Camera Lets You See Invisible Pollutants

July 30, 2018
You can’t see them with the naked eye, but volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, might be present in everyday items or tasks you might be doing like filling your gas tank, painting, mowing your yard or putting burgers on the grill. Those VOCs, when mixed with nitrogen oxide and sunshine, create ground-level ozone.
And while we need ozone in our upper atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays, down on the ground, it’s a human health hazard. “In Kentucky, ground-level ozone is mostly a summertime pollutant,” said Roberta Burnes, Policy Analyst III at the Kentucky Division of Air Quality (DAQ). “It’s created by chemical reactions mainly between VOCs and nitrogen oxides on hot, sunny days.”
To cut down on harmful VOCs, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division for Air Quality recommends that you complete some everyday tasks such as painting, lawn mowing and grilling during the cooler times of the day during the summer months.
In a dramatic demonstration, the DAQ has used its Forward Looking Infrared Camera—or FLIR (pronounced fleer)—to show these invisible VOCs that are released by spray paint, paint thinners, gasoline and other items. The video also explains why VOCs are harmful to our health.
“It is easy for each of us to help make a difference,” said Burnes. “Refuel your car after 6 P.M., mow as late in the day as possible, look for low VOC paints and replace the caps to paint thinners as soon as you can.”
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New Washington UST Rules
Washington has strengthened its regulations to prevent leaks from the 9,000 underground storage tanks that have 3 billion gallons of fuel pass through them each year.
The state Department of Ecology adopted changes to the rules governing its underground storage tank compliance program. The program is one of the state’s largest pollution prevention programs.
If underground tanks aren’t properly maintained, they can leak, potentially polluting drinking water and posing serious threats to human health and the environment. Old, leaking underground storage tanks account for about half of all known contaminated sites in Washington.
Ecology regulates about 9,000 tanks at more than 3,300 facilities, including gas stations, industrial and commercial properties, and government-owned properties. The program has significantly reduced the number of releases—from several hundred to less than fifty each year. And, those that do occur are much less severe.
Changes the agency adopted will make the program even more effective by streamlining requirements and aligning the rule with state and federal laws. Changes to the rule include:
  • Incorporating federal rule changes needed to maintain federal approval of the program (such as new operation and maintenance requirements).
  • Integrating changes made in the state statute that authorizes the program.
  • Updating other requirements governing the program (such as service provider requirements).
  • Streamlining rule requirements, improving rule clarity, and improving consistency within the rule and with other state and federal laws and rules.
Ecology will hold educational sessions on the new rule August 7–9. For a complete listing of educational session details and changes to the rule, visit Ecology’s rulemaking webpage. For more information about the compliance program, visit the state’s underground storage tank webpage.
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Revised Petroleum Storage Tank Regulations in Effect in New Mexico
Updated petroleum storage tank (PST) regulations took effect in New Mexico on July 24, 2018. The revised regulations will better protect New Mexico’s ground water by enhancing the current PST regulations that help prevent and detect releases of gasoline and other regulated substances to the environment.
Over 90% of New Mexicans rely on groundwater for drinking water. The update will help the Environment Department accomplish its goal of preventing and reducing the number and size of leaks, because as little as a gallon of gasoline can contaminate a million gallons of groundwater. The current PST regulations have reduced the number of reported leaks from storage tanks in the state from 332 per year in 1992 to 21 per year in 2015—the updated regulation will reduce it even further.
The PST regulations also govern the process for cleaning up releases from leaking storage tanks. Since the 1980s, over 1800 contaminated sites attributed to storage tanks have been cleaned up.
The New Mexico Environment Department’s Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau oversees more than 4,421 underground and aboveground storage tanks at over 1,760 facilities (including gas stations, airports, hospitals, schools, and state and federal facilities) throughout the state.
