December 17, 2018
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a final rule streamlining standards for managing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals in the healthcare sector. The final rule
is expected to result in up to $15 million in costs savings annually.
“These common-sense updates will help the healthcare sector safely manage hazardous waste pharmaceuticals and will reduce the amount of pharmaceutical waste entering our waterways by roughly 2,000 tons,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “By streamlining the standards for the healthcare sector, this final rule will protect drinking water and generate up to $15 million annually in cost savings.”
The final rule offers streamlined standards for handling pharmaceutical wastes to better fit the operations of the healthcare sector while maintaining protection of human health and the environment. In addition, as part of this rule, EPA is bolstering the protection of our nation’s waterways by prohibiting the “sewering” of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. This will make our drinking and surface water safer and healthier by reducing the amount of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals entering our waterways by an estimated 1,600 – 2,300 tons annually. EPA has a long-standing policy of strongly discouraging the flushing of pharmaceuticals down the drain in any situation.
The rule provides flexibilities and benefits for hospitals, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices to safely manage hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. Also, under this final rule FDA-approved over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies (i.e., gums, patches, lozenges) will no longer be considered hazardous waste when discarded, which will result in significant cost savings and burden reduction for the healthcare industry. In addition, the final rule eliminates dual regulation for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are also Drug Enforcement Agency controlled substances, further easing regulatory burden.
The rule reaffirms EPA’s long-standing policy that non-prescription pharmaceuticals and other unsold retail items that have a reasonable expectation of being used/reused or legitimately reclaimed are not solid waste. It also provides regulatory certainty that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) applies when healthcare facilities send unused, unsaleable pharmaceuticals to reverse distributors to receive manufacturer credit. Simultaneously, the rule incorporates flexibilities to accommodate current business practices to facilitate its implementation.
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EPA and Army Propose New "Waters of the United States" Definition
EPA and the Department of the Army are proposing a new definition of “waters of the United States” to outline federal authority under the Clean Water Act.
“Our proposal would replace the Obama EPA’s 2015 definition with one that respects the limits of the Clean Water Act and provides states and landowners the certainty they need to manage their natural resources and grow local economies,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “For the first time, we are clearly defining the difference between federally protected waterways and state protected waterways. Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not, without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals.”
The agencies’ proposal is the second step in a two-step process to review and revise the definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with President Trump's February 2017 Executive Order entitled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” The Executive Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the states under the Constitution.
“EPA and the Army together propose this new definition that provides a clear and predictable approach to regulating ‘waters of the United States.’ We focused on developing an implementable definition that balances local and national interests under the Clean Water Act,” said R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “I have heard from a wide range of stakeholders on Clean Water Act implementation challenges. This proposed definition provides a common-sense approach to managing our nation's waters.”
The agencies’ proposed rule would provide clarity, predictability and consistency so that the regulated community can easily understand where the Clean Water Act applies—and where it does not. Under the agencies’ proposal, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated. It also details what are not “waters of the United States,” such as features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater control features; and waste treatment systems.
The agencies believe this proposed definition appropriately identifies waters that should be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act while respecting the role of states and tribes in managing their own land and water resources. States and many tribes have existing regulations that apply to waters within their borders, whether or not they are considered “waters of the United States.” The agencies’ proposal gives states and tribes more flexibility in determining how best to manage their land and water resources while protecting the nation’s navigable waters as intended by Congress when it enacted the Clean Water Act.
Robust, publicly accessible data is also a key component of common-sense, cost-effective environmental protection. In response to requests from some states, EPA and the Army are exploring ways the agencies can work with our federal, state, and tribal partners to develop a data or mapping system that could provide a clearer understanding of the presence or absence of jurisdictional waters.
The agencies invited written pre-proposal recommendations and received more than 6,000 recommendations that the agencies have considered in developing this proposal. The agencies listened to those directly affected by the regulations, and this proposal balances the input the agencies received from a wide range of stakeholders.
The agencies will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA and the Army will also hold an informational webcast on January 10, 2019, and will host a listening session on the proposed rule in Kansas City, KS, on January 23, 2019.
More information including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice, the supporting analyses and fact sheets are available at: https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule
Proposed Modification to NPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activities
The EPA is requesting public comment
on a modification to the 2017 NPDES general permit for stormwater discharges from construction activities. The EPA is proposing a modification to the 2017 CGP that is limited to clarifying the intent of several requirements and ensuring consistency with the Construction and Development Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards. The EPA has posted a redline strikeout version of the permit and accompanying fact sheet showing all of the proposed changes in context of the documents they would modify at https://www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater-discharges-construction-activities
. EPA’s point of contact is Emily Halter, EPA Headquarters, Office of Water, Office of Wastewater Management at 202-564-3324 or email: email@example.com.
Oh No: Organic Food Worse for the Climate
Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study involving Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in the journal Nature.
The researchers developed a new method for assessing the climate impact from land-use, and used this, along with other methods, to compare organic and conventional food production. The results show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference – for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent,” says Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers, and one of those responsible for the study.
The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilisers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land.
The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” explains Stefan Wirsenius. “The world’s food production is governed by international trade, so how we farm in Sweden influences deforestation in the tropics. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world.”
Even organic meat and dairy products are – from a climate point of view – worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Stefan Wirsenius.
“Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feeds, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article,” he explains.
The researchers used a new metric, which they call “Carbon Opportunity Cost”, to evaluate the effect of greater land-use contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. This metric takes into account the amount of carbon that is stored in forests, and thus released as carbon dioxide as an effect of deforestation. The study is among the first in the world to make use of this metric.
“The fact that more land use leads to greater climate impact has not often been taken into account in earlier comparisons between organic and conventional food,” says Stefan Wirsenius. “This is a big oversight, because, as our study shows, this effect can be many times bigger than the greenhouse gas effects, which are normally included. It is also serious because today in Sweden, we have political goals to increase production of organic food. If those goals are implemented, the climate influence from Swedish food production will probably increase a lot.”
So why have earlier studies not taken into account land-use and its relationship to carbon dioxide emissions? “There are surely many reasons. An important explanation, I think, is simply an earlier lack of good, easily applicable methods for measuring the effect. Our new method of measurement allows us to make broad environmental comparisons, with relative ease,” says Stefan Wirsenius.
Stefan Wirsenius notes that the findings do not mean that conscientious consumers should simply switch to buying non-organic food. “The type of food is often much more important. For example, eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef,” he says. “Organic food does have several advantages compared with food produced by conventional methods,” he continues. “For example, it is better for farm animal welfare. But when it comes to the climate impact, our study shows that organic food is a much worse alternative, in general.”
For consumers who want to contribute to the positive aspects of organic food production, without increasing their climate impact, an effective way is to focus instead on the different impacts of different types of meat and vegetables in our diet. Replacing beef and lamb, as well as hard cheeses, with vegetable proteins such as beans, has the biggest effect. Pork, chicken, fish and eggs also have a substantially lower climate impact than beef and lamb.
In organic farming, no fertilizers are used. The goal is to use resources like energy, land and water in a long-term, sustainable way. Crops are primarily nurtured through nutrients present in the soil. The main aims are greater biological diversity and a balance between animal and plant sustainability. Only naturally derived pesticides are used.
The arguments for organic food focus on consumers’ health, animal welfare, and different aspects of environmental policy. There is good justification for these arguments, but at the same time, there is a lack of scientific evidence to show that organic food is in general healthier and more environmentally friendly than conventionally farmed food, according to the National Food Administration of Sweden and others. The variation between farms is big, with the interpretation differing depending on what environmental goals one prioritizes. At the same time, current analysis methods are unable to fully capture all aspects.
EPA Emphasis on Maritime, Food and Beverage, and Outdoor Recreation
EPA Region 1 office announced the launch of Smart Sectors New England, a partnership initiative between the Agency and regulated sectors that is focused on achieving better environmental outcomes. Based on the national Smart Sectors program, this approach provides a significant opportunity for EPA to consider more forward-thinking ways to protect the environment in collaboration and dialogue with key sectors of the economy in the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
In New England, EPA is engaging with the following business sectors: Maritime Industries, Food and Beverage Industries, and Outdoor Recreation. EPA New England will focus on best practices, convening forums and workshops to facilitate communication, raising public awareness and information sharing, and enhancing knowledge of federal environmental programs.
“EPA believes that if we better engage with important regional businesses, we can achieve better environmental outcomes,” said Alexandra Dunn, Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England office. “EPA’s Smart Sectors program is designed to effectively engage business partners throughout the regulatory process. When industries and regulators better understand each other, the economy, public, and the environment all benefit.”
“Growing New Hampshire’s outdoor recreation economy is an opportunity that will not only bolster our tourism industry, but can also be used as a tool to attract new business,” said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. “We welcome partnerships with the federal government and other stakeholders to accelerate this strategy and continue our efforts to grow New Hampshire’s workforce.”
A sector-based approach can provide benefits, such as: increased long-term certainty and predictability, creative solutions based on sound data; and, more sensible policies to improve environmental protection. Staff will: conduct educational site visits, host roundtables with EPA leadership, analyze data and advise about options for environmental improvement; and maintain open dialogue with business partners and their environmental committees.
Announced nationally in October 2017, EPA’s Smart Sectors program provides a platform to collaborate with regulated sectors and develop sensible approaches that better protect the environment and public health.
California Provides Further Flexibility and Cost-Containment for Companies in Cap-and-Trade Program
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved amendments to the state’s cap-and-trade program to streamline implementation and contain costs through 2030. The amendments set a ceiling on escalation of the price per ton for California companies in the program. This ceiling will ensure the program continues to drive down greenhouse gases emissions while providing certainty about future costs.
“These amendments keep California’s highly successful cap-and-trade program on track to meet our post-2020 emission reduction targets,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “We listened to stakeholders and believe we have balanced the needs of business, our communities and the environment.”
In addition to a price ceiling on allowances, the amendments also ensure that California businesses stay competitive against out-of-state companies that do not have cap-and-trade obligations. The changes also implement statutory requirements to reduce the number of carbon offsets allowed after 2020.
The amendments implement Assembly Bill 398, authored by Assembly member Eduardo Garcia, an ex-officio member of CARB, which passed the Legislature in 2017 with bipartisan support. The bill also extends the cap-and-trade program to 2030.
