EPA: Our scientific assessment for Waters of U.S. is based on over 1,000 pieces of peer-reviewed literature

August 27, 2014

“…there is a proposal afoot that would extend [EPA] jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense” — Sallie Clark

August 11, 2014

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Here’s a guest column (The Pueblo Chieftain) from Sallie Clark dealing with the Environmental Protection Agencie’s proposed clarification of “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act:

Coloradans have a special appreciation for the beauty of nature all around us. Everyone benefits from the beauty and bounty of America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways. Of course, these natural resources should be protected from irresponsible polluters, and regulations are in place to ensure clean water in our communities.

But, there is a proposal afoot that would extend federal jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense. The National Association of Counties (NACo) sees this proposal as a critical issue, and in my role as First Vice President of NACo and a Colorado county commissioner, I am concerned about how these rule changes will impact local communities.

A new rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would erase the distinction between bodies of water — such as streams and lakes — and ditches on the side of a road. According to the proposed redefinition of “Waters of the U.S.,” a river would be no different than a public safety ditch; a lake no different than an emergency flood mitigation system.

This latest example of over-regulation makes no sense and creates more confusion than it seeks to address.

Local water conveyances, such as ditches and flood control channels, may fall under federal regulation in this unworkable proposal. It is unclear how far it would extend into drainage systems. That means counties would be required to obtain federal permits to do routine maintenance work on a roadside ditch or storm-water drain. These are essential components of effective water management.

In many cases, the nation’s counties are responsible for maintaining storm drains and other water conveyance systems that keep people safe from rising waters. They often pay a high price to wait for the federal government to issue permits. This new red tape would slow down the process even more and potentially put more people in harm’s way by inhibiting projects that keep water off of roads and away from homes.

The costs and delays of this federal over-regulation would have a significant impact on public safety and economic prosperity. To give a concrete example of some of these concerns, maintaining drainage is critical to keeping our roads safe and open for use, and it requires daily attention. Increasing fees due to additional regulatory permitting for all runoff, as anticipated by the proposal, could bring maintenance efforts to a halt.

How this regulation would be administered is unclear and would be especially cumbersome if it went directly through federal offices not adequately equipped to accommodate heavier permitting.

The expense for plan preparation would add costs not accounted for in our existing budgets.

If fully exercised every basic culvert maintenance or repair could be held up, placing not only a burden on counties financially, but also putting citizens at risk due to delays, as all work would have to first be reviewed and approved by a federal agency.

The approach taken by this proposal would drain local budgets and create delays in critical, time-crucial repairs with no demonstrated long-term environmental benefit.

Federal over-regulation and unfunded mandates unnecessarily hinder counties’ ability to get things done for local citizens. All of us want to protect the environment, but we cannot allow over-regulation to do more harm than good.

Sallie Clark is first vice president of the National Association of Counties and an El Paso County Commissioner.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Texas-based builders fined $310,000 by EPA for stormwater violations at Air Force Academy construction site — @bberwyn

August 9, 2014

“We all want to protect Colorado’s iconic mountain streams” — Karn Stiegelmeier

August 4, 2014
Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

Here’s a guest column in favor of the EPA’s proposed rule clarifying the “waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act, from Karn Stiegelmeier writing in The Denver Post:

We all want to protect Colorado’s iconic mountain streams that provide clean water to drink and clean water to fish, without unnecessary overregulation. A recent proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps strikes that balance. The new rule would restore important protections for waterways and reduce administrative burdens in permitting processes. While admittedly technical, this is an important step forward.

The Clean Water Act is all about restoring and maintaining healthy waterways throughout the United States. But it protects only those waters that meet the definition of “waters of the United States.” Two Supreme Court rulings over the last 15 years muddled the distinction between waters that were covered under the Clean Water Act and those that weren’t. Those rulings resulted in significant additional red tape, time and expense to the permitting processes.

Specifically, in 2009, Denver-based officials with the EPA reported that it takes their office three times as long to process a permit request after the Supreme Court decisions.

Many in Colorado and around the nation clamored for a remedy for the confusion and delays. The federal agencies issuing the proposed rule are currently accepting comments on how this first draft might be improved. The proposed rule, while not perfect, seeks to bring some clarity back to the process. Local governments and individuals around the state should submit comments on how the rule could be made better.

Many government and agricultural leaders have already opposed the rule-making in its entirety, providing little or no feedback on how the rule might be improved. There has been broad misinterpretation of this rule clarification as burdensome “over-regulation.” In fact, the proposal is precisely the opposite.

The proposed rule does not expand federal jurisdiction beyond its historic limits, but instead restores protections for some waters brought into question after the Supreme Court rulings. For example, in 2009 the Corps determined a 12-acre high altitude wetland in Park County was outside of federal jurisdiction because a manmade ditch interrupted the historic connection with the nearby stream. This wetland certainly would have received protection from water pollution before the Supreme Court decisions, and rightfully should under the proposed rule. Without protection under the Act, pristine sites like this wetland may be dredged, filled, and developed without any federal agency oversight, to the detriment not only of the wetland but also the neighboring stream, communities, and economies.

