EPA Inspector General's Office Hit by Budget Cuts
WASHINGTON, DC, March 21,2 007 (ENS) - Without waiting for congressional approval of its budget for Fiscal Year 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving this month to downsize its Office of Inspector General, IG, according to agency memos released today by a national association of government employees.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, says the cutbacks "will reduce the ability of the IG to audit Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contracting, investigate EPA enforcement actions and review allegations of political manipulation of agency science."
Under the continuing resolution passed by Congress last month to fund the EPA and most other non-defense agencies through Fiscal Year 2007, which began this past October, the EPA-IG received a $900,000 increase.
But in his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008, President George W. Bush would cut the IG budget by $5.1 million - the equivalent of a 10 percent budget reduction.
EPA managers implementing these proposed cuts now. The cutbacks are being carried out by Acting IG Bill Roderick under orders from EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
In March 5 memo to IG staff, Roderick says the EPA has not decided how displaced IG staff would be replaced if Congress later restores the president's proposed reduction in funding.
"It is unlikely we will know what is going to happen soon enough not to lose some staff," Roderick wrote.
The reductions include early retirements though buy-outs of senior auditor, criminal investigator, chemist and administrative positions.
There may be layoffs and closures of branch offices and a hiring freeze that precludes replacement of specialists who retire or resign.
"If ever an agency needed a strong Office of Inspector General, it is the EPA in 2007," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
"The tremendous impact that EPA decisions have on peoples' lives deserves independent scrutiny from auditors and other investigators who can shred agency technical double-talk and get to the bottom of problems," he said.
Under the previous EPA Inspector General, Nikki Tinsley, the IG gained a reputation for some independence, issuing a series of blistering reports about controversial EPA actions. Since her departure early last year, there has been no permanent replacement.
The current Bush nominee, Alex Beehler, a Defense Department official linked to attempts to exempt Pentagon operations from environmental laws, was blocked in the last session of Congress. Beehler has been re-nominated in the current session, but his prospects for confirmation are unclear.
In the face of congressional protests, during the past few weeks, the EPA has set aside plans to cut its network of scientific laboratories and put further closures of its technical libraries on hold.
EPEC Polymers Pays $23.4 Million to Clean Texas Superfund Site
HOUSTON, Texas, March 21, 2007 (ENS) - EPEC Polymers Inc., headquartered in Houston, has agreed to a settlement worth an estimated $23.4 million regarding the Petro-Chemical Systems Inc. Superfund Site in Liberty County, Texas, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, announced today.
The company will perform investigation and cleanup work estimated to cost $13.4 million at as part of a settlement lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
In addition, EPEC will reimburse EPA for $6.9 million of its past costs and approximately $3.1 million for costs incurred after July 31, 2004.
A portion of the payments will be used to fund EPA's oversight of cleanup activity at the site, which is also known as the Turtle Bayou Site. The balance will be paid into the Superfund, a revolving fund established by Congress and used to pay for cleanups at such sites.
The site is located 15 miles southeast of the city of Liberty and 65 miles northeast of Houston. Land use in the area near the Turtle Bayou site is divided among crops, pasture, range, forest, and small rural communities.
In the late 1960s, the past owners of the Turtle Bayou Site, Donald Lang and Wallis Smith, allowed waste transport companies to use the Turtle Bayou Site for illegal disposal of wastes until about 1979.
EPEC's corporate predecessor, Tenneco Chemicals, disposed of wastes at the site that were generated from its vinyl chloride monomer facility in Pasadena, Texas.
The EPA and the state of Texas' response actions at the site included cleanup of contamination from 1987 until 1988 along the then unpaved Frontier Park Road which runs through the site. This work included excavation and on-site containment of 5,900 cubic yards of highly contaminated soil.
The United States had filed a lawsuit in 1994 in connection with the same site against other parties including Atlantic Richfield Company and ARCO Chemical Company. That suit was resolved in 1998 by a settlement that required those companies to perform substantial cleanup work.
In 1998, EPA selected cleanup remedies for the other areas of known contamination at the site. The major components of the remedy for contaminated soil were soil vapor extraction, catalytic thermal destruction of the extracted vapor, and groundwater sparging. Some of those remedies were performed by ARCO and ACC under a 1998 consent decree.
The Justice Department sued EPEC in 2002 to secure cleanup work and recover costs on behalf of EPA under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act.
The agreement reached today with EPEC requires the cleanup of virtually all the remaining contamination at the site.
