The Trump administration is implementing its treacherous strategy to eliminate Clean Water Act protections for waters—and communities—across the country through a rulemaking that removes historically protected rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and other waters from its “waters of the United States” definition.
This rulemaking by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers is the most far-reaching attack we have ever seen on the Clean Water Act. By drastically reducing the number of waters protected by the Clean Water Act, it will cause untold damage to people, wildlife, and the country as a whole.
Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. released the following statement:
“The Trump administration’s proposal to eviscerate the Clean Water Act is a gift to polluters and an attack on the civil right of American citizens and our children to live in a safe nation free from exposure to dangerous toxins. History and science have proven that we cannot control pollution or protect our waterways without broad federal protections, and it is imperative for citizens to be able to hold polluters accountable for their misdeeds. President Trump promised to drain the swamp. Instead, he has turned our government over to oilmen, chemical barons and billionaire Plutocrats who make money by poisoning the rest of us.“
As State Reviews Standards for Managing Hog Waste, It Must Take Little-Regulated Poultry Waste Into Account
North Carolina, a state known for the devastating environmental and public health impacts of industrial-scale hog production, now has more than twice as many poultry factory farms as swine operations, according to a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups’ research found that in 2018, manure from 515.3 million chickens and turkeys joined the waste from 9.7 million hogs already fouling waters and threatening North Carolinians’ health. By scouring satellite data, examining U.S. Department of Agriculture imagery and conducting site visits, EWG and Waterkeeper experts identified more than 4,700 poultry and about 2,100 swine concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
The analysis comes as state regulators are debating the terms of the state permit regulating waste management from swine CAFOs.
“If you’re setting standards for pig waste, you can’t ignore the recent explosive growth of the poultry industry, which has largely flown under the radar,” said Soren Rundquist, EWG director of spatial analysis.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, is required to update its CAFO waste permits every five years and is currently gathering public and industry input on the swine permit. The agency must consider the cumulative impact of similar operations – hogs, poultry and cattle – on the environment.
DEQ’s top CAFO regulator recently admitted to lax enforcement in the agency’s oversight of swine operations. And in 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened an investigation into whether the state’s management of swine facilities and their waste discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, as described in this letter from EPA to the DEQ. A settlement was reached last May.
Although the state implemented a moratorium on new swine operations in 1997, the poultry industry has tripled since then – from 147 million birds to 515.3 million today.
“Most of the poultry industry operates largely with impunity,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of geographic overlap of poultry and swine operations, particularly in the coastal plain. That means North Carolina’s rivers, already choking on millions of gallons of pig manure, are now forced to cope with tons of chicken waste, as well.”
In Duplin and Sampson counties – historically the epicenter of hog pollution – nearly 82 million chickens and turkeys are now packed in among four million pigs.
People who live near or work on swine CAFOs are more likely to suffer from potentially deadly diseases like asthma, bacterial infections and high blood pressure, according to a 2018 Duke University study. In four recent federal lawsuits, juries have found in favor of North Carolina neighbors of CAFOs, although the state legislature has made such lawsuits much more difficult to file.
Nutrient pollution from the nitrogen and phosphorus found in farm animal waste can cause issues like toxic algae blooms that kill fish and other marine life, choke out native plants and contaminate drinking water. Due to the rapid growth of the industry, poultry operations are now a much larger source of nutrient pollution in North Carolina than swine farms.
Many North Carolina CAFOs are located in areas prone to flooding, especially as climate-change-related weather leads to more frequent, more severe storms. Although the 1997 hog operation moratorium was precipitated by hurricanes hammering farms in North Carolina floodplains, at least 74 poultry farms have been built in floodplains, many along three rivers – the Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear – that flooded during both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Poultry waste, which is mixed with carcasses and bedding to form a substance called dry litter, is stored in large piles before being applied to farm fields. It can easily be blown by wind or washed by rain into nearby rivers.
“There is ample evidence factory farm pollution simply doesn’t stay on farms,” Rundquist said. “As DEQ finalizes the swine waste standards, it must account for the enormous recent growth of the poultry industry. The health of North Carolinians and their environment depend on it.”
On Jan. 31, the North Carolina DEQ announced a 30-day public comment period on CAFO waste permits, as well as two public meetings. The first meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville. The second will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Statesville Civic Center in Statesville.