Second, many ditches have been under Clean Water Act jurisdiction since the 1970’s. The Act requires permits for some activities occurring on some ditches because they drain into natural waterways and affect the health of those waters. These ditches should be regulated under the Act, as they have historically, to protect the rivers into which they drain.

In fact, for the first time, the proposed rule would clearly exempt ditches which had been a concern. The rule actually explicitly restricts applicability of the Act to only those ditches that flow into another waterway, exempting ditches that do not flow annually or irrigate only dry lands without returning flows to another waterway.

Finally, the federal agencies also maintain a long list of activities that can receive expedited permits because those activities do not pose a significant threat of water pollution, such as small-scale road maintenance. The proposed rule will not change which activities receive expedited permits.

Healthy waterways benefit the whole state by protecting and enhancing recreational opportunities. For those of us living and working in Summit County, protecting our waters means protecting our clean water and our tourism economy. The proposed rule is a thoughtfully crafted, urgently needed clarification to protect Colorado’s waterways.

Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County commissioner.

EPA: It’s time to #ditchthemyth about our proposal to protect clean water

August 1, 2014

Testimony about Clean Power Plan always earnest and often eloquent — The Mountain Town News

August 1, 2014

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Old and young, fat and skinny, plus white (mostly), black and brown, the speakers made their way this week to the microphones at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver. For many, the EPA office in LoDo was just down the street, but others came from Nevada to Minnesota, Arizona to Utah.

Most spoke in favor of the EPA’s regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

The Clean Power Plan identifies four key building blocks of improving efficiency at existing power plants, shifting production from coal to gas; increasing renewables and, in some states, nuclear; and, finally, reducing demand by increasing energy efficiency.

The EPA had predicted 1,600 speakers at its forums on July 29-30 in four cities, and each speaker was assigned a five-minute slot. I listened to maybe 40 speakers at the Denver sessions. All spoke earnestly, a few of them eloquently.

Most supported the regulations, emphasizing the long-term costs of unrestrained emissions of fossil fuels. Opponents emphasized the short-term costs. The divisions were mostly the same that we’ve heard for the last decade as the United States argues about the transition away from fossil-based fuels, or at least a transition away from unrestrained pollution of the atmosphere.

Supporters tended to describe the new regulations as a good if small step forward. Max Tyler, a Democrat in the Colorado House of Representative and strong supporter of renewable energy, described the regulations as too modest.

“Ultimately the bar is set too low at 30 percent,” he said. “The cost of continuing carbon pollution is appalling, it’s astronomical,” he added.

“The private sector is pretty darned creative. They can pull it off,” Tyler concluded. He himself had founded several small tech-oriented businesses before becoming a legislator in 2009.

Alex Blackmer, from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, described it as a “very modest proposal” and downplayed the cost. The average age of existing coal-fired power plants is 42 years old, toward the end of their useful lives, he noted.

Catherine A. Carruthers of a group called Environmental Tax Reform was among those advocating a more sweeping approach to carbon regulation, adoption of a carbon tax or fee.

Lili Francklyn, who identified herself as a former science reporter for National Public Radio, remembered covering a meeting in 1982 at which the climate scientist James Hansen warned of the effects of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Almost all of the climate change predictions issued that day have come true,” she said. “I am sick of hearing, after 30 years, that coal is cheap,” she said. She called for regulations that “reflect the true cost of coal.”

But some weren’t willing to let natural gas stand in for coal. Rick Blotter, a retired teacher and coach, said 40 percent reduction should be the goal and “natural gas is not the solution to our climate problem.”

Patrick Demmer of the Denver Ministerial Alliance said he grew up north of downtown Denver, near the Asarco smelting site and near the Cherokee coal-fired power plant. He reported that his breathing problems are most likely explained by the pollution. “We have only one world. We may have people in outer space, but we have just one Earth.”

Mixing science and religion was James W.C. White, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Climate change is at its core a moral issue,” he said.

He cited intergenerational inequity. “We all say we love our kids, but how do we show it?” he asked. He also pointed to the disproportionate impacts of carbon pollution as opposed to those who benefit from burning it. And he also spoke to the immortality of species extinction from human activities. “We must be held accountable for any species we lose,” he said.

Hal Bidlack has among the most unusual of resumes. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and taught political science for 15 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In the Clinton Administration, he served as director of global environmental affairs for the National Security Council. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Colorado Springs in 2008 and now works for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

He noted that in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney articulated a 1 percent rule: if there was a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction, the United States must act as if it were a certainty.

Bidlack countered that 95 percent of climate scientists concur about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in destabilizing the climate, and he further emphasized the threat of changing climate to U.S. security.

Addressing climate change is nothing more than ‘basic risk management,” he said.

Stacy Tellinghuisen, of Western Resource Advocates, emphasized that Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada will be able to hit the 2030 targets with relative ease given plans of utilities already adopted.