The price ceiling prevents the price per ton for carbon emissions in California from rising without limit, especially as the cap on total emissions declines over time. This price control mechanism also includes separate “reserves” of allowances that will be made available beginning in 2021 at two fixed price points, known as reserve tiers. These reserve tiers are designed to prevent carbon allowance prices from rising too rapidly.
The current program also has reserve tiers, although CARB has never held a reserve sale since the program began because the price of allowances has tended to hover at, or just slightly above, the floor price.
As in previous years, all allowance floor prices and reserve tier prices are subject to annual increases of five percent plus inflation. The amendments also continue to link California’s cap-and-trade program with the Québec program, and discontinue linkage with Ontario, which opted out of the joint program in July.
The amendments also make additional minor changes to improve and clarify the cap-and-trade program. The Board will continue to monitor the program and make adjustments as needed.
The cap-and-trade program is one of several major greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs developed under Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. AB 32 requires the state to reduce emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. California’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped below that target in 2016. The state’s 2030 reduction target is a further 40 percent reduction below the 1990 levels.
Other AB 32 programs work in tandem with cap-and-trade to reduce emissions across the economy. Those other programs include the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the Renewables Portfolio Standard and the Advanced Clean Cars program. The Legislature last year defined the role for cap-and-trade in helping to achieve the statewide 2030 target under Senate Bill 32. That 2030 target is a 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels.
Tradebe Required to Reduce Hazardous Air Pollution and Improve Compliance at Two Connecticut Facilities
The proposed settlement requires Tradebe to maintain full compliance with their RCRA permits and applicable hazardous waste laws, including RCRA air pollution control regulations. Both facilities will also install new air emission control systems to permanently replace their current control systems. Tradebe will also maintain compliance with the facilities’ air permits.
EPA estimates that Tradebe will spend at least $920,000 to comply with the compliance and pollution control system installation requirements of today’s proposed settlement. The company will also pay a $525,000 civil penalty. Tradebe has already addressed and corrected the alleged RCRA violations that EPA and the State of Connecticut identified during their inspections of the company’s two facilities. Tradebe also obtained new air permits at the facilities for CAA compliance.
“Today’s proposed settlement means cleaner air for communities in Meriden and Bridgeport as a result of pollution control equipment that will be installed at Tradebe’s facilities in those places,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn. “Hazardous air pollution poses serious public health impacts, so that’s why EPA is committed to improving compliance with the laws that regulate them.”
Under the proposed settlement, Tradebe will install at both facilities equipment to control the emissions of certain types of hazardous waste air pollutants and volatile organic compounds (VOC), which can pose a range of short- and long-term adverse health effects. Tradebe will replace its current air controls, which use carbon to absorb hazardous waste emissions, with new equipment that will burn up and destroy the emissions. Tradebe will also purchase new emissions leak detection equipment for both facilities.
In 2015, EPA conducted a RCRA inspection of the Meriden facility and conducted CAA inspections of both facilities. Also in 2015, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection conducted a RCRA inspection of the Bridgeport facility and issued a state RCRA notice of violation after identifying potential violations there. EPA subsequently issued a RCRA notice of potential violation to the Meriden facility and issued a CAA notice of violation to both facilities. Tradebe’s cooperation resulted in reaching the proposed settlement.
This proposed settlement is part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative
for addressing hazardous air pollutants at hazardous waste facilities. The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA
) requires effective monitoring and control of air emissions from hazardous waste storage tanks, pipes, valves and other equipment. Air emissions from these sources are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and seriously impact the environment.
TThe proposed settlement is memorialized in the form of a consent decree that was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut and is subject to a 30-day public comment period.
Shipping Company Sentenced for Illegally Discharging Waste at Sea
David C. Weiss, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced that Navimax Corporation (Navimax), incorporated in the Marshall Islands with its main offices in Greece, was sentenced today to a $2,000,000 fine by United States District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika for a violation of the Act To Prevent Pollution From Ships (APPS), and obstruction of a Coast Guard investigation.
The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships is a codification of international treaties known as the MARPOL Protocol. APPS applies to the handling and disposal of oily waste generated by ship machinery as well as oil cargo residue that results from cleaning oil cargo tanks. To insure that oily waste is properly stored and processed at sea, all ocean-going ships entering U.S. ports must maintain an Oil Record Book in which all transfers and discharges of oily waste, regardless of the ship’s location in international waters, are fully recorded.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Navimax operated the Nave Cielo, a 750-foot long oil tanker. In early December 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel near Delaware City and was conducting a routine inspection when a crewmember gave the officers a thumb drive containing two videos, depicting a high-volume discharge of dark brown and black oil waste from a five-inch pipe, located 15-feet above water level. Subsequent investigation disclosed that the approximate 10-minute discharge occurred on November 2, 2017, in international waters, after the ship left New Orleans en route to Belgium. The day after the discharge, crewmembers cleaned oil from the decks and a crewman was lowered over the side of the vessel to clean oil from the hull. During the Coast Guard inspection on December 7, 2017, the ship’s crew presented the ship’s Oil Record Book, which did not record this discharge.
“The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships helps protect the precious ocean and marine resources of the United States from harmful pollution, and those who knowingly violate this law will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with the Coast Guard and our other law enforcement partners to ensure that individuals and corporations alike comply with the nation’s environmental laws.”
