Author: Joseph Erbentraut

Scott Pruitt Visits A Polluted City That Could Be Crushed By EPA Budget Cuts

THE HUFFINGTON POST To call Wednesday’s visit by Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in East Chicago, Indiana, highly anticipated would be putting it mildly. Local residents are struggling with a lead contamination crisis that has left their unfiltered tap water undrinkable and forced hundreds of families to evacuate their homes due to toxic soil. The situation is so severe that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) declared a disaster emergency in February. The predominantly low-income city is working to address the contamination issues, but community members and advocacy groups have said more resources are needed. They fear that the dramatic...

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This State Shows Us What A Future With A Hobbled EPA Could Look Like

THE HUFFINGTON POST In rural Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, there are about five cows for every human resident. About half of those people rely on private wells for their drinking water. Now it looks like the cows are polluting the water. A 2015 analysis funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources found that more than one-third of the private drinking wells tested had levels of nitrates and coliform that exceeded health standards. Both of those contaminants are found in cow manure. Environmentalists argue that the county’s wealth of dairy farms are largely to blame for its water woes. The state’s powerful dairy...

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Water Utility That Dared Challenge Farm Pollution Says Big Ag Is Trying To Destroy It

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe says there’s a word for an Iowa bill that proposes to dissolve the utility he’s overseen for four years: retribution. Two years ago, Des Moines Water Works sued three farm-heavy Iowa counties located upstream from the city for costs of filtering nitrogen the utility claims came from the farms. The state Supreme Court ruled against the utility in January, and a federal trial is set for June. But Stowe said Iowa’s mighty agribusiness interests are seeking justice of a different form by pushing legislation that would eliminate the utility altogether as revenge for the legal action. “It’s clear to me the bill is intended to get at us because of our lawsuit,” Stowe told HuffPost on Wednesday. “It sends its own message: Don’t step in the way of Big Ag, or you’ll suffer the consequences. That has a huge, chilling impact on civil discourse.” The legislation, introduced last month, would dissolve existing independent water utilities in Des Moines, as well as in the neighboring suburbs of West Des Moines and Urbandale, and replace them with city departments under control of city councils. The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jarad Klein, has deep connections to the state’s powerful agriculture interests. Klein, a farmer whose district is 100 miles east of Des Moines, is a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau, according to his state legislature...

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EPA Budget Cuts Could Make East Chicago’s Lead Crisis Worse

It’s been about about a month since residents of East Chicago, Indiana, were told they should not drink their tap water without filtering it. The Environmental Protection Agency said actionable levels of lead had been found in the city’s water supply and warned residents to use certified filters until further notice. The discovery was yet another setback for a city already dealing with lead and arsenic levels in soil surrounding a Superfund waste site that are so high that Gov. Eric Holcomb declared an emergency disaster. Advocates say state and city officials aren’t doing enough to keep residents safe from the multiple ways they can be exposed to toxic lead. A coalition that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, local organizations and East Chicago residents on Thursday issued a petition urging the EPA to launch a comprehensive emergency response to the city’s crisis. The petition calls for the EPA to “immediately” provide East Chicago residents with free faucet filters and bottled water, and to ensure the filters are installed correctly. The coalition also called for blood testing for children younger than 7, who are at high risk of lead exposure, and expanded water testing for more households than the EPA sampled last year. “Nobody should be forced to endure contaminated water,” Anjali Waikar, a staff attorney at the NRDC, told HuffPost. “We’re asking for temporary, short-term relief to ensure that people aren’t...

