Ocean Currents » Clean Water Act http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Trump’s New Executive Order Risks Coastal Communities http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/01/trumps-new-executive-order-risks-coastal-communities/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/01/trumps-new-executive-order-risks-coastal-communities/#comments Wed, 01 Mar 2017 17:36:14 +0000 Amy Trice http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13810

Amy is a stream ecologist who, before working at Ocean Conservancy, conducted research focusing on small stream food webs and the predator and prey dynamics of salamanders. Amy has conducted research in Chile working with the government on invasive beavers and water quality issues as well as nutrient effects on small streams in the southeastern U.S. She also spent several years working on Waters of the United States as part of the Clean Water Act. Her work at Ocean Conservancy currently focuses on ensuring ocean planning is a coordinated, science-based policy to balance all ocean uses.

Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order that would start rolling back a rule under the Clean Water Act known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS). This rule enhances the health of our streams, rivers and ocean, supporting local communities and their desire for clean drinking water as well as fishable streams and estuaries.  I have spent much of my life working on streams and water quality issues, I’m concerned this executive order will compromise local ecosystems and the clean drinking water Americans value and need.

Our rivers provide drinking water for two-thirds of all Americans—yet the recent action by the Trump administration seeks to rollback protections for keeping these very waters clean. Following Supreme Court rulings in 2001and 2006, ambiguity on the types of water bodies protected under the Clean Water Act left agencies tasked with managing and permitting the use of these waterbodies with little clarity. This ambiguity led to a failure to protect small streams and wetlands that are vital to safeguarding communities from flooding. Since the Court decisions, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have worked to follow the law, despite the confusing circumstances.

Removing this confusion so that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers could fill statutory obligations and do their jobs is exactly why the WOTUS rule was needed. Agencies like the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers need clarity on how to interpret the law to ensure clean water is not only suitable for drinking but also supports coastal communities, estuaries and eventually our ocean.

The WOTUS rule was finalized in 2015, offering a clear definition of what waterways are protected and managed under the Clean Water Act. Thanks to this rule, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers can ensure consistency in managing wetlands, rivers and streams while improving community health and giving industry more consistency so they can make informed decisions. Overall, this rule ensures the protection of streams and rivers that provide drinking water to 117 million Americans.

Despite these clear benefits, President Trump’s executive order will begin the process of rolling back this important rule. The order requires the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the rule and recommend whether it should be revised or rescinded. I’m worried that this is a step towards signaling the administration’s openness to revoking critical safeguards that protect Americans’ health and our environment.

Before WOTUS was enacted, the EPA and Army Corps met with over 400 stakeholders and received more than one million public comments that they took into consideration to ensure the rule was in the best interests of Americans. I hope the Trump administration, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers talk with coastal communities about their clean water needs to fully understand the impacts this rollback could have on our rivers, estuaries, and ocean. Now is the time for coastal communities to stand up and make your voices heard on the clean water needs of your local community.

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BP Back in Court http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 13:00:22 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9713

BP once again must appear in court today as the final phase of the BP trial begins in New Orleans. This is the third phase of a multiyear trial to determine how much BP and other responsible parties should pay for their role in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Just last Thursday, the Judge issued another ruling, finding that 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf. This means that the maximum fine BP will face is $13.7 billion. This final phase of the trial will focus on eight factors, as required by the Clean Water Act, including BP’s history of prior violations and the seriousness of this violation.

A key factor in court will be BP’s efforts to minimize the harm. In other words, did BP do enough in responding to the disaster to justify lowering their fine? Yes, BP took efforts to stop the flow from the well and the spread of oil, but BP also lied about the rate at which oil was spewing from the well.

The economic impact of the penalty on BP will be interesting to watch as well. The court will need to determine whether this inquiry focuses on BP (the parent company) as a whole or only on its subsidiary, BP Exploration & Production, known as BPXP. BP is expected to argue that the recent dip in oil prices should be factored into this inquiry. (This assertion, as you might expect, has been met with criticism.)

A third factor will be the issue of simple vs. gross negligence. That question was answered back in September when the court ruled that the oil disaster was the result of BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct,” Though this sounds like legalese, this ruling is extremely important; it means more funding will be available for restoring the Gulf. Funding for restoration projects via the RESTORE Act comes from Clean Water Act fines. And the finding of “gross negligence,” rather than ordinary negligence, means that fines can be as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, instead of $1,100. Eighty percent of the Clean Water Act fines will be used to repair and restore the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it.

These penalty factors will be hotly debated during the trial starting today, and arguments will help determine whether the judge leans toward the high end of $13.7 billion or the low end of $7 billion. We can expect BP to argue for sympathy and leniency (i.e., “we’ve been punished enough; we’ve learned our lesson.”) BP will likely call attention to the money it spent on cleanup and capping the well back in 2010 (which was required by law). The courtroom action will last two or three weeks, and then the parties will file briefs with the court until late April. But there is no established timeline for when the judge will issue a ruling. And, of course, there is always the possibility that the parties could agree on a settlement.

