Week of November 10, 2019

In the past few days and weeks there have been at least four very import things that have happened that affect the health of the environment and should cause concern for those of us who call ourselves Earth Stewards.  The Keystone XL Pipeline had yet another spill in a wetland in North Dakota. The Trump Administration has proposed rule changes to weaken regulations on coal ash slurry and air particulates containing mercury and other pollutants.  The Trump Administration has given formal notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the Paris Accord. Finally, on Nov. 6, 2019, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case about wastewater being injected into underground wells in Hawaii.  The outcome of this case may uphold the powers of this Act or restrict its future effectiveness.
On October 31, 2019, about 383,000 gallons of Tar Sands Oil coming from Alberta, Canada (where “sludge like’ oil from tar sands left exposed after cutting back boreal forests is thinned with chemicals to make flow in a pipeline), spilled into a wetland area of North Dakota.  Karl Rockeman, director of North Dakota Department of Water Quality, said that no direct source of drinking water was affected.  However, it begs the question of what might occur if the pipeline springs a leak as it comes close to the  Ogallala Aquifer. In 2017, there was anther spill of 400,000 gallons of oil when a construction truck ran over the brand new pipeline. There have bee other smaller leaks as well.  President Trump OK’d the continued construction of the pipeline in 2017, undoing a ruling from President Obama. Litigation continues, but so will construction. It is unthinkably dangerous to continue to ignore these environmental threats says, Doug Hays, attorney for the Sierra Club.
Both the proposed rule changes for the regulation of coal ash slurry and the injection well case in Hawaii are instances where the Clean Water Act’s power is being challenged.  The coal industry sees environmental regulation as preventing growth and hurting mining jobs. Environmentalists want to protect the water quality (as well as air quality) that is essential for now and for the future.  There is a 60-day public comment window before the coal industry rule changes would go into effect. The injected wastewater into Hawaiian underground wells is said to have been killing coal reefs in the “close to shore” ocean. However, the 1972 clean Water Act refers specifically to “navigable waters” being able to be regulated.  Will the Supreme Court uphold the power of this act or will polluters get by on a technicality?
Nov.4, 2019, the Trump Administration formally notified the UN that we would begin the yearlong process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.  This was the Administration first opportunity to do so under the rules set by the Accord. Former Mayor of NY City, Michael Bloomberg, said that there will be a unit called The US Climate Action Center, that will unofficially take part in future UN Climate Meeting.  Meanwhile city mayors, state governors, business leaders, environmentalists and religious leaders (like The Episcopal church) are part of a movement known as “We are Still In” continue to uphold the goals of the Paris Accord. Will it be enough? Will the US ever regain the role of leader in the fight against climate change?
EARTH STEWARD ACTION:  If you consider these actions as important to the health of the environment, please contact your Congress representatives and your state legislatures with your opinions.  Consider supporting organizations like Union of Concerned Scientists or others who litigate for proper regulation of pollutants.