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Gulf Coast petrochemical growth draws billions in tax breaks despite pollution violations

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Friday, March 15, 2024

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. A booming petrochemical buildout on the Gulf Coast has drawn billions of dollars in public subsidies from state tax abatement programs despite regular violations of pollution permits, according to a new report released Thursday. The Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental nonprofit based in Texas and Washington, D.C., compiled data on all U.S. plastics projects built, expanded or proposed since 2012, almost all of them along the Gulf Coast. The report identified 50 plastics complexes built or expanded in the last 12 years, 33 of them in Texas, where they have drawn a total of $1.65 billion in property tax breaks through the state’s Chapter 313 program for energy and manufacturing companies, which the state legislature replaced last year with a new but similar program. That’s a tiny dent in Texas’ $250 billion annual tax revenue, but it’s just one visible slice of the total concessions corporations receive to do business in Texas, and it represents lost income that would have gone primarily to the state’s public schools, which are struggling with shortfalls in teachers and funding. Now, companies are proposing to build an additional 42 plastics plants, 24 of them in Texas, according to the 73-page EIP report, “Feeding the Plastics Industrial Complex.” “The industry is expanding rapidly, and more communities are being asked to consider public subsidies,” it said. “None of the state programs we examined require industries to follow the terms of their state pollution control permits.” While Texas hosts the most new plastics production, the most generous tax breaks come from neighboring Louisiana, among the nation’s poorest states, where three projects alone drew $6.5 billion in local discounts since 2013. All operating projects considered in the EIP report claimed a total of $9 billion in exchange for commitments to economic development and job growth. That money would have otherwise funded local schools and public services, said Alexandra Shaykevich, research manager at the Environmental Integrity Project. Instead, it’s given to highly profitable corporations that are often foreign-owned and likely would have located near the nation’s major oil and gas resources with-or-without local tax incentives, according to her group’s report. Most facilities reviewed by the EIP reported repeated violations of their pollution permits, Shaykevich said, but those violations never jeopardized their tax subsidies. “I think if companies can’t obey the law they shouldn't be rewarded with taxpayer money,” she said. “We would certainly advocate for making subsidies conditional on compliance.” The American Chemistry Council and the Texas Chemistry Council, which represent the plastics business, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner, chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, said the state’s tax incentive program “bolsters economically distressed communities and enhances its competitive advantage in attracting vital industries.” “The program ensures that the Texas economic miracle continues to thrive by offering quality employment opportunities for Texans and investments in our communities,” Schwertner said. Gulf Coast Expansion  The recent growth in Gulf Coast petrochemicals, which include plastics, are a result of the ongoing boom in hydraulic fracturing upstream in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin of Texas. Pipelines carry oil and gas hundreds of miles to the coast, where refineries and chemical plants produce commercial products and load them onto ships for sale overseas. The United States . remains a world leader in petrochemical production and export thanks primarily to these industries, said Joe Powell, executive director of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Houston. “We’ve got really good energy prices here on the Gulf Coast because of fracking,” he said. “That makes the U.S. Gulf Coast a really good investment opportunity, especially in petrochemicals.” Within plastics, he said, most recent growth has come from ethane crackers, facilities that turn natural gas into ethylene, which, according to the American Chemistry Council, can be made into polymers that are “used to manufacture fibers, bins, pails, crates, bottles, piping, food packaging films, trash liners, bags, wire and cable sheathing, insulation, surface coatings for paper and cardboard, and a wide variety of other products.” The U.S. is the top exporter of ethylene polymers, much of which go to China, the world’s top importer. Powell, a former chief scientist for Shell, the global energy company, said years of rapid expansions have brought a glut of ethylene to market and left the Gulf Coast overbuilt in the short term, which he called “typical of the chemical business.” But in the long term, robust demand for plastics is expected to rapidly grow. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts global plastics demand will triple between 2019 and 2060. Much of that supply will come from Texas. High demand for plastics and other petrochemicals will support a growing share of fossil fuel production, said Tom Sanzillo, a director of financial analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, as major sectors like transportation fuels and power generation shift to more sustainable forms of energy. Proposed Projects in Texas For its report, the EIP drew on public records, including permit applications and company announcements, to compile a list of plastics projects currently proposed. Their data shows a wave of new development still planned for the Texas coast, including seven new complexes and 20 expansions at existing complexes. For example, it said Formosa Plastics, a $460 billion Taiwanese company, has proposed to build a new vinyl chloride reactor, which produces material for PVC plastic, at its 2,500-acre Point Comfort complex on Lavaca Bay. (The company has quietly advanced other expansion plans lately, as well.) At neighboring Matagorda Bay, German petrochemical manufacturer Roehm plans to turn greenfields into a new plant to produce methyl methacrylate, a component of common construction plastics. In Corpus Christi, a joint Singaporean-Taiwanese-Mexican venture plans to build a new manufacturing complex for polyethylene terephthalate, a common plastic in disposable packaging, named “Project Jumbo.” The complex, proposed by the companies Indorama, Far Eastern New Century and Alpek, will also include a desalination plant to pull seawater from Nueces Bay. Near Houston, ExxonMobil plans three major expansions at its massive Baytown complex: a new cracking furnace, expansion of its polypropylene plant and a new hydrogen plant to power those and other units. The highest concentration of proposed new plastics complexes surrounds Port Arthur, a small city ringed in heavy industry that boasts some of the last available ship channel waterfront on the Gulf. There, Motiva Enterprises, which is owned by the government of Saudi Arabia, has proposed a new ethylene unit consisting of eight furnaces next to its existing Port Arthur refinery. Ethylene is produced by heating natural gas or petroleum to above 800 degrees Celsius, which produces a mixture of gases from which ethylene is separated. Texas-based companies Energy Transfer, Enterprise Products Partners and Chevron Philipps Chemical have also proposed new complexes of ethylene and polyethylene units in the area. “Our local