May 15, 2023
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing that its seasonal 24-hour telephone information line will open May 15 and remain open until Oct. 15. The Bay Line, 222-8888, is toll-free within the state.
The Bay Line provides Rhode Islanders with a central point of contact to leave a recorded message about any sign of bay-related environmental problems or occurrences throughout the summer season for appropriate follow-up by DEM. Its aim is rapid, effective responses to environmental incidents on Narragansett Bay. Another option for reporting concerns is through email at DEM.email@example.com.
Reports of water quality conditions are updated weekly and available on the DEM website. The information is compiled from data provided by a network of monitoring stations in the bay that measure oxygen, temperature, salinity, pH levels, and, in some cases, water clarity and the presence of algae blooms. DEM, in cooperation with the University of Rhode Island (URI), has completed the seasonal deployment of monitoring instruments and posts water quality reports on a weekly basis.
The intent of Bay Line is to provide an effective means for exchanging bay-related information between the public and the agencies charged with monitoring and protecting it. For instance, the line can be used to provide DEM with early warnings about emerging issues such as algae blooms, which might serve as precursors to low oxygen events and fish kills.
The Bay Line is an integral part of a series of initiatives undertaken by DEM to protect Narragansett Bay. A related initiative is the Bay Assessment and Response Team (BART), which is designed to facilitate timely and well-coordinated responses to any major bay-related environmental emergency. BART includes professional staff from DEM, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), and URI. Rhode Islanders can find a great deal of bay-related information on the BART page of the DEM website. The weekly Bay Line reports also can be found at this location.
Two Men Indicted for Environmental Crimes Committed in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Las Mareas Community of Salinas, Puerto Rico
Today, in the District of Puerto Rico, a federal grand jury returned two separate indictments charging Luis Enrique Rodriguez Sanchez and Pedro Luis Bones Torres with violations of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act related to the illegal construction and deposit of material into the wetlands and waters of the United States in the area of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) and Las Mareas community of Salinas, Puerto Rico.
According to the indictments, from approximately January 2020 through October 2022, Luis Enrique Rodriguez Sanchez (Rodriguez Sanchez) and Pedro Luis Bones Torres (Bones Torres) knowingly discharged fill material from excavation and earth moving equipment into the wetlands and waters of the United States in violation of the Clean Water Act. Further, both Rodriguez Sanchez and Bones Torres are charged with building structures within the navigable waters of the United States without authorization of the Secretary of the Army, in violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act. These activities occurred in the coastal waters and wetlands of the Las Mareas community and JBNERR in Salinas, Puerto Rico.
“These cases demonstrate our commitment to protecting wetland ecosystems, which have many public and environmental benefits,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Coastal wetlands protect communities from storm surges and hurricanes, protect vulnerable species from exploitation, stabilize estuaries and provide natural water filtration that improves water quality.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing federal environmental protection laws and to holding violators responsible for the harm that they cause,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “These laws play an important role in protecting the animals, resources, and habitats within Puerto Rico, the Las Mareas community, and the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The unpermitted construction, pollution, and fill within the protected waters of the United States also poses flooding and hurricane mitigation concerns for surrounding communities. As such, they are a priority for federal environmental enforcement efforts.”
“Today’s actions send a clear signal that the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (DOC-OIG) is dedicated to investigating potential fraud, waste and abuse in projects receiving funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Lysaght of the DOC-OIG. “DOC-OIG greatly appreciates the cooperative efforts of our prosecutorial and law enforcement partners as we seek to enforce laws protecting the environment and natural beauty of Puerto Rico.”
The Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress in 1972 to protect and maintain the integrity of the waters of the United States. The Clean Water Act’s main purpose is to ensure the restoration and maintenance of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. It prohibits the discharge of any pollutant and fill material into waters of the United States except when a permit is obtained from the United States.
The Rivers and Harbors Act was originally enacted in 1899 and is generally considered the oldest environmental law in the United States. It serves to regulate and protect the navigable waters of the United States and prohibits the un-permitted construction of structures within those waters. Both the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act protect the coastal waters within the JBNERR.
The JBNERR was designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve by the NOAA in 1981 and is comprised of approximately 2,800 acres of coastal ecosystems in the Southern coastal plain of Puerto Rico. The JBNERR contains mangrove islands, mangrove forests, tidal wetlands, coral reefs, lagoons, salt flats, dry forest and seagrass beds. It is also home to the endangered brown pelican, peregrine falcon, hawksbill turtle and West Indian manatee. The JBNERR is owned and operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PR-DNER).
Both Rodriguez Sanchez and Bones Torres were arrested and are scheduled to appear today before Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico for their respective initial appearances. If convicted, the defendants face up to four years in prison, as well as fines and injunctive relief to remove violative structures.