Outreach meetings on the new regulations are scheduled for August 20, 2018 in Albuquerque; September 18, 2018 in Roswell; and October 18, 2018 in Las Cruces. More information is available on the NMED Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau’s website at
EPA Reversed Decision to Stop Enforcing Air Emission Standards for High-Polluting Glider Trucks
Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, released the following statement after the EPA announced it would reverse former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s last-minute decision to stop enforcing air emission standards for some of the dirtiest heavy-duty trucks on the road under the Clean Air Act—a sweetheart deal designed for one, specific company. On his last day as EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt signed a legally questionable document that gave Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the largest glider kit dealer in the country, permission to continue building high-polluting glider trucks for two years. While the reversal of former Administrator Pruitt’s sweetheart enforcement deal is an important step, the proposed rule to permanently exempt high-polluting glider trucks from emissions rules has yet to be withdrawn
“With Mr. Pruitt out, I’m glad to see EPA will reverse one of the most egregious—and likely illegal—environmental proposals of his tenure. His senseless proposal ignored the science put out by his own EPA and created a Clean Air Act loophole for an industry friend, all while putting the health of Americans and our environment at risk,” said Senator Carper. “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, but the proposed rule to indefinitely exempt some of the dirtiest trucks on the roads that emit 55 times the air pollution of new trucks, is still on the table. I’ll keep pushing to see that this misguided proposal is one that never gets finalized.”
Earlier this month, Senator Carper wrote Acting Administrator Wheeler urging him to withdraw EPA’s proposal to repeal air emission standards for glider trucks, “which appears to largely benefit a single company while being opposed by the vast majority of industry, and was influenced by an industry-funded ‘study’ that is currently the subject of an official investigation into research misconduct for failing to adhere to basic scientific standards.” Senator Carper also raised his concerns around the proposed rule and former EPA Administrator Pruitt’s last-minute and likely illegal enforcement decision with Andrew Wheeler since he was named Acting Administrator.
In March, Senators Carper and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), sent a letter to EPA’s administrator at the time, Scott Pruitt, to urge him to withdraw this “dangerous” and “legally questionable” proposal. The Senators cited their concerns on the effects deregulation of glider vehicle emissions could have on the health of Americans. The senators also questioned the legitimacy of the science used in the EPA’s decision-making process.
Glider trucks, which are new trucks with old, rebuilt diesel engines mostly manufactured between 1998 and 2002, are some of the dirtiest heavy-duty trucks on the road. When left unregulated, glider trucks could create one third of all NOx and PM emissions from heavy-duty trucks by 2025, despite comprising only 5% of the heavy-duty fleet. EPA’s 2016 “Phase 2” medium and heavy-duty rule finalized regulations to reduce harmful glider truck emissions. EPA’s analysis concluded that unregulated glider truck emissions could prematurely kill thousands of people and increase instances of lung cancer, lung disease, heart disease and asthma.
Kansas City Area Laboratory Owner Convicted of Illegally Storing Hazardous Waste
A federal judge found Ahmed el-Sherif, the owner, operator, and radiation safety officer for Beta Chem Laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas, guilty of illegally storing hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Stephen R. McAllister for the District of Kansas, and Jessica Taylor, Director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the EPA.
The Honorable Julie A. Robinson issued a written verdict following the trial, which took place in February 2018. El-Sherif wanted, and was permitted, to waive his right to a jury trial and the case was heard by Judge Robinson in what is known as a “bench trial.”
El-Sherif, a trained chemist of Leawood, Kansas, started Beta Chem in the mid-1990s after having worked at several other radioactive synthesis laboratories. He used radioactive Carbon-14 and solvents in his operation, under license by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). KDHE has assumed regulatory authority for these purposes from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under the Atomic Energy Act.
After Beta Chem was unable to provide KDHE with the required financial assurances regarding decommissioning the lab in the event that it was closed, KDHE inspected Beta Chem and discovered extensive radioactive contamination throughout the laboratory, including some parts of the lab with levels so high their instruments could not accurately read them. The radioactive contamination extended to the laboratory furniture, the equipment, including refrigerators, and containers of chemicals that were supposed to be non-radioactive. The next day, KDHE issued an Emergency Order of Suspension of License.