government and our state government welcomes this activity, but the people who live in the shadows of the industry are the ones who continue to suffer,” said Hilton Kelley, 63, a community organizer from Port Arthur. “In most of these situations around the nation, you will find that it’s people of color.” Forty-three percent of Port Arthur residents are Black, more than three times the statewide average. Much of the city is in the 95th percentile nationally for both the volume of toxic air pollution released and resulting cancer risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Credit: James Bruggers/Inside Climate News “We’re just like a dumping ground,” said Kelley. “A large number of my friends and relatives have died from cancer.” But despite the abundance of multibillion-dollar industries in Port Arthur, median household income is 37 percent less than Texas as a whole while its poverty rate is nearly double. State Tax Abatement Programs In its report, the EIP found at least two-thirds of the 50 recently completed plastics projects it reviewed nationally received tax abatements through state or local governments. Of the top four recipients, three were in Louisiana, drawing a combined $4.6 billion from the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program since 2013, and one was in Pennsylvania, a massive Shell ethylene plant in Beaver County outside Pittsburgh, which drew $1.65 billion from Pennsylvania’s Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit. All were owned, in part or in full, by corporations from Asia, Africa or Europe. The fifth top recipient was Dow Chemical’s Freeport chemical complex in Brazoria County, which received $393 million in operating discounts since 2013 through Texas’ Chapter 313 tax abatement program. Dow did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “It sounds like a lot of money. But in this game that some people would call interstate competition for growth and others would call corporate welfare, it’s not an overwhelming amount,” said Mike Kraten, director of accounting program initiatives at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. “I think anyone would agree that this has become par for the course.” Chapter 313, one of many tax abatement programs in Texas, represents a small slice of the total incentives that companies may receive to invest here. The biggest concessions are typically custom-negotiated in private between company lobbyists and state or local governmental development offices, Kraten said. Chapter 313 drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Texas. The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation called it“unnecessary and wasteful.”Texas doesn’t need to offer tax incentives, critics argued, because its oil and gas fields mean companies will locate here anyway. Last year, the Texas Legislature replaced the Chapter 313 program with a similar program called Chapter 403, which the think tank Every Texan called “better in some ways, worse in others.” According to Dick Lavine, a senior analyst at Every Texan, two 403 agreements have been signed to date. Meanwhile, the Texas comptroller’s office shows 872 tax abatement agreements still active under Chapter 313. Last year, an analysis by the Houston Chronicle showed those outstanding agreements will cost Texas taxpayers $31 billion in lost revenue over the next 30 years. Regular Violations of Pollution Permits  These subsidies are awarded irrespective of companies’ history of compliance with environmental law, the EIP report found.. Of the plastics plants it considered, 84 percent had self-reported violations of their pollution permits to state environmental regulators. “They seldom face penalties and never have their public subsidies revoked, no matter how frequent their environmental permit violation,” the report said. For example, it cited Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a huge, new plastics plant outside Corpus Christi, jointly owned by the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and ExxonMobil, the world’s largest private oil company, which posted a record $56 billion profit in 2022. Located in the town of Gregory, which is 90 percent Hispanic, the project secured in 2017 a $249 million tax break from the Gregory-Portland Independent School District for the period between 2022 and 2032. Then, between 2021 and 2022, the facility reported 10 unpermitted pollution releases totalling 560,802 pounds due to equipment failure, emergency flaring or unplanned shutdowns. During one incident in 2022, the glow of burning ground flares was visible from 20 miles away for days, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times. The plant also incurred 63 violations from Texas’ environmental regulator in less than two years, according to the EIP report. “These include failure to comply with limits for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, failure to properly sample and analyze discharges of stormwater from the site, and failing to properly operate and monitor its flares,” the report said. An ExxonMobil spokesperson, Lauren Knight, said Gulf Coast Growth Ventures has donated $20 million to the local community “including local enrichment projects, environmental preservation, STEM programs, city infrastructure and air monitoring.” Knight said air monitors installed in 2019 have shown no change in air quality since. “At all of our sites, our focus is on reducing emissions, improving air quality and protecting the environment. We maintain the highest standards for safety, health and environmental care and comply with all applicable laws and regulations,” Knight said. All of the top seven U.S. plastics plants that incurred legal penalties for Clean Air Act violations between 2020 and 2023 were in Texas, the report found. Brandy Deason, climate justice coordinator for the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston, which collaborated on the report, said public subsidies shouldn’t go to companies that harm public health beyond what their pollution permits allow. Before Air Alliance Houston, she worked at commercial laboratories in Louisiana and Texas that analyzed air samples from industrial operators for their reports to regulators. That’s where she realized what sorts of vapors wafted from refineries and chemical plants—things like benzene, butadiene and all manner of volatile organic compounds. “I saw the air pollution first hand. I ran it through the instruments. I did the reports,” she said. “I saw a lot of pollution.” What frustrates her most, she said, was the pointlessness of much of it. While many plastics are now used in construction and high-grade medical gear, much more goes to single-use packaging that wasn’t present in the world just a few decades ago. And, she said, campaigns by Air Alliance Houston and its allies to slow the pace of plastics expansions authorized by Texas regulators have been largely ineffective. “Even if the community speaks out, permits are almost never denied,” she said. “We’re constantly showing them the problems, we just get ignored and they get the permits.” Disclosure: Air Alliance Houston, Dow Chemical, Energy Transfer, Every Texan, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Texas Public Policy Foundation and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here. We can’t wait to welcome you to downtown Austin Sept. 5-7 for the 2024 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us at Texas’ breakout politics and policy event as we dig into the 2024 elections, state and national politics, the state of democracy, and so much more. When tickets go on sale this spring, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

