Sunday, October 06, 2019

EPA Lowers Boom on San Francisco for Violations of Clean Water Act

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice Wednesday accusing San Francisco of violating the Clean Water Act, a 1970s environmental regulation designed to protect the country’s waterways and tributaries.

San Francisco is struggling to maintain its sprawling sewage system, allowing “substantial volumes of raw and partially-treated sewage to flow across beaches and into the San Francisco Bay,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block told reporters ahead of the notice. California and the administration have traded barbs over the issue recently.

EPA’s regional director representing San Francisco noted that sewage is overrunning the city in some areas.

“There have been instances of sewage flowing in the streets and entering people’s homes,” Michael Stoker, head of EPA’s Region 9 district, wrote to Harlan Kelly Jr., the general manager of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Data also show high concentrates of zinc and lead threaten the city’s beaches, he added.

“President Donald Trump criticised the city recently for the violations, telling reports aboard Air Force One on Sept. 19 that “we’re going to be giving San Francisco, they’re in total violation, we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.” He added that “It’s a terrible situation.”

San Francisco has experienced an 18% rise in homelessness since 2015, and the issue is causing the streets to be littered with trash, feces, and used needles. An interactive map created in 2014 called “Human Wasteland” shows a heavy concentration of incidents of human excrement throughout the city.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler seized on the issue, writing a Sept. 26 letter to Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom citing multiple instances of California failing to meet federal water quality standards, noting that the problems are stemming from the state’s homeless population.


The Danger Of Being ‘Endangered’

New regulatory reforms seek to better align the incentives of landowners with the interests of species

BEFORE the ink dried on the Trump administration’s regulatory revisions to the Endangered Species Act last month, environmentalists and the media declared them a disaster. “These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity in a widely quoted statement. “For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end.”

Almost every past attempt to update the nearly 50-year-old law has been met with strong resistance, regardless of the administration in power—and understandably so. Public support for the act consistently ranks high, and the appeal of saving species from extinction transcends party affiliation

But much of the commentary about the new rules—which make several changes to the way the government implements the act—has nonetheless been misleading and overblown. Far from “gutting” the act, as CNN reported, many of the revisions are procedural changes. And some of the more substantive changes have a good chance of improving the overall effectiveness of the act.

As a tool for protecting and recovering imperiled species, the Endangered Species Act has a mixed record. On one hand, 99 percent of species listed under the act have avoided extinction. On the other hand, only 2 percent have recovered and been delisted.

It’s not hard to see why. The act’s punitive regulatory approach may be good for stopping destructive land-use activities that could push a species beyond the brink of extinction, but it does little or nothing to reward private landowners who recover species or restore critical habitat. In fact, it often does the opposite: The act imposes costly regulatory burdens on landowners, effectively turning endangered species into liabilities to be avoided rather than assets to be conserved. And because most endangered species rely, at least in part, on private lands for habitat, few species have recovered.

A clear-eyed assessment of the Trump administration’s changes would consider not simply whether the new rules are more or less stringent than before, but whether they are likely to improve what the act does poorly (recovering species) while preserving what the act does well (preventing extinctions). A strong case can be made that the new rules will succeed on both counts.

To see how, consider one of the more significant rule changes: the removal of a blanket policy issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975 that extends the act’s full protections to all listed species, regardless of whether they are considered endangered (those currently at risk of extinction) or threatened (those that could become endangered “in the foreseeable future”). Since then, the same strict regulations have applied to threatened species and endangered ones, unless the agency issues a special provision stating otherwise.

The new rules will restore Congress’s original distinction between threatened and endangered species by tailoring protections to match the needs of the species—a change that could provide better incentives to recover species. Going forward, the Fish and Wildlife Service will decide on a case-by-case basis which protections a threatened species should receive, allowing the agency to issue baseline protections without unduly restricting activities that pose little or no threat to the species—including management actions such as grazing or forest management that could improve habitat for certain species but might otherwise have been forbidden under the full endangered-species protections.

This could go a long way toward encouraging species recovery. Before the recent rule change, landowners who worked to improve species’ status from endangered to threatened often received nothing in return. And likewise, once a species was listed as threatened, landowners had little reason to prevent a further decline: The same burdensome restrictions applied in either case.

