By Genna Reed
In his first week as president-elect, Joe Biden instituted an advisory board of experts to provide science-based recommendations to respond to COVID-19. This could be a signal that independent science advice under a Biden administration is valued. After four years of watching the norms of science advisory structures eroded and undermined, especially at the EPA, it is hard to visualize the possibilities of a government informed by experts. Once Biden takes office in January, here are the actions I hope his administration will take to shore up the government's fifth arm of external expert advice:
1. Rescind EO 13875 and Reinstate Disbanded Committees<p>In Executive Order 13875, titled "Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees," issued in June 2019<strong>, </strong>President Trump mandated the elimination of one-third of federal advisory committees with an aim of <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/trump-executive-order-advisory-committee" target="_blank">reaching the arbitrary total of 350</a>. Some agencies followed the order, cutting committees like <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/the-first-cut-of-epa-advisory-committees-is-the-deepest" target="_blank">EPA's Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB) and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT)</a>, <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/465001-trump-officials-eliminate-board-that-advised-on-smart-grid" target="_blank">The Department of Commerce's Smart Grid Advisory Committee</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/science-advice-shouldnt-be-at-the-whim-of-a-president-and-his-appointees" target="_blank">Marine Protected Areas Advisory Committee, and DOI's Invasive Species Advisory Committee</a> and CDC's <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/science/" target="_blank">Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Board of Scientific Counselors</a> and its <a href="https://www.facadatabase.gov/FACA/apex/FACAPublicCommittee?id=a10t0000001gzkCAAQ" target="_blank">Advisory Committee to the Director</a>. Yes, you read that right. As the CDC director responded to a national public health crisis, he did not have a sounding board of leading public health experts to help guide a federal response, as <a href="https://www.facadatabase.gov/FACA/apex/FACAPublicCommittee?id=a10t0000001gzkCAAQ" target="_blank">had been readily available since 1962</a>.</p><p>Neither the White House nor federal agencies released criteria or a full justification for disbanding these committees to the public. This is likely not an exhaustive list. Thus, the Biden administration should allow agencies to bring back disbanded committees quickly so that they can get back to work on projects left unfinished and take on new ones, especially those with direct relevance to providing expertise to the government on responding to COVID-19.</p>
2. Issue a Proactive Executive Order to Affirm the Value of Advisory Committees<p>The president-elect should issue an executive order affirming the value of advisory committees and direct agencies to improve the integrity and transparency of processes to ensure committees meet their chartered objectives. <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank">Our fact sheet</a> includes a long list of measures that should be included in that order, but the goal of the executive order should be threefold:</p><ul><li>address committee membership by requiring agencies to be more transparent and make decisions based solely on experience and technical qualifications in the topic the committees address, and not based on inappropriate criteria (e.g., party affiliation, political opinions, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/the-epa-science-advisory-board-is-being-compromised-heres-why-that-matters" target="_blank">having received a government grant</a>);</li><li>protect the independence and integrity of advisory committees by protecting against <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/conflicts-of-interest-at-federal-agencies.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">conflicts of interest</a>;</li><li>ensure that the processes used to establish and terminate advisory committees are clear and transparent and that the government seeks out the advice it needs.</li></ul><p>An order that sets a high ethical bar for external advice can help protect against some of the more egregious violations we saw under the Trump administration, like the appointment of a majority of members with <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/biased-science-board-threatens-fetal-tissue-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">clear issues of impartiality to the HHS's Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board,</a> which then issued sweeping rejections of grant proposals for critical research using fetal tissue.</p>
3. Go Back to the Drawing Board at the EPA<p>The Biden administration should begin to reverse the damage done by former Administrator Pruitt and Administrator Wheeler to <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/512063-americans-need-the-best-science-more-than-ever-from-government" target="_blank">gerrymander science at EPA</a> and signal a commitment to balanced, independent advice by instituting a new nominations process for all EPA committees, while promoting transparency and public input and listening to its own staff recommendations. The administration should begin by scrapping the <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/521044-shuffle-of-epas-science-advisors-elevates-those-with-industry-tries" target="_blank">Science Advisory Board</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/the-epa-cut-science-out-of-air-pollution-standard-setting-were-putting-it-back" target="_blank">the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee</a> and start over. Here's why.</p><p>There are still qualified experts on EPA's advisory committees, but since the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/epas-chance-to-get-science-advice-right" target="_blank">process barred EPA-funded scientists from applying from fall 2017 to 2020</a>, the expertise is not balanced and not the most relevant for the issues currently facing EPA. Further, it is unclear whether membership was adequately vetted for conflicts of interest. These are all fair questions, since <a href="https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-280" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">we know Wheeler's administration failed to provide documentation on its selection process</a>.</p><p>The only way to fix a broken process is to start from scratch, instituting some of the norms and processes that were in place before the Trump administration came in, but also updating them to ensure even more transparency. For example, <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">we recommend</a> that all agencies, including EPA, publish relevant basic information about each committee member on a public online portal (e.g., integrity.gov), including qualifications, background, employers, and funding sources for the previous five years, along with any conflict-of-interest waivers granted. Additionally, the decisionmaking processes used for committee formation, including how agencies screen members, how they assess committees for balance, and which political officials are involved, should be made public.</p><p>All members of committees re-formed could reapply if they wished to remain. But importantly, a new vetting process would ensure that expertise was prioritized and that conflicts of interest or appearance of impartiality was avoided.</p>
