Environmental Review Process Accelerated for Infrastructure Projects

April 16, 2018

Twelve federal agencies, including the EPA, signed the One Federal Decision Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU establishes a coordinated and timely process for environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.

The MOU reduces the environmental review and permitting process for major infrastructure projects. Under the MOU, a lead federal agency will be designated to guide each major infrastructure project through the environmental review and permitting process. It directs federal agencies to agree on a permitting timeline with the goal of completing the entire process within two years, to work together to conduct environmental review and authorization decisions concurrently, and to develop a single record of decision.

This MOU supports President Trump’s One Federal Decision (OFD) policy established in Executive Order 13807. The E.O. directed the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality to develop a framework for implementing the OFD policy. EPA and the other federal agencies have agreed to an unprecedented level of cooperation that will allegedly lead to better-informed permitting decisions about major infrastructure projects in a more timely and transparent manner. Following the procedures outlined in the MOU, federal agencies will work together to eliminate duplication and costly delays within the environmental review and permitting process.

In addition to EPA, the MOU was signed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.

St Louis Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in St Louis, MO on May 8-10 and save $100 or receive an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet with electronic versions of both handbooks. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Hilton Head Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Hilton Head, SC on May 22-24 and save $100 or receive an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet with electronic versions of both handbooks. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Baton Rouge Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Baton Rouge, LA on June 5-7 and save $100 or receive an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet with electronic versions of both handbooks. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

First State Controlled Underground Injection Control Program to Store CO2 Approved

EPA announced it has approved the State of North Dakota’s request to implement and enforce its own Class VI Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. This marks the first time any state has received primacy for Class VI UIC wells, which are used for the long-term storage of carbon dioxide captured from industrial and energy related sources.

“The State of North Dakota is a proven partner in the safe and responsible development of our country’s natural resources,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “We are practicing cooperative federalism and increasing the state’s involvement in local environmental protection. EPA will work with the state to ensure a smooth transition and that all North Dakotans continue to have safe drinking water.”

After taking public comments and conducting a thorough review, EPA determined that the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) was capable of enforcing its Class VI UIC program in a manner consistent with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and all applicable regulations to protect underground sources of drinking water. EPA’s approval allows NDIC to implement and enforce its Class VI program and issue Class VI permits. EPA will continue to administer the UIC Program for wells on Indian lands per the SDWA.

Draft EPA Policy to Reduce Animal Testing for Skin Sensitization 

The EPA has released a draft Science Policy to reduce the use of animals in testing chemicals to evaluate whether they cause an allergic reaction, inflammation or sensitization of the skin. The draft policy is open for public comment until June 9, 2018.

The document, Draft Interim Science Policy: Use of Alternative Approaches for Skin Sensitization as a Replacement for Laboratory Animal Testing, describes the science behind the non-animal alternatives that can now be used (in vitro, in silico, in chemico) to identify skin sensitization. EPA currently requires these data to support pesticide registrations.

Given the substantial scientific evidence and international activities supporting the new methodologies for skin sensitization testing, EPA will begin accepting these approaches immediately under the conditions described in the draft policy document.

This draft policy was the result of national and international collaboration between the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods, the National Toxicology Program’s Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing and Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

Comments on the draft skin sensitization policy must be submitted to docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0093 at  http://www.regulations.gov on or before June 9, 2018.

Free Event on Clean Air Rules for Truckers 

California air quality experts will provide truck drivers and fleet owners with the latest information to help them comply with the state’s clean air requirements and upcoming rule deadlines.  They will also offer one-on-one assistance and details about available financial assistance for equipment upgrades.  Advanced technology vehicles, mock truck inspections, funding presentations and a variety of equipment vendors will all be on site.

This event will include:

  • Overview of both the Truck and Bus and Off-Road Regulations
  • The latest news on available financial assistance and new legislation
  • New enforcement tool linking DMV registration and compliance
  • Information about new technology options for compliance
  • Spanish assistance available


WHEN:  Tuesday, April 17 from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

WHERE:  Kern County Fairgrounds, 1142 South P Street Bakersfield, CA 93307

VISUALS:  Truck inspection demonstrations, industry vendors and local booths, informational sessions.

