Friday news roundup: Sulfide statutes and Jesus statues


EPA reinstates reporting requirements for a poisonous gas

To the relief of citizen advocacy groups (and the irritation of industry), the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its decision last week to lift a 17-year-long Administrative Stay on Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements for hydrogen sulfide -- a poisonous gas that smells like rotten eggs and is the by-product of many industrial operations.

Developed to give industry-neighboring communities information with which to protect themselves from industrial toxins, TRI is a publicly accessible database that provides communities with information about the release of certain toxic chemicals by industrial facilities, and it helps keep industry honest when it comes to industrial emissions.

The EPA added the chemical to TRI's list in 1993 in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the governor of New York. The listing was based on the chemical's chronic neurotoxic health effects in humans and its acute aquatic toxicity --  which means that short-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide kills fish and other aquatic organisms.

However, the Agency issued an Administrative Stay halting reporting the following year, so it could address industry concerns about minor language discrepancies it saw in the agency's justifications for listing the gas, an action they saw as prophetic of stricter regulations in the future.

The EPA then spent the next 17 years reevaluating the chemical's human health effects.

During this time, communities and advocates have repeatedly called for hydrogen sulfide's reinstatement to the TRI. There have been a number of industrial accidents involving hydrogen sulfide -- including the death of a Canadian oilfield worker -- and an increase in natural gas development, and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, with which hydrogen sulfide is associated. “In 2009, Earthworks and a number of organizations requested that EPA consider regulating hydrogen sulfide under the Clean Air Act and lifting the TRI list suspension,” reports the Summit County Voice.

According to an EPA press release, the Agency's decision to lift the reporting suspension reflects its belief that the gas causes chronic health effects in humans and is part of the EPA's push to “provide communities with more complete information on toxic chemical releases.” The action requires industry to file 2012 emission reports for hydrogen sulfide by July 1st, 2013.

Controversy over Mont. Ski hill Savior

It's not often that the Forest Service gets embroiled in an issue involving the separation of church and state. But that's the situation on a 25 by 25-foot patch of Forest Service-leased land in the middle of a ski run on Big Mountain near Whitefish, Montana. A statue of Jesus stands on the land, his arms outstretched to the skiers and boarders that whiz by.

Last month, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged the Forest Service's renewal of a lease permit for the land beneath the statue, claiming the agency had violated separation of church and state rules in allowing a religious icon to remain on federal land. The Forest Service decided not to renew the lease but then, in the face of widespread community outrage, withdrew that decision and, instead, opted to take public comments on a request to reauthorize the lease permit.

The statue, which was erected as something of a war memorial in the 1950s by World War II veterans and members of the local Knights of Columbus chapter, has long been a source of curiosity and amusement for the mountain's skiers and boarders, who often take pictures with the cement savior. And many locals consider the statue to be a meaningful part of the mountain's cultural history.

Like much of the local community, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont, wants Jesus to stick around. In a statement, Rehberg argued that, “using a tiny section of public land for a war memorial with religious themes is not the same as establishing a state religion.”

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its use of social networking as a mobilizing tool, statue supporters have planned an "Occupy Big Mountain" rally on Facebook for Saturday to protest the cement icon's removal, reported the Missoulian last week.

Marian Lyman Kirst is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy Flickr user CarlyJane.