4. Work With Congress on Bipartisan Legislation That Would Increase Transparency and Public Input<p>The <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/improving-transparency-and-disclosure-of-conflicts-of-interest-for-science-advisory-committees" target="_blank">Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019</a> would require agencies to open nominations for committee positions, select and publicize from those nominations, and clearly distinguish independent scientists from those representing a particular interest group. The bill would also require disclosure of conflicts of interest to the agency and the public and greater transparency of the meetings themselves. Also, political party affiliation cannot be used as a criterion for selection for a committee, which is important as such political litmus tests have been used in the past to <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/scientific_integrity/abuses_of_science/a-to-z/fogarty-international-center.html" target="_blank">distort and stack</a> advisory committees under previous administrations.</p><p>Congress could also consider legislation that would institute a formal petition process for the public to request an agency assemble a federal advisory committee for an issue based on a set of criteria. This could ensure a more inclusive and equitable approach to deciding what issues get paid adequate attention by agencies.</p>
Making a Sound Investment in Science Advice<p>We have studied the ways in which science advisory committees have been sidelined or hijacked and over the past four years saw very clearly how changes to norms and the erosion of processes built to uphold integrity can wreak havoc on environmental and public health policy decisions.</p><p>As a new administration takes office, I hope that it takes advantage of this hindsight and sees the opportunities I see: not just bringing back old policies and signaling the importance of government science advice, but finding new ways to make it more responsive to the public than to special interests, and more inclusive of a diverse set of scientists and experts whose voices need to be heard right now. There's no time like the present to modernize our government advisory infrastructure, and <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank">our recommendations feature actions that can help get us there.</a></p>
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Charlotte's Web<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDcwMjk3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ0NjM4N30.SaQ85SK10-MWjN3PwHo2RqpiUBdjhD0IRnHKTqKaU7Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="84700" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2174067dcc0c4094be25b3472ce08c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="charlottes web cbd oil" /><p>Perhaps one of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for several years. The company is currently in the process of achieving official USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts. Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavor options such as chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist.</p>
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By Carol Kwiatkowski
Like many inventions, the discovery of Teflon happened by accident. In 1938, chemists from Dupont (now Chemours) were studying refrigerant gases when, much to their surprise, one concoction solidified. Upon investigation, they found it was not only the slipperiest substance they'd ever seen – it was also noncorrosive and extremely stable and had a high melting point.
As PFAS are produced and used, they can migrate into soil and water. MI DEQ
Toxic Chemicals<p>A <a href="https://cen.acs.org/articles/83/i30/DuPont-Faces-Class-Action-Lawsuits.html" target="_blank">class-action lawsuit</a> brought this issue to national attention in 2005. Workers at a Parkersburg, West Virginia, DuPont plant joined with local residents to sue the company for releasing millions of pounds of one of these chemicals, known as PFOA, into the air and the Ohio River. Lawyers discovered that the company <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html" target="_blank">had known as far back as 1961</a> that PFOA could harm the liver.</p><p>The suit was ultimately <a href="https://www.levinlaw.com/dupont-c8-litigation" target="_blank">settled in 2017</a> for $670 million, after <a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an eight-year study</a> of tens of thousands of people who had been exposed. Based on <a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/publications.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple scientific studies</a>, this review concluded that there was a probable link between exposure to PFOA and six categories of diseases: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.</p><p>Over the past two decades, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0405-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers</a> have shown that many PFAS are not only toxic – they also <a href="https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">don't fully break down in the environment</a> and have accumulated in the bodies of people and animals around the world. Some studies have <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.10.008" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detected PFAS in 99% of people tested</a>. Others have <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emcon.2019.06.002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">found PFAS in wildlife</a>, including polar bears, dolphins and seals.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e62ff1326c2d51afc5f0856eb1ec3795"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JbHeE3YzeRA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Widespread and Persistent<p>PFAS are often called "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/these-toxic-chemicals-are-everywhere-and-they-wont-ever-go-away/2018/01/02/82e7e48a-e4ee-11e7-a65d-1ac0fd7f097e_story.html" target="_blank">forever chemicals</a>" because they don't fully degrade. They move easily through air and water, can quickly travel long distances and accumulate in sediment, soil and plants. They have also been found in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.06.009" target="_blank">dust</a> <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/chemicals/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas" target="_blank">and food</a>, including eggs, meat, milk, fish, fruits and vegetables.