Space is limited at this free event.  Truck owners and operators are encouraged to sign up ahead of time. 

Updated Data on Integrity of Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Wells Released

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released the first four years of data on well structural soundness submitted by thousands of Pennsylvania oil and gas well operators. A comprehensive analysis of the first year, 2014, showed that the majority of wells in the state are being operated in a manner that greatly reduces the risk for groundwater impacts.

“Our Mechanical Integrity Assessment Program is the most rigorous routine well integrity assessment program to protect groundwater in the United States,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We’re committed to protecting Pennsylvanians’ health, safety, and environment through continuous improvement of our regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry.”

Unconventional and conventional operators are required to inspect wells on a quarterly basis for structural soundness to ensure that gas migration is prevented, leaks are managed, and groundwater is protected. They inspect wells for:

  • Leaks outside the surface casing, which is the outermost casing layer around the well, designed to protect groundwater;
  • Leaks outside the intermediate casing, which is the well casing intended to facilitate safe drilling of most shale gas wells to the depth where gas is found;
  • Gas flows or pressures inside and outside the production casing, which is the deepest casing layer in the well;
  • Escaping fluids (oil, gas, and saltwater); and
  • Severe corrosion.


DEP reviews operators’ submitted data for potential problems and violations.

A comprehensive analysis (including file audits and independent site verification) of data submitted in 2014 showed that less than 1% of operator observations indicated the types of integrity problems, such as gas outside surface casing, that could allow gas to move beyond the well footprint. The movement of gas or other fluids beyond a well footprint has the greatest potential to result in environmental concerns.

About 30% of wells had gas present outside production casing. In some instances, this occurs due to an approved well design that allows for engineered vents. In a properly designed and operated well, gas is kept to the well footprint, and won’t flow into a water supply.

Operator compliance with mechanical integrity inspection requirements has been consistent since the program began, with reports submitted for approximately 99% of unconventional wells and about 50-60% of conventional wells. DEP district offices are actively working to improve the number of conventional operators who are in compliance. Those who remain out of compliance are individually responsible for a relatively small number of wells.

The Mechanical Integrity Assessment program has provided DEP district offices with useful information for identifying potential concerns at wells and more effectively assessing whether operator intervention is necessary to protect groundwater.

Some operators have introduced corrosion monitoring programs, become more proactive in plugging wells with depleted reserves, and improved the accuracy of their well inventories through coordination with DEP.

New Report Indicates EPA’s IRIS Program is Making Progress 

The EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program has made substantial progress in implementing recommendations outlined in past reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, improving the program’s overall scientific and technical performance, says a new Academies report.  The program, which is used to assess the hazards posed by environmental contaminants, remains a work in progress and should continue to evolve as it adapts and applies new scientific practices and knowledge, the report says.

The transformation of the IRIS process began several years ago after the release of a 2011 Academies report that provided suggestions for creating a more systematic and transparent IRIS process.  In a 2014 report, the Academies reviewed the changes implemented in the program since 2011 and concluded that the improvements were considerable.  Under the program’s new leadership, EPA asked the National Academies to review again the agency’s progress toward addressing past recommendations.

The Academies’ latest review finds that IRIS has made substantial progress in incorporating systematic-review methods into its process and assessments.  IRIS has also established a systematic-review working group and engaged subject-matter experts. According to the new report, these groups should increase efficiency and consistency among assessments and improve the scientific rigor of the assessments.

“The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive,” said Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “We see a substantial commitment at EPA to use systematic-review methods in conducting assessments, which are important for identifying, evaluating, and summarizing the findings from current literature and integrating the evidence available to inform decisions.”

The committee also said the program has developed a number of collaborations with such groups as the World Health Organization, the National Toxicology Program Office of Health Assessment and Translation, and the European Food Safety Authority that will help position the IRIS program as a leader in advancing systematic-review methods.

