Tag Archives: environmental regulations

Why has the E.P.A. shifted on toxic chemicals? An industry insider helps call the shots

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The E.P.A.’s abrupt new direction on legacy chemicals is part of a broad initiative by the Trump administration to change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals, making it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.

So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.

The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.

Read more at: Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots – The New York Times

Filed under Sustainable Living

After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up

Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Yes it’s true, sharks are everywhere along the California coast this summer. But by all appearances, a far bigger threat to your enjoyment of the state’s fabulous beaches has been contained for now.

It’s a new day at the California Coastal Commission.

You remember the drama last year, right?

I don’t get to take up an entire section of the newspaper, so I can only touch on the many ways in which the coast was imperiled by conflicts of interest, the clout of pro-development forces, the undermining of staff experts and a head-smacking lack of professionalism among certain members of the Coastal Commission.

In February 2016, commissioners — appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders — stunned and angered hundreds of spectators when they summarily dismissed the agency’s respected executive director. Charles Lester had staunchly defended his staff’s independence from outside influence while adhering to the letter of the law on coastal preservation, and he made a dramatic appeal to keep his job, to no avail.

But in an unintended way, the firing was a blessing.

“They got away with getting rid of Charles,” said former Commissioner Sara Wan, “but they didn’t get away with the public response.”

In fact, the fall of Lester has led to the toppling of a hyperactive commission that seemed at times to have forgotten its duty to the Coastal Act, and to the guiding principle that the unsurpassed 1,100-mile coast is not anybody’s — it’s everybody’s.

Read more at: After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up – LA Times

Filed under Sonoma Coast

Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new regulation aimed at improving the water quality of two tributaries that run into San Pablo Bay means vineyard owners in those watersheds will have to obtain new permits under more rigorous guidelines for their storm water runoff.

In approving the new rule last month, members of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board said they were concerned that vineyards could be discharging sediment and pesticides into the watershed that would, among other things, trigger erosion and threaten fish habitat.

Under the rule, land owners in the Sonoma Creek and the Napa River watersheds will be under three different levels of monitoring, from those who are largely adhering to the best environmental practices that have been certified by a third-party organization to those that will fall under more stringent oversight because they would have to make significant changes to management of their property.

The board did not say how many vineyard owners would be affected, but the rule would cover about 40 percent of the total land in both watersheds, representing about 59,000 planted acres. Those with fewer than 5 acres of vineyards would be exempted.

The wine industry was largely rebuffed in its push for major changes from a proposed draft issued by the board last year. Vintners estimate that it could cost from $5,000 to $7,000 to develop a farm plan to obtain the new permit, and the total could significantly rise to much more if they are ordered to make changes to their properties, such as retrofitting an unpaved road or monitoring water quality.

Read more at: Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is holding up a nearly $800,000 contract with a local asphalt plant until its owners comply with laws the city says it has violated going back a decade.

The City Council approved a new contract with BoDean Co. Tuesday but suspended its execution until the company resolves several outstanding building code and permit violations on its Maxwell Drive property.

The council took the unusual step even though city staff warned that it would prevent the city from utilizing the most convenient local source of asphalt during the height of the summer road construction season.

Read more at: Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute | The Press Democrat

Filed under Air, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Cap and trade: Deal reached on California climate program

Katy Murphy, THE SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers late Monday announced a proposal to extend through the next decade California’s landmark program to regulate climate-warming greenhouse gases — known as cap and trade — which is set to expire in 2020.

Also unveiled late Monday was a separate bill to clean up the air in chronically polluted areas — to reduce harmful emissions from factories and plants as well as from cars and trucks.

“The Legislature is taking action to curb climate change and protect vulnerable communities from industrial poisons,” Brown said in a statement released late Monday night.

The two bills were revealed after weeks of talks between Brown, Republican and Democratic lawmakers and environmental and industry groups.

Lawmakers won’t be able to vote on the proposals before Thursday because of a ballot measure Californians passed in November requiring a bill to be in print for 72 hours before the state Assembly or Senate can vote on it. The bills are:

Assembly Bill 398 — for which Brown and legislative leaders aim to secure a two-thirds vote — would extend the cap-and-trade program to 2031.

Assembly Bill 617, which needs only a simple majority vote to pass, responds to activists’ demands to clean up the pollution that for generations has plagued residents in parts of the state. It would require oil refineries and other plants in heavily polluted areas to replace their equipment with cleaner technology by the end of 2023.

Among the proposed changes to the complex cap-and-trade program — in which refineries, power plants and factories pay to pollute, buying permits at auction — is a hard limit, or “ceiling,” on the price of carbon. Proponents of the change argue that it would prevent spikes in energy prices.

Read more at: Cap and trade: Deal reached on California climate program

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Officials work to enforce Roundup rules in Sonoma County 

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

This spring, a court ruled that the California Environmental Protection Agency can move ahead with its decision to list glyphosate as a cancer-causing agent, a carcinogen, under Proposition 65, after reviewing a body of scientific studies on glyphosate’s potential health risks. The World Health Organization, after its own independent review, took a similar step in 2015.

On a sunny warm May afternoon, Andrew Smith drives around the tree lined, well-tended neighborhoods of Sonoma, on the lookout for a lethal ritual. In a green vest, white Sonoma County Department of Agriculture truck and sunglasses, he’s looking for workers spraying pesticides to kill plants, insects and animals. He stops to make pesticide safety inspections. And when he meets maintenance gardeners using pesticides without a license, he tells them they have to stop until they have one.