*Photo by Mercy for Animals
Regulator has missed Safe Drinking Water Act deadlines for toxic and carcinogenic contaminants
Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and California Coastkeeper Alliance sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today because EPA has failed to revise regulatory standards on certain contaminants and develop new standards for emerging contaminants as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The environmental groups are represented in this matter by Reed W. Super, Esq. and Mike DiGiulio, Esq. of Super Law Group, LLC.
EPA’s mandatory obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act include identifying unregulated contaminants for monitoring and/or regulation, regulating those contaminants, and reviewing and revising existing drinking water regulations, all according to a timetable mandated by Congress.
But EPA failed to perform these mandatory legal obligations and is unnecessarily putting people’s health and lives at risk. For instance, EPA has not promulgated a revised National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for the carcinogenic chemicals tetrachloroethylene or trichloroethylene, even though it determined more than eight years ago that existing standards for these chemicals needed to be more protective. In contrast, it has taken the Trump administration less than eight months to decide not to regulate two highly toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, in Americans’ drinking water.
The mandatory duties the environmental groups intend to enforce in this suit involve the following contaminants:
EPA also has a mandatory obligation under the Safe Drinking Water Act to make final regulatory determinations with respect to at least five contaminants published on the Candidate Contaminant List every five years. The fourth regulatory determinations were due by August 6, 2016, over two and a half years ago.
EPA has also failed to publish by the February 6, 2018 deadline the fifth Candidate Contaminant List, which is the list of contaminants that are not subject to any proposed or promulgated National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and may require regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is also due every five years.
“At the same time the Trump administration is proposing to weaken the Clean Water Act and is actively allowing toxic chemicals to pollute our drinking water, it also is failing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, which stops polluted water from reaching our taps,” said Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Executive Director. “EPA is supposed to protect human health and the environment, but its actions and omissions are threatening one precious resource we all need: clean drinking water.”
“Because of EPA’s delays, millions of Americans are being needlessly exposed to dangerously high levels of cancer-causing chemicals or pathogens in their tap water,” said Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeeper Chesapeake’s Executive Director.
“California is one of a dozen states where unsafe levels of trichloroethylene and perc have been detected in drinking water,” said Sean Bothwell, California Coastkeeper Alliance’s Executive Director. “Every day the EPA delays updating its standards is another day that families are being exposed to these dangerous chemicals each time they cook, brush their teeth, or drink a glass of water.”
Energy Transfer Partners continues long-standing pattern of permit violations and environmental destruction in America’s largest wetlands
Energy Transfer Partners, the oil giant behind the hotly contested Bayou Bridge Pipeline, is actively harming wetlands in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin by continuing pipeline construction during flood season. Environmental watchdogs, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, have asked a federal judge for a second preliminary injunction to block construction that violates ETP’s permit and has gone unchecked by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Atchafalaya Basin groups have spent months documenting significant harm stemming from Energy Transfer Partners’ ongoing pipeline construction activities in the Atchafalaya. Despite permit requirements for sediment control and other measures to minimize environmental impacts, Basinkeeper has revealed a pattern of reckless operations causing serious environmental harm. Examples include ETP’s excavators digging in high water without any sediment controls; mounds of dirt and mud flowing freely into wetland areas; a sheen on the river presumably caused by diesel oil released from excavators; blocked waterways and trash and debris strewn about in the path of construction.
Although the Basinkeeper has sent multiple letters and supporting evidence to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailing these findings, the Corps has not moved to enforce any of their permit requirements. As a branch of the military, the Corps is unaffected by the federal shutdown.
Basinkeeper’s expert declared in court documents that ETP is not only destroying the unique river of trees in the Atchafalaya Basin, but also places the people of Louisiana at risk by damaging the ability of the Basin store floodwaters.
ETP’s actions in the Atchafalaya Basin continue a well-documented and long-standing pattern of violating permits and causing serious environmental harm in its pipeline construction and operations. Energy Transfer Partners is the same company that constructed the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will connect to Bayou Bridge infrastructure.
“In all my 31 years working in the Atchafalaya Basin I’ve never seen anything like this, the amount of unnecessary destruction of wetlands is heartbreaking”, said Atchafalaya Basinkeeper Director Dean Wilson.
“Digging a pipeline path through the Atchafalaya during flood conditions is reckless and irresponsible,” said Earthjustice Attorney Jan Hasselman. “ETP is unfortunately playing to type, by continuing its pattern of ignoring the law and wrecking the environment. We’re going to Court to put a stop to it.”
A copy of the preliminary injunction memorandum can be found here.
