Tag Archives: clean air

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Environmentalists sue De Beers over mercury at Canadian diamond mine

Wildlands League has gone to court against De Beers Canada Inc. for allegedly failing to report levels of mercury and methylmercury at its Victor Diamond Mine site in northern Ontario.

Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, can threaten the health of human and aquatic life.

Wildlands League alleges De Beers failed to report properly on mercury levels from five out of nine surface water monitoring stations for the creeks next to its open pit mine between 2009 and 2016, violating a condition of its Certificate of Approval. These are offenses under the Ontario Water Resources Act. 

“Private prosecutions are an important tool that allows private citizens to hold industry to account,” said Julia Croome, a lawyer with Ecojustice, which is representing the Wildlands League.

“When governments don’t enforce their own laws, this course of action is in the public interest,” Croome said.

The reporting failures undermined the effectiveness of the mine’s early warning system for mercury pollution, Ecojustice lawyers assisting the group say.

De Beers’ plans include extending the life of the Victor mine by digging the existing pit deeper and by digging another pit to bring the ore back to the Victor site for processing.

The Victor Diamond Mine is the first of 16 potential open pit mines that De Beers could build in the Attawapiskat River watershed. Further, a number of major mines have also been proposed for the Ring of Fire region, further upstream.

Wildlands League alerted the province and De Beers to the failures more than 18 months ago.

The group then outlined these concerns and others last December, in a special public report, “Nothing to See Here: failures of self-monitoring and reporting at the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Canada.”

“After months and months of silence from Ontario, we felt we had no choice but to file charges,” said Trevor Hesselink, citizen informant in this case, and Wildlands League director of policy and research.

“We expected Ontario to enforce its own laws. If we can’t rely on Ontario to oversee a single diamond mine, how can we trust it to oversee the many northern infrastructure and mining developments that are on the horizon?” Hesselink added.

The mine does not directly deposit methylmercury into nearby creeks.

Instead, its activities trigger impacts on the environment by stimulating the conversion of mercury already present in the ecosystem into methylmercury.

Methylmercury enters the food chain when fish absorb it directly through their gills or when they consume small organisms, like plankton, that are contaminated. The neurotoxin quickly concentrates at harmful levels in top predator fish and game, posing risks to indigenous people and recreational fishers that eat fish or game caught in the region.

The highest risks are borne by women of childbearing age and children under 15, as methylmercury affects brain and nervous system development.

The maximum fine under the Ontario Water Resources Act for a first time corporate offender is $250,000 per day.

De Beers has been ordered to make a first appearance in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2017.

Administration insists Supreme Court order on clean-power won’t impact Paris agreement

The Obama administration asserted this week that a U.S. Supreme Court order delaying enforcement of its new clean-power rules will ultimately have little impact on meeting the nation’s obligations under the recent Paris climate agreement.

But environmentalists and academic experts are more nervous.

They are concerned that any significant pause in implementing mandated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants will imperil the credibility of the Unites States to lead on climate change, while increasing worries both at home and abroad that the whole international agreement might unravel if a Republican wins the White House in November.

Nearly 200 countries agreed in December to cut or limit heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the first global treaty to try to limit the worst predicted impacts of climate change. The goal is to limit warming to no more than an additional 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Each nation set its own goals under the treaty, and President Barack Obama committed the United States to make a 26 to 28 percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2030.

The Clean Power Plan is seen as essential to meeting that goal, requiring a one-third reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants over the next 15 years. Even before the Environmental Protection Agency released the plan last year, a long list of mostly Republican states that are economically dependent on coal mining and oil production announced they would sue.

Though the case is still pending before an appeals court in Washington, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court issued a surprising order on Feb. 9 barring any enforcement of the plan until the legal challenge is resolved. Whichever side loses at the appeals level is almost certain to petition for review by the high court, almost certainly freezing any significant action on the plan’s goals until after Obama’s term expires in January 2017.

“The court’s stay, although procedural, clearly signals trouble for the clean power plan,” said John Sterman, an MIT professor who created an intricate computer model that simulates the effects of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on global warming. “Without serious policies to promote efficiency, renewables, and low-carbon energy, there is little chance the U.S. will be able to meet its emissions-reduction pledge, undermining the willingness of many other nations to meet their commitments.”

Obama has staked much of his second term on building a legacy on climate change surpassing that of any of his predecessors. Climate change now joins immigration atop the list of top Obama priorities delayed indefinitely by the courts.