EPA conducted a hazardous waste inspection the same month, and subsequently notified el-Sherif of hazardous waste violations under RCRA. EPA also informed el-Sherif of his legal obligation to properly manage hazardous waste under RCRA. During the ensuing years, KDHE communicated with el-Sherif about the radioactive contamination at Beta Chem and they entered into a consent agreement in which he agreed to come up with a plan to remediate and dispose of the radioactive waste. While he engaged a number of consultants, el-Sherif never took any action to actually clean up the lab.
On October 4, 2013, after issuing an Emergency Order to Seize and Secure Radioactive Materials, KDHE took control of Beta Chem and secured the facility. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, executed a search warrant at Beta Chem on January 22, 2014, where agents discovered numerous containers containing hazardous wastes and contaminated with radiation. EPA determined there to be 1,138 containers at the lab, of which 886 had intact manufacturer labels with no handwriting, which showed many of those to be hazardous. The other containers were field tested for hazardous characteristics before being disposed of. In total, EPA determined there to be over two hundred pounds of hazardous waste, some of which was acute hazardous waste. All of the containers tested were radioactive, and 45% of the contents tested were radioactive.
EPA’s Superfund program spent over $760,000 to remove and dispose of the hazardous waste.
“The public expects and deserves that those in the business of using dangerous radioactive materials do so in compliance with law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This defendant breached that trust, deliberately disobeyed the law, and ignored requests by KDHE and EPA to bring his laboratory into compliance with statutes and regulations designed to protect the public and the environment.”
“For years, the defendant knowingly stored hazardous waste with no regard to the serious public health and environmental dangers it posed,” said Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program for the EPA Regions covering Kansas Jeff Martinez. “Even when told to stop his dangerous practice, Mr. el-Sherif continued to ignore the risks. Yesterday’s guilty verdict should send a clear message that EPA will hold accountable those who willfully violate the law.”
MPCA Completed 52 Enforcement Cases in Second Quarter of 2018
In its ongoing efforts to promote environmental compliance, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency concluded 52 enforcement cases in 32 counties throughout Minnesota during the second quarter of 2018. Penalties from all 52 cases totaled just over $366,000.
Environmental enforcement investigations often take several months, and in highly complex cases more than a year. Although, in rare instances, they can involve courts, they are most often negotiated settlements where the goal is compliance with environmental rules.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA considers how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first time or repeat violation and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws.
In addition to these 52 recently-completed cases, the MPCA also has 42 ongoing enforcement investigations, 19 of which were opened as new cases during the second quarter of 2018. Not all investigations lead to fines or other official action.
Imposing monetary penalties is only part of the MPCA’s enforcement process. Agency staff continue to provide assistance, support, and information on the steps and tools necessary to achieve compliance for any company, individual, or local government that requests it. The following is a brief summary of all 52 cases completed during the second quarter of 2018:
  • EnTrans International LLC, Holdingford, for hazardous waste violations, $49,325
  • Scott Equipment Co., Arlington, for hazardous waste and industrial stormwater violations, $30,000
  • Hibbing Taconite Co., Hibbing, for industrial wastewater violations, $20,000
  • Chris Berry, Optimum Appliance and Recycling Center LLC, Ramsey, for hazardous and solid waste violations, $20,000
  • Crown Cork and Seal USA Inc., Faribault, for air quality violations, $15,928
  • Pipestone County, Hatfield, for construction stormwater violations, $12,995
  • Fabcon Inc., Savage, for air quality violations, $11,550
  • City of Baxter, Baxter, for municipal stormwater violations, $11,250
  • RJ Ryan Construction Inc., Eagan, for construction stormwater violations, $10,900
  • Associated Finishing Inc., Mankato, for hazardous waste violations, $10,725