A new report by the Environmental Integrity Project compiled data on every U.S. plastics plant built, expanded or proposed since 2012, revealing massive growth in Texas.

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.


A booming petrochemical buildout on the Gulf Coast has drawn billions of dollars in public subsidies from state tax abatement programs despite regular violations of pollution permits, according to a new report released Thursday.

The Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental nonprofit based in Texas and Washington, D.C., compiled data on all U.S. plastics projects built, expanded or proposed since 2012, almost all of them along the Gulf Coast.

The report identified 50 plastics complexes built or expanded in the last 12 years, 33 of them in Texas, where they have drawn a total of $1.65 billion in property tax breaks through the state’s Chapter 313 program for energy and manufacturing companies, which the state legislature replaced last year with a new but similar program.

That’s a tiny dent in Texas’ $250 billion annual tax revenue, but it’s just one visible slice of the total concessions corporations receive to do business in Texas, and it represents lost income that would have gone primarily to the state’s public schools, which are struggling with shortfalls in teachers and funding.

Now, companies are proposing to build an additional 42 plastics plants, 24 of them in Texas, according to the 73-page EIP report, “Feeding the Plastics Industrial Complex.”

“The industry is expanding rapidly, and more communities are being asked to consider public subsidies,” it said. “None of the state programs we examined require industries to follow the terms of their state pollution control permits.”

While Texas hosts the most new plastics production, the most generous tax breaks come from neighboring Louisiana, among the nation’s poorest states, where three projects alone drew $6.5 billion in local discounts since 2013. All operating projects considered in the EIP report claimed a total of $9 billion in exchange for commitments to economic development and job growth.

That money would have otherwise funded local schools and public services, said Alexandra Shaykevich, research manager at the Environmental Integrity Project. Instead, it’s given to highly profitable corporations that are often foreign-owned and likely would have located near the nation’s major oil and gas resources with-or-without local tax incentives, according to her group’s report.

Most facilities reviewed by the EIP reported repeated violations of their pollution permits, Shaykevich said, but those violations never jeopardized their tax subsidies.

“I think if companies can’t obey the law they shouldn't be rewarded with taxpayer money,” she said. “We would certainly advocate for making subsidies conditional on compliance.”

The American Chemistry Council and the Texas Chemistry Council, which represent the plastics business, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner, chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, said the state’s tax incentive program “bolsters economically distressed communities and enhances its competitive advantage in attracting vital industries.”

“The program ensures that the Texas economic miracle continues to thrive by offering quality employment opportunities for Texans and investments in our communities,” Schwertner said.

Gulf Coast Expansion 

The recent growth in Gulf Coast petrochemicals, which include plastics, are a result of the ongoing boom in hydraulic fracturing upstream in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin of Texas. Pipelines carry oil and gas hundreds of miles to the coast, where refineries and chemical plants produce commercial products and load them onto ships for sale overseas.

The United States . remains a world leader in petrochemical production and export thanks primarily to these industries, said Joe Powell, executive director of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Houston.

“We’ve got really good energy prices here on the Gulf Coast because of fracking,” he said. “That makes the U.S. Gulf Coast a really good investment opportunity, especially in petrochemicals.”

Within plastics, he said, most recent growth has come from ethane crackers, facilities that turn natural gas into ethylene, which, according to the American Chemistry Council, can be made into polymers that are “used to manufacture fibers, bins, pails, crates, bottles, piping, food packaging films, trash liners, bags, wire and cable sheathing, insulation, surface coatings for paper and cardboard, and a wide variety of other products.”

The U.S. is the top exporter of ethylene polymers, much of which go to China, the world’s top importer.

Powell, a former chief scientist for Shell, the global energy company, said years of rapid expansions have brought a glut of ethylene to market and left the Gulf Coast overbuilt in the short term, which he called “typical of the chemical business.”

But in the long term, robust demand for plastics is expected to rapidly grow. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts global plastics demand will triple between 2019 and 2060. Much of that supply will come from Texas.

High demand for plastics and other petrochemicals will support a growing share of fossil fuel production, said Tom Sanzillo, a director of financial analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, as major sectors like transportation fuels and power generation shift to more sustainable forms of energy.

Proposed Projects in Texas

For its report, the EIP drew on public records, including permit applications and company announcements, to compile a list of plastics projects currently proposed. Their data shows a wave of new development still planned for the Texas coast, including seven new complexes and 20 expansions at existing complexes.

For example, it said Formosa Plastics, a $460 billion Taiwanese company, has proposed to build a new vinyl chloride reactor, which produces material for PVC plastic, at its 2,500-acre Point Comfort complex on Lavaca Bay. (The company has quietly advanced other expansion plans lately, as well.)

At neighboring Matagorda Bay, German petrochemical manufacturer Roehm plans to turn greenfields into a new plant to produce methyl methacrylate, a component of common construction plastics.

In Corpus Christi, a joint Singaporean-Taiwanese-Mexican venture plans to build a new manufacturing complex for polyethylene terephthalate, a common plastic in disposable packaging, named “Project Jumbo.” The complex, proposed by the companies Indorama, Far Eastern New Century and Alpek, will also include a desalination plant to pull seawater from Nueces Bay.

Near Houston, ExxonMobil plans three major expansions at its massive Baytown complex: a new cracking furnace, expansion of its polypropylene plant and a new hydrogen plant to power those and other units.

The highest concentration of proposed new plastics complexes surrounds Port Arthur, a small city ringed in heavy industry that boasts some of the last available ship channel waterfront on the Gulf. There, Motiva Enterprises, which is owned by the government of Saudi Arabia, has proposed a new ethylene unit consisting of eight furnaces next to its existing Port Arthur refinery. Ethylene is produced by heating natural gas or petroleum to above 800 degrees Celsius, which produces a mixture of gases from which ethylene is separated.

Texas-based companies Energy Transfer, Enterprise Products Partners and Chevron Philipps Chemical have also proposed new complexes of ethylene and polyethylene units in the area.

“Our local government and our state government welcomes this activity, but the people who live in the shadows of the industry are the ones who continue to suffer,” said Hilton Kelley, 63, a community organizer from Port Arthur. “In most of these situations around the nation, you will find that it’s people of color.”

Forty-three percent of Port Arthur residents are Black, more than three times the statewide average. Much of the city is in the 95th percentile nationally for both the volume of toxic air pollution released and resulting cancer risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Credit: James Bruggers/Inside Climate News

“We’re just like a dumping ground,” said Kelley. “A large number of my friends and relatives have died from cancer.”

But despite the abundance of multibillion-dollar industries in Port Arthur, median household income is 37 percent less than Texas as a whole while its poverty rate is nearly double.

State Tax Abatement Programs

In its report, the EIP found at least two-thirds of the 50 recently completed plastics projects it reviewed nationally received tax abatements through state or local governments.

Of the top four recipients, three were in Louisiana, drawing a combined $4.6 billion from the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program since 2013, and one was in Pennsylvania, a massive Shell ethylene plant in Beaver County outside Pittsburgh, which drew $1.65 billion from Pennsylvania’s Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit. All were owned, in part or in full, by corporations from Asia, Africa or Europe.

