California OKs Clear Lake tribe’s request for fish consumption guidelines

Clear Lake. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat, 2013)


May 18, 2014, 2:09 PM

CALIFORNIA -New guidelines for safe consumption of fish and shellfish of interest to a Clear Lake-area Pomo tribe were released last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency.

The recommendations are based on the levels of mercury found in 15 species of fish and shellfish in Clear Lake, long known for contamination from extensive mercury mining from the 1870s to as recently as 1957.

The state EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said it developed the food advisory based on requests from the Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians located in Finley, a small town near Lakeport.

Species added to the new guidelines based on the tribe’s interest include threadfin shad, prickly sculpin, mosquitofish, inland silverside, winged floater mussels and Asian clams, the EPA said.

Sarah Ryan, the tribe’s environmental director, said clams were the Pomos’ main interest. Tribal members who eat clams from the lake recall their parents and grandparents doing the same, she said, though it was unclear whether those clams were the same kind that are eaten today.

Beyond that, Ryan said it seemed right to assess the mercury in other species from the lake.

“We’re really glad they took on the task,” she said.

Dr. George Alexeeff, director of the environmental health hazard office, said in a press release that fish are “part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.”

“They are an excellent source of protein and can help reduce the risk of heart disease,” he said.

The guidelines are designed to help people balance the health benefits “against the risk of exposure to mercury from fish in Clear Lake,” Alexeeff said.

Mercury can harm the brain and nervous system of people, especially in fetuses and children, the EPA said.

Consumption standards for women age 18 to 45 and children under 18 are more restrictive than they are for women over 45 and men.

The advisory said that all people can consume seven servings a week of Asian clams or winged floater mussels, and that women over 45 and men can eat the same amount of inland silverside or threadfin shad.

Women 18 to 45 and children should limit silverside and shad to three servings per week, and should limit the other 10 species — blackfish, bullhead, catfish, crayfish, mosquitofish, bluegill or other sunfish, carp, crappie, hitch and prickly sculpin — to one serving a week.

Women over 45 and men can eat three servings a week of the 10 species, or one weekly serving of bass. Younger women and children should not eat bass.

Six other tribes — the Elem Indian Colony, Robinson Rancheria, Middletown Rancheria, Scotts Valley Rancheria, Koi Nation and the Habematolei Pomo — are also located in Lake County.

Mercury mining was prevalent in the Clear Lake area in the late 1800s, including a productive site, the former Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine, which operated on the lake’s shore until 1957, the EPA said.

The advisory on eating fish from the lake was originally issued in 1987 and was last updated in 2009.

For details on the advisory, go to

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or

‘Snapshots in time’: Yurok Tribe receives grant for sea level rise research


Will Houston/The Times-Standard

Feb 22, 2014

To aid in the Yurok Tribe’s climate change research on Klamath River wetlands, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the tribe part of a $1.5 million grant this week.

Klamath River Estaury Wetlands
Klamath River Estaury Wetlands

Environmental protection specialist Suzanne Marr — who previously ran the agency’s wetlands program — said the Yurok Tribe’s application came complete with successful research.

”It’s a very competitive program, and not easy to get funded,” Marr said. “The Yurok Tribe has a strong program, and has competed very well over the years.”

Wetlands specialist Bill Patterson of the tribe’s environmental program said the $135,000 award is the fourth two-year grant the tribe has received from the EPA program. Each grant, Patterson said, has funded a variety of wetlands research projects spanning nearly eight years and different regions of the Klamath River.

”What we’re trying to do is expand on the previous data that we’ve had that includes an inventory baseline of wetlands species and water quality parameters,” Patterson said. “This cycle we’re looking at specific species that may be threatened in the face of climate change impacts, in particular sea level rise.”

The research project will collect baseline data on the wildlife and conditions of coastal estuaries near the lower Klamath River, which Patterson said can be useful for future research.

”The inventories are very useful in that they’re snapshots in time,” Patterson said. “For something like sea level rise, if the estuary is going to be 6 feet underwater in 25 years, you can look back at how it was impacting them in 2014.”

Patterson said that while past research with the tribe’s fisheries program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has focused on mapping, water quality and restoration efforts in both upper and lower regions of the Klamath, efforts to analyze sea level rise are critical due to its substantial effects on coastal estuaries.

”If you want to talk about the future of climate change, what you’re potentially going to see with sea level rise is increased salinity,” Patterson said. “The saltwater levels rise, and that can significantly change the plant community and the species that rely on that community.”