Even if the justices ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan, GOP leaders in Congress have vowed to wipe the rules away if a Republican wins November’s presidential election. That raises the specter that the U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, might also withdraw from the Paris treaty.

“President Obama’s credibility on the climate issue was crucial to reaching agreement at Paris,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs. “The entire edifice built at Paris could collapse, much as the Kyoto Protocol was seriously undermined by President George W. Bush’s withdrawal of the U.S. from that agreement.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Feb. 10 that leaders in the countries participating in the agreement understand that the rulemaking process in the U.S. is often complicated and litigious. But, in the end, he said this week’s setback from the Supreme Court is just a “temporary, procedural determination.”

Schultz said the U.S. would continue to take aggressive steps to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, citing other regulations it has put in place to reduce emissions from automobiles, airplanes and the oil and gas sector. He said the extensions of solar and wind tax credits in this year’s budget will be critical in helping the U.S. meet its commitments.

“It is our estimation that the inclusion of those tax credits is going to have more impact over the short term than the Clean Power Plan,” Schultz said aboard Air Force One on Feb. 10 as the president was flying to Springfield, Illinois.

White House officials said they expected the courts to move quickly on the case, which will benefit the administration’s efforts.

Compliance with the new emissions rules isn’t required until 2022, but states must submit their detailed plans for meeting the required reductions to the EPA by September or seek an extension.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, whose coal-dependent state is helping lead the lawsuit against Obama’s plan, suggested Feb. 10 that taking any steps to meet the required emissions reductions before the final legal decision would be a waste of time and money.

He said for him, opposition to the emissions limits has “nothing to do with climate change.” Rather, it’s about protecting coal-mining jobs already endangered by competition from plentiful stores of cheap natural gas unleashed by the shale fracking boom.

“This rule represents a radical transformation of American energy policy and will have a sweeping impact on the American way of life,” Morrisey said. “EPA is seeking to transform itself from being an environmental regulator into a central energy-planning authority for the states.”

As the legal logjam over the plan plays out in the courts, however, some environmentalists are putting their hopes in the free market _ that the rapidly falling costs of solar and wind infrastructure will boost investments in clean energy, even in an era of historically cheap fossil fuels.

“The transition to clean, renewable energy is rapidly becoming unstoppable,” former vice president and climate crusader Al Gore said Feb. 10. 

EPA sues Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche over clean air violations

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on Jan. 4, filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.

The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution.

The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board.

“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”

“VW’s illegal defeat devices have resulted in thousands of tons of excess NOx emissions in California, a state where more than 12 million people live in areas that exceed air quality standards set to protect public health,” said CARB chair Mary D. Nichols.  “The California Air Resources Board is fully coordinating its investigation with the federal EPA and DOJ to address the environmental harm VW has caused.”

Consistent with EPA’s notices of violation, issued in September for 2.0 liter engines, and in November for certain 3.0 liter engines, the complaint alleges that the defeat devices cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards during normal driving conditions. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution. Motor vehicles equipped with illegal defeat devices cannot be certified.

The complaint alleges that Volkswagen equipped certain 2.0 liter vehicles with software that detects when the car is being tested for compliance with EPA emissions standards and turns on full emissions controls only during that testing process. During normal driving situations the effectiveness of the emissions control devices is greatly reduced. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory and at the test site, but during normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at levels up to 40 times the EPA compliance level. In total, the complaint covers approximately 499,000 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.

The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen equipped certain 3.0 liter vehicles with software that senses when the vehicle is undergoing federal emissions testing. When the vehicle senses the test procedure, it operates in a “temperature conditioning” mode and meets emissions standards. At all other times, including during normal vehicle operation, the vehicles operate in a “normal mode” that permits NOx emissions of up to nine times the federal standard. In total, the complaint covers approximately 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.

NOx pollution contributes to harmful ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. These pollutants are linked with asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter is also associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk of health effects from exposure to these pollutants. Recent studies indicate that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, including respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue, and premature death.

Today’s filing of a civil complaint under Sections 204 and 205 of the Clean Air Act seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. A civil complaint does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies.

