Environment, News

Stein joins other AGs to sue Trump over Endangered Species Act rollback

Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a coalition of state attorneys general that’s suing the Trump administration’s over its rules weakening the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

In August, the U.S. Interior and Commerce departments announced final rule changes, including mandating that regulators must look at economic factors when determining whether a species should be classified as endangered. Environmentalists protested that allows officials to ignore the impact of climate change.

In all, 18 attorneys general and New York City are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Together, they argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s unlawfully undermined the 46-year-old law’s key requirements.

“We’re going to try to undo what the president is proposing to do with the Endangered Species Act,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference announcing the litigation.

Other states involved in the action include Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 42 species are endangered in North Carolina and 19 are threatened. These include, plants, mammals, fish, mussels, birds, insects, spiders, reptiles and amphibians.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in August that the changes were “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness.”

“The revisions finalized with this rule-making fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at the time. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general argue that the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act; unauthorized under the Endangered Species Act; and unlawful under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Of specific concern are the actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to: Read more

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. How a Trump attack on the federal “Waters of the United States” rule imperils the waters of North Carolina

This is the second of a three-part series  about a commonly used method of environmental protection for wetlands and streams called “compensatory mitigation.”

This a place where the Atlantic Ocean begins: A yawning storm pipe draped by kudzu about a half-mile south of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Little more than a murky ditch, the shallow stream winds south, beneath the American Tobacco Trail bridge, behind a strip mall, and past two gas stations, to Forest Hills Park.

To illustrate the connections between Durham’s lowly downtown ditch to the coast, if you floated a paper boat from the headwaters in Forest Hills, its 150-mile journey would run south through Third Fork Creek, which in turn merges with New Hope Creek, which flows into Jordan Lake, a drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. The boat would skim over the dam and into the Cape Fear River, which travels through southeastern North Carolina and spills into the Atlantic south of Wilmington.[Read more…]

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg reviews her remarkable life, battles for gender equality in Raleigh appearance

Veteran justice laments politicization of Supreme Court confirmation process, expresses optimism about the future

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a crowd of mostly women Monday in Raleigh, recalled when so many opportunities were off limits for her gender.

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s Garment District, which my mother was, and a Supreme Court justice?” she asked. “And my answer is, one generation.”

The audience burst into applause. More than 1,600 people attended the conversation with Ginsburg as part of Meredith College’s Lillian Parker Wallace lecture series in Raleigh.

“As bleak as things may seem, I have seen so many changes in my lifetime, opportunities opened for people of whatever race, religion, and finally, gender,” said the 86-year-old.[Read more…]

3. Five simple truths about the Medicaid expansion debate

Prescription to apply for health insurance with personal computing tablet and stethoscope.

Medicaid expansion is back on the table at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Sort of.

Maybe.

The latest maddening and semi-hopeful development in this seemingly never ending saga arose in the aftermath of the September 11 budget veto override debacle when House Speaker Tim Moore announced that he would fulfill “a promise” to revive the GOP version of the proposal now that the House was “finished” with the budget.

Last week, the measure – House Bill 655 – was approved by the House Health Committee on a voice vote and forwarded on to the House Rules Committee. The same committee had already taken the same action on a very similar version of the proposal back in July in a 25-6 vote.[Read more…]

4. National civil rights group calls on Forest to withdraw from event featuring anti-Muslim speakers


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest to withdraw from headlining an event featuring several controversial anti-Islamic speakers.

Forest’s top-billing at such an event sends a dangerous message, said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw.

“By sharing the stage with anti-Muslim speakers, the lieutenant governor would legitimize the bigoted views espoused by the speakers and delegitimize the Republican Party’s claim of supporting religious freedom for all,” McCaw said. “Lieutenant Governor Forest should immediately withdraw from this event and reaffirm his commitment to representing all North Carolinians regardless of faith or background.”

The group, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is responding to Forest’s planned speech to the The American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event. The event takes place next week, Oct. 3-4, at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel.

Forest has not responded to requests for comment from Policy Watch.[Read more…]

5. Burr, Tillis stick with Trump as Senate passes another resolution to block border emergency declaration


The U.S. Senate voted again on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

The Senate voted 54-41 to end the declaration, delivering a rebuke that’s likely to be symbolic. Both chambers of Congress already voted to block the resolution, but the effort failed after the U.S. House failed to override Trump’s veto in March. The White House is expected to veto the resolution again.

Eleven Republicans joined Senate Democrats this week in voting to block Trump from circumventing Congress to obtain funding for a controversial border wall. The National Emergencies Act allows Democrats to seek a vote on repealing the emergency declaration every six months. The resolution disapproval requires a simple majority to pass the Senate.[Read more…]

6. In 2019, with student debt and tuition soaring, is UNC still the university of the people?

“I speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke,” Charles Kuralt once declared in 1993, in that inimitable oaken voice, during the UNC system’s bicentennial celebration.

