Environment, Trump Administration

Former DEQ secretary Donald van der Vaart passed over for No. 2 slot at EPA

Donald van der Vaart, former NCDEQ secretary.

Despite a compelling cover letter to the Trump administration, former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart will not be EPA deputy administrator, a job for which he was being considered.

Instead, the Washington Post and Axios both reported, Trump intends to nominate Andrew Wheeler, coal industry lobbyist for Murray Energy, and a former aide to climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

Jeff Holmstead, who served in the EPA under Bush the 43rd, was also in the running.

Wheeler still must be confirmed by the Senate.

It’s not surprising that Trump chose Wheeler. First, Wheeler has deep connections to Inhofe, an admirer and friend of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma. Second, Wheeler’s coal industry bonafides would certainly please Trump, who insists that he will revive the flagging coal industry. That resuscitation is unlikely, considering market forces and clean air regulations are prompting utilities to switch to natural gas and renewables.

Last fall, shortly after Trump was elected. van der Vaart sent a letter to Trump, supporting the president-elect’s desire to gut the EPA. While it’s usually not a good idea to criticize the company you’d like to work for — or advocate for its dismantling — in this case, van der Vaart was sympathizing with Trump’s hostility toward regulations.

But without a federal position in hand and a Democrat prepared to assume the office of governor, last December van der Vaart demoted himself to a non-exempt position within DEQ’s air quality division. That meant he could not be fired as part of the transfer of political transfer of power, essentially guaranteeing job protection for himself.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

“Not off our coast”: Gov. Roy Cooper opposes offshore drilling

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that his office would file an official comment to the federal government opposing offshore drilling and seismic testing. (Screenshot: Gov. Roy Cooper Facebook page)

Citing the environmental and economic risks to North Carolina’s sensitive shoreline, Gov. Roy Cooper today said he opposes seismic testing offshore drilling. “It’s a bad deal for our state,” Cooper said. “We will let Washington know loud and clear that North Carolina is opposed to it.”

Cooper made the announcement at Fort Macon this morning. He said his office would send a letter to the federal government stating its opposition. The deadline for public comment on seismic testing, a precursor to offshore drilling, is Friday, July 21. NCPW reported on the risks of seismic testing in early July.

North Carolina’s coastal tourism industry accounts for 30,000 jobs and $3 billion annually; commercial fishing adds another $95 million. Areas of the coast also are home to some of the nation’s — and the globe’s — most ecological diverse areas.

“But there is a threat looming over this coastline we love and the prosperity it brings — that’s the threat of offshore drilling,” he said. “They would be opening the coast to oil and gas drilling for little potential gain. The risks outweigh the benefits.”

Cooper added that with the renewable sources, such as solar, “there are too many reliable energy options,” other than oil and gas.

Cooper’s stance starkly contrasts with that of his predecessor, Gov. Pat McCrory, who supported offshore drilling in North Carolina.

A native of Nash County, Cooper remarked that he spent much of his childhood on the coast — and brought his own children here as well. “This place is a part of who I am, as it is for many of you.Environmental groups are applauding the governor’s stance.

“Today Governor Cooper listened to all of North Carolina’s coastal communities who’ve been calling for the protection of our coast,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “As Governor Cooper underscored, there’s just too much at risk for North Carolina with offshore drilling — beautiful white sand beaches that draw tourists from around the world, rich estuaries and fishing industry, and a whole Southern and coastal way of life.

“Now it’s time for President Trump to do the same. North Carolina has spoken. It’s time for Washington to listen.”

Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network issued a comment as well:

“We want to thank Gov. Cooper for taking a bold and necessary step toward protecting our state’s coastline from the environmental and economic threats posed by offshore drilling.”

Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations at the NC League of Conservation Voters:

“Governor Cooper not only hears the concerns of his constituents — he acts on them. North Carolina has been waiting for a leader willing to come out swinging against fossil fuel specials interests for four long years.”

