Environmental

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

A pair of companion bi-partisan bills just introduced in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives would provide significant funding to help meet Ohio’s goal of reducing phosphorus loading by 20% in Lake Erie by 2020.  The sponsors of S.B. 299 are Senators Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and O’Brien (D-Bazetta) and Representatives Arndt (R-Port Clinton) and Patterson (D-Jefferson) are the sponsors of H.B. 643.  The legislation is a “targeted funding solution bill,” according to Rep. Arndt, “providing both [general revenue funds] and capital funding for a variety of strategies that scientists, Lake Erie advocates, agriculture leaders, and others believe can help achieve our phosphorus reduction goals.” 

The legislation includes the following:

  • A “Soil and Water Conservation Support Fund” of up to $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing and to assist in soil testing, nutrient management plan development that would also include manure transformation and manure conversion technologies, enhanced filter strips and water management.
  • A “Soil and Water Phosphorus Program” of up to $20 million, to be established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to reduce phosphorus in sub-watersheds of the Western Lake Erie Basin.  The bill requires that the programs be supported with the purchase of equipment for subsurface placement of nutrients into the soil; nutrient placement based on geographic information system data; soil testing; variable rate technology; manure transformation and manure conversion technologies; tributary monitoring and water management and edge-of-field drainage management.
  • $3.5 million for Ohio State’s Sea Grant—Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie to construct new research lab space and purchase in-lake monitoring equipment.
  • Up to $10 million for the Healthy Lake Erie Initiative to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie.

Both bills were immediately referred to committee, with proponent testimony heard before the Senate Finance Committee on May 15 and the House Finance Committee on May 16.  The Lake Erie Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Ohio Environmental Council, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Ohio Farm Bureau testified in support of the legislation. 

The legislators also introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6 and House Joint Resolution 16 on May 9 that propose to submit a constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for the Lake Erie clean water improvements for voter approval at the November 6, 2018 general election.  The resolutions were also referred to the respective finance committees but were not on the committees’ recent agendas.

Read S.B. 299 here or H.B. 643 here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The Ohio EPA has released its draft water quality report for 2018 and the report proposes to list the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie as “impaired.” Readers of the Ag Law Blog will remember that the road to this listing has been long and complicated. The numerous posts we’ve written on this subject can be found by searching “impaired waters” on our blog website.

The controversy began in the fall of 2016, when Michigan and Ohio submitted their respective impaired waters lists to the U.S. EPA. Every two years, a regulation promulgated under the Clean Water Act requires states to turn in a list of their impaired waters. Michigan listed the waters of Lake Erie under its jurisdiction as impaired, while Ohio did not list the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie as impaired. The waters described by Michigan as impaired and those not listed by Ohio are basically one in the same, hence the problem. The U.S. EPA approved Michigan’s list in early 2017, but made no decisions about Ohio’s list.

As a result of the discrepancy over Lake Erie, environmental and other groups sued the U.S. EPA to make a decision about Ohio’s impaired waters list. On May 18, 2017, the U.S. EPA approved Ohio’s list. However, on January 12, 2018, the U.S. EPA withdrew its earlier approval and asked Ohio to compile additional data for a new evaluation of the status of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

With all of this back and forth and litigation, it is now long past the due date for the 2016 impaired waters list. As a result, the draft water quality report submitted by the Ohio EPA on March 22 contains the 2018 list.

Ohio EPA’s 2018 Draft Water Quality Report

In its draft water quality report, the Ohio EPA outlines the general condition of Ohio’s waters and lists “impaired waters” that are not meeting federal or state water quality goals and waters that have improved to meet water quality standards. For the first time, the EPA includes the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie on its impaired list. The impaired designation is for recreational uses “due to harmful algae” and for drinking water “due to occurrences of microcystin.” (Microcystin are harmful toxins created by blue-green algae. More information about these toxins is here.) Other new areas listed as impaired for drinking water due to harmful algae are Sims Run, parts of the Maumee River, the headwaters to Grand River and the headwaters of Cowan Creek in the Little Miami River watershed.