Now, under the new rule, the incentives of landowners will be better aligned with the interests of at-risk species. Landowners can be rewarded with regulatory relief if an endangered species’ status improves, and they will have ample incentives to recover threatened species to avoid a more-stringent endangered listing. And, importantly, the Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to craft more-flexible rules for threatened species that encourage states, landowners, and conservationists to collaborate on recovery efforts—such as projects that permit certain land-use activities in exchange for conserving and improving habitat elsewhere—while retaining the ability to impose stricter endangered protections if a threatened species continues to decline.

As an example, consider the monarch butterfly. Populations of the iconic insect, which migrates throughout much of the United States each year, have fallen as much as 90 percent in recent decades. The decline is in large part due to a lack of milkweed, a plant that monarchs depend on but that is being increasingly eradicated by modern agriculture.(Milkweed is, after all, a weed.) The Fish andWildlife Service has until next year to decide whether to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act—a decision that could affect landowners across the country.

Under the old rules, in which all listed species receive full protection by default, listing the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act would be the surest and fastest way to deter many landowners from helping recover the species. Landowners would have no incentive to plant milkweed, which the species relies on exclusively to lay eggs and as a food source for its caterpillars. Planting milkweed would create monarch habitat, which could then make landowners subject to burdensome regulations. Harming a butterfly or its habitat—even inadvertently, as part of everyday land-use activities—could trigger the act’s full civil and criminal penalties.

Some landowners might even be encouraged to preemptively destroy existing monarch habitat, a phenomenon that has been well documented for other endangered species. For example several studies have found that timber owners in North Carolina began cutting trees earlier, or clear-cutting forests entirely, to avoid land-use restrictions that would have arisen if their forests became old growth habitat for endangered red cockaded woodpeckers.

The new rules aim to change that. In the case of the monarch, a less-stringent threatened listing could allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to encourage participation in voluntary conservation measures without creating perverse incentives that would undermine the butterfly’s recovery. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, has been developing a habitat exchange program that offers incentives for farmers to plant milkweed. Similar programs could be encouraged or developed under the new threatened-species listing rules, which could be crafted to support— not undermine—ongoing voluntary conservation efforts. For instance, rules could be issued that allow landowners enrolled in a voluntary conservation program to be exempt from certain land-use regulations.

Another rule change reverses a policy that allowed the government to designate “critical habitat” on lands that are currently unoccupied or uninhabitable by a species. Such designations impose costly regulations and permitting requirements on landowners and generate plenty of conflict, but they do little to promote conservation.

In 2011, the government designated 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog—even though the species had not been seen in the state for 50 years and could not survive on the land unless significant modifications were made to it, including replacing the current commercial pine plantation with the historic, fire-dependent longleaf pine forest found there centuries ago. The landowner’s reward for receiving such a designation: a potential $34 million loss in development value, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own estimates.


Reusable plastic cups are better for the environment than 'swaps' - even wooden cutlery, Greenpeace report says

You can't win

Many feel virtuous when they opt for wooden cutlery over disposable plastic, and supermarkets across the country are redesigning their packaging to be on-trend.

However, Greenpeace has said that it is "dangerous" to think that substituting one set of disposable packaging for another is eco-friendly.

In a new report, the campaign group has found that wooden substitutes used by supermarkets cause deforestation, and bioplastics which decompose take decades to do so and release harmful pollutants into water and soil.

Those who think that by choosing compostable plastics they are saving the Earth may be contributing to landfill as they only break down in industrial conditions, and councils which lack industrial composters are likely to landfill or incinerate ‘compostables’.

Bioplastics require very specific conditions to actually biodegrade and they break down into microplastics which are harmful to marine wildlife.

Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Companies swapping single-use plastic for other throwaway items need to think again. “We can’t carry on using up land or chopping down forests to make cutlery, cups or packaging that gets used for a matter of moments, and could pollute our planet for hundreds of years to come. It’s grotesque.

“Businesses like supermarkets and cafes must switch to a reuse and refill model. That means metal cutlery, proper cups, water refill stations, and selling products in refillable packaging or none at all. It’s common sense.”

The UK's biggest supermarket chains have made switches to wooden cutlery and paper cups over plastic, but have been urged to encourage customers to consider reusables instead.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, agreed with the report and said: “We need to turn back the tide of plastic waste. “But we should reduce first before turning to substitutes which have unintended consequences of forest clearance and creating ocean microplastics.

