New EPCRA Reporting Exemption

June 10, 2019
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has signed a final rule amending the emergency release notification regulations under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The amendments exempt reporting of air emissions from animal waste at farms under EPCRA.
According to EPA, the final rule comes as first responders across the county have repeatedly reminded the agency that community-specific protocols are determined between local responders and animal producers well in advance of emergencies. The Agency stated that these strong partnerships provide a platform for resolving issues when they arise without the need for a national one-size-fits-all approach.
“This final rule provides clarity and certainty to the regulated community that animal waste emissions from farms do not need to be reported under EPCRA,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This action eliminates an onerous reporting requirement and allows emergency responders and farmers to focus on protecting the public and feeding the nation, not routine animal waste emissions.”
“The goal of emergency response officials and local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) is to prepare communities for emergency threats related to hazardous chemical releases. Such emergency threats do not include 'best guess' reporting on day-to-day emissions on farms and animal operations,” said National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials (NASTTPO) President Tim Gablehouse. “The focus of LEPCs should be and is on chemical hazards that present meaningful risk of harm to community members and first responders. We look forward to working on enhanced coordination and cooperation between all community members to improve preparedness for hazardous chemical releases.”
The changes to emergency release reporting regulations reflect the existing relationship between EPCRA and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and provide consistency between the two environmental laws.
On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Omnibus Bill). Title XI of the Omnibus Bill is entitled the “Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act” or the “FARM Act.” The FARM Act expressly exempts reporting of air emissions from animal waste (including decomposing animal waste) at a farm from CERCLA section 103. The FARM Act also provides definitions for the terms “animal waste” and “farm.” Because these types of releases are exempted under CERCLA, based on the release reporting criteria under EPCRA section 304, these types of releases are also exempt under EPCRA section 304. 
On October 30, 2018, then Acting Administrator Wheeler proposed the reporting exemption under EPCRA alongside National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials (NASTTPO) President Tim Gablehouse and various state animal producer trade associations.
The final rule maintains consistency between the emergency release notification requirements of EPCRA and CERCLA in accordance with the statutory text and framework of EPCRA. 
Carrie Apfel, a staff attorney for Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming Program said, “through this rule, EPA is allowing meat factories to avoid reporting their toxic air emissions to state and local authorities despite a clear statutory mandate to do so. The rule is illegal, and an affront to rural communities that have every right to know what’s in the air they breathe. Earthjustice has been challenging EPA’s guidance and will fight this rule, too.”
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New EPA Guidance on Water Quality Certification
As directed by the President, EPA released guidance on Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) that provides recommendations to clarify and streamline the 401 certification process and to promote greater investment in and certainty for national infrastructure projects while continuing to protect local water quality.
Under Executive Order 13868, “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth,” EPA was directed to issue guidance for federal permitting agencies and state and authorized tribal authorities to modernize previous guidance and clarify existing CWA Section 401 requirements.
Section 401 of the CWA provides states and authorized tribes with an important tool to help protect water quality within their borders in collaboration with federal agencies. The rules governing this authority have not been updated in nearly 50 years. In addition, evolving case law and EPA’s outdated guidance have caused some confusion and resulted in delays in certain infrastructure projects with potentially significant national benefits.
EPA’s “Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Guidance for Federal Agencies, States, and Authorized Tribes” provides clarification and recommendations on CWA Section 401 certifications in the following specific areas:
  • Statutory and regulatory timelines for review and action on a CWA Section 401 certification;
  • The appropriate scope of CWA Section 401 certification conditions; and
  • Information within the scope of a state or authorized tribe’s CWA Section 401 review.
