Press Releases

EPA Water Rule Heads To Court

Let the litigation begin.

The ink has barely dried on the federal government’s new Clean Water Act regulation, but stakeholders are already suing over the new standards.

A group of attorneys general from conservative and conservative-leaning states is contesting the recent Clean Water Act update on the grounds that it represents government overreach. The suit claims the new regulation is “an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the States’ primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands.”

West Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, and Georgia all joined the suit against the new mandate from the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. The attorneys general from these states are all Republican, “except Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway, who is running for governor,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The attorneys filed a federal lawsuit “that could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court,” The Journal-Constitution reported.

“Filed in federal court in the Southern District of Georgia, the suit challenges a new regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow the government to regulate tributaries to rivers and streams under the Clean Water Act,” the report said.

In addition, “18 other states filed three similar suits over the highly contested rule, which the states claim unfairly expands the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ protected by the Clean Water Act, defies previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, oversteps states’ rights to regulate their own waterways and harms businesses and landowners,” Law 360 reported.

The complaints do not end there. Even proponents of environmental regulation give the rule a mixed review. Despite praising many aspects of the new rule, a coalition of environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity is criticizing it on the grounds that it does not go far enough. The groups say the regulation is rife with concessions to industry:

The new rule reaffirms longstanding federal protections for some types of waters, but largely as a result of industry pressure, arbitrarily exempts and removes safeguards for critically important streams, wetlands and other waterways, many of which had been protected since the 1970s. These unprecedented exemptions are contrary to clear scientific evidence demonstrating the importance of these waterways for drinking water, recreation, fisheries and wildlife.

For their part, “the EPA and Corps have said that it makes the scope of their jurisdiction narrower than it was under previous regulations,” according to Law 360.

Some stakeholders have spoken out favorably about the new rule, praising regulators for compromise, including local and county elected officials.

West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser said, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail: “The Clean Water Rule doesn’t go as far as we’d like, but it’s better than no rule at all. Despite its shortcomings, it brings necessary regulatory clarity for our headwater streams… in today’s political climate, great compromise is required to get anything done.”

The EPA argues that the rule is necessary to protect waterways and because Supreme Court decisions make it unclear what the agency may regulate under the Clean Water Act.

The drought demands creative solutions, but this plan has faced trouble in the past.

With California’s drought continuing to drain the state’s reservoirs and water supplies, and Governor Jerry Brown demanding a 25-percent decrease in urban water usage, one previously unattractive option is gaining some steam.

Treating sewage water, known as potable reuse, was floated as an option in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Californians ultimately decided they couldn’t bear the idea of what some called a “toilet to tap” system. According to the Los Angeles Times, attitudes may be shifting amid the bleak backdrop of the ongoing and historic drought.

There are two main ways sewage water is treated to become drinkable. One involves a three-step process involving a microfilter, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, and hydrogen peroxide. Another, which the Times said was defeated in California in the past, involves the use of an “environmental buffer” such as a reservoir or aquifer. The water is placed in the buffer before entering a traditional water-treatment plant.

A plant in Orange County, California, has already been turning used water into potable water. Such treatment plants began contributing to the drinking-water supply in 2008, according to a CNN article from last year. One plant in Namibia has been supplying water for local residents since 1968.

Toilet-to-tap stories and trend pieces have popped up multiple times in the past few years. The consensus is that an effective P.R. campaign and a dire water shortage are two factors that could turn the tide when it comes to public opinion about treating sewage water. In California, a U.C. Davis professor and water treatment expert estimates that treated sewage water could supply 20 percent of the state’s population by 2020.

Related: From Almond Milk to the Putting Green: California Drought Shaming, Diagrammed

“In many ways, it’s cleaner than the water people are already consuming,” U.C. Berkeley professor David Sedlak told a local CBS affiliate in April. “If you’ve ever been to Southern California or the Southwest where the water tastes funny, you’re probably tasting all the dissolved salts in the water and they make it unpalatable. This recycled water has much lower levels of salt. If people could do a side-by-side taste comparison, it tastes better than a lot of the water you get around the country.”