Next steps and public comments

While an impaired listing may not create immediate change in the Western Basin, it will require Ohio to create total maximum daily loads, which are the amounts of different pollutants allowed to be discharged each day in the open waters. This could eventually mean increased regulation of certain pollutants in the area, which may include agricultural nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Only time will tell.

The EPA is accepting written comments on its proposed list of impaired waters. Submit comments by May 4, 2018, to epa.tmdl@epa.ohio.gov, or to Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049, attn: 303(d) comments. Following public review and comments, the agency will submit a final report to the U.S. EPA. The agency published a news release on the draft water quality report and is hosting an upcoming webinar on the report on April 25, 2018.

Read the EPA's draft water quality report here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, February 15th, 2018

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators have introduced a bill to exempt agricultural producers from reporting requirements under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). We’ve reported previously on the new mandate that would require livestock operations to report air emissions, the result of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision last year that struck down the EPA’s rule that exempted agriculture from the reporting requirements. The U.S. EPA has repeatedly requested the court for a delay of the new reporting mandate, now delayed until after May 1, 2018. The proposed legislation would establish a new exemption that would protect farmers from the upcoming reporting mandate.

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a primary sponsor of the legislation, stated that “[t]hese reporting requirements were designed to apply to industrial pollution and toxic chemicals, not animal waste on a farm or ranch.” Co-sponsor Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) assured farmers that requiring them to “spend their time and money on reports that will go unused by EPA would be burdensome and needless.”

The text of the senators’ proposed Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act, S. 2421, is available here. The proposal includes:

  • A statement that CERCLA reporting does not apply to air emissions from animal waste, including decomposing animal waste, at a farm.
  • A definition for “animal waste,” which means feces, urine, or other excrement, digestive emission, urea, or similar substances emitted by animals (including any form of livestock, poultry or fish), and including animal waste that is mixed or commingled with bedding, compost, feed, soil, or any other material typically found with such waste.
  • A definition of “farm,” which means a site or area (including associated structures) that is used for the production of a crop or the raising or selling of animals (including any form of livestock, poultry, or fish) and under normal conditions, produces during a farm year any agricultural products with a total value equal to not less than $1,000.
  • A statement that maintains the current exemption from CERCLA reporting for applications, storage and handling of registered pesticide products.

Senator Fischer introduced S.2421 on February 13 and the Senate has referred the bill to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Posted In: Environmental
Tags: CERCLA reporting, air emissions, EPA
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, January 25th, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this week in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense that a federal district court is the proper forum for challenges to the substance of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. The holding brings clarification for parties raising similar types of challenges under the federal Clean Water Act, who often filed cases in both the district and appellate courts due to confusion over which court has jurisdiction over the cases. Litigants can now be sure that the case should originate with the federal district court, which provides greater access for similar challenges but could create more inconsistent rulings around the country. The court’s decision arrives at an odd time, with the evolving WOTUS landscape now focused on formulation of a new WOTUS rule to replace the rule that is under fire.

The court’s reasoning

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case is not surprising, a result of attention to the express language of the Clean Water Act rather than to several interpretations advanced by the government. The Clean Water Act places authority over Clean Water Act challenges in the federal district courts, with seven exceptions that are to be heard by the appellate courts. The federal government argued that two of those exceptions applied to its drafting of the WOTUS rule. The court disagreed, concluding that WOTUS does not establish an “effluent limitation” nor does it result in the issuance or denial of a permit as argued by the government. The court recognized that it would likely be more efficient and uniform for such challenges to be heard by an appellate court, but that would require a rewriting of the statute.

WOTUS uncertainty remains

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals with an order to dismiss the WOTUS petitions before that court, which consisted of all appellate cases challenging the rule that were previously transferred to the Sixth Circuit by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. Note that the Sixth Circuit had issued a nationwide stay of the WOTUS rule in 2015 pending determination of whether the rule was a valid exercise of agency authority. That stay will presumably disappear with the Sixth Circuit’s dismissal of the case, but some claim that the Sixth Circuit could seek to continue to enforce the nationwide stay. A federal district court in North Dakota had previously issued an injunction against the WOTUS rule in North Dakota and a dozen other states, so that injunction would continue to prevent implementation of the rule in those states if the Sixth Circuit removes its stay.