EPA’s new guidance, which replaces EPA’s prior interim guidance from 2010, also provides additional recommendations to federal agencies, states and authorized tribes to promote early collaboration and coordination through the 401 certification process. Executive Order 13868 also directed EPA to propose new rules modernizing the agency’s CWA Section 401 implementing regulations by August 8, 2019. The agency intends to propose regulations that may help further clarify and streamline CWA Section 401 certifications. Since the Executive Order was issued on April 10, 2019, the agency has initiated formal consultations with its state, local, and tribal partners, as well as outreach with its federal partners on this rulemaking effort and invited written pre-proposal recommendations through a public docket. The agency is reviewing the input received through these engagements and the docket prior to issuing a proposed rule.
EPA to Increase Compliance with Clean Water Act Deadlines
The EPA is taking steps toward ensuring the Agency is meeting its statutory obligations and carrying out the cooperative federalism principles embodied in the Clean Water Act (CWA). In a memorandum to EPA Regional Administrators, EPA Assistant Administrator  for Office of Water David Ross directed regional offices to comply with statutory deadlines for acting on state and tribal CWA submittals while improving responsiveness in the agency’s oversight role.
“The Clean Water Act establishes a framework that authorizes states and tribes to make water quality management decisions that can be tailored to the needs of their citizens and specific natural resources,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Office of Water David Ross. “Going forward, EPA will be more responsive to our regulatory partners while recognizing their expertise in local and regional water quality as we work together to better protect public health and the environment.”
For years, EPA has routinely exceeded the review and action timelines established by Congress in the CWA. This inaction has resulted in uncertainty for states, tribes and the regulated community; delayed meaningful actions to improve local water quality; spurred lawsuits against the agency; and created significant backlogs and increased workload.
“State agencies and their stakeholders deserve clarity and certainty,” said Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Carol Comer. “Timely decisions made at the federal level allow states to operate more effectively. Often, states must develop processes and procedures to implement proposed rules or standards, which in the past have been delayed—sometimes by years—awaiting an EPA determination. In addition, our regulated community depends upon our decisions to plan investments or process changes. We support the Administration’s policy promoting quick action at the federal level. We believe it will be good for the environment and good for our stakeholders.
The memo directs regional offices to approve or disapprove state and tribal CWA submittals within the timelines established by Congress. For example, EPA must approve new or revised water quality standard submittals within 60 days of the date of the submission or disapprove within 90 days, and the agency must approve or disapprove biannual lists of waters determined to be impaired and total maximum daily loads within 30 days.
EPA’s memo underscores the importance of restoring the agency’s oversight role to be more consistent with congressional intent. Should the agency disapprove a state or tribal submittal on the basis that it fails to meet CWA requirements, the memo directs regional offices to develop a plan to ensure all required follow up actions are consistent with CWA requirements and statutory deadlines. This plan must be put into place prior to issuing the disapproval.
“Idaho appreciates the cooperation we have recently experienced as EPA has worked with us to address our pending submittals,” said Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director John Tippets. “This policy will further the cooperative partnership that we believe is necessary for effective collaboration between the EPA and the states. We welcome a process that recognizes that states should expect timely action on their submittals and that approval should be expected when federal guidelines have been followed. Ultimately, this policy will result in better outcomes for states and their citizens.”
Cruise Line to Pay $20 Million Criminal Penalty for Water Pollution
Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. and its parent, Carnival Cruise Lines & plc were ordered to pay a $20 million criminal penalty and will be subject to enhanced supervision after admitting to violations of probation attributable to senior Carnival management in a case in which Princess had already paid $40 million.
Princess was convicted and sentenced in April 2017, after pleading guilty to felony charges stemming from its deliberate dumping of oil-contaminated waste from one of its vessels and intentional acts to cover it up. While serving 5 years of probation, all Carnival related cruise lines vessels eligible to trade in U.S. ports were required to comply with a court approved and supervised environmental compliance plan (ECP), including audits by an independent company and oversight by a Court Appointed Monitor. Numerous violations have been identified by the company, the outside auditor, and the court’s monitor during the first two years of probation, including “major non-conformities” as defined by the ECP.