“The defendant violated environmental laws that protect our marine environment from harmful pollution,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware David C. Weiss. “The conviction and criminal fine, reinforced by a four-year term of probation, during which the defendant’s fleet of ships will be monitored, ensures that defendant is held accountable. The message to the shipping industry is clear: environmental crimes at sea will not be tolerated.”
“I am exceptionally pleased with the outcome of this case,” said Captain Scott Anderson, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay. “Personnel at Sector Delaware Bay, Marine Safety Detachment Lewes, DE, the Coast Guard Investigative Service Philadelphia Office, and legal staffs dedicated countless hours conducting an extensive and detailed investigation and processing the case. Outcomes like this help protect the environment by holding operators accountable for their actions.”
Navimax was ordered to pay the $2,000,000 fine immediately and placed the company on probation for four years. Also sentenced today for a violation of APPS was Roman Maksymov, the vessel’s former Chief Officer. Maksymov was responsible for the proper handling of oily waste from the ship’s cargo holds and for recording any discharge of oil in the Oil Record Book.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay and the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmond Falgowski and Trial Attorney John Cashman in the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice.
Retailers Sued for Selling Toys with High Lead Content
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced a lawsuit against Target Corporation, Walmart Inc., and importer LaRose Industries, for allegedly committing thousands of violations of multiple New York laws governing the safety of children’s toys sold in the state. The action stems from testing conducted by the Attorney General’s office that found “Cra-Z-Jewelz” jewelry-making kits that were imported by LaRose, and sold by the retailers Target and Walmart in New York, contained parts with lead levels up to 10-times higher than the federal limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). The findings of the Attorney General’s investigation previously resulted in a nationwide recall of the toys.
Attorney General Underwood’s lawsuit
, which was filed in Albany County Supreme Court recently, alleges that Target, Walmart, and LaRose violated multiple New York State laws – including those related to selling hazardous toys, as well as deceptive acts and false advertising – by importing, distributing, selling, or holding for sale thousands of Cra-Z-Jewelz kits in New York between 2015 and 2016. The suit seeks civil penalties from the retailers and LaRose for the alleged violations, and a court order to require the companies to implement additional measures to ensure they do not again sell children’s toys containing high levels of lead in New York.
“No parent should have to worry that their child’s toy may be toxic. As we allege, these companies imported and sold toys with dangerous levels of toxic lead – jeopardizing the health of New York’s children and breaking the law,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Our lawsuit seeks to hold these companies accountable for the failures that allowed lead-contaminated toys on store shelves, while forcing them to take responsibility for the safety of the products they sell.”
In 2015 and 2016, the Attorney General’s office purchased a number of Cra-Z-Jewelz jewelry-making kits from stores in New York City, Long Island, and the Syracuse and Buffalo areas. Tests revealed that the wristbands associated with several kits sold at Target and supplied by LaRose contained lead at levels of 120 to 980 parts per million (ppm) – levels that exceeded the 100 ppm limit established under the federal Consumer Product Safety Act for children’s products. The Attorney General’s office determined that the same kits supplied by LaRose were offered for sale by Walmart stores in New York.
Following the reporting of the Attorney General’s findings, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, LaRose, and the Attorney General’s office all conducted additional testing of the wristbands that corroborated the Attorney General’s initial findings of high lead contamination. LaRose then issued a national recall of the jewelry-making kits.
The lawsuit stems from these finding and the Attorney General’s follow-up investigation. The suit alleges that Target, Walmart, and LaRose Industries engaged in repeated illegality and fraud under New York State law by committing thousands of violations of state law prohibitions on importing, distributing, and selling hazardous toys; deceiving consumers; and false advertising. The suit asks the court to assess civil penalties against the companies for violating these state laws; penalties could collectively range from $70 to $6,000 for each Cra-Z-Jewelz kit the companies sought to sell in New York.
The suit also seeks a court order to require the companies to take actions to ensure that toys with high lead levels do not end up on the retailers’ store shelves. The Attorney General office’s investigation pointed to a troubling breach in the safety net that is supposed to keep these dangerous products from being sold. As a result of this investigation, LaRose adopted a number of affirmative measures to better ensure that the imported toys they sell comply with federal lead limits. The lawsuit asks the court to direct LaRose to maintain these measures and to take additional measures. These measures include those that would:
- Permanently create the position of Director of Sourcing and Quality Control, as well as a Quality Control Manual and a Compliance Program;
- Require vendors of finished products to obtain high-risk components and raw materials from pre-approved suppliers;
- Require vendors of finished products to test samples of components and raw materials;
- Require the importer or a third party – rather than the manufacturer – to select the toys to be tested for compliance with applicable safety requirements;
- Ensure timely compliance with federal regulations that require certificates of compliance to accompany products and be furnished to retailers; and
- Conduct unannounced audits of vendors.
Target and Walmart have thus far refused requests from the Attorney General’s office to take affirmative measures sufficient to ensure that they do not again import, distribute, and sell other toys that place New York children at risk of adverse health consequences from lead exposure. Because of this, the lawsuit asks the court to direct the companies to adopt specific measures to ensure that the toys they sell do not again put New York children at risk from lead exposure, including:
- Conducting random product testing of imported toys to ensure they comply with applicable regulations; and
- Ensuring each imported toy has a valid certificate of compliance.
