EPA slows down air pollution rules

Obama administration delays air regulations
The Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations — new rules governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers — as it adjusts to a changed political dynamic in Washington with a more muscular Republican opposition.

The move to delay the rules, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, will leave in place policies set by President George W. Bush. President Obama ran for office promising tougher standards, and the new rules were set to take effect over the next several weeks.

 Now, the agency says, it needs until July 2011 to further analyze scientific and health studies of the smog rules and until April 2012 on the boiler regulation. Mr. Obama, having just cut a painful deal with Republicans intended to stimulate the economy, can ill afford to be seen as simultaneously throttling the fragile recovery by imposing a sheaf of expensive new environmental regulations that critics say will cost jobs.

 The delays represent a marked departure from the first two years of the Obama presidency, when the E.P.A. moved quickly to reverse one Bush environmental policy after another. Administration officials now face the question of whether in their zeal to undo the Bush agenda they reached too far and provoked an unmanageable political backlash.
–The New York Times

Invasive Oriental bittersweet strangles trees
A new invasive plant called Oriental bittersweet has made its way into Minnesota this year. Infestations have been found in the Twin Cities metro area, as well as in southeastern Minnesota, near Winona.

 The Oriental bittersweet looks much like its cousin, the American bittersweet. Both plants have a bright red fruit that prompts people to collect it this time of year for use in wreaths and other holiday decorations.

But the Oriental bittersweet is bad news for forest areas.

Monika Chandler, an invasive species coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, says what makes the Oriental bittersweet such a threat is its vines. They can wrap around trees and strangle them. They also dominate the forest canopy.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Florida challenges new EPA rules
Florida sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking to block new clean water regulations opposed by business and agriculture interests as well as some municipal utilities.

 The federal lawsuit alleges the rules, which apply only to Florida, are unfair, arbitrary and lack scientific support. Florida is the first state where EPA has imposed such regulations although 13 others have adopted similar rules of their own.

 “They’re picking on Florida,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum. “I’ve heard nobody in EPA say ‘We’re going to go after Georgia next.’ … We’re happy we’re the focus of some attention, but this is a little bit more than we think we’re justified to have – in fact, a whole lot more.” 

McCollum said he expects similar lawsuits will be filed by local government agencies and private entities.

The regulations are required by EPA’s settlement of an earlier federal lawsuit that five environmental groups filed in Tallahassee.
–The Associated Press 

Save the date: Heritage fund stakeholders forum set Jan. 6
Are you a Minnesota conservationist interested in how the state is spending new revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008?

 If you are, you may want to attend a Jan. 6 meeting of a Dedicated Fund Working Group made up of members and representatives from a number of conservation groups. Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League chairs the working group. 

The meeting will be held at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Park on the afternoon of Jan. 6, one day before the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual Roundtable at the same site.  

The agenda for the stakeholders forum has not yet been completed, and registration for the forum is not yet open. Watch this web site for the agenda and registration information as it becomes available.

 About $250 million a year is being generated by the tax increase. One-third of that is designated to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. One-third is designated to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife. 

Road salt pollutes Ohio wells
The road salt that cities and businesses stockpile to melt ice along sidewalks and treat Ohio’s roads and highways is increasingly polluting drinking water, according to state environmental regulators.

 Since 2009, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has found rainwater runoff from road-salt piles fouling public and private wells in five Ohio communities. Though not considered a health threat, the salty taste of drinking water grew so bad that the village of Camden in Preble County had to abandon its wells.

“After you get to a certain level, you can certainly tell there is a change in the taste,” said Melissa Williams, the Preble County health commissioner. “It will corrode your plumbing fixtures, also.”

The issue has Ohio EPA officials dealing with a new type of pollution that’s not specifically covered by environmental law.
–The Columbus Dispatch

 Bugs, beetles, borers threaten U.S. forests
Call them America’s most wanted critters: the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, the Asian gypsy moth. After arriving via wooden shipping pallets or crates, this insatiable trio has munched its way through millions of trees over the past 20 years, costing state, local and federal agencies tens of billions of dollars for eradication, quarantine, and tree removal and replacement.

