Federal Water Tap, June 27: Judge Blocks Obama Administration Fracking Rule

The Rundown

Congress has not given the executive branch authority to regulate fracking, a federal judge determines. Millions of trees died in the California drought. President Obama signs pipeline safety bill that has provisions directed at a Great Lakes oil pipeline. The president also threatens to veto a Zika bill because of clean water concerns. Cleanup of Portland Superfund site will cost $US 746 million. Federal agencies fund water conservation in the American West. A bipartisan bill would provide tax credits for equipment to keep manure out of water. Georgia and Florida set a court date for river basin dispute while New Mexico sues Colorado over mine spill. Finally, a CDC study shows increased lead risk for children in Flint.

“Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The BLM’s effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.” — U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl, ruling that the Bureau of Land Management’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal land is illegal.

By the Numbers

$US 10.6 billion: Cost of implementing the Water Resources Development Act. In April, a Senate committee approved the measure that will fund dam safety, hurricane protection, river navigation, and drinking water and sewer infrastructure. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is asking the Senate leadership to vote on the bill before the summer recess, in mid-July. (Congressional Budget Office)

$US 746 million: Cost of a proposed cleanup of a section of the Willamette River, in Portland, Oregon. The harbor is a Superfund site contaminated with PCBs, DDT, petroleum waste, and dioxins, which were used to produce weed killers. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

66 million: Estimated number of trees in six California counties that died since 2010 because of drought. The counties are all along the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. (U.S. Forest Service)

$US 382.5 million: U.S. foreign aid for clean drinking water and sanitation in fiscal year 2015. (Congressional Research Service)

$US 47 million: Grants for water conservation and efficiency for farmers and water districts in the American West. (Interior Department)

News Briefs

Court Halts Fracking Rule
A U.S. District Court judge in Wyoming ruled that the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management do not have the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal land. The BLM finalized the regulations on March 26, 2015. The rules addressed well construction, disposal of salty “flowback” water, and public disclosure of fracking chemicals.

In his ruling, Judge Scott Skavdahl argued that a 2005 energy policy bill exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation. The BLM, by issuing regulations, had “attempted an end-run” around the 2005 act, he said. Only Congress can give the executive branch the authority to regulate fracking, he concluded. And Congress has not granted that authority.

President Signs Pipeline Safety Bill
A pipeline safety bill signed by President Obama includes three provisions directed at an underwater oil pipeline that crosses the Great Lakes beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The 63-year-old Line 5 has drawn steadily increasing scrutiny since a prominent report in 2012 brought public attention to the aging pipelines.

The provisions require more frequent inspections and accident plans that address spill cleanup in ice-covered water.

Tax Credit for Taking Nutrients out of Water
A bipartisan bill was introduced in the House that will provide a 30 percent tax credit to farmers who purchase and install nutrient recycling systems. These systems turn manure into gas or fertilizer. The credits would expire December 31, 2020.

Zika Bill Veto Threat
House Republicans passed a $US 1.1 billion bill to halt the spread of the Zika virus in the United States, but the White House said it would veto the measure. Why? In part because of an amendment that would block the administration’s rule clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act, which Republicans despise as onerous governmental meddling.

Studies and Reports

CDC Finds Lead Levels in Flint Children Connected to Water
When Flint started drawing water from the Flint River in 2014, lead levels in the city’s children rose. The probability of a child having a blood lead level above federal standards increased by 46 percent after the switch, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

“This crisis was entirely preventable, and a startling reminder of the critical need to eliminate all sources of lead from our children’s environment,” said Patrick Breysse, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

Sediment Buries Reservoir
A Kansas reservoir lost 1.6 percent of its storage capacity in just three months last year because of high sediment flows during heavy rains, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report. Kansas began dredging the John Redmond reservoir on May 18, and the governor has deemed reservoir sedimentation one of the state’s two biggest water risks. The other is the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Water Quality Monitoring
The EPA and its federal and academic partners released a beta version of a new tool to model water quality in large watersheds. Called HAWQS, the model shows how changes in land use, climate, crops, and farming practices affect water quality daily, monthly, and annually. A web demo is planned for August 10. Details will be posted here.

On the Radar

Georgia v. Florida Court Date Set
A “special master” appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a river dispute between the two southern states on October 31, 2016. Florida sued Georgia in 2013, alleging that its neighbor is using more than its share of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint watershed.

New Mexico Sues Colorado over Mine Spill
New Mexico filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court claiming that decades of poor mining management in Colorado led to last August’s blowout at Gold King Mine, near Silverton. The contaminated water flowed into New Mexico via the San Juan River. The lawsuit claims that New Mexico will suffer ongoing economic losses because of the “stigma” of the mustard-colored water that the blowout pushed downstream and the cost of cleanup and monitoring. The lawsuit does not put a number on the damages.

Drinking Water Advisory Council Vacancy
The EPA is soliciting nominations for a vacant seat on the 15-member National Drinking Water Advisory Council, which advises the agency on policy. The new member must represent a state or local water agency. Nominations are due July 31.

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.