I’m not sure how I feel about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency these days. Don’t get me wrong – I share no beliefs with climate change deniers or Keystone XL pipeline supporters, whose “dream come true” Congress is now in place. Well, almost. Notes the Associated Press, although Keystone and climate bills promise to pass quickly,
Obama has made clear he will use his veto power if Republicans succeed in getting hostile bills to his desk — especially on climate change. "I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water," he has said. And Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, says the Republicans aren't likely to overturn his veto. That would require a number of Democrats to vote against the president. "There's reason to be concerned, but I don't think there's reason to be panicked," Schatz said.
But back to the EPA. Last month, the agency came under severe attack by an unlikely critic, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Writes Bloomberg,
And more than 18 months after a fatal blast at a Texas fertilizer depot, it hasn’t decided whether to monitor volatile ammonium nitrate as a chemical risk.
“You’ve done virtually nothing on this,” Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, told a top EPA official at a hearing today on chemical safety. “There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of action.” …
On chemical safety, assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said the EPA would decide next year if it will include ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer ingredient also used as an explosive, in its risk management program. Ammonium nitrate exploded at the West, Texas, fertilizer facility in April 2013, killing 14 in the worst industrial accident in years.
The blast prompted President Barack Obama to order departments and agencies to beef up chemical safety rules. The EPA was given 90 days to decide if it should expand the list of dangerous chemicals it monitors.
“We are evaluating” comments from businesses and the public about whether it should be tracked, Stanislaus told Boxer.
The pledge failed to sway Boxer: “This is unacceptable.”
Perhaps agency funding, or rather lack of it, is to blame for some of this foot-dragging. Last month, the Center for Effective Government noted,
Congress is poised to adopt a fiscal year 2015 budget that would reduce the agency's funding for the fifth year in a row. The $60 million cut in EPA’s budget, which builds on previous reductions, will bring the agency's staffing to its lowest level since 1989. These funding cuts are not surprising, given that anti-regulatory forces in Congress have made clear their intent to use the budget process to block EPA’s work.
Unfortunately, EPA hasn’t received the support it needs, even from the Obama administration. The president’s FY 2015 request for EPA was almost $310 million below the agency’s FY 2014 budget, a cut of nearly four percent. With the exception of 2010, when EPA’s budget (like those of many other agencies) received a substantial boost from the 2009 Recovery Act, funding for EPA has fluctuated at or well below 2006 levels (in constant 2012 dollars).…
The irony of these cuts is that the vast majority of Americans support strong public health and environmental protections.
It is what it is, I guess. Yet, there have been some environmental bright spots, and they come courtesy not of the federal government, but rather the California courts!
Safeway Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle allegations that its grocery stores improperly disposed of hazardous waste and customers' medical information in California.
The agreement comes after an investigation found that the Pleasanton company was "routinely and systematically" sending hazardous materials such as medicine and batteries to local landfills, the Alameda County district attorney's office said Monday. Safeway was also failing to protect confidential records of its pharmacy customers.
More than 500 Safeway, Vons, Pavilions and Pak 'n Save stores and distribution centers were allegedly engaging in improper waste disposal over a 7 1/2 year period, according to the civil lawsuit filed by the district attorneys of Alameda, Orange, Ventura and several other California counties.…
Prosecutors throughout the state have been cracking down in recent years on environmental violations by big-box retailers. In 2011, Target Corp. agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a multiyear government investigation into the alleged dumping of hazardous waste. A year earlier, Wal-Mart said it would pay out $27.6 million to settle charges that it improperly handled and disposed of hazardous materials.
Just a reminder that state and local governments need the flexibility to use our courts and other enforcement power to force polluters to clean up their act. After this Congress is finished, state and local enforcement might be the only thing left - as long as they don't stop that too.