Kuralt, speaking to an august assemblage that included former President Bill Clinton and then North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, was in the midst of one of the regal monologues the famous newsman was lauded for in his 22 years at CBS News.

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?” he boomed. “It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. … No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the university of the people.”

Kuralt, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and Wilmington native, earned a place in a generation of UNC commercials for that dedication. You can also catch Kuralt’s folksy love letter to Chapel Hill at any UNC sporting event, although the kum-ba-yah has an oddly dissonant sound in 2019.

Today, it is difficult to imagine many institutions of higher education in North Carolina, much less in the United States, can reasonably claim to be the “university of the people” anymore, unless we are to change the definition of “the people.” [Read more…]

7. Does NC adequately prepare and test its teachers?


National education advocate says state is falling short but local experts tell a different story

Kate Walsh, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has a reputation for being provocative.

She lived up to that billing this month during a visit to North Carolina to discuss strategies for improving college and university teacher prep programs.

In North Carolina, there are 52 such programs approved by the State Board of Education (SBE). They include private and public universities and colleges as well as smaller programs created by school districts and nonprofits to feed the teacher pipeline. [Read more…]

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Environment

Levels of cancer-causing 1,4-Dioxane rise in Cape Fear River, drinking water

The orange circles indicate detections of 1,4-Dioxane in surface water. The larger the circle, the greater the median concentration. The Haw River near Jordan Lake, for example, has recorded a median level of 11 parts per billion, while detections in the Deep River near Asheboro have reached at least 96 ppb. (Map: DEQ)

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane, a known carcinogen, have again increased in the Cape Fear River, and  the precise source of the contamination is still unknown.

Results released by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority show levels of the compound in untreated water at the Sweeney plant reached 6.3 parts per trillion on Sept. 10; in finished water, the levels dropped to 1.3 ppt.

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane in raw and treated water at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s Sweeney plant (Graph: CFPUA)

The EPA’s unenforceable health advisory goal is 0.35 parts per billion — or 350 ppt. The agency does not regulate 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water.

CFPUA’s recent figures are higher than those recorded in August, when the levels were 0.76 ppt in raw water and 0.19 ppt in finished water.

The precise source of the contamination is unknown, a utility spokesman said. Several industrial plants discharge 1,4-Dioxane into the Cape Fear, including DAK Americas in Fayetteville, Invista in Wilmington and other industries farther upstream.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority tests for 1,4-Dioxane monthly. The utility has implemented advanced treatment systems to remove as much of the contaminant as possible; however, 1,4-Dioxane is extremely difficult for water treatment plants to remove.

Last month the utility submitted comments to the EPA, which is conducting a draft risk evaluation for  1,4-Dioxane. The EPA decided to exclude exposures to the general population, including children, in assessing 1,4-Dioxane’s risks. The agency reasoned that existing statutes like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, address the risks — a justification that the utility disagrees with.

“CFPUA is particularly concerned with EPA’s decision to exclude from its assessment exposures to the general population, including children” wrote the utility’s executive director Jim Flechtner. “… Our experience at CFPU leads us to conclude that, contrary to EPA’s assertion otherwise, these statutes are neither ‘adequate’ nor ‘effective’ in managing risks to the general public from exposure to 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.”

Levels of GenX have also recently increased in finished water, according to weekly sampling data, from 8.6 ppt on July 2 to 18.2 ppt on Aug. 29. Those numbers are still below the peaks of 30 ppt to 40 ppt, recorded in 2018 before Chemours said it stopped accidentally spilling or intentionally discharging the compound into the river.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services has set a health advisory goal of 140 ppt for GenX.

Concentrations of two perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS, have remained steady, ranging from a combined total of 3 ppt to 5.5 ppt in finished water. The EPA health goal is 70 ppt for both compounds combined, while state regulators have also recommended that people should not drink water containing any individual perfluorinated compound at 10 ppt or greater.

However, 13 other types of perfluorinated compounds have been detected in the utility’s finished water, and six of them exceed the state’s recommended threshold.

Environment

Chemical spill into Cape Fear River prompts utilities to stop water withdrawals

This post has been updated with a statement from Chemours.

State environmental regulators on Tuesday discovered an unknown quantity of  chemical “plasticizers”had spilled into the Cape Fear River from the Kuraray Americas plant in Bladen County, the NC Department of Environmental Quality has announced. However, the plasticizer, used to increase the plasticity or fluidity of a material, does not contain perfluorinated compounds — PFAS.