With wetlands disappearing at an alarming rate, Patterson emphasized the importance of assessing the local wildlife that rely heavily upon the fragile ecosystem.

”It’s a really rare habitat, because it’s in a coastal climate, and is significant to a lot of species,” Patterson said. “People often overlook these areas.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s current wetlands program coordinator Leana Rosetti said it is important to help tribes and local governments protect and improve their wetland programs. The application period for next year’s grants are still open, she said.

”We encourage folks to develop plans to compete for grants to fund their own wetlands program,” Rosetti said. “The more applicants, the better.”

On the Web: For information on the EPA grant, visit

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or Follow him on

Amid Toxic Waste, a Navajo Village Could Lose Its Land

A contaminated pile near the community of Red Water Pond Road holds a million cubic yards of waste from the Old Northeast Church Rock Mine. Mark Holm for The New York Times
A contaminated pile near the community of Red Water Pond Road holds a million cubic yards of waste from the Old Northeast Church Rock Mine. Mark Holm for The New York Times


CHURCH ROCK, N.M. — In this dusty corner of the Navajo reservation, where seven generations of families have been raised among the arroyos and mesas, Bertha Nez is facing the prospect of having to leave her land forever.

The uranium pollution is so bad that it is unsafe for people to live here long term, environmental officials say. Although the uranium mines that once pocked the hillsides were shut down decades ago, mounds of toxic waste are still piled atop the dirt, raising concerns about radioactive dust and runoff.

And as cleanup efforts continue, Ms. Nez and dozens of other residents of the Red Water Pond Road community, who have already had to leave their homes at least twice since 2007 because of the contamination, are now facing a more permanent relocation. Although their village represents only a small sliver of the larger Navajo nation, home to nearly 300,000 people, they are bearing the brunt of the environmental problems.

“It feels like we are being pushed around,” said Ms. Nez, 67, a retired health care worker, who recalled the weeks and months spent in motel rooms in nearby Gallup as crews hauled away radioactive soil from the community’s backyards and roadsides.

“This is where we’re used to being, traditionally, culturally” she said. “Nobody told us it was unsafe. Nobody warned us we would be living all this time with this risk.”

These days, this sprawling reservation, about the size of West Virginia, is considered one of the largest uranium-contaminated areas in United States history, according to officials at the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency has been in the throes of an expansive effort to remove waste from around this tiny and remote Navajo village, and clean up more than 500 abandoned mine areas that dot the reservation.

Federal officials say they have been amazed at the extent of the uranium contamination on the reservation, a vestige of a burst of mining activity here during the Cold War. In every pocket of Navajo country, tribal members have reported finding mines that the agency did not know existed. In some cases, the mines were discovered only after people fell down old shafts.

“It is shocking — it’s all over the reservation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the E.P.A.’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “I think everyone, even the Navajos themselves, have been shocked about the number of mines that were both active and abandoned.”

Between 2008 and 2012, federal agencies spent $100 million on the cleanup, according to the E.P.A.; an additional $17 million has been spent by energy companies determined to be responsible for some of the waste.

But the scope of the problem is worse than anyone had thought. The E.P.A. has said that it could take at least eight years to dispose of a huge pile of uranium mine waste that has sat near Red Water Pond Road since the 1980s — waste that must be removed before the area can finally be free of contamination.

“The community is frustrated, I know I’m frustrated — we’d like it to go quickly,” Mr. Blumenfeld said.

But before the latest round of cleanup can begin, an application to remove the waste pile must be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will then conduct environmental and safety reviews. That process will probably take two years, and there is the possibility that public hearings on the plan could extend the process several more years, said Drew Persinko, a deputy director for the commission.

That time frame seems unreasonably long for tribal members, who said that spending so long living away from the reservation has been difficult. So far, the E.P.A. has spent $1 million on temporary housing for residents of Red Water Pond Road; much of that cost will be reimbursed by General Electric, which acquired the old Northeast Church Rock Mine site in 1997, and also its subsidiary company, United Nuclear Corporation, which operated the mine.

As in the past, the relocations will be voluntary. Some residents wondered — as they have for years now — if the land will ever really be clean.

“Our umbilical cords are buried here, our children’s umbilical cords are buried here. It’s like a homing device,” said Tony Hood, 64, who once worked in the mines and is now a Navajo interpreter for the Indian Medical Center in Gallup. “This is our connection to Mother Earth. We were born here. We will come back here eventually.”