Plaintiffs in the case include Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club. They are represented by attorneys Jan Hasselman and Jaimini Parekh of Earthjustice.
*Photo by Julie Dermansky, Greenpeace
Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear River Watch, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, petitioned today to remove North Carolina’s “swamp waters” classification from 15 miles of the Lower Cape Fear River flowing past Wilmington. The change would begin a process to reduce upstream pollution in the state’s largest and most industrialized watershed, pollution that includes an annual swine waste load equivalent to the human waste produced by the entire New York City metro area.
Over the objections of environmental groups, academic experts, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state reclassified the lower Cape Fear as “swamp waters” in 2015. EPA rejected North Carolina’s classification in July 2018, in part because the state failed to include data about the river’s velocity. While the lower Cape Fear is a fast-moving river, under state law, swamp waters are defined largely by their “very low velocities.” EPA also found that the state failed to consider, as required by federal law, whether water quality in the river could be improved.
When designating the lower Cape Fear as “swamp waters” in 2015, the state also failed to subject the watershed’s industrial animal operations to meaningful scrutiny. The agency relied on a model assuming these operations have no impact on water quality, despite evidence to the contrary.
Waste from industrial animal operations, when it enters a river, can reduce the dissolved oxygen and increase acidity, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic life to survive. This segment of the Cape Fear is a primary nursery area and provides critical habitat for endangered Atlantic sturgeon.
“The 5 million hogs and 21 million turkeys in the Cape Fear basin have polluted the water so badly, our river is at risk of choking to death,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “Reclassifying it as a swamp isn’t the answer; imposing pollution limits, as required by law, is ”
“This stretch of river has been impaired for twenty years,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of its North Carolina Pure Farms Pure Waters campaign. “Under the Clean Water Act, the state has a legal obligation – an obligation it can’t dodge – to curb pollution.”
“The swampwater classification is not enforceable under federal law, as the EPA rightfully disapproved the change,” said Brooks Rainey Pearson, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It is past time for the state to remove this erroneous classification from the books. The lower Cape Fear is simply not a swamp.”
As allowed under state law, the groups petitioned the director of the state’s Environmental Management Commission for the change. The next step is for the groups to present the petition at the March 13 meeting of the Environmental Management Commission.
**Photo by David Broad
Conservation Coalition Seeks to Halt Denver Water’s Moffat Project
A coalition of conservation groups filed suit today in federal district court seeking to halt Denver Water’s proposed expansion of Gross Dam in Boulder County and to protect flows in the Colorado River. The groups’ complaint details how federal agencies charged with permitting the project failed to comply with environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, and failed to ensure the health of the Colorado River, its native and imperiled species, and communities across Colorado that will be negatively impacted by the project.
“At the exact moment in history when flows in the Colorado River need to be protected, Denver Water’s reckless irresponsible project is trying to further drain the river,” said Gary Wockner, Director of Save The Colorado. “Our goal is to stop this project in its tracks.”
Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project involves diversion of additional water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, transport in the existing Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide, and release into South Boulder Creek for storage in the proposed expansion of Gross Dam and Reservoir. The project will triple the storage capacity of Gross Reservoir and the dam will become the tallest dam in the history of Colorado.
“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in 6 states and 2 countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”
The legal filing names the Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the officials and agencies that failed to meet their legal obligations under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit follows through on the conservation coalitions’ warning to the federal agencies in the 60-day notice letter the groups submitted in October. That letter described how filling the enlarged dam would require increased diversions of water out of small headwater streams tributary to the Colorado River in Grand County that would further imperil the endangered “green lineage cutthroat trout.” While Denver Water and the federal agencies acknowledged the notice, actions were not taken to remedy the concerns of the groups.
This litigation comes at a time when the basin states are working to put together a Drought Contingency Plan to address falling levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell due to extensive drought and climate change. Scientists predict that climate change will further drain the river in the coming decades, thus further imperiling water supplies and river health in the future. The Moffat Project is just one of a series of proposed water projects that look to develop the last bit of water left to sustain the already compromised Colorado River. These projects include the Windy Gap Firming Project, Lake Powell Pipeline, the Fontenelle Dam Re-Engineering, and others.
“The Colorado River is in crisis,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The most obvious solution to sustain our namesake river is to start living within our means, not doubling down on what got us here in the first place—more reckless dams and diversions.”