Further complicating the status of the WOTUS rule are the actions taken by the Trump administration, which issued a proposed rule last November to delay the rule’s effective date to 2020 and a second proposal last February to replace WOTUS with the rule that was in place previously while the EPA develops a new definition of WOTUS. The EPA has not finalized either of those rules. The federal district courts with WOTUS cases currently before them could choose to stay their cases pending the current administration’s rulemaking process. Alternatively, one of the federal district courts could issue a nationwide injunction against the rule.

Consistent with its history, WOTUS remains unclear. Agricultural interests will have to continue to wait and see what happens next.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, January 22nd, 2018

by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Assoc., Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The saga of Ohio’s designation of impaired waters continues. Readers will recall previous posts on the Ag Law Blog detailing lawsuits against the U.S. EPA for failing to approve or disapprove Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters within the time limit required by law. Those posts are available here and here.  Eventually, on May 19, 2017, the EPA accepted the Ohio EPA’s list of impaired waters, which did not include the open waters of Lake Erie’s western basin. Our blog post regarding that decision is here. That, however, was not the end of the story. In a letter to the Ohio EPA dated January 12, 2018, the U.S. EPA withdrew its May 2017 approval of Ohio's impaired waters list and asked Ohio to compile additional data for a new evaluation of Lake Erie.

What’s the issue?

Why has Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters been so hotly contested? Understanding this situation requires a little bit of background information. An EPA regulation created under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that states submit a list of impaired waters every two years. "Impaired waters" are those water bodies that do not or are not expected to meet the water quality standards for their intended uses. Designating a water body as impaired triggers a review of pollution sources, determinations of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of pollutants, and an action plan for meeting TMDLs.

After a state submits its impaired waters list, the EPA must approve or disapprove the designations within 30 days. In the case of Ohio’s 2016 list, Ohio did not include the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie on its impaired waters list and the EPA delayed acting on the list until far beyond the 30 day mark.  On the other hand, Michigan listed all of the waters of Lake Erie within its jurisdiction as impaired, which included the open waters in the western basin of Lake Erie. By approving both Ohio’s list and Michigan’s list, the EPA was agreeing to two different designations for what could essential be the same water in the same area of Lake Erie. As a result of this discrepancy, environmental groups brought a federal lawsuit against the EPA.

EPA withdraws approval

The EPA’s recent letter to Ohio could possibly have been prompted by the lawsuit mentioned above. In  its letter, the EPA withdrew its May 2017 approval...”specifically with respect to the open waters of Lake Erie.” The agency states that Ohio’s 2016 submission failed to assemble and evaluate existing data and information related to nutrients in the open waters of Lake Erie, and directs Ohio to reevaluate available data and information by April 9, 2018.

Going forward

The controversy over Ohio’s 2016 designation of impaired waters has gone on so long that it's now time for a new list.  Ohio must submit a 2018 designation of  impaired waters to the EPA by April 1, 2018.  It is very likely that the withdrawal of approval for the 2016 list will affect which waters Ohio designates as impaired on its 2018 list, particularly in regards to the western basin of Lake Erie.

The withdrawal of approval could also affect the outcome of the current lawsuit against the EPA. The environmental groups plan to persist with the lawsuit even in light of the EPA’s withdrawal. It will be interesting to see who the District Court sides with, given the fact that the EPA has now taken steps to resolve the discrepancy at the heart of the lawsuit.

The letter from the U.S. EPA to the Ohio EPA is available here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

UPDATE 2:  The federal spending bill signed into law on March 23, 2018 contained a provision stating that air emissions from animal waste at a farm are not subject to CERCLA reporting requirements, nor are emissions from the application, handling or storage of registered pesticides.

UPDATE:  The court has delayed these new reporting requirements for a second time-- the new date is May 1, 2018.  Farm operations of certain sizes are now required to report air emissions of certain hazardous substances that exceed a reportable quantity under CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.  This new requirement affects livestock farmers with larger numbers of animals, as they may exceed the reportable quantity for ammonia emissions.  We've authored a new Law Bulletin on Continuous Release Reporting of Air Emissions for Livestock Farms to help farms determine whether they must report air emissions and if so, how to complete the reporting process.  The new bulletin is available here.