Residents still remember seeing livestock drinking from mine runoff, men using mine materials to build their homes and Navajo children playing in contaminated water that ran through the arroyo. Today, the site near Red Water Pond Road holds one million cubic yards of waste from the Northeast Church Rock Mine, making it the largest and most daunting area of contamination on the reservation.

The waste does not pose any immediate health risk, Mr. Blumenfeld said, but there are concerns about radioactive dust being carried by the wind, runoff from rain, and the area’s accessibility to children, who can slip in easily through a fence.

Under a plan being developed by General Electric and the E.P.A., the waste would be transported to a former uranium mill just off the reservation — already considered a Superfund site — and stored in a fortified repository. The estimated cost is nearly $45 million.

“General Electric and United Nuclear Corporation are committed to continue to work cooperatively with the U.S. government, Navajo Nation, state of New Mexico and local residents to carry out interim cleanups and reach agreement on the remedy for the mine,” said Megan Parker, a spokeswoman for General Electric.

The Navajo E.P.A., which is an arm of the tribe’s own government, for years has been calling for a widespread cleanup of abandoned mines. Stephen Etsitty, the executive director of the agency, said he was hopeful that progress was finally being made, but acknowledged that the scope and technical complexity of the operation at Red Water Pond Road was unprecedented.

“We’re pushing and doing as much as we can to keep the process going as fast as we can,” Mr. Etsitty said. “It’s just taken so long to get there.”

On a recent day, Ms. Nez and several other residents stood on a bluff near a cluster of small homes and traditional Navajo hogan dwellings as the wind whipped across a valley that once bustled with mining activity.

The group talked of their grandparents — medicine men who were alive when the mines first opened — and wondered what they would think about Red Water Pond Road today.

“They would say ‘How did this happen? They ruined our land,’ ” Ms. Nez said. “ ‘How come you haven’t prayed to have this all fixed up?’ ”

A version of this article appears in print on February 20, 2014, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Nestled Amid Toxic Waste, a Navajo Village Faces Losing Its Land Forever. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe


U.S. Sen Begich speaks out against proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska

January 21, 2014

By Becky Bohrer


JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the proposed Pebble Mine, calling the massive gold-and-copper project “the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska.”

In a statement released by his office Monday, Begich said he has long supported Alaska’s mining industry and believes continued efforts must be made to support resource-development industries that help keep Alaska’s economy strong. But he said “years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

“Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue, and I have listened to their concerns,” he said. “Pebble is not worth the risk.”

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries. The agency released its final report last week, concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on it. The region is home to a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery.

The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.Image source: Wild Salmon
The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.
Image source: Wild Salmon


The report did not recommend any policy or regulatory decisions. But EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said it would serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Mine opponents have been pressing the agency to take steps to block or limit the project.

Begich, a Democrat, is the only member of the state’s congressional delegation to outright oppose the project, and his position, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, won praise from Pebble critics on Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, last week expressed concerns that the EPA report could be used to pre-emptively veto the project, saying that would set a bad precedent.

“If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them – after a permit application has been made, not before,” Murkowski said in a release.

Under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge would have “unacceptable adverse” effects on things like municipal water supplies or fisheries, according to an EPA fact sheet. The agency says it has issued just over a dozen final veto actions since 1972.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the project, said Pebble is disappointed that Begich had “come out against thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in state revenue, and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska.”

Heatwole said in a statement that it is “no secret that there is a substantial difference of opinion regarding the science of EPA’s recent Bristol Bay Assessment. Not many Alaskans think EPA is impartial.”

He said there is a process that exists for evaluating a project, and there is no environmental harm in allowing Pebble to follow that permitting process.

Begich told The Associated Press that one of the complaints he hears from the mining industry is that it needs to know what federal agencies want before getting too far along in the permitting process. He said if Pebble intends to apply for a permit, the watershed assessment provides a framework for what to respond to before the permit process starts.

EPA: Mining poses risks to Bristol Bay salmon


FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP
FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP

By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

anuary 15, 2014


JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released its final assessment of the impact of mining in the Bristol Bay region. Its findings are similar to those of an earlier draft report, concluding that, depending on the size of the mine, up to 94 miles of streams would be destroyed in the mere build-out of the project, including losses of between 5 and 22 miles of streams known to provide salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes also would be lost due to the mine footprint.

The report concludes that “large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said in a conference call with reporters.

The battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been waged for years and extended beyond Alaska’s borders, with environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development. Multinational jewelers have said they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect, and pension fund managers from California and New York City last year asked London-based Rio Tinto, a shareholder of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., to divest, a request Rio Tinto said it planned to consider.