Lead is a known neurotoxin that can cause significant harm to human health. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. Children are especially vulnerable to these and other health risks posed by exposure to lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.
This matter is being handled for Attorney General Underwood by Affirmative Litigation Section Chief Yueh-ru Chu, Assistant Attorney General Channing Wistar-Jones, Chief Scientist Jodi Feld, and Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner, all of the Environmental Protection Bureau, and Senior Advisor and Special Counsel Laura Wood. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Matthew Colangelo.
New Report Documents Widespread Groundwater Contamination at Georgia Coal Ash Dumpsites
Toxic coal ash pollutants are leaking into groundwater from 92 percent of Georgia coal-fired power plants, according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice of industry data made available for the first time this year.
Public utility data examined for the report show that all of Georgia Power’s coal ash ponds that have been accepting waste over the last three years fail to comply with 2015 EPA coal ash regulations. These regulations require that disposal sites be built more than five feet above groundwater with no underground connections that could allow them to leak pollutants into the aquifer.
Georgia’s coal-fired power plants. Eleven of the state’s 12 coal-fired power plants are leaking pollution into the state’s underground water supplies.
“Georgia is at a crossroads with respect to the toxic legacy of coal-burning,” said Environmental Integrity Project attorney Abel Russ, one of the authors of the report. “If coal ash is left buried in groundwater, then the contamination we see now will only get worse, and it will continue for generations. Hopefully, Georgia will take the other path, and require the real cleanup of all coal ash dumps, including those that were abandoned years ago.”
Earthjustice Senior Counsel Lisa Evans, co-author of the report, said: “Because utilities were forced to report groundwater monitoring data by the 2015 coal ash rule, as well as report whether their coal ash ponds are actually sitting in groundwater, we now know the scope and severity of water contamination from coal ash in Georgia. Now that communities can see the evidence of toxic pollution leaking from these ponds, they can hold utilities accountable. Georgia Power should not be let off the hook.”
For decades, Georgia Power has operated power plants that generate tens of millions of tons of coal ash
, the toxic byproduct of burning coal. The coal ash was mixed with water and dumped primarily in unlined basins or ponds near the plants. These ponds operated for years with little or no state or federal oversight. In 2015, federal coal ash regulations
(the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule
“CCR rule”) required utilities to report data from groundwater monitoring on public websites. In March of 2018, these data became available to the public for the first time. The “Georgia at a Crossroads”
report analyzes these newly-available groundwater monitoring data.
Coal ash contains a hazardous brew of toxic pollutants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, radium, selenium and more. The toxics in coal ash can cause cancer, heart disease, reproductive failure, and stroke, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children. Georgia Power owns all of the contaminated waste sites located near lakes and rivers.
Jennette Gayer, the Director of Environment Georgia, said: "This report gives new energy to the efforts of Environment Georgia and the Georgia Water Coalition to ensure all coal ash in Georgia is stored in dry, lined, and capped facilities. We call on Georgia Power, Governor-elect Kemp and the Georgia Legislature to prevent further contamination of our waterways from coal ash."
The data provided by Georgia Power indicate that unsafe levels of hazardous toxins, including arsenic, cobalt, boron, radium, and molybdenum, have contaminated the groundwater at 10 of Georgia Power’s 11 coal plants. Most drinking water wells near the sites have not been tested for toxins, so it is not known if the contaminated groundwater is currently threatening public health. However, since Georgia Power intends to leave most of its coal ash permanently in these leaking ponds, the sites will continue to release pollutants into Georgia’s waters.
The report, “Georgia at a Crossroads
,” features data released by power companies on their websites for the first time in 2018 in response to requirements in the 2015 EPA coal ash regulations. Some of the local examples highlighted in the report include:
- At Plant Hammond in Floyd County, the groundwater has levels of arsenic (a carcinogen) up to 40 times the federal standard;
- At Plant Bowen near Euharlee, located 50 miles northwest of Atlanta, groundwater has levels of boron (an element that can cause low birth weight and stunted growth in children as well as harm male reproductive organs) up to 10 times its safe level; and levels of antimony (which can also reduce fetal growth) up to 3 times its safe level;
- At the now-closed Plant Harlee Branch in Milledgeville, southeast of Atlanta, cobalt (which can cause heart damage) exceeds safe levels in five wells, with concentrations up to 50 times the health-based standard;
- At Plant McIntosh near Rincon, north of Savannah, both arsenic and lithium levels are more than 3 times their safe levels;
- Plant Scherer in Juliette, in central Georgia, has a widespread cobalt contamination problem, with average levels in eight wells exceeding the health-based standard, in some cases by 20 times or more;
- Plant Wansley near Carrollton, in West Georgia, also has a cobalt problem, with unsafe levels in 11 wells, and also has unsafe levels of boron, lithium, radium, and sulfate;
- At Plant Yates, near Newnan, southwest of Atlanta, beryllium, boron and cobalt all exceed safe levels in one or more wells.
“The people of Georgia deserve to have their rivers, lakes and water supplies protected from the arsenic and other toxic pollutants leaking out of these unlined coal ash ponds,” said Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper. “Our Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers, Lakes Sinclair & Oconee, the Golden Isles and all our waterways in Georgia are precious resources for our communities. It is over-due for utilities to stop polluting our waters, our heritage and excavate all these leaking ponds.”
