Environmental Executive Orders: How They Will Impact You

February 01, 2021
President Biden issued several executive orders that direct EPA and other agencies to take immediate steps to write regulations or change policy directions during the new Administration.  Here’s a summary of the Executive Orders issued so far:
Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis
  • An immediate review of Trump’s executive orders suspending, revising, or rescinding any orders that are not consistent with the President’s objective to “improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”
  • Suspend or revise the prior administration’s rule on: Reducing Methane Emissions in the Oil and Gas Sector: “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Reconsideration,” 85 Fed. Reg. 57398 (September 15, 2020), by September 2021.
  • Suspend or revise the prior administration’s rule on: “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part One: One National Program,” 84 Fed. Reg. 51310 (September 27, 2019), by April 2021; and “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks,” 85 Fed. Reg. 24174 (April 30, 2020), by July 2021.
  • Suspend or revise the prior administration’s rule on: “Energy Conservation Program for Appliance Standards: Procedures for Use in New or Revised Energy Conservation Standards and Test Procedures for Consumer Products and Commercial/Industrial Equipment,” 85 Fed. Reg. 8626 (February 14, 2020), with major revisions proposed by March 2021 and any remaining revisions proposed by June 2021.
  • Suspend or revise the prior administration’s rule on: “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units—Reconsideration of Supplemental Finding and Residual Risk and Technology Review,” 85 Fed. Reg. 31286 (May 22, 2020), by August 2021; “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process,” 85 Fed. Reg. 84130 (December 23, 2020), as soon as possible; “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information,” 86 Fed. Reg. 469 (January 6, 2021), as soon as possible.
  • Conduct a review of the monument boundaries and conditions that were established by Proclamation 9681 of December 4, 2017 (Modifying the Bears Ears National Monument); Proclamation 9682 of December 4, 2017 (Modifying the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument); and Proclamation 10049 of June 5, 2020 (Modifying the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument), to determine whether restoration of the monument boundaries and conditions that existed as of January 20, 2017, would be appropriate.
  • Place a temporary moratorium on all activities of the Federal Government relating to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program, as established by the Record of Decision signed August 17, 2020, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Include the full costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible, in government agency decision-making.
  • Revoke the March 2019 Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • Revoke the prior administration’s executive orders that waived or reduced environmental reviews of infrastructure projects
  • Revoke the prior administration’s executive order related to redefining “waters of the United States.”
Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad
  • Press for enhanced climate ambition and integration of climate considerations across a wide range of international fora, including the Group of Seven (G7), the Group of Twenty (G20), and fora that address clean energy, aviation, shipping, the Arctic, the ocean, sustainable development, migration, and other relevant topics.
  • develop a climate finance plan, making strategic use of multilateral and bilateral channels and institutions, to assist developing countries in implementing ambitious emissions reduction measures,
  • Develop strategies and implementation plans for integrating climate considerations into US international activities
Paris Climate Agreement
  • Quote from the President, “I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the Paris Agreement, done at Paris on December 12, 2015, do hereby accept the said Agreement and every article and clause thereof on behalf of the United States of America.
New and Stronger Workplace Guidance on Coronavirus from OSHA
OSHA has issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus prevention program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction. Last week, President Biden directed OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.
Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” provides updated guidance and recommendations, and outlines existing safety and health standards. OSHA is providing the recommendations to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.
“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis. Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible,” said Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor M. Patricia Smith. “The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll that the coronavirus has taken on our nation.”
Implementing a coronavirus prevention program is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus. The guidance recommends several essential elements in a prevention program:
  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.
“OSHA is updating its guidance to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus and improve worker protections so businesses can operate safely and employees can stay safe and working,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.
The guidance details key measures for limiting coronavirus’s spread, including ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings. It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning.
OSHA will update the guidance as developments in science, best practices and standards warrant. This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of existing mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content and are intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace.
Conservation, Industry Groups Reach Agreement to Lower Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Wellpads
A coalition of conservation groups — Sierra Club, Earthworks, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice — has reached an agreement with industry groups on a joint proposal to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for a first-in-the-nation rule to require pneumatic control devices at oil-and-gas facilities to be retrofit to lower methane emissions.
Pneumatic control devices are used to control temperatures, manage pressure and liquid levels, and other functions. Most of them run on gas from the wells, so every time they open and close, a small amount of methane gas is released. But, with an estimated 56,000 of these controllers in the Front Range oil fields of the DJ Basin alone, the small amounts add up quickly.
In addition, many of the controllers don’t operate properly and release more gas than they should. Many continually release gas. More modern controllers use compressed air or electronic mechanisms to avoid unnecessary methane emissions.
The conservation groups have been calling for additional emission reductions from pneumatic devices for years and proposed retrofit requirements to the Commission in 2017 and 2020. The consensus proposal calls for non-emitting controllers at new installations, with very limited exceptions and also requires operators to begin replacing polluting pneumatic controllers at existing production facilities and compressor stations.
Operators will need to phase in retrofits of pneumatic controllers at existing facilities, though they’ll have flexibility to choose where to implement those emission reduction measures. Retrofitting would also be required when operators drill new wells or refracture existing sites.
“Colorado has the opportunity to lead the country by adopting the first retrofit requirement for non-emitting pneumatics,” said Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley. “These cost-effective requirements are long overdue and will be a critical step toward addressing Colorado’s ozone problems and meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
In 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed H.B. 1261, mandating steep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The methane released by these pneumatic devices is a potent greenhouse gas. Eliminating existing emitting pneumatic devices will help meet H.B. 1261’s targets.
“The requirement to replace existing pneumatic devices is especially important because studies show that a significant portion of them are not working properly and are currently emitting copious quantities of ozone causing chemicals and greenhouse gases,” said Ramesh Bhatt, Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Colorado Sierra Club.
“Pneumatic controllers are a huge source of unnecessary climate pollution nationwide,” said David McCabe, a senior scientist with Clean Air Task Force, who served as an expert witness for Earthjustice. “Environmental Protection Agency estimates that these devices emit nearly 2 million tons of methane a year into the air nationwide, which will warm the climate over the next 20 years as much as the carbon dioxide from 44 coal-fired power plants. By adopting these rules, Colorado can show other states, and the country, the way to dramatically reduce their climate-damaging methane emissions.”
Pennsylvania Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Sentenced for Violations of Clean Water Act and Tampering with a Government Witness
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that David D. Klepadlo, age 65, of Clark Summit, Pennsylvania, was sentenced on October 28, 2020, to three years of supervised release, including one year of home detention, for violation of the Clean Water Act and tampering with a government witness.
According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, Klepadlo pled guilty to falsifying required Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and the EPA documents over a period of several years. Klepadlo also pleaded guilty to tampering with a government witness at the onset of the criminal investigation by encouraging that witness to either not cooperate at all or lie to the FBI.
David D. Klepadlo & Associates, Inc. (Klepadlo’s company) also pled guilty to falsifying PADEP and EPA docs and was sentenced to five years of probation and a $10,000 fine.