Read more about the new CERCLA air emissions reporting mandate in our earlier post.

Rover Pipeline's route across Ohio
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Longstanding complaints against Rover Pipeline's environmental practices while constructing an interstate natural gas pipeline across Ohio recently culminated in a lawsuit against the company.  Attorney General Mike Dewine filed the suit in Stark County on behalf of the Ohio EPA, alleging that Rover illegally discharged drilling fluids, sediment-laden storm water and several million gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio waters, including wetlands in Stark County.  The state seeks a court order requiring Rover to apply for state permits, comply with environmental plans approved and ordered by the Ohio EPA, and pay civil penalties of $10,000 per day for each violation. 

To read more about the state's claims visit this post by our partner, the National Agricultural Law Center.

Posted In: Environmental, Oil and Gas
Tags: pipelines, rover pipeline
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, November 06th, 2017

Written by Peggy Hall and Ellen Essman

UPDATE 4:  Congress has clarified in new legislation enacted on March 23, 2018,  that emissions from animal waste on farms are not subject to CERCLA reporting.

UPDATE 3:  The U.S. EPA has requested and received an additional reporting delay until May 1, 2018 or after and has advised that the agency will provide a notice of the specific date that farms should begin reporting once the court enters its final order.

UPDATE 2:  The court has delayed theese new reporting requirements until January 22, 2018.

UPDATE 1:  The EPA and several agricultural groups have requested the court for a delay of the November 15 reporting deadline, but the court has not yet responded to the request.  Due to a high call volume, the EPA is now advising that producers should utilize the e-mail option for continuous reporting, rather than calling the NRC line. We explain the reporting requirements in this new Law Bulletin, Continuous Release Reporting of Air Emissions for Livestock Farms.

Beginning November 15, 2017, many livestock, poultry and equine farms must comply with reporting requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) section 103. The law requires entities to report releases of hazardous substances above a certain threshold that occur within a 24-hour period. Farms have historically been exempt from most reporting under CERCLA, but in the spring of 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the rule that allowed reporting exemptions for farms. As long as there is no further action by the Court to push back the effective date, farmers and operators of operations that house beef, dairy, horses, swine and poultry must begin complying with the reporting requirements on November 15, 2017.

Farmers and operators, especially of sizeable animal operations that are likely to have larger air emissions, need to understand the reporting responsibilities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published interim guidance to assist farms with the new compliance obligations. The following summarizes the agency’s guidance.

What substances to report

The EPA specifically names ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as two hazardous substances commonly associated with animal wastes that will require emissions reporting. Each substance has a reportable quantity of 100 pounds. If a farm releases 100 pounds or more of either substance to the air within a 24-hour period, the owner or operator must notify the National Response Center. A complete list of hazardous substances and their corresponding reportable quantities is here.

Note that farmers do not have to report emissions from the application of manure, and fertilizers to crops or the handling, storage and application of pesticides registered under federal law. However, a farmer must report any spills or accidents involving these substances when they exceed the reportable quantity.

How to report

Under CERCLA, farm owners and operators have two compliance options—to report each release or to follow the continuous release reporting process:

  • For an individual release that meets or exceeds the reportable quantity for the hazardous substance, an owner or operator must immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC) by phone at 1-800-424-8802.
  • Continuous release reporting allows the owner or operator to file an “initial continuous release notification” to the NRC and the EPA Regional Office for releases that will be continuous and stable in quantity and rate. Essentially, this puts the authorities “continuously” on notice that there will be emissions from the operation within a certain estimated range. If the farm has a statistically significant increase such as a change in the number of animals on the farm or a significant change in the release information, the farm must notify the NRC immediately. Otherwise, the farm must file a one year anniversary report with the EPA Regional Office to verify and update the emissions information and must annually review emissions from the farm. Note that a farm must submit its initial continuous release notification starting on November 15, 2017.

