As a step of EPA’s implementation of President Trump’s Executive Order, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” EPA’s Regulatory Reform Task Force, led by the Office of Policy, published a Federal Register notice on April 13 to solicit public comments on EPA regulations. The Agency is specifically seeking suggestions for regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replace, or modify.
The Agency established a docket (EPA-HQ-OA- 2017-0190 at http://www.regulations.gov) that all EPA program offices will use to collect comments specific to their issues. EPA’s Regulatory Reform Task Force is simultaneously working with program offices to gather their recommendations for specific rules that should be considered for repeal, replacement, or modification. EPA regional offices, program offices, and other officials will report back by May 15, 2017.
EPA also launched a new webpage with information related to the agency’s regulatory reform efforts, which will include a list of upcoming meetings being held by the offices at: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform.
Charlotte RCRA and DOT Update and SARA Training
Register for RCRA Hazardous Waste and DOT Hazardous Materials Update and Refresher Training in Charlotte, NC, on May 3 and get your RCRA and DOT refresher training in one day. Ensure that your reporting requirements are met at the SARA Title III (EPCRA) Workshop on May 4. To register for these courses, click here or call 800-537-2372.
St. Louis RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in St. Louis, MO, on May 9–11 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.
Hilton Head RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Hilton Head, SC, on May 23–25 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.
EPA to Reconsider Effluent Limitation Guidelines
EPA announced the agency’s decision to review and reconsider the final rule that amends the effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the steam electric power generating category under the Clean Water Act (ELG Rule). The rule reduces the amount of toxic metals, nutrients, and other pollutants released by coal plants into streams by 1.4 billion pounds. It is estimated to cost $480 million per year, but estimated benefits associated with the rule are $451 to $566 million.
EPA issued an administrative stay to delay the compliance deadlines for the ELG Rule during the pendency of the ongoing litigation challenging the rule in order to give the agency the opportunity to consider and review the rule. EPA will also be sending a letter to the petitioners who requested reconsideration of the rule, to notify them that the rule has been administratively stayed and is under review.
A statement issued by the Sierra Club indicated that EPA’s effort to roll back these vital protections poses a significant threat to families that live near coal plants. The water toxics standard was finalized by EPA in 2015 and has been in effect since January 2016. But EPA Administrator Pruitt has now done an about-face and accepted petitions from polluting industries to reconsider the standard, and has halted upcoming compliance deadlines in the meantime. Nearly 40% of all coal plants discharge toxic pollution within five miles of a downstream community’s drinking water intake. According to the Sierra Club, coal plant wastewater has contaminated more than 23,000 miles of waterways, including nearly 400 water bodies used as drinking water sources.
Comment Period Extended for EPA Rule on TCE
EPA has extended the comment period for a proposed rule on Trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic chemical with human health concerns identified by EPA in a 2014 risk assessment. EPA proposed these rules in December and January to ban certain uses of the chemical in aerosol degreasing, as a spot cleaner in dry cleaning facilities, and in commercial vapor degreasing. The comment period for the proposed ban on TCE as a commercial vapor degreaser was extended to April 19.
EPA Webcast: Mapping Community Air Quality Concerns
An upcoming webcast will present the Community-LINE Source Model (C-LINE): a near-road air pollution model that plays almost like a video game, available to any user with a computer or tablet. C-LINE allows users to not only evaluate what is going on in their local area, but also what might happen if things change, such as from increases in traffic or diesel trucks cutting through town. Currently, the model is being further honed and developed. Learn more in this interactive session, which will will be held on Thursday, April 20, 2017, from 2:00–3:30 p.m. EDT.
U.S. Streams Carry Surprisingly Extensive Mixture of Pollutants
Many U.S. waterways carry a variety of pollutants, but not much is known about the composition or health effects of these chemical combinations. A new in-depth study, "Expanded Target-Chemical Analysis Reveals Extensive Mixed-Organic-Contaminant Exposure in U.S. Streams," however, is providing insight as it shows the mixtures are more complex than expected and contain compounds that could potentially harm aquatic species. They say the findings, reported this week in Environmental Science & Technology, could have implications for human health.