Klepadlo was certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a wastewater treatment plant operator. Klepadlo and his company contracted with local municipalities to operate and manage the municipalities’ wastewater treatment plants in accordance with regulations and limitations in permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and the EPA.
The permits required that the permittee always maintain in good working order, and properly operate all facilities and systems installed and used to achieve compliance with the terms and conditions of the permits. For approximately two years, beginning in May 2012 and continuing through June 2014, Klepadlo and his company failed to properly operate and maintain the facilities (Greenfield Township Sewer Authority, Lackawanna County, and the Benton/Nicholson Sewer Authority, both Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties) and systems of treatment and control, in accordance with terms and conditions of the permits.
Klepadlo knowingly failed to take daily and weekly samples and measurements required for the purpose of monitoring pollutants discharged into waterways of the United States; knowingly created false test results and falsely reported those results in discharge monitoring reports submitted monthly to the PADEP and the EPA. Klepadlo also admitted to attempting to persuade a government witness to fabricate a false explanation for the Clean Water Act violations for the purpose of influencing testimony of a witness in an official proceeding involving the testing and registering requirements of the permits.
Wastewater from the Greenfield publicly owned treatment plan is discharged into a tributary of Dundaff Creek, which flows into Tunkhannock Creek, which flows into the Susquehanna River. Wastewater from the Benton/Nicholson facility flows into a tributary of South Branch Tunkhannock Creek, which also flows into the Susquehanna River.
The charges were the result of a joint investigation by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Pennsyl- vania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The case was pros- ecuted by a DOJ litigation team.
Environmental Services Business Owner Sentenced to 36 Months for Mail Fraud Conspiracy, Theft from Employee Benefit Plans, and Unlawful Storage of Hazardous Waste
Aaron Micah Jamison, 45, who formerly resided in Lexington, South Carolina, was sentenced in federal court on September 24, 2020, to 36 months in prison for theft from an employee benefits plan, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and unlawful storage of hazardous waste.
According to his plea agreement, Jamison was the CEO of Micah Group, LLC, which offered construction and remediation services to the energy and environmental sectors. Jamison admitted that from March 4, 2016 to October 30, 2016, he knowingly failed to remit employees’ 401(k) contributions that had been withheld from their paychecks, totaling over $30,000.00, and diverted them for his personal use and the use of his business- es. Jamison also admitted that from April 2, 2017 through April 28, 2017, he failed to remit withheld pre-tax health contributions of the Micah Group’s employees to its health insurer, totaling $4,843.73.
The Micah Group also performed abandonment of ground water monitoring wells at numerous sites around the state of Kentucky, including gas stations, convenience stores, and other private property, and sought payment for such work from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. On multiple occasions, Jamison admitted to signing documents falsely representing that the wells had been properly abandoned in order to bring income to the Micah Group and to ensure that him and other employees were paid. At sentencing, the court determined that between 2013 and 2017, the false representations made by Jamison and his co-conspirators caused approximately $640,000 in loss to the state.
Finally, Jamison admitted to unlawfully storing hazardous waste at Micah Group’s premises at various points in time between January 2016 and December 2017. Jamison pleaded guilty in January 2020.
“The defendant stole from his employees and lied to state authorities to further his own interests,” said Robert M. Duncan, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “His conduct not only financially harmed his employees and caused the state to spend money to clean up his mess, but he also potentially put the public at risk by failing to properly monitor ground water wells and store hazardous materials. I commend the cooperation and work of the investigative agencies involved, as their efforts helped hold the defendant accountable for his actions.”
"The defendant was paid to transport hazardous waste as defined under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Mr. Jamison chose to illegally store the hazardous waste and place the public, and environment at risk” said Special Agent in Charge Charles Carfagno of the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Atlanta, GA.
"Criminal acts like this directly impact participants in employee benefit plans by compromising their hard-earned benefits and eroding confidence in those chosen to manage their trust. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration is committed to ensuring the integrity of employee benefit
Under federal law, Jamison must serve 85% of his prison sentence. Upon his release, he will be under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office for 3 years. In addition, Jamison was ordered to pay $640,638.31 in restitution.
U.S. Attorney Duncan, SAC Carfagno, and Director Rivers made the announcement. The investigation was conducted by the United States Secret Service, EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and Office of Inspector General, and the United States Department of Labor with assistance by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. A DOJ litigation team prosecuted the case.
On October 8, 2020, prosecutors filed an information charging Tanner J. Sik and Eric J. Weckwerth-Pineda with violating the Clean Water Act for negligently discharging a pollutant (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1319(c)(1)(A)). Trial is scheduled to begin on February 1, 2021.
On April 24, 2019, Sik and Weckwerth-Pineda took weapons to a bridge that spans a dam in Lyon County, Minnesota. The dam controls the outflow of water from Cottonwood Lake to a tributary of the Minnesota River via a creek known as Judicial Ditch 24 (a federally-regulated waterway). From the bridge, the defendants shot at and punctured part of an oil pipeline carrying diesel fuel, “just for fun.” Pipeline owner Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P., estimated that close to 4,000 gallons of fuel spilled into the Ditch and the Yellow Medicine River, causing approximately $1.1 million in clean up and repair costs.
The DOT Office of Inspector General and the EPA Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Lab Analyst Guilty of Faking Environmental Analyses
On November 17, 2020, Andrew K. Ecklund pleaded guilty to nine counts of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343). Sentencing is scheduled for March 8, 2021. Ecklund worked as a laboratory analyst with an environmental testing company. Government agencies and other organizations paid the company to analyze environmental samples. Ecklund tested samples for a variety of hazardous substances.
Between January 2012 and July 2015, Ecklund manipulated portions of the quality control testing process on a number of samples, invalidating the results. Because he disguised invalid tests (making them look legitimate) Ecklund increased his productivity rate. The company transmitted these test results to customers. The EPA Criminal Investigation Division, the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Ohio EPA, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office conducted the investigation.
Post 2020 Annual Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses on February 1
Cal/OSHA reminded employers to post their 2020 annual summary of work-related injuries and illnesses, including those related to COVID-19, in a visible and easily accessible area at each worksite. The Form 300A summary must be posted each year from February 1 through April 30.
Instructions and form templates are available for download from Cal/OSHA’s Record Keeping Overview. The overview gives instructions on completing both the log (Form 300) and annual summary (Form 300A) of work-related injuries and illnesses. The annual summary must be placed in a visible and easily accessible area at each worksite.
Employers that are required to record work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses must record a work-related COVID-19 fatality or illness like any other occupational illness. To be recordable, an illness must be work-related and result in one of the following:
  • Death.
  • Days away from work.
  • Restricted work or transfer to another job.
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.
If a work-related COVID-19 case meets one of these criteria, then covered employers in California must record the case on their 300, 300A and 301 or equivalent forms.
