On August 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (“the EPA”) announced a proposed reconsideration amendment to an Obama Administration rule regulating the natural gas industry’s methane emissions. This proposal is in response to President Trump’s order for federal agencies to review their actions, purportedly to remove potential resource burdens. The EPA asserts that the changes will remove regulatory duplication and save the industry millions of dollars, but the savings may come at the expense of increasing the planet’s vulnerability.
The state of Washington is proposing new water quality regulations in an effort to encourage growth to the salmon population. The campaign against the dams in the Columbia and Snake river basins has been fought for decades and continually struggles to balance the environmental impacts with industry and energy. This regulation is the newest strategy to attempt to strike a balance between the environmental concerns and the industry concerns. Further, as more attention is given to the dwindling population of killer whales, many are calling this an emergency requiring immediate action. This action is a timely response to the recent calls to action.
“I sometimes wonder if we’re in the branded litter business, branded trash.” That was a presumably half-joking statement made at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. What certainly was not a joke was the pressure and criticism major consumer goods companies faced in Davos from activists and groups that believe not enough is being done to cut use of plastic packaging in goods. Companies like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble (P&G) have emerged as new targets of environmental groups, who see these companies as major contributors to polluted oceans and endangered marine life. The impact of plastic waste on the environment has also drawn the ire of millennials, to the extent that one industry analyst claims the war on plastics is part of consumer goods companies’ marketing plans. While companies may be tailoring marketing plans and making pledges to reduce the amount of plastic in their products, the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans each year means these companies will continue to feel the heat from activists, millennials, and regulators.
Under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Army Corps of Engineers promulgated the Waters of the United States rule, which defined “Waters of the United States” to include small bodies of water, such as rivers and wetlands. However, in early 2018, the Trump administration suspended the rule to re-assess the definition. By the end of 2018, the EPA and the United States Department of Army released a new definition of “Waters of the United States,” restricting the definition to traditional navigable waters and their tributaries, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments and wetlands that are adjacent to water specifically covered by the rule.
According to an Environmental Integrity Project report, an Illinois pork-processing plant discharged more nitrogen from animal waste into waterways than any other slaughterhouse in the United States. Yet, the facility has complied with the Clean Water Act since December 2015. Animal-processing operations are not only some of the top polluters, but the federal water pollution standards surrounding these operations are lacking.
The Trump administration recently delivered a one-two punch to late Obama administration environmental regulations designed to curb the release of methane gas into the atmosphere while simultaneously encouraging its capture for sale. Two Obama era regulations were modified. The first, from the Department of the Interior, was effectively abrogated, while the other stemming from the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA)” is expected to retain only a fraction of its original force. Environmental groups have already responded to the repeal of the department of interior regulation with a lawsuit in federal court. Methane gas pollution became a greater concern in recent years as the production and use of natural gas as an energy source continues to increase. Proponents of earlier regulations point to methane’s potent contribution to the greenhouse effect, while critics argued the regulations were unnecessary given the natural gas industry’s own efforts and incentives to reduce leaks and capture as much usable gas as possible.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations issued a special report on the impact of global warming. The report shared extensive research about our changing atmosphere and issued a grave warning: we must act immediately. The harrowing news came just over one year after President Trump ordered the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement in June 2017. This begs the question: how will changes be made when the world’s most powerful and impactful hegemon refuses to cooperate?
The battle over pesticide use has long plagued the agricultural sector. The legal challenges to the use of chlorpyrifos has created a debate about how to protect our agricultural system and the harm caused by these dangerous chemicals. A lawsuit was filed based on the EPA’s failure to follow advice of their own scientists. The battle over the use of certain pesticides, and the shifting focus of the EPA has created concerns over the ethical standards of officials in key positions.
On March 14, 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture officially designated twelve Arizona Counties as primary natural disaster areas on account of agricultural loses brought on by intensifying drought. Despite being one the hottest and driest states in the nation, the state is one of the most agriculturally productive, sustaining a multi-billion dollar industry. As drought threatens this economic boon, competing interest groups petition the state legislature to adjust water-use regulations that have failed to stem shortages.
Since the Hanford Site stopped producing plutonium in 1987, contractors continue to clean up leftover radioactive contamination and hazardous solid and liquid waste. Although precautions are being taken to prevent workers from being contaminated by or exposed to the waste, the risk remains and worker’s compensation claims follow. The Department of Energy (DOE) OIG recently published an audit report concluding that the DOE does not have effective policies and procedures concerning the Workers’ Compensation Program at the Hanford Site.