Buffalo has so far evaded the risk that was buried beneath the city more than a century ago.
Each year, Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt on roadways to ward off the effects of winter weather. But it comes at a cost.
David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said the response to booming population growth should be to scale back development, not to look for alternative water sources to sustain overpopulation that is harming natural resources.
The cost will be borne mostly by state residents whose drinking water could be at stake.
By Ken Ward Jr. Staff writer 10 hrs ago (0)
Thousands of Kanawha Valley residents, businesses and workers now can file claims to receive their share of the $151 million settlement of the class-action lawsuit over the January 2014 water crisis.
This week, tens of thousands of notices about the settlement went out in the mail, along with separate notices that were emailed to a list of West Virginia American Water Co. customers.
Notices sent by mail include the simple claim form that most residents can use to file their claims. Claims can also be filed online and paper copies of claim forms downloaded from the settlement website, https://www.wvwaterclaims.com/. More information is available by calling 1-855-829-8121 or reading the “Frequently Asked Questions” list on the website.
Deadline for filing claims is Feb. 21, 2018, under an order issued by U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr., who is overseeing the case.
“This is the only way to make sure you get any money from the settlement,” the notice mailed out this week says in encouraging claims to be filed.
Under the settlement, residential households — including homeowners and renters — can file a simple claim form and obtain $550 for the first resident and $180 for each additional resident. Residents also may file more detailed information about their losses — for things such as bottled water or replacement appliances — if they provide proof of those expenditures on a separate type of claim form.
Businesses and nonprofit organizations can likewise obtain flat payments, based on their size, or can submit documentation of specific losses to have those recouped.
The settlement also provides additional payments to women who were pregnant at the time of the chemical spill that sparked the water crisis, residents who had medical expenses and hourly-wage earners who lost money when businesses they worked in closed during the crisis. Government agencies also are eligible to submit claims.
Residents, businesses and others don’t have to have previously hired a lawyer or signed up for a lawsuit to be eligible, but they do have to file claims.
Anyone who falls within the definition of the “class” covered by the settlement can file a claim for compensation. The class covered by the case includes 224,000 residents and 7,300 businesses. It includes basically any business or resident who received tap water from the Elk River intake plant and any hourly-wage earner whose employer closed because of the spill and resulting water system contamination.
In the case, lawyers for residents and businesses had alleged that West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the spill and that MCHM-maker Eastman did not properly warn Freedom of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when Eastman officials learned that the Freedom facility was in disrepair. West Virginia American and Eastman continue to deny any liability. They say the blame for the crisis rests with Freedom Industries, which admitted to criminal pollution violations related to the spill.
Distribution of the settlement funds will not start until the settlement receives final approval from Copenhaver, following a hearing scheduled for Jan. 9, and until after the Feb. 21 deadline for filing claims.
Members of the class have the right to “opt-out” of the settlement or to object to certain terms of the deal. The deadline for opting out or filing objections is Dec. 8. Class members also may ask for permission to speak during the Jan. 9 hearing on the settlement.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at
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Hardly a week passes without a new headline detailing the truly horrific quantity of plastic pollution scattered across our planet. During the final week of September, news broke that scientists were finding floating plastic debris as far north as the Arctic Ocean. Days earlier, NPR broadcast a story about the plastic waste found in common shellfish like clams and oysters. On September 6th, meanwhile, the Guardian published a piece announcing the widespread prevalence of microplastic particles in tap water around the world, the health impacts of which are still largely unknown.
Given the scope and scale of this dangerous pollution problem, one might expect our country’s public service agencies to do all they can to combat it. But that's not the country we live in. Indeed, our leaders in Washington, D.C., seem intent on making the problem worse.
In 2011, the Obama administration implemented a policy that encouraged national parks to end the sale of disposable water bottles within their boundaries. As a result, roughly two dozen parks across the country, including icons like Grand Canyon National Park, eliminated disposable water bottle sales outright. It was a smart policy—an easy way to reduce waste on America's most beautiful landscapes.
But officials in President Donald Trump's Washington didn't like it. Bent as always on erasing its predecessor's legacy, the Trump administration rescinded the National Park Service water bottle ban in August.
The administration's press release announcing the decision was extremely vague, and filled with platitudes about "providing a safe and world-class visitor experience."
In a prepared statement, Michael Reynolds, the acting National Park Service director, said that it "should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during the hot summer months."