Posting of the summary helps ensure workers are aware of work-related injuries and illnesses that occurred the previous year. Current and former employees and their representatives are entitled to a copy of the summary or the log upon request.
The 2020 definitions and requirements for recordable work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses are outlined in the California Code of Regulations, Title 8, sections 14300 through 14300.48. Employers are required to complete and post the Form 300A even if no workplace injuries occurred.
Many employers in California must also comply with electronic submission of workplace injury and illness records requirements by March 2nd each year. Cal/OSHA has posted details on which employers are required to submit the electronic reports as well as other information online.
Former EPA Fugitive Sentenced on Wire Fraud Charges in Connection with Dumping of Radioactive Drilling Waste in North Dakota
James Kenneth Ward, 58, of Belgrade, Montana, was sentenced on October 22, 2020 to four months in pris- on (the time he had served in custody) and two years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said. Ward admitted dumping radioactive contaminants from oil drilling at an abandoned gas station in North Dakota, instead of properly disposing of the waste as hired to do, Ward pleaded guilty in July to wire fraud.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Chief Judge Morris also ordered Ward to pay a $2,500 fine and $9,977 restitution.
"Mr. Ward's actions not only defrauded a company that had hired him to properly dispose of oil drilling waste, but they also put the environment and the public at risk by deliberately abandoning the contaminated materials at an unsecure, defunct gas station property. Those who poison the environment for personal gain will be caught and prosecuted," U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
“The defendant in this case en- gaged in a fraudulent scheme that resulted in a serious threat to public health in the form of im- properly disposed of radioactive waste.” said Lance Ehrig, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Montana. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates the EPA’s commit- ment to protecting public health and holding accountable those who defraud consumers.”
The prosecution said in court documents that from 2011 until 2014, Ward contracted with Zenith Produced Water, LLC, to properly incinerate and dispose of filter socks, which are tubular nets that collect pollutants and radioactive materials from saltwater produced from drilling and developing oil. Zenith Pro- duced Water, a Colorado company that owned and operated saltwater disposal wells, paid Ward $9,977 to properly dispose of the filter socks. Instead of disposing the filter socks as agreed, Ward dumped the filter socks at an abandoned gas station in Noonan, N.D. Zenith Produced Water would never have paid Ward the money if it knew he was going to dump the filter socks in an abandoned gas station. Ward deposited some of the checks he received from Zenith Produced Water in a bank in Deer Lodge.
The case was investigated by EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. A joint DOJ/EPA litigation team prosecuted the case.
Dow Chemical Company and Two Subsidiaries Will Reduce Harmful Air Pollution at Four Chemical Plants
EPA, the Department of Justice and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement with Dow Chemical Company and two subsidiaries, Performance Materials NA Inc. and Union Carbide Corporation, that will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from four of Dow’s petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Texas and Louisiana.
 The settlement resolves allegations that Dow and its subsidiaries violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly operate and monitor industrial flares at their petrochemical facilities, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution. Under the settlement, the companies will spend approximately $294 million to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from 26 industrial flares at the companies’ facilities in Hahnville, La.; Plaquemine, La.; Freeport, Texas; and Orange, Texas; pay $3 million in civil penalties; and perform three state-authorized beneficial environmental projects in Louisiana.
“By requiring a reduction in the quantity of waste gases that are flared and an improvement in combustion efficiency at four Dow facilities, this settlement will prevent the annual discharge of thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants,” said Larry Starfield, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Those controls, plus a requirement for fence line monitoring of benzene emissions, will result in significant benefits for the local EJ communities in Texas and Louisiana.”
The complaint, filed Tuesday along with the settlement, alleges that Dow and its subsidiaries “oversteamed” their flares and failed to comply with other key operating parameters that ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants contained in the gases routed to the flares are effectively combusted.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement are estimated to reduce harmful air emissions of VOCs by more than 5,600 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by nearly 500 tons per year.
The pollutants addressed by the settlement can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women.
Flares are devices used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial operations. Well-operated flares should have high “combustions efficiency,” meaning they combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and hazardous air pollutants, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide. The agreement is designed to improve Dow’s flaring practices. First, it requires Dow to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to the flares, which reduces the amount of flaring. Second, Dow must improve the combustion efficiency of its flares when flaring is necessary.
In order to minimize the waste gas sent to the flares at each facility, Dow will operate flare gas recovery systems that recover and “recycle” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery systems will allow Dow to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. Dow will also create waste minimization plans for each facility to further reduce flaring. For flaring that must occur, the agreement requires that Dow install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that the gases sent to its flares are efficiently combusted. Dow will also perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the four covered plants and pay a civil penalty of $3 million. The LDEQ will receive $675,000 of the $3 million total civil penalty, in addition to the beneficial environmental projects.
The consent decree, lodged in the Eastern District Court of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to Plead Guilty to Clean Water Act Violations; Former Treatment Plant Supervisor Indicted
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was charged by criminal information in federal court and a former supervisor has been indicted for violating the Clean Water Act, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced on November 18, 2020.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been charged and will plead guilty to one count of violating its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (the NPDES Permit) by discharging sludge into the Allegheny River. The Authority will also plead guilty to seven counts of making false statements in written re- ports about the amount of sludge it was sending the ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility. Under the terms of the plea agreement, PWSA will agree to adhere to the terms of a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Program to correct the violations of federal law and to prevent further unlawful pollution of the Allegheny River.
In a related matter, former Aspinwall Drinking Water Treatment Plant supervisor Glenn Lijewski, 69, of Pitts- burgh, was indicted on November 12, 2020, and charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act and two counts of violating the PWSA’s Clean Water Act Industrial User Permit. The indictment alleges that Lijewski was directly responsible for the unauthorized discharge of clarifier sludge into the Alle- gheny River in violation of the PWSA’s NPDES Permit. It further alleges Lijewski directed other plant employ- ees to discharge sludge into the river. Finally, the indictment alleges Lijewski directed employees to use esti- mated sludge flow numbers instead of actual numbers, and that the use of these estimated numbers violated PWSA’s Industrial User Permit.
"For seven years, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has failed to meet its public trust obligations in complying with the Clean Water Act during the production of drinking water for the citizens of Pittsburgh," said U.S. Attorney Brady. "Today’s criminal charges shed light on years of mismanagement and malfeasance. The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are committed to protecting you and your families by ensuring that the water you drink is produced safely and that the area’s rivers are not pollut- ed with waste."
"The people of Pittsburgh deserve and expect local utilities to obey environmental requirements that protect natural resources," said EPA Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn. "The defendants in this case are accused of dumping sludge into the Allegheny River. Today’s charges show that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing regulations that help protect our communities from environmental and health hazards."
