Articles Tagged with Government

Want to Pollute in Illinois? Go Ahead, Governor Rauner Won't Stop YouApparently unconcerned that Illinois is one of the top 10 states for industrial air and water pollution in the country, Governor Rauner’s administration is failing to police and penalize industrial polluters. Put more bluntly, Rauner and his EPA are giving polluters a pass.

The Illinois EPA, unlike the US EPA, cannot penalize polluters on its own. It can investigate and negotiate informally with companies, but if a deal cannot be reached, it has to refer the matter to the Illinois attorney general, who can file a civil or criminal complaint. This is the Illinois EPA’s most powerful enforcement tool.

Unfortunately, this is where Rauner’s administration is failing the state. The Illinois EPA has cut back sharply on referring cases to the state’s attorney general. According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of enforcement data, Rauner’s EPA has averaged only 80 referrals a year to the attorney general, compared to 189 for Blagojevich and 144 for Quinn during similar time periods. The result is that, since Rauner became governor in 2015, Illinois has sought only $6.1 million in penalties from polluters-about one-third the amount demanded during the first three years under his two predecessors. (And the amounts sought were paltry, even under previous governors.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the latest in a parade of dreadful environmental nominees is back.

In December, the Senate sent the nomination of Kathleen-Hartnett White–for Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality–back to the White House for reconsideration, believing that Trump would submit someone else. Instead, Trump–in an obnoxious and lazy move–has booted her name right back to the Senate. Now it is up to the senators to put aside party politics and reject this disastrous nominee permanently.

Hartnett-White was an unqualified nominee from the start. A controversial Texas environmental regulator who has called carbon dioxide “the gas of life”, and denied that human activity is causing climate change, Hartnett-White’s initial confirmation hearing was a disaster. 1 She struggled to answer even basic scientific questions, prompting one senator to call her testimony “some of the most embarrassing” he’d ever seen, and later stating that she was unqualified and “didn’t understand high-school level scientific principles.” 2

climate-change-2254711_1920.jpgThe world is heading for a potential climate catastrophe and a recently released report has unmasked the biggest corporations responsible. The report entitled “Carbon Majors: Accounting for Carbon and Methane Emissions 1854-2010”, by researcher Richard Heede, “offers the most complete picture to date of which institutions extracted the fossil fuels that have been the root cause of global warming since the Industrial Revolution.”

In other words, this report lists which corporations are responsible for the majority of the carbon dioxide emissions that are fueling climate change. It’s obvious that energy corporations would be on this list. What is surprising is how few corporations can be responsible for so much. A full 63% of carbon dioxide emissions since the 1850s can be traced back to only 90 of the largest fossil fuel and cement producers in the world. Predictably, the United States accounts for a large share of these corporate giants. Among the nefarious 90 are the 21 American corporations listed below:

Chevron Texaco

Thumbnail image for usa-1356800_1920.jpgThere are many potential reasons why you might want to contact your state’s most important environmental and health agencies. Usually it is because you are concerned about an environmental issue in your area. Here are 10 questions you may want answered:

(1) Is there an environmental investigation being conducted in my area into possible groundwater or air contamination?

(2) Has a local plant, factory or landfill been cited for violating environmental laws or regulations?

Flint Michigan.jpgMichigan’s Attorney General has criminally charged more than 50 people over the deplorable government behavior that stripped the families of Flint of their clean water from Lake Huron, and substituted dangerous, lead contaminated water from the Flint River.

And now the Attorney General has just filed the most significant charges of all: he has charged the State’s Director of Health and Human Services (HHS) with felony manslaughter, and the State’s Chief Medical Executive with obstruction of justice. The HHS Director, when informed that the contaminated water might have led to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that ultimately took the life of an 85 year old man, is shockingly alleged to have observed that, “everyone has to die of something”. And the Chief Medical Executive is alleged to have threatened to withhold funding from a community health organization if it did not stop searching for the source of the Legionnaire’s outbreak.

