Biden administration acts to restore clean-water safeguards
Associated Press – November 18
The Biden administration took action this Thursday to restore federal protections for hundreds of thousands of small streams, wetlands, and other waterways, undoing a Trump-era rule that was considered one of that administration’s hallmark environmental rollbacks. At issue is a regulation sometimes referred to as “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, that defines the types of waterways qualifying for federal protection under the Clean Water Act. The regulation has long been a point of contention among lawmakers and, in the courts, between environmental groups, farmers, homebuilders, and others. The announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinstates a rule in place before 2015 while the Biden administration creates its own, which is expected next year. The Trump-era rule resulted in an estimated 25% reduction in the number of streams and wetlands that are afforded federal protection, officials said.
EPA: Two PFAS compounds more toxic than previously thought
The Hill – November 16
New draft reports from EPA have found that safe levels of ingestion for the chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are much lower than the agency had found in prior assessments. The agency also found that PFOA is “likely” carcinogenic to humans, a change from its prior statement that there is “suggestive” evidence that the substance can cause cancer. PFOA has been used in nonstick cookware, flame repellants, and cosmetics, while PFOS has been used in water- and stain-resistant products. The latest findings come as part of an EPA effort to regulate the substances, with the agency saying that it will aim to finish the establishment of drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS in 2023.
California, Arizona, and Nevada in talks on new plan to save Colorado River water
Los Angeles Times – November 17
Two and a half years after signing a deal aimed at averting a damaging crisis along the Colorado River, water officials from California, Arizona, and Nevada are discussing plans to take even less water from the shrinking river and leave it in Lake Mead in an effort to prevent that reservoir from falling to dangerously low levels. The water agencies are firming up a deal that would leave an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir next year, and the same amount again in 2023 — about double the amount of water used annually by Las Vegas and the rest of southern Nevada. For California, the deal would mean participating in reductions of Colorado River water use before Lake Mead reaches levels that would otherwise trigger mandatory cuts. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California board is scheduled to consider the proposed agreement next month.
Regulators seek to suspend Trump rule on railway natural gas
U.S. News & World Report – November 16
The federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has proposed suspending a Trump administration rule that would have allowed railroads to haul liquefied natural gas (LNG). Implementation of the rule, which had been backed by both the natural gas and freight rail industries, was already delayed because several environmental groups and fourteen states, including California, filed lawsuits challenging it. The lawsuits have all been put on hold while federal regulators take a closer look at the potential safety risks of hauling LNG by rail. The agency’s review could take until the summer of 2024.
Infrastructure bill unleashes funding to address risky dams
Associated Press – November 16
States will soon be flooded with federal money to address a pent-up need to repair, improve, or remove thousands of aging dams across the U.S. However, the roughly $3 billion for dam-related projects pales in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars going to roads, rail, and high-speed internet in the $1 trillion infrastructure plan signed Monday by President Joe Biden. The infrastructure bill also includes about $750 million that could fund improvements at hydroelectric dams or retrofit existing dams to start producing energy.
Environmental groups say safety measures lacking as Santa Susana Field Lab buildings demolished
Los Angeles Daily News – November 15
Two environmental groups on Monday sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, calling for disciplining state Department of Toxic Substances Control officials who allegedly allowed the explosive demolition of two highly radioactive Cold War-era buildings at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory without properly suppressing contaminated dust to prevent the spread of contamination into nearby neighborhoods. State officials, meanwhile, issued a statement saying appropriate health and safety guidelines were followed during the demolition of the buildings.
Four Central Valley groundwater plans fail to meet California standards
The Modesto Bee – November 18
Four groundwater plans in the Central Valley — including those for Westlands and Chowchilla water districts and the Merced and Eastern San Joaquin subbasins — do not show how they will protect water quality, keep drinking water wells from going dry, or stop land from sinking further, according to the first Department of Water Resources (DWR) round of assessments of Central Valley groundwater plans. The groundwater plans are the outcome of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014, which mandates that, by 2040, over-pumped aquifers be brought into balance. The groundwater agencies in charge of these plans will have a quick turnaround to fix issues flagged by DWR before the agency issues its statutorily required evaluation in January 2022.