Federal Water Tap, July 25: Enbridge Agrees to $177 Million Settlement for Michigan Oil Spill

The Rundown

Justice Department reaches deal over largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. EPA environmental justice council studies water affordability. The country experienced eight billion-dollar disasters in the first half of 2016. EPA approves new methods to test drinking water for contaminants while noting that many states are now doing more than federal rules require for lead. Grant funding to cut nonpoint water pollution declines. The EPA finds corrosion of underground tanks that store diesel fuel is a common occurrence and a threat to groundwater. Canada and the U.S. collaborate on cybersecurity for the electrical grid.

“This agreement puts in place advanced leak detection and monitoring requirements to make sure a disaster like this one doesn’t happen again. This comprehensive program — including an independent third party to audit compliance — will protect our waterways and the people who depend on them.” — Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, responding in a statement to the U.S. Justice Department’s settlement with Enbridge over a 2010 oil spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

By the Numbers

$US 177 million: Money that Enbridge, an oil pipeline operator, will pay to resolve the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Nearly two-thirds of the funds ($US 110 million) will be used to improve the safety of Enbridge’s pipeline network, which spans some 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) in the Great Lakes region. The remainder will cover Clean Water Act fines ($US 62 million) or pay back the U.S. government for cleanup costs ($US 5.4 million). (U.S. Justice Department)

30 percent: Decrease between 2004 and 2014 in EPA grant funding for nonpoint water pollution, which flows from farm fields and city streets. (Government Accountability Office)

8: Number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States in the first half of the year. In 2015, there were 10 such costly disasters. (NOAA)

14: Consecutive months that the global average monthly temperature has broken the previous record. Last month was the warmest June since 1880, when record keeping began. (NOAA)

16: Number of new drinking water testing methods that utilities, laboratories, and state agencies are now allowed to use to monitor for contaminants. (EPA)

News Briefs

Line 5 Pipeline Oversight Included in Enbridge Settlement
The settlement includes provisions directed at Line 5, the twin pipelines owned by Enbridge that run beneath the Straits of Mackinac, in northern Michigan. The 63-year-old lines have drawn state and federal scrutiny in the last few years due to their age, Enbridge’s safety record, and their location, regarded as the worst place in the Great Lakes for an oil spill thanks to swift currents.

Enbridge must conduct internal and external inspections of Line 5. The company must also create a single database for its Great Lakes pipeline system. The database will hold inspection records and images of each pipeline joint.

EPA Environmental Justice Advisory Council Studies Water Affordability
The council that consults with the EPA on matters regarding pollution and well-being in poor and minority communities has been tasked by the agency to study options for financial aid for water infrastructure.

The EPA “seeks advice on how to implement programs and interact with communities,” said Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator at the EPA Office of Water, at a council meeting on July 20. “Affordability is not an excuse for not doing the right thing for low-income communities,” he added.

The National Environmental Advisory Council will refine the questions posed in the draft charge and then form a working group at its next meeting in October to address them. The questions relate to identifying communities needing help, what challenges they face in providing clean water, how to develop their capacity to manage and maintain water systems, and how to form community partnerships.

Lead in Drinking Water Follow Up
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent a letter to governors encouraging them to learn from each other how best to implement rules that protect the public from lead contamination. The federal government is revising the lead and copper rule.

Joel Beauvais, a deputy EPA administrator, also sent a letter to state health officials. The letter noted that many states are doing more than is required under federal rules to notify residents about lead concerns: posting individual lead testing results instead of aggregate numbers and notifying residents within 48 hours of high lead levels. Federal rules give utilities 30 days.

In Congress, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced a bill to reduce lead levels in drinking water at schools. The bill provides money for schools to test for lead and replace pipes.

Studies and Reports

Corrosion of Underground Storage Tanks a Risk to Groundwater
An EPA study of 42 underground tanks that store diesel fuel found that corrosion of the metal components is a “very common occurrence” across the United States.

The study found “moderate to severe” corrosion in 83 percent of the tanks. Most storage tanks operators were unaware of the corrosion, which can result in leaks that contaminate groundwater.

Great Lakes Research — Nutrients and Asian Carp
U.S. Geological Survey researchers published two studies in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. One provides evidence of the first spawning of grass carp, a non-native species, in a Great Lakes tributary. The other estimates phosphorus loads in Lake Erie from lake sediment.

On the Radar

Canada-U.S. Electricity Grid
The Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security will prepare a report on further integrating the Canadian and U.S. electrical grids and securing them against cyberattack and natural disaster. Developing the strategy is part of recent efforts between the neighbors to deepen clean energy ties.

Public comments are being accepted through August 10. They should be emailed to jointgridstrategy@hq.doe.gov with the subject line “Joint Strategy.”

Schumer Calls for Water Infrastructure Investment
After a late-night water main break and a boil-water advisory in his home state, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for Congress to invest more money in two federal water infrastructure loan programs.

“If the major water main break in northern Erie County last night wasn’t a wake-up call that our infrastructure is falling apart, then I don’t what is,” Schumer said in a statement. “It is simply unacceptable that in the 21st century, New Yorkers have to boil their water before drinking.”

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.