EPA has said its goal was to get the science right. McLerran said the report doesn’t recommend any policy or regulatory decisions and will serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA in 2010 to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. He said no timeline for a response had been set.

The report also found that polluted water from the mine site could get into streams through runoff or uncollected leachate, even with the use of modern mining practices. It noted culvert blockages or other failures could impede fish passage and failure of a tailings dam, where mining waste is stored, could be catastrophic though the probability of such a failure was considered quite low.

Supporters of the EPA process hoped it would lead the agency to block or limit the project, action they urged again Wednesday; opponents saw it as an example of government overreach and feared it would lead to a pre-emptive veto.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., said the corporation supports “responsible development where it can be done without causing unacceptable risks to the people, cultures and fishing economy of our region. The proposed Pebble mine is not such a project.”

John Shively, the chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, called the report rushed and flawed, saying EPA did not take the time or commit the financial resources to fully assess such a large area. In a statement, he said the report is “a poorly conceived and poorly executed study, and it cannot serve as the scientific basis for any decisions concerning Pebble.”

Some see the mine as a way to provide jobs, but others fear it will disrupt or devastate a way of life. A citizens’ initiative scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot would require legislative approval for any large-scale mine in the region.

The Bristol Bay watershed produces about 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and salmon are key to the way of life for two groups of Alaska Natives in the region, Yup’ik Eskimos and the Dena’ina. The report said the response of Native cultures to any mining impacts was unclear, though it could involve more than the need to compensate for lost food and include some degree of cultural disruption.


Jeff Frithsen, a senior scientist and special projects coordinator with EPA, said the Pebble deposit is a low-grade ore deposit, and over 99 percent of the ore taken from the ground will end up as waste. He said the deposit’s location is at the headwaters of two of the watersheds that make up half the Bristol Bay watershed and produce half its sockeye salmon.

He said the existence of a large-scale mining operation there would affect fish habitat and any accidents would add to that. He said any loss of habitat can affect the overall diversity of the fishery habitat in the watershed.

“Changes in the portfolio of streams within the Bristol Bay watershed can reduce the overall reliability and increase the variability of the fishery over time,” he said.

Asked whether EPA believed a mine could co-exist with fish, McLerran said the assessment spoke for itself.

While EPA initiated the review process in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries, the report wasn’t meant to be about a single project.

EPA said the report looks at possible impacts of reasonably foreseeable mining activities in the region. The agency said it drew on a preliminary plan published by Northern Dynasty and consulted with mining experts on reasonable scenarios.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement the report was little more than a pretext for an EPA veto of the state’s permitting process. “As my record demonstrates, I will not trade one resource for another, and every permitting application — when filed — deserves scientific and public scrutiny based on facts, not hypotheticals.”

The Pebble Partnership has called the mine deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over decades.

While EPA focused on the effects of one mine, the report said several mines could be developed in the watersheds studied, each of which would pose risks similar to those highlighted.



To read the assessment:


House Farm Bill Provision would make eating fish more dangerous

As featured on eNews Park, Dec 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013.  It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

fishing-207x300Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.


For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

EPA sued over fish consumption in state

By Gene Johnson, Associated Press

SEATTLE — A fight over how much fish people eat in Washington — and thus, how much toxic pollution they consume — is now in federal court.

Conservation and commercial fishing groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, saying the agency has for too long let state officials underestimate fish consumption, resulting in weaker anti-pollution standards than are needed to protect the public.

The groups, including Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, reason that if the estimates were more realistic, the state would have to more strictly regulate emmissions of mercury, lead, copper and other toxins — a prospect that concerns industry groups and that emerged as a sticking point in budget talks in Olympia last spring.

Businesses must obtain permits before they can discharge pollutants into the state’s waters under the federal Clean Water Act, and increasing the estimate of how much fish people eat could result in those permits becoming more restrictive.

The state Ecology Department has worked for years on updating the fish consumption estimates, but Janette Brimmer, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit, said it has amounted only to so much dithering. EPA’s failure to make the state update its consumption estimates violates the Clean Water Act, she said.

“Washington has known for years their estimates are inappropriate and inaccurate,” she said. “They keep having task forces and roundtables, and nothing is happening. My clients finally said enough is enough.

The EPA could not be reached for comment because of the federal government shutdown.

