Pruitt Grants Oklahoma Leniency to Dispose of Toxic Coal Ash Without Federal Oversight
The move displaces the federal government as the body responsible for coal ash disposal in EPA head Scott Pruitt's home state. Coal ash is the residue left over from burning coal for power that often contaminates groundwater. It is a change that industry has lobbied for and environmental groups have opposed.
States have demonstrated that "they don't care about the health and safety of communities near coal ash dumps," Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans told The Associated Press.
About 100 million tons of coal ash is produced by U.S. plants every year, often left in disposal ponds that leak into groundwater, contaminating it with pollutants like arsenic and radium. Tests ordered by the EPA this spring of groundwater around plants in various states found elevated pollution levels, according to The Associated Press.
Despite this, "industry has asked for leniency, less stringency. That's the direction they're going," Evans said.
According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, switching coal ash oversight to states was part of an "action plan" proposed by coal industry executive Robert Murray this spring to Pruitt and other officials in the Trump administration.
Pruitt defended the decision, saying in a statement that the move empowered "those who are best positioned to oversee coal ash management—the officials who have intimate knowledge of the facilities and the environment in their state."
Pruitt also moved to weaken Obama-era coal ash disposal regulations in March, but the rule change allowing states to control coal ash disposal was actually passed by Congress and signed by former President Barack Obama in 2016, according to NPR. The law said that state rules had to be "as protective as" federal guidelines.
"I am pleased that Oklahoma is the first state in the nation to receive approval of its Coal Combustion Residuals permit program. We actually incorporated the federal rule into our state permitting rules program over a year ago," Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Executive Director Scott Thompson said in an EPA press release about the decision.
But at a hearing in February, Oklahoma environmental groups said the DEQ was not prepared to adequately regulate coal ash.
"The DEQ rules are weaker than the EPA rules," Oklahoma Grand Riverkeeper and activist Earl Hatley told NPR in February. "This is just a boon for industry to do what they want."
Waterkeeper Alliance senior attorney Kelly Foster further expressed concerns that the DEQ plan did not provide enough information on how companies would be made to comply with regulations and how the DEQ would take on new responsibilities with existing resources.
Georgia and Texas are following Oklahoma in taking steps to control coal ash disposal, The Associated Press reported.
EPA Moves to Overhaul Obama-Era Coal Ash Disposal Rule https://t.co/FnWY1fuRMj @wwwfoecouk @GreenpeaceUK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520071507.0
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.