Needless to say, the Park Service's reasoning feels rather flimsy, and that feeling is only heightened when one learns that the agency rolled back the water bottle ban despite its own findings that the policy had ample environmental benefits.
Late last month, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency released a "program evaluation report" that assesses the efficacy of the Obama-era water bottle ban. Its conclusions are unequivocal:
Annual savings of 1.32 million - 2.01 million water bottles/year demonstrates the program has significant environmental benefits that encompass the entire lifecycle of [disposable water bottles]. It also indicates that parks support the [water bottle ban policy] and are seeing tangible outcomes. The policy further demonstrates the commitment of the [National Park Service] to environmental stewardship, to reducing the environmental footprint of the [National Park Service], and to the concept of sustainability.
The Trump administration eliminated the program despite the fact that it prevented the disposal of up to two million plastic water bottles each year, which begs the question: Why?
The most likely explanation is located in the lobbying records of the International Bottled Water Association, or IBWA, an industry group that represents some of the largest bottling companies in the country, including Nestle and Coca Cola. The organization opposed the National Park Service's new water bottle policy from the start, calling it a "misleading attack on bottled water" and campaigned vigorously against it. As this campaign unfolded, IBWA's lobbying expenditures skyrocketed.
Before 2014 IBWA never spent more than $120,000 a year lobbying Congress and the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But, in 2014, its lobbying bills began to climb. In 2015, it spent $420,000 lobbying in Washington, D.C. In 2016, it spent $580,000 on lobbying expenditures. And so far this year, it has doled out $220,000 to its Beltway lobbyists, including the powerful firm Van Ness Feldman.
IBWA's quarterly lobbying reports for each of these years indicate that its hired guns worked in opposition to the National Park Service's bottled water policy in both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. And this year, with a new administration in office, the group's lobbyists also intervened at the Department of the Interior directly. Its second quarterly report in 2017, for instance, indicates that four different lobbyists—Nancy McNally, Sean Taylor, Jonathan Simon, and Alan Mintz—lobbied the Senate, the House, and the Department of the Interior on the following topics: "General education regarding bottled water industry; Recycling; National Park Service bottled water policy."
IBWA committed at least $1.2 million lobbying the federal government over the last two-and-a-half years and that money seems to have been well spent.
"IBWA applauds the numerous House and Senate members and IBWA member companies who worked tirelessly for many years to see bottled water recognized as a key component of healthy hydration in the national parks," the group wrote in a victorious statement after the NPS policy was rescinded. "Congress held hearings to question the policy's efficacy and overall need, included language in bills urging the NPS to rescind the policy, as well as weighed in directly to the Administration through letters and personal calls. If not for all of these efforts the policy would still be in place and national park visitors would be deprived of the healthiest beverage choice."
When you represent massively powerful private interests, when you front for corporate behemoths with bottomless cash reserves, you tend to get your way in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Department of Ecology has added 20 chemicals and deleted three others from the list of substances reportable under the state's Children's Safe Products Reporting Rule.
The department's final decision, published on 29 September, significantly expands the Chemicals of High Concern for Children (CHCC) list, which had contained 66 substances. Manufacturers must report the use of the substances in children's products, including toys, personal care products, and clothing.
The additions include 13 flame retardants, four phthalates, and two chemicals – bisphenol S and bisphenol F – often used as a replacement in hard plastic for bisphenol A (BPA), which the state banned from baby bottles, sippy cups, and sports bottles in 2010.
Three substances were removed from the list because the agency decided they do not meet the statutory criteria.
Substances added to the CHCC list include:
bisphenol S (BPS);
dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP);
diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP);
triphenyl phosphate (TPP);
di(2-methoxyethyl) phthalate (DMEP);
tris (2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (TDBPP);
tri-n-butyl phosphate (TNBP);
dipentyl phthalate (DPP);
perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA);
bisphenol F (BPF);
ethylhexyl diphenyl phosphate (EHDPP);
tricresyl phosphate (TCP);
tris (2chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP);
nonylphenol 4-nonylphenol (branched);
bis (2-ethylhexyl) 2,3,4,5-tetra bromophthalate (TPBH);
bis(chloromethyl)propane-1,3-diyl tetrakis-(2-chloroethyl) bis(phosphate);
isopropylated triphenyl phosphate (IPTPP);
decabromodiphenyl ethane (DBDPE);
short-chain chlorinated paraffins; and
Substances removed from the list are:
octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4); and
The state published its initial proposal in March, following a stakeholder consultation that began in August 2016. Several dozen substances were considered for removal or addition during the process. The department received input from 13 organisations and 249 individuals during the comment period that ended on 12 May.