The report offers recommendations for some refinements and further development in different stages of its systematic-review process and risk quantification process and urges EPA to give high priority to completion, peer review, and release of its IRIS handbook, which is expected to provide critical guidance for the development of IRIS assessments. The committee noted, however, that EPA is describing its approach in IRIS protocols, and this practice provides transparency while the handbook is being completed. The study was sponsored by EPA.

New Coating Increases Absorption Capacity of Solar Cells

Trapping light with an optical version of a whispering gallery, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a nanoscale coating for solar cells that enables them to absorb about 20% more sunlight than uncoated devices. The coating, applied with a technique that could be incorporated into manufacturing, opens a new path for developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells with abundant, renewable and environmentally friendly materials.

The coating consists of thousands of tiny glass beads, only about one-hundredth the width of a human hair. When sunlight hits the coating, the light waves are steered around the nanoscale bead, similar to the way sound waves travel around a curved wall such as the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At such curved structures, known as acoustic whispering galleries, a person standing near one part of the wall easily hears a faint sound originating at any other part of the wall.

Whispering galleries for light were developed about a decade ago, but researchers have only recently explored their use in solar-cell coatings. In the experimental set up devised by a team including Dongheon Ha of NIST and the University of Maryland’s NanoCenter, the light captured by the nanoresonator coating eventually leaks out and is absorbed by an underlying solar cell made of gallium arsenide.

Using a laser as a light source to excite individual nanoresonators in the coating, the team found that the coated solar cells absorbed, on average, 20% more visible light than bare cells. The measurements also revealed that the coated cells produced about 20% more current.

The study is the first to demonstrate the efficiency of the coatings using precision nanoscale measurements, said Ha. “Although calculations had suggested the coatings would enhance the solar cells, we could not prove this was the case until we had developed the nanoscale measurement technologies that were needed,” he noted.

This work was described in a recent issue of Nanotechnology  by Ha, collaborator Yohan Yoon of NIST and Maryland’s NanoCenter, and NIST physicist Nikolai Zhitenev.

The team also devised a rapid, less-costly method of applying the nanoresonator coating. Researchers had previously coated semiconductor material by dipping it in a tub of the nanoresonator solution. The dipping method takes time and coats both sides of the semiconductor even though only one side requires the treatment.

In the team’s method, droplets of the nanoresonator solution are placed on just one side of the solar cell. A wire-wound metal rod is then pulled across the cell, spreading out the solution and forming a coating made of closely packed nanoresonators. This is the first time that researchers have applied the rod method, used for more than a century to coat material in a factory setting, to a gallium arsenide solar cell.

“This is an inexpensive process and is compatible with mass production,” said Ha.

Veolia to Pay $1.6 Million for Massive Sewage Spills 

Veolia has agreed to pay $1.6 million for allegedly failing to properly maintain and operate the Town of Plymouth’s wastewater treatment plant and collection system, discharging thousands of gallons of contaminated wastewater into Plymouth Harbor and 10 million gallons of raw sewage at certain locations in the Town, as well as causing the temporary closure of shellfish beds, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

The consent judgment, entered in Suffolk Superior Court against Veolia Water North America-Northeast LLC (Veolia) and related companies, requires the company to pay the state a $1.35 million civil penalty, along with $250,000 to a state environmental trust to fund projects to improve the Plymouth Harbor coastal ecosystem.

“By failing to properly maintain and operate wastewater treatment facilities, companies like Veolia are not only violating the law, they are threatening public health and our invaluable coastal water resources,” AG Healey said. “Today’s settlement brings back critical funds to the state and secures needed funding for significant improvements to Plymouth Harbor, local shellfish beds, and our coastal ecosystem.”

“The matter resolved today addresses a significant failure to properly operate and maintain essential infrastructure,” said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “The resulting failure of the wastewater system required emergency action by the town, MassDEP and other parties to abate the spills and work toward a properly functioning system.”

Veolia, a global provider of wastewater treatment services, operates Plymouth’s treatment plant and collection system, pursuant to a contract with the Town. According to the AG’s complaint, filed in April 2016, Veolia failed to properly maintain the system of pipes that collect and carry wastewater from homes and businesses to the Town’s wastewater treatment facility, resulting in discharges from an extensively corroded force main in December 2015 and January 2016 of over ten million gallons of raw, untreated sewage to wooded lands and other locations around Plymouth, including a tract of land owned by the state.

