EPA rolls back water protections for seasonal rivers and streams

The EPA has repealed a portion of the Clean Water Act that expanded protections for smaller water systems across the U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of the Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James announced the repeal at an event at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters in Washington D.C. Monday. 

The Obama-era 2015 rule defines “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to include isolated waterways and wetlands, as well as seasonal streams and rivers that flow only part of the year. The definition was broadly supported by environmental groups as a recognition of the complexity of water systems across the U.S. but drew criticism from industry and land stakeholders for creating uncertainty around which waters are federally regulated and which are not. 

Communities in New Mexico and across the western half of the U.S. rely on waterways that flow intermittently after rain or snow to support wildlife habitats and drinking water sources. The 2015 rule extended pollution protections to those types of water systems, which often feed into larger rivers, lakes and other water systems. Ninety-three percent of New Mexico’s waterways are “ephemeral,” meaning they do not flow consistently throughout the year. RELATED: Revised Clean Water Rule leaves out most of NM’s waterways

Wheeler described the 2015 rule as an “egregious power grab” and said its repeal is part of a wider policy shift for regulating water at the agency. “Today’s Step 1 action fulfills a key promise of President Trump and sets the stage for Step 2 – a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide,” Wheeler said in a statement.

EPA administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision

On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler withdrew the agency’s interim decision to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, a pesticide that’s used to make lethal M-44 devices used in predator control. The agency released its interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June, after a period of public comment. The EPA received some 20,000 comments by March 2019, the “overwhelming majority” of which “did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide,” the agency said. 

“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals.”

RELATED: EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry

M-44s, also called sodium cyanide bombs, are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill predators that threaten livestock. Sodium cyanide is a restricted-use pesticide, meaning that entities need to be registered to use M-44 devices.

Doña Ana County Commissioners retreat on sodium cyanide bomb amendment

Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”

Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.

EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry

The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision

This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.

EPA selects San Mateo Creek Basin for targeted clean up action

The EPA has added a New Mexico uranium mining basin to a list of sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.” The agency added the San Mateo Creek Basin site, part of the Grants Mining District, to the Administrator’s “Superfund Emphasis List” in mid-July, though the area is not a Superfund site. The agency said sites selected for the Administrator’s Superfund Emphasis List are those that “can benefit from Administrator Wheeler’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment,” and require “timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts.”

The San Mateo Creek Basin stretches across 300 square miles of land within the Rio San Jose drainage basin, across McKinley and Cibola counties in Northwestern New Mexico. The area is known for its uranium production during the Cold War. Uranium mining in the area halted in the mid-1980s, leaving a legacy of waste and environmental impacts that the nearby communities continue to struggle with over thirty years later. Today, there are 85 legacy uranium mines and 4 legacy uranium mill sites within the San Mateo Creek Basin.

EPA’s waters and jobs, plus climate change and Cape Town’s dwindling water supplies

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the “Waters of the United States” applicability date. Last March, President Donald Trump directed the agencies to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act. The rule applies to navigable waterways and their tributaries. Under the rule, a tributary doesn’t need to be a continuously flowing body of water. But it must have flowing water—marked by a bed, bank and high water mark—to warrant protection.

Pruitt says he’ll re-evaluate Gold King Mine claims EPA had rejected

The Denver Post reported Friday that Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt says he will re-evaluate the damage claims the agency had previously rejected from the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015. The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, which was among those that had sought damages, has not heard from the agency, however. “We have confirmed that the EPA is not asking for resubmittals from those entities who have sued,” spokesman James Hallinan wrote in an email. “Thus, we did not receive the letter.” While conducting exploratory cleanup work of an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, federal contractors caused 3 million gallons of wastewater to spill from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River.

NM groups urge EPA to enforce methane waste rule

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday. The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place. Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.

As the feds yank methane regulations, NM’s methane hotspot isn’t going away

With all the big oil and gas news over the last few weeks, it might be hard to keep track of the different rules, agencies, court rulings and studies—and what they mean for New Mexico. Last week, U.S. District Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg ruled that the federal government’s environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline was insufficient. The ruling came after the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes sued the federal government, arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t complied with the National Environmental Policy Act when it greenlighted plans to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. In his opinion, Boasberg wrote that the court agrees that the federal government didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill would affect fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice issues. It’s not clear, however, if the company must cease operations while the Corps of Engineers reconsiders certain sections of its environmental analysis.

In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.