Chris Bowers, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said: “Moving coal ash to dry, lined storage out of our groundwater and away from our rivers is the only solution that we know works to stop this ongoing pollution. Georgia Power has already proved that removal is appropriate and feasible at several of its smaller sites and ponds in coastal areas — it’s time to apply that standard for responsible handling of coal ash across the board at every site.”
On November 17, 2018, all utilities nationwide were required by the federal coal ash rule to publish evidence of compliance with safe siting requirements. All 10 of the ash ponds owned by Georgia Power that were required to document their compliance admitted to violating the federal rule that requires the bottom of coal ash ponds to be five feet above groundwater or have no connection between the aquifer and the ash pond.
The 10 coal ash ponds that violate the aquifer separation requirement are located at 6 plants, including Plant Bowen, Hammond, McIntosh, Scherer, Wansley, and Yates. At four of these unlined ponds, Georgia Power intends to permanently leave at least 30 million tons of coal ash, even though the bottoms of the ponds are in contact with groundwater. Such permanent placement will ensure that toxic contaminants will continue to be released to Georgia waters.
Lastly, the report documents the apparent violation of federal and state law regarding leaking coal ash landfills at six Georgia Power plants, including Plant Bowen, Hammond, McIntosh, Scherer, Wansley and Yates. At five of the plants, Georgia Power has posted data indicating the landfills are leaking pollutants at harmful levels to the groundwater. Georgia Power, however, has not commenced the required monitoring to determine the extent of the contamination and determine whether cleanup is necessary, as required by state law and the federal CCR rule.
In July of 2018, the EPA, under Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler began the process of rolling back the rule that requires utilities like Georgia Power to report groundwater monitoring data at their plants. Earthjustice filed a petition for review
of that rulemaking, and it is currently under review in federal court.
In August of 2018, Earthjustice, on behalf of clients, secured a legal victory
that would strengthen the 2015 rule and address hundreds of coal ash sites previously unregulated by the federal government, including legacy coal ash ponds owned by Georgia Power.
In April of 2018 Georgia filed an application
for approval of a state-run coal ash program, which would cede federal authority over coal ash regulations to the State.
New Study Finding Scientific Basis for EPA’s Endangerment Finding Is Stronger Than Ever
A new study published by Science
last week, led by Woods Hole Research Center’s (WHRC) Phil Duffy, has found that scientific evidence supporting the EPA’s 2009 Endangerment Finding for greenhouse gases is even stronger and more conclusive now. This finding could strengthen challenges to proposed efforts to rollback emissions standards and carbon emissions regulations in the United States.
In the landmark Endangerment Finding the EPA determined that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, which created a legal obligation for the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Science paper comes three months after a senior Republican senator said that the Trump Administration might still try to repeal the landmark decision.
“When the Endangerment Finding was issued, the evidence supporting it was extremely compelling,” said Phil Duffy, lead author on the paper. “Now, that evidence is even stronger and more comprehensive. There’s no scientific basis for questioning the endangerment finding.”
The Science paper includes 16 authors from 15 different organizations, including WHRC’s Dr. Sue Natali. It assesses how the scientific evidence has changed in the nine years since the finding was issued, with a specific focus on climate change impacts for public health, air quality, agriculture, forestry, water resources, sea level rise, energy, infrastructure, wildlife, ocean acidification, social instability, and the economy.
“There is no question that public health and welfare are endangered by climate change and we know that with much more confidence now than we did in 2009,” said study co-author Chris Field, Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The paper examines each topic covered by the Endangerment Finding and characterizes changes since 2009 in terms of evidence of links to anthropogenic climate change, severity of observed and projected impacts, and new risks.
“For each of the areas addressed in the [Endangerment Finding], the amount, diversity, and sophistication of the evidence has increased dramatically, clearly strengthening the case for endangerment,” according to the paper.
The study expands the range of negative impacts from climate change beyond those listed in 2009 to include increased dangers from ocean acidification, effects on national security and economic well-being, and even threats from violence.
“Much of what we’ve learned since the original Endangerment Finding in 2009 arises from extreme events,” said study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh, Kara J Foundation Professor of Earth System Science and Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at Stanford University. “Our understanding of how global warming influences the odds of heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, storm surge flooding, and wildfires has increased dramatically in the last decade, as has our understanding of the related impacts, such as how hot conditions affect mental health, violence, and economic productivity.”
NYU Researchers Pioneer Machine Learning to Speed Chemical Discoveries, Reduce Waste
Machine learning algorithms can predict stock market fluctuations, control complex manufacturing processes, enable navigation for robots and driverless vehicles, and much more.
Now, researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering are tapping a new set of capabilities in this field of artificial intelligence, combining artificial neural networks with infrared thermal imaging to control and interpret chemical reactions with precision and speed that far outpace conventional methods. More innovative still is the fact that this technique was developed and tested on novel microreactors that allow chemical discoveries to take place quickly and with far less environmental waste than standard large-scale reactions.
“This system can reduce the decision-making process about certain chemical manufacturing processes from one year to a matter of weeks, saving tons of chemical waste and energy in the process,” said Ryan Hartman,
an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NYU Tandon and lead author of a paper detailing the method in the journal Computers & Chemical Engineering.