In previous work that built on European research, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tested streams across the U.S. for organic, or carbon-containing, contaminants. They found some evidence that these waterways contained complex blends of these pollutants. Paul M. Bradley and colleagues are now releasing results from a much broader follow-up study conducted by the USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The researchers involved in this new investigation checked water samples from 38 streams for 719 organic chemicals.
More than half of these compounds showed up in the water samples. Every stream—even those in undeveloped and uninhabited regions—carried at least one of the organic contaminants, and some carried as many as 162. Among other compounds, the researchers detected caffeine; insecticides and herbicides including glyphosate, as well as byproducts from their degradation; antibacterials such as triclosan; and pharmaceuticals including antihistamines and metformin, a treatment for diabetes. The study showed that some of these compounds, which are designed to have biological activity, frequently occur together in streams. The researchers say the potential for complex interactions between these chemicals warrants further study to determine whether they pose a threat to aquatic wildlife, the foodweb and humans.
The authors acknowledged funding from the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.
Court Grants EPA Request to Delay Smog Standards
Last week, a federal court granted a request from the EPA to delay court proceedings over the more protective 2015 smog standards. The agency had requested the delay to give it additional time to review those standards.
Attorneys for public health and environmental organizations think the delay is likely an indication that the federal government will seek to stop defending or weaken implementation of the smog standards.
"Any delay in implementing the 2015 smog standards will likely result in unnecessary asthma attacks and deaths. We will continue to fight to protect public health under the Clean Air Act and for the continued implementation of the more protective 2015 smog standards," Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson said. "The EPA has no justification to weaken anything about these key pollution reduction measures, and we’ll fight against that. We look forward to having our day in court in the future to fight for stronger protections."
Health and environmental groups had argued that reasons for the delay were baseless and that any delay in moving forward with implementation of the more protective smog standard set in 2015 would imperil lives.
The groups filed their opposition to the EPA’s request for a delay Monday morning in response to the EPA’s request, filed late Friday, in which the agency asked to put off a scheduled April 19 court date for oral arguments over the smog standard.
The 2015 smog standard led to multiple lawsuits over smog protections. Polluters and allied states, including Oklahoma, under the direction of Scott Pruitt who was then the state’s attorney general, sued the EPA for setting a standard they claimed was too strong. Several leading public health and environmental organizations, represented by Earthjustice, and some states including California and New York, joined the litigation to oppose the arguments the polluters and their allies were making. The groups represented by Earthjustice in opposing the polluter and allied challenges are the American Lung Association, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In October 2015, following litigation by health and environmental groups for missing its legally required deadline to review the ozone standard, the EPA established a more protective standard further limiting the amount of smog allowed in the air people breathe. The standard was strengthened from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb.
The EPA estimates that, by 2025, the 2015 standard will save hundreds of lives, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for kids each year. Although stronger than the prior 2008 standard, leading medical societies have found that an even more protective standard is needed to safeguard children, asthmatics, seniors and others.
Under the Clean Air Act, the standard must be based solely on scientific evidence about the impact ozone has on people’s health.
Ozone is a corrosive greenhouse gas, formed by emissions from cars, trucks and factories, which is linked to asthma attacks and can cause death in people. It also harms plants, stunting their growth and discoloring and killing their leaves.
In addition to defending the current standard, public health and environmental organizations sued EPA to further strengthen the standard, arguing that a 70 ppb standard still allowed smog levels that the EPA’s own scientific research showed harmed people and plants. Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, West Harlem Environmental Action, Appalachian Mountain Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association in that challenge.
