by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: EPA

Oct 30 2015

Clean Water rules: Will Congress just say no?

Today’s Politico Morning Agriculture report has this brief note:

SENATE TO TAKE UP WOTUS FIX: The Clean Water Rule’s days could be numbered. The Senate could as early as next week take up a bill from Sen. John Barrasso to require the EPA to withdraw its Clean Water Rule and re-draft the measure with the help of states and other affected groups…The bill has the backing of 46 senators…Given that the House has already passed a similar measure, a “yea” vote from the Senate could signal a quick demise for the rule.

This sent me to try to understand what the Clean Water Rule is about and why so many groups want to get rid of it.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule defining the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) covered by its regulations. This, as far as I can tell, extends regulatory protection beyond large streams to the small streams that flow into them.

On its website devoted to this rule, the EPA says “The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

Maybe so, but I’m having a hard time understanding how the new rules would require agricultural producers to clean up the waste they discharge into local streams.

The agricultural implications are particularly contentious—think of the huge volumes of animal waste delivered to streams by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or of pesticides and herbicides running off from mega-farms.

But the EPA insists that there are no changes to the current rules that exempt agriculture from having to protect local water supplies.

Agricultural producers evidently do not believe this. They have done everything possible to block the rules and apparently will succeed in this effort.

The strength of the opposition—farm organizations, golf course groups, municipalities—suggests that somewhere in these rules must be restrictions on discharges into water supplies.    If so, the Clean Water rules deserve plenty of support.

I wish I could find a clear, straightforward explanation of what the WOTUS rules would do.  If the rules are overturned, which it looks like they will be, I’m wondering if this is because only lobbyists can understand the details and implications.

This document from the American Water Works Association has useful diagrams illustrating which streams are affected by the EPA’s rules.

Are any groups supporting the WOTUS rules?  If so, they are very quiet.


The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s position paper on the failings of the Clean Water Rule

Nov 13 2014

White House delays even more food rules

This morning’s Politico Pro Morning Agriculture says that FDA menu labeling (see Monday’s Post) is not the only food rule being held up by the White House.

The issue: The White House is supposed to sign off or reply within 90 days, or formally request an extension.  That’s not happening with menu calorie labeling or four others:

  • The Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry rule: this refers to what you can call meat and poultry with added water, salt or other ingredients.  The White House has been sitting on rule for review since April 30.   Chicken producers love it.  Some meat producers don’t.  Here’s the initial proposal.  It’s not clear whether or how it’s been altered.
  • Child Nutrition Program Integrity and Child and Adult Care Food Program proposals: these rules, also sent in April, deal with USDA’s implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The integrity rule deals with mismanagement.  The other one requires USDA to update the meals to comply with dietary guidelines every 10 years.
  •  USDA’s catfish inspection rule: Sent to the White House on May 30, this would implement a section of the 2014 farm bill that puts USDA, not FDA, in charge of catfish inspections (see previous post on this).
  • EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014: This was sent August 22.  The White House has not extended the review period.  f the administration does take more time to officially complete its review, it could push the release of the rule governing how much ethanol needs to be mixed into gasoline for 2014 into 2015.

What’s going on?  Politics, of course.  But I can only speculate on what they might be.

Sep 10 2014

Congress vs. EPA’s Clean Water Act

I’m trying to understand what’s going on with the bill the House passed on Tuesday to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing what it proposed to do last April: define its ability to protect bodies of water in the United States against agricultural pollution.

Specifically, the EPA proposes that under the Clean Water Act, it can enforce pollution controls over:

  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams.
  • Other types of waters that have uncertain connections with downstream water (these will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis).

The Clean Water Act gives EPA the authority to set wastewater standards for industry, including agriculture.  The Act

  • Establishes the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges.
  • Grants EPA authority to implement pollution control programs.
  • Sets water quality standards for contaminants.
  • Makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants without a permit.

The Clean Water Act most definitely applies to agriculture:

According to the account in The Hill, the bill prohibits the EPA from establishing any regulations based on the proposals.

  • The EPA says the proposals do not expand the agency’s existing authority over US waters.
  • But Republicans, joined by some Democrats, say the proposals expand EPA jurisdiction over trivial bodies of water.

Trivial, of course, is a matter of perception.  Agricultural pollutants cause much damage to US waterways.  The proposals are aimed at containing some of the damage.

No wonder agribusiness wants to stop EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act’s provisions.

The White House says it will veto the bill.  Let’s see what happens in the Senate.


Jan 18 2012

Food industry opposes EPA limits on dioxins

The food and chemical industries are lobbying hard against what is expected to be a tough report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report will set an upper limit for safe consumption of dioxins.

Most Americans consume dioxins at levels higher than this standard, mostly from food.

About 90% of dioxins come from foods, particularly high-fat animal foods.

Dioxins mainly enter the food chain as by-products of industrial processes.  To a lesser extent, they also come from natural processes such as volcanoes and forest fires.  They contaminate land and sea, are consumed in feed, move up the food chain, and end up in the fatty parts of meat, dairy products, and seafood.

Dioxins accumulate in fatty tissues.  They increase the risk of human cancer more than any other industrial chemical.

The EPA is expected to recommend an intake limit of 0.7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram body weight per day.  A picogram is one trillionth of a gram.  The World Health Organization and European Union limit is higher—from 1 to 4 picograms per kilogram per day.

The food and chemical industries argue that the proposed EPA limit is too low.

The EPA thinks less is better.  Dioxins are toxic and Americans typically consume amounts within the European range.   A single hot dog can contain more dioxin than the proposed limit for a 2-year-old.

Dioxin levels in the United States have been declining for the last 30 years due to reductions in man-made sources. But they break down slowly and persist for a long time in the environment.

How to avoid them?  The best way is to eat less high-fat meats, dairy foods, and seafood.

No wonder the food industry is alarmed.

A “Food Industry Dioxin Working Group” of trade associations such as the International Dairy Foods Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, and the National Chicken Council wrote to the White House:

Under EPA’s proposal…nearly every American – particularly young children – could easily exceed the daily RfD [reference dose] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack…The implications of this action are chilling.

Since the agency contends the primary route of human exposure to dioxin is through food, this could not only mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of their diets, but could have a significant negative economic impact on all US food producers.

These groups singled out the media for particular blame:

The media will inevitably report on this change and in all likelihood misinterpret the RFD as a ‘safe limit’. As a result, consumers may try to avoid any foods ‘identified’ as containing or likely to contain any dioxin.

Eat more fruits and vegetables anyone?

Congressman Ed Markey (Dem-MA) is urging the EPA to get busy and release its report:

The American public has been waiting for the completion of this dioxin study since 1985 and cannot afford any further delays…A baby born on the day the EPA completed its first draft health assessment would be 27 years old today. I’d like to see the final EPA analysis before it turns 28.

Let’s hope the EPA does not cave in to industry pressure and releases the report this month as promised.

Technical note:

“Dioxins” collectively refers to hundreds of chemical compounds that share certain structures and biological characteristics. They fall into three closely related groups: the chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs), chlorinated dibenzofurans (CDFs) and certain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The most studied is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).  PCBs are no longer produced in the U.S.