U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Seattle pledges more pollution control to help Puget Sound

The city of Seattle and King County will step up efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into Puget Sound and its tributaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

But the steps are small compared to those called for by environmentalists who want to see Puget Sound and the Duwamish River cleaned up. The current schedule gives Seattle until 2020 and King County until 2030 to almost completely end pollution from so-called "combined sewer overflows." (PDF)

These sometimes-smelly oopsies result from a piping system that mixes untreated sewage with rainwater runoff. Most of the time it's a good system because the rainwater -- aka stormwater, the largest remaining water pollution source in the country -- goes to a wastewater treatment plant.

But when a lot of rain hits overloaded systems like the one King County and Seattle operate, the whole mess comes shooting out into waterways. Sometimes the stuff backs up into streets or even basements.

Major pollution discharges into the Duwamish River are scheduled to continue for decades, despite today's order and despite what's supposed to be a  major EPA effort to clean up the Duwamish.

Such discharges happened 336 times in the Seattle-King County system in 2007, the most recent figures available.

A surprising number of these overflows happen during relatively dry periods after little or no rain.

Chevy Volt's 230 mpg -- not a savior, just a step along the way

chevy-volt-logoThere's been a lot of virtual ooo-ing and ahh-ing about the Chevrolet Volt today after Chevy's announcement that it is expected to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon, under current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mileage-estimation procedures.
While there's no doubt that 230 mpg is a vast improvement over our current situation, there are several points to consider that may your temper enthusiasm for the Volt.
The first is its pricetag: $40,000. The second is its range: 32 to 40 miles without a charge. (But bear in mind that, at least according to Chevy, at 40 miles the Volt could transport more than three-fourths of America's daily commuters without using a single drop of gas. Impressive!)
Cupla relevant points:
  • The Volt reinforces something I've been saying for a while: When it comes to how Americans get around, it's probably going to be a lot more efficient to invent super-high-mileage personal cars than to persuade a large majority of Americans to use mass transit. Face it, we're car-centric. If we're going to head off climate catastrophe, seems like we need a technological solution, not a sociological one. And, hey, this is coming from a guy who rode the bus *and* Amtrak yesterday -- and hasn't had a commute longer than 4 miles in almost two decades. 
  • The Volt doesn't erase transportation's carbon footprint, just reduces it a lot.
Rita Hibbard's picture

Local history vs. environmental cleanup

The Colorado Independent writes today about a long fight by residents of Leadville, Colorado, to keep some of their superfund cleanup site looking well, authentically polluted. In 1997, EPA agreed to leave some of the tailings piles in the Leadville Mining District in place, diverting runoff around them. Problem is, the tailings are still leaching heavy metals into area water and putting downstream communities and wildlife at risk. This summer, the EPA announced it wants to renew the cleanup effort, and that renewed the old battle, writes Katie Redding.

Will EPA head see through her promise of more transparency?

[caption id="attachment_1442" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="EPA head Lisa Jackson"]EPA head Lisa Jackson[/caption]

If you've been watching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as long as I have, you have to be hopeful when you hear Administrator Lisa Jackson saying she's going to increase transparency at the agency. And it's good news that she seems to be hinting that the agency will be taking on a stronger role in regulating stormwater, our most widespread form of water pollution.

Jackson's initiative, detailed in a piece by the pro-transparency group OMBWatch, is based on a July 2 memo from Jackson to agency employees regarding how they handle their duties under the Clean Water Act. OMBWatch notes:

The new memo from Jackson only addresses enforcement of and compliance with one statute, the Clean Water Act. No such memo or other instructions have been released regarding transparency in the enforcement of the numerous other environmental statutes under EPA's jurisdiction.  ...

 The memo continues an emerging trend at EPA of greater transparency – at least rhetorically. Shortly after her confirmation as head of EPA, Jackson released a memo to all employees calling for greater transparency, followed by a memo emphasizing a restoration of scientific integrity.

Will this lead to actual transparency? That's one we'll have to watch and see about. For instance, will Jackson order that responses to all Freedom of Information Act requests, once fullfilled, be posted online for all to see?

Teck Cominco mining wastes being cleaned up

For decades, the smelter run by Canadian mining giant Teck Cominco just north of the border and upstream from Washington dumped prolific volumes of waste into the Columbia River -- so much so that a "black sand" beach in a little town called Northport is actually made out of waste slag.

[caption id="attachment_1383" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Lake Roosevelt photo courtesy Flickr user hunkdujour under Creative Commons license."]Lake Roosevelt photo courtesy Flickr user hunkdujour under Creative Commons license.[/caption]

The company did this with impunity, until the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the recipients of much of the waste, got the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency involved. The EPA a few years ago agreed not to name the river a Superfund site, so long as Teck Cominco -- aka Tech Resources -- agreed to do studies comparable to a Superfund investigation.

A story today by Jack McNeel in Indian Country Today says a 1 1/2-year-long health study is now underway. And over the weekend came news from Becky Kramer at the Spokane Spokesman-Review: Teck has now agreed to haul away all the mining waste that makes up Black Sand Beach.

EPA approves Puget Sound restoration project

In a move  that formally boosts the restoration of Puget Sound to the status enjoyed by rescue projects for Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it has approved the Puget Sound project under the National Estuary Program.

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It's a significant step because it means real federal buckaroos for the Sound's restoration: $20 million in this fiscal year alone. Here's how Michelle Pirzadeh, acting administration of EPA's Seattle-based Region 10, described the move in a press release:

This makes official what has been true all along: EPA is fully committed to bringing our resources to bear on the critically important work of protecting and restoring our treasured Puget Sound. We pledge to continue to act hand-in-hand with our partners - the state, tribes, local governments and citizens -- to ensure a healthy Sound for future generations."

 As we've pointed out, and more than once, Washington's charming inland sea looks great on the surface but has been trashed underneath that surface by pollution, overfishing and other woes.

EPA is interested in stemming the tide of polluted stormwater into the Sound. And the press release, significantly, mentions population growth, which brings with it more stormwater and represents the greatest overall threat to the health of the Sound.

Unlike the Chesapeake and the Great Lakes, this environmental rescue takes place all in one state.