After considering the comments, the state agency:
agreed to add DMEP to the CHCC list but refused NGOs' request to add the phthalates DIPP and DIOP, concluding that they had not produced sufficient evidence of potential exposure;
found that a request to add chemicals that degrade into PFOA is "outside the scope of this rulemaking," but amended the listing for PFOA to add the phrase "and related chemicals";
refused to keep D4 on the CHCC list because "mixed results" on reproductive toxicity were insufficient;
refused an NGO request to add dechlorane plus because "available toxicity data are limited" and inconclusive; and
removed the flame retardants tris(4-tertbutyl phenyl) phosphate and butylated triphenyl phosphate from consideration after industry representatives offered additional evidence regarding toxicity and indicating that they are used only in mixtures that are already listed.
If you were to parachute into Kern County about 40 miles west of Bakersfield, you might doubt California’s status as a national leader on climate. Pumpjacks spread out in every direction across a hellscape scraped bare of anything green. Scattered at irregular intervals, spires of latticed steel reach up more than a hundred feet, secured with guy-wires: evidence of hydraulic fracturing, a practice sufficiently infamous that its household nickname, fracking, invokes images of tap water so toxic you can light it on fire.
Fracked oil wells are everywhere on this southeastern extreme of the San Joaquin Valley, hard by the leeward side of the San Andreas fault. Big oil companies such as Chevron and Mobil began hydraulically fracturing wells here in earnest during the late 1970s, after the OPEC embargo made oil expensive and scarce. Drillers learned that by injecting a powerful slurry of chemical-laden water and sand into sedimentary rock, they could blast under played-out conventional wells and squeeze out oil left trapped in fissures, or could access reserves that traditional drilling otherwise couldn’t. (They could also inject acid into a certain kind of petroleum-bearing rock to dissolve it, another “well stimulation” method less common, but just as controversial, as hydraulic fracturing.)
Environmentalists and community activists have long lobbied for a statewide ban on fracking, arguing that the unique chemical cocktails that make up fracking fluids present novel risks to human health. “Given what we know about fracking’s dangers, [banning it] is just a no-brainer,” says Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. But up until two year ago, no one but the drillers even knew where fracking was happening.
“We didn’t know how much water was being used, which chemicals they were using, even where it was happening — it was a big data vacuum,” says Briana Mordick, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. That changed with the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 4, then-State Senator Fran Pavley’s well stimulation disclosure act. Now, you can look up fracked wells on a map maintained by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.
You can also look up what each company puts in its fracking fluids, which may or may not be meaningful. “Two-thirds of the chemicals used in fracking don’t have any public health profiles,” Mordick says. No one has yet done the studies to prove what dangers the chemicals pose. We might know that a common component of acidizing, hydrofluoric acid, eats away at your bones (one drop on your finger and you cut it off or die). But we don’t know whether any chemical escaped into the environment and directly made anyone sick.
Other industries have more established connections to Kern County’s elevated rates of lung disorders and heart disease. Poverty takes a toll on health, as do pesticides from farm fields and exhaust from two major freeways and a railroad. “We are the heart of California,” says Juan Flores, a 31-year-old community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, in Delano, a mostly agricultural city about half an hour north of Bakersfield. “If something gets moved from north to south in this state, it goes through here.”
Flores figures that each of the county’s principal industries — oil, agriculture and goods movement — account for about a third of the valley’s pollution. Fracking is responsible for only about a fifth of oil’s contribution. Still, he believes a fracking ban is worth fighting for, if only because fracturing encourages wells to be drilled where there were none before. And even if fracking’s precise environmental damage remains somewhat of a mystery in California, the destruction wrought by oil and gas operations does not.
A recent study in rural Colorado found that children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia were three to four times more likely to live in close proximity to an oil or gas site. Oil drilling in Los Angeles, which happens in dense, urban neighborhoods, has been associated with asthma, heart disease and low-birthweight babies, primarily because it exacerbates air pollution. Close to 300,000 people in Kern County reside within a mile of an oil well, the majority of them Latino and living near or below the federal poverty line. Hydraulic fracturing makes more oil possible.