Earlier this year, BuzzFeed created a taste-test video, in which typically over eager millennials try to identify which cup of water they drank was originally sourced from sewage water. Though the (non-scientific) results suggest that the treated water tastes just fine, one of BuzzFeed’s guinea pigs voices a familiar concern: “I don’t care. No, it’s just, it’s poop water, you know? I know what’s been in there. Even if it’s all gone.”

The coming resource wars

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” — Kenneth Boulding, author of “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”

One global power, the United States, and two regional powers, China and Russia, are making up plans — and adding to their armies — for future use that will have none of the political dogma that was a part of the past 100 years. The Middle East is a proving ground for crude oil, an essential energy source for the modern world regardless of what the Greens preach. The real test for survival will come as the world population continues to grow. Fresh water is already a growing global concern; and without plentiful water, food stocks will draw down.

It all comes down to numbers. What would you think if I made you this offer?

Come and work for me as a special consultant. I will write you a 30-day contract for you to work for me, and I will pay you one penny on your first day. Each day thereafter, I will double your salary. On Day 2 I will pay you 2 cents, and on Day 3 I will pay you 4 cents.

If you understand exponential growth (growth by a constant fraction of the growing quantity during a constant time period), you will expect such a contract to be fortuitous by its expiration. But even I was shocked at the numbers.

As your employer, the doubling and then the redoubling of your salary would be only $5.12 on the 10th day. By the 15th day, I would have to pay $164. But by the 20th day, the exponential growth of your salary would cost me $5,243. Finally, by the 30th and last day of our contract, I would owe you a check for $5,368,709 for eight hours of work.

Of course, long before the 30th day, our contract would be void. I’ve never had anything close to $5 million, and no banker would extend me such credit (especially if I made crazy deals like the one above). Somewhere around the 20th day, our agreement would hit critical mass — a point from which I could not fulfill my obligation.

The Earth’s population is also growing exponentially. While it is not doubling every day, it is doubling every 40 years. As this growth multiplies upon itself, the finite resources of the Earth are stretched so far that the last war fought by humankind will be over the same things the first war was fought over: water, shelter and food.

When my great-grandfather was born in 1851, there were roughly a billion people on the planet, double Earth’s population in 1500. That type of growth rate — a doubling every 350 years — was consistent with the rate of increase to humankind from the dawn of agriculture to beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

In a way my great-grandfather’s generation was the first of the baby boomers, for his was the first generation to be the leading wave of the first human population explosion.

When my grandfather Amil was born in 1881, the global population totaled 1.5 billion people. Between his birth and his father’s birth 30 years before, the world had added half-again as many souls.

When my father was only 13, in 1925, Earth’s population was 2 billion. By 1976, when I was in high school, it had doubled to 4 billion. The current population is more than 7 billion. By 2050, the world population is predicted to stand at 9.5 billion.

Last summer, Real Clear World put these numbers in context:

That’s 35 percent more than today’s 7 billion — the equivalent of adding a new Africa and China to the world in just over a single generation. And the demand for added resources will actually rise more than 35 percent, because the 4 billion people presently surviving on the equivalent of $5 a day or less won’t be content to live at subsistence level for the rest of their lives. Lifting them up will take more — much more — of everything, as the average person living in the industrialized world today consumes or uses 40,000 pounds each year of metals, from aluminum to zinc, and more than 70 elements in between.

I have spoken with agronomists who say that in order to support population increases, the word will have to quadruple its agriculture production and increase its energy output by a factor of eight.

Some 160 years after the Industrial Revolution commenced, man is drinking dry the Earth’s wellspring. The end result could be the collapse of civilization and loss of civil liberties.

Global populations could be so greatly reduced that the nation state may find an excuse to use sweeping powers. Society could eventually revert to the breakdown that prevailed during the Dark Ages, where fundamentalist religions and local despots dominated human existence.

Yours in good times and bad,

Usgbc Cces
Triton Stormwater Solutions, LLC
7600 Grand River Rd, Suite 195
Brighton, Michigan 48114
Phone: (810) 222-7652 - Fax: (810) 222-1769