The EPA has proposed the first of two rules that will amend the regulations for the disposal of coal combustion residuals, also known as CCR or coal ash, from electric utilities and independent power producers. EPA’s Regulatory Impact Assessment indicated this proposal, if finalized, could save the utility sector up to $100 million per year in compliance costs.
EPA estimates this proposed rule would save the regulated community between $31 million and $100 million per year. The proposed rule includes more than a dozen changes to the 2015 final CCR rule, which established minimum national standards regulating the location, design, and operation of existing and new CCR landfills and surface impoundments at more than 400 coal-fired power plants nationwide.
The final 2015 CCR rule remains subject to litigation pending before the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The proposal addresses four provisions of the 2015 CCR rule that the D.C. Circuit remanded back to EPA in 2016, as well as additional provisions in response to comments received since the final rule went into effect and a petition for rulemaking EPA received in May 2017.
The proposal would allow alternative performance standards for coal ash disposal units with operating permits issued under an approved state or federal coal ash permit program. The proposal also requests comment on whether a regulated facility could develop and implement similar alternative standards that would be subject to oversight and enforcement by EPA. Many of the proposed changes are based on the environmental protections and regulatory flexibilities contained in EPA’s longstanding rules governing disposal of municipal solid waste. The proposal includes:
- A change to allow a state regulatory program to establish alternative risk-based groundwater protection standards for constituents that do not have an established maximum contaminant level (MCL), rather than the use of background levels that are currently required. The proposal also requests public comment on whether a facility may be allowed to establish alternative risk-based standards using a certified professional engineer or other means, subject to EPA oversight.
- A request for comment on whether the current deadlines for groundwater monitoring and analysis remain appropriate in light of the new legal authorities and potential regulatory changes.
- A request for public comment on modifying the location restrictions and associated deadlines concerning construction or operation of a CCR landfill or surface impoundment in certain areas.
- Changes to allow states to establish alternative requirements for how facilities respond to and remediate releases from CCR landfills and surface impoundments. The proposal also requests comment on allowing states to determine when an unlined surface impoundment that is leaking may undertake corrective action rather than be forced to stop receiving CCR and close.
- The addition of boron to the list of constituents for which facilities would need to perform assessment monitoring.
- Streamlined administrative procedures that a facility may comply with if there is a non-groundwater release that can be addressed within 180 days. EPA also requests comment on whether this time period is appropriate.
- Modification of the performance standard for vegetative slope protection to protect against erosion and failure of a surface impoundment.
- A change to the closure provisions to allow the use of coal ash during the closure process and to allow non-CCR waste to continue to be placed in a CCR surface impoundment that is subject to closure.
When the final CCR rule was issued in 2015, EPA did not have the authority to allow states to become authorized to administer their own CCR permit programs in lieu of the federal regulations or to provide alternative regulatory standards and compliance options. However, in 2016, Congress amended the RCRA with passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act), which provides authority for states to become authorized to operate CCR permit programs “in lieu of the federal regulations,” as long as the EPA determines that the state’s requirements are at least as protective as the standards in the 2015 final rule or successor regulations. The WIIN Act also provided EPA new authority to provide oversight of CCR units.
EPA will accept public comment on this proposal for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register and plans to hold a public hearing to receive additional feedback on the proposal during the public comment period. EPA also plans to propose additional changes to the CCR rule later this year.
Charleston Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Charleston, SC, on March 19-21 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.
Jacksonville Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Jacksonville, FL, on March 27-29 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.
Register for Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in New Orleans, LA, on April 3-5 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.
Groundwater Monitoring Reveals Widespread Radioactivity at Duke Energy Coal Plants
March 2 was the deadline for coal-fired power plants to post the results of their groundwater monitoring under the EPA’s 2015 rule regulating the storage and disposal of coal ash. EPA required such monitoring to determine the extent to which coal ash impoundments and landfills were contaminating groundwater. The results confirm the widespread groundwater contamination caused by coal ash around the country. In particular, Duke Energy’s results reveal startlingly high levels of radioactivity at 11 out of 18 plants.
Contrary to industry practices, Duke Energy did not summarize its groundwater monitoring results in a table, but did include the results in more than 20,000 pages of lab results. Earthjustice Senior Attorney Lisa Evans took close look at the data, and found data indicating high levels of radioactivity at a majority of its plants.
“The way Duke Energy presented its data showed a clear intent to obscure the findings,” said Earthjustice Senior Administrative Counsel and coal ash expert Lisa Evans. “Despite Duke’s efforts, we found that the data reveal levels of radium in groundwater that far exceed EPA’s drinking water standards and that could clearly harm people who use this water for drinking.”
This level of contamination is even more concerning considering that EPA’s standard for radioactivity in drinking water, written in 1976, is considered outdated and not as protective as needed. California has released public health goals for radioactive elements in drinking water that are about a hundred times more stringent than EPA’s standard. The Environmental Working Group recently released a study finding that the drinking water of more than 170 million Americans is radioactive enough to increase the risk of cancer.
Levels of radioactivity from radium at the Marshall coal-fired power plant on Lake Norman were 2.5 times the federal drinking water standard. Thallium levels at Marshall also exceeded federal standards and were 18 times higher than the North Carolina groundwater standard. Ash ponds at Marshall are still leaking into surface water and groundwater upstream of drinking water intakes for more than 1 million people in the Charlotte region. Together, these alarming results mean that Marshall ash facilities are much more polluted than previously disclosed.
Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, noted, “This is yet another extremely concerning case of new information about Duke discharging dangerous pollutants from its property. Given Duke’s criminal history and ongoing probation, I am alarmed that Duke has failed to learn from its past mistakes. Duke must take ownership of its problems and stop hiding this information from their neighbors and the millions of people who depend on the Catawba River for drinking water.
The highest levels of radioactivity were found at Duke Energy’s Asheville Power Plant, with levels of radium in groundwater 38 times what EPA considers safe for drinking water. “These results confirm that we were right to force Duke Energy to commit to removing the coal ash from the leaking ash ponds at their Asheville site,” said Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper. “We need to ensure that Duke’s clean-up of the site stops the release of dangerous pollutants to our groundwater.”
In addition to the alarming levels of radioactivity from radium, the results demonstrate that Duke Energy is contaminating groundwater with arsenic, lead, and a host of other toxic pollutants. “Despite the clear evidence that coal-fired power plants such as those owned by Duke Energy are endangering lives with their pollution, Scott Pruitt’s EPA continues its misguided effort to eliminate even the bare minimum standards,” said Larissa Liebmann, Staff Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Just last night, EPA released revisions showing its intent to cripple the very rule that requires this sampling and the release of these data.”
Dyno-Nobel, Inc. Plead Guilty for Failing to Notify Federal Authorities of Ammonia Discharges
On February 23, 2018, Dyno Nobel, Inc., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon to one count of violating section 103(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), following a series of large-scale ammonia discharges from a urea-manufacturing plant outside St. Helens, Oregon, in July and August 2015. The offense is a class-E felony, carrying a maximum fine of $500,000 and up to five years’ probation.
“Many of the nation’s environmental laws exist specifically to minimize the dangers essential industries pose to surrounding communities,” noted Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, “and this criminal conviction will serve as an important reminder that the EPA and the United States Attorney’s Office will work together to ensure that violations of those laws do not go unpunished.”
“Not only did this defendant release over six tons of anhydrous ammonia, impacting the neighboring community, they impeded response actions by failing to report the release,” said Jeanne Proctor, EPA’s special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division in Seattle. “EPA will not tolerate this blatant disregard for public safety.”
According to Dyno Nobel’s plea agreement with the government, the company’s St. Helens plant discharged more than six tons of anhydrous ammonia vapor—a hazardous substance—into the air over the course of a three-day period starting on July 30, 2015. A subsequent investigation revealed that several failed attempts to restart the urea plant had caused a series of massive discharges from the facility, triggering numerous complaints of foul odors, eye irritation, and difficulty breathing from citizens of nearby Columbia City, Oregon.
Although Dyno Nobel personnel knew that excessive ammonia emissions were occurring, no effort was made to alert the authorities at the National Response Center until August 7, 2015—more than a week after the first discharge. Federal law requires such reports to be made immediately.
Dyno Nobel, Inc. is a Delaware corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of IPL Group. The company entered its guilty plea at the hearing through Senior Vice President and Secretary Jeff Droubay. The parties’ plea agreement proposes a stipulated criminal sentence of two years’ probation, requiring remedial steps to better measure and detect future emissions, and a $250,000 criminal fine. Ultimately, however, the Court may reject the parties’ stipulation and impose a different sentence.
This case was investigated by EPA Criminal Investigations; it was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan W. Bounds and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla Gebel Perrin.
Catalyst Could Increase Fuel Efficiency 8%
Gasoline-powered automobiles could achieve an 8 percent or greater fuel efficiency gain through a new combustion strategy developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Scientists have demonstrated a new method for reforming fuel over a catalyst, a process that chemically converts fuel into a hydrogen-rich blend. This blend allows more work to be extracted from the engine cylinders, increasing efficiency and saving fuel. “Typically, you incur a fuel penalty when reforming fuel,” said ORNL’s Jim Szybist. “We’ve created a systematic approach that addresses that issue and can be used with conventional fuels and conventional emissions controls.” The team published the method in Energy & Fuels and is working at ORNL’s National Transportation Research Center to demonstrate similar fuel savings at a wider range of engine operation.
Trident Seafood Fined $297,000 for Discharges of Fish Waste
Trident Seafoods Corporation, the US Department of Justice, and the EPA have reached an agreement to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act for discharges of fish waste at two seafood processing facilities in Sand Point and Wrangell, Alaska.
Under the agreement, Trident will remove nearly three-and-a-half acres of waste from the seafloor near its Sand Point plant and limit the amount of seafood waste discharged from its Wrangell plant.
“We are pleased that Trident has committed to removing the waste pile at Sand Point and to continue reducing the amount of seafood waste discharges from its operations,” said Edward Kowalski, Director of the EPA Region 10 Office of Compliance and Enforcement. “This settlement is the result of a productive and successful collaboration with Trident, and will help protect the seafloor, surrounding water quality, and important habitat for a variety of marine life.”
Trident has operated a fish meal plant at Sand Point since 1996 to help limit the amount of fish waste discharged to marine waters. Yet after decades of processing, the historic waste pile exceeds the allowable one-acre limit and continues to impair the health of the seafloor. Unauthorized discharges of seafood processing waste lead to large seafood waste piles which contain bones, shells, and other organic materials that accumulate on the seafloor. Seafood waste piles create anoxic, or oxygen-depleted conditions that result in unsuitable habitats for fish and other living organisms.
