What you can do:

  • Call your member of Congress and ask him or her to ensure Superfund enforcement is funded.
  • Submit written comments to FERC asking the agency to reject the Department of Energy's proposed rule.

DOE proposes additional compensation for coal, nuclear Plants. The Department of Energy (DOE) sent a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the independent agency charged with oversight of the nation's wholesale electricity markets. DOE's proposal and an accompanying letter from Energy Secretary Rick Perry cite the many recent retirements of coal and nuclear plants as a problem for the resiliency of the nation's electric grid. To prevent further retirements, DOE asked FERC to require that wholesale electricity markets provide additional compensation to coal and nuclear plants to compensate them for "reliability, resiliency, and on-site fuel assurance." DOE's proposal drew swift criticism from industry participants for favoring one fuel source over another and for upending FERC's market-based compensation structure, which has prevailed for the past 20 years. DOE notably failed to mention that most coal and nuclear plant retirements are driven by low natural gas prices forcing less economic resources out of the market. DOE's proposal, if implemented, would increase compensation for coal and nuclear plants and likely raise wholesale power prices, which would filter down to consumers.

EPA won't release benzene levels collected post-Harvey. After Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast region in late August, the EPA used a mobile lab to conduct air quality tests in the Houston area, but the Agency is refusing to release the findings of their testing saying only that concentrations of several toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, met Texas' health guidelines. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's environmental regulatory agency, temporarily turned off stationary air monitors in the area hit by Harvey during the storm and failed to move an air quality testing unit from Austin to Houston in the aftermath of the storm. The TCEQ wound up using handheld monitoring devices to conduct their air quality tests. Private testing conducted by local environmental organizations covered a larger area and showed higher concentration of toxic chemicals than the testing done by the EPA and TCEQ. Air pollution experts say that by the time the private and government testing started, much of the benzene pollution would have dissipated, meaning an accurate assessment of the total amount of benzene released is virtually impossible to state.

Harvey exposes oversight gaps. Hurricane Harvey destroyed an Arkema Inc. chemical plant outside Houston, causing fires and forcing an evacuation zone. The hurricane also flooded at least 13 Superfund toxic waste sites in the region according to the EPA. Although the storm is over, the accident has exposed flaws in the regulation of chemical safety, risk disclosure, and emergency planning. The EPA requires chemical storage facilities to prepare emergency contingency plans every four years but only requires companies to address approximately 150 chemicals based on their toxicity and flammability. This excludes a large number of hazardous chemicals that are reactive, meaning they might interact with other chemicals and cause a dangerous or toxic release in the event of an emergency like a hurricane or flooding. There is also a lack of oversight from other agencies that are tasked with inspecting chemical storage facilities, such as the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which have few inspectors and face constant budget constraints. The situation is further exacerbated by state laws such as Texas' Homeland Security Act, which makes certain government information that could potentially be used by terrorists confidential. Chemical companies have increasingly cited this law as a reason to withhold information regarding their activities from the public.

EPA threatens DOJ's environmental justice program. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is considering cutting funding to the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division. The Division enforces anti-pollution laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and litigates EPA's Superfund program, which seeks to force polluters to pay cleanup costs for hazardous sites they caused. Each year the EPA reimburses the Justice Department approximately $20 million for the work it handles on behalf of EPA's Superfund program. Mr. Pruitt, who has ties to the fossil fuel industry, has already proposed cutting one-third of the EPA's budget, which includes cutting enforcement programs.

ITC threatens solar industry. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) sided with solar equipment manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld and determined that imports of foreign solar energy components had injured the U.S. industry. While domestic manufacturers rejoiced, many in the renewable industry opposed the decision, saying it would raise prices throughout the industry and cost an estimated 88,000 jobs since only a small portion of solar jobs are in manufacturing. The ITC now moves onto the remedy phase of its decision. Suniva and SolarWorld both asked for a tariff on imported solar modules, which would raise costs on components for the broader solar industry. The ITC will hear public input on remedies on October 3 and send its recommendation to the Trump administration in mid-November. Trump will then have 60 days to make a final decision.

Hurricane-struck islands finally have EPA Administrator. Puerto Rico Superfund sites add to post-storm environmental risk. After nine months without an administrator for EPA Region 2, the EPA named Peter Lopez to the position on September 28. Lopez, a Republican state assemblyman from New York, will be the regional administrator for New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. During his 11 years as a New York state legislator, Lopez has been a member of the assembly's environmental and agricultural committees. He is slated to visit Puerto Rico in mid-October to observe and assess the environmental damage caused by Hurricane Maria. Lopez will also face pre-existing challenges; prior to the storm, Puerto Rico already had 23 Superfund sites, including a former U.S. Navy bomb-test area on the island of Vieques that is heavily contaminated with toxic waste.

Quick Hits:

  • Even as EPA chief Scott Pruitt advocates cutting his agency's funding by one-third, he has commissioned a soundproof communications booth for his office costing the taxpayers nearly $25,000. He is also the first EPA administrator to have round-the-clock security.