“Incentivising reusable materials, extending producer responsibility and introducing a deposit return scheme before 2023 would do just that. ”

Helen Bird from waste charity WRAP added: "Any packaging item has an environmental impact; and while we need to tackle the plastic waste crisis, it is critical that all environmental considerations are taken into account when selecting a material, including the carbon impact of their production and supply.

"Increasing greenhouse gas emissions need to be avoided, while ensuring that we keep plastic waste out of the environment and in the recycling system to reduce the need for new plastic being produced.

"Innovation is also needed to rethink how we deliver products to citizens that could negate the need for some packaging.”


Energy Secretary Rick Perry eyeing exit in November

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is expected to announce his resignation from the administration by the end of November, according to three people familiar with his plans.

Perry, who had been Texas' longest-serving governor before joining President Donald Trump's Cabinet in 2017, has largely avoided the controversies that felled others in the administration. But his travels to Ukraine lately have embroiled him in the impeachment inquiry engulfing Trump and his inner circle, even though two of the people called the scandal unrelated to Perry's departure, which they said he has been planning for several months.

Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette is expected to replace Perry, according to three people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss the departure before an official announcement was made.

Perry's plans after leaving the Energy Department were not immediately known, but the 69-year-old has ruled out another try for the White House after running unsuccessfully in the 2012 and 2016 Republican primaries. “I’m done. Quote me on that,” he said when asked about another presidential campaign last year, adding that he’d “totally failed” at retiring earlier as Texas governor.

But it's an open question how much of his retirement will be spent answering questions about the Ukraine affair, which centers on questions about whether Trump withheld U.S. military aid to pressure the government in Kiev to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Perry has drawn scrutiny because he led the U.S. delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration in May, a visit that came as the administration was trying to determine whether the new leader would be amenable to Trump's demands, according to a whistleblower's report that the White House released last week. Perry was a last-minute replacement for Vice President Mike Pence, who is facing mounting questions about his own role in the scandal.

Brouillette has been filling in for Perry at Cabinet meetings for the past few months, one source added. Many of Perry’s former DOE staff members — including chief of staff Brian McCormack and special assistant Luke Wallwork — have all left DOE in recent weeks, a source said.

Perry, a frequent traveler to Eastern Europe as pitchman for U.S. energy exports, was also a subject in the subpoena that House Democrats served to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani earlier this week. The subpoena includes a demand for documents and other communications involving Perry and the former New York City mayor connected to Ukraine. A second subpoena expected to be issued this week will seek details of conversations between acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Perry, as well as records from other current or former DOE officials.

Perry had been sharply critical of Trump in 2015, calling his then-rival's campaign "a cancer on conservatism." But Trump nevertheless tapped him to run the Energy Department — an agency Perry once pledged to shut down had he been successful in his White House bid. He came to D.C. wary of getting caught up in the sort of scandals that eventually forced out former Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, according to multiple people close to him.

Perry eagerly took the lead in Trump's effort to resurrect the struggling coal industry, but his bid to persuade energy regulators to establish financial support for coal power plants was soundly rejected by the bipartisan Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He shifted his attention to promoting U.S. supplies of coal, oil and natural gas to foreign governments, positioning U.S. energy supplies as a counterbalance to Russian and OPEC exports. Still, his earnestness often drew mockery, including his references to American natural gas as "molecules of U.S. freedom."

But he proved to be a successful promoter of liquefied natural gas exports, traveling regularly to Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries to pitch exports.

"We're going to bring our A-game," he said after a 10-day trip to Eastern Europe in 2018. "We're going to try to win every contract that we can, knowing that we can't win every contract and we can't supply every contract. But if we're in the game in a very substantive way, we will help drive the competition, which will drive down the cost of gas."

He also often touted the fuel's role in cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, even though he was criticized by Democrats and environmentalists for rejecting the scientific data showing carbon dioxide was the main factor in driving climate change. As recently as August, he ridiculed Democrats for living in a "fantasy world" in their calls for aggressive action to fight climate change.


Australia: How workers can SUE climate change protesters if they make them late for work - as Extinction Rebellion greenies vow to bring Australia to a standstill for a WEEK from Monday

Workers could sue climate change protesters if they are late for work or suffer financially as a result of streets being blocked, legal experts say.