Carnival admitted it was guilty of committing six violations of probation. Two of the violations involved interfering with the court’s supervision of probation by sending undisclosed teams to ships to prepare them for the independent inspections required during probation. When this was first discovered in December 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz directed that the practice cease and ordered additional inspections as a consequence. However, without seeking court approval, a second undisclosed program was started shortly thereafter. Documents filed in court showed that a purpose of the vessel visit programs was to avoid adverse findings during the inspections.
“This case demonstrates the importance of identifying and correcting compliance problems at their source. Carnival sought to avoid the discovery of problems during the audits rather than learn from them. Carnival’s deliberate deception undermined the court’s supervision of probation,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “I want to take this opportunity to thank and commend the Office of Probation and the Court Appointed Monitor for the close attention that they have devoted to this important matter post-conviction.”
Carnival’s Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer attended the hearing pursuant to court’s order and were asked to personally pledge their commitment to correcting the company’s compliance issues and corporate culture. In addition, senior management of each operating cruise line of Carnival Corporation & plc were present for the court proceedings.
The company admitted to other violations of probation today including:
  • Failing to establish a senior corporate officer as a corporate compliance manager with responsibility and sufficient authority for implementing new environmental measures required during probation;
  • Contacting the Coast Guard seeking to re-define the definition of what constitutes a major non-conformity under the ECP without going through the required process and after the government had rejected the proposal and told the company to file a motion with the court if it wanted to pursue the issue;
  • Deliberately falsifying environmental training records aboard two cruise ships; and
  • Deliberately discharging plastic in Bahamian waters from the Carnival Elation and failing to accurately record the illegal discharges. Prosecutors advised the Court that this particular instance was an example of a more widespread problem, identified by the external audits, in failing to segregate plastic and non-food garbage from waste thrown overboard from numerous cruise ships.
Under the terms of the settlement, Carnival will do the following:
  • Pay a $20 million criminal penalty;
  • Issue a statement to all employees in which Carnival’s CEO accepts management’s responsibility for the probation violations;
  • Restructure the company’s corporate compliance efforts, including appointing a new chief Corporate Compliance Officer, creating an Executive Compliance Committee across all cruise lines, adding a new member to the Board of Directors with corporate compliance expertise, and train its Board of Directors;
  • Pay up to $10 million per day if it does not meet deadlines for submitting and implementing needed changes to its corporate structure;
  • Pay for 15 additional independent audits per year conducted by the third-party auditor and Court Appointed Monitor (on top of approximately 31 ship audits and 6 shore-side audits currently performed annually);
  • Comply with new reporting requirements, including notifying the government and court of all future violations, and specifically identifying foreign violations and the country impacted; and
  • Make major changes in how the company uses and disposes of plastic and other non-food waste to urgently address a problem on multiple vessels concerning illegal discharges of plastic mixed with other garbage.
The revised sentence imposed by Judge Seitz also requires that Princess remain on probation for a period of three years.
The case is being prosecuted by Richard A. Udell, Senior Litigation Counsel with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald, Deputy Chief, Economic & Environmental Crimes Section for the Southern District of Florida, with assistance from Lt. Commander Anton DeStefano of the U.S. Coast Guard.
DEP Inspector Accepted Bribes from Asbestos Abatement Contractor
New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) Commissioner Margaret Garnett today announced the guilty plea of Samuel Nebedum, 64, an Inspector with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Nebedum engaged in a long-term bribery relationship with an asbestos abatement contractor, wherein he accepted cash bribes, meals, and fish in exchange for providing various benefits to the contractor, including intentionally overlooking violations at the contractor’s worksites and the referral of additional abatement business.
Nebedum pleaded guilty to charges of Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree, a Class C felony; Bribe Receiving in the Third Degree, a Class D felony; Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a Class E felony; and two counts of Official Misconduct, an A misdemeanor. Nebedum was sentenced to a conditional discharge, and must pay $15,000, $5,000 of which must be paid by July 15, 2019. The Court will determine the remaining pay schedule, to be paid to the New York City DEP.   