In addition to removing the Sand Point waste pile, Trident has committed to installing state-of-the-art filter technology to prevent most solids, including fish tissue, from being released to marine waters when fish are transferred from supply boats to the plant. At the Wrangell plant, Trident has agreed to screen out most solid seafood wastes, which will reduce or eliminate waste discharges to the nearshore marine environment. Annual dive surveys at both processing plants will monitor the size of any accumulated seafood waste to ensure continued compliance with permit requirements. The EPA expects the combination of these measures to improve water quality and help ensure Trident’s long-term compliance with the Clean Water Act.
Trident also agreed to pay a $297,000 civil penalty and to conduct a comprehensive audit of the company’s system for monitoring environmental compliance.
The proposed settlement, lodged in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.
Green Process Turns Dad Jeans into Fab Jeans
No one wants to be caught wearing dad jeans. And so while denim trends are always evolving, it’s clear that the vintage look has legs. Now Levi Strauss & Co. has a faster and greener process to make new jeans look old. It is swapping oxidizing chemicals and pumice stones for digital image files and fabric-zapping lasers.
To make jeans with wear attributes like whisker patterns, worn spots, or crackle textures, Levi’s designers are rolling out digital image software for placing each detail. At the manufacturing plant, the digital file will guide a laser to embed the design. Then the garment will be rinsed as usual.
The process reduces the number of chemicals needed to produce today’s endless variations of worn and faded jeans, according to Levi’s. It is common to finish a pair of denim jeans using pumice stones and 15 types of chemicals, including bleaches, peroxides, enzymes, acids, lubricants, wetting agents, and softeners.
One finishing chemical Levi’s says it plans to do away with is potassium permanganate (KMnO4), a strong oxidizer. Overall, the new process will help the company reach its commitment to eliminate discharges of hazardous chemicals by 2020. In addition, using fewer chemicals in washes and rinses will help the company expand its program to recycle water at its facilities.
Levi’s says the digital process will greatly speed up its manufacturing. Until now, workers made wear patterns on each pair by hand. By using lasers, workers can produce a distressed-looking garment in 90 seconds versus 20 or 30 minutes. By making “just in time” jean designs, Levi’s can avoid waste when tastes change.
“We believe it is possible to be both agile and sustainable without compromising the authenticity our consumers expect from us,” Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh commented on the company’s blog.
Tyson Poultry Fined $2 Million for Violating the Clean Water Act
Tyson Poultry Inc. was sentenced in federal court in Springfield, Missouri, to pay a $2 million criminal fine, serve two years of probation, and pay $500,000 to directly remedy harm caused when it violated the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department announced. The charges stemmed from discharges at Tyson’s slaughter and processing facility in Monett, Missouri that led to a major fish kill event.
Tyson Poultry, the nation’s largest chicken producer, is headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, and is a subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc. According to court records, Tyson Poultry’s conviction arose out of a spill at its feed mill in Aurora, Missouri, where it mixed ingredients to produce chicken feed. One ingredient was a liquid food supplement called “Alimet,” which is a very strong acid with a pH of less than one. In May 2014, the tank used to store Alimet at the Aurora feed mill sprang a leak. Tyson had the spilled substance transported to its Monett plant where the Alimet was then discharged into the sewers and flowed into the City of Monett municipal waste water treatment plant. The Alimet killed bacteria used to reduce ammonia in discharges from the treatment plant. As a result, more ammonia was released from the plant into Clear Creek, and approximately 108,000 fish were killed.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Tyson Poultry also agreed to retain an independent, third-party auditor to examine environmental compliance at Tyson Poultry facilities across the country; conduct specialized environmental training at all of its poultry processing plants, hatcheries, feed mills, rendering plants, and waste water treatment plants; and implement improved policies and procedures to address the circumstances that gave rise to these violations.
“Good corporate practices are vital to protecting public health and our nation’s natural resources,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Environment & Natural Resources Division. “When corporate misconduct disregards human safety or the environment in violation of federal laws, the Department of Justice and EPA stand ready to pursue all necessary legal relief, including criminal penalties, to ensure that these acts do not go unpunished. We hope that the outcome of this case will be a lesson for all companies that deal with dangerous wastes.”
“Today’s sentence not only remedies the harm Tyson Poultry caused locally, but puts safeguards in place to prevent similar occurrences at Tyson Poultry facilities across the country,” said US Attorney Timothy A. Garrison for the Western District of Missouri. “Tyson’s $2.5 million fine and restitution payment reflects the seriousness of this offense and our commitment to protect Missouri’s natural resources.”
“Today’s sentencing not only holds Tyson Poultry accountable for their illegal actions, it includes important requirements for the company to improve compliance with the law to prevent future violations,” said Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case exemplifies EPA’s commitment to protect clean water by pursuing the most egregious violations.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood and Acting US Attorney Larson thanked the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for its work in this investigation. The case was prosecuted by Senior Counsel Kris Dighe of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant US Attorneys Patrick Carney and Casey Clark of the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.
Sea World Management & Trading Fined $2.25 Million for Oil and Garbage Offenses
Sea World Management & Trading, Inc. and Edmon Fajardo have been convicted for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oil and garbage from an oil tanker that was operating off the coast of Texas, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood and US Attorney Ryan K. Patrick for the Southern District of Texas. The defendants were also sentenced by the court.
Sea World Management & Trading, Inc. and Fajardo pleaded guilty to two felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a), for failing to accurately maintain the Sea Faith’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the company will pay a total fine of $2.25 million and serve a 3-year term of probation during which all vessels operated by the company and calling on US ports will be required to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan. Fajardo was sentenced to six months incarceration to be followed by two years supervised release and a $2,000 fine.
