Hurricane Watch: National Environmental Trust says bad time for easing toxic spill rules

Warning of dozens of chemical plants in Hurricane Rita's path around Houston and Galveston, Texas -- with 28% of the nation's petroleum refining capacity -- the National Environmental Trust (NET) warned of a potential environmental nightmare, underscoring the need for consistent reporting of toxic spills -- not easing requirements as the Bush Administration proposed this week. Some complain the Administration is taking advantage of hurricanes to force through rollbacks of environmental rules...

In other news below:
-- Katrina's damage to water systems will top $2.25 billion - AWWA
-- Cytec provides impact of Hurricane Katrina
-- Baker consolidates staff in Baton Rouge location
-- ITT pumps help move water in New Orleans

National Environmental Trust: Now not time for easing toxic spill reporting rules

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2005 (U.S. Newswire & Staff Reports) -- Warning of dozens of chemical plants that lie in Hurricane Rita's path around Houston and Galveston, Texas -- which includes 28% of the nation's petroleum refining capacity -- the National Environmental Trust (NET) warned yesterday of an environmental nightmare that underscored the need for consistent reporting of toxic spills -- not easing such requirements as the Bush Administration proposed this week. Some complained, meanwhile, that the Administration is taking advantage of hurricane reconstruction needs to force through rollbacks of environmental rules ("Senate Panel Plans EPA Rollback in Katrina Recovery").

Tom Natan, NET research director, took the opportunity to reiterate the organization's opposition ("EPA Seeks to Cut Toxics Reporting, Post-Katrina Move Endangers Public Health: National Environmental Trust") to an announcement this week that the EPA intends to loosen rules requiring reporting of spills to the federal Toxics Release Inventory.

In addition to streamlining certain reporting requirements, the new rules as indicated in the Sept. 21 EPA release, "EPA Proposes Burden Reduction Rule for the Toxics Release Inventory," would require overall reporting of smaller toxic spills every 24 months instead of the current annual requirement. Details can be found at: www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/modrule/phase2.

Natan noted that many of the facilities in Rita's path "may not be adequately prepared to prevent toxic releases. Breaches at these plants could endanger human health and greatly raise post-hurricane cleanup costs. In four Texas coastal counties around Galveston, there are 87 chemical plants, petroleum refineries, and petroleum bulk storage facilities with more than 130 chemicals on site.

"Just yesterday, EPA proposed gathering less information from these facilities in the future. This would make cleanup all the more difficult in the aftermath of future disasters. With less data, scientists and health officials will find it more difficult to reduce environmental and health risks that can endanger the public. It's a clear case of putting polluter interests ahead of public health and safety."

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) has been compiled by the EPA since 1988 and provides annual reporting on public exposures to dangerous toxic chemicals like mercury, which is linked to birth defects and brain damage, and benzene, which is linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.

TRI data has been essential to the media for tracking environmental dangers to the public. Today, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported on the plants that lie in Hurricane Rita's path. ("Hurricane Threatens Chemical Sites," Sept. 22.) NET will post Rita-related chemical data at www.net.org.

Yesterday, the EPA announced that it will spend the next year developing a proposal to cut its reporting in half, from annual to biennial. This means that communities would have to wait two years to get information on dangers to their health. It also means that it will take twice as long to determine trends that can endanger the public.

Vermont's Sen. Jim Jeffords called the proposal ''a frontal assault" ("EPA seeks to ease reporting of toxics") on one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group came out against the proposal ("EPA Moves to Cut Pollution Reporting Program in Half") and several media reports questioned the timing of this and other rollbacks amid confusion in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and Hurricane Rita's approach ("EPA Is Using Katrina to Undermine the Clean Air Act").

Other recent EPA action and related news did little to dissuade that perspective:
-- "Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections: Department of Labor Seeks to Block Federal Environmental Whistle Blowing"
-- "OMB to Expand EPA Guidance Reviews"
-- "House Committee Strips Away Endangered Species Protections"
-- "Army Corps Opens Tracts of Wetlands to Development"

The last item is particularly ironic considering some recent rationales given for the extent of Hurricane Katrina's damage, i.e., that loss of Louisiana bayou wetlands eliminated a natural barrier to stunt the worst effects of the storm surge.

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In other hurricane news:
Katrina's damage to water systems will top $2.25 billion -- DENVER, Sept. 23, 2005 -- The costs to repair and replace public drinking water infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Katrina will surpass $2.25 billion, according to a preliminary assessment from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) released today. The association is providing the report to members of Congress and the White House to help decision-makers plan for the costs of getting water systems damaged by Katrina back into operation as soon as possible. The AWWA report estimates costs to repair or replace assets such as treatment plants, storage pumping, and related control facilities impacted by storm surge, flooding and other factors. It also analyzes the impact of revenue shortfalls due to the inability to service debt, particularly in communities where customers have relocated and the system is inoperable...
Cytec provides impact of Hurricane Katrina; Update on Hurricane Rita and Boeing strike -- WEST PATERSON, NJ, Sept. 23, 2005 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Cytec Industries Inc. advised today that the direct impact of Hurricane Katrina is expected to reduce pretax earnings in the range of $9 million to $10 million. This includes lost production at the company's Fortier facility located near New Orleans and the corresponding sales reduction of about $20 million, maintenance and repair costs, extra labor and related expenses and start up costs. Excluded from this estimate is the effect of recent price increases for oil and natural gas and any related impact on raw material and energy costs that Cytec purchases. The company is in the process of assessing its ability to recover cost increases with price increases as well as other potential mitigating actions...
Baker consolidates staff in Baton Rouge location -- PITTSBURGH, PA, Sept. 22, 2005 -- Michael Baker Corporation has consolidated personnel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from its other Gulf Coast locations. This consolidation will enable the company to more effectively and efficiently coordinate its efforts to serve its clients who are involved in the recovery efforts resulting from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Baker will also continue to serve these clients from its other Gulf Coast locations in Lafayette, Louisiana; Jackson and Natchez, Mississippi; and Houston, Texas...
Moving Water: After Hurricane Katrina, amid chaos, ITT people and pumps are enabling disaster recovery efforts to move ahead quickly -- NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 21, 2005 -- It's mid-September, three weeks after Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana and Mississippi. The water that rushed through New Orleans' broken levees and flooded the bowl-shaped city is returning to Lake Ponchartrain -- much of it flowing through ITT pumps. More than 70 huge ITT horizontal and vertical pumps form the heart of New Orleans storm protection system. At this time, nearly 50 of them are back online and pushing water over the repaired flood walls. The pumps didn't fail during the hurricane, but once the levees broke, they were underwater, unreachable and unusable. With no power and no place to move the water, the pumps couldn't perform their jobs. As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair the levees, the ITT pumps are powered up, and in just a matter of hours and days, many Katrina-made "rivers" are becoming roads again...

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