Federal Water Tap, April 9: Pruitt Changes Clean Water Act Decision Authority
EPA memo outlines changes for decisions affecting dredging and filling of wetlands and streams. U.S. Steel agrees to reimburse cleanup costs and pay a $300,000 fine for spilling hexavalent chromium into a Lake Michigan tributary. The GAO recommends that Congress end self-bonding for mine reclamation. The EPA reports $472 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next two decades. The White House infrastructure adviser leaves. The U.S. Supreme Court appoints a new special master for a Rio Grande water lawsuit. House committees hold hearings on Hurricane Harvey and Navajo Generating Station. And lastly, the EPA butters its annual review with quotes of praise for the agency and its administrator.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job at EPA. I think he’s done an incredible job. He’s been very courageous. Hasn’t been easy, but I think he’s done an absolutely fantastic job. I think he’ll be fine.” — President Trump answering a reporter’s question on April 5 about Scott Pruitt, leader of the EPA. Pruitt is dealing with numerous ethics questions including his travel and a $50-a-night rental deal for a condo owned by the wife of an oil lobbyist.
By the Numbers
18: Pages of the agency’s 2017-18 annual review, out of 37, that are buttered with praise from politicians, advocacy groups, and businesses for Administrator Scott Pruitt and the agency. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
$931,000: Fine plus reimbursement of cleanup costs that U.S. Steel will pay for spilling wastewater containing the pollutant hexavalent chromium into a tributary of Lake Michigan. The order also requires U.S. Steel to implement monitoring and maintenance programs. The spill occurred in April 2017 from the company’s facility in Portage, Indiana. Four beaches and a public drinking water intake were temporarily closed. (Department of Justice)
Clean Water Act Permitting
Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, took control of final decisions about which water bodies are subjected to a section of the Clean Water Act involving dredging and filling wetlands. Authority had rested with the heads of regional offices.
The memo outlining the change was made public by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that represents government workers.
An EPA spokeswoman told Inside Climate News that the change was so that decisions can be made in a “consistent and uniform manner.”
Special Master in New Mexico v. Texas Dismissed
The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a lawyer it had appointed to oversee the fact-finding portion of a lawsuit between New Mexico and Texas over water supply from the Rio Grande.
The court replaced Gregory Grimsal with Judge Michael Melloy, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
Though no reason was offered for the dismissal, the National Law Journal suggests that the decision may reflect the court returning to a cost-saving practice of appointing judges rather than lawyers, who charge an hourly rate. Grimsal billed the court more than $614,000 in the first two and a half years of his appointment.
Infrastructure Adviser Leaves
The White House announced that infrastructure adviser D.J. Gribbin is leaving his position, The Hill reports.
Studies and Reports
Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs
U.S. utilities will need $472 billion over the next two decades for drinking water systems, according to the EPA’s latest report to Congress. The report, based on a sample survey of nearly 2,600 water systems, guides the allocation of money to states for a federal low-interest loan program.
No Self-Bonding, GAO Says
Congress should eliminate a provision in mining reclamation law called self-bonding, according to a report from a federal government watchdog agency.
Self-bonding allows companies to promise that their finances are solid enough to pay for site cleanup after mining ends. In this way they do not have to purchase bonds or put up collateral. Given recent coal company bankruptcies, the Government Accountability Office recommends that Congress end self-bonding.
On the Radar
Hurricane Harvey Hearing
On April 9, the House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on lessons learned from the storm that ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast last August.
Navajo Generating Station Hearing
On April 11, the House Natural Resources Committee will hear about the benefits of keeping Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, operating. Leaders of the Navajo Nation have sought a lifeline from the Trump administration for the facility, which is slated to close after December 2019. Located in Arizona, the power station taps the Colorado River for cooling water.
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.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton
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