Erin Carey, coastal coordinator for the NC Sierra Club:

“Today Governor Cooper sent a strong, clear message to the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry that our coast is not for sale. The natural beauty and economic engine North Carolina’s coast represents is worth more than potential profits for oil companies.

Environment

Poor neighborhoods can be more prone to mosquitoes — and their health risks — than wealthy areas

They are voracious bloodsuckers that feast on their prey like the after-church crowd lining up at a Golden Corral buffet. Of the 60 mosquito species living in North Carolina, the Asian tiger mosquito is found in every county; it can transmit viruses that cause disabling diseases — West Nile, LaCrosse encephalitis, Zika, Chikungunya.

Mosquitoes’ tastes don’t discriminate based on race or class. But North Carolina — in its budget cuts to public mosquito control programs — does.

As part of 2014 budget cuts, lawmakers  eliminated all state-funded mosquito control aid to cities and counties. In the mid-1990s, that amount had reached $1 million annually, but decreased to just $186,000 by 2012-2013. Even as North Carolina’s population has topped 10 million, the amount of state mosquito program money has yet to be fully restored. (After 54 years, the Salt Marsh Mosquito program was discontinued in 2011.)

A few counties and cities still spray for mosquitos; Pender County allocates a portion net funds from sales at ABC stores to mosquito control. But private companies — Mosquito Authority, Mosquito Tek and the like — have largely filled in the gaps, creating an environmental justice issue in who is protected from potential mosquito-borne diseases. Not only are low-income communities less able to pay for private spraying services, they may also be less likely to seek medical treatment if they do become ill. More than 16 percent of North Carolinians live at or below the federal poverty level — about 1.6 million people.

Stephanie Richards, a public health entomologist from East Carolina University, told the state pesticide board last fall that since North Carolina disbanded public mosquito control programs, private companies are thriving. However, she noted that low-income families can’t afford these services. At roughly $70 to $100 per treatment, which is generally done every three weeks during spring, summer and even the fall, the cost can exceed $1,000. Organic sprays are even more expensive.

When the US Zika outbreak occurred in 2016, five cases were reported in North Carolina, although the people had contracted the virus outside of the state. At the point, the Department of Health and Human Services was able to hire two entomologists to conduct a mosquito survey, the first in more than 20 years. (Five cases of the Zika virus have been reported in North Carolina this year, according to federal statistics, although as in 2016, the people contracted the disease elsewhere.)

Read more

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, public health

“People of NC require your protection”: Gov. Cooper urges EPA to quickly set a safety standard for GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper: Asking the EPA for multiple health studies about GenX

Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today seeking “urgent action to get us answers and solutions” about the health risks of GenX in drinking water. “We need the EPA to move more quickly to finalize its health assessment of GenX and set a maximum contaminant level for it,” Cooper wrote.

GenX is a byproduct of the manufacture of Teflon and non-stick surfaces. Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, has discharged GenX into the Lower Cape Fear River for decades, but only within the last 18 months have scientists from the EPA and NC State University discovered the chemical in the water. Since then, GenX has been detected at high levels in the drinking water leaving the public utility plants — no traditional treatment method removes it — although the amounts have decreased over the past three weeks since Chemours stopped discharging it into the river. Residents in parts of Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties, including the City of Wilmington, presumably have been drinking GenX-contaminated water.

An emerging contaminant, it is not regulated, and thus the EPA has not set a health standard for it. However, last week the state health department set a health goal for GenX of no more than 140 parts per trillion — a drastic reduction from the original 70,000 ppt DHHS had proposed.

The EPA, DuPont and Chemours already agreed to a 2009 consent order requiring the companies to reduce the amount of C8, a chemically similar precursor to GenX, in drinking water of residents living near the Washington Works facility in Parkersburg, W.V. However, as Cooper wrote, Chemours has stated that it believes the order doesn’t apply to the Fayetteville plant. “I ask that the EPA revisit this consent order immediately and modify it to apply to any and all release of GenX.”

 

7-17 Letter to Epa_0 by LisaSorg on Scribd