  • Dale A. Larson, PDQ Sanitary Services Inc., East Grand Forks, for subsurface sewage treatment system violations, $10,000
  • Paul Engraving, Stacy, for hazardous waste and industrial stormwater violations, $9,986
  • US Home Corp, dba, Lennar, Corcoran, for construction stormwater violations, $9,725
  • United Properties, Eagan, for construction stormwater violations, $9,220
  • Duininck Inc., Hatfield, for construction stormwater violations, $8,935
  • Pro Line Painting, Minneapolis, for air quality violations, $8,688
  • Wakefield Pork Inc., Amboy, for feedlot violations, $8,200
  • Marvin Lumber and Cedar Company, Warroad, for air quality violations, $7,450
  • Blattner Energy Inc., Avon, for construction stormwater violations, $6,690
  • City of South St. Paul, South St. Paul, for municipal stormwater violations, $5,850
  • City of Barnum, Barnum, for wastewater violations, $5,541
  • Knutson Construction Services Inc., Avon, for construction stormwater violations, $5,150
  • Tom Marnik, Remer, for subsurface sewage treatment system violations, $5,070
  • City of Willmar, Willmar, for air quality violations, $5,065
  • Lakeside Foods Inc., Owatonna, for industrial wastewater violations, $4,945
  • Marvin Pearson, dba Pearson Livestock Trucking, Janesville, for industrial wastewater violations, $4,745
  • Crow Wing Recycling Inc., Brainerd, for industrial wastewater violations, $4,700
  • Robert Berger, Center City, for construction stormwater violations, $4,425
  • The First State Bank of Red Wing, Chaska, for underground storage tank violations, $4,300
  • City of Worthington, Worthington, for municipal wastewater violations, $3,600
  • Armadillo Investments III LLC, St. Cloud, for construction stormwater violations, $3,340
  • BTD Manufacturing Inc., Lakeville, for air quality violations, $3,320
  • PHB Excavating LLC, Motley, for subsurface sewage treatment system violations, $3,080
  • United Farmers Cooperative, Bird Island, for air quality violations, $3,000
  • Fyle’s Portables, Nisswa, for subsurface sewage treatment system violations, $2,950
  • Nodland Construction Company, Inc., Corcoran, for construction stormwater violations, $2,520
  • The Loppet Foundation Inc., Golden Valley, for construction stormwater violations, $2,475
  • KalCon LLC, Golden Valley, for construction stormwater violations, $2,475
  • The Polk County Agricultural Fair Assoc., Fertile, for solid waste violations, $2,300
  • Alex Construction Co. Inc., Alexandria, for subsurface sewage treatment violations, $2,000
  • ETOC Company Inc., Nisswa, for construction stormwater and solid waste violations, $1,875
  • CHS Inc., Erskine, for solid waste violations, $1,755
  • Mogren Landscaping LLP, Pine Springs, for construction stormwater violations, $1,625
  • SMI & Hydraulics Inc., Porter, for air quality violations, $1,563
  • Minnesota Metal Finishing Inc., Minneapolis, for air quality violations, $1,350
  • Quality Collision Center and Sandblasting, Inver Grove Heights, for air quality violations, $1,250
  • Early Iron Restoration, Rochester, for air quality violations, $1,250
  • Rasinski Excavating Inc., Nisswa, for construction stormwater and solid waste violations, $1,175
  • Ellen Marsh Properties, Blue Earth, for subsurface sewage treatment violations, $1,000
  • City of Gary, Gary, for wastewater violations, $600
  • Doboszenski and Sons Inc., Corcoran, for construction stormwater violations, $550
  • Opinion Brewing Company LLC, Newport, for solid waste violations, $500

CSX Transportation Fined for Derailment and Oil Spill in Mount Carbon, West Virginia
The U.S. Department of Justice, EPA, and State of West Virginia announced a settlement with CSX Transportation Inc. to resolve its liability for state and federal water pollution violations related to a 2015 oil spill caused by a train derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. Under the terms of the settlement, CSX Transportation will pay penalties of $1.2 million to the United States and $1 million to West Virginia.
“Federal law requires the transport of oil through communities like Mount Carbon to be done safely, whether by rail or any other mode. When accidents happen and public health or the environment is harmed, the Justice Department will respond with strong action in close coordination with our federal and state partners,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement imposes serious fines under the Clean Water Act for the 2015 CSX train derailment in West Virginia and seeks to deter similar incidents from happening in the future. I applaud the joint efforts of DOJ, EPA, and the State of West Virginia on this case.”