</p><p>In the bodies of humans and animals, PFAS <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2013.06.004" target="_blank">concentrate in various organs, tissues and cells</a>. The <a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/assessments/noncancer/completed/pfoa/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">U.S. National Toxicology Program</a> and <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=1117&tid=237" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> have confirmed a long list of health risks, including immunotoxicity, testicular and kidney cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and thyroid disease.</p><p>Children are even more vulnerable than adults because they can ingest more PFAS relative to their body weight from food and water and through the air. Children also put their hands in their mouths more often, and their metabolic and immune systems are less developed. Studies show that these chemicals <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070691" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">harm children</a> by causing kidney dysfunction, delayed puberty, asthma and <a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/assessments/noncancer/completed/pfoa/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">altered immune function</a>.</p><p>Researchers have also documented that PFAS exposure <a href="https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.2034" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduces the effectiveness of vaccines</a>, which is particularly concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>
<div id="2f489" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc8947d6f28cecd61b99688c8e1f751a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291831257790402560" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">PFAS, a class of chemicals that have been associated with health hazards including liver damage, birth defects, can… https://t.co/NtnVkmMQs0</div> — WIRED (@WIRED)<a href="https://twitter.com/WIRED/statuses/1291831257790402560">1596831547.0</a></blockquote></div>
Regulation Is Lagging<p>PFAS have become so ubiquitous in the environment that health experts say it is <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/exposure.html" target="_blank">probably impossible to completely prevent exposure</a>. These substances are released throughout their life cycles, from chemical production to product use and disposal. Up to 80% of environmental pollution from common PFAS, such as PFOA, comes from <a href="https://doi.org/10.1021/es0512475" target="_blank">production of fluoropolymers</a> that use toxic PFAS as processing aids to make products like Teflon.</p><p>In 2009 the EPA established a health advisory level for PFOA in drinking water of 400 parts per trillion. Health advisories are not binding regulations – they are <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/drinking-water-contaminant-human-health-effects-information#dw-standards" target="_blank">technical guidelines</a> for state, local and tribal governments, which are primarily responsible for regulating public water systems.</p><p>In 2016 the agency <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">dramatically lowered</a> this recommendation to 70 parts per trillion. Some states have set <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.4863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far more protective levels</a> – as low as 8 parts per trillion.</p><p>According to a recent estimate by the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/about-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Working Group</a>, a public health advocacy organization, up to 110 million Americans could be <a href="https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/pfas_contamination/map/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking PFAS-contaminated water</a>. Even with the most advanced treatment processes, it is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2013.10.045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">extremely difficult and costly</a> to remove these chemicals from drinking water. And it's impossible to clean up lakes, river systems or oceans. Nonetheless, PFAS are <a href="https://oversight.house.gov/legislation/hearings/toxic-forever-chemicals-a-call-for-immediate-federal-action-on-pfas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largely unregulated by the federal government</a>, although they are <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/news/pfas-action-act-congress-bill-house-pass-trump-epa-20200110.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gaining increased attention from Congress</a>.</p>
Reducing PFAS Risks at the Source<p>Given that PFAS pollution is so ubiquitous and hard to remove, many health experts assert that the only way to address it is by <a href="https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2016/12/21/reducing-human-exposure-to-highly-fluorinated-chemicals" target="_blank">reducing PFAS production and use as much as possible</a>.</p><p><a href="https://pfascentral.org/" target="_blank">Educational campaigns</a> and <a href="https://toxicfreefuture.org/toxic-free-future-action-center/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">consumer pressure</a> are making a difference. Many forward-thinking companies, including grocers, clothing manufacturers and furniture stores, have <a href="https://pfascentral.org/pfas-basics/pfas-free-products/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed PFAS</a> from products they use and sell.</p><p>State governments have also stepped in. California recently <a href="https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/ban-on-firefighting-foam-with-pfas-signed-by-california-governor" target="_blank">banned PFAS in firefighting foams</a>. Maine and Washington have <a href="https://www.natlawreview.com/article/attack-pfass-extends-to-food-packaging" target="_blank">banned PFAS in food packaging</a>. Other states are <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas-state-laws.aspx" target="_blank">considering similar measures</a>.<br></p><p>I am part of a group of scientists from universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe that has argued for managing the entire class of PFAS chemicals as a group, instead of one by one. We also support an "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1039/C9EM00163H" target="_blank">essential uses" approach</a> that would restrict their production and use only to products that are critical for health and proper functioning of society, such as medical devices and safety equipment. And we have recommended developing safer non-PFAS alternatives.</p><p>As the EPA acknowledges, there is an <a href="https://www.epa.gov/innovation/innovative-ways-destroy-pfas-challenge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">urgent need for innovative solutions</a> to PFAS pollution. Guided by good science, I believe we can effectively manage PFAS to reduce further harm, while researchers find ways to clean up what has already been released.</p>
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By Brett Wilkins
In a little-noticed development last week that drew ire after being reported Monday, the Trump administration's EPA granted the state of Oklahoma wide-ranging environmental regulatory control on nearly all tribal lands in the state, stripping dozens of tribes of their sovereignty over critical environmental issues.
