A couple of weeks ago an article was published about the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly, and the danger of this remarkable species going extinct due to environmental issues. It lives, feeds, and breeds only on the Antioch Dunes. There are only 50 acres of these dunes left, and those had to be restored, and only 86 butterflies. Unless something is done to turn this around, the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly will be extinct in a couple of years.
A number of factors contributed to the reduction of the habitat in which the butterflies can live. Much of the sand was removed to make building materials such as bricks and cement, especially after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The other issue is the number of power companies surrounding the dunes and leaching nitrogen into the surrounding air and soils promoting the growth of invasive weeds and choking out the native Naked-stemmed Buckwheat that the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly lays its eggs on, the larvae feeds on, and the adult butterfly feeds on from the flowers.
The dunes are part of the Antioch National Wildlife Refuge, and the restoration of the 50 acres is due mostly to that organization. Wild Equity Institute works with wildlife organizations to advocate for them. In the case of the Antioch Dunes, they petitioned the EPA and expressed their concerns over PG&E's power plant emissions and the impact it's having on the community, and especially the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly. The EPA was supposed to respond to the petition within 60 days, but they ignored it. In order to get them to sit up, take notice, put their engines in gear, and get moving on this issue, Wild Equity Institute filed a lawsuit.
"PG&E needs to follow the same rules as everybody else," said Laura Horton, attorney for Wild Equity Institute, "other power plants have already taken measures to do right by the communities and the imperiled wildlife. EPA can't let PG&E off the hook just because the utility is the biggest player on the block".
EPA's legal violation is regarding Title V of The Clean Air Act. Title V is a permit process that applies to "major" sources of air pollution like PG&E's Gateway Generating Station, and results in a permit that includes all applicable air pollution control requirements in a single set of documents. A Title V permit was released last year for Gateway, but much to the distress of Wild Equity Institute, and Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, it failed to include air pollution control requirements for endangered species, and the Wildlife Refuge, even though another plant just a few miles down the road agreed to mitigate it's pollution this past year.
The unbelievable series of events is that even though Wild Equity Institute clearly demonstrated the failure to hold PG&E responsible to the EPA and the local permitting agency, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, through a formal legal petition process established by The Clean Air Act, the EPA failed to respond with in the 60 day period as required by the petition process. They not only failed to respond, they ignored the petition completely. In the interim the permit became final without any protections in place for the seriously endangered Lange's Metalmark Butterfly.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the nitrogen pollution from the surrounding power plants are virtually certain to cause the extinction of the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly and earlier this year independently demanded that EPA and PG&E consult with experts and mitigate Gateway Generating Station's pollution.
Not only does the Gateway Generating Station, a natural gas fired power plant in Antioch, threaten the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly, but it also pollutes nearby communities with soot and ozone pollution, and worsens the global climate crisis. For years Wild Equity has been informing EPA and PG&E that they must get together with the Fish and Wildlife Service to asses the impact of Gateway's nitrogen emissions on the local communities and on the butterfly as required by the Endangered Species Act. As of this date, neither PG&E nor EPA has fulfilled its legal duty and obligations.
Makes one wonder if PG&E has paid EPA off to overlook certain issues. Makes one glad there are other agencies, like the Wild Equity Institute, to double check these important issues and keep the "big boys" in line.