Notes from the EPA Meeting – January 2015 in Washington DC

Great March for Climate Action EPA Meeting, Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
{Notes and input from Bruce Nayowith, Kat Haber, Ben Bushwick and Ed Fallon.}

We met with Joseph Goffman, Senior Counsel, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, United States Environmental Protection Agency and with Mark Rupp, Deputy Associate Administrator for Intergovernmental Relations.

Marchers in attendance: Kelsey Erickson, John Jorgensen, Shira Wohlberg, Miriam Kashia, Kat Haber, Paul Sherlock, Bruce Nayowith. Pamela Hunter with CCL was also there.

EPA: Staff opened the meeting asking us if there were ways that they could assist us to help people know what we have done and chronicled.??

John Jorgensen taught science for 17 years to at-risk teens. At this point in time, he feels that ALL teens are at risk. The science of our changing climate is quite compelling, and John saw that scientists who reported the serious news were being attacked – people were shooting the messengers. He felt as if he needed to step up and do something. Once he heard about this March, he felt that he needed to go. He also walked across the country once before, for the Peace March in 1986. Interestingly, in the 1980s Carl Sagan stated that the two main threats to humanity were nuclear weapons and global warming.

In Wilmington, CA (the Port of Los Angeles), where last year’s March started, there are now 7,400 acres of refineries (about 12 square miles). This area already has the worst air quality in southern California, and the town is already a cancer cluster even as Valero wants to expand refining of tar sands.

Paul from Cleveland described the fracking injection wells and spoke of how pipelines are proposed to export energy. He said they are taking our natural gas and exporting it out of the country. Paul shared the story of Maggie Henry’s organic farm, which had to shut down due to issues related to fracking in western Pennsylvania. Paul also shared the story of drivers who became seriously ill when they came in contact with spilled fracking waste products that have caused ongoing health problems.??Miriam mentioned the large methane leaks that occur during fracking. In this way, natural gas is more dangerous to the environment than coal.

Shira mentioned the large amount of groundwater ruined by fracking, as it is not easy to make that water clean or safe after it is used.

EPA: Joseph said that two weeks ago, they came up with methane legislation. The EPA will use the power, given by Congress, to compel existing fracked and refined gas and oil wells to meet tight standards to limit methane, VOCs and other toxins. The EPA needs to operate in a linear order. Once standards are set, that establisheds the legal foundation to apply to existing oil and gas production. EPA mostly uses specific statutes of the Clean Air Act that allows them much power to regulate in some areas.??

EPA: With regard to water, the EPA has very little power granted to it by Congress. At this point, the states have the power to get at the water issues. The EPA administrator is very devoted to getting ways to deal with water issues. This is a big priority. Also, the EPA is a research and development agency, too. They have a great deal of scientific firepower. The Obama administration is devising an information-based strategy to echo water issues.??

Miriam asked about the Bakken Oil Pipeline in Iowa. Apparently this does not require an environmental impact statement? She was wondering if the right place to require that is through the Army Corps of Engineers???EPA: Mark replied that the State Department takes the lead on that. People could encourage the ACOE, who probably could require an environmental input statement. With Keystone XL, because it crosses an international border, an environmental action statement from EPA is required.??Kat described how the head of Shell Oil said that they could not guarantee that there would be no leaks. She is wondering if that has changed?

EPA: Mark said that Congress appropriated funds to the EPA to do drinking water assessment, which will allow EPA to begin to sift through older data.

Miriam told the story of Terry Greenwood. His well was poisoned by fracking fluids, and his cows had calves with major birth defects. When he reported this, he was blamed for bad farming. He recently died of a brain tumor.

EPA: They did say that they were interested in stories such as these, chronicles from the March.

Kat described how we facilitated climate conversations in some towns. One occurred in Colorado Springs about two weeks before the March arrived, at the Drake coal-power plant. The March was part of an event/conversation when it arrived in town.

EPA: Joseph felt that local media coverage is much more important that national media coverage. He also wanted us to be aware that, no matter how broad a rule the EPA can write, the EPA is a cog in the larger process. They have used the Clean Air Act for 25 years.

EPA: When Congress writes a law, it can go one of two ways. (1) It can be so successful that, over time, it is not even needed because of the amount of social and economic change. For example, there was a 10 million ton limit on sulfur dioxide emissions to be achieved from 1995-2005, by the end of that period. And, by 2001, emissions were so low, that there was no need to ‘enforce’ this.? (2) It can be unsuccessful. When political/economic pressures keep banging up against the rules. People need to be reminded, and advocacy is still needed. They told us, “You can’t stop marching!”? ?

EPA: By the summer of 2015, the EPA will have toxin/methane/VOC regulations. But that is on the Capitol side. Hopefully big businesses will realize that it is bad for business for them to hide behind bad scientists. The EPA’s role is necessary, but not sufficient. Staff feel that what folks like us are doing is equally important in continuing to have things move in positive directions.?

Miriam shared how marchers began as climate citizens, and ended up as dedicated warriors for the climate.

EPA: Mark talked about how important local media is – it is very important that we help states find green ways to meet and exceed EPA regs. This is our role. Some states, such as Virginia, have created markets, a market approach. What will help is for people like us demonstrating and raising awareness of the issues. EPA does a great deal of work with mitigation. This is what we see happening with the regs. EPA also helps communities rebuild if they are devastated by an environmental disaster (oil spill, for example).?

Shira asked about finding precedents, best practices, examples of good practices that some areas are using. How can organizers connect with the EPA, find out about these?

EPA: Mark replied that there is an EPA office of External Affairs. Let him know what we have done, whom we have met with. The EPA has ten regional offices. They work closely with their states. In terms of Ohio, the Chicago office covers that.? ?We asked about the relationship of FERC and EPA. FERC is about the grid, about ensuring energy reliability, changing how we develop energy. They oversee transmission of energy.?

EPA: The EPA can make recommendations, but FERC does not have to take them. There is a new commissioner at FERC, Collette Honorable.??We expressed our concern that “FERC has never met a project that it didn’t like.” It seems to only heed the industry point of view. We described how, during the FERC blockade in November, how FERC employees had never heard our side of the story.?

John described how Butler, PA actually rented a bus to bring the marchers to a rally they were having because of fracking concerns. He heard the story of a single mother in Butler whose house is within five miles of 22 fracking wells. She has a DEQ monitor for VOCs in her house. ?It is stuck on maximum – 1223 ppm of VOCs. This is about 10 times the “hazardous” level of 125 ppm. It may be higher, that is as far as the meter will read. She calls the company, they come in and reset it, and it goes right back up. She does not have the money to move. When people complain about this, they feel powerless, and become attacked by others in the community for being ‘against jobs’.

EPA: Mark talked about great promise in creating new jobs in renewables. He feels excited to see what is there in the ways of renewable employment. He feels good in his cooperative role of working with cities and states to help them meet guidelines.??

Bruce mentioned that one reason the EPA may not be hearing the horror stories from fracking is that many of the settlements to families occur with gag orders. There is presently no way to track the number of cases, no registry of adverse effects. The EPA should be notified of every one of these cases under a “right to know” statute, because of the major implications to community and national health.