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      EPA sets limits on some “forever chemicals” as low as they can go / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 15 March, 2023 - 12:14 · 1 minute

    Image of a building with marble pillars.

    Enlarge / The EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. (credit: crbellette )

    On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had started the process that will see drinking water regulations place severe limits on the levels of several members of the PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemical family. PFAS are widely used but have been associated with a wide range of health issues; their chemical stability has also earned them the term "forever chemicals." The agency is currently soliciting public feedback on rules that will mean that any detectable levels of two chemicals will be too much.

    PFAS are a large group of chemicals that have uses in a wide range of products, including non-stick cooking pans, fire control foams, and waterproof clothing. They're primarily useful because of their water-repellant, hydrophobic nature. That nature also tends to keep them from taking part in chemical processes that might otherwise degrade them, so contamination problems tend to stick around long after any PFAS use. And that's bad, given that they seem to have a lot of negative effects on health—the EPA lists cancer risks, immune dysfunction, hormone signaling alterations, liver damage, and reproductive issues.

    Back in 2021, the Biden administration announced that it was starting a research and regulatory program focused on PFAS and issued preliminary guidance on acceptable levels last year. Today's announcement is the start of a formal rulemaking process that will see the development of legally binding limits. This process involves the EPA publishing proposed rules to allow the public and interested parties a chance to provide feedback. Once that feedback is addressed, formal rules will be published.

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      Judge ends Trump-era Clean Water Act policy before replacement is created

      John Timmer · / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 31 August, 2021 - 18:03 · 1 minute

    Image of a waterless stream bed.

    Enlarge / Even though this stream bed is dry much of the year, it still may qualify for regulation under the Clean Water Act. (credit: Wild Horizon / Getty Images )

    The latest legal decision in a years-long fight over how to implement the Clean Water Act has set rules back to where they were in the 1980s. The reversion is the product of the Trump Administration's haste to get rid of Obama-era regulations, leading to action that produced rules running counter to the Environmental Protection Agency's own scientific findings. As a result, a judge has decided that the rules cannot remain in place for the time that will be needed for the Biden Administration to formulate replacements.

    Defining water

    The long-running saga is the product of the Clean Water Act's remarkably vague protections. The act seeks to control pollution via a permitting process that applies to the “waters of the United States," but it doesn't define what constitutes said waters.

    While the process would clearly apply to a flowing river, it's less clear whether the act would regulate the pollution of a stream bed only filled seasonally or following heavy rains—even though the stream bed can flow directly into a river that is active year-round. Similar issues apply to items like man-made ponds that connect to other bodies via groundwater flow.

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      A look at all of Biden’s changes to energy and environmental regulations

      John Timmer · / ArsTechnica · Friday, 22 January, 2021 - 00:58 · 1 minute

    Image of a man seated at a desk with a woman standing behind him.

    Enlarge / U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, looking on. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images )

    The series of executive orders signed by Joe Biden on his first evening in office included a heavy focus on environmental regulations. Some of the high profile actions had been signaled in advance—we're back in the Paris Agreement! The Keystone pipeline's been put on indefinite hold!

    But the suite of executive orders includes a long list that targets plenty of the changes Trump made in energy and environmental policies, many of which will have more subtle but significant effects of how the United States does business. Many of those make major changes, in some cases by eliminating policies adopted during the Trump years, a number of which we covered at the time. So, we've attempted to take a comprehensive look at Biden's actions and their potential impacts.

    Laws, rules, and policies

    Environmental and energy regulations are set through three main mechanisms. The first is by specific laws, which would require the cooperation of both houses of Congress to change. Next are also more general laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. These enable regulations to be put in place via a formal rule-making process run by the agencies of the executive branch. This process involves soliciting public feedback, incorporating economic considerations, and so on, a process that typically takes anywhere from eight months to over a year. Finally, the executive branch can set policies to cover details not spelled out by the law or the rule, such as how to handle things like deadlines and enforcement details.

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