Federal Water Tap, September 13: EPA Resumes Work to Block Alaskan Mine That Threatens Salmon

The Rundown

  • The EPA intends to resume the process of blocking a proposed mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
  • The EPA says it will limit discharges of PFAS chemicals and nutrients from certain industries.
  • The EPA proposes 13 sites for the Superfund list.
  • The CDC wants to continue collecting data on SARS-Cov-2 in wastewater for three more years.

And lastly, the EPA analyzes the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.

“We cannot afford to take these risks with our kids and students. The stakes are simply too high — we have to ensure these harmful substances are filtered out of our families’ water.” — Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) discussing the dangers of lead in school drinking water during a speech at Hackensack High School. Gottheimer was stumping for the infrastructure bill and the funding it would bring for lead line removal and PFAS treatment.

By the Numbers

13: Sites that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes adding to the Superfund list. The sites include Goshen, Indiana, where groundwater is contaminated with chlorinated solvents and is affecting the city’s wells. And they include Cordova, Tennessee, where chemicals used to manufacture fireworks are encroaching on wells used by Memphis.

News Briefs

Pebble Mine Re-Reversal
The policy whiplash continues as the Biden administration seeks to undo actions of the Trump administration, which sought to cancel actions of the Obama administration.

The target last week was the scope of the Clean Water Act. This week, officials are resuming a Clean Water Act provision to a halt a mining development that, they argue, could damage salmon-rich waterways.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would reinstate the legal process to block the Pebble mine, a proposal to extract copper, gold, and molybdenum from the headwaters of Bristol Bay, one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries.

The Obama administration, in 2014, attempted to prohibit the project. Five years later, the Trump administration withdrew that proposal. Now, the EPA is asking a federal court to revoke the withdrawal and allow it to continue the process of blocking Pebble mine.

Wastewater Pollution Standards
The EPA said it will begin writing rules to limit industrial pollution of waterways from PFAS chemicals and nutrients.

Three industrial sectors will be targeted in the rules:

  • PFAS discharges from PFAS manufacturers
  • PFAS discharges from electroplating facilities
  • Nutrient discharges from meat and poultry producers

As part of the review of pollution limits, the agency will study PFAS discharges from landfills and textile mills.

Studies and Reports

CDC on Wastewater Surveillance
The CDC published a short assessment of how state and local governments are using SARS-CoV-2 detection in wastewater as an early warning system for community spread of the virus.

Last year, the CDC began coordinating a national wastewater monitoring system. Now there are 37 states, four cities, and two territories that participate. Utah, for instance, uses the test results to decide where to assign mobile Covid-19 testing labs.

Wastewater surveillance is not a perfect tool. There are still questions about the limits of detecting the virus in wastewater, so a test showing no viral particles does not mean a community is virus-free.

Still, the data is helpful. The CDC is proposing to collect test results for three more years.

Social Vulnerability to Climate Change
The EPA analyzed climate change risks for vulnerable groups, identifying where those people would be most affected by hotter temperatures and rising seas.

Vulnerability was measured by age, education, race, and income. Climate impacts included coastal and inland flooding, extreme temperatures, and air quality.

The chapter on inland flooding found wide regional differences in exposure to property damage. Communities of color in the Northeast were most exposed compared to other regions.

There are limitations to the study, though. The inland flooding analysis looked only at river flooding, not flooding related to poor drainage within cities, a problem that often affects poor areas and communities of color. In happened this summer in Detroit following heavy rains in June and in New York this month because of Hurricane Ida.

In context: Detroit Flooding Previews Risks from a Warming Climate

On the Radar

Budget Battle
As House leaders furiously write their $3.5 trillion budget bill to meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s end-of-September deadline, a key Senator reaffirmed that he could not support spending at those levels.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said on Sunday talk shows that he could support a bill in the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion range.

Meanwhile, water popped up in a version of the budget bill related to infrastructure financing and green energy.

The draft bill would allow water projects to be eligible for a 30 percent “advanced energy” tax credit. The bill expands the definition of renewable energy to include 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.

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