"By accepting bribes, Samuel Nebedum violated public trust and put the health and safety of New Yorkers at risk,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “New Yorkers deserve to be able to trust the integrity of their officials. My office will continue to hold accountable those who disregard the interests of the public in favor of financial gain.”
“Today’s guilty plea sends the message that a City inspector, entrusted with safeguarding the public, will be held accountable and prosecuted when he trades in his integrity for bribes,” said DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett. “This defendant is now a convicted felon who no longer works for the City. DOI will continue to work with its partners, in particular the state Attorney General, to expose and prosecute corruption in this City.”
The joint Attorney General and DOI investigation revealed that this arrangement has allegedly gone on for over ten years and put the health and safety of workers and New York City residents at risk.
According to the felony complaint filed in December 2018 at the Queens County Supreme Court, Nebedum had been an Inspector with the DEP since May 29, 1990, and during the course of his employment allegedly accepted over $10,000.00 in bribes from a contractor during that time. With his guilty plea, Nebedum admits to an agreement or understanding that his actions or decisions were influenced upon the receipt of the bribes.  As alleged in the complaint, Nebedum used his position as an Inspector to give advance notice prior to official DEP inspections taking place at this contractor’s jobsites, ignored asbestos removal violations at this contractor’s jobsites, and referred additional business to the contractor, which stemmed from his official jobsite visits, all in violation of DEP policy.
The DEP is the primary City agency responsible for the regulation of the asbestos abatement industry. Proper abatement procedures involve requiring all workers at a jobsite to wear Personal Protective Equipment, which includes a protective mask and hazmat suit; wetting down all asbestos containing material (ACM) when removed, so as to prevent asbestos from becoming airborne; the setting up of a proper decontamination unit with proper air-monitoring equipment, to ensure the work area does not have air containing ACM escaping; and the dumping of materials containing ACM at designated disposal facilities. As set forth in the felony complaint, the Attorney General and DOI alleged that Nebedum ignored these regulations during the course of this bribery scheme, putting the health of many workers and City residents at risk for inhaling and ingesting asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is hazardous to human health and is known to cause a type of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Attorney General James and DOI Commissioner Garnett thanked the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for their assistance during this investigation. Attorney General James and DOI Commissioner Garnett also thanked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation for their support.  
Updated Regulations for Toxic Air Pollutants Proposed in Washington
The Washington Department of Ecology has proposed an updated rule for toxic air pollution using the most recent and best available information about health effects.
Ecology periodically updates this rule to reflect toxicity information developed by the EPA, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Under Washington law, Ecology is required to develop a list of about 400 toxic air chemicals based on data from those three agencies. The rulemaking will use the most recent, best available health effects information to:
  • Update the list of toxic air pollutants.
  • Recalculate:
    • Acceptable source impact levels (ASIL)
    • Small quantity emission rates (SQER)
    • De minimis emission values
The goal of the rule is to protect public health by limiting new emissions of toxic air pollutants from industry. The proposed revisions add criteria to better protect children and babies from the extra risks air pollution poses to the very young. 
Of the roughly 400 chemicals covered under the air toxics regulations, standards for two-thirds will remain unchanged, 25% will become more protective, while 10% will become less restrictive, all based on the latest scientific information. 
Ecology is seeking public comments on the proposed rule updates through July 23. The Agency will hold a public hearing in Lacey and via webinar at 10 a.m. July 16, 2019. 
Two Petroleum Suppliers to Pay $1 Million for Clean Air Violations
The California Air Resources Board announced it has fined two petroleum product suppliers — George E. Warren Corp. and Shell Pipeline Co. — for failure to comply with California air quality regulations. George E. Warren Corp. and Shell Pipeline Co. were fined $735,000 and $300,000, respectively.
The fuel violation was discovered during a routine sampling audit of an import marine vessel at the Port of Los Angeles. California Air Resources Board inspectors determined approximately 11 million gallons of motor fuel imported by George E. Warren Corp. had exceeded the threshold concentration of olefins allowed under the California Reformulated Gasoline Regulation.
