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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Reviewed by Carol Van Strum - Independent Science News, February 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts who professed such certainty.

Twenty years later, he would drop a rubber ring into a glass of ice water to show a panel of clueless rocket experts how willful ignorance of basic temperature effects likely caused the Challenger shuttle disaster (1).

Experts with delusions of certainty create imitative forms of science, he warned, producing “the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisors.” (2)

Feynman’s warning against faith in the phony trappings of “cargo cult science” fell on deaf ears. Policies affecting every aspect of our lives are now based on dangerous forms of ignorance.

A prime case in point is the noble edifice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where a high-ranking EPA official was recently jailed and fined for collecting pay and bonuses for decades of non-existent work while he claimed to be working elsewhere for the CIA. Such long-standing fraud would hardly come as a surprise to Evaggelos Vallianatos, who toiled for a quarter of a century in the EPA’s Pesticide Division, ostensibly responsible for protecting human health and the environment from commercial poisons. His new book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, documents a culture of fraud and corruption infesting every corner and closet of the agency.

JUSTICE PUSHES WHISTLEBLOWER BOUNTIES AS EPA ABANDONS THEM - Declining EPA Prosecutions Reflect Low Priority for Corporate Pollution vs. Fraud

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC —As federal prosecutors promote substantial financial rewards for white collar crime whistleblowers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cashiered its modest witness bounty program long ago, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This may help explain the stagnancy of EPA’s anti-pollution criminal enforcement program.

In a September 17, 2014 speech at the New York University Law School, Attorney General Eric Holder advocated increasing the size of whistleblower awards under white collar crime bounty laws, saying it “could significantly improve the Justice Department’s ability to gather evidence of wrongdoing while complex financial crimes are still in progress – making it easier to complete investigations and to stop misconduct before it becomes so widespread that it foments the next crisis.”

By contrast, EPA has no interest in whistleblower bounties. In 1990, Congress authorized EPA to pay “an award, not to exceed $10,000, to any person who furnishes information or services which lead to a criminal conviction or a judicial or administrative civil penalty for any violation” of the Clean Air Act. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from PEER about how this bounty authority had been utilized, the agency conceded that this provision had become a dead letter. EPA could find only one responsive document, a 1996 internal manual provision, because –

“Nearly all the records you requested were destroyed in 2012 because the retention schedule for those records had been met (10 years retention time).”

“The Justice Department now emphasizes the importance of whistleblowers to effective enforcement against corporate criminality while EPA remains clueless,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Corporate pollution violations are just as much a white collar crime as securities fraud.”

Reflecting persistent complaints about shortages of agents, lack of focus and low priority on complex pollution cases from within EPA’s own Criminal Investigation Division (CID), PEER points out that –

  • Criminal cases generated by EPA have been in overall decline over the last decade, with more than half of all its criminal referrals rejected for prosecution. During the first three-quarters of FY 2014, EPA generated only 207 new cases, putting it on track for the lowest number since 1992;
  • Despite policies requiring timely enforcement, EPA allows major wastewater dischargers to violate their permits for years without even a citation; and
  • EPA’s new five-year Strategic Plan deemphasizes traditional enforcement in favor of industry self-reporting of emissions and discharges.

“Agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission actively seek to verify corporate filings but when it comes to the environment EPA has no means for, or apparent interest in, checking whether industry pollution self-reporting is accurate,” added Ruch. “EPA hands out citizen awards for all sorts of volunteerism but not for helping catch polluters.”

Railroad Conductor: ‘Railroading Has Changed So Much’

Article and Photo by Steve Early - In These Times, September 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For three years in the early 1970s, journalist Studs Terkel gathered stories from a variety of American workers. He then compiled them into Working, an oral-history collection that went on to become a classic. Four decades after its publication, Working is more relevant than ever. Terkel, who regularly contributed to In These Times, once wrote, “I know the good fight—the fight for democracy, for civil rights, for the rights of workers has a future, for these values will live on in the pages of In These Times.” In honor of that sentiment and of Working’s 40th anniversary, ITT writers have invited a broad range of American workers to describe what they do, in their own words. More "Working at 40" stories can be found here.