“The 2015 CSX train derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia caused significant damage and disruption to that community,” said EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine. “Through this settlement EPA, DOJ, and the State of West Virginia are holding CSX Transportation accountable for these consequences.”
On February 16, 2015, a CSX Transportation train with 109 railcars carrying crude oil derailed in Mount Carbon. Twenty-seven tank cars, each containing approximately 29,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, derailed, and about half of the tank cars ignited. The resulting explosions and fires destroyed an adjacent home and garage. Local officials declared a state of emergency, nearby water intakes were shut down, and residents in the area were evacuated.
EPA and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection joined with other federal, state, and local agencies in responding to the incident. In response to federal and state orders, CSX Transportation has taken steps to remedy the damage and disruption caused by the oil spill. Separately, under a state-negotiated provision, CSX Transportation will help improve surface water quality in the area impacted by the oil spill through a contribution of $500,000 to a state-administered fund to upgrade a water treatment facility in Fayette County, West Virginia.
Some of the oil discharged during and following the train derailment flowed into the Kanawha River and Armstrong Creek. Freshwater bodies are particularly sensitive to fuel spills, which may damage fish and bird habitat and threaten drinking water supplies.
The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. To view the consent decree or to submit a comment, visit the department’s website at:
General Iron Cited for Air Emissions in Chicago
General Iron owns and operates a metal shredding and recycling operation at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. Since 2016, EPA has conducted several inspections at the facility to investigate complaints and assess air pollution.
EPA received air emissions data from General Iron in June 2018 in response to the Agency’s requirement to conduct supervised testing at the facility. After analyzing the results, EPA has determined that volatile organic compound emissions from General Iron’s shredder exceeded the allowable limits. EPA also found that General Iron failed to install adequate air pollution controls and obtain the correct air pollution permit.
The results of metals emissions test from June 2018 indicate that several metal hazardous air pollutants are present in the exhaust gases at detectable levels. The three highest metals measured were zinc, mercury and lead. These metals emission rates are low compared to EPA’s metals hazardous air pollutant emission limits. EPA, however, is conducting further analysis of the results as it relates to the ambient air in the community.
On July 23, 2018, General Iron provided EPA with the results of particulate matter and metals testing conducted on May 24, 2018. EPA is reviewing the additional air emissions data.
EPA is currently engaged in discussions with the company to address the violations alleged in the Notice and Finding of Violation, and ensure that adequate measures will be enacted to return the facility to compliance and to protect the health of the surrounding community and the environment. For more information, see:
EPA and Justice Department Reach $3.1 Million Settlement with Dupont for Alleged Chemical Accident Prevention Violations
EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice have entered into a Stipulation of Settlement with E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company (Dupont) to address alleged chemical accident prevention violations at its former La Porte, Texas chemical manufacturing facility. DuPont will pay a $3.1 million civil penalty.
“Accidental releases of methyl mercaptan can be extremely dangerous,” said EPA Region 6 Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Director Cheryl Seager. “This settlement ensures the rule of law is being followed by Dupont and emphasizes the importance of implementing risk management programs to protect our communities and our workers.”
On November 15, 2014, an incident occurred and nearly 24,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan were released within the Lannate® unit at its La Porte, Texas facility. Methyl mercaptan is a highly toxic, highly flammable chemical that can cause asphyxiation. The release resulted in the deaths of four persons inside the Lannate® manufacturing building. The four DuPont employees died from a combination of asphyxia and acute exposure to methyl mercaptan.
EPA, OSHA, and the Chemical Safety Board all conducted inspections or investigations after the incident. The Lannate® unit was shut down after the incident. The Chemical Safety Board issued Interim Recommendations from its investigation on September 30, 2015. In March of 2016, DuPont announced that it was closing the facility.
The Chemical Accident Prevention Regulations are intended to prevent accidental releases of substances that can cause serious harm to the public and the environment from short-term exposures and to mitigate the severity of releases that occur. These regulations require certain facilities to develop and implement a risk management program.