The fifth top recipient was Dow Chemical’s Freeport chemical complex in Brazoria County, which received $393 million in operating discounts since 2013 through Texas’ Chapter 313 tax abatement program. Dow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It sounds like a lot of money. But in this game that some people would call interstate competition for growth and others would call corporate welfare, it’s not an overwhelming amount,” said Mike Kraten, director of accounting program initiatives at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. “I think anyone would agree that this has become par for the course.”

Chapter 313, one of many tax abatement programs in Texas, represents a small slice of the total incentives that companies may receive to invest here. The biggest concessions are typically custom-negotiated in private between company lobbyists and state or local governmental development offices, Kraten said.

Chapter 313 drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Texas. The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation called it“unnecessary and wasteful.”Texas doesn’t need to offer tax incentives, critics argued, because its oil and gas fields mean companies will locate here anyway.

Last year, the Texas Legislature replaced the Chapter 313 program with a similar program called Chapter 403, which the think tank Every Texan called “better in some ways, worse in others.”

According to Dick Lavine, a senior analyst at Every Texan, two 403 agreements have been signed to date. Meanwhile, the Texas comptroller’s office shows 872 tax abatement agreements still active under Chapter 313.

Last year, an analysis by the Houston Chronicle showed those outstanding agreements will cost Texas taxpayers $31 billion in lost revenue over the next 30 years.

Regular Violations of Pollution Permits 

These subsidies are awarded irrespective of companies’ history of compliance with environmental law, the EIP report found.. Of the plastics plants it considered, 84 percent had self-reported violations of their pollution permits to state environmental regulators.

“They seldom face penalties and never have their public subsidies revoked, no matter how frequent their environmental permit violation,” the report said.

For example, it cited Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a huge, new plastics plant outside Corpus Christi, jointly owned by the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and ExxonMobil, the world’s largest private oil company, which posted a record $56 billion profit in 2022.

Located in the town of Gregory, which is 90 percent Hispanic, the project secured in 2017 a $249 million tax break from the Gregory-Portland Independent School District for the period between 2022 and 2032.

Then, between 2021 and 2022, the facility reported 10 unpermitted pollution releases totalling 560,802 pounds due to equipment failure, emergency flaring or unplanned shutdowns. During one incident in 2022, the glow of burning ground flares was visible from 20 miles away for days, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

The plant also incurred 63 violations from Texas’ environmental regulator in less than two years, according to the EIP report.

“These include failure to comply with limits for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, failure to properly sample and analyze discharges of stormwater from the site, and failing to properly operate and monitor its flares,” the report said.

An ExxonMobil spokesperson, Lauren Knight, said Gulf Coast Growth Ventures has donated $20 million to the local community “including local enrichment projects, environmental preservation, STEM programs, city infrastructure and air monitoring.” Knight said air monitors installed in 2019 have shown no change in air quality since.

“At all of our sites, our focus is on reducing emissions, improving air quality and protecting the environment. We maintain the highest standards for safety, health and environmental care and comply with all applicable laws and regulations,” Knight said.

All of the top seven U.S. plastics plants that incurred legal penalties for Clean Air Act violations between 2020 and 2023 were in Texas, the report found.

Brandy Deason, climate justice coordinator for the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston, which collaborated on the report, said public subsidies shouldn’t go to companies that harm public health beyond what their pollution permits allow.

Before Air Alliance Houston, she worked at commercial laboratories in Louisiana and Texas that analyzed air samples from industrial operators for their reports to regulators. That’s where she realized what sorts of vapors wafted from refineries and chemical plants—things like benzene, butadiene and all manner of volatile organic compounds.

“I saw the air pollution first hand. I ran it through the instruments. I did the reports,” she said. “I saw a lot of pollution.”

What frustrates her most, she said, was the pointlessness of much of it. While many plastics are now used in construction and high-grade medical gear, much more goes to single-use packaging that wasn’t present in the world just a few decades ago.

And, she said, campaigns by Air Alliance Houston and its allies to slow the pace of plastics expansions authorized by Texas regulators have been largely ineffective.

“Even if the community speaks out, permits are almost never denied,” she said. “We’re constantly showing them the problems, we just get ignored and they get the permits.”

Disclosure: Air Alliance Houston, Dow Chemical, Energy Transfer, Every Texan, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Texas Public Policy Foundation and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


We can’t wait to welcome you to downtown Austin Sept. 5-7 for the 2024 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us at Texas’ breakout politics and policy event as we dig into the 2024 elections, state and national politics, the state of democracy, and so much more. When tickets go on sale this spring, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

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Pesticide Industry Could Win Big in Latest Farm Bill Proposal

Despite those objections, Caraveo was one of four Democrats on the committee who joined Republicans in moving the bill forward, complete with several controversial provisions that would make it harder for states to regulate pesticides and hamper individuals’ ability to seek compensation for harm caused by the chemicals. Lawmakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to get similar […] The post Pesticide Industry Could Win Big in Latest Farm Bill Proposal appeared first on Civil Eats.

