ReThink Energy: 'We Will Ensure Florida Keeps Fracking Out of Our State'
In 2013, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the few organizations fighting pro-fracking bills in the Florida Legislature in reaction to public attention on drilling near the Everglades. The bills failed to garner enough votes to make it into law. Each year since, state legislators have attempted to pass similar meaningless, pro-industry regulations. Each year, they have failed. But 2015 will mark the year that the tide turned in the battle to keep fracking out of Florida.
We were among the Floridians shocked in 2014 upon learning that, while we’d been going to public hearings on one well permit, another had been secretly and illegally fracked. With this illegal procedure, a more dangerous form of unconventional drilling called "acid fracking" was introduced to the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a cease and desist, but the oil company continued in defiance. DEP fined the company for $25,000—an amount that seemed like couch-change to the public.
As ReThink Energy Florida and its allies began to build public awareness, and leaders began to scrutinize the process, DEP got firmer with the company. Eventually, after the company failed to meet several simple demands, DEP revoked their permits.
By 2015’s legislative session, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the organizations in the Florida Anti-Fracking Coalition, which called for a ban on fracking in Florida. This coalition consisted of health and environmental groups, including Stonecrab Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility of Florida, Florida Clean Water Network, Our Santa Fe Rivers, Environmental Caucus of Florida, Florida Progressives, and many other grassroots activists and organizations.
Due at least in part to its work educating and engaging the public, bans on fracking were filed in the Florida Legislature by Senators Soto and Bullard, and Rep. Jenne. Unfortunately, other legislators filed fracking regulation bills again, along with trade secrets exemption bills, which required a 2/3 majority in each chamber of the Legislature to pass. While these other legislators claimed to have worked with DEP, industry, and environmental groups, the few environmental groups that they invited to the table eventually withdrew their support because the legislators refused to amend the bills to meet their bottom-line requirements.
While the bans sat unmoving, the regulatory bills began moving quickly through committees. The coalition drove phone calls, emails, press events and public awareness across the state. The primary focus was that we need to ban, not regulate, fracking. The coalition spoke to many of the issues with the bills: they would have kept cities and counties from banning fracking and they were full of loopholes, including trade secret exemption rules written by and for industry. The public testified about these bills in committee, and reminded the legislators that a ban was another option. We knew we were getting better at speaking as a unified body when the opposition attempted to address our points. Still, we knew it was an uphill battle, as we were not only arguing against industry, but also against DEP.
We did hope we could kill the trade secrets exemption bill on the Senate side, and keep it off the Governor’s desk. Our conversations with Senators indicated that even if they felt the fracking regulation bill could be fixed, they didn’t see the need for the trade secrets exemption bill.
The tide began to turn the penultimate week of session, as several leaders in the Senate expressed grave concern about the bills. These leaders told the sponsor they were disappointed in the few changes they’d seen so far.
The last week of session, the bills were scheduled for final debate on both floors. The House voted for the fracking regulatory bills but tabled the trade secrets exemption bill, perhaps because they were unsure it would have the votes to pass in the Senate.
No one expected what happened next, except maybe comedians who enjoy making fun of Florida politics. Because of disagreement between the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate over Obamacare, the Speaker of the House ended session three days early, but without passing a budget—the one thing that they are constitutionally required to do. The move was a jab at the leadership in the Senate, and left several bills, good and bad, in limbo.
The House had passed the faux regulatory bills on Monday before they went home. While we were overjoyed that the House had not passed the trade secrets bill, rendering it dead on the table, we were worried that the regulatory bill could still pass. It was clear the House had thrown the Senate into chaos right as a final debate on the fracking regulatory bill came up in a hearing. As a result, the bill was "temporarily postponed" while its sponsor determined how to proceed.
The Senate had three options: 1) let the bad regulatory bill die a natural and well-deserved death; 2) amend the bill and send it back to the House—who was not present to hear the amended bill, thereby killing it; or 3) Pass the bill as passed in the House, which would send it on to the Governor.
In these final days of the Senate, very few people still believed the bill should pass as written; seemingly only the head of the Florida Petroleum Council still supported it. Most importantly, several leaders in the legislature had expressed concern about the bill and had worked to come up with "fixes." However, because the House had ended their session, any amendments would render the bills dead.
Wednesday, after ReThink Energy Florida and its partners had burned the phone lines, held press conferences and written even more op-eds (such as this one from Our Santa Fe River), the Senate bill’s sponsor acknowledged that the bill would not pass.
Our work is not done. Next week, we will begin doubling down on our efforts to create the necessary groundswell for a permanent ban on fracking. But today, we celebrate a victory in the end of this legislative session: the birth of a new movement that calls on leaders to take our concerns about Florida’s Energy Policy and Environment into account. We will keep moving to ensure Florida does the right thing and keeps fracking out of our state forever.
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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