EPA Response to Chemical Spill from U.S. Steel’s Facility
EPA emergency responders continued a second day of intensive water sampling efforts following U.S. Steel’s report yesterday that its Portage, Indiana, facility had released hexavalent chromium to Burns Waterway—about 100 yards from Lake Michigan. U.S. Steel has reported to EPA that its release has been stopped at the source. It’s not known how much has been spilled.
EPA sampling has not yet detected hexavalent chromium from the spill in Lake Michigan. Yesterday, in an abundance of caution, Indiana American Water in Ogden Dunes—the nearest municipal water source—shut down its water intake and switched to a reserve water supply. The National Park Service also closed four beaches (east and west of Burns Ditch) and a riverwalk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The intake, beaches, and riverwalk remain closed.
EPA continues to conduct sampling at the outfall, water intake, beaches and Burns Ditch.
- Outfall results still show detectable hexavalent chromium in the waterway. Overnight, levels at the outfall were as high as 2,231 ug/L.
- Water intake results initially showed hexavalent chromium levels slightly above the detection limit. A confirmation run on that same sample showed that it was at or below the detection limit, well below EPA’s health-based standard for drinking water.
- EPA and the National Park Service have identified additional locations for water and sediment sampling along the lakeshore (east and west of Burns Ditch).
EPA is working closely with the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management, the City of Portage, the water company and NPS. EPA will provide another update on April 13. For more information, visit response.epa.gov/USSteelHexavalentChrome.
Birch Point Paper Products Fined $21,789 for Hazardous Waste Violations
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has assessed a $21,789 penalty to Birch Point Paper Products, Inc., of Fitchburg for violating the Environmental Results Program (ERP) and Hazardous Waste regulations at its printing facility located at 750 Crawford Street.
During an inspection on April 15, 2016, MassDEP personnel found that the company had disposed of ignitable, hazardous waste cleanup solvent containing toluene and acetone to the sanitary sewer line. The company also did not determine whether its waste rags containing solvent and ink were hazardous wastes, did not properly label containers of waste ink, and did not submit the ERP Printer Compliance Certification form for 2015. Birch Point Paper has since stopped the discharge, submitted the required ERP certification form, and is correcting the remaining violations.
A recent consent order assessed the $21,789 penalty, with $5,789 to be paid to the Commonwealth. The order also directs $16,000 of the penalty towards a Supplemental Environmental Project, involving the purchase of thermal imaging cameras, truck chargers and other equipment for the Fitchburg Fire Department.
"The disposal of hazardous, ignitable waste down the sewer is very dangerous and must never be allowed because of the explosion potential and the harm it can cause to the public wastewater treatment system," said Mary Jude Pigsley, director of MassDEP's Central Regional Office in Worcester. "To demonstrate its good faith in rectifying the violations, the company has adopted new waste-handling procedures and is purchasing equipment for the Fitchburg Fire Department that will enhance the safety of firefighters."
From Moo to Goo: Microbes Convert Methane to Alternative Fuel Source
Oil and gas wells and even cattle release methane gas into the atmosphere, and researchers are working on ways to not only capture this gas but also convert it into something useful and less-polluting.
Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a new system to convert methane into a deep green, energy-rich, gelatin-like substance that can be used as the basis for biofuels and other bioproducts, specialty chemicals—and even feed for cows that create the gas in the first place.
"We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass which can be used to make fuel, fertilizer, animal feed, chemicals and other products," said Hans Bernstein, corresponding author of a recent paper in Bioresource Technology.
Methane is an unavoidable byproduct of our lifestyle. Manure from dairy cows, cattle, and other livestock that provide us food often breaks down into methane. Drilling processes used to obtain the oil and natural gas we use to drive our cars and trucks or heat our homes often vent or burn off excess methane to the atmosphere, wasting an important energy resource.
PNNL scientists approached the problem by getting two very different micro-organisms to live together in harmony. One is a methane-loving methanotroph, found underground near rice paddies and landfills—where natural methane production typically occurs. The other is a photosynthetic cyanobacterium that resembles algae. Originally cultured from a lake in Siberia, it uses light along with carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.