“As a doctor, I am concerned about eroding protections for those most affected by dangerous pesticide exposures—the workers who apply them,” said Representative Yadira Caraveo (D-Colorado) during last Thursday’s session to discuss, amend, and vote on the House Agriculture Committee’s first draft of the 2024 Farm Bill. Despite those objections, Caraveo was one of four Democrats on the committee who joined Republicans in moving the bill forward, complete with several controversial provisions that would make it harder for states to regulate pesticides and hamper individuals’ ability to seek compensation for harm caused by the chemicals. Lawmakers have tried, unsuccessfully, to get similar language into past farm bills. Now,  ongoing lawsuits involving Roundup’s link to cancer and paraquat’s link to Parkinson’s disease and recent state efforts to restrict the use of certain pesticides have raised the stakes. As a result, insiders say the industry is fighting harder than ever before and the new provisions reflect that push. “This is an effort to not only cut off the ability of farmers, farmworkers, and groundskeepers to hold the companies accountable, it’s an effort to prevent the public from ever learning about the dangers in the first place.” Bayer, CropLife America (the industry’s trade association), and allied agricultural organizations including the American Farm Bureau are lobbying on Capitol Hill, and CropLife has been running frequent ad campaigns targeting D.C. policymakers. Bayer has also been pushing to get laws passed that would achieve some of the same goals in individual states. A coalition of 360 agricultural industry groups have signed on to support their efforts, while public health and environmental groups and local government officials have joined together to oppose them. Some of the language in the farm bill would position the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pesticide labels the be-all-end-all when it comes to spelling out safety and environmental risks. But Daniel Hinkle, the senior state affairs counsel for the American Association for Justice, said labels are not immediately updated as new research on risk becomes available. And pesticides can be mislabeled, as in the case of dicamba, which was initially approved without protections to prevent drift and subsequently destroyed millions of acres of various crops, including soybeans and peaches. Those are just a few of the reasons Hinkle believes preserving the ability for individuals to sue companies over health harms is critical. “Litigation has already revealed that companies have spent decades covering up harm,” he said. “This is an effort to not only cut off the ability of farmers, farmworkers, and groundskeepers to hold the companies accountable, it’s an effort to prevent the public from ever learning about the dangers in the first place.” Additional language in the bill could also overturn state and local laws that restrict the use of pesticides. For example, many counties and cities around the country have banned the spraying of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, in parks where children play. And just last week, California lawmakers voted to move a bill that would ban paraquat in fields and orchards starting in 2026 forward. “Paraquat is a perfect example of a case where there are special circumstances that justify taking action that is stronger than the action taken by EPA,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). A growing body of research shows paraquat exposure can significantly increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, and the chemical is banned in dozens of countries. In support of the ban proposed in California, EWG has been looking at paraquat use data in the state and found intensive spraying in just a few agricultural counties. Faber said the data also shows many pesticide applicators are using more paraquat than the label permits and are not following practices required for safety. “Farmers and farmworkers are being exposed to far more paraquat than EPA estimates,” he said. Yet another less-discussed provision buried the in the farm bill text makes changes to how an “interagency working group” set up to improve pesticide protections for endangered species would operate. The provision requires the group, when consulting with the private sector, to “take into consideration factors, such as actual and potential differences in interest between, and the views of, those stakeholders and organizations.” While it’s not entirely clear how the language would be interpreted, Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said it would likely “tip the scales significantly toward industry.” For example, during past meetings, representatives from pesticide companies, farm groups, and environmental groups offered public comments. As read, the language suggests agencies could make a determination that one group has a greater “interest” compared to another. At this point, due to contentious provisions related to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and climate-focused conservation funding, the farm bill is unlikely to pass in the House and is essentially dead on arrival in the Senate. In fact, behind the scenes, most D.C. insiders doubt a farm bill will happen this year at all. If it does, it almost certainly won’t be this exact version. But Hartl and others still believe stopping the progress of the pesticide provisions is crucial. “While it’s certainly true that Bayer is spending more than ever to try to escape accountability for the harms caused by their pesticides,” said Faber at EWG, “it is also true that ordinary people who are impacted by the harms of pesticides, whether it’s farmworkers, farmers, or school teachers, have never worked harder to defend these protections.” Read More: Inside Bayer’s State-by-State Efforts to Stop Pesticide Lawsuits Paraquat, the Deadliest Chemical in U.S. Agriculture, Goes on Trial The EPA Ignored the Endangered Species Act for 50 Years. Is Time Running Out? Inflation Interrogation. During an at-times heated Senate subcommittee hearing last week, Senators battled with witnesses and each other over the underlying causes of high food prices over the last several years. Republican senators invited economic experts from conservative think-tanks The Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, who bolstered their case that President Biden is to blame by pointing to increased federal spending as a driver of inflation. On the other side of the aisle, the executive director of left-leaning economic policy organization Groundwork Collaborative, Farm Action’s chief strategy officer, and the owner of a small grocery store pointed to consolidation in the food industry and corporate profiteering as the cause. Consolidation across the food system, from farms to meatpackers to retailers, has been increasing, and the Biden administration has made it a priority to increase competition by both sending funds to small farms and businesses and cracking down on anticompetitive practices, for example, filing lawsuits against the biggest chicken companies for conspiring to fix prices. A March Federal Trade Commission report concluded some grocers used pandemic price spikes to charge even more and increase their profits. Read More: Biden Targets Consolidation in the Meat Industry (Again) As Grocery Stores Get Bigger, Small Farms Get Squeezed Out Feeding Away Greenhouse Gas Emissions. How much new feed additives could actually reduce methane emissions from belching cows remains unclear, according to a review of the research to date published by the Expert Panel on Livestock Methane. Red seaweed (asparagopsis) and a synthetic compound called 3-NOP (sold as Bovaer) added to cows’ diets have been pitched by many companies as having the potential to reduce the powerful planet-warming emissions by upwards of 90 percent. However, the scientists found that while lab studies found impressive reductions, studies that have measured emissions in animal trials have reported much more variable results, from 6–98 percent in seaweed trials and from 4–76 percent with 3-NOP. Most notably, the longest and largest trial of red seaweed in cattle produced no reduction in methane intensity (the amount of the gas produced per unit of milk or meat) because the 28 percent reduction in burped methane was offset by the fact that the cattle ate less and gained less weight. The researchers also pointed to barriers in getting the additives to more animals, including the ability to grow enough seaweed without harming ecosystems and how often supplements need to be administered, which currently makes it nearly impossible for farmers to feed them to grazing cattle. “All of these additives vary substantially in their methane mitigation potential, meaning that it is difficult to confidently say how much of current emissions they will be able to reduce,” the experts concluded. “More studies testing the interactions of different variables are needed to offer robust long-term estimates of their mitigation potential and of their costs, benefits and risks.” Read More: Methane from Agriculture Is a Big Problem. We Explain Why. Can We Grow Enough Seaweed to Help Cows Fight Climate Change? Forever Contaminated. Organic farmers in Maine are threatening to sue the EPA for its failure to prevent PFAS from contaminating their fields. Over the last few years, farms have discovered the chemicals—which are linked to multiple health risks—in their soils as a result of past applications of sewage sludge. In a “Notice of Intent” to sue the agency, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association (MOFGA) argues that the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to identify pollutants in biosolids every two years and, when risks are identified, to adopt regulations that prevent harm to human health or the environment. “If the EPA had been regulating appropriately, many of our farmers wouldn’t be facing the harm they are today,” said Sarah Alexander, the executive director of MOFGA. “We demand that the EPA do the work required under the Clean Water Act and stop allowing these toxic chemicals to contaminate the U.S. food and water supply.” MOFGA will file suit if it believes EPA has still not met its obligations within 60 days. The EPA has also been playing catch-up on regulating PFAS in drinking water over the past several years, and last week released new data showing PFAS are present in drinking water systems that serve 90 million people across the country. Earlier this year, the agency finalized the first limits on PFAS in drinking water. Class-action lawsuits have already been filed against companies over PFAS contamination, and experts expect the legal battles to heat up in the coming years. Read More: PFAS Shut Maine Farms Down. Now, Some Are Rebounding. New Evidence Shows Pesticides Contain PFAS, and the Scale of Contamination Is Unknown The post Pesticide Industry Could Win Big in Latest Farm Bill Proposal appeared first on Civil Eats.

