Unlearned Lessons from the 'Toxic Soup': Floods, Industrialization, and Missed Opportunities

by Elena Franco | April 18, 2018

This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities.

As Hurricane Harvey lingered over Texas in 2017, it created a wall of water that swallowed much of Houston. Catastrophic flooding over a wide swath of southern Texas left towns, cities, and the countryside under feet of water. The floodwaters sloshed toxic chemicals from the area's 10 oil and gas refineries, 500 chemical plants, and 12 Superfund sites around "like a wet mop," according to one resident who lives near the ExxonMobil refinery and chemical plant. The torrential rainwaters engulfed her home, and she was forced to swim with her four young children through a toxic soup that smelled like "a rotten sewer." Their exposure to contaminated floodwaters likely accounted for the skin and strep throat infections her children later developed. Rice University researchers also collected floodwater samples just a single block from her home and found levels of benzo[a]pyrene, a known carcinogen, above an acceptable EPA threshold for human cancer risk.

With climate change and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, we are at risk for more Houston-like "toxic soup" flooding events. We have tried to tame our rivers to keep ourselves dry while allowing industry to build in floodplains and closing our eyes to the risks of toxic releases during floods. Over time, we have seen parallel but uncoordinated efforts on flood control, ...

At House Judiciary Hearing, CPR's Hammond Calls Out Efforts to Rig Environmental Review Process

by James Goodwin | April 12, 2018
This morning, CPR Member Scholar and George Washington University Law Professor Emily Hammond is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law at a hearing that will look at two highly flawed bills. While their particulars differ, each is conspicuously (if a bit clumsily) designed to rig the environmental permitting process to allow industry groups to ram through big infrastructure and construction projects while shutting out the public from its traditional and ...

Halftime for the Chesapeake Bay: New Webpage on Midpoint Assessment of Pollution Cleanup Effort

by Evan Isaacson | April 09, 2018
The Center for Progressive Reform has been closely watching the development and implementation of the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan since its inception. As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the success of the plan, known as the Bay TMDL, we have developed a new web-based resource focused on the issues and decisions related to the TMDL's midpoint assessment process. The page is a one-stop shop for advocates, members of the media, and residents concerned about restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as well ...

New Policy Research from CPR's Verchick Featured in Royal Society Report on Paris Climate Accord

by David Flores | April 05, 2018
A new report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A published earlier this week presents a suite of new scientific and policy research meant to improve and drive forward progress under the Paris Climate Agreement. The report – from the oldest science journal in the western world – is the culmination of presentations first delivered by attendees at the 25th anniversary conference of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. CPR Board President and Member Scholar Rob Verchick ...

What Happens on the Land Happens to the Water

by Evan Isaacson | March 29, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In my last post, I described how a database housed by the Maryland Department of the Environment allows tracking of land development activities in real time. This database not only gives us the ability to track the recent scale and pattern of habitat destruction in Maryland, but it also can be used by regulators to build a tool that will allow ...

What the Failure to Account for Growth Looks Like in Maryland

by Evan Isaacson | March 28, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In a recent post, I described the broad failure of Chesapeake Bay states to follow EPA's basic expectations to account for pollution growth under the restoration framework known as the Bay TMDL. This failure is one important contributor to the current state of the Bay restoration, which is years behind schedule. If states don't hold the line on new pollution by ...

Holding the Line on New Pollution While We Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay

by Evan Isaacson | March 21, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.  A few weeks ago, I discussed why the periodic written "expectations" from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are critically important to the Chesapeake Bay's restoration. These expectations communicate to the state and federal partners in the Chesapeake cleanup effort what they need to do and when in order to implement the coordinated plan of action necessary to reach the ...

Kneecapping CERCLA Won't Get Rid of Air Pollution from Ag

by Laurie Ristino | March 13, 2018
Who doesn't want to breathe clean air? Unfortunately, a "bipartisan" bill now working its way through the Senate would undermine our ability to address a growing source of air pollution – livestock operations. The so-called Fair Agriculture Reporting Method Act (S. 2421), or the "FARM Act," would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known as the Superfund law, to exempt agricultural producers from reporting toxic air emissions. The bill's clever name is a misnomer: it ...