No reporting required under EPCRA

The litigation that led to CERCLA reporting also challenged the farm exemption from reporting for the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). EPRCRA section 304 requires facilities at which a hazardous chemical is produced, used or stored to report releases of reportable quantities from the chemicals. However, EPA explains in a statement issued on October 25, 2017 that the statute excludes substances used in “routine agricultural operations” from the definition of hazardous chemicals. EPCRA doesn’t define “routine agricultural operations,” so EPA states that it interprets the term to include regular and routine operations at farms, animal feeding operations, nurseries, other horticultural operations and aquaculture and a few examples of substances used in routine operations include animal waste stored on a farm and used as fertilizer, paint used for maintaining farm equipment, fuel used to operate machine or heat buildings and chemicals used for growing and breeding fish and plans for aquaculture. As a result of this EPA interpretation, most farms and operations do not have to report emissions under EPCRA. More information on EPA’s interpretation of EPCRA reporting for farms is here.

What should owners and operators of farms with animal wastes do now?

  1. Review the EPA’s interim guidance on CERCLA and EPCRA Reporting Requirements, available here.
  2. Determine if the operation may have reportable quantities of air emissions from hazardous substances such as ammonia or hydrogen sulfide. The EPA offers resources to assist farmers in estimating emission quantities, which depend upon the type and number of animals and type of housing and manure storage facilities. These resources are available here.
  3. A farm that will have reportable emissions that are continuous and stable should file an initial continuous release notification by November 15, 2017. A guide from the EPA for continuous release reporting is here. Make sure to understand future responsibilities under continuous release reporting.
  4. If not operating under continuous release reporting, immediately notify the National Response Center at National Response Center (NRC) at 1-800-424-8802 for any release of a hazardous substance that meets or exceeds the reportable quantity for that substance in a 24-hour period, other than releases from the normal application or handling of fertilizers or pesticides.
  5. Learn about conservation measures that can reduce air pollution emissions from agricultural operations in this guide from the EPA.

Note that the EPA is seeking comments and suggestions on the resources the agency is providing or should provide to assist farm owners and operators with meeting the new reporting obligations. Those who wish to comment should do so by November 24, 2017 by sending an e-mail to CERCLA103.guidance@epa.gov.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont to change dicamba registration and labeling beginning with the 2018 growing season. EPA reports that the agreement was a voluntary measure taken by the manufacturers to minimize the potential of dicamba drift from “over the top” applications on genetically engineered soybeans and cotton, a recurring problem that has led to a host of regulatory and litigation issues across the Midwest and South. The upcoming changes might alleviate dicamba drift issues, but they also raise new concerns for farmers who will have more responsibility for dicamba applications.

The following registration and labeling changes for dicamba use on GE soybeans and cotton will occur in 2018 as a result of the agreement:

  • Dicamba products will be classified as “restricted use” products for over the top applications. Only those who are certified through the state pesticide certification program or operating under the supervision of a certified applicator may apply the product. Training for pesticide certification will now include information specific to dicamba use and application, and applicators will be required to maintain records on the use of dicamba products.
  • The maximum wind speed for applications will reduce from 15 mph to 10 mph.
  • There will also be greater restrictions on the times during the day when applications can occur, but details are not yet available on those restrictions.
  • Tank clean-out instructions for the prevention of cross contamination will be on the label.
  • The label will also include language that will heighten the awareness of application risk to sensitive crops.

Farmers should note that the additional restrictions and information on dicamba labels shifts more responsibility for the product onto the applicator.  An applicator must take special care to follow the additional label instructions, as going “off label” subjects an applicator to higher risk. If drift occurs because of the failure to follow the label, the applicator is likely to be liable to the injured party for resulting harm and may also face civil penalties. Producers should take care to assess the new dicamba labels closely when the manufacturers issue the revised labels for 2018.

To learn more about legal issues with pesticide use, be sure to sit in on the Agricultural & Food Law Consortium’s upcoming webinar, “From Farm Fields to the Courthouse: Legal Issues Surrounding Pesticide Use.” The webinar will take place on Wednesday, November 1 at Noon EST and will feature an examination of regulatory issues and litigation surrounding pesticide use around the country by attorneys Rusty Rumley and Tiffany Dowell Lashmet. To view the free webinar, visit http://nationalaglawcenter.org/consortium/webinars/pesticide/

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, October 06th, 2017

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill sponsored by Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman that intends to improve the federal response to water pollution by amending the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.  Senate Bill 1057 will now move on to the House of Representatives for debate.

