Environmental Protection Agency
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
President Trump has made his opinion of federal regulations known from the very start of his presidency. He clearly believes that federal regulations, especially those established by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), inhibit economic growth and unduly burden American businesses. However, it is equally unclear how his deregulatory efforts have benefitted anyone other than corporate America. Rather than utilizing his considerable influence to protect the health of the American people, President Trump and his administration have been hard at work unraveling such protections, much to the frustration of the states.
Power plants generate a residue after burning coal called coal ash. In October 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established standards to address the environmental dangers and health risks of coal ash. In May 2017, industry officials petitioned the EPA to reconsider the rule, claiming adverse effects due to high compliance costs. The EPA agreed to review the coal ash regulations and announced one of two proposals to amend regulations in March 2018. The new proposal provides facilities more flexibility in coal ash disposal based on their needs.
The Obama administration’s “Clean Water Rule” was designed to control pollution in approximately 60% of the country’s bodies of water. The Rule primarily extended current federal regulations to smaller bodies of water, requiring that pollution of rivers and wetlands be held to the same environmental penalties as larger bodies of water. However, the Trump administration has suspended enforcement of the regulation for two years. During that time, they will re-consider the definition of “waters of the United States.” The Trump administration intends to release a new version this year.
The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recently issued a guidance memorandum withdrawing the decades-old “once in, always in” policy. The policy prohibited facilities once considered to be major sources of emissions of hazardous air pollutants to be later reclassified. These facilities are always subject to the class Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) standards, regardless of any newly implemented processes or controls that reduce emissions.
However, the EPA found that the policy was established upon an incorrect interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Facilities may now be reclassified as “area sources” if their emissions fall below the threshold and will be subject to less strict standards.