Monday, November 30, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News - Special Post-Holiday Monday Edition

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~
This Week in Washington
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release three years’ worth of biofuel blending
requirements, known as the Renewable Fuels Standard (or RFS) today (Monday), the court-mandated RFS release deadline.  The RFS will establish renewable volume obligations for last year, this year, and the next. The 2016 obligations will attract the most interest, since 2015 is nearly over, and the 2014 numbers will be based on actual data.  No matter how high or low the EPA sets the 2016 renewable fuel volume obligation, one or more lawsuits will likely follow.  Should the obligations be too high, oil industry stakeholders such as the American Petroleum Institute will complain.  And if the volume is too low, renewable fuel interests (including the Renewable Fuels Association, backed by some farm groups) will be prone to file suit.  Corn is a major feedstock used in ethanol production, and from a Mississippi River Basin perspective, the RFS is an important driver impacting how much land is placed by farmers into corn production - a collective land use decision that has significant ramifications for the environmental and economic health of the River region.

House members and Senators return to Capitol Hill this week following their Thanksgiving recess. A draft fiscal year 2016 omnibus discretionary spending bill will probably be released during the week. Democrats are said to be unhappy with the low levels of funding being provided for EPA and Interior Department programs, and will push for increases during floor debates in both chambers. The measure will be accompanied by an unknown number of riders that would restrict funding for the implementation of select environmental and energy programs (possibly including the Interior Department's proposed Stream Protection Rule and the administration's final Clean Water (or "Waters of the United States) Rule). Strategists believe that the administration may swallow some otherwise unpalatable environmental riders in exchange for Republicans easing up on proposed refugee restrictions.

The middle of the week should see the beginning of House floor debate on a comprehensive Energy and Commerce Committee energy bill. Opposed by most Democrats, the bill includes some of the Department of Energy's quadrennial review recommendations, and focuses on energy infrastructure improvements. Of interest to Mississippi River Basin stakeholders will be amendments likely to be considered during the floor debate, including those designed to expedite permit (including environmental impact) reviews of certain pipeline projects and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as Democratic amendments addressing climate change). While some may be submitted for consideration, don't expect to see any amendments that mention the RFS (see above) to make the House floor, since the issue is divisive even within the Republican caucus.  You can check out the current list of filed amendments here.

Finally, this week the House and Senate will either have to reconcile two competing federal surface transportation authorization bills ahead of Friday's (December 4) deadline, or pass yet another in a long line of authority extensions. The measure authorizes many highway and rail programs, including those relating to trails and scenic byways, of interest to river advocates.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA-9) promised that the most recent short-term extension would be the “last.” And while Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has said that the House and Senate bills could be reconciled “in a matter of hours,” one hour in congressional time often translates to weeks or months beyond the hallowed halls of Congress.

You can check out the latest listing of Mississippi River Basin- and Coastal Louisiana-related Congressional committee activity for the week at this web site.  The listing will be updated throughout the week as needed.

This Week in Paris
While most congressional lawmakers will be in Washington this week, the President and many of his top environmental and energy agency officials will not; having traveled en masse to Paris, France for negotiations (scheduled to take place first at a technical level, then at the ministerial level) to potentially establish climate action thresholds that participating countries agree to meet. Agency heads who will accompany the President include Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Kathryn Sullivan.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Iowa state legislature under pressure on improving Iowa's water quality and how to pay for it
  • Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio-7) presses USEPA about its authority to block Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Act permits (news article:
  • Justice Department maintains “EPA gave a reasonable explanation, grounded in the statute, for its decision not to make a necessity determination” of states' need for nitrogen and phosphorus water quality standards (Gulf Restoration Network case)
  • Missouri Coalition for the Environment sues Kansas City, Mo., area amusement park over Clean Water Act violations  (Missouri Coalition for the Environment v. Worlds of Fun LLC, W.D. Mo., No. 4:15-cv-00901, filed 11/16/15) (MCE press release:
  • Can the Greater Des Moines Partnership task force on water quality clean up Iowa's water?
  • Earthjustice files petition for review in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit over Environmental Protection Agency's revised wastewater effluent limits for power plants (The rule requires power plants to use controls to manage discharges of arsenic, selenium, nitrates, mercury, zinc and other pollutants) - related links below
  • Sierra Club files challenge to EPA's recently published wastewater effluent limits for power plants in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • Power utilities sue EPA over recently promulgated effluent limits to regulate discharges of metals and toxics
  • Pennsylvania DEP fines Chesapeake Appalachia $1.4 million for southwestern Pennsylvania stream impacts caused by well pad landslide
  • National Mining Association petition urges Congress to defund Interior Department's proposed stream protection rule
  • Environmental groups sue West Virginia landowner over alleged water pollution  from closed mountaintop mining site
  • Three environmental advocacy groups sue Coal-Mac Inc., over alleged Clean Water Act violations at West Virginia mines
Waters of the United States Rule