Veolia also allegedly previously discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated or improperly treated wastewater into Plymouth Harbor resulting in the temporary closure of shellfish beds, including parts of Kingston Bay and Duxbury Bay, due to high fecal coliform levels and the risks posed to human health by eating shellfish from sewage-contaminated waters.

Under the terms of today’s settlement, Veolia will pay $1.35 million to the state in civil penalties and another $250,000 to fund the state’s Marine Mammals and Fisheries Research and Conservation Trust to benefit Plymouth Harbor. This $1.6 million settlement is believed to be the largest ever paid for such alleged violations of the state Clean Waters Act.

The $250,000 environmental trust payment will fund projects to promote and maintain a healthy coastal ecosystem in and around Plymouth Harbor. These projects include surveying shellfish growing areas, including water quality sampling and contributing to the implementation of a planned dye study to track the treatment plant’s effluent in Plymouth Harbor; distributing shellfish seed for planting in areas used by recreational shellfishermen; initiating a volunteer program to monitor and document the health of eelgrass beds; and funding the Division of Marine Fisheries to implement the removal of the Elm Street Dam on the Jones River.

The Town of Plymouth is authorized to discharge treated wastewater pursuant to the terms of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit issued by MassDEP and the EPA.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Melissa A. Hoffer, Chief of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau, and Assistant Attorney General I. Andrew Goldberg, of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from former Paralegal Christopher Knecht, previously of the AG’s Environmental Protection Division, and Chief Regional Counsel Shaun P. Walsh and Regional Engineer Jonathan Hobill of MassDEP’s Southeast Regional Office.

Former Fulton County Tannery Owner Charged with Illegally Storing Hazardous Waste

Robert James Carville of West Palm Beach, Florida, was arrested on charges that he illegally stored hazardous waste in an abandoned tannery building in Johnstown, New York, where Carville had owned and operated a tannery known as Carville National Leather.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge for the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), Regions 1 and 2.

Carville was arrested in West Palm Beach and appeared before a United States Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. He was scheduled to be arraigned in Albany federal court on April 16. The indictment alleges that Carville knowingly stored hundreds of gallons of hazardous waste, including chromium, lead, and both ignitable and corrosive chemicals, without a permit for more than two years beginning in April 2014 at the abandoned Carville National Leather facility located at 10 Knox Avenue in Johnstown, New York, in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The indictment also alleges that Carville failed to report the release of these hazardous substances by failing to notify appropriate governmental agencies that he had abandoned these hazardous chemicals, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law. The charges in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The charges filed against Carville carry a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison, a maximum fine of more than $41 million (based on the number of days of violations alleged in the indictment), and a term of post-imprisonment supervised release of up to 1 year. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.

This case is being investigated by EPA-CID and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.

New Energy Saving Standards for Spas

The California Energy Commission adopted updated energy efficiency standards for portable electric spas that could save consumers $45 million annually.

The standards cover all categories of portable electric spas. They add between $100 to $230 to the initial cost of a unit, but will save consumers much more— totaling hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in electricity bills over the life of the spa.

California is home to more than a million spas and thousands of new ones are sold each year. The Energy Commission estimates that the new standards will produce annual energy savings equivalent to the amount of electricity used in nearly 30,000 homes in a year. The standards take effect June 1, 2019, but dealers will still be able to sell out their current inventory.

The Energy Commission also adopted the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) 2017 Report. The EPIC program supports research that helps the state meet its energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals. Last year, the program funded 72 new projects totaling more than $134 million. Research included scenarios to reduce the cost of meeting the state’s climate and environmental goals, developing innovative tools to help customers manage energy consumption, and increasing grid resiliency by transforming it to accept more renewable generation and distributed energy resources.

The EPIC program also awarded the first grants through its California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development initiative, which helps entrepreneurs bring early-stage clean energy concepts to market. More than 70 clean energy companies received awards. About 32% of all EPIC funds for technology demonstration and deployment projects were deployed in disadvantaged communities.

