After dumping untreated hazardous waste into the ground for more than a decade, Innophos, a purified phosphoric acid manufacturer in Louisiana, has settled for $1.4 million with the Environmental Protection Agency.Read more
A Louisiana inmate claims in court that he was subjected to more than four months in solitary confinement as punishment by prison officials for corresponding with a journalist.Read more
A hospital with outdated sensors on its automatic doors is not liable for the death of an elderly woman after the doors closed on her, an appeals court ruled.Read more
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – If controversial Confederate monuments slated for removal by the city are instead allowed to remain in place, New Orleans will have to deal with the consequences, including vandalism, a city attorney warned a federal appeals court Wednesday morning. A three-judge, Fifth Circuit panel was asked to intervene in the matter after a federal judge ruled last winter that four Confederate monuments in the city can be taken down. The plaintiffs in the case, four southern heritage groups, believe the judge erred in rejecting their request for a restraining order, and want the Fifth Circuit to toss his decision and keep the monuments right where they are. Deputy city attorney Adam Swensek told the panel that all parties must be prepared for public anger and its consequences if the case is decided in the plaintiffs’ favor. Something not talked about, Swensek said, is “the injury to the public if this thing can’t go forward.” Swensek noted that “one injury” to the public if, as the city hopes, the three-judge panel allows the monuments to be removed, is they’ll be denied the ability to “to view the art” of the monuments. But other injuries are possible are if the court ultimately blocks their removal. A big risk is vandalism, the attorney said. “When folks are denied the democratic process, they seek other ways to [seek justice],” Swensek warned. “This poses a risk to property,” he said. U.S. Circuit Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod made it was clear she disagreed with Swensek’s statement, but the attorney was undeterred, explaining the monument issue has “put the city in a difficult position, where it has to deal with the repercussions of people who feel disenfranchised.” Swensek said the risk of unintended property damages has resulted in the city having to spend money for guards to keep watch over the monuments slated for removal. The plaintiffs — the Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Force Committee, and Beauregard Camp No. 130, a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — filed a lengthy lawsuit last December after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed a controversial ordinance saying the four prominently placed monuments celebrating Confederate heroes could be taken down. Less than 10 days later, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued the 63-page ruling in which he said the city owns the land the monuments are on and it is within the city’s discretion to take them down. The city moved quickly to try and take the monuments down, but that effort was stymied after the contractor hired to do the work abruptly pulled out, citing death threats made against his family. The problem of finding a “reputable” crane operator to do the removal still remains, attorneys for both sides said Wednesday. Without a skilled crane operator to perform the removal, there is a risk of damages to the monuments. “It isn’t that monument removal is unsafe and cannot be performed,” Swensek told the court. “It is that monument removal may be unsafe when performed by someone unskilled.” Swensek said the city has no intention of removing the monuments without a clear go-ahead from the court. An attorney for plaintiffs told the panel the city has “alienated” the public by bringing up the issue in the first place. For one thing, he argued, without a reliable crane operator for the job, removal without harming the monuments is basically impossible. “The city is, and has, alienated the public,” the attorney said. “The city has no idea how it’s going to take [the monuments] down. The city has no plan to take the monuments down. No plan in place.” Franklin Jones, an attorney for plaintiffs, told Judge Barbier in January to consider the statues from an artistic rather than political perspective. “These are priceless works of art,” Jones said. “These are not just monuments you wrap a sling around and move” to another location. In June 2015, after a gunman killed nine and wounded three others in a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., several southern cities called for the removal of Confederate flags and other symbols from government properties, and it was against this backdrop that Landrieu called for the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans. During the 60-day public comment period that followed Landrieu’s proposal, two city commissions called for the ultimate removal of four monuments associated with the Confederacy. The monuments include a 60-foot-tall marble column and statue dedicated to Gen. Robert E. Lee; a large statue of Louisiana-born Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback; a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis; and an obelisk dedicated to white supremacists who wanted to overthrow a biracial New Orleans Reconstruction government. The Fifth Circuit panel is comprised of Judge Patrick Higginbotham, a nominee of Ronald Reagan appointee; Jennifer Walker Elrod, a nominee of George W. Bush, and Stephen Higginson, a nominee of President Barack Obama. The panel did not rule at the conclusion of the hearing and gave no indication when it will.Read more
After a marathon juror-selection process that went late into Monday night, opening statements were expected to begin Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of fatally shooting for Saints star Will Smith following a minor traffic accident.Read more
An elementary school teacher claims in court that she was fired on pretextual grounds after attending a union meeting.Read more
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who garnered much attention recently for attempting to override Gov. John Bel Edward’s protections against workplace discrimination, has been elected as vice president of the National Association of Attorneys General.Read more
By SABRINA CANFIELD
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Environmentalists and legal groups released a scathing report on the quality of the water millions of Americans drink each day, pressing the federal government to do more to protect the nation’s waters.