EPA accused of ‘egregious’ misconduct in PFAS testing of pesticides

US agency found PFOS and other types of PFAS in pesticides but failed to disclose those results, watchdog group allegesDocuments obtained from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate the agency may have presented false information to the public about testing for harmful contaminants in pesticides, according to allegations being made by a watchdog group and a former EPA research fellow.The claims come almost a year to the day after the EPA issued a May 2023 press release that stated the agency found no per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in testing of samples of certain insecticide products. The press release contradicted a published study by the former EPA researcher that had reported finding PFAS in the same pesticide products.This story is co-published with the New Lede, a journalism project of the Environmental Working Group Continue reading...

Documents obtained from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate the agency may have presented false information to the public about testing for harmful contaminants in pesticides, according to allegations being made by a watchdog group and a former EPA research fellow.The claims come almost a year to the day after the EPA issued a May 2023 press release that stated the agency found no per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in testing of samples of certain insecticide products. The press release contradicted a published study by the former EPA researcher that had reported finding PFAS in the same pesticide products.PFAS contamination is a hot topic in environmental and public health circles because certain types of PFAS are known to be very hazardous for human health, and world governments and public health advocates are pushing to sharply limit exposure to these types of chemicals. Accurate testing for PFAS contamination is key to regulating exposure, making the accuracy and transparency of EPA testing a critical issue.The allegations that the EPA incorrectly reported some PFAS test results were made Tuesday by the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), led by former EPA employees.The Peer director of scientific policy Kyla Bennett said that the organization obtained pesticide product testing data from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) request. The documents they received back from the EPA showed the agency had indeed found PFAS in the tested products, directly contradicting the press release the agency had issued.“It’s pretty outrageous,” said Bennett. “You don’t get to just ignore the stuff that doesn’t support your hypothesis. That is not science. That is corruption. I can only think that they were getting pressure from pesticide companies.”Joining in the allegations is environmental toxicologist Steven Lasee, who authored the 2022 study that the EPA challenged. Lasee is a consultant for state and federal government agencies on PFAS contamination projects and participated as a research fellow for the EPA’s office of research and development from February 2021 to February 2023.Retraction soughtThe EPA declined to comment, saying “because these issues relate to a pending formal complaint process, EPA has no further information to provide”. But in past statements, the agency has presented itself as taking a tough stand on PFAS contamination. The agency recently finalized drinking water limits for PFAS and is classifying two types of PFAS as hazardous substances. And EPA administrator Michael Regan has stated publicly that the adverse health effects of PFAS “can devastate families”.The EPA has also recognized the potential for PFAS contamination of pesticides, focusing on pesticides that are stored in fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic containers. Last year the agency ordered a prominent manufacturer to stop using PFAS chemicals when producing plastic containers for pesticides and other products.PFAS chemicals have been used by a variety of industries since the 1940s for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware. Some types of PFAS have been linked to cancer, damage to the immune system, birth defects, delayed development in children and other health problems.In challenging the EPA over the testing issue, Peer submitted a letter to the agency demanding a correction of the EPA’s public statement about the pesticide product analyses and a retraction of the agency’s research memo on the matter.Peer alleges that as the EPA sought to refute Lasee’s study findings, the agency engaged in “egregious” misconduct and is “guilty of numerous departures from both accepted scientific and ethical practices”.The agency “provided misinformation to a national audience and intentionally damaged Dr Lasee,” the Peer complaint alleges.Questions about key findingsThe Lasee study that kicked off the fight with the EPA was published in November 2022 in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters. The study said a key finding was the detection of a very harmful type of PFAS known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in six out of 10 insecticides used in cotton fields and in growing other crops, posing a contamination threat to agricultural areas.The EPA’s response to the study, released six months later, said the agency obtained samples of the same pesticide products from Lasee and also purchased additional products with the same registration numbers to analyze. The agency said unlike Lasee’s results, EPA scientists found no detectable levels of PFOS, nor any of 28 additional PFAS it screened for, and said its equipment and methodology were better than those used by Lasee.Those findings immediately raised questions about the validity of the testing, according to Lasee and Peer. One concern was that the EPA report did not identify any of the “matrix spike” of PFOS, which was intentionally added to the samples before they were analyzed.It is common in analytical chemistry to use a matrix spike as a type of quality-control to evaluate the performance of an analytical method. Lasee had not told the agency of the matrix spike, but if their methods were accurate, the agency scientists would have found the spike, he said.Numerous other flaws and deviations from scientific norms were seen in the testing analyses by the EPA, according to the Peer complaint.Another significant concern was that while the EPA publicly disclosed the results of two tests conducted on the pesticide product samples, the agency’s internal documents turned over to Peer in response to the Foia request showed the agency had actually conducted four tests.The documents show that one of the tests did find evidence of PFOS as well as other types of PFAS, which were not introduced as a matrix spike, Peer said.Peer said it is unclear why the EPA did not report the positive findings of PFAS in pesticides. Regardless, the “presence of PFAS in pesticides points to an appalling regulatory breakdown by EPA”, Peer states in its complaint.In a letter to Peer responding to some of the concerns raised, the EPA division director Anne Overstreet said the agency “remains confident in our findings” and said the agency’s scientists “maintained scientific integrity and is in compliance with established good laboratory practices”.Amid the uproar over his paper and the subsequent EPA testing, Lasee sought to reproduce his initial results but was unable to do so. That created enough doubt about his own methodology that he sought to retract his paper.Now, after seeing the EPA’s internal testing data showing the agency did find PFOS and other types of PFAS in pesticides but failed to disclose those results, he has a new level of doubt – over the credibility of the agency.“When you cherry pick data, you can make it say whatever you want it to say,” Lasee said.