Sea World Management & Trading, Inc. is a tank vessel operating company, and Fajardo is the master of the tank vessel Sea Faith. Both admitted that oil cargo residues and machinery space bilge water were illegally dumped from the Sea Faith directly into the ocean while the vessel was transiting to Corpus Christi, Texas without the use of required pollution prevention equipment. They also admitted that these discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s Oil Record Book as required. Specifically, on five different occasions between March 10, 2017, and March 18, 2017, Fajardo ordered crew members to illegally discharge oily waste from various locations of the vessel’s cargo/deck spaces. These oily waste discharges bypassed the use of the vessel’s required oil discharge monitoring equipment and were done while the vessel was in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sea World Management & Trading, Inc. and Fajardo further admitted that on March 10, 2017, and March 15, 2017, Fajardo ordered crew members to throw plastics, empty steel drums, oily rags, batteries, and empty paint cans directly overboard into the ocean. None of these garbage discharges were recorded as required in the vessel’s Garbage Record Book.
Refinery Ordered to Clean-up Illegal Hazardous Waste Storage
California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) ordered the Los Angeles-based Torrance Refining Co. to remove or recycle large amounts of hazardous waste the company illegally stored in bins at its oil refinery in Torrance.
“The company illegally stockpiled hazardous waste rather than properly recycling or disposing of it,” said DTSC Director Barbara A. Lee. “This activity could harm public health and the environment, and we take that seriously,” said Lee.
The enforcement order follows a joint inspection of the refinery with the EPA that found more than half a dozen violations of state and federal hazardous waste laws. DTSC coordinated with U.S. EPA in issuing the enforcement order.
The December 2016 inspection found that Torrance Refining had illegally accumulated more than 300 bins, each with a 20-cubic-yard capacity, of hazardous waste. The refinery did not have the necessary equipment to recycle or process the waste and stored it without a permit or authorization from DTSC.
The order requires Torrance Refining to recycle or dispose of the hazardous waste within certain timelines. The company will also face financial penalties for these violations.
DTSC, in coordination with EPA, is preparing to take further enforcement action to address additional violations found during the joint inspection, including storage of hazardous waste in containers and tanks without a permit or authorization and failure to make a determination that the materials were hazardous waste.
PBF Energy, which owns Torrance Refining, purchased the facility from ExxonMobil in July 2016. The facility is capable of processing an average of 155,000 barrels of crude oil daily and producing 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year. The operations of the facility include the blending of gasoline and the production of diesel fuel, jet fuel, liquefied petroleum gases, coke and sulfur.
$50,000 Fine for Asbestos and Stormwater Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined construction contractor Tapani Inc. $27,400 and property development company Jackson Hills IV LLC $26,286 for violating asbestos and stormwater regulations at a 19-acre development site in Happy Valley.
Jackson Hills allowed Tapani to demolish a house with floor and wall materials that contained asbestos and openly accumulate the demolition debris in September 2017.
Asbestos fibers cause lung cancer and other illnesses—there is no known safe level of exposure. To protect public health, DEQ requires that specially trained and licensed contractors remove all asbestos-containing materials prior to demolition. Tapani lacked the required license when it demolished the house.
DEQ inspectors also measured highly turbid, or muddy, stormwater discharging from the site into Mitchell Creek. Turbid stormwater poses a threat to fish and other aquatic life because it can clog fish gills, reduce photosynthesis in plants and increase water temperature. Mitchell Creek drains to Kelly Creek and then Johnson Creek, both of which are designated essential salmon habitat. The turbid discharges were a violation of Jackson Hills' construction stormwater permit.
Relaxed NSPS for Oil and Gas Industry Could Save Industry $14 to $16 Million
EPA has finalized amendments for certain requirements contained within the 2016 oil and gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and has proposed to withdraw the control techniques guidelines (CTG) – an action that EPA estimates would save $14 to $16 million in regulatory compliance costs for the oil and natural gas industry from 2021-2035.
“The technical amendments to the 2016 oil and gas NSPS are meant to alleviate targeted regulatory compliance issues faced by affected sources,” said EPA Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum. “While this action addresses an immediate need, it does not deter the ongoing work at the Agency to assess the 2016 rule as a whole, including whether it is prudent or necessary to directly regulate methane.”
“We believe the proposed withdrawal of the CTGs are necessary to provide regulatory certainty to one of the largest sectors of the American economy, and avoid unnecessary compliance costs to both covered entities and the states,” said Wehrum.
EPA has amended two narrow provisions of the 2016 NSPS for the oil and natural gas industry to address aspects of the rule that pose significant and immediate compliance concerns. The amendments address two of the fugitive emissions requirements in the 2016 rule: a requirement that leaking components be repaired during unplanned or emergency shutdowns; and the monitoring survey requirements for well sites located on the Alaskan North Slope.
EPA took this final action in response to comments received on the June 2017 proposed stays of certain requirements in the rule and subsequent Notices of Data Availability (NODAs) issued in November 2017. EPA is continuing to evaluate comments the agency received on the proposed stays and NODAs.
In a separate action, EPA proposed to withdraw the 2016 CTG for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry in its entirety. The Oil and Gas CTG provides recommendations for certain states and areas that are required to address smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from covered sources as part of their state implementation plans for meeting EPA’s national standards for ground-level ozone.
The Oil and Gas CTG relied on data and conclusions that were used in the 2016 NSPS for the oil and gas industry. EPA is currently reconsidering certain aspects of the 2016 NSPS and intends to look broadly at the rule during the reconsideration process.