Flores is a tall, imposing presence, with a low forehead that gives way to thick, black hair. He grew up in Mexicali and came to the U.S. as a teenager with his parents, both of whom are farmworkers. Despite spending four years as an anti-fracking activist, he seems relentlessly cheerful, even when discussing painful subjects. I ask whether he believes what oil company representatives have told me, all speaking on background: That the oil industry in California is subject to the strictest environmental rules in the nation. “The good part is that I do believe that,” he says. “The bad part is, if we’re dying in California, with the best of the best — I can only imagine the suffering they’re going through in Kansas, in North Dakota, in Texas. To kill the environment where people live — that is the worst thing you can do.”
Fracking activity in the San Joaquin Valley slowed temporarily after SB 4’s rules took effect in 2015, says Kyle Ferrar, who monitors the Western U.S. for the FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that collects data and other information on fracking in the U.S. Besides disclosure, the law requires strict groundwater monitoring unless drillers obtain exemptions. “When those rules were passed, they were pretty strict, and rightfully so,” Ferrar says. Now permitting has picked up again, and thousands more wells have been stimulated since 2016.
Flores worries the upward trend could continue, especially as older fields age and if oil prices rise. When we spoke, the Bureau of Land Management had signaled an intent to open up more of California’s public lands to oil and gas exploration. A few weeks later, a federal judge struck down that plan, on the grounds that the agency failed to fully investigate the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, which could affect as many as a quarter of the new wells.
The administration still has options to pursue; the BLM could well come back with a revised plan sometime in the next four years and prevail. Flores hopes that before that happens, the California legislature will impose a statewide ban, despite the extent to which oil irrigates California politics. (Oil and gas interests donated $2.8 million to campaigns in the November 8, 2016 election. Close to 48 percent of those contributions went to Democrats.) In the meantime, he says, “we’re expecting and hoping that [local lawmakers] will upgrade their county and city oil and gas ordinances, focusing on the health of the community,” he says. “[Then] the oil industry would not be so attracted to [these] communities to extract oil.”
Last year Monterey County voters did just that, bucking oil’s well-funded opposition to approve Measure Z, prohibiting fracking and other well-stimulation methods within the county’s boundaries. And unlike some other California counties that have passed similar laws — Santa Cruz, San Benito, Alameda, Butte and Mendocino — Monterey County actually has oil: More than 1,000 wells operate on four fields near San Ardo, in the Salinas Valley. Chevron and Aera Energy almost immediately filed suits to stop the law from being implemented, and public hearings over exemptions and timelines have been contentious.
Lawsuit or not, Hollin Kretzmann contends that Measure Z is a model for other jurisdictions that want to take action at a local level. “New York’s fracking ban started with a couple of rural townships,” he points out. “It spread to a dozen townships. The governor was under enormous pressure from the public, and facing the science was forced to [sign] a statewide ban.”
“The oil companies, they’re going to be left behind,” Juan Flores says, standing in the shade of an abundant valley oak in Panorama Park, an expanse of manicured grass on Bakersfield’s bluffs. The view from the bluffs is both breathtaking and dissonant: Looking down, you can see the lush green of the Kern River Valley; along the horizon a field of black pumpjacks, planted over scoured and parched brown earth, extends into apparent infinity. Flores traces with his finger the route of a canal that carries water left over from Chevron’s Kern River operations. Eventually, that water mixes with fresh water in an irrigation canal. During the drought of the last six years, farmers used it to keep their nut groves green. “Think about that,” Flores says, “when you eat your almonds and pistachios.”
It’s clear that Bakersfield’s boosters still take pride in this landscape. You don’t name bluffs, a park and a scenic drive “Panorama” because you’re ashamed of the view. But Flores notes that some of the field’s pumps have gone idle. Since oil prices crashed from their well-over $100-a-barrel highs to under $50 a barrel in 2015, Kern County’s economy has struggled.
“I notice the anger, the frustration of the oil workers who have lost jobs,” he says. “I know it makes it worse for them seeing me in documentaries saying, ‘Yeah, I really want fracking to stop.’ But what I want them to notice is that oil is not everything. They can jump on this train of renewable energy and be the leaders of it.”
He imagines another future for Bakersfield’s windy, sun-baked vista: Hundreds and thousands of solar panels and wind turbines, generating clean power for California’s grid. “Even more than that, I can see community members owning that energy, being part of it,” he says. “We’ll be so much better off with energy that won’t hurt us.”
The company scraps planned Pennsylvania investments and will instead shut down three polluting batteries in 2023. The announcement comes a week after a study shows lower lung function in people living near its Pittsburgh-region facility.
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities' mental, physical, and social health.