Regulations and the Role of EPA

As the Republican-led 115th Congress enthusiastically moves to fill its to-do list with regulation rollbacks and the undoing of rules, we should keep in mind that protecting our environment from degradation and conserving our natural resources has been a mainstay of common belief for garden clubs everywhere since the alarms were sounded by Rachel Carson (Silent Spring).

Among those areas  of concern, recently cited on a Washington Post article, are chopping away at rules that protect waterways near coal mines and controls on methane release putting economics and human profit- making activities above public protections.  For example, our new President has declared that he will be coming down hard on the EPA, possibly destroying it to undo  “business stifling” regulations. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are having their “law enforcement capacities” for the land under their jurisdiction terminated. It will be like trying to manage poachers in a vast reserve with scarce assistance.  With unfortunate regularity, as the pendulum swings from left to right and back again, there is over-excitement about getting one’s political will dished out in spades. All this effort to undo the hard won pubic gain in favor of the (moneyed) private may be greatly regretted when the wheel turns again.

Maryland’s Commission on Climate Change has an acting plan of making recommendation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2030. Methane emitted from human activities is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the US and is more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2. (72x more in a 2yr period) Maryland’s been doing a good job lessening our CO2 contribution by shifting to natural gas BUT natural gas is mostly methane. And hydraulic fracturing linked to natural gas is adding more leakage.

The three highest problem areas are Natural Gas systems (33%), Landfills (20%) and from the digestion processes of ruminant animals (22%). Now fracking is a suspect in the US methane surge—in fact the US is the likely culprit in the global methane emission spike with the shale oil and gas boom. Yet, Congress is doubling down in a party line position of pro-energy development stating fracking should be permitted nation wide. The US Environmental Protection Agency had been trying to rein in methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and had proposed new rules to curb them from oil and gas wells…

Western Maryland contains part of the Marcellus Shale Formation in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, with gas production expected to come from fracking operations in the latter two counties. Prior regulations in place do not address these new fracking technologies. The process, “hydraulic fracturing”, literally involves the smashing of rock with millions of gallons of water–along with sand and a undisclosed assortment of chemicals in order to bring gas to the surface. The risks are groundwater contamination, toxic chemical exposure, more methane and air pollution plus earthquakes. This is definitely something that requires more, not less regulation!

Garrett and Allegany Counties have been coal mining areas. Our Dept. of the Environment seeks to protect the public from potential impacts of coal mining and to restore and enhance abandoned goal mining lands. The mine inspectors perform on-site inspections to insure compliance with the regulatory program and any special conditions imposed on the mining permit. The Abandoned Mine Lands Division was created to reclaim those areas that were worked ruinously by mining companies without a care for environmental impacts  before the imposition of public law in 1977. In these Maryland counties, 9,500 acres were impacted by surface and underground mining and 450 miles of streams were impaired by acid mine drainage. So drinking water, native fish and fauna have been affected as well as public enjoyment of those areas.  Without regulation and laws, businesses tend to leave the costs of cleanup and repair to the public and seek to avoid paying for “unintended consequences” from their activities.

Let’s remember that protecting the public is important and that many regulations in the public interest should outweigh the desires of untrammeled businesses. We, the ladies of the garden clubs, should continue to stand strongly for protecting the environment.