The project, which would be the biggest construction project in the history of Boulder County, Colorado, would also have enormous negative impacts on the County and its citizens. Further, Boulder County is one of the most pro-environment communities in the U.S.,
“For those of us who live close to Gross Reservoir, we will lose everything we moved here for: wild pristine beautiful scenery, clean air, clean water, boating, fishing, peace and quiet,” said Celena Collins who is president of The Environmental Group, a citizens’ groups in southern Boulder County. “It is imperative that preserve the pristine beauty of our mountain range and protect all that dwell within it, but this project would make that impossible. The construction associated with the expansion of the reservoir will bring explosives, big trucks and machinery, pollution, toxic coal fly ash, and will destroy more than 200,000 trees which provide critical wildlife habitat and ecosystem services like erosion prevention.”
A copy of the complaint can be read here.
The organizations participating in this litigation are represented by the public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.
Photo by Doc Searls
Conservation Groups Seek a Court Order to Stop New Trump Rule from Delaying Closure of Leaking Toxic Coal Ash Dumps
Numerous utilities have just disclosed that toxic waste from 67 coal-fired power plants have led to harmful amounts of chemicals in nearby groundwater in excess of state and/or federal standards in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming (see list of plant locations below and here). On December 14, Earthjustice discovered the admissions made on major utilities’ websites. The information was buried on company websites, and only someone knowing what to look for could discover the notices.
The companies that made the admissions include Duke Energy, Southern Company, Alabama Power, Ameren, APS, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Big Rivers Electric Corporation, Dominion, Georgia Power, Golden Valley Electric Association, Grand Haven Board of Light and Power, Gulf Power, Jacksonville Electric Authority, Lakeland Electric, LG&E (KU), Mississippi Power, NRG, PacifiCorp, Talen Energy, and Westar.
This news illustrates that we still haven’t solved the problem of coal ash as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the Kingston coal ash spill—one of the worst environmental disasters in our history. On Saturday, a memorial service will be held in Harriman, Tennessee, to honor the sacrifice of the more than 30 workers who died following the cleanup of toxic ash and more than 200 workers who are suffering injuries as a result of the cleanup. Just this fall, flood waters from hurricane Florence carried toxic chemicals from a Duke Energy coal ash landfill into a lake in North Carolina.
The utilities’ announcements indicate the contamination is severe enough at all 67 coal plants to require cleanups pursuant to the 2015 coal ash rule. Yet the Trump administration delayed the closure of many of these leaking toxic dumps in a rule finalized last July, putting people’s health at risk. Representing a coalition of environmental and health advocates, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club have challenged the rollbacks in the D.C Circuit, following that court’s August decision that EPA must strengthen—not weaken—federal coal ash protections. Yesterday, the groups asked the court to strike down EPA’s unlawful delay of the deadlines for the most dangerous coal ash impoundments to close.
Thanks to the current coal ash rule, which is still in effect, owners of coal plants must disclose when they are exceeding federal limits on groundwater contamination of the worst toxins, like arsenic, chromium, lead, and radioactivity. It’s expected that many more coal plants across the nation will soon join the 67 that have issued the disclosure.
Violating federal levels of these dangerous chemicals in groundwater near coal ash dumps mean utilities have to start immediately preparing cleanup plans to restore groundwater to its original condition—free of the harmful chemicals. Never before have coal plants been required by federal law to clean up their groundwater.
Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel, Earthjustice and a former attorney with the EPA, stated, “For the first time, utilities have admitted that they’ve violated federal and state groundwater standards by polluting our water with toxic coal pollution. It is long past time for coal plants to clean up the toxic mess they’ve made. But instead of moving to protect people from cancer, the Trump administration wants to allow these polluters to escape their cleanup responsibilities. This Christmas gift to the coal industry must be stopped. The price tag is too steep.”
“Naturally clean drinking water is a rare and precious resource; if a polluter contaminates groundwater, that polluter should have to restore groundwater quality,” said Abel Russ, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “The coal ash rule is designed to accomplish that goal. Now that we have statistical proof of widespread contamination—a threat we’ve been trying to draw attention to for years—we are very much looking forward to the restoration process.”
The admission by the utilities confirms the widespread contamination that Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project have warned about in a series of reports on coal ash waste. Earthjustice has been involved in advocating for protections from coal ash waste for years. The coal ash disposal rules enacted in 2015 were a result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, and the organization has sued to defend the rule from an effort to gut it by the Trump administration.
“Groundwater is not only a drinking water source for many people—it also often flows directly into waterways,” said Larissa Liebmann, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Now that these companies finally admitted they are causing this contamination, they need to take action immediately to clean up their toxic messes.”