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Mike Pence Ignored A Lead Contamination Crisis In His Backyard

Last December, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland wrote a letter pleading with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to grant his city, which is facing a lead contamination crisis, an emergency declaration to allow it to address the problem. Pence said no, suggesting the $200,000 in assistance the state had already offered to help the city relocate affected families and administer free lead testing would suffice. Pence’s successor, fellow Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, disagreed. Last week, in one of his first executive orders in office, he issued a declaration of disaster emergency that paved the way for additional state and potentially federal assistance for the struggling city and tasked Copeland with providing a written assessment of what resources the city will need to help its residents by March 5. Deborah Chizewer, a law fellow at Northwestern University’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic who has been assisting East Chicago residents affected by the toxic, lead-contaminated soil, said Holcomb’s action was a welcome change from Pence’s response to the crisis. “I was obviously very disappointed that Pence didn’t give this situation the requisite level of attention,” Chizewer told The Huffington Post. “I don’t think the state has done enough, but I was very pleased to see that Holcomb recognized the urgency in East Chicago that remains.” The situation in East Chicago dates back at least to 1972, when the West Calumet housing complex was built on...

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The EPA Knows How To Prevent The Next Flint. Will A Trump EPA Do It?

It is becoming increasingly clear that many of the conditions that contributed to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are also present in thousands of communities throughout the United States. A new Reuters analysis of lead testing results across the U.S. published this week found nearly 3,000 communities with poisoning rates that were actually double those of Flint at the height of its contamination crisis. Lead poisoning is not solely attributable to water, of course — paint and industrial waste are other sources — but the nation’s rapidly deteriorating water infrastructure and a lack of proper testing and oversight of water systems aren’t helping matters. A separate investigation by USA Today released earlier this month similarly found that 4 million Americans living in small, rural communities were drinking water that might be contaminated with lead due to testing that their utilities either skipped or did not carry out adequately. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been widely criticized for playing a significant role in the Flint crisis, appears to be aware of the ways in which it has not lived up to its duty of enforcing both the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, which are intended to protect the nation’s water. Late last month, the EPA issued a comprehensive “action plan” on its drinking water policies. The report lays out extensive plans to build capacity for water...

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U.S. Farmers Risk Losing Everything Because Of Absurd Immigration Rule

FILE – In this Oct. 12, 2011, file photo, one of the few remaining crews of workers harvest and package cantaloupes near Firebaugh, Calif. With Congress considering a new immigration reform proposal that includes a speedier process to legal status for farmworkers, experts say, the best indicator of how such reform would play out is to look at the fate of the generation of farmworkers who were legalized over two decades ago. (AP Photo/ Gosia Wozniacka, File) Three years ago, Fishkill Farms owner and operator Joshua Morgenthau found himself facing a situation that is every farmer’s nightmare. It was time to prepare his 100-acre fruit and vegetable farm’s cherries and strawberries for harvest, but the workers he’d hired for the job weren’t there to help. His employees were many miles away in Mexico, waiting for the green light to enter the U.S. and get to work. Without enough hands to weed and prune the delicate crop, Morgenthau’s berries were at risk of rotting on the vine. Worse, he knew there was little he could do but wait and hope he didn’t lose his whole crop in the meantime. Each year, Morgenthau employs eight seasonal migrant workers who travel to his farm in New York’s Hudson Valley through the labor department’s H-2A temporary agricultural worker program. The process of obtaining their H-2A visas had been relatively painless for the previous five years....

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Climate Change Is Turning The Water Around Us Into A Threat

HELEN H. RICHARDSON/THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY IMAGES Algal blooms, like these on Ferril Lake in Denver, are a nightmare for the environment and could be exacerbated by climate change. We grasp the connection now between our changing climate and the quantity of water around us. Scientists say that climate change means both more frequent and severe droughts and a heightened risk of flooding. What about the quality of our water? Crises as disparate as Florida’s “guacamole-thick” algal blooms and the record number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease are linked to the effects of climate change on water safety ― or so a paper published last month in the journal Nature argues. And problems like these appear to be getting worse. But the extent to which climate change is working with other factors to muddy the water isn’t clear, said Anna Michalak, a faculty member in global ecology at the Carnegie Institute of Science and author of the paper. “We tend to think of water quality issues as local phenomena controlled by what people are doing at a relatively local-to-regional scale,” Michalak told The Huffington Post. The reality, she said, is that water quality depends on the interaction between human behaviors and “things that have to do with weather and meteorology — and they themselves are changing as a result of the climate.” For instance, when changing climate and weather patterns combine with the...

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