What’s Wrong With the EPA…

A lively #agchat discussion on the EPA last night prompted some further discussion on twitter during the after party. 140 characters was just not enough so I have thrown together some further thoughts here.

First, I have no doubt that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), CEPA (California Environmental Protection Agency), CAQCB (California Air Quality Control Board), CWRCB (California Water Quality Control Board) and the NCWQCB (North Coast Water Quality Control Board) were all implemented with the best of intentions. However, we all know where the road goes that is paved with good intentions.  My comments are on all of these agencies as they overlap and often work together to address the same issues that I have been involved with. Also, these thoughts are from my personal experience in dealing with these agencies as they relate to my area: National Forest, private timber, irrigated and non-irrigated ag land, water quality and salmonid habitat.

Here are four examples that impact me directly and that I have been involved with in testifying at hearings and submitting comments.

Example 1: In the Scott River TMDL, sediment was listed as limiting factor, with the assumed cause being active timber land and cattle in the streams and river. Ranches have been forced to fence off riparian areas and private timber owners have to report road usage, maintenance and culvert replacement to 3 and sometimes as many as 5 different agencies. Following implementation of the TMDL it was “discovered” that the biggest contributor to sediment was National Forest, followed by private timber that had not been managed due to the listing of the Spotted owl. Data showed minor contributions resulted from active timber land and ag land. However, no changes were made in the regulations of the TMDL after this information was brought to light.

Example #2: In the Klamath TMDL, phosphorus and temperature are listed as limiting factors, with the assumed cause being agriculture, timber and the dams in the river. The dams, which provide green energy are being proposed to be removed and ag and timber are being forced to monitor their phosphorus contributions (it is unknown how exactly this is going to be accomplished, since no one can explain where phosphorus may be originating from on ag or timber land).  Data, from over 20 years of collection, was completely ignored. The data clearly shows that the head waters of the Klamath, which originates from volcanic springs starts high in phosphorus and warm and actually cools as it moves downstream and loses the phosphorus.

Example #3: In the Scott River TMDL, the NCWQB, under the direction of the EPA, established riparian standards for salmonids that are for mountain streams, not alluvial rivers. They assumed that since the Scott River was the means for the salmon to reach their spawning grounds, it should be considered under the same category. The Scott River used to be a great rearing habitat for salmonids and spawning area for Chinook, however, with the implemented changes, Chinook spawning has decreased and are now being proposed for listing. Further, the CDFG (California Department of Fish and Game) have been saying that it is not a habitat issue; rather, it is an issue of not enough adults making it from the ocean and through the tribal gill nets to spawn. Once again, neither agency has made any attempt to modify the regulations nor is anyone monitoring the tribal take.

Example #4: The CEPA implemented regulations on diesel engines to improve air quality. The assumption was that diesel engines were the major contributor to air quality issues in California. CEPA was requiring that all diesel engines be either changed out or fitted with special filters within three to five years. However, the “new engine” with exhaust levels, that meet the new standards, does not even exist and the filters run between $25,000 and $120,000, depending on the engine size. Further, the regulations removed any resale value from the vehicles. Last fall it was “discovered” that the data used to establish the regulations had been off by 340%; yes, 340% error in the data on diesel exhaust. “Critics Accuse State Agency of Using Bad Science” CEPA and the EPA refused to hold off on implementation of the regulations, despite the “error” being discovered. Currently, there is a court ordered stay in place, but it is unknown how long it will last.

From my experience, I have made the following observations.

  1. Environmental agencies are forced to operate on timelines dictated by lawsuits from environmental groups and create regulations that are not based on complete, nor accurate information.
  2. Environmental agencies have become “top heavy” with administrators and managers and have lost “in-house” scientists. This has resulted in agencies using outside data and experts, often from the entity that is suing the agency.
  3. The current system does not encourage /allow for modifications in regulations to be made when errors are discovered.
  4. State agencies, too often rely on their Federal counterpart for assistance, which results in regulations that are not always applicable to the area that they are being implemented.
  5. Many of the people working within the agencies are good people and know that what is happening is wrong, but due to courts and judges are being forced to implement regulations that they know to be in error.

In conclusion, I do not doubt that there are issues that environmental agencies need to address. I also believe they have implemented some very beneficial changes. However, those that are beneficial were given due diligence, fully assessed and based on science that was objective and repeatable. Regulations need to be a result of science beginning with a hypothesis and objectively tested, not a result of a study designed to have or show a desired outcome.

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  1. June 1, 2011 at 9:22 PM | #1

    Great post Jeff. Their lack of looking at facts reminds me of a biologist doing a deer and elk count on a 60 section ranch I was working on. He told me how disturbed he was that there were NO deer or elk on the place. I told him that I could show him two deer herds of over 30 as well as a herd of 20 elk. He told me I was wrong and they weren’t there. We drove off in opposite directions and in less than a half mile I drove past three bull elk bedded down next to the road that he drove past without seeing. Sometimes I think these people don’t see things on purpose!

  2. June 1, 2011 at 10:39 PM | #2

    Ha! Guess which species I did my literature review/poster session on for my fisheries biology class, back in the day….

    And as you may have also guessed, a lot of the issues you raise here are close to my heart. Can’t disagree with you entirely, though I will on some things – I’ll post my thoughts tomorrow night here: http://www.correntewire.com/blog/hipparchia

    Thanks for taking the time to write this.

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