Eight communities near military bases will be part of the CDC’s PFAS exposure assessment. The Supreme Court decides to hear a case on whether the Clean Water Act extends to connected groundwater. The EPA prohibits healthcare facilities and retailers from flushing hazardous pharmaceutical waste down the drain. Two House representatives ask Senate leadership to push for more details on the EPA’s PFAS plan. The Bureau of Reclamation sets an initial water allocation for the Central Valley Project. The GAO assesses shellfish permitting and tribal consultations on Superfund sites. The House holds a slew of environmental hearings. And lastly, this week the EPA and Army Corps will hold their only public meeting to discuss proposed weakening of the Clean Water Act.
“This is not the time to continue to make plans for discussion about how to protect our constituents from these harmful chemicals, this is the time for regulatory action. As such, prior to his confirmation as Administrator of the EPA, we are respectfully requesting that you ensure Mr. Wheeler’s firm commitment to quickly and aggressively regulating these chemicals with a timeline where Congress can hold the EPA accountable.” — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) in a letter to Senate leadership that asks for more details about the EPA’s PFAS plan before the Senate confirms Andrew Wheeler to lead the agency.
By the Numbers
35 percent: Initial Central Valley Project water supply allocation for agriculture south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. Ag users north of the delta are pegged at 70 percent of their contracted supply. The initial allocations are a starting point and won’t be finalized until the end of winter. Because this has been a wet year so far, expect those allocations to rise. (Bureau of Reclamation)
PFAS Exposure Study
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected eight communities for a study of PFAS exposure from military bases.
The goal of the assessment is “to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies,” according to the CDC. It is not a health study.
The communities and the associated military bases are:
- Berkeley County, West Virginia (Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base)
- El Paso County, Colorado (Peterson Air Force Base)
- Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska (Eielson Air Force Base)
- Hampden County, Massachusetts (Barnes Air National Guard Base)
- Lubbock County, Texas (Reese Technology Center)
- Orange County, New York (Stewart Air National Guard Base)
- New Castle County, Delaware (New Castle Air National Guard Base)
- Spokane County, Washington (Fairchild Air Force Base)
Funding for the $10 million study came from a Defense Department spending bill last year.
The exposure assessments, which will begin this year and continue through 2020, are the first step in a two-part evaluation. The next phase will look for connections between exposure to PFAS and health problems.
Groundwater in the Supreme Court
The nation’s high court decided to take up a case that involves the scope of the Clean Water Act.
The question at hand: does the discharge of pollution to groundwater that eventually flows into rivers, lakes, or oceans require a Clean Water Act permit? Lower courts have issued contradictory rulings, usually in cases involving pits that hold coal waste.
Regulation of Pharmaceutical Waste
The EPA finalized a rule that prohibits healthcare facilities and retailers from disposing of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals by flushing them down the drain.
In addition to providing greater clarity for hospitals, nursing facilities, and retail pharmacies, the EPA argues that the new rule will prevent contamination of waterways with pharmaceutical waste.
Studies and Reports
The EPA should update its permitting program for industrial stormwater discharge to incorporate the latest science on water quality and chemical assessment, concludes a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.
The industrial permit applies to scrap metal recyclers, paper manufacturers, loggers, oil and gas, coal mines, asphalt manufacturers, and many more.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including that industries monitor a suite of basic water quality indicators and that the EPA institute a tiered permit system that reflects the risks from varied pollution discharges that are covered under the industrial category.
The National Academies will hold a webinar on February 27 to discuss the report’s findings.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected less than 1 percent of applications to commercially grow oysters, mussels, clams, and other shellfish in the five years to 2017, according to a Government Accountability Office review.
Nearly half of the 2,631 unique project applications were filed in the Seattle district, which covers Washington state.
Besides compiling permit data, the GAO interviewed 15 randomly selected applicants to gauge their experience with the permitting process.
Shellfish production is a $340 million industry in the United States, and states are pushing to expand commercial production.
Superfund and Indian Tribes
The EPA should improve its systems for identifying Superfund sites that are on tribal lands and for tracking consultations with tribes on cleanups, the GAO reports.
The GAO found 88 Superfund sites — out of 1,785 nationally — where a tribe has a stake in the cleanup.
On the Radar
The EPA and the Army Corps will hold a public meeting in Kansas City, Kansas on February 27 and 28. It is the only public meeting to discuss proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that would reduce the number of waterways under federal oversight.
House Committees In a Hearing Frenzy
So much action in the House this week, on climate change, water resources, EPA enforcement, and infrastructure. There are a half dozen such hearings on February 26 alone:
- The Natural Resources Committee discusses water supply reliability in the 21st century. The committee also holds a hearing on climate denial and misinformation from industries.
- The Appropriations Committee holds a hearing on climate science. The director of NASA’s Earth science division will testify.
- The Transportation Committee looks at how federal infrastructure policy can be leveraged to respond to climate change.
- The Foreign Affairs Committee considers the global crisis of asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees.
- The Energy and Commerce Committee looks at the decline in EPA enforcement actions. Susan Bodine, the head of the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance will testify on one panel. On the other, a number of watchdogs, academics, and former government officials.
Then on February 28, the Energy and Commerce Committee returns with a hearing on the Paris climate agreement.
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