In Working, Terkel interviewed Bill Norworth, a railroad worker for fifty-three years who had recently retired as a locomotive engineer on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. In 1970, he was still serving as president of his local of the Brotherhood of Railroad Engineers (which is now part of the Teamsters) in Working, Norworth described some of the changes in technology—including the transition from steam to diesel power—that affected working conditions, job skills and staffing levels during his career working on passenger and freight trains. Reflecting on the higher status of railroaders in the heyday of the industry, Norworth told Terkel: “They were the aristocrats at one time, but that time’s gone now…. The engineer was respected then, and now there’s no respect for him. He’s just a dummy….” As for deterioration of U.S. passenger train service, already evident four decades ago, he observed that, “If they had good trains again, people would ride. But they discourage you…”

Forty-two years later, Brian Lewis talked to In These Times about his job as a Union Pacific Railroad conductor, which he has just retired from after 36 years in the industry. He was long active in the United Transportation Union and also belongs to a cross-union reform group called Railroad Workers United (RWU). RWU has been fighting industry attempts to introduce single-employee train crews, which it believes are unsafe. RWU has also tried to warn regulators and the public about the dangers of longer and heavier trains, particularly those hauling hazardous materials like Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. Lewis talked to In These Times about how rail carriers have changed in the decades since Norworth’s long tour of duty and the challenges facing railroad workers today.

It was a childhood dream to become a railroad worker. Ever since I was a kid, I always loved trains. After graduating from UC-Berkeley and trying my hand at journalism for a few years in the early 1970s, I ended up at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in San Francisco. I felt stuck in the office, doing intake on air quality complaints and setting up investigative interviews. Then, one day I saw a job advertisement—the Western Pacific Railroad was hiring “switchmen/brakemen” for its freight hauling operations between Salt Lake City and the Bay Area. I got my training and orientation in Portola, CA., a small railroad town north of Lake Tahoe, in the Sierras. The union was very involved in the whole process—job training, testing and helping to decide who made the grade and was ready to go. Half of my training class consisted of sons or daughters of existing railroaders.

Railroading has changed so much since then. In this day and age, they want you to have a college degree. But I didn’t dare tell them I had finished college because they would have figured I wouldn’t stick around and not hired me. I really thought I’d be coming back to the EPA so I took a 6-month leave of absence, just in case.  After two months on the railroad, I called and said I was never coming back. In my first six months, I made double and triple the money I was earning at the EPA. Of course, I was working a lot of hours. You used to be able to work 16-hours continuously before 12-hours on duty became the maximum.  It was a lot of very physical work, jumping on and off of moving equipment, throwing switches, with cars rolling in several different directions. They don’t let you climb on and off moving cars like that anymore. It was dangerous—and that’s why thousands of railroaders have been maimed or injured over the years.

Oil drilling in North Dakota raises concerns about radioactive waste

By Neela Banerjee - LA Times, July 26, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

very weekday, about a dozen large garbage trucks peel away from the oil boom that has spread through western North Dakota to bump along a gravel road to the McKenzie County landfill.

The trucks drive up to a scale flanked by something seldom found in rural dumps — two 8-foot-tall yellow panels that essentially form a giant Geiger counter.

Two or three times a day, the radiation detector blares like a squad car, because under tons of refuse someone has stashed yard-long filters clotted with radioactive dirt from drilling sites.

The "socks" are supposed to be shipped to out-of-state processing plants. But some oil field operators, hoping to save tens of thousands of dollars, dump the socks in fields, abandoned buildings and landfills.

"It's a game of cat-and-mouse now," said Rick Schreiber, the landfill's director. "They put the sock in a bag inside a bag inside a bag."

Nearly 1,000 radioactive filters were found last year at the landfill, part of a growing tide of often toxic waste produced by the state's oil and gas rush. Oil field waste includes drill cuttings — rock and earth that come up a well bore — along with drilling fluids and wastewater laced with chemicals used in fracking.

To many local and tribal officials, environmentalists and some industry managers in North Dakota, the dumping of the socks and the proliferation of other waste shows the government falling short in safeguarding the environment against oil field pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency decided during the Reagan era to classify oil field waste as not hazardous, exempting it from tight controls and leaving it to be managed by widely varied state laws. Nationally, no one tracks how many millions of tons of waste the fossil fuel boom generates, or where it ends up.

The EPA exempts the waste, in part, because it considers state oversight adequate, despite what the agency calls "regulatory gaps in certain states."

Most oil companies dump drilling waste into thousands of pits by their wells, but North Dakota, the second-largest oil-producing state behind Texas, does not test the pits' contents or monitor nearby groundwater for contamination.

Read the rest of the article here.

IBEW, Fitters Locked Out by Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

To: Executive Board, Officials, and Business Agents, et al.