The Criminal Information filed alleges that PWSA violated its NPDES Permit when its employees at the Aspin- wall Drinking Water Treatment Plant discharged sludge generated during the drinking water treatment process into the Allegheny River. During this process various chemicals are added to water drawn from the Allegheny River. These chemicals cause small particles suspended in the water to clump together. Afterwards, the partially treated water is transferred to two large sedimentation basins where solids and debris settle out. The water is then transferred back to the Aspinwall Plant where it was subjected to a clarification process. This took place in a facility known as the Clarifier Building, which contains four large concrete basins known as clarifiers. The addition of chemicals to the water promoted the generation of additional clumps of solids which settled on the bottom of each clarifier and were pumped to a large concrete structure located near the banks of the Allegheny River. The solids were referred to as sludge and the large concrete pit was referred to as "the sludge pit," "the ALCOSAN pit," or "FM-5." FM-5 had pipes that led to the Allegheny River and sewer line.
Under the terms of its NPDES Permit, PWSA was only permitted to discharge storm runoff water and partially treated drinking water that needed to be emptied out of a clarifier prior to cleaning and repairs. That water was referred to as "clarifier blowdown." PWSA was not permitted to discharge clarifier sludge into the Allegheny River. Instead, between 2010 and May 2017, PWSA employees and supervisors at the Aspinwall Plant diverted and discharged sludge into the Allegheny River. By using electronic or manual controls at FM- 5, the employees caused the sludge to flow from FM-5 to a discharge point known as Outfall 012 and then into the Allegheny River.
At various points, plumes of discolored water, some of which were several hundred feet long, and solids were visible in the river. Over time, the sludge discharge resulted in a buildup of solids. Employees at the Aspinwall Plant referred to the buildup as an island. Birds were also observed walking on the island when the river levels were low. The river’s currents dissipated the island over time, but the island would reappear when new discharges occurred.
PWSA had also been issued a Clean Water Act Industrial User Permit by ALCOSAN. Under the terms of this permit, PWSA was permitted to ship one million gallons of sludge per day to ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility. The permit required PWSA to determine the daily amount of sludge using a meter. PWSA installed flow meters at FM-5 and at the clarifier basins. The readings from the meters had to be included in bi-annual reports PWSA was required to submit under the penalties of perjury to ALCOSAN.
The flow meters at two of the clarifier basins broke in or around late December 2014 or early January 2015. The meter at FM-5 also broke and was inactive by early 2015. As a result, PWSA supervisors at the plant instructed the plant’s operators to estimate the amount of sludge flowing from the clarifier basins to FM-5 and from there to the ALCOSAN facility. These estimates were also included in the reports PWSA sent to ALCOSAN. These reports also represented that PWSA’s employees periodically checked the calibration of the sludge flow meters to ensure they were within factory limits. Each report was signed by a PWSA representative as being "true, accurate, and complete."
In July 2019, PWSA’s management obtained approval from PWSA’s Board of Directors for funds in "the amount of $47,852,71 to furnish and install four new flow meters for the sludge valves associated with each of the four clarifiers at the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant." On January 15, 2020, investigators from the EPA, an attorney from the United States Attorney’s Office, and an attorney from EPA, Criminal Enforcement visited the Aspinwall Plant to interview employees and tour the facility. Part of the tour included a walk through the Clarifier Building and past the meters. No mention as to the inoperability of the meters was made. The following day, two of PWSA’s employees informed the investigators and the prosecutors that two of the meters were broken and had been for years. In February 2020, PWSA replaced the sludge flow meters, more than five years after they had broken.
TJX Companies Inc. Cited for Violating Toxic Formaldehyde Emissions Rule
The California Air Resources Board has reached a settlement agreement with well-known retailer The TJX Companies Inc. for $193,507 for failing to follow a statewide clean-air regulation that limits emissions of formaldehyde, a toxic air contaminant that causes cancer.
The TJX Companies (TJX) of Framingham, Mass., which owns and operates TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshalls stores in California, sold, supplied or offered for sale in California a variety of products, including home décor and furnishings, that exceeded emissions limits for formaldehyde in composite wood products.
CARB determined that TJX sold unlabeled products and failed to take adequate precautions to ensure the products they imported and sold were compliant with California clean air regulations. Products that exceeded emissions limits for formaldehyde included a decorative box, wall decorations, shelving, a foot stool, various tables and other products.
“CARB’s programs are designed to make sure no one in California is exposed to toxic formaldehyde emissions from composite wood flooring, furniture, or other related products,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey.
As the middleman between manufacturers, distributors and consumers, retailers serve a critical role in ensuring the products they sell are compliant with existing clean air regulations to protect the health of California consumers — and to avoid large penalties through enforcement action.
“Retailers must proactively verify the products they sell are compliant, document those efforts, and sell products adequately labeled as compliant,” said Enforcement Division Chief Todd Sax. “Anything less and businesses will be held accountable through enforcement action.”
TJX has since implemented measures to ensure future compliance with the air toxic control measure.
Composite wood products are manufactured with glue, wood veneers, and wood byproducts. However, glues used in composite wood can also emit formaldehyde. To protect public health, in 2007 CARB established strict emission standards for hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard. CARB’s regulation applies to all composite wood manufacturers, importers, fabricators, distributors, and retailers of products sold in California. It requires that composite wood materials are produced in a mill certified by a verified third-party that it meets California standards; steps are taken to ensure materials are compliant and documented as such; and all products are properly labeled to indicate they are fully compliant with California regulations.
This is not TJX’s first violation of a California air quality regulation. In 2019, TJX violated state regulations limiting smog-forming chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in a wide range of household products. VOCs are a key component of the chemical mixture that turns into ozone when exposed to sunlight. CARB establishes VOC limits for many different types of consumer products such as personal care products and cleaning supplies. Under the regulation, retailers, distributors, importers and manufacturers of consumer products are all responsible for ensuring the products they sell in California comply with the limits. In that case, TJX was fined $196,800 for importing and selling noncompliant chemically formulated products in 2019.
The penalties paid by TJX in the current case were deposited in the state’s Air Pollution Control Fund which helps ensure the integrity of California’s air pollution control programs by mitigating various effects of air pollution through the advancement of cleaner technology and educational programs.
EPA Reaches Settlement with Des Moines Cold Storage Co. Inc. for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations
EPA has reached a settlement with Des Moines Cold Storage Co. Inc. to resolve alleged violations of federal Clean Air Act Risk Management Program regulations at the company’s three refrigeration storage and processing facilities in Des Moines, Iowa.
In response to the EPA inspection findings, the company took the necessary steps to return the facilities to compliance. As part of the settlement, the company will pay a $65,008 civil penalty.
At the time of the EPA inspections in March 2020, each facility contained over 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, making them subject to Risk Management Program regulations intended to protect communities from accidental releases of toxic and/or flammable substances.
Anhydrous ammonia presents a significant health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. Exposure may result in injury or death. Anhydrous ammonia is also flammable and can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire.
During the inspections, EPA determined that Des Moines Cold Storage Co. Inc. failed to submit and implement risk management plans and a hazard assessment concerning the potential release of anhydrous ammonia.