<div id="33841" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5a14c6042aa0d0712fe13d5eb759cef5"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1313101832315641858" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Environmental Protection Agency @EPA has stripped indigenious tribes of regulatory control over environmental i… https://t.co/w1tlxBaWtl</div> — Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) (@Climate Justice Alliance (CJA))<a href="https://twitter.com/CJAOurPower/statuses/1313101832315641858">1601902847.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Wheeler's letter acknowledges <em>McGirt v. Oklahoma,</em> in which the U.S. Supreme Court <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/07/09/holding-us-government-its-treaty-promises-once-supreme-court-rules-nearly-half" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ruled</a> in July that much of eastern Oklahoma is Native American land. The new EPA move essentially means the state of Oklahoma now has the same rights as it did before <em>McGirt</em>. Attorney General William Barr has joined Republican leaders in <a href="https://www.kosu.org/post/us-attorney-general-visits-oklahoma-discuss-effects-scotus-ruling" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">seeking ways to undermine</a> the landmark ruling.</p>
<div id="19548" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0db07e3f6b7e98220fdf3d2d226ca16d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1310611113575419906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Cherokee Nation is now visible on Google Maps. It is the latest reservation added after a Supreme Court ruling in… https://t.co/G4yxXdRpJP</div> — AJ+ (@AJ+)<a href="https://twitter.com/ajplus/statuses/1310611113575419906">1601309014.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Brett Walton
Who's responsible for making sure the water you drink is safe? Ultimately, you are. But if you live in the U.S., a variety of federal, state and local entities are involved as well.
Setting Limits<p>The process for setting federal drinking water contaminant limits, which is overseen by the EPA, was not designed to be speedy.</p><p>First, the EPA identifies a list of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/contaminant-candidate-list-4-ccl-4-0" target="_blank">several dozen</a> unregulated chemical and microbial contaminants that might be harmful. Then water utilities, which are in charge of water quality monitoring, test their treated water to see what shows up. The identification and testing is done on a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/basic-information-ccl-and-regulatory-determination#what-is-CCL" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">five-year cycle</a>. The EPA examines those results and, for at least five contaminants, as required by the SDWA, it determines whether a regulation is needed.</p><p>Three factors go into the decision: Is the contaminant harmful? Is it widespread at high levels? Will a regulation meaningfully reduce health risks? If the answer is "Yes" to all three, then a national standard <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ccl/basic-information-ccl-and-regulatory-determination#what-crieria-reg-det" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will be forthcoming</a>. Altogether, the process can take a decade or more from start to finish.</p><p>Usually, however, one of the three answers is "No." Since the 1996 amendments were passed, the EPA has not regulated any new contaminants through this process, though it has strengthened existing rules for arsenic, microbes and the chemical byproducts of drinking water disinfection. The agency did decide in 2011 that it should regulate perchlorate — which is used in explosives and rocket fuel and damages the thyroid — but reversed that decision in June 2020, claiming that the chemical is not widespread enough to warrant a national regulation.</p><p>Two other chemicals have recently advanced to the standard-writing stage. In February, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the agency would regulate PFOA and PFOS, both members of the class of non-stick, flame-retarding chemicals known as PFAS. For those two chemicals, the EPA currently has issued a health advisory, which is a non-enforceable guideline.</p>
Omissions and Nuances<p>That is the regulatory process at the federal level. But there are omissions and nuances.</p><p>One big omission is private wells. Water in wells that supply individual homes is not regulated by federal statute. Rather, private well owners are responsible for testing and treating their own well water. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that about 15% of U.S. residents use a private well. Some states, such as New Jersey, require that private wells be tested for contaminants before a home is sold. County health departments might also have similar point-of-sale requirements.</p>
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