 Emerald ash borers – named for their habit of drilling through bark – have crawled into 15 states and two Canadian provinces since surfacing near Detroit in 2002, arriving in Tennessee this summer. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state natural resources departments have rolled out campaigns urging the public to look out for the bug and to use only local sources of firewood. 

These high-profile offenders are among friends. From 1860 to 2006, at least 455 tree-loving insect species arrived on American shores, as did 16 damaging tree diseases, say the authors of a report in the December issue of the journal BioScience. Despite regulations designed to stymie the six-legged hoard, two to three new invasive insect species set up shop in the United States each year.
–The Washington Post

 DNR completes Leech Lake management plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has finalized a five-year management plan that aims to sustain Leech Lake as one of Minnesota’s top fishing destinations.

The plan outlines fisheries management objectives for 2011 through 2015. Minnesota’s third-largest lake, Leech Lake’s 112,000 acres offer year-round angling opportunities for walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch and largemouth bass. 

“This document was developed by combining fisheries science with extensive public input,” said Dirk Peterson, fisheries management section chief for the DNR. “From habitat protection to stocking to continued support for cormorant control, Leech Lake’s management plan clearly details our approach to sport fish species and habitat during the next five years.”
–Minnesota DNR

N.Y. gov imposes ‘fracking’ moratorium
On the surface, it looked as if Gov. David A. Paterson threaded the needle when he addressed one of the most far-reaching environmental and economic issues facing New York: the future of natural gas drilling upstate.

 Mr. Paterson vetoed legislation that would have placed a moratorium on drilling that uses a technique called hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water underground to crush shale and release the gas inside. Instead, he issued an executive order instituting a longer moratorium that extended until July 1, 2011, but that more narrowly defined the types of drilling to be restricted.

In apparent contradiction of the laws of physics, both the gas industry and the environmentalists seemed pleased.
–The New York Times

Edina approve trail by creek
The Edina City Council has unanimously approved a creek-based route for a Three Rivers Park District walking and biking trail that eventually will run from Hopkins to the Minnesota River in Bloomington.

 The vote followed more than three hours of public testimony and council discussion on the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, which has been one of the most contentious issues the city has dealt with in recent years.

 Opposition from residents whose backyards would be adjacent to the trail led to petition drives and anti-trail web pages; 243 residences next to the creek would be affected. The trail would be an average of 175 feet from those homes.

 But the roughly 8-mile Edina portion of the trail would be built almost exclusively on public right-of-way already owned by the city.
–The Star Tribune

 Gas driller accused of polluting wells
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that oil and natural-gas producer Range Resources Corp. has contaminated a pair of drinking wells in North Texas’s Barnett Shale, one of the richest natural-gas reservoirs in the U.S.

Two families living near natural-gas-producing wells owned by Range outside Fort Worth complained to federal regulators about “flammable and bubbling drinking water coming out of their tap”

beginning in late August. EPA testing has identified “extremely high levels” of natural gas in the water, the agency said. The water wells are located in the Trinity Aquifer, which underlies 20 Texas counties, the agency said in a court filing.

 Regulators said the concentration of natural gas “posed an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire.” The government also identified other contaminants, including the carcinogen benzene, in the water and has asked a nearby rural water-system operator to test its supplies.
–The Wall Street Journal

Melting glaciers imperil Mount Rainier road
The greatest threat to the busiest road in Mount Rainier National Park is the mountain itself.

Receding glaciers, loose rocks and boulders, glacial outbursts and debris flows could combine to cut off Nisqually-Paradise Road. Half the 1.2 million people who typically visit the park each year travel that roadway.

 Yet the threat is not limited to the 18-mile road.

 Nearly every major roadway in the park – including Westside Road, Stevens Canyon Road, state Route 123, state Route 410 and Carbon River Road – is threatened.

 Portions of the Carbon River and Westside roads have been closed because of flooding. Stevens Canyon and state Route 123 are susceptible to landslides. State Route 410 could be flooded should the White River jump its banks.

 “It’s almost historically unprecedented the conditions Mount Rainier (National Park) has to manage in terms of access,” said Paul Kennard, the park’s geomorphologist.
–The Tacoma News Tribune