The Complaint alleges 22 separate violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program at DuPont’s former La Porte, Texas facility. The violations alleged in the Complaint include:
  • Failure to develop and implement written operating procedures
  • Failure to adequately implement management of change procedures
  • Failure to implement safe work practices
  • Mechanical integrity violations
No injunctive relief was required, since the facility is no longer in operation. The Complaint and Stipulation of Settlement was filed on Monday, July 23, 2018 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
For more information on the Risk Management Plan Rule:
Two Arizona Facilities Cited for Clean Water Act Violations
EPA announced settlements with two Goodyear, Arizona-based companies to resolve Clean Water Act (CWA) violations. BioFlora, a fertilizer manufacturer, and Inventure Foods, a food manufacturer, will pay $39,000 and $79,957 in civil penalties, respectively. Each company has made improvements to their facilities’ wastewater pretreatment systems to achieve compliance with local and federal pretreatment standards.
“Pretreatment of industrial wastewater protects the downstream wastewater treatment system as well as local waterways,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “These agreements will prevent thousands of pounds of pollutants from entering Goodyear’s wastewater treatment plant.”
As part of negotiations with EPA, BioFlora installed a wastewater recycling system allowing it to become a zero-discharge facility. Inventure upgraded its wastewater system and operations procedures through an Administrative Order on Consent.
Improvements to the companies’ wastewater pretreatment systems will significantly reduce the volume of pollutants sent to Goodyear’s wastewater treatment system each year, including over 230,000 pounds of total dissolved solids, 44,000 pounds of oil and grease and 250 pounds of nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous.
During inspections in 2016 and 2017, EPA found that BioFlora and Inventure discharged wastewater violating local and federal standards from their manufacturing facilities into the City of Goodyear wastewater system. Municipal wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to treat industrial wastewater; as a result, industrial facilities are required under CWA to pretreat wastewater before it enters municipal drains.
Both facilities discharge industrial wastewater into Goodyear’s sewer system, which in turn flows to the city’s 157th Avenue Water Reclamation Facility.
Albany Environmental Consultants Plead Guilty for Unlicensed Asbestos Testing and Defrauding Customers
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced the guilty pleas of Albany Environmental Consultants, LLC (AEC), headquartered in Albany, NY; its owner Ronda M. Dolan, of Earlton, NY; and its Project Manager Brian K. McLaren, of Troy, NY for illegally using the identity of a licensed asbestos testing company to defraud customers into believing AEC was licensed by New York State to test for asbestos. In reality, AEC’s license had expired in 2014—yet 19 unsuspecting victims paid almost $40,000 to the defendants for asbestos-handling services, only to have the work redone by a properly licensed company.
“We all know about the extreme risks posed by asbestos exposure,” said Attorney General Underwood. “It is unconscionable that a company would work without a New York license—undermining the public trust and risking the health of unsuspecting customers. We’ll continue to work with our partners in government to protect New Yorkers’ health and safety.”
Earlier this month, the defendants were arraigned in Albany City Court before Honorable Gary F. Stiglmeier on a felony complaint charging each with one count of Identity Theft in the First Degree (a class D felony), four counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony), two counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (a class E felony), and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a class E felony).
According to statements by prosecutors, AEC had a New York State asbestos remediation license until approximately August 2014. After the license expired and knowing that they could not obtain asbestos-related jobs without a license, the defendants forged their letterhead by using the license number of a legitimately licensed company. The defendants operated this unlicensed company through at least January 2015 and took on at least 19 jobs—including at personal residences, a manufacturing facility, a firehouse, a church, a bus station, and a hospital—throughout Albany, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Washington, and Westchester Counties. As a result, unsuspecting customers were later required to have all of the defendants’ asbestos work redone by a licensed asbestos company.
On July 19, 2018, Albany Environmental Consultants, LLC entered a guilty plea before Honorable Peter A. Lynch in Albany County Court to one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a class “E” felony). On July 23, 2018, owner Ronda Dolan and project manager Brian McLaren both pleaded guilty before Honorable Stiglmeier in Albany City Court to one count each of Scheme to Defraud in the Second Degree (a class A misdemeanor).