The Kuraray plant is on the same property as Chemours, which is responsible for all discharges into the river. DEQ says it notified all downstream drinking water facilities, including those in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, Tuesday afternoon. Kuraray shut down operations Tuesday night to stop discharges while the source is being investigated, DEQ said.

DEQ staff discovered a sheen at Outfall No. 2 Tuesday, while conducting bi-weekly sampling.

Chemours partially shut down the a gate to the outfall in order to slow the flow; the company also deployed absorbent booms.

WECT reported that the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and Brunswick County had stopped withdrawing water at some of their intakes to prevent the contamination from reaching their water treatment facilities.

Vaughn Hagerty, spokesman for CFPUA, released a statement about the utility’s contact with Chemours:

“In conference calls Tuesday and Wednesday, Fayetteville Works Plant Manager Brian Long told CFPUA staff that that it is believed that about 30 gallons of a plasticizer leaked from Kuraray Americas, an industrial tenant at the site. Long said the material contained no PFAS. He also said that containment steps had been taken and that the spill had ceased and was no longer entering the Cape Fear River.”

According to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, Kuraray is a plastics and rubber manufacturer. The facility released 105 tons of contaminants into the air and Cape Fear River in 2017: ethylene glycol (antifreeze), methanol (wood alcohol) and butyraldehyde, a highly flammable solvent that can severely irritate the lungs, throat and eyes.

Chemours issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:

DEQ said its staff is onsite conducting further sampling and investigating the extent of the spill and will direct the facilities to take further corrective actions as warranted.

Environment

EPA Inspector General to probe agency’s handling of Chemours’ request to produce GenX

The EPA Inspector General is launching an investigation into how the agency evaluated Chemours’ 2009 request to produce GenX, including the company’s information on how it would discharge and dispose of the toxic compound.

According to a notice filed yesterday, the Inspector General is focused on determining “what actions the EPA took to verify compliance” with a consent order “to prevent release of the chemical GenX into the Cape Fear River Basin.”

Under the Toxic Releases Substance Act (TSCA), companies that intend to manufacture or import certain new chemical substances must file a pre-manufacture notice with the EPA. These substances include polymers, such as GenX.

A pre-manufacture notice must be submitted within at least 90 days before production of the chemical begins. Companies must provide detailed information about the chemical, its manufacturing process, the amount to be produced, its intended use, environmental releases, disposal practices, human exposures and available test data on toxicity to human health and the environment.

The EPA’s risk assessors are supposed to consider this information during the new chemicals review process, and to ensure they don’t present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.

In 2008, DuPont – now Chemours – filed pre-manufacture notices under TSCA for GenX. The following year, the EPA and DuPont signed a consent order for the substances, according to the agency website. That order required health and environmental testing in animals, including that for reproductive effects and cancer, as well as possible harm to fish and birds.

It also included analysis of controlled worker exposures, proposed environmental releases, and the amount of impurities that could be present in the final product.

DuPont/Chemours conducted the required testing and provided it to the EPA. That data is now under review. The Inspector General did not provide a timeline for the investigation.


PFAS health study launches in seven states

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded $7 million in grants to study the relationship between PFAS-contaminated drinking water and health. Each award is worth $1 million.

The awardees include six universities, two state departments of health and two nonprofits:

Clean Cape Fear, a citizens’ group based in Wilmington, criticized the state and universities for not applying for one of the grants. “Residents in the Wilmington and Fayetteville areas will not be able to participate in one of the six national locations receiving these federal grants because no state agency, university, or research facility submitted an application on behalf of our communities,” said Emily Donovan, a co-founder of Clean Cape Fear.

“A quarter of a million residents downstream of DuPont/Chemours exposed us to dangerous levels of toxic PFAS for decades and our data will not be added to this nationwide study. It’s heartbreaking. Our participation in this study would have added valuable information to the nation’s understanding of human PFAS exposure.”

Donovan said DHHS should have overseen a statewide group, including public health officials and research institutions and nonprofits to submit multiple applications for this grant. Other states, like Massachusetts, did so.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services said “since this was a research study, DHHS encouraged its academic partners to apply.” DHHS is not a research organization, but does collect and publish public health data.

Jeffrey Warren, research director for the NC Policy Collaboratory, which has deployed dozens of academic researchers to study perfluorinated compounds, was on a CDC review team to evaluate some of the grant proposals. He said the states that received funding had long histories with PFAS contamination – longer than North Carolina’s – and also had collected extensive amounts of data. All of the grants he reviewed, Warren said, involved academic teams.

The CDC’s 55-page call for applications was clear in that the agency would require applicants to have access to large amounts of data.

Because the state has less data, Warren said, “I’m not sure North Carolina would have qualified.”

“The criticism is unfounded,” he said, adding that the university researchers in North Carolina have applied for grants totaling in the tens of millions of dollars to study the compounds.