Last year, Hartman introduced a new class of miniaturized chemical reactors that brings reactions traditionally carried out in large-batch reactors with up to 100 liters of chemicals down to the microscale, using just microliters of fluid — a few small drops. These microfluidic reactors are useful for analyzing catalysts for manufacturing or discovering compounds and studying interactions in drug development, and they promise to reduce waste, speed innovation, and improve the safety of chemical research.
Hartman and his team have increased the utility of these reactors by pairing them with two additional technologies: infrared thermography, an imaging technique that captures a thermal map displaying changes in heat during a chemical reaction, and supervised machine learning, a discipline of artificial intelligence wherein an algorithm learns to interpret data based on inputs selected by researchers controlling the experiments.
Paired together, they allow researchers to capture changes in thermal energy during chemical reactions — as indicated by color changes on the thermal image — and to interpret these changes quickly. Due to the non-contact nature of infrared thermography, the technique can even be utilized for reactions that operate at extreme temperatures or in extreme conditions, such as a bioreactor that requires a sterile field.
The research team is the first to train an artificial neural network to control and interpret infrared thermal images of a thermoelectrically cooled microfluidic device. The potential impacts on both innovation and sustainability are significant. Large chemical companies may screen hundreds of catalysts while developing new polymers, for example, and each reaction can require more than 100 liters of chemicals and 24 hours or longer. Screening that number of catalysts using current laboratory processes can take a year. Using Hartman’s approach, the entire process can be accomplished in weeks, with exponentially less waste and energy usage. Hartman estimates that a single industrial hood used to control fumes during large-scale chemical testing uses as much energy per year as the average U.S. home.
A grant from the NSF also supported the team’s research and enabled students in the laboratory to build the world's first artificially intelligent microreactor.
An Energy-Efficient Way to Stay Warm: Sew High-Tech Heating Patches to Your Clothes
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes – while significantly reducing your electric bill and carbon footprint?
Engineers at Rutgers and Oregon State University have found a cost-effective way to make thin, durable heating patches by using intense pulses of light to fuse tiny silver wires with polyester. Their heating performance is nearly 70% higher than similar patches created by other researchers, according to a Rutgers-led study in Scientific Reports
It is estimated that 47% of global energy is used for indoor heating, and 42% of that energy is wasted to heat empty space and objects instead of people, the study notes. Solving the global energy crisis – a major contributor to global warming – would require a sharp reduction in energy for indoor heating.
Personal thermal management, which focuses on heating the human body as needed, is an emerging potential solution. Such patches may also someday help warm anyone who works or plays outdoors.
The Rutgers and Oregon State engineers created highly efficient, flexible, durable and inexpensive heating patches by using “intense pulsed-light sintering” to fuse silver nanowires – thousands of times thinner than a human hair – to polyester fibers, using pulses of high-energy light. The process takes 300 millionths of a second, according to the study funded by the National Science Foundation and Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
When compared with the current state of the art in thermal patches, the Rutgers and Oregon State creation generates more heat per patch area and is more durable after bending, washing and exposure to humidity and high temperature.
Next steps include seeing if this method can be used to create other smart fabrics, including patch-based sensors and circuits. The engineers also want to determine how many patches would be needed and where they should be placed on people to keep them comfortable while reducing indoor energy consumption.
Oh No - Switching to a Home Battery Won’t Help Save the World from Climate Change
Home energy storage systems might save you money, but under current policies, they would also often increase carbon emissions. That is the conclusion reached by a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego in a study
published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
Conventional wisdom may suggest that these storage systems, which are essentially household batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall, could be instrumental in weaning ourselves off greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources. But deploying them today, without making fundamental policy and regulatory reforms, risks increasing emissions instead.
If residents use these systems to reduce their electricity bills, the batteries would draw energy from the grid when it is cheapest. And because utilities don’t structure how much they charge with the goal of lowering emissions, the cheapest power often comes from power sources that emit carbon, such as coal. In addition, batteries do not operate at 100 percent efficiency: as a result, households that use them draw more power from the electric grid than they actually need.
For the systems to actually reduce greenhouse gasses, utilities need to change their tariff structures substantially to account for emissions from different power sources. They would need to make energy cheaper for consumers when the grid is generating low-carbon electricity, researchers said.
The first-of-its-kind study, conducted by a research team from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Jacobs School of Engineering, modeled how residential energy storage systems would operate in the real world. The study modeled deployment across a wide range of regions, utilities and battery operation modes.
“We sought to answer: what if consumers on their own or in response to policy pressure adopt these systems? Would greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power system go down, and at what economic cost?” said lead author Oytun Babacan, a postdoctoral scholar at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.
The systems are so new that they are not in many homes. But this year saw a substantial increase in installations, with sales tripling from January to September of 2018.
When the systems are set up to operate with the goal of cutting emissions, they can indeed reduce average household emissions by 2.2 to 6.4%. But the monetary incentive that customers would have to receive from utilities to start using their home systems with the goal of reducing emissions is equivalent to anywhere from $180 to $5160 per metric ton of CO2.
