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Report: As EPA pulls back under Trump administration, serious pollution rises on Great Lakes

Apr 20, 2020 01:32PM ● By Editor

In this Sept. 20, 2017 photo, a catfish appears on the shoreline in the algae-filled waters of Lake Erie at the end of 113th Street in the Point Place section of North Toledo, Ohio. Annual algae blooms on the Great Lake are primarily fueled by nutrient runoff pollution from farm fields. Photo: Andy Morrison, AP

By  from the Detroit Free Press - April 2020

President Donald Trump's administration has scaled back enforcement of environmental regulations in the Great Lakes region — and it's having a noticeable, negative impact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own data. So states a new report from the Chicago-based nonprofit Environmental Law and Policy Center. 

The data comes from multiple EPA databases and websites. It's all there for the public to access, but usually in complex charts heavy with bureaucratic, regulatory language, said ELPC executive director Howard Learner.

"You can take the individual data points, and they don't tell you a lot," he said. "But when you put them together, you then see what the overall picture looks like. And it's disturbing."

The ELPC is a leading advocate in the Midwest for improving environmental quality and protecting natural resources. Though Learner has stated, "Protecting the Great Lakes is bipartisan and nonpartisan," the group have been sharp critics of Trump's environmental policies and priorities since he took office in 2017.

The ELPC report looked at activity in EPA's Region 5, which covers Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Among its findings:

  • Fewer regulatory cases are being initiated and concluded by the EPA against polluters. Between fiscal years 2012 to 2015, there were an average of 320 cases initiated per year, but that has dropped to an average of 230 cases per year for fiscal years 2016 through 2019, a more than 28% decline.
  • Compliance with environmental regulations in the Great Lakes region is declining. In fiscal year 2019, there were 62% more facilities in "significant noncompliance" with the Clean Water Act, compared with the average number of facilities for fiscal years 2012 to 2017.

That significant noncompliance data excludes Michigan cases, because of a data communication problem between the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy's data reporting system and the EPA's Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, said ELPC staff attorney Jeffrey Hammons, a co-author of the report. The data-sharing problem has since been resolved by the two agencies, but it made some past years' data from Michigan potentially unreliable, he said.

To read much more of the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to The Detroit Free Press website.

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