Olefins are a type of hydrocarbon that readily reacts with sunlight to form smog. By reducing the olefin content of gasoline, the amount of smog formed and the amount of 1,3 butadiene (a toxic compound) in exhaust emissions are reduced. The fuel imported at Shell Pipeline Co. facilities had been distributed to five separate bulk terminals downstream of the original import location, and to several retail service stations.
“Companies must demonstrate that their products will not result in excess emissions into our air,” California Air Resources Board Enforcement Division Chief Todd Sax said. “Periodic testing of fuel by companies and inspections by CARB ensure that Californians will not be exposed to harmful air pollutants.”
Once they were made aware of the noncompliant fuel, George E. Warren and Shell Pipeline took prompt action to halt all movement and sales of the fuel. CARB estimates approximately 1.3 million gallons of affected fuel was sold at retail stations. Once CARB determined the fuel was re-blended and in compliance, sales were allowed to continue.
To resolve the violations, George E. Warren and Shell Pipeline agreed to pay the combined total of $1,035,000. The companies also agreed to offset $501,327 of the settlement by funding eight Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs). Projects include air filtration, health and air pollution research, community air monitoring, and identification of diesel pollution hotspots. All projects were selected to improve health and education and provide funding for exposure reduction projects in San Joaquin Valley and San Diego disadvantaged communities.
New Mexico Agencies Begin Stakeholder Process on Methane Regulatory Strategy
The New Mexico Departments of the Environment (NMED) and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources (EMNRD) are beginning stakeholder outreach efforts as work continues to develop the state’s first methane reduction regulations per Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order on climate change.
A key component of the executive order is the development of an enforceable regulatory framework to ensure methane reductions from the oil and natural gas sector and to prevent waste from new and existing sources.
“In undertaking this regulatory effort, collaboration between regulators, communities, industry and environmental groups is imperative to enacting lasting changes to methane regulations in New Mexico,” said Environment Department Secretary James Kenney. “EMNRD Sec. Cottrell Propst and I look forward to meeting with stakeholders to gain ideas, perspectives, concerns and innovative ideas throughout this regulatory effort.”
“The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department looks forward to kicking off our stakeholder engagement in the coming weeks as we continue our important partnership with the New Mexico Environment Department to develop rules to curb methane,” EMNRD Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said. “Our departments will create cutting- edge rules and regulations pursuant to the climate executive order. Collaborating with stakeholders and gaining expert insights is a crucial step in this process.”
Public stakeholder engagement events will take place throughout the state:
  • 1-5 p.m. July 29, San Juan Community College, Farmington
  • 1-5 p.m. July 30, University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque
  • 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Aug. 7, Nuclear Waste Partnership Building, Carlsbad
More information on these events will be available on the NMED and EMNRD websites as details are finalized. Following the meetings, a summary and presentation materials will be posted online.
During the stakeholder meetings, NMED and EMNRD will provide an overview of their authorities to regulate methane from the oil and natural gas industry. Ultimately, two separate rulemakings will be necessary. One proceeding will take place before the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission for the regulation of methane as a wasted resource. The other will take place before the Environmental Improvement Board for the regulation of methane and volatile organic compounds related to air quality impacts. NMED and EMNRD are working together to ensure these rules are complementary and do not result in redundant requirements.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a 20-year global warming potential of more than 84 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Nearly one-third of methane emissions in the U.S. come from oil and natural gas production, transmission and distribution.
21 Corporations Cited for UST Violations at NY and NJ Gas Stations
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Peter D. Lopez, EPA Regional Administrator, announced that the United States has filed a civil lawsuit against Genesis Petroleum, Inc., and 20 of its associated companies, for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at 13 gas stations within the Eastern District of New York and the  District of New Jersey.  The violations alleged in the complaint involve Defendants’ improper management of 38 underground storage tanks at 13 of Defendants’ gas stations.  These tanks typically contain gasoline and diesel fuel and can cause serious environmental damage if allowed to leak. 
