ByRebecca Moss, The Santa Fe New Mexican/ProPublica |
Last October, Gregory Junemann received a brief email from an official at the U.S. Department of Labor effectively firing him and 15 others from a volunteer gig helping the government reduce hazards to workers. “Thank you again for your continuing service in providing exceptional guidance on improving the health and safety of our federal workforce,” the email said. Junemann, a labor union president, was a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, first established by President Richard Nixon. It is one of five panels created by law to advise the labor secretary on how to improve health, safety and whistleblower protections in nearly every facet of the workforce. But under President Donald Trump, the boards have been mothballed or outright killed.
ALBUQUERQUE — Clean-air advocates want the federal courts to stop a new rule that would allow major polluters to turn their pollution controls off. Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required major sources of pollution to reduce their emissions by the maximum amount possible. However, according to Tomas Carbonell, director of regulatory policy and lead attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, a new rule issued in January, with no opportunity for public comment, allows those major polluters to reclassify themselves as smaller sources. “In doing so,” he said, “they avoid complying with the most protective emission standards that EPA has issued to reduce emissions of pollutants like mercury, benzene, arsenic and other dangerous compounds.” The Environmental Protection Agency has claimed the rule is required by its new interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
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.
Prairie dogs are complicated creatures. In addition to confounding property owners by burrowing on land slated for shopping malls or horse pastures, they sometimes defy accepted biological principles. Unlike many social animals, instead of dispersing as they age, prairie dogs stick close to home, preferring to live cooperatively with relatives. In fact, prairie dogs are actually more likely to immigrate after their kin disappear. And at least one prairie dog expert thinks the socially complex animals speak a real language.
Betsy Southerland knew something was wrong the moment she walked into her office at the Environmental Protection Agency. It was 8 a.m. on a Thursday in April and already, her team was waiting at her door, computer printouts in hand. For months, staffers in the Office of Water had been in help-desk mode, fielding calls from states implementing a federal rule that set new limits on water-borne pollution released by coal-fired power plants. The rule on what is known as “effluent” had been hammered out over a decade of scientific study and intense negotiations involving utility companies, White House officials and environmental advocates. The EPA had checked and rechecked its calculations to make sure the benefits of the proposed change outweighed the cost to the economy.
After Hurricane Irma hit three months ago in Orlando, Florida, the local police got a desperate 911 call from a 12-year-old boy reporting that his mother and siblings were unconscious. Fumes overcame the first deputy who rushed to the scene. After the police arrived at the property, they found Jan Lebron Diaz, age 13, Jan’s older sister Kiara, 16, and their mother Desiree, 34, lying dead, poisoned from carbon monoxide emitted by their portable generator. Four others in the house went to the hospital. If 12-year-old Louis hadn’t made that call, they might have died, too.
On Thursday, the Trump administration continued to make its priorities clear when it comes to industry, the environment and climate change. Just days after President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary announced changes to national monuments, Zinke’s agency delayed plans to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management published a rule to delay implementation of the Obama-era requirement until January 2019. Methane, a greenhouse gas, contributes to the warming of the planet. It is also a marketable product—the same natural gas many people use to cook with and heat their homes.
Gina McCarthy was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, starting in July 2013. Under her leadership, the agency undertook an ambitious climate change agenda, curbing emissions from vehicles and working toward the Clean Power Plan, an effort to further cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Many of those regulations are now being undone by her successor, Scott Pruitt, who as attorney general of Oklahoma initiated multiple challenges to EPA regulations. High Country News recently caught up with McCarthy in Lander, Wyoming, as she prepared to address a crowd at the 50th anniversary of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. High Country News: In terms of their impact on Western states and Alaska, what accomplishments at the EPA were you most proud of, and which of these are most threatened by the current administration? Gina McCarthy: Well at this point, I’d say that the current administration is really relooking and reconsidering just about every decision that’s been made under the Obama administration, and I think they’ve made it clear that they want to rethink all the climate efforts.
IN AUGUST 2016, an inspector from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, a nerve center for the U.S. military’s global air combat operations, to conduct a routine look at the base’s handling of its hazardous waste. Barksdale, like many military bases, generates large volumes of hazardous materials, including thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from cleaning, painting and maintaining airplanes. For years, Barksdale had been sending a portion of its waste to an Ohio company, U.S. Technology Corp., that had sold officials at the base on a seemingly ingenious solution for disposing of it: The company would take the contaminated powder from refurbished war planes and repurpose it into cinderblocks that would be used to build everything from schools to hotels to big-box department stores — even a pregnancy support center in Ohio. The deal would ostensibly shield the Air Force from the liabililty of being a large producer of dangerous hazardous trash. The arrangement was not unique.
Given how President Donald Trump has taken aim at the Environmental Protection Agency with regulatory rollbacks and deep proposed budget cuts, it may come as no surprise that the Office of Environmental Justice is on the chopping block. This tiny corner of the EPA was established 24 years ago to advocate for minorities and the poor, populations most likely to face the consequences of pollution and least able to advocate for themselves. It does so by acting as a middleman, connecting vulnerable communities with those who can help them. It heads a group that advises EPA officials about injustices and another that brings together representatives from other federal agencies and the White House to swap proposals. When it works, all the talk leads to grants, policies and programs that change lives.