The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

by Elena Franco | May 31, 2018

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

As one of America’s first colonies, Virginia has a long history of industrialization and its consequent pollution along its waterways. It also has a long history of floods. This combination provides a potential for toxic flooding, putting Virginia's population and livelihoods at risk.

The James River, named “America’s founding river” and spanning most of the state, is prone to floods, both flowing down the river and coming in from coast. Many of Virginia’s industrial areas lie on the banks of the river, contributing to significant toxic discharges and placing the river ninth nationally for chemical releases harmful to fetuses and newborns. In just one example from the late 20th century, Allied Chemical Company’s illegal dumping of kepone (a carcinogenic insecticide) into the James triggered discussions in Richmond and was featured in the legislative histories of numerous federal statutes, including the Clean Water Act (1972), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (1980). Kepone is now outlawed, but a 2017 report shows that about two-thirds of James River fish still have reportable kepone levels in their tissues.

Sea levels are already rising, hurricanes are projected to be more intense and frequent in the mid-Atlantic, and development and increased intensity of precipitation over the last 30 years ...

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact. Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of ...

Shapiro Takes on Pruitt's Pseudo-Transparency Rule

by Matthew Freeman | May 29, 2018
While most of the press EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting these days has to do with his various over-spending scandals, his more lasting impact is likely to be his scorched-earth approach to environmental protections. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, CPR’s Sid Shapiro highlighted one way Pruitt hopes to make an across-the-board, anti-environment impact: By limiting the scope of scientific studies that his agency may consider when developing safeguards. Under the guise of greater transparency, Pruitt ...

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

by Karen Sokol | May 21, 2018
Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the likelihood of an increase in what is now often referred to as "climate change" or "climate justice" litigation. The reason for the increase, according to the IPCC, is that "countries and citizens [will] become dissatisfied with the pace of international and national decision-making on climate change." Just over a decade later, that observation now looks quite prescient, with several cities and counties taking the oil industry to court ...

Let a Hundred (Municipal) Flowers Bloom

by Daniel Farber | May 17, 2018
In the era of Trump, one bright spot remains what's happening in cities across the nation. Here are some numbers: 402 U.S. mayors have endorsed the Paris Agreement and announced their intention of meeting its goals, while 118 have endorsed the goal of making their cities 100 percent renewable. A bit of quick research provides a sample of what some major cities are already up to: Atlanta. Atlanta's city council has set ambitious goals: 100 percent renewable energy for city ...

Connecting the Dots: Rob Verchick and Laurie Ristino Talk Food Security and Climate Change

by Matt Shudtz | May 15, 2018
CPR President Rob Verchick recently sat down to talk with one of our newest Member Scholars, Professor Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School, about the connections between climate change, food security, and policymaking tools like the Farm Bill that could be better used to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We’re excited to share an audio recording of that conversation here as a “soft launch” of a new product at CPR – our “Connect the Dots” podcast. It’s a work in progress. Our ...

Trump's OSHA to Roll Back More Worker Safeguards, Slow Walk Others

by Katie Tracy | May 14, 2018
The White House released its Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on May 9 with little fanfare. A close examination of the agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that protecting worker health and safety is anything but a priority for the Trump administration. Rather, the agency will continue to focus on weakening worker protections. OSHA's spring agenda lists 20 planned activities – 15 carryovers from the fall agenda, four agenda items moved from ...

Senators' Letter Brings Welcome Oversight to Troubled White House Office

by James Goodwin | May 10, 2018
Yesterday, six senators, led by Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, criticized Trump administration "regulatory czar" Neomi Rao and her office for what appears to have been a slapdash review of a highly controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft policy designed to stifle the agency's progress on advancing environmental and public health protections. Rao is the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a small but powerful bureau located within the Executive Office of the ...

Disastrous Inequality

by Daniel Farber | May 10, 2018
Texas and Puerto Rico both got hit very hard last year by major hurricanes. But the federal government moved a lot more quickly to get help to Texas. In a new paper, I document the difference and explore the reasons. Although I won't go into all the details here, this is a situation people need to know about. , though there's a more extensive table in the paper. FEMA says it poured just as many resources into Puerto Rico as ...

New Report: It's Time to Repeal the Congressional Review Act

by James Goodwin | May 02, 2018
Over the last couple of weeks, conservatives in Congress have continued their assault on public safeguards using the once-obscure and once-dormant Congressional Review Act (CRA). If their latest adventure succeeds, it will be the 16th public protection that these members, working with in concert with President Donald Trump, have obliterated over the last year, laying waste to a broad and diverse range of measures related to public health, safety, the environment, and consumer financial protection.  The anti-safeguard lawmakers behind these ...

Workers at Risk from USDA's Proposed Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule

by Katie Tracy | May 01, 2018
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) proposed a rule on Feb. 1 to alter inspection procedures for hog slaughter plants by revoking the existing cap on maximum line speeds and transferring key inspection tasks from USDA inspectors to private plant workers. These changes to current practices raise numerous concerns for worker health and safety, all of which the agency fails to address in the proposal.  Because of these concerns, Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member ...

The Questionable Legal Basis of the EPA 'Transparency' Proposal

by Daniel Farber | April 30, 2018
"They sat at the Agency and said, 'What can we do to reimagine authority under the statutes to regulate an area that we are unsure that we can but we're going to do so anyway?'" When he said those words, Scott Pruitt was talking about the Obama administration. But it seems to be a pretty accurate description of the "transparency" proposal he issued last week. Everyone agrees that it would be good to increase the public availability of scientific information ...

Workers' Memorial Day 2018

by Katie Tracy | April 25, 2018
On Saturday, April 28, CPR will observe Workers' Memorial Day by remembering fallen workers whose lives were taken from this world too soon and by renewing our pledge to fight for all working people.  Every day in this country, 14 workers leave for work, never to return home. One worker is killed on the job every two hours in the United States. In 2016, 5,190 workers died earning a living, the highest number on record in eight years. That doesn't ...

Recipe: Turning the House's Lemon of a Farm Bill into Lemonade

by Laurie Ristino | April 25, 2018
Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a pock-marked, micro-legislated Farm Bill along strict party lines. It's a shameful goody bag of legislative delights for a few that comes at the expense of the majority of the American people.  Some lowlights: The bill holds our hungriest Americans hostage by conditioning SNAP benefits (food stamps) on job training (what kind of country withholds food from its citizens?); reduces conservation dollars that are critically needed given the pitiful state of soil health ...

Scholars Call Out Congressional Committee for 'Mythification' of NEPA

by James Goodwin | April 24, 2018
Tomorrow, anti-environmental members of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing provocatively titled, "The Weaponization of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Implications of Environmental Lawfare" – yet another in a long line of conservatives' attempts to justify myriad legislative attacks against this bedrock environmental law. As more than 100 CPR Member Scholars and other academic leaders explain in a letter to committee members, though, the hearing would be more aptly titled "The Mythification of NEPA."  The ...

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 ...

Promoting Energy Innovation

by Daniel Farber | April 13, 2018
An MIT professor has a great idea for a molten metal battery that could outperform lithium batteries. Of course, like many great ideas, this one might not pan out. But even if it does pan out technically, Grist explains one reason why it might never get to the commercial stage: Ultimately, the thing that makes lithium-ion so tough to topple is something called the "experience curve." The curve maps how, over time, in many different sectors, increases in scale lead ...

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 ...
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