Tag Archive for: Biden

Biden Changes Trump’s Changes to Water Regulations

The Associated Press reported on December 30, 2021, that the Biden administration had reversed Trump-era changes to water regulations, which themselves were changes to Obama regulations and other previous administrations. This is getting to be like a tennis match. “Advantage Downstream.”

The EPA regulations have changed numerous times over the years. Enforcement changes, too.

The problem: Changes affect both water quality downstream and land development upstream. That’s why the rules change so often. Competing interests! Public health and safety vs. economic expansion.

Rivers Before the EPA and Clean Water Act

About two thirds of Americans alive today had not yet been born when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. So they have no memory of the event that helped give birth to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

The Cuyahoga River caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868. It is still rated one of the most polluted rivers in America by almost every group that compiles lists. Photo: Cleveland State University Library.

Shortly after its founding, the EPA dispatched photographers all around the country to document environmental abuses.

The photographers took about 81,000 images, more than 20,000 of which were archived. At least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives. They form a time capsule showing the way things were.

Warning: These images are disturbing…for people on both sides of the political net.

Why the Changes This Time?

The AP article by Jim Salter and Michael Phillis says, “The Trump-era rule, finalized in 2020, was long sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others who complained about federal overreach that they said stretched into gullies, creeks and ravines on farmland and other private property.”

However, the writers continued, “…the Trump rule allowed businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.”

They quoted Kelly Moser, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Water Defense Initiative. She said, “Today, the Biden administration restored needed clean water protections so that our nation’s waters are guarded against pollution for fishing, swimming, and as sources of drinking water.”

At Issue: Definition of “Waters of the U.S.”

Meanwhile, courts at various levels are still pondering the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” At issue: How far up in the branching structure of a river may the government enforce regulations? As far as it’s navigable? One level up from that? Two? Three? Infinitely? And do the rules apply to desert areas the same way they do to subtropical areas like SE Texas?

The Biden administration decision is a setback for various industries. It broadens which wetlands, streams and rivers can be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

But given the impacts to public health and the immense economic interests at stake, this won’t be the last time we see the rules change. An army of lobbyists is likely mobilizing right now.

Local Impact

Several developments in the Lake Houston Area contained wetlands affected regulation changes. Consider, for instance, the case of Woodridge Village. The Army Corps ruled that it contained wetlands, but that the wetlands didn’t fall under their jurisdiction because of rules in effect at the time. So there was no violation of the Clean Water Act. Hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest flooded, partially as a result of the environmental destruction.

In this area, sediment pollution is one of our most serious concerns. We’ve seen repeated and almost constant releases into the West Fork from 20-square miles of sand mines immediately upstream from us.

Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork by 59 Bridge. TCEQ found that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork.
Repeated and multiple breaches at Triple PG mine discharged sediment-laden water directly into Caney Creek. This one lasted for months.

Searching on the word “breach” in ReduceFlooding.com pulls up 116 stories, many of which show multiple breaches.

But mining isn’t the only upstream issue at stake. So is sediment pollution from new development.

Drainage ditch in Artavia. March 2020 in West Fork watershed
Eroding ditch in Colony Ridge (East Fork Watershed) due to lack of backslope interceptor systems and grass.

Making Private Expenses a Public Cost

The EPA lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. It has contributed to flooding thousands of homes in the Lake Houston Area.

West Fork mouth bar almost totally blocked the river where it meets Lake Houston.
East Fork Mouth Bar grew 4000 feet in two years between Harvey and Imelda.

Both mouth bars above have since been dredged at great public expense, but abuses continue. I just wish we could all find a way to live together. This should not be a case of health and safety vs. economic development. We need all three for communities to prosper.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/23

1952 days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Biden Orders Simplification of Disaster Relief

On December 13 – 1567 days after Hurricane Harvey – President Biden issued an executive order to improve disaster relief by the federal government. The order covers a range of other government services, too. It aims to improve service service to citizens with the ultimate goals of improving customer satisfaction and restoring trust in government.

The White House says 25 million individuals, families, and small businesses live through a Federally recognized natural disaster each year. This should be great news for all of them. In the last four years, I have posted about the disaster called disaster relief more than once.

FEMA Mandate: Streamline Applications and Rules Re: Documentation

Specifically, the order states that theDepartment of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shall “design and deliver a streamlined, online disaster assistance application. It also requires FEMA to “work with States to proactively update existing rules and policies on supporting documentation needed for disaster assistance processes to reduce burden and increase accessibility.”

Forest Cove Townhome destroyed by Harvey. What happens when 240,000 cubic feet per second roar through your home. When residents evacuated, survival was uppermost on their minds, not finding documents they might need for disaster-relief applications. FEMA chose this location to film a video about the destructiveness of Harvey.

HUD Required to Inventory Ways to Improve Customer Service

Unfortunately, the Order only mentions Housing and Urban Development (HUD) once and doesn’t offer many specifics. It requires HUD to submit a report to the Office of Management and Budget that assesses improvements needed in the department’s customer experience management and service design capabilities to comply with the order. The report must also prioritize improvements within available and budgeted resources.

Types of improvements mentioned throughout the order include:

  • Streamlining and improving accessibility
  • Improving digital experiences
  • Eliminating unnecessary administrative burdens on customers
  • Ensuring accessibility for those with disabilities
  • Ensuring access for those with limited English proficiency
  • Coordinating between agencies to reduce the need for customers to interact separately with multiple agencies.
  • Callback systems for those on hold
  • Enrollment assistance for benefits, etc.
  • Improving compliance with the Plain Writing Act.

Goal: Help People Focus on Recovery

This fact sheet prepared by the White House staff elaborates on disasters.

“After a disaster,” it says, “more survivors will be able to focus on helping their families, businesses, and communities because of streamlined assistance processes, rather than having to navigate a complex Government bureaucracy to get the help they need.”

“Disaster survivors will no longer need to navigate multiple assistance forms across multiple agencies to get the help they need, saving time and energy to allow them to focus on their recovery and well-being.”

“Survivors will have access to more flexible mechanisms to provide supporting documentation, such as virtual inspections and submitting photos of disaster damage from a mobile phone.”

The press release concludes: “The Government’s primary mission is to serve. By placing people at the center of everything we do, the Government will be able to deliver timely, modern, and secure services to you – the people. We will rebuild trust in our Government, ensure no one is left behind, and inspire others to join us in serving future generations of Americans.”

President Clinton had similar ambitions in the early days of the digital revolution. His plan helped transform government, but there’s still a long way to go. This sounds like a good deal if it works. But it will be a massive undertaking that takes place in stages over years, not overnight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2021

1570 Days since Hurricane Harvey