Unlicensed pesticide use is a big and growing problem. And Smith, a senior agricultural biologist, acknowledges, his is not a particularly popular job.Armed with colorful booklets, Smith introduces the license, and licensing process, in English or Spanish, as necessary. Sometimes he writes a notice of violation, which can carry a financial penalty. Sometimes, they listen. Sometimes, they turn their back and walk away.

Apart from the maintenance gardeners he approaches, few people even know he’s out there doing it.

But Smith, who grew up in Sonoma County, takes the responsibility seriously. Like his co-workers at the Department of Agriculture, and their counterparts in counties across the state, he’s on the front line to enforce the state rules that protect people and other life in the environment from being poisoned.

Read more at: Officials work to enforce Roundup rules in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines 

David R. Baker, SFGATE

California utility regulators on Thursday approved new rules designed to prevent, find and fix leaks at natural gas facilities ranging from storage sites to pipelines.

California regulators have approved rules designed to cut natural gas leaks from pipelines and pumping stations by 40 percent, as part of the state’s far-ranging fight against global warming.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Thursday to adopt the rules, which will require utility companies to conduct frequent inspections and fix even minor leaks within three years.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat.

“This certainly is an approach other states can take, and we think the data will show that it’s the right thing to do,” said Tim O’Connor, director of California oil and gas policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has made cutting gas leaks nationwide one of its top priorities. The group called the package of natural gas regulations the nation’s toughest.

Once fully implemented, the regulations approved Thursday could save $8 million worth of gas each year, enough to supply 72,000 homes, O’Connor said. Although the Trump Administration is delaying the implementation of Obama-era federal rules to rein in methane emissions, other states including New York and Massachusetts are moving forward with their own regulations, O’Connor said.

Source: California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines – SFGate

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

New oversight of groundwater taking shape in Sonoma County – state ending past practice of unregulated pumping

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Vickie Mulas, a partner in her family’s Sonoma Valley dairy and vineyard operations, is no friend of regulations.“They’re kind of onerous, restrictive and costly,” said Mulas, stating her case bluntly, as farmers often do.

But Mulas, a member of a prominent local ranching family, relishes her role in California’s newest round of rule-making that will — in an unprecedented departure from past practice — put limits on how much water people can pump out of the ground.

She’s a board member on one of more than 100 new agencies statewide — including three in Sonoma County — being formed to implement a landmark California water law that will bring order to groundwater, the aqueous subterranean stores that collectively hold more than 10 times as much water as all the state’s surface reservoirs combined.

In the aftermath of a historic five-year drought that prompted wholesale overdrafting of Central Valley aquifers — triggering dramatic collapses in the landscape — California is replacing a largely hands-off approach to groundwater with a regulatory system that includes metering, monitoring and potentially limiting pumping, along with fees to pay for the regulatory process.

The new order is just starting to come into shape and will take several years to implement, with still-undefined costs, monitoring and limits that in Sonoma County will primarily fall on thousands of rural well owners, including residents and farmers.

The new legal landscape alone is uncharted for California.

County Supervisor David Rabbitt, a member of the two governing agencies that will oversee groundwater in Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley, said the state is making a philosophical shift away from the timeworn notion of “sacrosanct” private water rights.

“The aquifer beneath your well is connected to your neighbor’s well,” he said.

For groundwater users in the 44,700-acre basin that supplies Sonoma Valley, the underground creep of salt water and dropping fresh water levels have long been concerns. Now, Mulas and other public and community representatives appointed to the region’s groundwater sustainability agency will have a formal stake in staving off those threats.

Read more at: New oversight of groundwater taking shape in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

End of the road for diesel?

David Welch, BLOOMBERG

…diesel will probably be relegated only to a hard-working class of vehicles. While hybrid electric cars can save fuel as effectively as a diesel sedan, and Tesla’s electric cars can offer plenty of zip for motoring enthusiasts, no technology gives the towing power needed for big work trucks like diesel.

It’s easy to imagine diesel will die in America. The troubles that started almost two years ago with the emissions scandal at Volkswagen AG just keep rolling on and on. With General Motors Co. now confronting a class-action lawsuit over 700,000 diesel trucks, there’s growing sense across the auto industry that the days of diesel cars are numbered, at least in the U.S.

GM calls the allegations of emission-test cheating baseless, and the lawsuit stops short of claiming a breach of clean-air regulations. But increasingly, analysts are wondering who will be willing to buy diesel cars and trucks given that many in the industry have been accused of fudging pollution standards. More to the point, how many carmakers will be willing to keep making them?

“This is accelerating the demise,” said Kevin Tynan, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “We were never into them anyway, and with alternatives like hybrids and electric vehicles, there just isn’t much of a reason to sell them.”

GM is just the latest automaker to face a civil lawsuit claiming that its diesel engines use software to meet clean-air rules while the engines pollute at higher levels. The law firm suing GM, Hagens Berman, has also sued Daimler AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Volkswagen, which must pay $24.5 billion in government penalties and consumer givebacks for cheating on diesel emissions.

Read more at: GM Suit Digs a Deeper Grave for Diesel – Bloomberg

Filed under Air, Transportation

EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades

Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information.

One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions.

The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration’s rollbacks of former president Barack Obama’s climate policies.

Read more at: EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades – The Washington Post

Filed under Climate Change & Energy