Washington’s estimate is that average fish consumption amounts to just 8 ounces — roughly one fillet — per person, per month. That figure originally came from federal guidelines published in 1990, but the EPA began backing away from that more than a decade ago and urging states to adopt more realistic estimates.

Surveys show that actual fish consumption rates in Washington are vastly higher, especially among certain populations such as American Indian tribes, sport and commercial fishermen, Asians, and Pacific Islanders — some of which average as much as the equivalent of a moderate-sized fillet per day, rather than per month.

Ecology recognizes the estimate is too low and continues working on developing new standards, said spokeswoman Sandy Howard. The department is pushing toward issuing a draft rule early next year.

“This is very difficult work. The business community has been very vocal; they believe it’s impossible work,” Howard said. “We think we can have a balance where we can have environmental protection and a thriving economy.”

During the special session of the Legislature last spring, Ecology’s efforts to update the fish consumption estimate surfaced as a late point of contention holding up a budget deal. Following concerns voiced by Boeing Co., one of the state’s largest employers, the Senate proposed doing a larger study on the issue. The study would have derailed Ecology’s efforts, but ultimately was not funded.

Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Association of Washington Businesses, said the members of her organization remain concerned about how the consumption estimates could ultimately affect them.

“Health and human safety is of course the first priority,” McCabe said. “But there are competitveness issues going forward. It’s natural for us to look at new regulations that will affect industries’ capability to keep their doors open and people employed.”

Last month, Washington and Oregon officials announced that people should limit how much non-migratory fish, such as bass, bluegill and perch, they eat from a 150-mile stretch of the Columbia River, based on new data about contamination from mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. That prompted an angry response from some tribes, who said the states should focus on cleaning up the river rather than telling people to limit what they eat.

Obama takes on coal with first-ever carbon limits


Coal power plant
Photo source: Wiki

September 19, 2013

By DINA CAPPIELLO — Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Linking global warming to public health, disease and extreme weather, the Obama administration pressed ahead Friday with tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, despite protests from industry and from Republicans that it would mean a dim future for coal.

The proposal, which sets the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, would help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It’s also a key step in President Barack Obama’s global warming plans, because it would help end what he called “the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from power plants.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech Friday morning to announce the proposal that, rather than damage an industry, the proposed regulations would help the industry to grow.

McCarthy pressed her case by linking global warming to a suite of environmental problems, from severe weather to disease to worsening other types of air pollution.

“We know this is not just about melting glaciers,” McCarthy said. “Climate change – caused by carbon pollution – is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That’s why EPA has been called to action.”

However, since the proposal deals with only new power plants it will have a limited effect on global emissions of heat-trapping pollution. A separate standard for the existing fleet of power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution, is due next summer.

Despite some tweaks, the rule packs the same punch as one announced last year, which was widely criticized by industry and by Republicans as effectively banning any new coal-fired power plants.

That’s because to meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost.

Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that was already shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.

“It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants,” said Bruce Josten, the vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter at

7 adorable animals imperiled by the Keystone XL pipeline

Tim McDonnell, Grist

In its deliberations over the Keystone XL pipeline, the State Department is taking flak not just from picket-sign-wielding environmentalists, but also from within the ranks of the Obama administration. This spring the EPA slammed an environmental review as “insufficient” and called for major revisions. And Monday, ThinkProgress uncovered a letter [PDF] from the Interior Department, dated from April, that outlines the many and varied ways in which the pipeline could wreak havoc on plants and animals (not to mention dinosaurs) along its proposed route.

The letter calls particular attention to a line in the State Department’s most recent environmental impact assessment [PDF] that claims “the majority of the potential effects to wildlife resources are indirect, short term or negligible, limited in geographic extent, and associated with the construction phase of the proposed Project only.”

“This statement is inaccurate and should be revised,” states the letter, which is signed by Interior’s Director of Environmental Policy and Compliance, Willie Taylor. “Given that the project includes not only constructing a pipeline but also related infrastructure … impacts to wildlife are not just related to project construction. Impacts to wildlife from this infrastructure will occur throughout the life of the project.”

Which wildlife? The letter raises concerns that potential oil spills, drained water supplies, and bustling construction workers could cause a general disturbance, but identifies the critters below, some of which are endangered, for special attention:

Ross' Geese.
Wikimedia Commons
Ross’ geese.

The Ross’ goose depends on Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin, which the pipeline would pass through, as a key migratory stopover. A spill in the basin could “severely impact critical habitat,” the letter says.

Black-footed ferret.
Wikimedia Commons
Black-footed ferret.

