– March 17, 2015

Today, U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05), Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, held a public hearing to review the definition of “waters of the United States” proposed rule and its impact on rural America. Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) established a federal-state government partnership to better regulate and manage the nation’s waters through a range of pollution and control programs.  The CWA states that it is the “policy of the Congress to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of State to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution, to plan the development and use (including restoration, preservation, and enhancement) of land and water resources, and to consult with the [EPA] Administrator in the exercise of his authority under this Act.” Members of the House Committee on Agriculture today asserted that the Administration has acted on its own, without input from the states and stakeholders, to broaden the scope of the CWA, threatening the livelihood of farmers, ranchers and rural America. For full story, click here.

By Dan Voorhis – The Wichita Eagle – March 16, 2015

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday that she regretted how her agency handled the rollout of the controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rules that have many farm leaders complaining about federal infringement on private property. She spoke at the National Farmers Union convention at the Hyatt Regency Wichita, following an address by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. She spent most of her 30-minute talk saying she wished her agency had done a better job of explaining how the EPA defined which bodies of water were regulated under the Clean Water Act. However, she said, that doesn’t change the agency’s ultimate goal of issuing the final rule of what’s covered. She said that the rule is on its way to the Office of Management and Budget and will be issued this spring. For full story, click here.

By Ellen M. Gilmer and Blake Sobczak –  E&E Publishing, LLC –  March 20, 2015

When an oil company's expansion plans for Pacific Northwest crude by rail suffered a major setback last month, environmentalists spread the news just as quickly as they could Google "Skagit County Hearing Examiner." The little-known local office about an hour north of Seattle holds the keys to land use in the area, and environmental attorneys saw it as the best shot to stall a rail extension considered critical for the delivery of crude oil to a nearby Shell Oil Co. refinery, but potentially disastrous for nearby estuaries and communities. The effort was successful: After environmental groups appealed a county-level permit for the rail project, Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford sent the proposal back to the drawing board, ordering local officials to conduct an in-depth environmental impact statement to consider the broad effects of increased crude-by-rail throughout the county. For full story, click here.

By Michelle Kovacevic – Environmental News Network – March 20, 2015

Governments and donors must pay more attention to the environmental impact of road networks to limit their “devastating” effect on ecosystems, a study on global infrastructure expansion has warned. Road construction opens a “Pandora’s box” of negative impact, according to the authors of the paper, published this month in Current Biology. These include deforestation, animals hunted to extinction, land grabs by speculators betting on development, and wildfires. For full story, click here.

By James O'Hanlon – Australian Geographic – March 16, 2015

Alex Goad, an industrial design student at Monash University in Melbourne has developed what he calls the Modular Artificial Reef Structure (MARS). Each branched module is built from concrete and coated with textured ceramic which provides the perfect surface for marine plants and animals to colonise. Normally coral reefs are built upon a foundation of calcium-rich coral skeletons. It can take centuries for this coral 'rubble' to build up and form an ideal habitat for a flourishing reef. Climate change, pollution and unsustainable fishing practices threaten to destroy these foundations. Large storms and destructive fishing methods, such as dynamite fishing, can destroy reefs in an instant, killing their inhabitants and removing their foundations. The barren landscape left behind leaves nowhere for reef-building animals, such as corals and sponges, to settle. But the new MARS system can greatly reduce the time it takes to build that foundation. For full article, click here.