Freshwater Weekly — June 29th, 2018

Posted on June 29, 2018 by

This week: Coastal Flooding Study + PFAS Report + Ontario Walking Back Climate Commitment + Trump Order May Affect Great Lakes

Ocean Policy Reversal by President Trump May Affect Great Lakes

An executive order, signed June 19th, declares a new national policy to “ensure that Federal regulations and management decisions do not prevent productive and sustainable use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters.” Based on the order’s language, the intent of the policy shift is to maximize economic growth, entrepreneurial opportunities, ocean industrial activity, and fossil fuel energy security. President Trump’s declaration stands in stark contrast to the Obama order he is reversing, which was signed in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and emphasized biological diversity, conservation, and scientific inquiry.

Some officials, like Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) interpreted the Trump order as a precursor to opening the Great Lakes to oil and gas drilling, which was prohibited by Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Stabenow asked the president to confirm his support for the law. For now, the effects this action will have on the Great Lakes—if there are any at all—are unknown.

Great Lakes Coastal Flooding Study Aims to Pinpoint High-Risk Areas

Every year, there are high profile flooding incidents across the Great Lakes region. Most recently, residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota experienced historic flooding that destroyed homes, wiped out roads, produced massive sinkholes, and lead to the deaths of several. Previous years have seen record floods in Detroit, on the coast of Lake Ontario, in southwestern Ontario province, and more. In response, the United States government has initiated steps to address the problem.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is conducting a  Great Lakes Coastal Flood study that will be used to update flood maps for coastal communities and define areas most at risk of flooding. It’s a part of a national initiative to update flood maps and show areas prone to flood damage. Some flood maps haven’t been updated since the 1970s, which is important because these maps guide development in communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires special building ordinances to ensure structures are more likely to withstand flooding. Addressing the increased incidences of flooding across the United States and Canada will take many drastic policy changes, but this is an important first step in bringing our collective approach to the problem into the 21st century.

New Ontario Premier to Scrap Cap-and-Trade and GreenON Energy Rebate Programs

Doug Ford, sworn in today as Ontario’s new premier, has already announced plans to end Ontario’s cap-and-trade and GreenON programs. This means that Ontarians will lose the chance to qualify for thousands of dollars worth of rebates on a number of energy efficiency improvements, from windows to insulation to smart thermostats to solar energy equipment. It also means the Ontario government’s push towards an energy efficient and carbon-neutral future will come to a halt.

Ford’s announcement is notable given the province’s previous commitments to combating climate change, which is considered by many scientists to be a top threat to the stability of freshwater systems across the globe, including our Great Lakes. It will take years to disentangle from Ontario’s climate commitments with neighboring province of Quebec and the state of California, and by some estimates, cost Ontarians up to $4 billion in compensations, legal fees, penalties, and administrative costs. Canadian economists also warn that abandoning energy efficiency programs will raise energy costs, since saving electricity costs Ontario 5 to 10 times less than adding new electricity generation capacity.

Delayed PFAS Report Finally Released: Chemicals More Dangerous to Health Than Previously Thought

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) materials sent to members of both U.S. political parties revealed that the Trump Administration withheld this study out of concern for a “public relations nightmare.” After pressure from both sides of the aisle, a government health agency has released their draft report that recommends exposure levels to PFAS chemicals much lower than current EPA guidelines.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reckons that the risk level for PFOA is 11 parts per trillion (roughly seven times lower than the EPA health advisory, which is 70 ppt) and for PFOS, 7 ppt. The EPA advisory is not legally enforceable but many utilities and states use it as a benchmark. Only a handful of states have set standards near ATSDR recommendations. The report also discusses 12 other PFAS chemicals, none of which are currently regulated by EPA drinking water standards. It provides risk levels for two: PFNA (11 ppt) and PFHxS (74 ppt). There was insufficient data to calculate risk levels for the other 10 chemicals.

This report may well pave the way for Great Lakes states to lower their health advisory levels and get the proper help to communities impacted by this emerging contaminant.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.