EPA has found that many regulated facilities are not adequately managing the risks they pose or ensuring the safety of their facilities in a way that is sufficient to protect surrounding communities. Approximately 150 catastrophic accidents occur each year at regulated facilities. These accidents result in fatalities, injuries, significant property damage, evacuations, sheltering in place, or environmental damage. Many more accidents with lesser effects also occur, demonstrating a clear risk posed by these facilities.
Reducing risks from accidental releases of hazardous substances at industrial and chemical facilities is a top priority for EPA. The Agency identified this goal as one of seven National Compliance Initiatives in 2019. For more information about these initiatives, visit EPA’s website.
GWU Hospital in D.C. to Pay $108,304 Penalty for Hazardous Waste Violations
The George Washington University Hospital has agreed to pay a $108,304 penalty to settle alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations at the general medical and surgical hospital in Washington, D.C.
EPA cited the GWU Hospital for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law governing the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA is designed to protect public health and the environment and avoid long and extensive cleanups by requiring the safe, environmentally sound storage and disposal of hazardous waste.
Alleged violations include failure to label and date hazardous waste containers, storage of hazardous waste for greater than 90 days without a storage permit, failure to maintain aisle space necessary for emergency response, failure to minimize the risk of release of hazardous waste, and failure to conduct weekly inspections of the hazardous waste accumulation area.
The settlement reflects the hospital’s compliance efforts, and its cooperation with EPA in the investigation. As part of the settlement, GWU Hospital has not admitted liability for the alleged violations but has certified its compliance with applicable RCRA requirements.
Covanta Waste to Energy Plant Cited for Air Emissions
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced a consent assessment of civil penalty (CACP) with Covanta Plymouth Renewable Energy, LLC (Covanta Plymouth) to address air quality violations that occurred at its Conshohocken facility.
The CACP covers violations that occurred on eight separate days between June 2019 and September 2020, as well as Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems violations and late emission fee payments. In addition to corrective actions currently being identified and implemented, Covanta Plymouth has agreed to pay a $218,393 civil penalty.
Between June 2019 and June 2020, Covanta Plymouth experienced 3 unplanned shutdowns due to a loss of power, which resulted in excess emissions, visible fugitive emissions and odors. The CACP also addresses malodor events.
Causing unpermitted air pollution, not properly using control devices and causing malodors are violations of the Air Pollution Control Act and the facility’s Title V Operating Permit.
Covanta Plymouth has outlined several corrective actions it has or will implement at its Conshohocken Facility to address the events outlined in the CACP. DEP has been in close communication with the facility, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and local stakeholders to ensure that these corrective actions will adequately address these issues. These actions include:
  • Revised operational procedures to allow for consistent work practices following power losses;
  • Electrical upgrades, including repairs and inspections that will improve the reliability of the facility’s primary electrical supply;
  • Roof improvements such as refurbishing rooftop vents to better filter emissions and replacing existing silencers to reduce noise impacts associated with safety steam releases; and
  • Testing and planned use of an approved foam to more quickly extinguish smoldering refuse during an unplanned shutdown.
“Regardless of the circumstances that cause it, one thing is clear: unpermitted air pollution is unacceptable,” said Southeast Regional Director Pat Patterson. “DEP remains committed to working with facilities as needed to ensure that compliance is met and that issues affecting neighboring communities are addressed.”
The $218,383 civil penalty payment will go into the Commonwealth’s Clean Air Fund which is used for the elimination of air pollution.
Portland Area Contractor Faulted, Fined for Knowingly Exposing Workers to Potentially Fatal Fall Hazards
Oregon OSHA has fined a Portland-area contractor $9,035 for four job safety violations, including willfully exposing workers to fall hazards that could kill them.
The citation against owner Matthew Bese, who was doing business as Sherwood-based Ridgeline Roofing & Construction, stems from an inspection conducted under the division’s local emphasis program focused on fall hazards in construction.
The September 2020 inspection found Bese doing roofing work on a house in Tigard alongside several employees, in plain view, with no fall protection and exposed to a fall of at least nine feet. Oregon OSHA requires employers to implement adequate fall protection systems where workers are exposed to falling six feet or more to a lower level.
During interviews, Bese said he does not require his employees to work with fall protection for roofing jobs with a low pitch. At the same time, he said he recognized the importance of the six-foot trigger-height requirement. He also said it would take longer to finish the job if they used fall protection.
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. “There is absolutely no good reason to ignore fall protection requirements that have, time and again, been proven to protect workers,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “To make excuses is an abdication of responsibility that only courts disaster.”
Altogether, Oregon OSHA cited Bese for the following violations and proposed penalties:
  • Knowingly did not provide fall protection systems to employees where they were exposed to falling six feet or more to a lower level. It was a willful violation. Penalty: $8,900.
  • Did not ensure that the portable ladder used to reach and leave the roof extended at least three feet above the landing where work was being done. It was a serious violation. Penalty: $135.
  • Failed to prepare a written certification showing employees were properly trained to use fall protection systems. It was an other-than-serious violation.
  • Failed to document, make available, and maintain for three years a record of each safety meeting addressing hazards related to tools, equipment, work environment, and unsafe work practices. It was an other-than-serious violation.
In addition to its enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers employers resources to help improve workplace safety and health. These resources include the division’s Fall Protection Suite of online video training and its A-to-Z topic page about fall protection.
The Fall Protection Suite includes a course that specifically addresses fall protection for roofing.
Owner of Jackson Business Pleads Guilty to Illegally Discharging Industrial Waste into Jackson’s Sewer System
Andrew Walker, 70, of Jackson, Miss., pled guilty in Federal District Court before Judge Kristi Haskins Johnson to having illegally discharged industrial waste into the Jackson Sewer System, announced Jean E. Williams, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, Acting United States Attorney Darren J. LaMarca, Special Agent in Charge Charles Carfagno with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,  Region 4; and Special Agent in Charge Michelle A. Sutphin with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Mississippi. Walker was charged in a two-count criminal Information filed by the United States Attorney’s Office in September 2020.
Andrew Walker, the owner of Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services of Jackson, Mississippi, (Rebel) admitted to having entered into a conspiracy with the generators and transporters of industrial waste illegally to discharge the waste into the Jackson Sewer System in order to avoid the expense of treating the waste to reduce pollutant concentrations, as required by law, and to evade sewer usage fees and the cost of disposing of the waste at legal off-site facilities.
According to the two counts of the Information and statements made in open court, in October, 2016, state and municipal authorities discovered that a local manufacturing company had been discharging large quantities of its industrial waste directly into the sewer serving its facility.  Government agencies ordered the company to stop this illegal dumping and to ship the waste off site for legal treatment and disposal.  Yet, from November 2016 through October 2017, Mr. Walker and his coconspirators evaded this order, arranging for the illegal disposal of this untreated industrial waste, first by misrepresenting the industrial waste to be domestic waste and dumping it at Jackson’s treatment plant, and then by discharging hundreds of truckloads of industrial waste into a city sewer pipe they excavated at Rebel.  By the time this illegal waste disposal was discovered by state officials, the defendant and his coconspirators had discharged over three million gallons of untreated industrial waste into the same Jackson sewer system to which they had already been prohibited from dumping.