  • United Association Local Union 524
  • IBEW Local 81
  • IUOE Local 542
  • Teamsters Local 229
  • LIUNA Local 130

From:  Alex Lotorto

Electrical Workers, Fitters are Locked Out By Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

The proposed Milford and Easton Compressor Station expansions are part of Columbia Gas Transmission Co.’s (subsidiary of NiSource) East Side Expansion Project. Both proposed expansions do not utilize industry best practices to reduce or eliminate emissions that also require more manhours to install. This means that NiSource, which earned $5.7 billion in net revenue last year, is minimizing its costs, effectively swindling trade union members out of the best possible Project Labor Agreements. In this case, the cause of labor is also aligned with the cause of local environmentalists who seek to limit unnecessary harm to public health and air quality.

Specifically, it has been established by the gas industry associations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas Star program, that electric compressors, gas capture technology, and limiting production tank emissions are now the best practices for protecting air quality during transmission and distribution of natural gas. Columbia Gas is a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program and should be aware of their own recommendations.

In fact, technology like electric compressors and gas capture methods that eliminate blowdowns of methane during maintenance and inspections can pay for themselves as more methane is shipped to downstream customers. Methane that is now released into the atmosphere during blowdowns could be injected into the intersecting Tennessee and Transco pipelines at the Milford and Easton facilities, respectively, and sold to market. This would generate savings for NiSource within one to three years, depending on the price of methane. Above, you will find links to fact sheets for these technologies from the EPA, produced via industry partnerships.

Commonly, best practice recommendations become codified in EPA regulations once they have been shown to work in the field. This is the case for production tank rules limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions to less than four tons per year, about to be enforced in January 2015 . Both Milford and Easton facilities will have waste liquid and condensate tanks that will be required to be fitted with VOC control technology next year. However, NiSource stated to Milford residents in pre-filing meetings that they will not be installing this technology, meaning lost work for union members and more exposure for neighboring families. In fact, there is nothing in their Resources Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describing VOC controls. There is also nothing in the Resources Report describing how hazardous waste will be tended, removed, and disposed of from the facilities, a responsibility best handled by trained union labor.

Green Groups Endorse Empty EPA Carbon Emissions Regulation

By Ken Ward - TruthOut, June 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For environmentalists, it turns out, climate truth is not merely inconvenient, it is incomprehensible. How else to explain the fawning response of major green groups to President Obama’s cynical carbon emissions scheme?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed coal plant emissions regulations are a trifecta of terrible: near to useless as emissions policy, effective in distracting attention from the administration’s overarching pro-fossil fuel plan, and a tragic obfuscation of the latest, deadly climate science reports.

The facts are not in dispute. Climate is in free fall, with recent definitive evidence that the first major geophysical system (the West Antarctic ice shelf) has passed its tipping point, guaranteeing 10 feet of sea level rise and providing irrefutable evidence that the entire, fragile system which has permitted civilization to develop is collapsing. The internationally agreed objective of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius is clearly way off base and all climate policy and strategy based on that target, which assumes a timeframe allowing for incremental response, is miscalculated.

In this context, President Obama unveiled an energy policy last month brazenly entitled “All of the Above,” which assumes a global temperature rise of 6 degrees Celsius, calls for an increase in oil and gas extraction and barely addresses climate change.(1) This pathway to doom was followed up last week with the EPA’s proposed emissions regulations for coal plants, which one business commentator described as a “big favor” to the power industry. The draft rules call for 30 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels, half of which is already accomplished, and ignores the reality that coal being ripped from Appalachia and Western states will simply be shipped and burned elsewhere.

President Obama should have given the American people an honest explanation of the terrible predicament we now face and at least a sketch of the scale and timing of the global response now required – which must include new forestry and agricultural practices in addition to emissions cuts. What we got was a tepid description of the problem, weaker than past presidential statements, a flat lie (that natural gas has substantially less impact on climate than coal) and an understatement of risk so vast, in light of the most recent Antarctic news, as to arguably be considered misconduct.

Obama Goes Green? - Days Before Obama Announced CO2 Rule, Exxon Awarded Gulf of Mexico Oil Leases

By Steve Horn - DeSmog Blog, June 5, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Friday May 30, just a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced details of its carbon rule proposal, the Obama Administration awarded offshore oil leases to ExxonMobil in an area of the Gulf of Mexico potentially containing over 172 million barrels of oil.

The U.S. Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proclaimed in a May 30 press release that the ExxonMobil offshore oil lease is part of “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.” 

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formerly worked as a petroleum engineer for Mobil, purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by Exxon in 1998.

Obama's Emissions Plan Won't Cut It - Why won't the Environment Protection Agency put teeth in its new emissions rules?

Editorial - Socialist Worker, June 5, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The IWW is not affiliated with the International Socialist Organization.

THE CLIMATE crisis got some long-awaited attention from the Obama administration on June 2, when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) released its plan to limit carbon pollution at power plants.