Extinction Rebellion radicals are vowing to bring Australia to a standstill for a week from Monday, using militant tactics to demand the banning of fossil fuels and 100 per cent renewable energy.

Left-wing activists in Brisbane have so far been the most extreme, with their followers gluing themselves to the city streets.

In a taste of what's to come, one protester earlier this week dangled herself from a giant bamboo tripod on the busy Victoria Bridge, stopping cars and buses during the morning peak-hour rush.

Employment lawyer Joydeep Hor said individual workers could 'theoretically' sue protesters for interrupting trade.

'They would have to establish there has been some kind of interference with contractual relations or something like that,' the founder and managing principal of People + Culture Strategies told Daily Mail Australia on Saturday.

'It's not unusual for employers to take action against unions and protesters when there are strikes.'

Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said individual workers and companies could sue specific protesters, provided they could quantify the loss and prove there were no ways to mitigate it.

'If someone causes a loss or a harm to somebody else, then they can be effectively sued for it,' Mr Potts, a criminal law firm founder, told Daily Mail Australia.

'In Queensland, we've had a number of people who have effectively caused significant delay and the question then is, "Can they be sued?" and the answer is yes in theory but in practice there are significant hurdles to overcome.

'You actually have to show and quantify the amount of loss or damage you have actually suffered.'

Environmental protesters face being sued too if they interfere with emergency services and put people's lives at risk.

'If harm is caused as a result of somebody's deliberate actions, then litigation becomes a possibility,' Mr Potts said.

'You have to show that that was in fact the specific cause of the injury.'

Australians are being warned to brace for a week of mayhem as Extinction Rebellion plans to disrupt major cities around the country.

The militant activist group are planning demonstrations in Melbourne and Brisbane to protest against existing climate change policies.

Queensland Police have prepared for mass arrests of Extinction Rebellion protesters seeking to disrupt Brisbane's city centre next week.

Acting Chief Superintendent Tony Fleming said police would use force if necessary. 'If that is what is necessary to open up the city then that is what we will do,' he told reporters on Friday.

Operation Romeo Arrowhead will be deployed to keep traffic flowing in the city during the protests.

Extinction Rebellion organisers have not sought police permission to march or asked for the roads to be closed. The protest group is running training workshops for activists to prepare for the mass week of protests starting on October 7.

More than 8,100 people have registered on Facebook as 'guests' of the 'International Rebellion Week'.

'Thousands of rebels will descend on the Queensland capital over the period to take part in major actions, occupations and disruptions - every day,' Extinction Rebellion said on social media.

On Friday, the protest group held workshops for experienced activists 'to learn how to take non-violent direct action effectively, safely and inclusively'.

The protests are part of a global week of action for 'international rebellion week' from October 7 to 11, aimed at bringing major world cities to a standstill.

Extinction Rebellion South East Queensland is planning to march from South Bank across the river into Brisbane's city centre on Monday morning.

Protests will be held in the city each morning from 7.30am to disrupt traffic and conclude on Friday morning with a sit-in occupation of William Jolly Bridge. 

On Monday this week, Extinction Rebellion blocked Brisbane's Victoria Bridge in the city during the busy morning rush-hour when an activist midwife, Sophie Thompson, climbed a ten-metre bamboo tripod.

She listed four demands: 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, to preserve biodiversity, for the media to 'actually tell the truth' about climate change and to 'dismantle colonial systems of oppression'.

Extinction Rebellion is also planning mass protests across Melbourne next week.

They have vowed to occupy the city centre on Tuesday followed by an 'extinction rave' on the Friday night and a 'nudie parade' on Saturday.

Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has threatened to suspend welfare payments to unemployed activists who are caught protesting instead of looking for jobs.

'Taxpayers should not be ­expected to subsidise the protests of others. Protesting is not, and never will be, an exemption from a welfare recipient's mutual obligation to look for a job,' Senator Cash told The Australian newspaper.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has this week also urged the community to push back against disruptive protesters by circulating their images on social media.

He also agreed with Sydney radio 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley's suggestion they should have their welfare cut off.

Extinction Rebellion is a militant green group with UK origins that was inspired by Swedish teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


No comments: