EPA limits states' power to stop oil and gas pipelines
NPR – June 1
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday issued a new rule intended to expedite the approval process for pipeline infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines, under the Clean Water Act section 401 certification process. In recent years environmental activists encouraged states and tribes to exercise their power under that statute, which gives local authorities the right to review new projects to make sure they do not harm local water. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the new rule will specify timelines for state review and require final action within one year of receiving an application, consistent with the agency’s intent "to increase the predictability and timeliness of section 401 certification." The new rule also limits the scope of the section 401 review, directing states to look only at direct effects on local water quality, not larger issues such as climate change. Wheeler says the new rule applies only to future projects. Environmental groups contend the change is illegal and expect states to challenge it in court.
President Trump seeks to scale back environmental reviews for projects
U.S. News & World Report – June 4
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday directing agencies to look for ways to speed up building of highways and other major projects by scaling back environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, invoking special powers the president has under the COVID-19 emergency. Trump claims that hastening these projects will accelerate economic recovery and provide jobs. Separately on Thursday, the EPA formally proposed overhauling how the agency evaluates new rules on air pollutants, a move critics say will make it tougher to enact limits on dangerous and climate-changing emissions in the future. The EPA proposal, which is subject to public comment before any adoption, would require cost-benefit analyses for every major new regulation under the Clean Air Act. It would also tighten consideration of broader benefits to clean air that would come from regulating the primary targeted pollutant.
Oil spill responses should consider harm caused by chemical dispersants used during BP spill
NOLA – June 3
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the EPA to update its oil spill response plans and potentially limit the use of the chemical dispersants that were heavily used during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. In a ruling referred to by some as a “game-changer,” Judge William Orrick, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, agreed with environmental groups that the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to maintain spill response plans that reflect current science. Recent studies have indicated that dispersants caused lung irritation and other health problems and problems for fish, deep-sea coral, and other marine life. Rather than clean up oil, dispersants break it into droplets that more easily mix with water. They have been used during 27 spills in the U.S. over the past 40 years.
Newport Beach homeowners agree to $1.7 million in fines for illegal yards on beach
The Mercury News – June 3
Nearly three dozen Newport Beach homeowners who built yards that illegally extend onto the public beach have agreed to a combined $1.7 million in fines (ranging from $6,300 to $134,000 per homeowner), and to the city’s restoration of the encroachments to their natural state. The agreement, recommended by California Coastal Commission staff for approval by the Commission at its June 11 meeting, would resolve decades of illegal encroachments by the beachfront homeowners. The illegal yards extend as much as 80 feet onto the sand and interfere with the two central components of the 1976 Coastal Act approved by voters: public access and environmental preservation.
Federal court tells EPA to revoke approval of widely used herbicide
San Francisco Chronicle – June 3
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered the EPA to revoke its approval of the herbicide dicamba, which is used on tens of millions of acres of soybeans and cotton in farms across the nation. Dicamba, manufactured by Monsanto Co., Corteve and BASF, can damage crops that have not been bred to tolerate the chemical, as well as trees and plants that are accidentally exposed. The court found that the EPA overstated the protections used by the product’s manufacturers and customers, and understated the resulting environmental and economic damage, when it granted the manufacturers a two-year license in October 2018 for a new version of the herbicide.