According to the report, “Decades of Delay: EPA Leadership Still Lacking in Protecting America’s Great River,” excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural and urban runoff in states bordering the Mississippi River is threatening the nation’s drinking water supply.
But that’s not all that is at stake, say the environmentalists and lawyers who call themselves the Mississippi River Collaborative.
Excess nutrients in the water also cause fish kills, unswimmable waters, and a 5,000 square-mile zone in the Gulf of Mexico that cannot support aquatic life, the report says, faulting the federal government and individual states for not doing their share to stop the pollution.
The authors say the federal government has so far refused to take the authority to require states to control nutrients from farms and cities that are contributing to the slow death of the Mississippi River and contributing to the death of a massive portion of the Gulf of Mexico into which it flows.
“It’s a serious problem and it’s not getting better,” said Kris Sigford, water quality manager for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, who headed the project.
“The results of the EPA’s hands-off approach with the Mississippi River basin states are massive algae blooms and nitrate contamination that make our drinking water unsafe and render lakes and rivers unfit for recreation,” Sigford said.
The environmentalists insist that the current sorry state of the nation’s drinking water supply can be reversed by limiting excess nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the Mississippi River.
Both pollutants are found in agricultural tools, such as fertilizers, as well as in household detergents, and levels can easily be regulated, if not slashed altogether, the environmentalists say.
But the report rebukes all ten states along the Mississippi for dropping the ball on regulating nitrogen and phosphorus discharges and calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately set standards to eliminate nutrient pollution.
“Though EPA has consistently and emphatically urged states to take measures to combat nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, its encouragement has come without enforceable regulations, specific deadlines, or funding for implementation,” the report found. “Not surprisingly, the problem persists, especially in the Mississippi River, despite a variety of Clean Water Act tools and viable regulatory options available to states.”
The Mississippi River Collaborative looked at the ten states bordering the Mississippi – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana – to see how each has handled nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
Despite EPA’s insistence since 2003 that each state must set limits for how nitrogen and Phosphorus in its waters, currently no states have limits for nitrogen, and just two states (Minnesota and Wisconsin) have set limits for phosphorus.
“EPA’s mandate, as stated on its mission page, is to ‘protect human health and the environment.’ Both are being threatened by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River and elsewhere,” the report says.
The report suggests six specific steps EPA can take to protect human health and water quality in the Mississippi River. Recommendations include setting numeric limits of allowable nitrogen and phosphorus in state waters, assessing water quality for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that creates impaired waterways and ensuring states develop nutrient reduction strategies with specific implementation plans and adequate funding.
“For 20 years, we have been told the EPA and the states would address the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that causes the Gulf Dead Zone,” said Matt Rota, Senior Policy Director for the Gulf Restoration Network, an MRC member. “This report demonstrates that this simply has not happened. EPA should use the tools outlined in the report to finally act on their commitments.”
A representative of the EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The Obama Administration has allowed unlimited dumping of hazardous offshore fracking wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico, and a new proposal seeks to continue the practice, an environmental group says. The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a new permit condition that requires oil companies to maintain an inventory of the chemicals used in offshore fracking activities and in doing so has placed new, higher limits on the amount of offshore fracking wastewater that can be dumped under the Clean Water Act, the Center for Biological Diversity warned in a Sept. 17 letter. The Center for Biological Diversity said the proposed permit violates the Clean Water Act because it causes an “undue degradation” of the marine environment. “The permit allows the unlimited discharge of produced wastewater, including the unlimited discharge of chemicals used in offshore fracking and other well-stimulation treatments,” the letter said. “The EPA is endangering an entire ecosystem by allowing the oil industry to dump unlimited amounts of fracking chemicals and drilling waste fluid into the Gulf of Mexico,” Center attorney Kristen Monsell said in a statement. “This appalling plan from the agency that’s supposed to protect our water violates federal law and shows a disturbing disregard for offshore fracking’s toxic threats to sea turtles and other Gulf wildlife.” EPA is relying on a 33-year-old study of waste fluid produced by offshore platforms, despite the drilling of more than 450 wells in the area since 2010 alone. Last June the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s failure to disclose the scope of offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water on the planet and one of the most ecologically diverse environments. The Gulf is home to 28 percent of wetlands in the U.S. and 41 percent of open water. In addition to marine species, hundreds of millions of migratory birds travel through the Gulf every year and will be adversely affected if the EPA is allowed to go ahead with its dumping allowance, the letter said. The29-page letter