Affected 2.0 liter diesel models and model years include:

Jetta (2009-2015)
Jetta Sportwagen (2009-2014)
Beetle (2013-2015)
Beetle Convertible (2013-2015)
Audi A3 (2010-2015)
Golf (2010-2015)
Golf Sportwagen (2015)
Passat (2012-2015)

Affected 3.0 liter diesel models and model years include:

Volkswagen Touareg (2009-2016)
Porsche Cayenne (2013-2016)
Audi A6 Quattro (2014-2016)
Audi A7 Quattro (2014-2016)
Audi A8 (2014 – 2016)
Audi A8L (2014-2016)
Audi Q5 (2014-2016)
Audi Q7 (2009-2015)

Republicans vow to shred historic Paris climate accord

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the international climate change agreement reached in Paris as a major achievement that could help turn the tide on global warming.

But Republicans, who are heavily funded by fossil fuel interests that produce the pollutants causing climate change, tried to deflate the celebration, vowing to overturn the agreement signed by almost 200 nations if the party wins the White House in 2016. 

Obama said the climate agreement “can be a turning point for the world” and credited his administration for playing a key role. He and Kerry predicted the agreement would prompt widespread spending on clean energy and help stem carbon pollution.

“We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge,” Obama said from the White House. He said the climate agreement “offers the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”

But the immediate reaction of leading Republicans was a reminder of the conflict that lies ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama is “making promises he can’t keep” and should remember the agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” when the next president takes the oath of office.

Clean-power pushback

Even as Obama was working to hammer out a global climate agreement in Paris, Republican climate-change deniers in Congress were working to block his plan to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants.

The House passed two resolutions Dec. 8 against the power-plant rules. A measure blocking an Environmental Protection Agency rule for existing power plants was approved 242–180, while a measure blocking a rule on future power plants was approved 235–188.

The votes came after the Senate approved identical motions in November under a little-used law that allows Congress to block executive actions it considers onerous.

The measures, as WiG went to press, were at the White House, where they faced almost-certain vetoes.

Just four Democrats sided with Republicans to support the measures, which fell far short of the numbers needed to override a veto in both the House and Senate.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said GOP lawmakers were forcing a vote on the climate rule “to send a message … there’s serious disagreement with the policies of this president.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s pro-environment policies will kill jobs, increase electricity costs and decrease the reliability of the U.S. energy supply.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he wished Obama took the threat posed by “radical jihadists” as seriously as he takes the “pseudoscientific threat” posed by climate change.

Republicans at the state level also are challenging the power plan, which requires states to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, based on emissions in 2005. Each state has a customized target and is responsible for drawing up an effective plan to meet its goal.

The EPA says it has authority to enact the plan under the Clean Air Act. But 25 mostly Republican states, led by Texas and West Virginia, are contesting the plan in court, calling it an unlawful power grab that will kill jobs and drive up electricity costs. Wisconsin, which has perhaps the nation’s strongest rules discouraging “green” energy, is part of the suit.

Utilities, the National Mining Association and the nation’s largest privately owned coal company also are suing the EPA over the new rules.

Koch Industries, a major polluter that political insiders say pulls the strings of the Wisconsin GOP, is one of the world’s largest funders of climate-change propaganda.

The Associated Press was a source for this analysis.

Wisconsin Republicans push to lift nuclear plant moratorium

A Republican legislator is renewing a push to lift Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants, saying the state’s manufacturers must have a reliable source of energy as burning fossil fuels grows more expensive.

Under current Wisconsin law, state regulators can’t grant permission for a new nuclear power plant unless a federal storage facility for the waste from nuclear plants across the country exists and the plant wouldn’t burden state ratepayers. No such centralized storage facility exists, however. President Barack Obama’s administration pulled funding for creating one at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, leaving nuclear plants to continue storing waste on-site in pools and casks.

Rep. Kevin Petersen, R-Waupaca, has introduced a bill that would erase both the storage and ratepayer language from the law, which would effectively end the moratorium. The measure also would require the state to consider nuclear power when designing energy programs and handing out energy grants and loans.

Petersen argued in a memo seeking co-sponsors that nuclear power is a clean, affordable option for manufacturers as utilities work to meet new federal greenhouse gas emissions rules. The rules require Wisconsin to reduce carbon emissions by 41 percent over the next 15 years. The mandate has stoked fears that utilities will raise rates to cover upgrades, hurting large commercial energy customers such as manufacturers.

“It is time to lift the moratorium,” Petersen wrote. “Advanced nuclear energy is a clean, safe, and affordable way to meet future energy demands in Wisconsin, the United States, and around the world.”

A number of union chapters covering engineers, pipefitters and construction workers have registered in support. So has Madison-based Alliant Energy, which supplies electricity to customers across southern Wisconsin and most of Iowa. The utility’s spokesman, Scott Reigstad, said Alliant officials have no plans to build a nuclear plant but believe all energy options should be on the table.

Peterson accepted $2,525 from donors in the energy sector between 2006 and 2012, according to government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s campaign finance database. Petersen hasn’t taken any money from anyone in that industry since 2012, the database shows. He accepted $6,900 from donors connected to the manufacturing sector between mid-2006 and October 2014, a month before the last legislative elections.

The bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, accepted nearly $5,000 in donations from the energy industry between May 2007 and November of last year, the database shows. He took $34,000 from workers in the manufacturing sector during that span.

Former Republican Rep. Mike Huebsch introduced an almost identical bill in 2003. The GOP also proposed language in the state budget in 2007 that would have lifted the ban and Democrats included lifting the prohibition in a sweeping renewable energy bill in 2010. All those attempts eventually failed.

This time around, the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter is the only organization to register against the proposal. Thirty Assembly Republicans and two Senate Republicans have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he believes most of his caucus is open to the bill in light of the greenhouse gas limits.

“I would certainly rather have nuclear power where it is inexpensive I the long run and definitely produces zero greenhouse gases,” he told reporters Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an emails inquiring about the bill’s chances in that house.

Wisconsin Republicans have slammed the Obama administration over rules limiting power plant emissions of heat-trapping gases. Gov. Scott Walker has joined a lawsuit challenging the president’s authority to issue clean air directives.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s 2015 session has ended, and floor votes on nuclear power couldn’t occur until next year.

Wisconsin currently has only one operational nuclear power plant, located near Two Rivers on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Congressional Republicans attack clean air, water and wildlife protections in budget process

Congressional Republicans are waging an all-out assault on U.S. environmental policy, using the budget process to attack regulations and orders intended to protect air, land, water and wild America.

“Equipped with spending cuts and policy riders, House Republican leadership has presented a vision for an impotent Environmental Protection Agency unable to defend public health or the environment from corporate polluters,” said Lukas Ross of the grassroots environmental group Friends of the Earth. “They are doing this by taking aim at 40 years’ worth of bipartisan environmental protection. Attacks against the EPA are attacks on the American people and the clean air and clean water we need to survive.”

The GOP campaign in the U.S. Capitol resembles the campaign waged against the environment by Wisconsin Republicans in Madison. The tactic is to change policies and weaken regulations in the budget process.

Republicans in the U.S. House attached about 20 anti-environment riders to the Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which already included a 9 percent cut to the EPA’s 2016 budget.

The House was set to vote on the spending bill on July 9 and then July 10, but the measure was pulled from debate after the introduction of a Republican amendment intended to protect the display and sale of Confederate flags in some federal cemeteries.

It was unclear as of July 15 when the House would take up the massive spending measure on the floor.

“Republican amendments to this bill would gut virtually every conservation, environmental, safety and health advance,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy and watchdog group.

The NRDC, earlier this summer, released a thorough analysis of riders that Republicans attached to the Interior bill and other spending measures for the new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. 

In the House’s Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Act, riders would block the EPA from finalizing the first-ever carbon pollution standards for new and existing fossil fuel power plants, as well as bar the government from assessing and weighing the full costs of extreme weather or other climate impacts caused by pollution.

Another rider would treat biomass burned for electricity production as zero-carbon pollution despite the fact that emissions from wood biomass are often higher than those from coal.

Additional riders would prevent the EPA from limiting pollution from livestock production under the Clean Air Act or require the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

Republicans also want to take away the EPA’s authority to set standards curtailing use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants and foam blowing agents, which harm the ozone layer and are potent greenhouse gases.

Additional riders would permanently prohibit the EPA from clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and block the Department of Interior from developing or implementing safeguards designed to protect streams from pollution from surface coal mining.

Another rider would impede the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service from using the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire lands and waters to conserve critical habitat and expand recreation.

More than a dozen other riders were attached to the Interior spending bill, among them provisions weakening endangered species protections.

Republicans also have worked to weaken environmental policy and regulations with riders to:

• The House Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, including one to essentially repeal the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by prohibiting civil and criminal enforcement and another to undermine the recoveries of fish population, including salmon and steelhead.

• The House State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, including a push to reverse the president’s policy of not backing funding for most new overseas coal plants. 

• The House Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, including a provision to prohibit paying a salary to the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. 

• The House Energy and Water appropriations bill, including provisions to prevent the Department of Energy from providing any funds to the Cape Wind Project off the coast of Massachusetts, prevent the government from shutting down the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and blocking enforcement of certain energy efficient standards in homes.