When all work is completed and costs fully reimbursed, the total expenditures for the Turtle Bayou Site are estimate to exceed $59 million.
$50 Million Ashtabula River Cleanup to ResumeCHICAGO, Illinois, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Ashtabula River Partnership have announced that dredging of contaminated sediment from the Ashtabula River under the Great Lakes Legacy Act will resume in late March.
The goal of the project is to help Lake Erie by restoring one of Ohio's most polluted rivers.
The Ashtabula River is located in northeast Ohio, flowing into Lake Erie at Ashtabula Ohio. The lower two miles of the river has been designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern due to severe pollution problems.
Areas of concern are severely degraded sites within the Great Lakes where there is significant pollution.
From the 1940s through the late 1970s, unregulated discharges, contaminated runoff, and mismanagement of hazardous waste caused Ashtabula River sediments to become seriously polluted. Its biological communities are degraded and communities in the Outer Harbor and Lake Erie are threatened.
Major pollutants of concern are mercury, chromium, lead, zinc, low level radionuclides, and numerous chlorinated organic compounds, particularly polychorinated biphenyls, PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs as well as chlorinated benzenes and chlorinated ethenes.
Ashtabula River tributaries include Fields Brook, Hubbard Run, Strong Brook, and Ashtabula Creek. The bottom sediments, bank soils and biota of Fields Brook have been severely contaminated by unregulated discharges of hazardous substances.
By the end of this year, more than 500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed from the river, the EPA estimates. The project is expected to be finished by 2009.
The $50 million cleanup is being paid for by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, the Ashtabula City Port Authority and its partners.
Half the funding is from the Legacy Act and the other half from the Ashtabula City Port Authority in cooperation with other public and private entities, including the Ashtabula River Cooperation Group II, a group of private companies.
The Cooperation Group includes Cabot Corp., Detrex Corp., Elkem Metals Co., First Energy Corp., GenCorp, Inc., Mallinckrodt Inc., Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, Millennium Petrochemicals Inc., Ohio Power Co., Olin Corporation, Occidental Chemical Corporation, Pennsylvania Lines LLC, RMI Titanium Co., The Sherwin Williams Company, Union Carbide Corporation, and Viacom International Inc.
The state of Ohio has provided $7 million for the project and numerous other organizations, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will play important roles.
Although dredging was halted during winter months, work continued on the project. Improvements were made to the water treatment system to enable it to treat more water, and changes were made to the dredging system and pipeline to enable it to better handle debris in the sediment.
The Ashtabula River project is the largest so far under the Legacy Act. While previous Legacy Act cleanups have addressed contaminated hot spots, this project seeks to comprehensively address contaminated sediment in an entire Area of Concern on the Great Lakes.
Polluted sediment is the reason many Great Lakes fish are not safe to eat in unlimited quantities. It also harms aquatic life and habitat and pollutes sources of drinking water.
For a complete history of the Ashtabula River Area of Concern, visit: http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/aoc/ashtabula.html
EPA Halves Eastman Fine for Chemical Reporting ViolationsSAN FRANCISCO, California, March 21, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $97,900 settlement with Eastman Chemical after the company disclosed that it failed to submit toxic chemical reports for its former Lynwood, California facility, a violation of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Because the company voluntarily disclosed the violations, the EPA cut the original fine in half.
Federal emergency planning and right-to-know laws require facilities processing more than 25,000 pounds of toxic chemicals to report releases annually to the EPA and the state. Although Eastman Chemical exceeded this threshold on 10 occasions in 2001 and 2002, it failed to submit reports to the EPA.
Eastman Chemical discovered the reporting violations in October 2004, voluntarily reported the violations to the EPA within 30 days and promptly corrected them, said EPA officials.
In keeping with the EPA's policy of encouraging voluntary disclosure, Eastman Chemical's $195,800 fine was reduced by 50 percent to $97,900.
"Eastman Chemical not only voluntarily disclosed its violations, but also corrected them, bringing the company into compliance with federal law," said Enrique Manzanilla, Communities and Ecosystems Division director for EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "By complying with EPA reporting rules, Eastman has now ensured that area residents and emergency response personnel will be informed of possible chemical hazards in the local environment."
Eastman Chemical failed to submit timely, complete and correct reports to the EPA on the amounts of chemicals released at the facility in 2001, including sec-butyl alcohol, certain glycol ethers, naphthalene, phthalic anhydride and 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene.
