- The EPA expects draft rules for two PFAS in drinking water to be published in March.
- President Biden signs three bills related to tribal water rights in Arizona.
- The Census Bureau identifies the number of U.S. residents displaced last year by weather disasters.
- An EPA draft report outlines the damage that federal biofuels policy has wrought on land and water.
And lastly, the White House issues new climate accounting guidelines for environmental impact statements.
“Climate change is a fundamental environmental issue, and its effects on the human environment fall squarely within [the National Environmental Policy Act’s] purview.” — Excerpt from the Council on Environmental Quality’s interim guidance for how federal agencies should account for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions when assessing the environmental impacts of major federal actions. The guidance directs agencies to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions in dollar terms, using an accounting aid known as the social cost of carbon.
By the Numbers
3.3 Million: People in the United States who were displaced last year due to weather disasters, according to Census Bureau data. It is the first time the statistics agency has asked this question in an annual survey. Being displaced could mean finding a hotel room to ride out the storm. Or it could mean living in a temporary trailer because your home was damaged. Displacement was most widespread in Louisiana, where 15 percent of the state’s residents left home last year because of a weather disaster. People who were displaced tended to be poorer than the average American. Most people were able to return home within a week. But for some, the dislocation was permanent. About one in six residents who were displaced moved elsewhere after the storm.
In context: Droughts Push More People to Migrate Than Floods
EPA Delays PFAS Drinking Water Rules
The EPA updated its anticipated timetable for drafting and finalizing new rules and regulations, indicating that draft rules for two PFAS chemicals in drinking water will be delayed until March 2023.
The agency said in February 2022 that it would regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water and issued the draft by the end of the year. It now appears that doing so will take another three months.
The agency wrote in a statement to Circle of Blue that it expects the draft “in the coming weeks.” It added, “The draft proposed rule is currently undergoing interagency review, and EPA will issue the proposed rule for public comment when it clears the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The agency anticipates finalizing the rule by the end of 2023.”
As for other rules, additional revisions, in draft form, to the Lead and Copper Rule are expected in August 2023.
Tribal Water Rights
President Biden signed three bills related to water rights for tribes in Arizona.
One bill allows the Colorado River Indian Tribes to lease their water for use off of the reservation. Another settles water rights for the Hualapai Tribe. The third amends an existing water rights settlement with the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
Studies and Reports
Environmental Impact of Biofuels
The federal government’s mandate to derive transportation fuels from plants has damaged water and land, sending nutrients and pesticides into waterways where they impair ecosystems and make people sick.
An EPA draft report on the environmental impact of the biofuels standard outlines the consequences.
Converting grasslands to corn and soybean fields increases nitrogen and phosphorus in soils, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Between 2007 and 2016, as much as 2 million acres of land were put into crop production due to the biofuel mandate. The impact on water consumption is more difficult to quantify due to factors such as geographical region, irrigation efficiency, market prices, and weather, the report states.
Mandated by an act of Congress, the report covers nearly a thousand pages. It focuses on four fuel types that are the largest contributors to the standard: corn ethanol, soybean biodiesel, fats/oils/grease, and Brazilian sugarcane.
Public comments on the report are being accepted through March 6. Submit them at www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-ORD-2020-0682.
The full report can be found here. But warning: it is a large file.
On the Radar
FERC Meeting on California Hydro Project
Federal energy regulators will hold a virtual meeting to discuss interim changes to the Potter Valley hydroelectric project that would protect fish species.
The project’s two Eel River dams, located in northern California, generate hydropower and divert water into the Russian River. They also block habitat for salmon and steelhead. Pacific Gas and Electric, the project operator, has said it does not intend to relicense the dams.
Wyoming Dam Assessment
The Natural Resources Conservation Service says it will prepare an environmental impact statement for a dam and reservoir on the West Fork of Battle Creek, in Wyoming. The goal is to provide late-season irrigation water for 19,000 acres of farmland.
The 264-foot-high dam would store 10,000 acre-feet of water.
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