What are harmful algal blooms and hypoxia?

The EPA defines harmful algal blooms as “overgrowths of algae in water,” some of which “produce dangerous toxins in fresh or marine water.” The toxins can be dangerous for humans and animals. One major contributor to algal blooms is an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water.  Hypoxiacan also be caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. The EPA defines hypoxia as “low oxygen” in water. Hypoxia sometimes goes hand-in-hand with algal blooms, because as algae dies, it uses oxygen, which in turn removes oxygen from the water. Algal blooms and hypoxia have been a problem in Lake Erie and other parts of the country.

Background of the law

The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act was passed in 1998 in response to harmful algal blooms and hypoxia along the coast of the United States. When passing the law, Congress cited scientists who said both problems were caused by “excessive nutrients.” Furthermore, Congress found that harmful algal blooms had caused animal deaths, health and safety threats, and “an estimated $1,000,000,000 in economic losses” in the previous decade.

The law established an interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia (Task Force), which was charged with submitting an assessment to Congress on the “ecological and economic consequences” of both harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. The assessments were to include “alternatives for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. A number of other reports and assessments were also required, which were to all culminate in a plan to combat and reduce the impacts of harmful algal blooms. Additionally, the Act singled out the areas of the Northern Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. For these two areas, the Act required additional progress reports and mitigation plans.

The Act has undergone a few amendments throughout the years. The amendments have expanded and/or renewed the duties of the Task Force and other state and federal actors. Most notably, amendments in 2014 created the national harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program (Program) and a comprehensive research plan and action strategy. Under the Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was charged with administering funding to programs combatting algal blooms and hypoxia, working with state, local, tribal, and international governments to research and address algal blooms and hypoxia, and supervising the creation and review of the action strategy, among other duties. The action strategy identified the “specific activities” that the Program should carry out, which activities each agency in the Task Force would be responsible for, and the parts of the country where even more specific research and activities addressing algal blooms and hypoxia would be necessary.

What changes are proposed?

SB 1057 would make a number of changes and additions to the current law. Overall, the goal of the bill seems to be to strengthen the federal government’s ability to research and respond to water pollution in the form of algal blooms and hypoxia. The most important amendments in the bill would:

  • Add the Army Corps of Engineers to the list of agencies on the Task Force.
  • Combine the sections on freshwater and coastal algal blooms, and require that scientific assessments be submitted to Congress every five years for both types of water.
  • Establish a website that would provide information about the harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program (Program) activities to “local and regional stakeholders.”
  • Require the Task Force to work with extension programs to promote the Program and “improve public understanding” about harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
  • Require the use of “cost effective methods” when carrying out the law.
  • Require the development of “contingency plans for the long-term monitoring of hypoxia.”
  • Fund the Program and the comprehensive research plan and action strategy from 2019 through 2023.

Most importantly, SB 1057 would add a completely new section to the law that would allow federal officials to “determine whether a hypoxia or harmful algal bloom event is an event of national significance.” Under the new language, the federal official can independently determine that such an event is occurring, or the Governor of an affected state can request that a determination to be made.

When making the determination, the federal official would have to take a number of factors into consideration including:

  • Toxicity of the harmful algal bloom;
  • Severity of the hypoxia;
  • Potential to spread;
  • Economic impact;
  • Relative size in relation to the past five occurrences of harmful algal blooms or hypoxia events that occur on a recurrent or annual basis; and
  • Geographic scope, including the potential to affect several municipalities, to affect more than one State, or to cross an international boundary.

Finally, in the case an event of national significance is found, the the federal official would have the power to give money to the affected state or locality to mitigate the damages. However, SB 1057 states that the federal share of money awarded cannot be more than 50% of the cost of any activity. The federal official would have the power to accept donations of “funds, services, facilities, materials, or equipment” to supplement the federal money.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Text and information on SB 1057 is available here. To read the current law, click here. For further information on water pollution, check out the EPA’s pages on harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

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