“This is impractically high, and very high compared to other emissions reducing options that are available,” said Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, who earned his Ph.D. at the Jacobs School of Engineering. “Most households adopting energy storage are likely to choose equipment vendors and operation modes that allow them to minimize electricity costs, leading to increased emissions,” Babacan added.
“Thus, policymakers should be careful about assuming that decentralization will clean the electric power system, especially if it proceeds without carbon-mindful tariff reforms that aim to reduce residential energy bills and energy consumption associated CO2 emissions,” he said.
Absent tariff reform, policymakers could still encourage environmentally beneficial operation of the devices by ensuring that system developers and equipment vendors favor clean energy use by tracking and adjusting to variations in marginal emissions across the bulk grid, the authors noted.
Although the systems do not encourage cost-effective emissions control at the moment, authors were quick to note that the advantages of batteries should not be overlooked.
“There is an enormous upside to these systems in terms of flexibility and saving households money,” the authors said. “While the increase in home batteries deployment is underway, we need to work on multiple fronts to ensure that their adoption is carbon minded.”
Researchers selected 16 of the largest utilities companies in the country and dug into their tariff structure, carrying out the first systematic analysis of how much utility companies charge residential customers to forecast the economic and environmental impact of these systems, if they were to be widely deployed across the country.
Residential energy storage systems present a promising avenue for policymakers and companies such as Tesla seeking to decentralize electric power systems, reducing costs to consumers in the process.
In addition to Tesla, companies such as Evolve have invested heavily in residential energy storage systems. There also is an increasing interest in states such as New York and California to decentralize energy, both to empower consumers with greater control over their energy choices, and to create competition in a sector traditionally structured around regulated monopolies. With energy storage widely expected to play an integral role in efforts to deeply decarbonize the electric power system, organizations like the California Energy Commission are also actively advocating for their use.
Co-authors of the study include Ahmed Abdulla from the Center for Energy Research and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral scholar from the School of Global Policy and Strategy as well as professors Jan Kleissl from the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor from the School of Global Policy and Strategy.
Yolo County District Attorney’s Office Announces $7.4 Million Statewide Settlement with Target for Continued Environmental Violations
Yolo County, California District Attorney Jeff Reisig, as part of a coalition including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and 23 local governments, announced a $7.4 million statewide settlement with Target Corporation. The settlement with Target, a Minnesota-based corporation, includes enhanced environmental compliance measures and injunctive terms. The settlement resolves allegations that Target violated state laws and injunctive terms from a 2011 stipulated judgment regarding the company’s handling and disposal of retail hazardous waste. The current settlement follows investigations of Target’s conduct alleging that between 2012 and 2016, the company committed violations by improperly disposing into landfills hazardous waste. The improper waste included items such as electronics, batteries, aerosol cans, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and medical waste such as over-the-counter and prescribed pharmaceuticals, as well as confidential medical information from its customers.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig stated, “Our office helped initiate this investigation, was integral throughout the process of working with Target to modify their processes, and in doing so helped ensure the safety of the public and the protection of the environment from improper disposal of hazardous waste by companies under their duty to follow our environmental regulations statewide.”
“Target’s ongoing and improper disposal of hazardous waste and contaminants harmed the public and the environment,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We are confident that with these strong injunctive terms and penalties, Target will implement meaningful changes to prevent this from ever happening again. However, the wise move for all companies is to abide by the law and employ proactive training and processes to help ensure that hazardous waste violations are avoided in the first place.”
This is the second settlement resolving allegations of Target’s hazardous waste compliance violations. In March 2009, the California Department of Justice and several local prosecutors, including the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, filed a complaint against Target alleging that it violated state statutes and regulations governing the handling and disposal of hazardous waste. As part of the final settlement in 2011, Target agreed to pay $22.5 million for penalties, attorneys’ fees, and funding for supplemental environmental projects, and to comply with injunctive terms. These included annual compliance audits by an independent contractor and terms forbidding Target from disposing or causing the disposal of hazardous waste from any Target facility to any unauthorized location, landfill, or transfer station.
Throughout 2012 and 2014, representatives of district attorneys’ offices along with local regulatory agencies inspected Target’s trash compactors, finding many instances of additional violations. The prosecutors alleged that during that time, Target unlawfully disposed of a total of 2,038 items of hazardous waste, 175 items of confidential medical information of customers, and 94 items of medical waste. The prosecuting offices understood that these findings represented just the tip of an iceberg of discoverable violations when extrapolated to several hundred locations statewide. After notifying Target of the violations, the prosecutors entered into an agreement with the company to revise the judgment entered as part of the 2011 settlement to resolve the violations detected by the prosecutors’ post-judgment investigation.
The revised final judgment terms approved by the Alameda County Superior Court includes $3.2 million in civil penalties; $300,000 for funding of supplemental environmental projects undertaken by entities other than Target, including $50,000 to conduct education classes and programs for owners and operators of small businesses located in low income and minority areas in California; additional requirements that Target expend at least $3 million to conduct three annual inspections and audits of 12 facilities, and provide reports to the Attorney General and local prosecutors, and create and implement a customer trash receptacle inspection and management program; and $900,000 for attorneys’ fees and costs of investigation and enforcement.
In addition to Yolo County, also joining Attorney General Becerra in filing this settlement are the Counties of Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Fresno, Humboldt, Kings, Los Angeles, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Ventura; and the Cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.
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