The two aren't usually found together, but the two co-exist in harmony in a bioreactor at PNNL—thanks to a co-culture system created by Leo Kucek, Grigoriy E. Pinchuk, and Sergey Stolyar as well as Eric Hill and Alex Beliaev, who are two authors of the current paper.
PNNL scientist Hans Bernstein collected methane gas from a Washington dairy farm and Colorado oil fields and fed it to the microbes in the bioreactor.
One bacterium, Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z, ate the methane and produced carbon dioxide and energy-rich biomass made up largely of a form of carbon that can be used to produce energy. But Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z can't do it alone. It needs the other micro-organism, Synechococcus species 7002, which uses light to produce the steady stream of oxygen its counterpart needs to carry out the methane-consuming reaction.
Each one accomplishes an important task while supplying the other with a substance it needs to survive. They keep each other happy and well fed—as Bernstein puts it, they're engaging in a "productive metabolic coupling."
"The two organisms complement each other, support each other," said Bernstein. "We have created an adaptable biotechnology platform with microbes that are genetically tractable for the synthesis of biofuels and biochemicals."
Agricultural and industrial biogas is typically used to generate electricity but engineers have developed ways of upgrading biogas to compressed or liquefied natural gas. But the biogas is typically filled with corrosive impurities like hydrogen sulfide that must be removed before it can be used.
The PNNL process produces a much cleaner product, either liquid or solid, with simply the flick of a light switch or exposure to sunlight. When there's methane to convert, the cyanobacteria absorb light and use carbon dioxide as fuel to produce oxygen, fueling the methane-munching bacteria. When there is not much methane, researchers dim the lights, reducing the oxygen, which slows the action of the methanotrophs. In recent tests the PNNL team ran the system continuously for about two months.
"The beauty of this system is that it doesn't matter where the methane comes from," said Ron Thomas, deputy director of technology deployment and outreach at PNNL. "It could be agricultural waste; it could be methane from oil wells. The system can take waste from multiple waste streams and create a useful product."
The research was funded by DOE's Office of Science (BER) and the Linus Pauling Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at PNNL. Cell imaging and sorting were performed at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at PNNL.
Construction Stormwater General Permit Modified in Washington State
The Washington state Department of Ecology (Ecology) modified the construction stormwater national pollutant discharge elimination system and state waste discharge general permit (permit) as a result of an appeal. The current permit issued November 18, 2015, was appealed December 21, 2015. The draft permit modification was available for public comment December 21, 2016, to February 10, 2017, and ecology hosted a draft permit modification informational public workshop and public hearing on February 10, 2017.
Ecology prepared a fact sheet addendum and response to comments for the draft permit modification. The final permit modification goes into effect May 5, 2017.
Permit Changes: The permit changes are to dust control (S1.C.3.i), pH sampling requirements (S4.D), engineering calculation requirements (S9.B.1.f), and concrete washout (S9.D.9.h).
Purpose of the Permit: The permit authorizes the discharge of stormwater and authorized non-stormwater associated with construction activity. The permit covers all areas of Washington state, except most tribal lands (the permit does cover most of the Puyallup Reservation). The construction stormwater general permit (CSWGP) limits the discharge of pollutants to surface waters under the authority of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251) and limits the discharge of pollutants to surface and groundwater under the authority of the State Water Pollution Control Act, chapter 90.48 RCW.
Applying for Coverage under the Permit: New or unpermitted construction sites may obtain coverage under CSWGP by submitting a complete notice of intent (permit coverage application) to ecology and satisfying all applicable public notice and State Environmental Policy Act requirements (WAC 173-226-200). The application is available online.
Copies of the Final Permit Modification: Copies of the final permit modification, fact sheet addendum, and response to comments are available online. Additionally, you may request copies from Dena Jaskar at email@example.com, or 360-407-6401. The final permit modification will be effective May 5, 2017.