“These leaking coal ash ponds should have been cleaned up years ago,” said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director at Clean Water Action. “Instead these utilities, emboldened by the Trump administration’s pro-industry, pro-polluter agenda, continue to put communities and groundwater at risk, despite the known hazards of storing toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits.”
Tim Maloney, senior policy director at Hoosier Environmental Council, said, “These groundwater contamination notices, from Duke Energy itself, are further confirmation that the coal ash lagoons at Duke’s Indiana power plants are contaminating groundwater and should be cleaned up promptly. There is simply no reason for further delay.”
Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center added, “It’s long past time that utilities in the Southeast move their coal ash from unlined leaking pits next to our rivers to safe, dry, lined storage. We don’t need more Kingston and Dan River disasters, and we don’t need any more toxic and radioactive pollution of our clean water and drinking water supplies.”
“Every coal-fired power plant in Missouri has identifiable coal ash contamination in groundwater surrounding disposal sites because most of them are sitting in or just below the groundwater table. Toxic coal ash will continue indefinitely to seep out of the ponds and contaminate Missouri’s groundwater and nearby surface waters—polluting both downgradient and upgradient wells,” shared Patricia Schuba, President of Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO), a citizen-led nonprofit fighting coal ash pollution. “We believe the risk is actually higher than what the utilities have been forced to report.”
“Coal ash has been dumped in the groundwater at the Lincoln Stone Quarry, next to residences and the Des Plaines River, for far too long. We hope this disclosure will lead to NRG cleaning up this polluted and dangerous coal ash dump,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer at Prairie Rivers Network. “Sadly, the Lincoln Stone Quarry is not the only coal ash dump with unsafe concentrations of toxic pollutants in Illinois. A recent report showed the extensive impact of coal ash on groundwater in Illinois, finding that many other Illinois coal ash sites are also exceeding limits on dangerous pollutants and should be cleaned up.”
List of Plants Where Coal-Ash Contaminated Groundwater Exceeds Allowable State and/or Federal Limits
This table lists 67 plants whose owners have posted notifications that the groundwater exceeds state and/or federal limits of contamination for one or more of the following toxic substances: Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Lithium, Molybdenum, Selenium, Thallium, and Radium 226 and 228 combined.
In addition, if the unit is a coal ash pond, the table indicates whether the ash pond is lined and whether the pond violates the federal aquifer separation standard, which requires five feet of separation from the base of the pond to the underlying groundwater. Cleanup assessments are required within 60 days at all sites, but owners/operators may attempt to show that an alternative source is responsible for the contamination.
U.S. Army Corps to Extend Algae Bloom-triggering Discharges Through 2025
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Conservation groups today filed a notice of intent to sue three federal agencies for failing to assess harm to Florida’s endangered species before approving the ongoing release of Lake Okeechobee waters polluted with toxic, nutrient-rich agricultural waste.
The discharges likely help drive the catastrophic “Red Tide” algae blooms killing Florida’s coastal wildlife.
The groups are challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to extend through 2025 deadly discharges from the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The discharges harm protected marine species like sea turtles and Florida manatees and trigger toxic algae blooms that limit use of waterways and cripple local economies.
Today’s notice gives the Army Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service 60 days to respond to the claims submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Calusa Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance.
“Even as the Red Tide wreaks havoc, the Corps keeps treating Florida’s rivers like a toilet,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Year after year our waterways are polluted and the health and livelihoods of Floridians are threatened. Florida’s residents, from fisherman to manatee, deserve better.”
Before approving long-term schedules for discharges from Lake Okeechobee, the Corps is supposed to work with scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to assess risks to plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. But the agencies have ignored the impacts of the algal blooms and failed to consider how the ongoing damage would harm populations of manatees, sea turtles, smalltooth sawfish and coral for the next seven years.
“LORS is responsible for discharges that impact over 200,000 acres of habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish,” said John Cassani, Calusa waterkeeper. “The Caloosahatchee is important pupping habitat for sawfish, and the Corps’ discharges threaten to harm this vital nursery.”
It has been well documented that the current schedule for discharges from the lake causes harm to the rivers, their estuaries and marine animals. The harmful discharges are managed by the Corps to prioritize agricultural needs. The releases, which include algae and nutrients that are allowed to accumulate in the lake, cause significant harm to water quality and wildlife.