Because some recommendations in the Oil and Gas CTG are based on the 2016 NSPS, and others are based on the NSPS issued in 2012, EPA believes withdrawing the entire Oil and Gas CTG will be more efficient for states, which otherwise might be required to revise their implementation plans twice: once, to address recommendations that are tied to the 2012 NSPS, and potentially a second time after the reconsideration of the 2016 NSPS is complete.
EPA has analyzed costs that would be avoided if the Oil and Gas CTG were withdrawn. The Agency analyzed avoided costs assuming that, even if the Oil and Gas CTG were withdrawn, some states might need to obtain VOC emission reductions from existing oil and gas sources as part of their state implementation plans for meeting the ozone standard. Using this perspective, the agency estimates that the oil and gas industry would avoid costs of $1.2 million per year (3% discount rate) or $1.6 million per year (7% discount rate) under this perspective, totaling $14 or $16 million from 2021-2035.
EPA Roundtable Addressed Energy Production with Industry Stakeholders
The EPA held a two-day oil and natural gas roundtable with stakeholders including state and local leaders, tribes, industry, trade groups, and environmental nongovernmental organizations. Co-hosted with the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), the roundtable was organized to enhance coordination and communication, and ensure safe and responsible domestic energy production, especially in the oil and gas industry.
“This roundtable fulfills a commitment I made last year to improve EPA’s working relationship with state regulators and American businesses,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “EPA is working closely with the states to provide clarity and certainty to oil and gas rules and permitting processes.”
Last year, Administrator Pruitt committed to holding an event in response to various compliance concerns raised by oil and gas industry associations in Colorado and North Dakota. Administrator Pruitt recognized the need for increased interactions between EPA regional offices and their counterpart state regulatory agencies in order to enhance existing relationships, eliminate duplication, and implement joint-planning processes.
Stakeholders discussed solutions to regulatory, permitting and compliance challenges. EPA continues to engage with the oil and gas sector as part of the Smart Sectors program and increase coordination and collaboration between the Agency and stakeholders in an attempt to achieve positive environmental outcomes.
California Officials Testified Against EPA Plan to Repeal Clean Power Plan
Top California policymakers testified in strong opposition to the EPA’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of federal efforts to fight climate change.
Speaking at an EPA listening session in San Francisco, representatives from seven state agencies involved in climate and clean energy policy told the hearing that repeal of the plan ignores science and will endanger public health, the environment and economic prosperity.
“Climate change is not a conceptual or theoretical challenge. The evidence is overwhelming – universities and scientists worldwide agree – that climate change is all too real,” said Matthew Rodriquez, California Secretary for Environmental Protection. “There is no time for political posturing and partisan debate. We have to respond to this challenge now, while preparing for an uncertain future.”
Adopted in 2015, the Clean Power Plan set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the largest stationary source of greenhouse gas emissions. Shaped by years of public outreach and engagement, the plan builds on state progress in reducing carbon pollution. It would cut emissions from power plants by a third below 2005 levels by 2030.
The public listening session in San Francisco was one of three that EPA is holding around the country after announcing its intention to repeal the plan in October.
“This is a listening session. So I ask, who will you listen to?” said Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “Is it the voices of the polluting, outdated technologies of the past, or the ever growing number of people across this country who are demanding clean energy? We have already made our choice in California. Our future is in clean energy.”
With one of the cleanest power grids in the country, California is on track to produce 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. And under SB 350, signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 2015, California will produce 50% of its energy from renewables by 2030 and double the rate of energy efficiency savings in California buildings.
Courtney Smith, Chief Deputy Director of the California Energy Commission, told the hearing that California has already exceeded the requirements of the Clean Power Plan.
“California’s action demonstrates that complying with the Clean Power Plan is not only feasible, it strengthens the resiliency of our power sector and helps basic services remain affordable for all Californians,” she said.
California Public Utilities Commissioner Carla J. Peterman testified that the state is reducing carbon emissions while monthly electricity bills remain significantly less than the national average.
“In the last two decades, we have invested billions of dollars in energy efficiency, renewable energy, demand response, energy storage, and more efficient natural gas plants,” she said. “Investing in greenhouse gas reductions benefits ratepayers and can be done in a manner that ensures reliability and affordability.”
Several state officials noted that the state is already seeing the devastating effects of a changing climate.
“There is no question that climate change is here,” said Tom Gibson, California Undersecretary for Natural Resources. “Rising average temperatures, shrinking mountain snowpack, severe drought, dead and dying trees, wildfires, floods and coastal storm surges are making their mark on our state.”
“The Clean Power Plan represents an important step on the path toward cleaner energy sources that can help avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Gibson said. “Retaining and implementing this important plan is in the best interest of our environment, our communities, our economy, and our shared future.”
Arsenio Mataka, Special Assistant to the California Attorney General for the Environment, said that the EPA has a legal obligation to reduce carbon pollution and fight climate change.
“We must plot a path to a decarbonized future that minimizes the toll that climate change will exact on our health, our environment and our economy. In California, we are doing just that,” he said.
“Attorney General Becerra’s message for the EPA and Administrator Pruitt is simple: fulfill your duty to regulate carbon pollution from the largest stationary sources in the United States by defending the Clean Power Plan, rather than tearing it up. If you ignore your responsibilities and continue down the path you are on, the Attorney General will be there to fight you every inch of the way.”
In October, Governor Brown reaffirmed California’s commitment to exceed the targets of the Clean Power Plan and warned of the costs of repealing it. EPA’s proposal has also been opposed by the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Illinois EPA Announced Draft Plan to Use Settlement Allotment for Environmental Projects
The state unveiled its plan to spend its share of a multi-billion dollar Volkswagen Settlement. Illinois has been allocated more than $108 million dollars after it was discovered Volkswagen installed emissions cheating software in certain diesel vehicles.
Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina announced that the state's draft plan will use the money to fund mobile source projects such as locomotives, large and medium trucks, buses that reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Illinois, and related infrastructure - including electric charging stations.
"The substantial funding from the Volkswagen Settlement provides Illinois with the opportunity to achieve significant NOx emission reductions from mobile sources in areas that need it the most and to realize air quality benefits for its citizens," said Director Messina. "We look forward to public review of the draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan and to the administration of Volkswagen funds in Illinois."
The draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP) was developed after a thorough review of settlement requirements and after numerous meetings, discussions and communications with stakeholders. The draft is available on the Illinois EPA website. The Agency will accept formal public input through April 13, 2018.
Illinois seeks to achieve the maximum reduction of NOx emissions possible. Funds can be used to replace old diesel engines with new cleaner diesel, alternate fueled or electric engines. Illinois EPA anticipates a minimum of three rounds of funding.
The draft BMP seeks to maximize NOx reductions by focusing on:
- reducing NOx emissions in areas where the affected Volkswagen vehicles are registered, while considering areas that bear a disproportionate share of the air pollution burden, including environmental justice areas; and
- maximizing emission reductions and funding.
To this end, Illinois' draft BMP has identified three priority areas as well as categories and types of eligible projects. Eligible projects include on-road cleaner diesel, alternate fueled and electric trucks and buses, and non-road freight switchers, locomotives and tugboats/ferries. To promote electric vehicle adoption, Illinois will fund electric vehicle infrastructure in all eligible projects. Following public input, the Agency will submit a final BMP to the Trustee.
The Volkswagen Settlement consists of three programs: a vehicle recall and repair program ($10 billion); a zero emission vehicle investment commitment ($2 billion); and an environmental mitigation trust fund ($2.84 billion to be dispersed to the states). The draft BMP, required by the Volkswagen Settlement, is Illinois' plan to allocate the funds.
Input on the draft plan should be sent to EPA.VWSettlement@illinois.gov. In addition to the draft plan, Illinois EPA has also developed a survey to help inform the Agency on projects and administration of funds. Survey responses are in addition to any public input received on the draft plan, but are likewise due by April 13, 2018. Illinois EPA will also continue to meet with interested groups throughout the public input period. Requests for such meetings should be submitted to Brad.Frost@illinois.gov.
Energy Efficiency Saves Money and Creates Jobs
Every dollar invested in energy efficiency generates $7 back into Connecticut’s economy, according to the 2017 Programs and Operations Report released by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board (EEB).
The energy efficiency improvements made in 2017 will save Connecticut homeowners, renters, cities and towns, and businesses of all sizes more than $841 million over the life of those measures.
“Last year’s results prove that energy efficiency works for Connecticut,” said Taren O’Connor of the Office of Consumer Counsel and Chair of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board. “The savings are used by residents to support household expenses. It helps businesses and municipalities pay local salaries and be more competitive, and overall, it contributes to the quality of life in our state. Unfortunately, the state budget passed in October 2017 diverted approximately 33% of the customer-funded programs, which will have harmful consequences for future economic growth and job creation in Connecticut.”
The state’s energy efficiency programs and services are supported by customers through a small charge on electric and natural gas bills, marketed under the statewide brand Energize Connecticut, and provided by Eversource, United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, and Connecticut Natural Gas.
“Energy efficiency is our lowest cost fuel; in other words, it is a low-cost substitute for new generation,” said Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Mary Sotos. “It is more important than ever that we protect these vital programs, as they not only drive economic growth, but also contribute to a healthier and cleaner state environment.”
In 2017, these programs and services achieved the following results:
- Generated 34,000 jobs
- Delivered a $1.4 billion increase to the gross state product
- Completed more than 94,000 residential energy efficiency projects and rebates, including approximately 28,000 projects for lower-income families
- Performed energy-efficient improvements to nearly 27,000 multifamily units across the state
- Partnered with more than 6,000 businesses, non-profit organizations, and public sector customers, making their buildings more energy efficient and their organizations more sustainable, profitable and competitive
- Avoided greenhouse gas emissions of nearly three million tons for the life of the measures (about the same as removing approximately 654,000 cars from the road for a year)
- Delivered lifetime energy savings of 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, 97.8 million ccf (one ccf equals 100 cubic feet) of natural gas, and 29.3 million gallons of fuel oil and propane
First-Ever Railroad Oil Spill Response Plan Approved in Washington
Emergency response preparations for a major oil train spill took a big step forward. The Washington Department of Ecology has approved the state’s first oil spill response plan for the largest freight railroad company in the state, BNSF Railway Company.
BNSF owns 1,332 miles of track in the state and delivers oil to refineries at Cherry Point and Ferndale, truck racks in Seattle and Spokane, and terminals in Anacortes and Pasco. With the approved plan, BNSF meets Ecology’s more protective requirements.
“This plan is a significant step forward for the protection of Washington’s communities and environment,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology spills prevention program manager. “Oil by rail has expanded significantly in recent years, and it’s imperative railroad companies are prepared to work with the state to respond to a spill in a rapid, aggressive, and well-coordinated manner.”
In 2017, railroad companies moved approximately 2 billion gallons of crude oil through Washington travelling through local communities, along major highways, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. Railroads accounted for approximately 25 percent of all crude oil moving through the state.
Under the 2015 Oil Transportation Safety Act, Ecology now requires rail lines to have contingency plans that guarantee they can respond to a spill quickly and effectively. This is the same requirement the state has for vessels, pipelines, and oil facilities.