  • 90 House members sign letter urging House leaders to include Waters of the U.S. rule-blocking riders to omnibus spending bill
  • Over 400 environmental organizations ask Congress to avoid appropriations bill riders undermine Clean Water Rule (also see: Environmental groups' November 19 letter to Congress opposes any riders undermining Waters of the United States rule
  • Colorado AG pushes back on Governor's efforts to limit her power to challenge federal policy (including WOTUS rule) on behalf of state (related story below)
  • Two Western attorneys general are suing federal government over high-profile environmental issues against their governors’ wishes
  • In bid for more transparency, administration publishes national database listing approved jurisdictional determinations made under Clean Water Act since September
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources adds lake levels map to online interactive database maps
  • Water policy and law professor: US farmers who fear that cities and industries covet their irrigation water are not irrational
  • Resources for the Future: on average, roughly half of people in 100-year floodplains purchase flood insurance
  • Concern grows over dwindling water supplies in small Kansas county home to nation's second-largest hog feeding operation
Agriculture -
  • Updated USDA analysis shows U.S. farm income falling 38 percent between 2014 and 2015 - the biggest single-year drop since the 1980s
  • NRDC Report: Climate-ready soil can cut crop losses, save trillions of gallons of water,
    remove carbon from the air
  • Some Nebraska farmers push for property tax discount as revenues fall
  • National Geographic - "Apocalypse pig: The last antibiotic begins to fail"
  • While all eyes are on human numbers, it’s the rise in farm animals that is laying waste to the planet
  • Illinois appeals court rules insurer has duty to defend a nuisance suit brought by property owners against neighboring hog factory
  • Des Moines Register: What to prescribe for Iowa's eroding topsoil?
  • General Mills working with 25 farmers to help them to adapt more sustainable practices
Climate and Weather -
  • World Meteorological Organisation: Global average temperatures in 2015 are likely to be the warmest on record
  • Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Tex.) confrontation with NOAA researchers over  groundbreaking climate change study is provoking a national backlash from scientists
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Photo: Tom Baker for MPR News
  • Yellowstone bison marked for death could be spared by relocation plan
  • University of Arkansas - Monticello researcher tracks mallards, migration and mercury contamination
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources seeks applications for statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee
  • Photo-essay: Migrating tundra swans pause for food, rest along Mississippi River
  • Construction of Mississippi Basin-Great Lakes Basin Asian carp barrier at Eagle Marsh, Indiana nears completion
In the Cities -
In the States-
  • Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to close a $487 million deficit "kicks some things down the road again," leaving trouble for next Governor
  • Jindal's proposed Louisiana state budget cuts include $6.4 million from coastal agency (environmental community reaction:
  • Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee plans to hold a hearing on Sewage Facilities Act
  • Pennsylvania Governor acknowledges that a plan to resolve the five-month state budget impasse is in "deep peril"
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Loyola University panel: Upcoming climate change talks in Paris could hold key to future of Louisiana's rapidly eroding coastline
Forestry -
  • 5-year review of Farm Bill-mandated Forest Action Plans and effective water quality protections (prepared by Dovetail Partners)
Resource Development -
  • New report shows U.S. ethanol production rates hit record levels in mid-November
  • EPA finding of no widespread, systemic drinking water impacts from fracking is being challenged by agency's own scientists
  • Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. backs EPA's finding of no 'widespread, systemic' water problems due to hydraulic fracturing
  • North Dakota lawmakers setting aside money to reclaim legacy drilling sites where companies are no longer responsible for cleanup
  • Youngstown, Ohio officials will conduct a hand recount of an anti-fracking ballot initiative that failed this month
  • About 25% of Iowa property tracts needed for proposed Bakken oil pipeline could face condemnation by the state
  • South Dakota regulators expected to decide today whether to allow construction of the Dakota Access pipeline through state
Renewable Fuel Standard

  • EPA RFS decision could come down this week (ahead of November 30 court-ordered deadline); no hint of what position will be (AgriPulse news audio)
  • EPA Ethanol (RFS) ruling would have big Indiana impact
Federal Budget (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this web page) -
  • Lobbyist rider strategy: Obama administration might be willing to accept environmental riders in return for Republicans yielding on refugees
  • Environmental policy riders, funding for Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, other roadblocks hinder getting a budget deal done by Dec. 11 deadline
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar
  • Agenda for December 4, Minnesota Legislative Water Commission meeting includes Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program update
  • Mississippi River Cities and Towns Mayors' Initiative's "Global River Talks: Sustaining the World’s Food-Producing Rivers;" COP21: Paris, France; December 8; 11:45 AM ET
  • USEPA Farm, Ranch, and Rural Community Federal Advisory Committee; Public Teleconference; December 11, 2-3:30 PM ET
  • 2016 Infrastructure Week to highlight lack of investment in U.S. infrastructure (including water and wastewater), May 16-23, 2016
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 321, November 20
  • Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 322, November 23
  • National Water Quality Monitoring Council's National Water Monitoring News e-newsletter (Fall 2015; 11th edition)
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, November 24 TUWaterWays e-newsletter
  • Freshwater Biology Special Issue: Extreme Events in Running Waters
  • Rock River (Wisconsin) monthly recovery e-newsletter for December
Other news-
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources seeks to fill multiple Nonpoint Source Coordinator positions
  • Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) unveils new Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization bill, requiring significantly more money for states (news story:
  • Compared with other disciplines, conservation has been rather slow to incorporate digital technology into its methodological toolkit
Politics and People-
  • New Pew survey shows sweeping distrust of federal government by virtually every measure
  • Land Trust Alliance names Andrew Bowman as new president
  • State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) elected Louisiana governor in runoff election against U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R)
  • Vitter announces Senate retirement after losing Louisiana gubernatorial race
  • Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) plans a 2016 run for David Vitter’s U.S. Senate seat

Your Moment of Zen -

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