Although the letter praises State Department plans to protect these endangered ferrets, it nonetheless raises concerns about the potential for infectious diseases from domestic pets at construction camps and worksites in Montana and South Dakota to spread to this population of 1,000 or less left in the wild.

Sandhill cranes.
Steve Garvie
Sandhill cranes.

Like the Ross’ goose, the Sandhill crane depends on Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin, which, according to the letter, could be severely impacted by an oil spill.

Least tern and chick.
Wikimedia Commons
Least tern and chick.

Already endangered, least terns depend for nesting on a plot of protected federal land just 40 miles downstream from where the pipeline will cross Nebraska’s Niobrara River. Nests could fail, the letter warns, if construction activities cause fluctuations in the river’s water level.

Piping plover.
Jerry Goldner
Piping plover.

Also endangered, the piping plover depends on the same nesting site as the least tern and faces the same threats.


Sprague's pipit.
Jerry Oldenettel
Sprague’s pipit.

In 2010 the Fish & Wildlife Service found the tiny Sprague’s pipit qualified for endangered status, but hasn’t yet been able to officially list it because of higher-priority species. But the pipit breeds in Montana’s North Valley Grassland, which the pipeline would pass through, raising concerns about impact from a spill.

Pallid sturgeons.
Wikimedia Commons
Pallid sturgeons.


While not exactly the cutest on this list, pallid sturgeons are also endangered; the letter raises concern that as water is withdrawn from the Platte River during the construction process, the fish and their eggs could suffocate. An assertion by the State Department that no plan is needed to mitigate damage to sturgeons, the letter says, “seems unsupported and requires further documentation.”

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Tim McDonnell is a Climate Desk associate producer. Read more of his stories here or follow him on Twitter.

EPA chief: Stop saying environmental regs kill jobs

U.S. EPAGina McCarthy takes the oath of office, with Carol Browner and Bob Perciasepe.
U.S. EPAGina McCarthy takes the oath of office, with Carol Browner and Bob Perciasepe.

Claire Thompson, Grist

Tuesday, in her first speech as EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy got real with a crowd at Harvard Law School, the AP reports:

“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please, at least for today,” said McCarthy, referring to one of the favorite talking points of Republicans and industry groups.

“Let’s talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake,” she said of efforts to address global warming.

The GOP has resorted to calling pretty much every Obama plan, especially those related to the climate, “job-killing.” McCarthy hammered home the emptiness of that claim. The Hill relays what she said:

The truth is cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, resulting in cleaner forms of American-made energy …

Right now, state and local communities — as well as industry, universities, and other non-profits — have been piloting projects, advancing policies, and developing best practices that follow the same basic blueprint: combining environmental and economic interests for combined maximum benefit. These on-the-ground efforts are the future. It’s a chance to harness the American entrepreneur spirit, developing new technologies and creating new jobs, while at the same time reducing carbon pollution to help our children and their children.

By appointing McCarthy, who pushed through tougher air-pollution regulations while at the head of EPA’s office of air quality, Obama signaled that he’s serious about using his executive power to cut carbon emissions. She warned him that she wouldn’t have an easy time getting Senate confirmation, The New York Times reports:

“Why would you want me?” Ms. McCarthy said she asked the president when he offered her the top job. “Do you realize the rules I’ve done over the past three or four years?” …

The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change.

She was right: Winning confirmation was an arduous process. But now that she’s in, she is “pumped” about the new job. More from the Times:

[S]he said the agency would play a crucial role in dealing with climate change, both in writing the rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and in helping communities adapt to the inevitable changes wrought by a warming planet.

She also said the agency had to do a better job of explaining its mission to hostile constituencies, including Congress and the agriculture, mining and utility industries. …

“I spend a lot of time protecting what we are doing rather than thinking about what we should be doing.”

McCarthy’s trip to Cambridge for her Harvard speech is the first of many public appearances she’ll be making over the coming weeks, part of a big push by the Obama administration and other Democrats to promote Obama’s climate plan. Politico reports:

Starting [this] week, McCarthy will begin traveling around the country to discuss the importance of acting on climate change. The White House official said her schedule includes speeches, media events and meetings with outside groups — all of which will be promoted heavily on social media. And the official added that McCarthy will begin meeting with states soon to discuss the agency’s pending climate regulations.

It’s nice to see Democrats going on the offensive for climate. If you happen to belong to the 80 percent of voters under 35 who support the president’s climate plan, you can launch your own promotion effort, too — maybe start by convincing your cranky uncle that emissions regulations don’t kill jobs.