“Government agencies are supposed to uphold and enforce our nation’s laws,” explained Waterkeeper Alliance executive director Marc Yaggi. “Sadly, the Army Corps has been violating the very laws it is sworn to uphold, causing incalculable damage to endangered and threatened species like manatees and sea turtles that rely on clean healthy waterways and coasts to survive. We intend to force the Trump administration to immediately end its dereliction of duty and to protect threatened marine life and coastal economies from the impacts of harmful algal blooms before it’s too late.”
Past analyses of the Corps’ schedule for the lake failed to consider the long-term impacts of high volume discharges beyond three years, discounted the effects of harmful algal blooms and did not consider habitat impacts triggered by climate change.
In 2008 the Corps updated its plan for managing the discharges with the goal of lowering the risk of damage to the Herbert Hoover Dam, which retains the lake. But the plan was supposed to be reconfigured within three years to incorporate the impacts of structural improvements to the dike and water quality upgrades projected to come from the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The dike repairs are behind schedule, the Everglades plan has not been completed and toxic algae blooms continue to kill countless marine animals. Meanwhile, the Corps has opted to simply extend the current water-management plan through 2025 without assessing the harm to protected wildlife and water quality.
A study by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Maule Itata Coastkeeper of the area near the AES Ventanas coal-fired power plant in Puchuncaví, Chile found toxic contamination of two drinking water wells. The full report can be read here. A Spanish-language version is available here.
The groups also studied a nearby beach, where coal dust is spilled when large conveyor belts transport coal from ships and barges to the shore.
Water samples and a soil sample from the beach were collected earlier this year at seven locations and analyzed by Pace Analytical Laboratories in the United States. Pace Labs used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Methods 200.8 and 200.7 for the water samples and EPA Method 6020B for the soil sample.
Pace found exceedances of U.S. EPA drinking water quality criteria or goals for aluminum, arsenic, and lead in the two drinking water wells, which were located at private homes. Pace also found hexavalent chromium in the wells. Although the hexavalent chromium levels did not exceed water quality standards, its toxicity at low levels is a concern.
The groups also trained community members to gather samples of soil and water to determine if coal and coal ash is contributing heavy metals to surface water, wells, and public beaches. In order to eliminate ongoing impacts, the Chilean government should accelerate its policy goal of shutting coal plants in Chile as quickly as possible.
A group from the area, called a “sacrifice zone” because of the widespread environmental devastation, traveled to the United Nations in Geneva this past week to bring more attention to the problems in the area.
“For nearly ten years, we have worked in the Maule Itata coastal zone and other areas of Chile, documenting and investigating water pollution problems, and in 2009 we began our first connection to the Quintero-Puchuncaví area by participating in a seminar with organizations from different parts of the country that have been affected or threatened by pollution from industrial coal facilities, said Rodrigo de la O Guerrero, the Executive Director of Vigilante Costero, who assisted with the investigation.
Radical Proposal Would Disproportionally Harm Western United States, Putting Over 75 Endangered Species on Fast Track to Extinction
A Trump administration proposal today to radically slash Clean Water Act protections would free industry to dump toxic waste into streams across the United States and allow the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands critical to endangered wildlife.
By limiting protections only to wetlands and streams that are “physically and meaningfully connected” to larger navigable bodies of water, the proposal would virtually eliminate the Clean Water Act’s protections across the arid West, from West Texas to Southern California, including most of New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.
An initial analysis estimates that today’s proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would cut Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands across 3,000-plus watersheds in the western United States. The plan could accelerate the extinction of more than 75 endangered species, from steelhead trout to California tiger salamanders.
“This sickening gift to polluters will result in more dangerous toxic pollution dumped into waterways across a vast stretch of America,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration’s radical proposal would destroy millions of acres of wetlands, pushing imperiled species like steelhead trout closer to extinction.”
The proposed rule could be finalized next year. It was prompted by President Trump’s Executive Order 13778, which urged the Environmental Protection Agency — now headed by Andrew Wheeler — to protect only those waters that have “a relatively permanent surface connection” to a traditionally navigable body of water such as a major river. The executive order followed the legal view of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which was not adopted by the Supreme Court.
In rushing to publish the proposed rule, the two agencies failed to comply with either the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.
“EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are attempting to reduce or eliminate Clean Water Act protections for the majority of our nation’s waters in violation of our most basic procedural and environmental laws,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Attorney Kelly Hunter Foster. “The agencies should be working to protect the public and restore our nation’s waters — not engaging in this elaborate multi-year plot to legalize more water pollution.”