“Those who disregard the health and safety of our community to pollute our natural resources and waterways for easy profit will find themselves standing before a court of law to answer for their wrongs,” said Acting U.S. Attorney LaMarca.
"The defendant illegally disposed of more than 3.5 million gallons of industrial waste into the City of Jackson's sewer system in violation of the Clean Water Act," said Special Agent in Charge Charles Carfagno of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in Atlanta, GA.  “Today’s charges demonstrate that anyone who intentionally disregards the laws designed to protect the environment will be held responsible for their actions.”
“The Clean Water Act is in place to not only protect the environment, but to safeguard our communities and residents from the risks of industrial waste,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Michelle Sutphin. “Circumventing the law to improperly dispose of waste in order to make a profit is a crime that the FBI and our partners take seriously. Criminal investigations into those who benefit from putting our communities’ health at risk will remain a priority for the FBI.”
Walker appeared for the change of plea hearing before United States District Judge Kristi H. Johnson in Jackson.  He remains released on conditions of bond pending a sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.  Walker faces maximum penalties of 5 years in prison for the count of conspiracy, and 3 years in prison for the count of discharging industrial waste.  Each count also can merit a fine of up to $250,000.
Acting United States Attorney Darren J. LaMarca commended the work of the Special Agents of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the FBI’s Jackson Division, as well as the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, who investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Jeremy Korzenik of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of DOJ, and Assistant United States Attorney Theodore Cooperstein.
Former Vice President of Recycling Company Sentenced to 5 Months for Illegally Storing Hazardous Waste
Scott C. Blader, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Bonnie Dennee, 66, Phillips, Wisconsin, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley to five months in federal prison, followed by a three-year term of supervised release, for conspiracy to store and transport hazardous waste without required permits and manifests, in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  Dennee pleaded guilty to this charge on October 22, 2020.
Dennee’s co-defendant, James Moss, pleaded guilty to this charge on September 1, 2020, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Co-defendant Thomas Drake signed a plea agreement to this charge on December 31, 2019, which was filed on May 21 ,2020.  Finally, co-defendant Kevin Shibilski was indicted by a grand jury on September 10, 2020. The indictment against Shibilski included a hazardous waste storage charge, as well as eight counts of wire fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the IRS by not paying over employment taxes and income taxes.
Dennee worked for 5R Processors Ltd. (5R) based in Ladysmith, Wisconsin.  5R was a Wisconsin-based corporation involved in recycling electronic equipment, appliances, and other assets.  Dennee pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging that from 2011 to 2016, Dennee, Moss, Drake and others conspired to (1) knowingly store hazardous waste (i.e., broken and crushed CRT glass that contained lead) at unpermitted facilities in Catawba, Wisconsin, Glen Flora, Wisconsin, and Morristown, Tennessee; (2) knowingly transport the hazardous waste without a required manifest; and (3) conceal the above violations from state regulators in Wisconsin and Tennessee, as well as auditors with a nationwide recycling certification program (R2).
At her plea hearing, Dennee admitted to attempting to conceal the illegal storage and transport of the crushed leaded glass from state regulators by various means, including: (1) changing the date labels on the containers; (2) hiding the containers by putting them inside semi-trailers and locking the trailer doors; (3) moving the containers to the back of the warehouse and stacking other pallets in front of them, making it impossible for regulators to see the boxes or inspect them; (4) storing the containers at a warehouse on Artisan Drive in Glen Flora, Wisconsin (known as the “Sunshine Building”), and not disclosing the existence of this warehouse, or its contents, to state regulators or R2 auditors; (5) storing the containers at 5R’s plant in Morristown, Tennessee in two warehouse spaces that did not have electricity or power, and which were referred to by 5R employees as the “dark side” and the “dark-dark side;” and (6) providing the state regulators with inaccurate inventory and shipping records for the leaded glass.
At  sentencing, Judge Conley told Dennee that once she left 5R in 2016, she could have reported the criminal conduct to regulators at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, but she chose not to make such a disclosure.  Judge Conley pointed out that her inaction, “let the community down.”  Dennee agreed with the Court’s assessment, adding that she could not provide a good reason why she did not come forward after she left the company.
Nonetheless, Judge Conley praised Denee for ultimately doing the right thing and cooperating with the government to help explain and unravel the criminal conspiracy, but noted that Dennee, “still needed to pay a price.”  Judge Conley added, “I hope this sentence also delivers a message to others who wish to commit this same conduct.”
The charges against Dennee were the result of an investigation conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Law Enforcement; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division; and IRS Criminal Investigation.  The prosecution of the case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Graber.
Oil Spill Might Lead to $100,000 Fine
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that James Tassin, age 50, of Harvey, was charged on January 25, 2021with violating the Clean Water Act in connection with an oil spill in 2016.
According to the Bill of Information, Tassin negligently discharged a harmful quantity of oil into a navigable water of the United States, upon adjoining shorelines, and affecting the United States’ natural resources. The spill took place on September 5, 2016, on the edge of Bay Long near the Chenier Ronquille barrier island, which is east of Grand Isle.
If convicted, Tassin faces up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and up to one year of supervised release following any term of imprisonment. A bill of information is merely a charge, and the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas D. Moses is in charge of the prosecution.
A Mild Way to Upcycle Plastics Used in Bottles Into Fuel And Other High-Value Products
Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives. Yet, when plastic-containing items have fulfilled their missions, only a small amount is recycled into new products, which are often of lower quality compared to the original material. And, transforming this waste into high-value chemicals requires substantial energy. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ JACS Au have combined a ruthenium-carbon catalyst and mild, lower-energy reaction conditions to convert plastics used in bottles and other packaging into fuels and chemical feedstock.
Global production of sturdy, single-use plastic for toys, sterile medical packaging, and food and beverage containers is increasing. Polyolefin polymers, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, are the most common plastics used in these products because the polymers’ molecular structures — long, straight chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms — make materials very durable. It’s difficult to degrade the carbon-to-carbon bonds in polyolefins, however, so energy-intensive procedures using high temperatures, from 800 to 1400 F, or strong chemicals are needed to break down and recycle them. Previous studies have shown that noble metals, such as zirconium, platinum and ruthenium, can catalyze the process of splitting apart short, simple hydrocarbon chains and complicated, plant-based lignin molecules at moderate reaction temperatures requiring less energy than other techniques. So, Yuriy Román-Leshkov and colleagues wanted to see if metal-based catalysts would have a similar effect on solid polyolefins with long hydrocarbon chains, disintegrating them into usable chemicals and natural gas.
