, Tennessee, sending more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry over nearby land and into the Emory River. The ash had chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Clean up costs could be as much as $1.2 billion.

The coal ash issue is not "new" -- toxic chemicals from unlined coal ash pits have been leaching into the ground for a long time. But the Kingston disaster, and a new administration, brought attention back to the issue and its continuing danger. One-third of some 629 dump sites that hold ash mixed with water were not designed by a professional engineer, and 96 are at least 40 feet tall and 25 years old.

Just weeks after Kingston, in January, 2009, Lisa Jackson faced her confirmation hearing for EPA Administrator. Senators …

Dec. 23, 2010 by Rena Steinzor

Salmonella in eggs, peanuts, tomatoes, and spinach; and melamine in pet food and candy imported from China… With a regularity that has become downright terrifying, the food safety system in the United States has given us ample evidence that it has broken down completely. And so, in a small miracle of legislative activism, Democrats in Congress finally mustered the will and the votes to act, passing H.R. 2751 yesterday, not for the first time, but for the second time in the Senate and the third in the House. (A mistake on a technicality—Senate failure to follow an arcane procedure that allows everyone to pretend the bill it just passed originated in the House, where all tax legislation is required by the Constitution to begin its journey into law.)

Many people deserve credit for this December miracle, although my hat is especially doffed for Representatives John …

Dec. 21, 2010 by Ben Somberg

A few stories from the last week that I thought deserved noting:

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrapped up a rather impressive 8-day series Sunday on air pollution in 14 counties of southwestern Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the paper found that "14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict. Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure. After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833." One of the stories looked at inadequate enforcement efforts.
  • The Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessean checked in on the search for justice two years after the Kingston coal ash disaster: "In all, more than 400 people have filed a total of 55 lawsuits against TVA and, in several of those cases …

Dec. 20, 2010 by Lena Pons

In October, EPA requested nominations for substances that it should evaluate under the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Today CPR releases Setting Priorities for IRIS: 47 Chemicals that Should Move to the Head of the Risk-Assessment Line -- a paper that we've submitted to EPA as our nominations for priority chemicals.

Following up on our recent IRIS reform white paper, which made recommendations for how to improve the IRIS process and complete more reviews of basic toxicology information, CPR has completed additional research into how EPA sets priorities for IRIS assessments. The paper was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor, Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz, and myself.

We found 253 chemicals that have been identified by EPA regulatory program offices that are missing key IRIS information. From this list, we named 47 that we believe need to be the highest-priority, based on the air toxics, drinking water, and Superfund …

Dec. 17, 2010 by Wendy Wagner

The Obama Administration’s newly released science policy memo is an important and largely positive development in the effort to protect science and scientists from politics. In particular, the policy takes aim at many of the abuses of science and scientists that defined the Bush era. It’s particularly encouraging, for example, that the policy calls on political appointees to take a hands-off approach to science.

That said, in several areas, the policy could have, and should have, gone farther. The tension between science and politics predates the Bush Administration, and systemic reforms are long overdue. The Obama Administration science policy memo was an opportunity to address these issues, but it focused instead on fixing problems primarily from the Bush Administration.

The memo, issued by John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), does not address the permissive approach many agencies …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 30, 2010

An Environmentally Disastrous Year

Dec. 29, 2010

EPA's TMDL for the Chesapeake: One Giant Step Toward a Restored Bay

Dec. 28, 2010

The 111th Congress and the Chesapeake Bay

Dec. 28, 2010

EPA to Issue Bay TMDL Wednesday, 12/29

Dec. 24, 2010

EPA Marches On: Regulating Stationary Source GHG Emissions under the Clean Air Act

Dec. 23, 2010

Two Years After Tennessee Disaster, U.S. Effort to Prevent the Next Coal Ash Catastrophe Faces Uncertain Future

Dec. 23, 2010

Food Safety Gets a Chance