urges the EPA to adopt a zero-discharge requirement for produced water and fracking chemicals, as is required under other offshore drilling permits. The letter said equipment already exists to help the fracking industry meet a zero-discharge requirement. At least 10 fracking chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including marine mammals and fish, Center scientists said. The California Council on Science and Technology has identified some common fracking chemicals to be among the most toxic in the world to marine animals, the letter said. Fracking chemicals raise grave ecological concerns because, among other factors, the Gulf of Mexico is important habitat for whales, sea turtles and fish, and contains critical habitat for imperiled loggerhead sea turtles. Dolphins and other species in the Gulf are still suffering lingering effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to an emailed statement from the group. As explained in the letter, the EPA is proposing to allow oil companies to discharge fracking chemicals without even knowing how much fracking has, or would, occur in the Gulf by relying on data from 1988. Information recently obtained by the Center indicates that oil companies were permitted to frack more than 1,200 times from more than 600 wells from 2010 to 2014 alone. And the agency is relying on more than 30-year-old data to estimate the volume of produced water to be discharged. “The Obama administration can’t just turn a blind eye to how offshore fracking could hurt the Gulf’s wildlife,” Monsell said. “It’s the EPA’s job to protect water quality from offshore fracking, not rubberstamp the dumping of the wastewater from this dangerous, disgusting practice.”Read more
NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Louisiana’s neediest residents can still get Medicaid-funded services from Louisiana Planned Parenthood facilities in the state, a federal appeals court ruled. The Fifth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s injunction blocking the state from cutting off Medicaid funding to area Planned Parenthoods. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal had moved to block state funding for the medical care provider following the release last year of videos by an anti-abortion group that appeared to show employees from Planned Parenthood selling tissue and body parts from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and three of its patients challenged the state action in federal court. They said the attempt was politically motivated and would leave them no options for obtaining medical care. Further, the agency said it has never provided an abortion in the state. The three-judge Fifth Circuit panel upheld U.S. District Judge John deGravelles’s order last October that temporarily blocked the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals from withholding Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for services provided to Medicaid beneficiaries. “The public interest weighs in favor of preliminarily enforcing the Individual Plaintiffs’ rights and allowing some of the state’s neediest individuals to continue receiving medical care from a much needed provider,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jacques Weiner Jr. wrote on behalf of the panel. Weiner was a 1989 nominee of President George H.W. Bush. The other judges on the panel, Edward Prado and Priscilla Owen, were both nominees of George W. Bush. The judges found the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals did not find Planned Parenthood violated medical or any other standards that would have warranted state action against it. Instead, the state sought to allow Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to continue to provide services to clients who could afford to pay for them, while not allowing the provider to give services to the state’s poorest residents. Such a scheme, the appeals court found, would violate the purpose of Medicaid. “LDHH’s termination of PPGC’s provider agreements appears to produce precisely the result that the free-choice-of-provider provision is meant to avoid,” the panel wrote. “LDHH will deny PPGC’s services only to Medicaid recipients, but all other individuals will be free to seek care from PPGC. But, ‘the [Medicaid] free-choice-of provider provision unambiguously requires that states participating in the Medicaid program allow covered patients to choose among the family planning medical practitioners they could use were they paying out of their own pockets.”‘ The appeals court also found the attempt by former Gov. Jindal and the LDHH was politically motivated because Jindal released a statement that said funding to PPGC was being cut “because Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the State of Louisiana in regards to respecting human life,” and that motivation would violate plaintiffs’ Medicaid rights. “This victory is critically important for thousands of Louisianans across our state — people who deserve to have their health come before political agendas,” Raegan Carter, directors of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast said in a news release. “As a Louisianan and a woman of color, this is very personal. People of color in our community already face too many systemic barriers to care — and blocking care at Planned Parenthood would make it even worse.” Planned Parenthood said defunding efforts of this sort have been undertaken in 24 states. Jindal left office in January and John Bel Edwards, a democrat who is opposed to abortion, took his place. Gov. Edwards pushed a bill through the last legislative session to pull Medicaid funding if Planned Parenthood begins performing abortions in the state. Attorney General Jeff Landry, a first-term Republican who has taken over the state’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood since Jindal left office, said in a released statement last year that “it is in the best interest of our State’s citizens to protect the integrity of our Medicaid program by pursuing this appeal” against Planned Parenthood. A spokesman for Landry did not immediately return an emailed request for comment on this week’s ruling.Read more