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to assure Defendants’ future compliance with RCRA and an order imposing civil penalties for Defendants’ violations of up to $16,000 per tank for each day of violation.
As alleged in the complaint in federal court in Central Islip, New York, Defendants repeatedly violated RCRA and its related regulations at various times from 2012 to 2016.  These violations included failing to install spill and overfill prevention equipment, failing to perform release (i.e., leak or spill) detection and failing to maintain and provide records of release detection monitoring.  In some instances, Defendants failed to secure underground storage tanks that were temporarily closed, and failed to investigate or report suspected releases.  In another instance, EPA inspectors observed a visibly corroded storage tank at one of Defendants’ stations.  At times, Defendants also failed to cooperate with the EPA by refusing to permit station inspections and by failing to respond to the EPA’s requests for information about the underground storage tanks that they owned and/or operated.
“The Defendants’ repeated violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act put groundwater at risk of contamination, potentially endangering the health and safety of residents of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York as well as residents of New Jersey,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “We are committed to enforcing the laws protecting our residents from hazardous wastes and the dangers they pose.”
 “Failure to monitor and maintain tanks to prevent leaks can pose a serious safety risk, as the leaking underground tanks can release toxic components that can seep into the soil and the groundwater,” said EPA Regional Administrator Peter D. Lopez. “These violations are all too common, and EPA is working to ensure that we hold the companies responsible for properly managing their tanks to reduce these risks where these gas stations are located.”
While the violations alleged in the complaint do not pose an immediate threat to the drinking water of the areas’ residents, compliance with the RCRA’s leak prevention regulations for underground storage tanks is vital to ensure the integrity of tanks and prevent the release of petroleum product to soil and groundwater.  Petroleum products such as gasoline contain chemical compounds that pose substantial threats to human health.  When operated conscientiously and monitored closely, underground storage tanks are a safe and effective means to store gasoline.  But when tanks are not subjected to basic operational safeguards, they can endanger the public and the environment, for example by leaking petroleum into the water supply, discharging toxic vapors into the air, or even triggering fires or explosions.  EPA’s regulations under RCRA are designed to protect the public by requiring underground storage tank operators to reduce the likelihood of leaks and monitor for leaks so they can promptly be addressed.
The matter is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jolie Apicella of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, working with Lee Spielmann, Assistant Regional Counsel, EPA Region 2, and Paul Sacker, Senior Enforcement Officer, EPA Region 2.
Legislative Hearing on Dangerous Consumer Products
U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) announced that the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee will hold a hearing on legislation to address hazards found in everyday products on Thursday, June 13, at 10:30 am in the John D. Dingell Room, 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing will be entitled, “Keeping Kids and Consumers Safe from Dangerous Products.”
“The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been inactive for far too long while American children have been dying from long-known dangers like furniture tip-overs, inclined sleepers, and crib bumpers,” Pallone and Schakowsky said. “It’s time for Congress to act to protect consumers and spur greater CPSC enforcement and outreach.  The Committee will examine legislation at this hearing to do just that.”
Information for this hearing, including the Committee Memorandum, legislation, witness list and testimony, and a live webcast, will be posted here as they become available. 
Changes Proposed to Strengthen Railroads’ Oil Spill Response Efforts
Railroad lines stretch across thousands of miles in Washington, often along pristine rivers and shorelines of the state. An oil spill from a train could pose a significant threat not only to the environment but to people and local economies. That’s why in 2015, Washington began requiring railroad companies to have oil spill contingency plans to ensure they are adequately prepared in case of a spill.
After several years of implementing the initial regulation, the Department of Ecology is proposing updates, based on direction from the Washington Legislature, to streamline requirements and strengthen response to potential railroad spills.
Ecology proposes to:
  • Enhance readiness requirements for oils that may weather and sink when spilled.