One rider to the energy bill would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from updating the definition of “fill material,” which would allow the mining industry to continue dumping toxic waste into mountain streams.

• The House Transportation appropriations bill, including a provision to block work on the California High-Speed Rail Program and another to block the implementation of federal energy efficiency requirements in housing assistance through HUD.

Goldston said, “These measures would not only damage the environment, they make it ever more likely that there will be a counterproductive showdown this fall, perhaps leading to another costly government shutdown. This is not what the public wants from Congress.”

Both Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy protested the Republican riders and the cut.

Donovan has called them “irresponsible” and said the Republicans are using the appropriations process to try “to jam through unrelated, ideological riders that undercut health, safety and environmental protections.”

McCarthy, in a press call, said, “Those provisions are very problematic and we strenuously object to inclusion of such restraints on the agency’s ability to carry out its mission as guided by science and the law.”

See also Republican senators seek to roll back auto, rail safety regulations.

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Environmentalists raise concerns about proposed pig-feeding operation in Bayfield

The environmental group Clean Wisconsin says it has many unanswered questions about the potential for water pollution, air quality, odor management and other health and environmental impacts of a proposed pig-feeding operation in Bayfield County.

The group says additional study — specifically an environmental impact statement — is needed.

“There are a lot of questions that have been raised, and an EIS can help answer them,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney at Clean Wisconsin, said in a news release issued on March 18. “We need to better understand this project and its potential impact before a permit for the site is issued or denied.”

In December 2014, Badgerwood LLC submitted an application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to build a concentrated animal feeding operation in the town of Eileen in Bayfield County. The company proposes to house more than 26,000 pigs and apply 6.8 million gallons of liquid manure over 880 acres of land, according to the Clean Wisconsin release. Once weaned, the piglets would be sent to Iowa.

The proposal has sparked concerns in Bayfield, with residents and environmental groups questioning the impact of the operation.

Clean Wisconsin said the operation has the potential to pollute the Fish Creek and White River watersheds, which feed into nearby Lake Superior. In addition, the site could release harmful emissions and odors throughout neighboring communities.

So on March 18, Clean Wisconsin asked the DNR to complete an EIS for Badgerwood.

“If permitted, the facility would be the first CAFO in Bayfield County,” said Wheeler. “Developing an EIS will allow citizens to voice their concerns about potential impacts and would provide a complete evaluation of the impacts so decision-makers can be fully informed.”

The DNR recently revised regulations for when an environmental impact statement must be prepared and, according to Clean Wisconsin, the state agency now has broad discretion regarding whether to prepare an EIS for an operation such as the one proposed in Bayfield — the first proposal subject to the new rules.

As Badgerwood LLC’s proposal has the potential to do environmental harm and may result in human health impacts, such as worsening air and water quality, an EIS is warranted, Clean Wisconsin said. In addition, swine feeding operations are not common in Wisconsin, so more study is needed to evaluate the impacts.

“It’s clear the project meets a number of standards requiring the DNR to issue an impact statement,” Wheeler said. “Any project that has the potential to harm Bayfield County’s natural resources deserves a thorough evaluation.”

EPA to regulate methane pollution by oil, gas industry

The White House on Jan. 14 announced a new goal of cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry 40-45 percent by 2025, along with plans to reduce emissions from some sectors of the industry.

The administration also announced the Environmental Protection Agency will set Clean Air Act standards to reduce methane pollution from new oil and gas production, processing and transmission equipment nationwide and there are plans to cut emissions from some existing oil and gas operations.

“Today’s methane announcement is an important start toward protecting families, communities and the planet from this dangerous pollution. Curbing the rampant methane waste from the oil and gas industry is the biggest new step the White House can take to fight climate change,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Meeting the administration’s reduction goal, however, will require EPA to curb methane pollution from all existing oil and gas operations across the nation, not just those in some parts of the country. Taking such industry-wide action would be a powerful follow-up to the president’s historic action on carbon pollution from power plants.”

Currently, the oil and gas industry dumps or loses almost 8 million tons of methane into the air each year — equal to the amount of natural gas needed to heat 6.5 million U.S. homes — through unrepaired leaks and intentional releases, despite the availability of proven, low-cost solutions that could eliminate up to half of this pollution, according to Earthjustice, a group that sued EPA for failing to stop the oil and gas industry’s waste of methane.

Methane, which escapes into the atmosphere during drilling and fracking operations and in distribution, is a climate pollutant 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeframe, according to the Sierra Club.