While criminal charges are obviously serious, and in all honesty very rare in environmental contamination cases, they are certainly warranted here, in my opinion, for these reasons:

Thumbnail image for FOIA-20rotator.jpgGovernment Often Keeps Us in the Dark

Is your government protecting you? If your air or water is contaminated, and your government knows it, it’ll tell you, right?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is often, “no”.

I want to take a moment to recognize McHenry County, IL, and its Public Health Administrator, Michael Hill, for disclosing on the County’s website what it calls “Groundwater Contamination Incidents”. http://ow.ly/Gb7v30cyNOF

countryside-2252029_1920.jpgMcHenry, while a fast developing county, is not far-removed from its roots as essentially a rural community, where most residents drew their water directly from the ground, and so contaminated groundwater was a very big deal, indeed. It still is.

As you can see, McHenry and Hill have itemized 11 such “Incidents”, and interested citizens can click onto any one of them, and see a host of relevant documents, including environmental test results, newspaper articles, government correspondence, etc., as to each one of them. (I’m trusting that the County has identified all of the “Incidents” that it should, and that it adds new documents to each “Incident” page as they become available.)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for vaporintrusion.jpgHow long after the discovery of chemical contamination in groundwater should government be checking to see if those chemicals have turned into a gas (“vapor”), and migrated upward to intrude into the breathing space of homes?

They shouldn’t wait a quarter century, that’s for sure.

News just broke out of Bellaire, Ohio that the EPA will soon be testing to see if perchloroethylene (PCE), known to be in area groundwater since the 1990’s, is intruding in vapor form into overlying homes and businesses. PCE belongs to a family of chemicals known as VOC’s– “volatile organic compounds”–precisely because they convert to gas so readily. PCE, TCE (trichloroethylene), DCE (dichloroethylene) and VC (vinyl chloride) are among the VOC’s which were used by factories beginning more than 100 years ago as industrial cleaners (“degreasers”), and then often recklessly dumped, spilled or buried, and left to bleed down through the soil and into groundwater supplies. PCE was notoriously used and dumped by dry cleaners, which seems to have been the problem in Bellaire.

courtroom-898931_1920.jpgOne of the surest topics on which to get agreement is that we should punish the filing of “frivolous” lawsuits. There are legitimate debates to be had over the definition of “frivolous”, who decides what is “frivolous”, and what the punishment (usually called a “sanction”) should be. For years, and for very good reason, there has been wide agreement that it’s best to leave these decisions to the judge on the case. Because he/she is in the best position to know whether a lawsuit is so lacking in merit (so “frivolous”) that it does not deserve to be in a court room, and if so, what the sanction should be for the party and/or lawyer who filed it.

As a lawyer who mostly files (rather than defends) lawsuits, I completely agree with the sanctioning of those who bring frivolous cases to court. Why? Because they not only bring discredit to my profession, but they occupy the taxpayer-funded resources of the court with cases that don’t deserve them, thereby making those resources unavailable (or less available) for those cases that do deserve them.

And I also agree that it must be the judge on the case who decides what is “frivolous”, whether there should be a sanction, and, if so, and what the sanction should be. This does not work perfectly, of course-nothing does-but I don’t believe there can be any responsible doubt that the judge is in the best position to make these decisions. That judge is in the best position, for example, to decide whether the lawsuit stretching the legal precedent is just a meritless money grab by an unscrupulous lawyer–who should be sanctioned– or a good faith effort by the lawyer to try to expand the law to help the powerless in society. In which case, no sanction should be imposed. Because some of the most important legal cases in our history started out with good faith efforts like this.

Thumbnail image for coal-1626401_1920.jpgYour average second grader knows that 1,300 is not the same as 50,000…..and that 400 is not the same as 7,000.

But the man who heads the US EPA evidently does not know this.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt was all over the airwaves the last few days, defending the United States’ backing out of the Paris climate change accord by saying that the decision was necessary to support coal industry job creation. As statistical evidence to support this, Pruitt claimed:

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