All three defendants admitted to having stolen approximately $40,000 and signed confessions of judgment in favor of their 19 victims. These judgments against the defendants state the amount of money stolen from each victim, admit that the money was taken as part of a scheme to defraud, and allow the victims to obtain reparations in the future.
The convictions were the result of a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Department of Labor—Asbestos Control Bureau, and the EPA.
Maryland Joins 18 States in Defending Rules on Ozone-Depleting Chemicals
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that upended the EPA’s longstanding authority under the Clean Air Act to ban dangerous substitutes, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), for ozone-depleting substances.
Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to phase out the production and use of substances that harm the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. The Clean Air Act’s “Safe Alternatives Policy” is designed to ensure that this phase-out of harmful ozone-depleting substances does not give rise to dangerous substitute chemicals. Under the Safe Alternatives Policy, EPA is required to publish and update lists of safe and prohibited substitutes for ozone- depleting substances.
In 2015, EPA issued a rule prohibiting certain uses of HFCs as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances. HFCs are climate super-pollutants and are commonly used in millions of consumer products, from refrigerators and air-conditioning units to cosmetics, spray cans, and household cleaners. They are among the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution globally, with hundreds to thousands of times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. When EPA finalized its HFC rule in 2015, EPA estimated that the rule would prevent 26 to 31 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2020. This would be the equivalent of the emissions of 6.4 million passenger cars driven per year, or the annual energy use for 3.2 million homes.
The attorneys general filed the brief in support of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s and Honeywell International Inc.’s petitions for U.S. Supreme Court review of the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in Mexichem v. EPA. In response to a lawsuit brought by two foreign chemical companies challenging the 2015 Rule, a divided D.C. Circuit Court panel held in that case that EPA can no longer ban all uses of a prohibited substitute under the Clean Air Act’s so-called “safe alternative policy,” no matter how poisonous, explosive, or harmful to the environment.
“Our residents and our environment must be protected from harmful chemicals,” said Attorney General Frosh. “It completely undermines the purpose of the existing common sense restrictions if equally dangerous substances are allowed to be substituted for the banned chemicals.”
The attorneys general argue in the brief that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling is legally flawed and disrupted states’ decades-long reliance on EPA’s authority to ban the use of unsafe chemical substitutes. The court upended a strong national program that efficiently and effectively protected human health and the environment from the risks of chemical substitutes, and that promoted innovation and investment in developing safe alternatives. The attorneys general contend that the decision generated enormous uncertainty for states, their consumers, and their businesses.
Following the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt effectively rescinded the 2015 HFC rule in its entirety in April 2018. Pruitt rolled back the rule by issuing guidance, rather than through a public rulemaking process, as required by federal law. Last month, a coalition of 12 attorneys general sued the EPA over the rollback of the HFC rule. In the lawsuit, the attorneys general allege that lifting limits on the use of HFCs will damage ongoing efforts to combat climate change.
Joining Attorney General Frosh in filing the brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, by and through its Pollution Control Agency, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Developer Fined for Stormwater Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has fined Scouters Mountain LLC $54,497 for polluting several streams and violating stormwater permit requirements at its Happy Valley subdivision.
DEQ conducted inspections of the subdivision in August 2017 and February 2018 and discovered Scouters Mountain had been discharging muddy, or turbid, stormwater into streams flowing through property. The company’s stormwater permit requires proper maintenance of erosion and sediment controls to prevent such discharges.
Turbid stormwater poses a threat to fish and other aquatic life because it can clog fish gills, prevent egg and larvae development, reduce photosynthesis in plants and increase the temperature of the water.
DEQ has ordered Scouters Mountain to restore the affected creeks back to their natural state. Scouters Mountain has appealed the violations.
Pennsylvania Well Operators Ordered to Plug 1,058 Abandoned Wells Statewide
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued administrative orders requiring three oil and gas companies—Alliance Petroleum Corporation (Alliance), XTO Energy Inc. (XTO), and CNX Gas Company LLC (CNX)—to plug 1,058 abandoned oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania.