Various federal agencies are involved in this ongoing investigation related to environmental crimes in the JBNERR and Las Mareas community, including the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), FBI, U.S. Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division (Army-CID), DOC-OIG, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA-OLE), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement (FW-OLE).
EPA Proposes New Carbon Pollution Standards for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants To Tackle the Climate Crisis and Protect Public Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants that will protect public health, reduce harmful pollutants and deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades.
The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.
The proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, harmful air pollutants that are known to endanger people’s health, especially in communities that for too long have disproportionally shouldered the burden of high pollution and environmental injustice. In 2030 alone, the proposed standards would prevent:
- approximately 1,300 premature deaths;
- more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits;
- more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks;
- 38,000 school absence days;
- 66,000 lost workdays.
“By proposing new standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants, EPA is delivering on its mission to reduce harmful pollution that threatens people’s health and wellbeing,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposal relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future. Alongside historic investment taking place across America in clean energy manufacturing and deployment, these proposals will help deliver tremendous benefits to the American people—cutting climate pollution and other harmful pollutants, protecting people’s health, and driving American innovation.”
Consistent with EPA’s traditional approach to establishing pollution standards under the Clean Air Act, the proposed limits and guidelines would require ambitious reductions in carbon pollution based on proven and cost-effective control technologies that can be applied directly to power plants. They also provide owners and operators of power plants with ample lead time and substantial compliance flexibilities, allowing power companies and grid operators to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions, and supporting the power sector’s ability to continue delivering reliable and affordable electricity. EPA’s analysis found that power companies can implement the standards with a negligible impact on electricity prices, well within the range of historical fluctuations.
Together with other recent EPA actions to address health-harming pollution from the power sector, today’s proposed rule delivers on the Administration’s commitment to reduce pollution from the power sector while providing long-term regulatory certainty and operational flexibility. In addition, EPA and the Department of Energy recently signed a memorandum of understanding to support grid reliability and resiliency at every stage as the agency advances efforts to reduce pollution, protect public health, and deliver environmental and economic benefits for all.
President Biden’s policy agenda has already kicked off a clean energy and manufacturing boom across the country and is adding momentum for technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and clean hydrogen. Today, thanks to this progress, the power sector has a broad set of tools to deploy clean, affordable energy, take advantage of ready-to-go advanced pollution reduction technologies, create and retain good-paying union jobs, and reduce energy costs for families and businesses. EPA took account of this significant technologic and economic progress in developing the proposed rule and anticipates that power companies will take advantage of these tools, and trends, when determining how to most cost-effectively meet the proposed standards and emission guidelines.
The technology-based standards EPA is proposing include:
- Strengthening the current New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for newly built fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired)
- Establishing emission guidelines for states to follow in limiting carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired steam generating EGUs (including coal, oil and natural gas-fired units)
- Establishing emission guidelines for large, frequently used existing fossil fuel-fired stationary combustion turbines (generally natural gas-fired)
- Based on a separate analysis, EPA is projecting the proposed standards for existing gas-fired plants and the third phase of the NSPS could achieve up to 407 million metric tons of CO2 emission reductions. As EPA works to finalize the rulemaking, the agency will complete additional advanced modeling, aligning methodologies across the rulemaking and considering real-world scenarios within the power sector to best understand how components of the rule impact each other.
As required by section 111 of the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards and emission guidelines reflect the best system of emission reduction (BSER) that has been demonstrated to improve the emissions performance of the sources, taking into account costs, energy requirements, and other factors. In developing these proposed carbon pollution standards, EPA considered a range of technologies including CCS, utilizing low-GHG hydrogen, and adopting highly efficient generation technologies.
Installation of controls such as CCS for coal and gas plants, and low-GHG hydrogen co-firing for gas plants are more cost-effective for power plants that operate at greater capacity, more frequently, or over longer time periods. The proposed standards and guidelines take this into account by establishing standards for different subcategories of power plants according to unit characteristics such as their capacity, their intended length of operation, and/or their frequency of operation.
The proposal requires that states, in developing plans for existing sources, undertake meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders, including communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and climate change impacts, as well the energy communities and workers who have powered our nation for generations. President Biden’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization has identified historic resources for energy communities to invest in infrastructure, deploy new technologies that can help clean up the electric power sector, support energy workers and spur long-term economic revitalization.
EPA also conducted an environmental justice analysis, which shows these proposals would, play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, helping avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which is already having a disproportionate impact on underserved and overburdened communities. EPA’s proposal also follows guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality to ensure that the advancement of carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies are done in a responsible manner that incorporates the input of communities and reflects the best available science. Consistent with this guidance, EPA will engage with communities and stakeholders on opportunities to ensure that deployment of carbon capture and sequestration under the proposal is done in a responsible manner.