The Aspen Skiing Co. stressed that carbon-reduction goals can be achieved without economic distress. Matt Hamilton said the company has reduced its carbon footprint 3.5 percent while adding a hotel, lifts and restaurants. See statement.

But cleaning up the electrical supply is crucial to achieving company carbon-reduction goals, he added. The company gets its electricity primarily from Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is poised to soon achieve its goal of a 20 percent carbon-free portfolio.

Chris Menges, project planner for the City of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, similarly made the case that carbon-free electricity need not produce high prices. The city’s electrical portfolio is now more than 80 percent carbon free and customers still enjoy among the lowest electrical rates among municipalities in Colorado. See statement.

He noted the EPA estimate that the energy shift will yield electricity that is 8 percent lower by 2030 while generating enormous savings in health-care costs, with $7 in benefits for every $1 invested.

Those testifying against the EPA regulations emphasized immediate costs. Carl Smith, representing 4,000 railroad workers, pointed to the profits of hauling coal, 28 percent of all railroad revenues, and the middle-class incomes of brakemen and conductors such as himself.

Bill Midcap, president of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, described the proposed regulations as “just not economically sound.” Make sure these don’t overburden America’s most important sector, and that is agriculture,” he said.

The most interesting testimony came from the utilities. Of all those I heard testify, they had most clearly read the fine print of these new regulations (as I have not). Speakers from Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere expressed a variety of concerns:

• The new regulations do not give credit for hydroelectric power. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, for example, was formed as a way to provide distribution of hydropower of the new dams to the electrical cooperatives in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. It provides 20 percent of power for coops.

• This is too ambitious of a proposal. To achieve dramatic carbon reduction will require extensive transmission, and getting high-voltage, long-distance transmission built is difficult and takes many years.

• Credit for non-carbon power generation should be given to the states where it is produced, not to the states where it is consumed, in effect favoring the more rural states of the Great Plains and West.

• Because the United States only produces a portion of the world carbon dioxide emissions, this is such a small gain that it will accomplish almost nothing.

• These EPA regulations put the onus on states to figure out how to comply, but state governments do not have the staff expertise to respond effectively. See additional perspectives in CREA blog.

Elsewhere in Denver, there were demonstrations and rallies, most of it pure theater designed for the TV cameras. My take is that these regulations will go forward, but the real interesting story will emerge as the co-ops, utilities and other power producers submit their written comments during the next several months [ed. emphasis mine].

US Rep. Tipton vs. EPA’s Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe — Round 1 ends in a draw

July 31, 2014
Fen photo via the USFS

Fen photo via the USFS

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Wednesday was in a fighting mood when he joined House Republicans in grilling the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy chief about a proposed rule that many farmers fear would allow the EPA to regulate small bodies of water, even ponds or puddles on their land.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the proposal simply clarifies regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands. That authority has been murky thanks to confusing and complex guidelines following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

But Tipton worries the proposed rule is too far-reaching, and in a testy exchange with Perciasepe during a House Small Business Committee hearing, he pushed him for clarification on what the new rule would encompass and what sort of exemptions would be available for agriculture.

“I live in the Southwestern United States in Colorado, we get one rainstorm and with the lay of our land, you can have a high water mark caused by a 10-minute flow that then disappears …” Tipton said.

“I’m just trying to get down to the actual definition, because it’s the arbitrary nature of this rule …” he continued.

Perciasepe interrupted, “It is not arbitrary, sir. If you’d let me answer I can give some clarity …

“In the science of hydrology, you can look at … an area where water would flow … it will exhibit characteristics on the ground … and if you don’t have those characteristics, then there’s not enough frequency of flow or volume of flow that would make it jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act,” Perciasepe said.

The EPA proposed the joint rule in March with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The administration is hopeful that in addition to offering clarity, it would help businesses by increasing efficiency of the environmental agency.

Perciasepe repeatedly said the rule would not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act. He also said it is in keeping with Supreme Court guidance.

Specifically, the rule would clarify that most streams and wetlands are protected. The rule-making comes as polluters have escaped fines for violations because the EPA has been uncertain that its authority would hold up in court.

Before the EPA finalizes the rule, Tipton said the agency should hold listening sessions in rural parts of Colorado and the nation. He has made the same request concerning a proposal to set carbon-pollution standards. The EPA ended two days of hearings in Denver on Wednesday over that issue.

The Durango Herald has confirmed that the EPA is working on a hearing for the Craig area in September to address the carbon issue. But no rural meetings have been discussed for the water rule…

“Wouldn’t it be appropriate when we’re doing these hearings … to actually go to the impacted communities, rather than just go to urban areas? …” Tipton asked. “It’s important that when we’re talking about outreach … to not discard rural America.”

Perciasepe responded, “Hearings are just one aspect of our outreach … the EPA will meet with anybody who wants to meet with us … We are going to reach out to virtually every state and the constituencies in each one of those states.”

Tipton also presented a letter from the Waters Advocacy Coalition, a diverse group of construction, business, mining and agriculture interests. The coalition expressed worries that the rule would have a greater impact on businesses than the EPA estimates.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


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