Washington joins California as the only two West Coast states to require oil spill contingency plans for railroad operators. Railroads in most states follow federal regulations that emphasize safety, but do not include requirements for oil spill response readiness.
Highlights of the plan
- Clarifies how notifications are made to ensure a joint response to a spill.
- Requires spill response equipment, a team, and resources be pre-positioned statewide.
- Requires readiness to respond to oiled wildlife and community air monitoring.
- Requires ongoing annual training for local and tribal first responders and response contractors on fast-water response techniques.
- Requires the development and practice of oil spill drills.
Crude oil trains in Washington increased significantly in 2012. Prior to that most crude moved by vessel and pipeline. The Oil Transportation Safety Act recognized new risks in Washington from the increasing amount of oil by rail.
Ecology is currently working on oil spill contingency plans with eight railroad companies that transport oil in Washington. Three of them, including BNSF, transport unrefined crude oil.
Clean Energy Program Launched for Low-Income Households in Michigan
With help from the Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE), Cherryland Electric Cooperative kicked off Michigan’s first pilot program to help low-income customers cut their energy bills through renewable energy and energy waste reduction efforts.
Part of the US Department of Energy’s Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator program, Cherryland expects to help lower energy bills for 50 low-income households in the utility’s six-county electric service territory in Northern Michigan.
“Low-income households often pay a larger share of their income for energy,” said Anne Armstrong Cusack, MAE’s acting director. “This first-of-its-kind program in Michigan is focusing on cutting their bills through participation in renewable energy and energy waste reduction programs. Partnering with Cherryland and the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, (NMCAA), customers will save energy, lower their energy bills and experience improved comfort in their homes.”
Cherryland, working with the NMCAA, identified participants who were low-income, underwent weatherization upgrades to their homes, and completed a home energy assessment to identify low-cost and no-cost opportunities to save energy and money.
Each participating member has nine panel shares in the Spartan Solar community solar array in Cadillac. Participants will receive a monthly bill credit of 10 cents per kilowatt hour for the output of their panel shares, or about $350 each year in solar bill credits. Customers could see a reduction of up to 33% on their electric bills.
Under the program, Cherryland buys electricity generated by the Cadillac solar array project through a power purchase agreement with Wolverine Power Cooperative. It is one of the only programs in the nation to pilot “virtual net metering,” combined with weatherization services for low-income households.
Phase II of Water Quality Challenge Launched to Combat Nutrient Pollution
The EPA, along with four federal partners, launched the next phase of a technology-accelerating water quality challenge calling for demonstrated use of nutrient pollution sensors.
Nutrient pollution is a widespread water quality challenge in the United States and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. By demonstrating there are successful strategies for incorporating nutrient sensors into existing water monitoring and nutrient management efforts, the Challenge can help states and communities overcome the major barriers to measuring and reducing this pollution.
The Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge builds on the 2014 Nutrient Sensor Challenge, which helped facilitate the development of affordable, high-performing, continuous nutrient sensors and analyzers. In August 2017 the federal partnership launched Stage I of the Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge, which called for plans showing how these sensors could be deployed and collected data could be used to enable improved state and local nutrient management decision making. Stage I closed in September 2017 with five winning entries.
Stage II of the Challenge is now open. Competing teams will deploy and collect data from two or more nutrient sensors for at least 3 months. Teams will also demonstrate how local communities can use the collected data to improve nutrient management decisions. Stage II teams will be competing for a share of $100,000 in prizes.
The Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge is a collaboration between EPA, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-led U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (U.S. IOOS®).
An informational webinar about Stage II of the Challenge will be held on March 15th at 2 PM (EDT).
Wonders of Water Exhibit at 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show Highlights Healthy Headwaters
This year’s Philadelphia Flower Show showcases the Wonders of Water and the EPA’s exhibit is no exception. By demonstrating the connection between headwater streams and wetlands, and the vital role they play in the overall health of downstream waters, the exhibit highlights the connection between healthy watersheds and healthy drinking water sources - and shows how the integrity of our drinking water supply begins far away from the kitchen faucet.
“The beauty of the native plants displayed in the exhibit’s headwater stream and bog wetland areas highlight the need to protect and enhance these aquatic resources,” said EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “Conserving and enhancing these aquatic ecosystems in our gardens promotes clean and healthy water, while serving as a sustainable landscaping practice in our own backyards.”
The exhibit illustrates how clean drinking water begins at the very tops of watersheds in small streams and wetlands which capture and transport water through our environment to larger downstream resources; ultimately being withdrawn for drinking water. Two-thirds of our drinking water comes from these downstream surface waters (rivers and streams) like the Delaware River, which supplies drinking water to the city of Philadelphia.
EPA’s exhibit begins with a small headwater stream shaded with beautiful native trees such as magnolia, fringe tree, flowering dogwood, and the sweet fragrance of azaleas. The exhibit also includes a bog that is teaming with wild and unique botanical beauty such as the carnivorous pitcher plant, exquisite swamp pinks, and magical fairy wands.
The native plants displayed in the exhibit will show how they grow in the wild and how to incorporate them in home gardens. The environmental benefits of these native plants include providing buffers for aquatic resources that help naturally manage stormwater, which can directly improve or maintain healthy water quality.
Exhibit volunteers will engage with the public on the connection between healthy aquatic resources and drinking water, as well as provide visitors with information on the benefits of using native plants, sustainable landscaping, stormwater management practices to instill positive ways of protecting our water.
