The Stream, October 8, 2020: The Clean Water Act Isn’t Being Enforced In the Midwest, Says Report

The Global Rundown

The EPA has failed to adequately enforce the Clean Water Act in one Midwest region, according to a new report. Environmental authority over Oklahoma’s federally recognized tribes has been handed over to the state. A proposed hog farm in Minnesota could take millions of gallons of water from a local aquifer. Several U.S. attorneys general are asking Congress to force the military to abide by state sanctioned PFAS regulations. Severe drought in the U.S. West is having devastating effects on the Navajo Nation.

“That’s the really tricky thing about droughts, and climate change is like that too. It’s a gradual disaster.” – Margaret Redsteer, a scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell. Severe drought and climate change have created dismal conditions for Navajo ranchers. Maybelle Sloan, a rancher in Arizona, has had to start hauling water to a farm she owns with her husband since summer rains failed to fall, the cost of which has made their ranch unprofitable. Sloan has been seeing the effects of drought on the reservation since the late 1990s and data shows it just keeps getting worse.  Although the Navajo Nation has extensive water rights on paper, they—along with other tribes—have been excluded from major negotiations over the West’s water. Sloan, however, is not giving up the ranch and the skills she learned from her mother, who died from the coronavirus in April along with her sister and father. Reuters

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By The Numbers

38 The number of federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma whose environmental issues will again be overseen by the state. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt requested the authority in July and, in a seven-page letter to the governor, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler listed several Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act authorities that will now be overseen by the state. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said that the EPA ignored his request to consult the state’s tribes individually about the request and the governor’s decision “ignores the longstanding relationship between state agencies and the Cherokee Nation.” The Hill

15 million gallons The amount of water a proposed hog farm in northwest Minnesota would take from a local aquifer. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has extended the public comment period on its review of the project by a full month, halting any chances of on-site construction beginning until a decision is reached. Environmental groups, along with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, posed fears that the farm’s water use could damage a rare, protected wetland ecosystem that lies within three miles of the farm. Without proper testing of the aquifer, there’s no clear answer as to how the farm’s wells could affect the wetland or nearby residential wells. A well test for the hog farm is underway and should be done by mid-October. Minnesota Public Radio

In context: One Michigan County Tells The Story of a Nation Plagued By Water Pollution

Science, Studies, and Reports

A new report from the Environmental Law & Policy Center shows that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Region 7, which covers much of the U.S. Midwest, has declined in the past several years. The report blames budget cuts to the EPA, low staffing and fewer enforcement resources for the lack of oversight. As enforcement has dropped, the report found, noncompliance with the Clean Water Act has increased. The report points to instances of a lack of formal enforcement in several states, including Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska and asked that the EPA focus on upholding the Clean Water Act and Congress should increase EPA funding, while constituents should contact their representatives with their concerns. Environmental Law & Policy Center

On the Radar

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, along with 19 other attorneys general, sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to push through legislation that would force the U.S. Department of Defense to comply with state regulations on “forever chemicals” like PFAS. The letter also asked for the designation of several PFAS compounds as hazardous substances, which would give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more authority to order clean ups of affected areas. New standards for several PFAS compounds in Michigan are lower than the federal threshold used by the military. If legislation is passed, the state could get the U.S. Air Force to clean up PFAS pollution at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, which the state has tried and failed to do in the past. MLive

In context: In Senate PFAS Hearing, Government Officials Say Regulatory Response Will Take Years

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