The researchers developed a method to react simple hydrocarbon chains with hydrogen in the presence of noble- or transition-metal nanoparticles under mild conditions. In their experiments, ruthenium-carbon nanoparticles converted over 90% of the hydrocarbons into shorter compounds at 392 F. Then, the team tested the new method on more complex polyolefins, including a commercially available plastic bottle. Despite not pretreating the samples, as is necessary with current energy-intensive methods, they were completely broken down into gaseous and liquid products using this new method. In contrast to current degradation methods, the reaction could be tuned so that it yielded either natural gas or a combination of natural gas and liquid alkanes. The researchers say implementing their method could help reduce the volume of post-consumer waste in landfills by recycling plastics to desirable, highly valuable alkanes, though technology to purify the products is needed to make the process economically feasible.
The authors acknowledged funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office.
DEQ Issued 11 Penalties in December for Environmental Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued 11 penalties totaling $665,795 in December for various environmental violations. A detailed list of violations and resulting penalties is at http://ordeq.org/enforcement.
Fines ranged from $1,400 to $198,786. Alleged violations include a knife manufacturer failing to immediately clean up spilled hazardous waste, a town failing to monitor wastewater discharge for pollutants, and a demolition contractor openly storing asbestos waste.
DEQ issued civil penalties to the following organizations:
  • Benchmade Knife Company Inc., $13,400, Oregon City, hazardous waste
  • Columbia 410 LLC and affiliated entities: Columbia 410 LLC ($196,288); CHTC Inc. ($198,786); Jacob Crabtree ($196,288), Molalla, air quality*
  • Dustin Mulrony, $11,200, La Grande, asbestos
  • Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, $1,600, Pendleton, air quality
  • Leroy W. Smith, $1,400, Corbett, stormwater
  • K. Express Inc., $4,350, Troutdale, stormwater
  • Town of Lakeview, $5,247, Lakeview, wastewater
  • TSL Curry Manor LLC, $4,836, Roseburg, wastewater
  • Union County, $7,200, La Grande, asbestos
  • Wellens General Contractors Inc., $7,200, La Grande, asbestos
  • West Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center, $18,000, Portland, wastewater
Organizations or individuals must either pay the fines or file an appeal within 20 days of receiving notice of the penalty. They may be able to offset a portion of a penalty by funding a  supplemental environmental project that improves Oregon’s environment.
Penalties may also include orders requiring specific tasks to prevent ongoing violations or additional environmental harm.
DEQ works with thousands of organizations and individuals to help them comply with laws that protect Oregon’s air, land and water. DEQ uses education, technical assistance, warnings and penalties to change behavior and deter future violations.
*This is an amended penalty that DEQ originally issued to Columbia 410 LLC in June 2020 for $13,480. DEQ amended the penalty in December 2021 because of ongoing non-compliance. DEQ also added penalties for Columbia 410’s parent company, CHTC, and the CEO, Jacob Crabtree, which are also responsible for this facility’s violations.
New York City to Phase-Out New Fossil Fuel Connections
As part of the State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that beginning this year, New York City will phase-out fossil fuel connections in new construction by 2030. The City will establish intermediate goals in the short-term and ensure this does not negatively impact renters and low-income residents.
Donna De Costanzo, Director, Eastern Region, Climate and Clean Energy Program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) said, “New York City ramps up its groundbreaking climate leadership, pledging to phase out the burning of fossil fuels for heating and other purposes inside new homes and other new buildings by the end of this decade. With this step, the nation’s largest city affirms the need to transform our skyline to run on clean electricity and move toward a fossil fuel-free world. We welcome Mayor de Blasio’s announcement and look forward to working with city officials to continue to ensure people are working and living in safe, affordable, pollution-free buildings.”
MPCA Closed 104 Compliance and Enforcement Cases in Second Half of 2020
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released its summary of closed compliance and enforcement cases from the second half of 2020. The agency had 104 closed enforcement cases for air quality, waste, stormwater and wastewater violations.
Environmental enforcement investigations often take several months, in some cases more than a year, to complete the investigation and issue final enforcement documents to regulated parties. Penalties are calculated using several factors, including harm done to the environment, the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws, or how responsive and cooperative a regulated party was in correcting problems.
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 bring any company, individual, or local government back into compliance.
Enforcement cases with net penalty amounts of $5,000 or more (July - Dec. 2020):
Public date
Company or individual(s) (location)
Net penalty amount
Industrial Wastewater - Both the Redwood Falls and Long Prairie facilities processed significantly more raw material in 2018 than amounts submitted in their permit application. The additional raw material processing created additional wastewater volume, which contributed to elevated wastewater pond levels - with one pond overflowing into the Minnesota River floodplain in 2019.
Air Quality - In 2019, the facility exceeded its emissions limits by 2.9 tons in October, 1.7 tons in November, and one ton in December.
Hazardous Waste – The company failed to properly manage and dispose of hazardous wastes, and failed to notify the State Duty Officer and the MPCA of the chromium spill that ended up flowing to the City of Eveleth wastewater treatment facility. Also operated for more than three years without a valid hazardous waste generator license, or required operating permits.
Construction and Industrial Stormwater – Violations included failure to obtain state permits and develop a SWPPP required for the construction and operation of a precast concrete business at the location, a lack of permanent stormwater controls, and excessive amounts of sediment leaving the site.
Industrial Wastewater – Violations included failure to prevent sediment from washing into an adjacent wetland at Keetac’s facility on multiple occasions and failure to report the incidents in a timely manner.
Aboveground Tanks – The company failed to conduct required inspections of three steel petroleum-storage tanks in 2014 and 2019, and failed to keep proper records. These kinds of tanks are supposed to be inspected externally every five years, and internally every ten years.
Air Quality - Violations included failing to conduct required visible emissions checks of vent filters during daylight hours, submitting test frequency plans late to the MPCA, operating a truck unloading station with doors open, and installing a dry sorbent injection system four months after a required installation deadline.
Industrial Wastewater - The company didn’t adequately maintain a perimeter berm, or immediately repair it when it failed. The failed berm allowed a significant and prohibited discharge of rock, sand, and silt-laden water to flow into a wetland area on and adjacent to the company’s property. The inspection also revealed that the company failed to implement and maintain a required pollution prevention plan from 2013 to 2019, and was late in submitting several required discharge monitoring reports to the MPCA.
City of Chanhassen (Chanhassen, MN)
Construction Stormwater - Violations included failing to develop a SWPPP and obtain a construction stormwater permit, sediment discharges to Bluff Creek, missing stormwater BMPs, and improper dewatering techniques.
Denco II, LLC (Morris, MN)
Air Quality – The company operated air emissions equipment outside of permitted ranges, relating to fabric filter pressure drop range and regenerative thermal oxidizer temperature limits.
Al-Corn Clean Fuel, LLC (Claremont, MN)
Industrial Wastewater – The company failed to rapidly and thoroughly contain and remove industrial wastewater that had flowed into an on-site stormwater pond. Overflow of the pond could have led to the wastewater to pollute nearby waters of the state.