The firm also failed to submit to the agency the amount of cobalt compounds, certain glycol ethers, cumene, naphthalene and 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene released in 2002.
Eastman Chemical has since sold the Lynwood facility where it once manufactured print resins. The company has taken steps to prevent the recurrence of this kind of violation at any of its other facilities.
Every year, the EPA compiles information submitted by companies about toxic chemical releases from the previous year and produces a national Toxics Release Inventory database. This TRI database estimates the amounts of toxic chemicals released to the environment, treated or recycled on-site, or transferred off-site for waste management, and also provides a trend analysis of toxic chemical releases.
For more information on the TRI program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/tri
The U.S. EPA's environmental databases, including the TRI data, can be accessed at: http://www.epa.gov/enviro
Yellowstone Grizzlies Face Removal from Endangered Species ListBOZEMAN, Montana, March 21, 2007 (ENS) - March is the time of year when the grizzlies of Yellowstone National Park begin to exit their dens from hibernation in search of water and food. This year they may be removed from the federal Endangered Species List.
Federal wildlife managers plan to lift protections for Yellowstone's grizzly bear population, but conservation groups and scientists oppose the move, saying the bears cannot survive without Endangered Species Act safeguards.
The announcement that Yellowstone grizzly bears will be removed from the list of endangered species has been expected since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the bears in November 2005. Since then, the agency has been flooded with comments from the public stating that the move is premature.
Conservation groups warn that the Yellowstone grizzly bears may be impacted by global warming.
Yellowstone grizzlies depend on the seeds produced by the whitebark pine tree. Global warming is causing beetles to kill this key grizzly food source at alarming rates.
"Just like polar bears, grizzly bears are threatened by global warming," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold. "They live in a world of shrinking habitat due to warming weather. The Fish and Wildlife Service didn't see global warming coming and has no game plan for the loss of whitebark pines and the related harm to grizzlies."
Grizzly bears in the continental United States occupy only two percent of their historic habitat. Only one percent of their historic population levels survive today.
Delisting rescinds many needed protections for bear habitat, including limitations on road-building, logging, and oil and gas development in much of the public lands currently used by grizzlies.
Critics of delisting also observe that nearly 40 percent of lands used by grizzlies today in the Yellowstone ecosystem is outside of the designated recovery area.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service counts the bears outside of the protected area to conclude that the population meets recovery levels, the agency has not taken steps to ensure the bears' survival in those areas after delisting.
The government's decision to delist will subject the bears to hunting in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service expressed confidence that states will comply with new mortality limits, public comments on the delisting proposal suggest that the agency underestimates hostility toward grizzly bears that could threaten their survival after federal protections are removed.
In Wyoming, four counties - Park, Fremont, Sublette, and Lincoln - have passed ordinances and resolutions to express their intolerance of grizzly bears within their borders. Fremont County resolved in 2002 that grizzly bears are an "unacceptable species" that constitutes "a threat to the public health, safety, and livelihood" of the citizens of Fremont County.
New Hampshire Town Boosts Recycling With Pay-As-You-Throw
CONCORD, New Hampshire, March 21, 2007 (ENS) – The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, DES, announced today that the town of Lyme has achieved "remarkable" results in its first full year of a "pay-as-you-throw" solid waste disposal program.
Lyme's recycling rate increased from 13.4 percent in 2005 to 51.9 percent in 2006. The town disposed of 310 tons of waste in 2006 - 264 tons less than in 2005. The town recycled 334 tons, up from 89 tons in 2005.
Pay-as-you-throw programs have proven to increase recycling in many communities. Families have a financial incentive to recycle and create less trash when they are charged for each bag of garbage that they throw out, DES officials said.
The first action that families can take to reduce their trash is to recycle more paper products, including cereal boxes, junk mail, and used paper bags.
About 35 percent of all garbage is paper, and less than 50 percent of that paper is recovered, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Almost all paper products, except for maybe the cheesy pizza box or milk and juice cartons, are recyclable," the DES said.
Every ton of material that is not thrown away is a ton that does not go into landfills or incinerators, does not cost towns disposal fees, and can generate money for municipalities by the sale of recyclable material.
For example, the DES explains, the recent price for corrugated cardboard is $90 a ton; for mixed paper, $45 a ton; and for aluminum cans, $1,500 per ton.
Any New Hampshire town interested in starting a pay-as-you-throw program can contact Don Maurer with the DES Solid Waste Technical Assistance Section at: firstname.lastname@example.org for help.