Water systems warn Americans could soon see major rate hikes to filter out toxic 'forever chemicals'

In exchange for cleaner water, Americans around the nation may soon have to pay hefty prices. Water systems are starting to warn residents of massive rate hikes as they prepare to install technology to filter out toxic chemicals in a family known as PFAS. Utilities from South Florida to upstate New York have warned customers...

In exchange for cleaner water, Americans around the nation may soon have to pay hefty prices.  Water systems are starting to warn residents of massive rate hikes as they prepare to install technology to filter out toxic chemicals in a family known as PFAS. Utilities from South Florida to upstate New York have warned customers that they could see significant price increases after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that they remove the substances, which have been linked to a number of cancers and other diseases, from their systems. Last month, the EPA said it will require utilities whose water systems contain high levels of six types of PFAS to remove them from the water.  PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of thousands of chemicals that have been used to make a variety of nonstick and waterproof products and firefighting foam.  The substances have also become ubiquitous in the environment, due in part to the fact that they tend to persist for a long time instead of breaking down. Exposure to these so-called forever chemicals has been linked to increased risks of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, weakened immune systems, high cholesterol, and developmental issues in children.  Now, for the first time, utilities around the nation will be required to get them out of their drinking water to prevent customers’ exposure. But that will come at a price.  Last month, officials with Broward County, a populous South Florida locale, warned residents that those on county water could see “double or triple water rates for users.” Alan Garcia, director of Broward County Water and Wastewater Services, told The Hill an average monthly bill for water is currently around $26. He agreed that amount could “potentially triple” as the county filters out PFAS — though he said it’s not clear whether rates will actually increase by that much. His utility has 66,000 accounts — representing an estimated 230,000 people. Fort Worth, Texas, officials also warned of consequences for ratepayers ahead of the EPA setting the rule last month. “It’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to impact our ratepayers, and we’re going to be doing everything we possibly can to get some federal support in terms of the funding, but we’re going to have to move forward,” Fort Worth Water Director Chris Harder told Fort Worth Report. In the wake of the rule, water suppliers in the Buffalo, N.Y., area also said PFAS filtration could affect rates, according to The Buffalo News. And high water bills will not be contained to these few communities in the years ahead. “A lot of systems are going to be faced with having to increase rates” as a result of the rule, said Chris Moody, regulatory technical manager at the American Water Works Association, a lobby group representing water providers.  It’s not entirely clear yet which water systems will need to filter out PFAS. The rule gives utilities a few years to test their water to determine if their levels of the chemicals fall above federal thresholds. If they do, utilities will then have to install technology to get rid of them. That means the locales that have informed their consumers of rate increases may only be the first of many. The EPA, in its rule, estimated that about 6 percent to 10 percent of water systems will ultimately be found to contain PFAS at levels requiring action. Moody said he believes this is an undercount and that more of the nation’s water systems could be contaminated. He added that much of the expense will come from the cost of installing and maintaining filters capable of eliminating the toxic substances. Water providers recently settled a major class action lawsuit against manufacturers of PFAS, and chemical giants could have to collectively pay billions of dollars to offset treatment costs.  But, Moody said, the settlements are not expected to be enough to defray the expense.  “If you do get money through it, it'll likely only help you with maybe a third or a fourth of the costs,” he said.  The added costs do come with the notable benefit of lowering communities' exposure to the harmful substances: Garcia described PFAS treatment as “probably something important to do." But, he said, “we're sort of paying the price” of companies’ PFAS use. 

North Yorkshire town has UK’s highest concentration of ‘forever chemicals’

PFAS contamination recorded in groundwater on Angus Fire site in Bentham, and includes chemicals with known health impactsA small North Yorkshire town has been found to have the highest concentration of “forever chemicals” in the UK, it can be revealed.The market town of Bentham, which is home to 3,000 people and set on the banks of the River Wenning, is also home to the Angus International Safety Group – locally known as Angus Fire – which, since the 1970s, has been producing firefighting foams containing PFAS at a factory near the town centre. Continue reading...