Art Anderson Septic Tank Pumping (Detroit Lakes, MN); Travis M Wilke (Detroit Lakes, MN)
Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems – The company failed to properly treat septage when land applying, and failed to maintain proper hauling and land application records.
Central MN Renewables (Little Falls, MN)
Hazardous Waste – The company failed to properly certify hazardous waste storage tanks, properly provide training to staff, conduct and document inspections, provide an emergency response plan, properly label storage tanks, and properly store used oil and used oil filters.
Northshore Mining Co (Silver Bay, MN)
Industrial Wastewater - One of its industrial wastewater ponds overtopped, allowing significant sediment to flow to nearby waters of the state. The pond had been improperly maintained and managed.
American Crystal Sugar Company (Moorhead, MN)
Air Quality – The company exceeded pulp dryer emissions limits, operated fabric filter outside required pressure drop range, and exceeded boiler emissions rates during parts of 2017-2020.
Carfair Composites USA, Inc (Winnepeg, MB)
Air Quality – The company failed to maintain a complete an operations & maintenance plan. They also failed to conduct required weekly and daily equipment inspections, and conduct weekly equipment calibrations.
Joe Wagner (Brandon, MN)
Feedlots – The owner allowed manure to discharge to a series of wetlands, a public ditch, a stream and Fish Lake, and failed to recover, minimize or report the discharge. Also expanded a registered feedlot without the proper permits.
Chisago Lakes Mini Storage, LLC (Lindstrom, MN)
Construction Stormwater – Violations included discharge of sediment to North Lindstrom Lake, failure to notify MPCA of the discharge, failure to develop a SWPPP and obtain a construction stormwater permit, missed inspections, missing stormwater BMPs, and improper dewatering techniques.
Morton Buildings, Inc. (Albertville, MN)
Construction Stormwater – Violations included discharge of sediment to North Lindstrom Lake, failure to notify MPCA of the discharge, failure to obtain a construction stormwater permit, missed inspections, missing stormwater BMPs, and improper dewatering techniques.
Green Plains Otter Tail LLC (Omaha, NE)
Air Quality – The company failed to maintain fuel records for an emergency generator, allowed particulate matter emissions nearly 15% above permitted limits, and failed to conduct equipment inspections.
Laleman's Septic and Drain Service LLC (Ghent, MN)
Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems – The company failed to properly treat more than 5,000 gallons of septage during 2018-19, and failed to keep land application records and portable toilet maintenance records for five years.
Daniel J Kulas (Avon, MN)
Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems – The company land applied septage at inadequate temperatures, pH levels and rates, and also failed to maintain proper pumping records, and operated with an expired permit.
Country Road Construction (Staples, MN)
Air Quality – The company failed to submit annual emissions inventory report for 2019, and failed to manage, report and maintain several aspects of the company's non-metallic mining site.
Automotive Concepts of Minnesota (New Hope, MN)
Air Quality – The company failed to submit 2015, 2016, and 2017 annual air emissions inventory reports, as required by April of each following year.
Diamond Lake Woods Homeowners Association (Dayton, MN)
Municipal Wastewater – The company exceeded permitted nitrogen wastewater effluent limits, and failed to document when or why.
SM Hentges and Sons, Inc. (Jordan, MN)
Construction Stormwater - Violations included failing to obtain a construction stormwater permit, allowing sediment discharges to Bluff Creek, was missing stormwater BMPs, and conducted improper dewatering techniques.
Wm Mueller & Sons, Inc. (Hamburg, MN)
Air Quality and Industrial Wastewater – The company failed to complete and maintain a required stormwater pollution prevention plan, and conduct site inspections. They also failed to properly monitor stormwater outfalls, maintain containment berms, and manage salt and sediment stockpiles.
Wm Mueller & Sons Inc (Hamburg, MN)
Industrial Wastewater – The company failed to complete and maintain a required stormwater pollution prevention plan, and conduct site inspections. They also failed to properly monitor stormwater outfalls, maintain containment berms, and manage salt and sediment stockpiles.
City of Buffalo (Buffalo, MN)
Municipal Wastewater – The facility exceeded permitted effluent limits for copper several times during 2018-20, and failed to manage copper inflow and outflow.
Isanti Estates LLC (White Bear Lake, MN)
Municipal Wastewater – The company had several effluent limit exceedances from 2015-20. They also failed to install proper equipment to ensure adequate wastewater treatment, and submitted required reports late.
Boise White Paper LLC (International Falls, MN)
Air Quality - Emissions tests showed the facility was exceeding permitted limits of particulate matter by levels of between 70-89%.
3M Company (Saint Paul, MN)
Air Quality – The company failed to submit required permit amendments prior to moving and modifying equipment, and failed to keep complete records relating to spray booth operation, natural gas usage and filter inspections.
Stericycle, Inc. Cited for Air Emissions at Medical Waste Incinerator
The Justice Department and the EPA announced a settlement with Illinois-based Stericycle, Inc. resolving alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act and Utah air quality regulations at its medical waste incinerator in North Salt Lake, Utah.
The settlement, set forth in a consent decree lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, requires Stericycle to comply with EPA regulations applicable to medical waste incinerators, pay a $600,000 civil penalty, and conduct a Supplemental Environmental Project requiring the company to spend at least $2 million to purchase low- emitting school buses for a local school district.
The settlement resolves violations alleged in the United States’ complaint. The complaint alleges that Stericycle operated its waste incinerator in a manner that exceeded regulatory limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx), failed to properly conduct stack tests, and failed to comply with reporting requirements. EPA investigated the alleged violations in cooperation with the Utah Division of Air Quality, which concluded its own action for related violations several years ago.
 “This settlement will benefit all who live in and visit North Salt Lake,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Debra H. Thomas. “In addition to NOx reductions at the facility, the settlement requires Stericycle to replace old, high-emitting school buses for a local school district, providing cleaner air for school children and nearby neighborhoods.”
“Medical waste incinerators must operate in strict compliance with our nation’s clean air laws,” said Jean E. Williams, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Stericycle has installed new pollution controls and made operational changes to remedy the violations alleged in the complaint.”
The school bus replacement is a Supplemental Environmental Project, or SEP, which is an environmentally beneficial project required in a settlement that is not otherwise required by law.  Diesel emissions reduction SEPs have been expressly authorized by Congress. EPA expects the SEP in this case will replace as many as 20 buses, leading to significant reductions in NOx, carbon monoxide, and diesel particulate matter and substantial fuel savings.
NOx is a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
Annual training is required by 40 CFR 262.17(a)(7). Learn how to complete EPA’s new electronic hazardous waste manifest, and the more than 60 changes in EPA’s new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. Environmental Resource Center’s Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course is available via live webcasts. If you plan to also attend DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, call 800-537-2372 to find out how you can get your course materials on an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at no extra charge.
Job Openings at Environmental Resource Center
Environmental Resource Center has openings for EHS consultants and trainers. If you are looking for a new challenge, send your resume and salary requirements to Brian Karnofsky at brian@ercweb.com.
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