  • Improve ability to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife that may be affected or oiled during a response
  • Ensure that the railroad response teams are trained and well qualified to manage a response in Washington
  • Update oil spill drill requirements
  • Streamline plans for small rail lines that don’t move crude oil, with requirements that are in line with the size and scope of their operations
Legislation driving the changes is included in 2017’s ESHB 1136 and 2018’s E2SSB 6269.
Ecology has invited the public to weigh in on these changes through July 22, 2019. The Agency is hosting a public hearing for this rule proposal in Seattle, another in Spokane, and an online webinar public hearing. For full information about dates and times, visit Ecology’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan – Railroad website.
Challenge from Clean Air Groups Forces NC Wood Pellet Factory to Install Pollution Controls
The world’s largest manufacturer of wood pellet fuel for power plants, Enviva, agreed to install air pollution-reducing equipment at a biomass plant under construction in Richmond County, North Carolina, in a settlement finalized today after three conservation groups challenged its state permit.
At a unit of its wood pellet plant being built in the town of Hamlet, east of Charlotte, Enviva will reduce harmful volatile organic compounds (or VOC) air pollution from its smokestacks by at least 95% according to an agreement the company signed with Clean Air Carolina, which is represented by the Environmental Integrity Project and the Southern Environmental Law Center. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) also signed onto the agreement.
“This settlement agreement is a huge victory for the people of North Carolina, because it will mean fewer asthma attacks and health risks for families living downwind,” said Patrick Anderson, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). “The biomass industry is nothing like the clean, sustainable answer to climate change it paints itself to be. In fact, it is a major source of air pollution.”
“Residents of Richmond County already face some of the worst health outcomes in our state,” said June Blotnick, Executive Director of Clean Air Carolina. “The new air pollution controls required by this settlement will decrease hazardous air pollutants and VOC emissions, reducing two additional threats to the communities’ health.”
“The residents of Hamlet and Richmond County deserve protection from the unnecessary air pollution that would’ve come with Enviva’s facility if not for this agreement,” said Heather Hillaker, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now Richmond County families can breathe easier, but, as the wood pellet industry plans to expand operations throughout the state, the threat remains for many North Carolinians to the air we breathe and wetlands that buffer us from storms and floods.”
On behalf of Clean Air Carolina, EIP and SELC on February 13 challenged the Enviva Hamlet air pollution permit in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. The case alleges that DEQ failed to scrutinize Enviva’s air pollution estimates and improperly classified the facility as a “minor” air pollution source when it was actually a major source.
Enviva entered the settlement agreement with the three environmental organizations to avoid further litigation over the Richmond County plant’s construction permit.
Under the terms of the agreement, Enviva will install one of several pollution control technologies on a wood pellet production unit known as a dry hammermill at the Hamlet plant. Although the exact control technology will be selected by Enviva in the coming months, each of the available options will achieve at least 95 percent reduction in volatile organic compound (VOCs) pollution and hazardous air pollutants like methanol, acrolein, and formaldehyde.
VOCs are a potent precursor to ground level ozone and smog, and can cause breathing problems for the elderly, young children, and people with lung conditions such as asthma. The new controls will reduce the facility’s VOC emissions by at least 140 tons per year, and potentially by as much as 500 tons per year, according to the terms of the agreement.
The Enviva plant is part of a new and growing industry expanding across North Carolina and the South, with 21 plants – 15 of them built in the last decade -- that clear cut forests and compact wood into pellets to ship overseas to Europe to burn in power plants. The demand is driven by a European climate change policy that incorrectly treats wood biomass pollution as harmless or carbon neutral.
Numerous studies, including a study commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center, debunk this myth and show the industry actually puts as much or more carbon pollution into the air than the fuels it replaces.  A 2018 study by the Environmental Integrity Project found that the 21 U.S. wood pellet mills exporting to Europe emit a total of 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, along with  2,500 tons of particulate matter (soot), 3,200 tons of nitrogen oxides, 2,100 tons of carbon monoxide, and 7,000 tons of volatile organic compounds.
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