The environmental group’s executive director, Michael Brune, said on Jan. 14: “Reducing methane in the atmosphere is necessary to address the unchecked climate pollution caused by the dramatic growth of oil and gas production in the United States. This expansion is driven by dangerous techniques, including fracking, which the Sierra Club opposes because they pollute our air and water and hold us back from clean energy prosperity. We cannot afford to wait: regulating methane directly is a critical step, but EPA and BLM must act quickly to reduce methane emissions from all new and existing sources of methane pollution in the oil and gas sector, including the transmission and distribution of natural gas.”

He added, “Controlling methane, however, is not an end in itself and it will not make fracked oil and gas climate friendly. Continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels is a dangerous course for our communities and our climate. Numerous scientific articles now point to the need to keep more than two-thirds of our fossil fuels in the ground in order to avoid climate chaos. We must move swiftly to truly clean energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency while establishing policies that keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Scientists explore using trees to clean pollution

Before Houston and its suburbs were built, a dense forest naturally purified the coastal air along a stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast that grew thick with pecan, ash, live oak and hackberry trees.

It was the kind of pristine woodland that was mostly wiped out by settlers in their rush to clear land and build communities. Now one of the nation’s largest chemical companies and one of its oldest conservation groups have forged an unlikely partnership that seeks to recreate some of that forest to curb pollution.

The plan drafted by Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy is only in its infancy and faces many hurdles. But it envisions a day when expensive machines used to capture industrial pollutants might be at least partially replaced by restoring some of the groves of native trees that once filled the land.

“It looks very promising at the early stage of the research,” said Mark Weick, director of sustainability programs for Dow. “But for this to become something that is an emission control, everyone needs to know it works.”

Many plants, and especially trees, capture pollution naturally when it hits their leaves. Trees with the biggest leaves and the widest canopies capture the most pollutants, especially nitrogen oxide, a common byproduct of combustion that can irritate lungs and contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone. The reforestation proposal imagines emissions from Dow’s largest North American factory drifting downwind into the trees near Freeport, Texas.

Dow and the Nature Conservancy began a six-year, $10 million collaboration in 2011, when they came together to look at ways natural resources could be used to save the company money.

After reading an obscure notation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that suggested reforestation could improve air quality, the two groups decided to research how the idea might work and whether it could be cost-effective.

Scientists used a complex model from the U.S. Forest Service that considers everything from wind patterns to the size of tree leaves and the overall canopy to estimate the air-quality improvements that might come from 1,000 acres of forest.

“The big discovery was that you could combine the traditional infrastructure with reforestation and still meet regulation,” said Laura Huffman, the conservancy’s director in Texas.

The trees, Huffman said, may not completely replace traditional technology, but they could complement it, allowing factories to use smaller, cheaper equipment.

The research found that over 30 years a 1,000-acre forest would remove 4 to 7 tons of nitrogen oxide annually, said Timm Kroeger, a senior environmental economist with the conservancy. A traditional mechanical “scrubber” removes about 50 to 70 tons annually.

So a 10,000-acre forest equals one average industrial scrubber, he explained. And in this part of Texas, where open land is ample, reforestation is within reach.

The cost of the project not including the land would be about the same as using traditional forms of pollution control, Weick said.

Organizers hope to work with a landowner interested in reforesting, probably with help from conservation tax credits. Or the Nature Conservancy or the federal government would buy the land and give it to Dow free of charge.

A recent progress report determined that the cost of cleaning a ton of nitrogen oxide through reforestation was $2,400 to $4,000, compared with $2,500 to $5,000 using traditional equipment.

The research is still being reviewed by other scientists. And before any formal plan could be adopted, it would have to win approval from state and federal regulators, who would require any pollution-cleansing method to be quantifiable and enforceable. Trees may not fit the bill. Unlike machines, they are living organisms that are subject to diseases, droughts and other threats such as hurricanes or fires.

Back in 2005, another scientific group researched a similar idea and decided it would not pay off.

“The conclusion that we reached was that what they were trying to do was difficult and that the degree of uncertainty was larger than the benefits,” said Mark Estes, a senior air quality scientist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Even if it wins broad support, the plan won’t be approved anytime soon. In Texas, it can take up to four years to change clean-air rules. And that’s before any proposal moves up to the EPA.

As he looked out over land ripe for reforestation, Jeff Wiegel, the conservancy’s director of strategic initiatives in Texas, was realistic about the pace of progress.

“It’s a long road toward that,” he said.