“With Pennsylvania’s legacy of oil and gas extraction, DEP has an inventory of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “It is critical that all operators adhere to state laws to mitigate the environmental and public health and safety hazards and not add to the costly orphaned and abandoned well inventory that would otherwise fall on the shoulders of Pennsylvania citizens.”
The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act states that a well is abandoned if it “has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months.” Alliance, XTO, and CNX self-reported wells that did not produce oil or gas during the 2017 calendar year. Copies of each of the orders and a listing of the wells is linked below:
  • Alliance (a wholly owned subsidiary of Diversified Gas and Oil) – 638 abandoned wells
  • CNX – 327 abandoned wells
  • XTO – 93 abandoned wells
The Oil and Gas Act requires owners and operators to plug wells upon abandonment. Companies must also provide schedules to DEP that prioritize plugging activities for wells that pose the greatest environmental or public health and safety risk. Each company has failed to plug its self-reported abandoned wells and has not provided a schedule to DEP for doing so. The orders include deadlines by which each company must plug their abandoned wells. The order also directs each company to provide copies of well inspection records, document the plugging activities, and remediate each well site according to state regulations.
An amendment to the 2012 Pennsylvania Fiscal Code set bonding amounts for conventional oil and gas wells at $2,500 per well or a blanket bond of $25,000 for all wells owned by an operator. Costs can vary greatly depending on the well conditions, but generally run between $10,000 and $100,000 per well.
DEP estimated that hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859, much of this activity predating applicable regulations or the existence of DEP or its predecessor agencies. While it is not known how many orphaned and abandoned wells exist, estimates range from 100,000 to 560,000 wells. DEP works with communities and nonprofits to identify and map these wells.
DEP has plugged 3,066 wells from 1989-2017 and provides incentives for nongovernment entities to expedite well plugging.
Air Pollution Suit Against Pasadena Refinery Settled
Environment Texas and Sierra Club announced that they have filed a proposed consent decree in federal court to settle their citizen enforcement lawsuit against Pasadena Refining System, Inc. PRSI is owned by Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.), the state-controlled oil company of Brazil.
The settlement still requires court approval. It would mandate pollution reduction upgrades at the 100-year-old PRSI refinery in Pasadena; enhanced preparedness for hurricanes and electrical grid failures; investigation of citizen complaints; and stipulated penalties for future violations. The settlement also provides $3,525,000 in civil penalties, most of which will fund a project to help local communities buy electric vehicles and other clean vehicles for their municipal fleets.
“We welcome PRSI’s decision to resolve this case rather than spend years litigating it in court,” said Brian Zabcik, Clean Air Advocate at Environment Texas. “Pasadena and Galena Park residents will benefit twice. Refinery upgrades will reduce illegal air pollution, while the electric vehicles project will further improve air quality.”
The lawsuit alleges that PRSI’s refinery repeatedly violated its hourly and annual limits on emissions of fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and other air pollutants over a period of five years. Citizen enforcement suits can be filed under the federal Clean Air Act.
“We brought this suit to address the repeated mechanical breakdowns and operational flaws that have plagued the Pasadena refinery for years,” explained Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “These so-called ‘emission events’ have released millions of pounds of illegal air pollution into surrounding neighborhoods.”
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 45-day waiting period so that the U.S. EPA and the Department of Justice can review it. It can then be approved by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt and put it into effect.
This lawsuit is the fourth case brought by Environment Texas and Sierra Club since 2008 to successfully address illegal air emissions from oil refineries and petrochemical facilities along the Houston Ship Channel. Shell Oil Company, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, and now Petrobras have agreed to binding settlements resolving the violations at issue in their suits. ExxonMobil Corporation chose to go to trial, where it was found liable for over 16,000 Clean Air Act violations. Exxon was ordered to pay $19.95 million in penalties, but is continuing to appeal the case.
Sierra Club and Environment Texas have recovered a total of $27.8 million in the three suits against Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. That amount is more than double the $13.5 million in penalties assessed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) against all sources of air pollution in Texas combined for emission events in the state from 2011 through 2016, a recent analysis found.
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