The proposed standards build on the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future. Since 2005, the power sector has reduced carbon dioxide emissions 36 percent while continuing to keep pace with growing energy demand. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act provides historic investments in pollution control technologies and clean energy, and together, will move the United States closer to ensuring a cleaner, healthier future for all communities.
EPA will take comment on these proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold a virtual public hearing and will make additional information available on the website. Registration for the public hearing will open after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.
Justice Department Announces Launch of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Environmental Crimes Task Force
The Justice Department today announced the launch of the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force to investigate and prosecute violations of federal law harming the environment, wildlife and human health, and associated fraud, waste and abuse in the region.
The creation of the task force comes one year after the Justice Department announced its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy and the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) within the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD).
“All communities deserve clean air, clean water, and the robust protection of their natural resources – both, today and for generations to come,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This task force demonstrates the department’s continued commitment to environmental justice and its comprehensive strategy to address significant concerns faced by communities overburdened with pollution.”
“Environmental justice and ensuring that all residents of Puerto Rico enjoy a healthy environment free of hazardous waste and other pollutants is a top priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department,” said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico. “This Task Force will combine and leverage resources from many federal agencies to aggressively enforce civil and criminal environmental laws.”
“The United States Attorney’s Office, along with our federal and local partners, is committed to enforcing environmental laws. Our goal is to ensure that all our citizens receive protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, play and work,” said U.S. Attorney Delia Smith for the USVI.
The creation of this Task Force builds upon the Justice Department’s environmental justice strategy and brings together federal law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those federal agencies will continue to work closely with their local counterparts, including the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the USVI Attorney General’s Office.
The task force will include law enforcement personnel from the following agencies:
- Army - Criminal Investigation Division
- Army Corps of Engineers
- Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General
- Department of Commerce – Office of Inspector General
- Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations
- Department of Transportation – Office of Inspector General
- Environmental Protection Agency – Criminal Investigation Division
- Environmental Protection Agency – Office of Inspector General
- Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations
- Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General
- IRS – Criminal Investigation Division
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement
- S. Coast Guard – Sector San Juan
- S. Coast Guard Investigative Service
- S. Fish and Wildlife Service
On May 5, 2022, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta signed the Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy. The Strategy provides a roadmap for using the Justice Department’s civil and criminal enforcement authorities and tools. Under the Strategy, the Department seeks to advance environmental justice in underserved communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened, including low-income communities, communities of color and Tribal and Indigenous communities.
Reporting environmental, public health and safety concerns supports a safe community for all. U.S. Attorney Muldrow and U.S. Smith encourage Puerto Rico and USVI residents to use the following contact information to report violations to federal agencies.
Federal Court Finds U.S. Postal Service Wrongfully Fired Employee Who Reported Workplace Injury, Violated Federal Worker Protections
A federal court in Tacoma has ruled that the U.S. Postal Service retaliated against an employee who reported an injury to supervisors and applied for workers' compensation benefits in 2019 while on probation as a new postal employee.
The court's action follows an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration that found the USPS terminated the worker in retaliation for filing an injury report. The agency also determined the USPS stopped conducting performance evaluations and then fired the worker before the end of their new hire probation. The termination violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, which protects an employee's right to report injury without fear of reprisal.
In March 2022, the department's Office of the Solicitor filed a lawsuit against the USPS seeking lost wages, reinstatement and the employee's records expunged. In addition, the department sought a court order requiring the USPS to train supervisors on federal whistleblower protections and to post a notice at its Tacoma facilities detailing employees' rights and protections under the OSH Act.
On May 1, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a summary judgment finding that the USPS did retaliate against the employee. The court directed the USPS to remove any negative reference to the employee's protected activity and termination from their personnel record and to provide neutral employment references only.
The court is scheduled to begin considering issues still undecided on June 26, 2023, including reinstatement and the total in back wages and other monetary damages owed by the USPS to the employee.
"The court's finding highlights the U.S. Postal Service's conduct in this case, which resembles actions the USPS has taken against probationary employees in other cases we're litigating against it," said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. "The summary judgment we have obtained is an important step toward fully protecting the rights of an employee terminated wrongfully for reporting a workplace injury and signals to other postal workers that they should not fear retaliation when exercising their rights."
The court also issued a permanent injunction ordering USPS facilities in Tacoma to give probationary employees who report work-related injuries an equal opportunity to complete probation. This opportunity must include routine performance evaluations based on their medical restrictions and feedback, and/or extended probationary periods if needed.
The injunction also requires the USPS in Tacoma to train all officers, supervisors and employees on federal anti-retaliation regulations, and to notify probationary employees of their rights to report work-related injuries and related medical restrictions without fear of retaliation.
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