The objective of EPA’s exhibit is to foster the continued appreciation of the multi-faceted benefits of these aquatic resources to help ensure the Wonders of Water for generations to come.
EPA websites also include information on promoting healthy water through sustainable landscaping, and how to get started including photographs of sustainable landscaping practices used in residential settings.
EPA’s flower show team, along with all the other exhibitors, are setting up the exhibit at the Philadelphia Convention Center this week. The Philadelphia Flower Show opens to the public, on March 3, and will run through March 11.
Oil Tank and Furnace Maintenance Reduces Chance of Residential Oil Spills
With almost two months left in the winter home heating season, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) reminded Rhode Island residents that proper care and maintenance of their fuel oil tank, lines and furnace can reduce the chance of spilling oil and being faced with costly environmental problems. Releases from residential heating oil tanks are extremely problematic, and cleanup can be expensive. Oil can soak into the concrete and ruin foundations. Oil may also flow from a yard or basement and spread through groundwater, contaminating drinking water wells, soil, surface water, septic systems, storm water drains, sewers and drainage ditches.
About 40% of Rhode Island households use fuel oil as their primary energy source for home heating. Along with this, home heating oil spills are among the most frequent environmental accidents that occur in the state. Oil is a common fuel and is comprised of organic compounds. It also contains caustic, flammable, and toxic components. In the past fiscal year, DEM's Office of Emergency Response responded to 579 oil spills that resulted in the removal of 5,390 gallons of oil and 723 tons of oil spill debris from the environment. Residential oil spills accounted for 173, or 30%, of these responses.
Whether it is due to problems during delivery or defective equipment, or occurs outside or in the home, responsibility for a spill can ultimately fall on the homeowner. Few homeowners know that insurance policies often exclude coverage for damage and cleanup. The bill for an overflow during delivery – or a couple of weeks of a small leak – can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. The bottom line is that DEM and Rhode Island residents share a direct, profound interest in preventing such mishaps.
DEM offers the following steps that homeowners can take to ensure the safety of their furnace and oil tank and reduce the chance of a heating oil spill:
- Check the condition of the tank and lines. The life of the tank depends on variables such as tank construction, tank installation, soil and ground water conditions, location and maintenance of the tank.
- Make sure the fill cap and the vent cap are in place and tightly secured.
- Keep all pipe connections clean and tight. Check for drips at the tank, from the fittings and the filter.
- Know when and how much to order from your fuel oil delivery company.
- Keep the fill pipe accessible and visible for the delivery company.
- Keep the vent line clear of any snow, ice or insect nests to prevent over-pressurization of the tank.
- If you take your tank out of service, remove the tank and lines completely and call your oil company to stop delivery. Many fuel oil delivery companies have delivered heating oil to homeowners' fill pipes that had no tanks attached to the other end, resulting in spills and damage that cost thousands of dollars.
- Check the stability of the legs and the ground beneath your above-ground tank. Properly installed cement pads work much better than cement blocks to support the tank. Many tanks have buckled or tipped due to instabilities.
- Buried tanks can corrode and leak without obvious signs on the surface. Be alert for unexplained fuel losses that might point to leakage.
- For inside tanks, be alert for signs of oil in the sump pump pit and floor drains, and for any oil smell in the basement or crawl space. Containment around the tank can control the release of oil in the event of a release.
- All indoor tanks should have a vent alarm that alerts the fuel deliverer before the tank is full. When you receive oil, you can ask the deliverer to verify that the whistle is operating.
- Look for signs of spillage near the fill and vent pipes like stained oil and rock and verify that the vent pipe is at least the same size at the fill pipe.
"An ounce of prevention can help prevent spills from residential heating oil tanks," notes Jim Ball, DEM's emergency response coordinator. "Conducting visual inspections, properly maintaining oil tanks and overhead lines, installing oil safety valves, and replacing aged tanks are all steps that homeowners can take to prevent oil spills. Read your homeowner insurance policy to verify if you have a pollution exclusion clause buried in the small print. Most insurance companies do not cover releases from your oil tank, and cleanup cost for oil spills can be steep."
If you discover a fuel oil spill, report it to DEM's Office of Emergency Response weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 401-222-1360; after hours, weekends or holidays call DEM's 24-hour hotline in the Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-3070.
Bin It to Win It Educational Recycling Game for Kids
DNREC’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Section’s Recycling Program has a new interactive game that travels to Delaware middle schools and helps enlighten students about single-stream recycling. The “Bin It to Win It” game is part of the Recycling Program’s new “Clean the Stream” recycling campaign.
Bin It to Win It brings together teams of students in grades 5-8, and gives them two minutes to sort items by “recyclables” and “trash,” and deposit them into the proper bin. At the end of two minutes, a recycling referee reviews their bins and retrieves any incorrectly-placed items, explaining why the items should or should not be recycled. The team with the most correctly-sorted items will be announced as the winner, with pens made of recycled materials as prizes
“In order to create a more sustainable future for Delaware, we need to educate students on the importance of recycling,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “Teaching our students about what goes in the trash and what goes in the recycling bin is the first step toward learning good recycling habits, and we hope they will take their knowledge home to share with their families and friends.”
To find out more about “Bin It to Win It,” contact Jackie Howard or Don Long, DNREC Recycling Program, 302-739-9403, extension 8.
Environmental News Links
Which of the following can lower your car’s gas mileage up to 33%?
- Tire pressure 6 psi under manufacturer’s specifications
- An extra 15 pounds of weight in the trunk
- Using premium gas in a car designed for regular gas
- Aggressive driving