Top Cities for ENERGY STAR Certified Buildings in 2017

The EPA has announced its tenth-annual Top Cities list, which ranks the 25 US metropolitan areas with the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings in the preceding calendar year. Los Angeles earned first place with more than 700 ENERGY STAR certified buildings, bumping Washington, D.C., into second place. Dallas rocketed up the rankings this year, earning a third-place spot. Atlanta and New York round out the top five, each with more than 400 ENERGY STAR certified buildings.

“Earning a spot on the ENERGY STAR Top Cities list is a recognition of commitment to cutting building-related energy costs and reducing waste,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum. “With help from ENERGY STAR, city leaders and building owners are working together to strengthen their economies, foster competition, and create a healthier environment.”

To create the annual list, EPA tallied the number of ENERGY STAR certified buildings within each metropolitan area, as defined by the U.S. Census. These areas included the city itself as well as surrounding towns and suburbs.

The Top Cities list shows how cities across America are embracing energy efficiency as a proven path to financial savings and a healthier environment. Commercial buildings are responsible for 19% of the nation’s energy use and cost American organizations and cities more than $100 billion per year in energy bills. By the end of 2017, more than 32,000 buildings across America had earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification. Together, these buildings have saved more than $4.5 billion on energy bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of more than 3 million homes. 

Commercial buildings that apply for EPA’s ENERGY STAR must have their performance verified by a professional engineer or a registered architect. ENERGY STAR certified buildings use an average of 35% less energy than typical buildings. Many types of commercial facilities can earn the ENERGY STAR, including office buildings, schools, hospitals, and retail stores.

Lawsuit Probes EPA’s Press Office

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is suing to pry documents out of EPA detailing its campaign to discredit a distinguished employee who spoke out against policies initiated by Administrator Scott Pruitt.  The federal lawsuit is seeking to demonstrate how the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs has become what the organization calls a “fake news factory.”

On July 31, Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, a PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering, retired from EPA, having served as a senior executive in both the Water and Superfund programs. During her thirty-year career, she also received the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award.

As she retired, she issued a statement decrying recent EPA actions that put public health and the environment at greater risk. Among other disturbing developments, she cited “an industry deregulation approach based on abandonment of the polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes.”

In reaction, EPA’s Office of Public Affairs questioned both the veracity of Dr. Southerland’s statements and her motivation for making them. Some statements were laughable, such as “We have a great working relationship with career EPA employees.” Others were snide, such as saying she walked away with a “six-figure taxpayer-funded pension” – a falsehood repeated for weeks, despite Betsy correcting it.

“In an effort to discredit me for speaking out and to intimidate current EPA employees, EPA may have provided my private employment information to media outlets and a political opposition research firm following my retirement,” said Dr. Southerland, referring to the Republican “war room” media firm EPA had retained. “It is disappointing that a career public servant could be treated with such malicious intent.”

On October 18, 2017, PEER, representing Dr. Southerland, filed a request under both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act to disclose all agency communications about her following her retirement. The Privacy Act requires that federal agencies provide an individual access to records or information pertaining to him or her upon request.

Over the succeeding months, EPA staff repeatedly indicated to PEER that it had completed a search, it had identified responsive documents, and that release was imminent. Yet as weeks passed, EPA would not commit to a release date even though it was months beyond the statutory deadline for both statutes. Today, PEER stopped waiting and filed suit to compel production.

“It is unfortunate that the EPA Office of Public Affairs has devolved into a tax-supported disinformation ministry, willing to smear even its most distinguished employees,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who filed the complaint in DC’s federal district court. “Belying its title, EPA’s Office of Public Affairs snipes from the shadows and recoils from transparency like a bat from sunlight.” The Justice Department, representing EPA, has thirty days to respond to the suit.

Environmental News Links 

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A Brief Timeline of The Allegations Against EPA Chief Scott Pruitt  More

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Trivia Question

Which common water pollutant is believed to be particularly harmful to newborn babies?

  1. Arsenic
  2. Nitrate
  3. Beryllium
  4. Fluoride

Answer: B