But while conservatives and the energy industry loudly denounced them, the administration's actual proposals--which among other things rely on states to decide how to meet new goals for lowering carbon emissions--aren't even close to what's necessary to start reversing the effects of burning fossil fuels.

"This is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose--we're glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it's just not enough to get the job done," said Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. Several environmental groups also criticized the plan as inadequate, including 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

That Obama's EPA did anything at all--after five and a half long years of inaction from the man who promised to make the environment a priority when he campaigned to become president--is because of increasing pressure from a sea change in public opinion about climate change and the devastating ecological crisis that is unfolding. An April poll by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication showed that those surveyed supported strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants--"even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies increases"--by a nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

The wider public concern about climate change has never been more urgent. But Barack Obama's emissions plan is nowhere close to what's needed--neither to meet the expectations of people who believed Obama would honor his campaign promises, nor to make significant progress against greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, Obama is content to largely leave the energy industry bosses the room to decide.

THE AIM of the administration's 645-page plan is to cut carbon pollution from power plants--with a particular emphasis on the country's 600 coal-fired plants--by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. This goal is supposed to make good on its promise at a 2010 United Nations climate conference.

But is that enough of a reduction? And is 2030 fast enough?

In May, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment and found further signs of the devastation that climate change is already causing. For instance:

  • Sea levels have risen by eight inches since 1880, and it's estimated they will rise one to four feet by 2100.
  • Flooding from climate change could cost as much as $325 billion by 2100, including more than $130 billion in Florida alone.
  • 2001 to 2012 was warmer in every part of the country than any previous decade for a century.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," concluded the scientists who authored the report. But despite the immediacy of its own study, the latest proposal for emissions cuts goes slow.

"This plan is all about flexibility," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The 50 states will all have their own individual targets to meet, and they will be able to decide how meet them by choosing from a menu of some 50 options. So, for instance, state governments can close a coal plant and open a solar or wind facility--or they can choose the cap-and-trade system.

Carbon trading leaves decisions about how to limit carbon emissions up to the corporate polluters themselves--whose solutions unsurprising prioritize their bottom line. The practice of offsetting, for example, allows power plant operators to avoid reducing their own emissions if they can pay a forester or farmer to reduce their emissions instead.

The outcome: As Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter and Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program Director Janet Redman wrote, "Power plants keep polluting, and the families living in their shadow continue to breathe toxic emissions. Communities near the polluters don't see any benefits from the supposed reduction in pollution taking place elsewhere."

So while Obama is claiming that his administration is finally getting tough on polluters, the plan will give state governments the leeway to accommodate the coal industry.

A Tale Of Two Explosions

By Andy Piascik - Industrial Worker, June 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On April 17, two days after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the West Fertilizer plant in Texas exploded. Fourteen people are known to have been killed and close to 200 were injured. Approximately 150 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.

For days, we were witness to nonstop media coverage of the events in Massachusetts, culminating in the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Once Tsarnaev was in custody, our television screens were alight with footage of local residents celebrating happily in the streets, complete with chants of “USA!” Though media coverage of the events in Texas was extensive, it was nowhere near that of the pursuit and killing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

The possibility that the bombing in Boston was the work of international terrorists was a major theme from the outset and the primary reason for the huge disparity in coverage of the two events. U.S. officials and media pundits have besieged us for years with the notion that we are at war, surrounded by enemies—they’re even in our midst!—so let’s be sure those SWAT teams have plenty of firepower, and by the way, let’s find another country to invade.

The explosion in Texas, on the other hand, was far less newsworthy because it was a workplace accident and workplace accidents happen all the time. And that’s precisely the point: they happen all the time. The massive BP oil spill is just three years in the past, yet it is largely forgotten by the punditocracy.

Never mind the massive ecological destruction and the 11 people who died as a result, or that not one single high-ranking BP executive or U.S. government official has been charged, let alone tried or convicted, for their deadly negligence. It’s old news and, more importantly, it’s business as usual. Similarly relegated to the “no longer newsworthy” file is Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, which also occurred three short years ago and killed 29 miners. As with BP, no high-ranking Massey executives or government officials have been brought to trial or convicted, though the trail of deceit, cover-up, documented negligence and possible bribery is long enough to fill a phone book. Some degree of justice is still possible in the Texas case but it certainly won’t come as a result of any government or judicial vigilance. In all of these cases, as in hundreds if not thousands of others of similar magnitude, so-called oversight bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are so weak as to be a joke. Higher-ups who underfund and obstruct the work of such agencies are thus complicit each time a workplace blows up or burns to the ground.

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