Commentary, News

EPA’s weak response to environmental racism complaints in focus at Friday public hearing in RTP

Though polluters and their apologists on the Right love to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a bastion of leftists running roughshod over innocent businesses, the truth is quite frequently the opposite. Indeed, the agency is often guilty of bending over backwards to dismiss the complaints of pollution victims. This is particularly true for poor people of color who, as has been demonstrated time and again, are typically the first to suffer when pollution invades places of human habitation.

A 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity (“Environmental racism persists, and the EPA is one reason why: The EPA office tasked with policing alleged civil rights abuses is chronically unresponsive to complaints and has never made a formal finding of discrimination”) made the following remarkable findings:

  • Ninety-five percent of the time, communities of color living in the shadows of polluters find their claims of civil-rights violations denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has reviewed nearly 300 complaints filed by minority communities. It has never once made a formal finding of a civil-rights violation.
  • While touting the importance of tackling environmental racism, the EPA has closed only 12 cases alleging such discrimination with official action on behalf of minority communities. EPA officials have negotiated settlements in nine cases; the rest were resolved among the complainants and targeted agencies.
  • At least 17 communities are still waiting in limbo — more than half for over a decade — as the EPA reviews their civil rights claims. The delays have left residents, many forced to endure unsafe pollution levels, without recourse.
  • The EPA’s civil rights office takes, on average, 350 days to decide whether to investigate a case. In nine cases, the agency took so long — an average of 367 days — that investigators had to dismiss the allegations as “moot.”

In the aftermath of the report and numerous complaints about the EPA’s performance in this vital area, the agency has proposed some new rules to revise its procedures that it claims are designed to make things better. Unfortunately, advocates representing victims are not so sure.

This Friday, the topic will be aired in public as the EPA Office of Civil Rights holds a public hearing in Research Triangle Park — one of five sites around the nation to do so. Advocates for victims of pollution and environmental racism are calling on citizens and advocates to attend the event and speak out. This is from news release issued by the UNC Center for Civil Rights earlier today: Read more

Commentary

Senate tries to opt NC out of Clean Power Plan; advocates respond

Politics trumped common sense again today as the North Carolina Senate passed legislation that purports to prevent the state from complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — even though the state is well-positioned to do so. Click here to read attorney and veteran regulator Robin Smith’s explanation as to why this action simply makes no sense.

Meanwhile, the good people at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club responded:

Senate Again Makes Effort to Undermine Clean Power Plan

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC Senate gave approval to a revised version of H 571, renamed “An Act to Require State Agencies, Boards and Commissions to Implement a Clean Power Plan Consistent with the Federal Clean Air Act”. The measure does the opposite of what the title suggests and we question that it is in the best interest of the state.

After the Senate’s vote this afternoon, Molly Diggins, state director of the NC Sierra Club issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote is a bad faith circumvention of the historic Clean Power Plan. The Senate would require DENR to create a state plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that is designed to fail in order to set up a legal confrontation with EPA.”

“It is bad faith to shut the public, the private sector and even the utilities out of the process of developing the state plan. Without that input, the state cannot develop a plan that keeps the energy system reliable and energy costs reasonable. We should not –by law– prevent the state from claiming credit for carbon reductions that the state will see from renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other measures to achieve EPA’s goals.”

“The EPA is giving states unprecedented flexibility in designing an approach to comply with the rule that works best for them. The Senate’s actions would needlessly and without explanation or justification limit the state to just one option.”

“North Carolina has the chance to again be a leader in the Southeast – just as we were when we passed the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002 and the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in 2007. But it appears that Senate leaders and the McCrory administration would rather use the Clean Power Plan as a political football than as a practical way to improve our state’s air quality, economy, and the health of all our communities.”

More information about H 571 and the Senate’s actions: Read more

Commentary

Advocates respond to legislation that guts the state Environmental Protection Act

Yet another measure to emerge from the General Assembly during a wild week on Jones Street was a proposal to dramatically amend the state Environmental Protection Act. According to advocates at the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, the legislation portends disaster. Here are the statements from the two groups:

NC Sierra Club Statement on Passage of SEPA Rollback

RALEIGH – This afternoon, the NC legislature passed HB 795, SEPA Reform. The bill now goes to Governor McCrory for consideration. The final version of the bill was less protective than the versions passed by either chamber.

SEPA, which became law in 1971, requires an environmental review of public projects using public funds or public lands, to ensure that the full impact on communities and the environment is taken into consideration. It is not a regulatory program and does not affect private companies. Rather, SEPA has served as the state and local government counterpart to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. SEPA is not duplicative: where a federal environmental impact statement is required, SEPA is not triggered.

Passage of HB 795 is a top priority this session for the NC Chamber of Commerce.

The measure received brief consideration in committee and was not the result of any study or analysis of the program as currently constructed or proposed. There was no evaluation of how many projects would be affected.