A small North Yorkshire town has been found to have the highest concentration of “forever chemicals” in the UK, it can be revealed.The market town of Bentham, which is home to 3,000 people and set on the banks of the River Wenning, is also home to the Angus International Safety Group – locally known as Angus Fire – which, since the 1970s, has been producing firefighting foams containing PFAS at a factory near the town centre.PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and commonly known as forever chemicals owing to their persistence in the environment, are a family of about 10,000 chemicals that have been linked to a wide range of serious illnesses, including certain cancers. They are used in a huge range of consumer products, from frying pans to waterproof coats, but one of their most prolific uses is in firefighting foams.Angus Fire is facing more than 300 separate personal injury or water provider action claims in the US, with its subsidiaries National Foam and Angus Fire Armour Corporation involved in hundreds more.The firm has not breached any rules in terms of the PFAS it has produced or tested at its Bentham site, and it stopped testing PFAS foams there in 2022 as the industry prepares for the banning of PFAS foams containing the known carcinogen PFOA in 2025.However, data obtained by the Ends Report under a series of freedom of information requests and shared with the Guardian, has revealed for the first time that the highest known levels of PFAS contamination in the UK have been recorded in the groundwater on the firm’s Bentham site. Among these chemicals are PFOA and PFOS – forever chemicals with known human health impacts.Angus Fire has also repeatedly breached its environmental permits, with one permit breached 20 times in the past 10 years. Last year, the firm was warned by the Environment Agency that its permit could be suspended after the regulator found unpermitted discharges of PFAS to the environment in Bentham.Under its permit, the firm is required to test the soil and groundwater on the site. The results of this testing, obtained by the Ends Report, show that in 2008 the groundwater samples recorded a PFAS sum of 1,199,000 ng/l.Dr Patrick Byrne, a reader in hydrology and environmental pollution at Liverpool John Moores University, said these were the “highest concentrations of total PFAS that I have ever come across in any environment in England”.Byrne said it was “particularly concerning” that these samples were from groundwater, rather than raw effluent coming directly from the foam production.Within this total sum of PFAS was 18,100 ng/l of PFOA and 36,100 ng/l of PFOS. PFOA is categorised as a class one carcinogen, and both substances are now banned.To put these numbers in context, the government’s environmental quality standard for PFOS – which is intended to protect waters from the harmful effects of contaminants – is 0.65 ng/l – 55,538 times lower than that recorded on the Angus Fire site.In 2010, groundwater sampling recorded 47,200 ng/l of total PFAS, and 63,400 ng/l was recorded in 2018.On a separate occasion in 2018, two soil samples were found to have PFOS concentrations of 359,000 ng/kg and 124,000 ng/kg. Samples taken elsewhere for comparison had a PFOS concentration of 300 ng/kg.These samples were all taken from near Angus Fire’s wastewater lagoons, which until 2020 received contaminated runoff from the PFAS firefighting testing.skip past newsletter promotionThe planet's most important stories. Get all the week's environment news - the good, the bad and the essentialPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionThe lagoons are located just off a residential street, metres away from a row of terrace houses.Residents said foams from the test site used to make their way on to this street. One woman, who lived on it from 1997 to 2016, said her children used to play in the foam.As the public has become increasingly aware of the danger posed by PFAS chemicals, pressure has mounted on local and public authorities to take action to minimise any harm posed to people.Water companies test for PFAS in public drinking supplies, but private water supplies are not governed in the same way, with local authorities in charge of regulating them.In response to concerns raised by a member of the public about drinking water contamination in Lancaster, separate documents obtained for this investigation have revealed that in March last year, Lancaster city council, which neighbours North Yorkshire council, where Bentham is located, launched a “district-wide assessment” of all private drinking water supplies within its remit.The council said it subsequently took water samples from two private supplies at residences in Tatham, Lancaster, but “did not find any PFAS at these locations”.An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We are currently reviewing Angus Fire’s environmental permit in relation to PFAS. We will continue to assess any risks associated with the historic presence of these chemicals, including potential contamination.”An Angus Fire spokesperson said: “We no longer manufacture or test any PFAS-containing foam products at Bentham, or anywhere else in the world. The business is focused on developing environmentally-friendly products, including JetFoam, the world’s first ever fluorine-free firefighting foam capable of extinguishing aviation fuels.“We have played a significant role in our local community in North Yorkshire for 100 years, and it’s hugely important for us to maintain our positive relationships with the people of Bentham, and to play a responsible role in village life. As Bentham’s biggest employer, we actively address all concerns related to local environmental impact and compliance. We are committed to continuous improvement in our operations, transparency, and working collaboratively with regulatory bodies to protect public health and the environment.”

Norfolk Southern to pay over $500M for cleanup, rail safety after East Palestine derailment

The settlement also mandates rail safety upgrades.

Norfolk Southern will pay just over $500 million — $310 in environmental cleanup and $200 million for rail safety upgrades — as a result of last year’s disastrous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.The proposed settlement, reached among Norfolk Southern, the EPA and the Justice Department, is "unprecedented," acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin Mizer, an Ohio native, told reporters on Thursday. Beyond health and environmental cleanup, the settlement also mandates rail safety upgrades that EPA Administrator Michael Regan called “a game-changer" — something he said might even have prevented the accident "had these provisions been in place on February 3, 2023."“This resolution cannot undo the damage that was done last February, but we hope that this settlement will be an important step forward in protecting the community, helping it heal and preventing a tragedy like this from happening again,” Mizer said.In a statement, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said the company is "pleased we were able to reach a timely resolution of these investigations that recognizes our comprehensive response to the community’s needs and our mission to be the gold standard of safety in the rail industry."In a statement, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the Biden “administration has taken historic action to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Our department was proud to work alongside with DOJ and EPA to ensure this settlement enhanced rail safety.”The details: As part of the settlement, the railroad does not admit liability. The settlement includes $235 million in cleanup cost reimbursements that Regan said will fully cover federal expenditures on the disaster response, as well as: — $25 million for a two-decade community health program.— a $15 million civil penalty under the Clean Water Act, which Regan said is the largest allowed under the law.— $15 million for a 10-year monitoring program for surface and groundwater.— $15 million for private drinking water monitoring.— $6 million for a waterways remediation plan to address pre-existing pollution and water quality issues; and— $175,000 in natural resource damages.In addition, the settlement mandates that Norfolk Southern improve safety standards for transporting hazardous materials, including installing more hot bearing detectors, which can sense when wheels are overheating early enough to prevent what happened in East Palestine. In the disaster, hot bearing detectors alerted as wheels heated up, but by the time those detectors read hot enough to stop the train, it was already derailing.“Considering its large market share, we expect that these required provisions will advance safer practices across the railroad industry for many years to come,” Regan said. “Today's agreement clearly demonstrates that these safety practices are both reasonable and achievable by the broader industry.”Norfolk Southern's big bill: In addition to the $500 million settlement, Norfolk Southern has already incurred environmental response costs of its own totaling $780 million. That includes hundreds of thousands of tons of soil and millions of gallons of water contaminated by chemicals carried by the train — including vinyl chloride that was released from tankers to prevent an explosion — the railroad has already excavated and shipped to decontamination facilities.The troubled rail company estimates it will spend in total over $1 billion responding to the contamination and other harms caused by the accident that resulted in first responders and railroad officials deciding to burn noxious chemicals shortly after the derailment, the effects from which residents say they are still feeling more than a year later. Residents and those within miles of the town have reported respiratory issues and headaches following the incident, among other health concerns.What's next: The settlement will be open for 30 days of public comment and must be approved by a judge.There are other settlements in the works, including a $600 million one between Norfolk Southern and people affected by the derailment that was granted preliminary approval. The deadline for those aggrieved to file a claim is August 22.A cadre of senators, spearheaded by J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), are also continuing to press for legislative changes to rail safety, but a bipartisan bill responding to the incident, S. 576 (118), has languished in the Senate. That bill would bolster inspections, require particular detection equipment, add safety standards for hazardous materials and increase crew staffing requirements on trains, among other actions. Vance told POLITICO earlier this week that he is still pushing for a Senate floor vote on the bill.A National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident is expected in the coming weeks.

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