Regardless of how this trial ends, a successful resolution must include funding to monitor the Gulf ecosystem over the course of 25 years, restoration that includes the offshore environment where the oil disaster began, and a transparent decision-making process that allows the public to participate in a meaningful way.

Many questions still loom, but we know a few things for certain. We know the people of the Gulf Coast and the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Gulf will feel the effects of the BP oil disaster for years to come. But from this disaster comes an opportunity to restore and chart a new path for the Gulf. Restoration is already underway, and this final phase of the trial gets us one step closer to justice and a healthier future for the Gulf.

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Breaking: Great News For the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/04/breaking-great-news-for-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/04/breaking-great-news-for-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 15:59:00 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9153

Today, a judge found  that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster was the direct result of BP’s “’gross negligence’ and ‘willful misconduct’” under the Clean Water Act. What does this mean for the Gulf? It means more funding available for restoring the Gulf.

Funding for restoration projects via the RESTORE Act comes from Clean Water Act fines. And a finding of “gross negligence,” rather than ordinary negligence, means that fines can be as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, instead of $1,100. The result of today’s court decision could mean a fine as high as $17.6 billion, 80% of which will be used to repair and restore the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it.

Over the past four years, BP has spent inordinate amounts of time and money shirking responsibility, pointing fingers at others and downplaying the seriousness of the disaster. Today, the court is holding BP responsible.

The judge still must rule on the amount of oil spilled – a major factor determining the ultimate amount of fines. The third stage of the trial will begin in January 2015.


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BP Trial Phase 2: What You Need to Know http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/30/bp-trial-phase-2-what-you-need-to-know/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/30/bp-trial-phase-2-what-you-need-to-know/#comments Mon, 30 Sep 2013 11:00:15 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6708 oil-smeared hand

Photo: Ken Cedeno / Ocean Conservancy

The second phase of the trial to determine how much more money BP owes for its Gulf spill begins today. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Phase two of the trial will cover how much oil BP actually discharged into the Gulf of Mexico as well as the effort to cap the well. (Remember the summer of “junk shots” and “top kills?”)

BP says the U.S. government’s estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil is based on “faulty assumptions.” BP says they spilled ONLY about 2.45 million barrels. BP’s estimate of a lower volume is based on the work of London-based professor Martin Blunt, who *ahem* used to work for BP. Either way, that’s a lot of oil, so why the fuss? Penalties for discharging oil (a violation of the Clean Water Act) are based on the amount of oil discharged. A lower volume means a lower penalty—potentially around $7 billion less.

(Click here for an overview of all phases of the trial.)

2. BP agreed to a criminal settlement last fall that requires the company to pay approximately $4 billion in fines over a five-year period. One of the guilty pleas was for obstruction of Congress. In May 2010, BP officials told Congress that the company’s best estimate of the spill flow was about 5,000 barrels per day, even though BP’s own scientists said in company communications that it was likely much higher.

To put the penalty BP paid for all of their criminal counts in perspective, their profits for the fourth quarter of 2012 were $3.984 billion, down from $4.986 billion the year prior.

3. BP has launched a PR campaign designed to shore up the company’s assertion that they have “made it right” and to point fingers at Gulf residents, saying that many of the claims made as a result of losses incurred during the disaster are fraudulent and that the company has gone above and beyond in response and restoration. They took out full-page ads in several national newspapers asserting that they are being victimized.

The campaign moved into full swing during the month before phase two of the trial. According to The Hill, “Given that much of the advertising is in Washington, it may also be aimed at garnering political support to lessen pending Clean Water Act fines that are the subject of the ongoing federal trial.”

Tar ball in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo courtesy Gulf Restoration Network

4. Despite ads to the contrary, there is still oil lurking in the Gulf of Mexico and on our coast. We are just now starting to see science on the impact of the spill in the marine environment, like this study of its effect on sediment in the Gulf. Organizations like the Gulf Restoration Network regularly find oiled shorelines on their patrols, like this picture taken in April of 2013 at Elmer’s Island, La.

Ultimately, the amount of money available for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico via the RESTORE Act comes down to two things: How much oil did BP discharge, and were they grossly negligent in the actions leading up to and during the disaster? Let the facts, not a slick PR campaign, determine the fate of the Gulf of Mexico.

As the next phase of this critical trial begins, please do your part to #makeBPpay. Let the world know that the Gulf of Mexico deserves full restoration and recovery by sharing the following:

Make BP Pay!
As BP enters their second phase of trial, I stand with Ocean Conservancy for restoration done right. Let’s let the facts determine the fate of the Gulf, not their slick PR campaign.

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We must #makeBPpay! Let facts decide the fate of the Gulf & @OurOcean, not @BP_America’s slick PR. #BPtrial
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