H 795 sets new thresholds for when SEPA will apply, so that going forward only projects that impact more than 10 acres of public lands or use more than $10 million of public funds will have to do a review under SEPA. The concern is that the higher the thresholds are set, the fewer the projects will be reviewed. There is no direct correlation between the cost or size of a project and its adverse environmental impacts. The new thresholds were arbitrarily set.

After the approval of H 795, Molly Diggins, Director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Although H 795 is called ‘SEPA Reform’ it is essentially a repeal of our landmark State Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1971.

“SEPA has served North Carolinians well. It is all about government transparency and accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are stewarded responsibly and alternatives are evaluated when a publicly funded project has adverse environmental impacts. The public deserves this layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”

“Now the question is: will Governor McCrory be the governor who signs the death certificate for North Carolina’s State Environmental Policy Act?”

And this is from EDF:

North Carolina Lawmakers Wreak Havoc on State’s Environmental Policy Act
EDF statement from David Kelly, Senior Analyst, Ecosystems

(RALEIGH, NC – June 4, 2015) North Carolina lawmakers today gave final approval to a bill that dramatically weakens the state’s Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). HB 795 “SEPA Reform” will exempt most taxpayer funded development projects from examining potential environmental impacts. Under HB 795, environmental reviews will only be required for projects that cost more than $10 million in tax dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 10 acres of public land.

“Today’s vote means that millions in tax dollars can be handed out to private companies for projects that will harm our state’s wildlife, waterways, wetlands and forests in ways that the SEPA law has always helped avoid.

“It’s disappointing that lawmakers voted to largely absolve themselves from responsibility for preventing unnecessary harm to our environment and natural resources when spending the public’s money. Ironically, some of the bill’s most outspoken supporters frequently lecture earnestly about elected officials’ obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly.

“Lawmakers are out of touch. North Carolina taxpayers care about the environment and deserve assurance that when their tax dollars are spent on government projects or handed out to private companies, avoiding unnecessary harm to our state’s land, water and wildlife is a priority.”

Commentary

Busy week at General Assembly poised to get off to lousy start with environmental bills

This Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly — a self-imposed deadline used by lawmakers to weed out some of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced so far this year. Without going into the details, it’s enough to note that the crossover deadline will make for a busy week of sausage grinding on Jones Street. Lots and lots of bills — many of them destructive and counter-productive — will receive only a few minutes’ consideration before being sent long their merry way.

Two destructive environmental policy bills are near the top of the list as the fun gets underway this afternoon in the House.

At 1:00 p.m., the House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the so-called “Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.” Here’s what the good folk at the Sierra Club have to say about this proposal:

“In the late 1990’s after public outcry, about massive fish kills in the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, the State developed cost effective and comprehensive strategies to reduce water pollution from all sources.

[The Regulatory Reform Act of 2015] would greatly expand exemptions to North Carolina’s riparian buffer requirements and reduce local control.

Buffers are the most cost effective mechanism that we have to protect water quality in streams and rivers. Since federal and state water quality standards still have to be met, reducing buffers serves only to increase the costs to farmers and local governments.”

A new version of the bill would also allow giant hog farm populations to grow.

Meanwhile, later on this evening, the full House will consider a widely criticized proposal to gut the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). As Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported the other day: Read more

Commentary

North Carolina company among nation’s biggest spenders on combating clean water rules

The good folks at Environment North Carolina and Environment America are out with a new report that flags one of North Carolina’s biggest industrial polluters for polluting our national policy debate as well. This is from the release that accompanied the report:

New Report Links Smithfield River Pollution to Political Spending

Raleigh, NC – The owner of Smithfield Foods spent $1.4 million on lobbying in a single year, according to a new report by Environment North Carolina The enormous spending came after Smithfield Packaging dumped over 2.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into North Carolina’s waterways in 2012.

“Spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions shouldn’t give polluters a free pass to dump toxins into our waterways,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Associate. “We need to do more to ensure that the streams that flow into places like Jordan Lake and the Deep River are protected.”

Environment North Carolina’s report links discharges of toxic chemicals as reported in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012 with federally reported campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for 2014.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Smithfield Foods dumped 2,339,770 pounds of toxic pollution into North Carolina’s waterways.
  • Smithfield Packaging Company spent $1.4 million dollars on lobbying and $204,006 on 2014 campaign cycle.

Right now, polluters are lobbying their allies on Capitol Hill to derail EPA’s plan to restore Clean Water Act protections to 135,907 miles of streams in North Carolina. Loopholes in the law currently leave the waterways that feed the drinking water for 4.7 million North Carolinians at risk.

The report goes on to explain the horrific impact of water pollution like Smithfield’s (both on our natural environment and surrounding businesses). Click here to read more and learn about corporate lobbying to block clean-up efforts by the federal EPA.