EPA Isn't the Only Place Where Enforcement Is Being Put on Ice

by Evan Isaacson | March 01, 2018
Recently, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report highlighting the freeze that Administrator Scott Pruitt has placed on the enforcement of the nation's environmental laws. The headline figures are stunning: "Civil Cases for Pollution Violations Decline by 44 Percent and Penalties Down by 49 Percent." And these numbers may understate the situation, as former EPA officials have noted that some of the cases and penalties that the agency has been touting were brought by the previous administration, not Pruitt's EPA.  ...

Why the Upcoming Release of EPA 'Expectations' for the Bay Plan Is Worth Watching

by Evan Isaacson | February 19, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.  Anyone who's ever been to an organizational retreat can tell you that the worst fate any plan can suffer is to sit on a shelf, unused and collecting dust. The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is one of the most complex and sophisticated environmental restoration plans ever created. But despite all the resources and energy that have been brought to bear under ...

The Environmental Injustice of Declining Budgets for Water Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | February 15, 2018
This year more than most, it bears repeating that a budget is a moral document, or at least that it has moral implications. It's particularly important to remember not just because President Trump's budget is so appallingly skewed in favor of military spending – this looks to be one pricey parade – but also because of the administration's puzzling infrastructure proposal.  It is no surprise that the Trump administration would craft an infrastructure plan heavily tilted toward the shiny objects ...

The Ninth Circuit, the Clean Water Act, and Septic Tanks

by Dave Owen | February 15, 2018
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Last week, the Ninth Circuit decided Hawai'i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, a case involving Maui County's practice of pumping wastewater into wells, from which the wastewater flowed through a subsurface aquifer and into the Pacific Ocean. The county, according to the court, needed a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for this practice. It did not matter that the county's wastewater traveled through groundwater on its way to the ocean; ...

CPR's Emily Hammond Testifies About Health and Economic Benefits of Clean Air Act Regulation

by Matt Shudtz | February 14, 2018
It was an early holiday present to the nation's biggest polluters. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in early December that he was drastically changing the way EPA reviews polluters' compliance – or lack thereof – with the Clean Air Act. Today on Capitol Hill, CPR Member Scholar Emily Hammond will explain that this dramatic shift in policy is a complete abnegation of EPA's statutory responsibilities and, beyond that, puts lives and economic opportunity at risk. Professor Hammond is testifying before ...

Is the Farm "Safety Net" Safe?

by Laurie Ristino | February 08, 2018
This blog post is part of a series on the 2018 Farm Bill. Since the 1930s, Congress has tried to formulate an effective farm “safety net,” oscillating among different schemes in order to protect farmers from the severe economic impacts of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. What started as a New Deal emergency intervention has become an entrenched legislative ritual. Indeed, this perennial Farm Bill debate remains a relic of 20th century policy. It’s designed to perpetuate, not to innovate. The ...

Outer Continental Shelf Shell Game Leaves Florida's Coastline More at Risk for Drilling

by Alyson Flournoy | February 06, 2018
On January 4, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released its draft proposed program for oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The proposed plan would end a broad ban on drilling imposed by President Obama and allow leasing and drilling on over 98 percent of the OCS, including the waters off Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The Eastern Gulf of Mexico is subject to a congressional moratorium until 2022, but the new plan would commence sales ...

Trump, EPA, and the Anti-Regulatory State

by Daniel Farber | January 25, 2018
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a central instrument of the modern regulatory state. Whether from the perspective of environmental protection or regulatory economics, 2017 has not been a good year. Experience to date under the Trump Administration is suggestive of industry capture or reflexive ideological opposition to regulation—or both. A multitude of deregulatory actions have occurred. Unfortunately, nearly all of the traditional sources of checks on political leadership—centralized regulatory ...

Implications of the Supreme Court's Clean Water Rule/WOTUS Ruling

by Dave Owen | January 22, 2018
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Today, the United States Supreme Court decided National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, a case determining whether challenges to the "Clean Water Rule" or "Waters of the United States Rule" should be heard in federal district court or in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The answer, the Supreme Court unanimously held, is federal district court, and the Court remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit to ...

Farm Bill 2018: Down Payment on an Effective Conservation Title

by Laurie Ristino | January 17, 2018
This blog post is the first in a forthcoming series on the 2018 Farm Bill. As Congress begins the complex task of crafting the next Farm Bill, much is at stake – from conservation to "food stamps" to rural economies. This blog post is the first in a series addressing important policy considerations with an eye toward making the Farm Bill more effective, rather than backsliding on these and other important issues. President Obama once referred to the current (2014) ...

Environmental Policy

The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.

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