Waste Transporter to Pay $150,000 to Settle Allegations It Illegally Transported and Stockpiled Hazardous Waste
EQ Northeast, a Wrentham, MA based waste transport company will pay $150,000 in civil penalties to settle allegations that it illegally transported hazardous waste and stored it at the company’s unlicensed facility, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.
The company transports hazardous waste from large retail stores and pharmacies across the Northeast to licensed disposal facilities in Michigan and Oklahoma. According to the complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court Friday along with the consent judgment, the AG’s Office alleges that, on at least 10 occasions, EQ Northeast Inc. illegally transported hazardous waste shipments to its Wrentham facility rather than directly to the licensed designated facilities in Michigan and Oklahoma, as required by the Hazardous Waste Management Act.
The company allegedly stockpiled a large volume of hazardous waste in a single tractor trailer at its Wrentham facility without a storage license from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), without taking required safety precautions, and without notifying state authorities, as MassDEP regulations require. The hazardous waste included highly corrosive acids, aerosols, flammables, oxidizers, explosives, and other acutely hazardous wastes.
“Companies that transport hazardous waste are expected to comply with rules that protect public safety and the environment,” AG Healey said. “By illegally unloading and storing different types of hazardous waste at an unlicensed site, this defendant created a significant risk to the environment and a risk of fire, explosion, or violent reaction threatening public safety.”
“MassDEP works to ensure that human health, public safety and the environment are protected when hazardous waste is managed and stored,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “To that end, we will continue to work with our partners so that applicable regulations are followed, and identify for appropriate enforcement those who violate the law.”
The AG’s complaint also alleges that by avoiding compliance and permitting fees and transport costs, EQ Northeast gained a substantial economic benefit and enjoyed an unfair advantage over its competitors who act in compliance with Massachusetts laws and regulations. EQ Northeast also allegedly failed to disclose to authorities and its Massachusetts retail store customers that the hazardous waste would not be transported directly to a licensed, designated facility. The AG’s Office alleges that this deceptive conduct violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act because, if the company had disclosed where it would transport the waste, its customers would have avoided doing business with the company.
Operators of Toa Alta’s Landfill Ordered to Make Environmental Improvements and to Stop Disposing Waste
The EPA has ordered the Municipality of Toa Alta, along with current and past operators of the Toa Alta Municipal Solid Waste Landfill, to take immediate actions to address conditions at the landfill that may present potential threats to human health and the environment. Under the order, the landfill’s owner, the Municipality of Toa Alta, and its operators will be required to:
- Repair leachate collection systems
- Cover exposed areas of the landfill on a daily basis to help control odors and blowing debris
- Cover inactive areas of the landfills
- Inspect incoming loads of waste to separate out hazardous wastes and prohibited materials
One of the most serious problems that needs to be addressed is the landfill’s leachate collection system, which is not functioning. Leachate is a liquid that has percolated through or been generated by decomposition of waste material. The Toa Alta Landfill sits on top of Puerto Rico’s North Coast Limestone aquifer system, which is a potential source of drinking water. The landfill is adjacent to a number of homes of Toa Alta residents.
The order also requires the municipality and current operator to better manage stormwater, institute mosquito control measures, and, improve landfill security. In addition, because the landfill has reached capacity, the order directs the municipality to permanently stop disposing of waste at the landfill by December 31, 2017.
“The violations at this landfill may present an imminent threat to the community, so the EPA is using its authority to require immediate actions to address these problems to protect the community and the drinking water aquifer,” said Catherine McCabe, EPA Acting Regional Administrator. “Throughout Puerto Rico, EPA has been taking similar actions at landfills where we have authority to do so, while working with the government of Puerto Rico to make improvements to its overall solid waste management program.”
This order comes after the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board cited the municipality for various violations of environmental regulations in recent years, and yet operations at the landfill continued to deteriorate. The Environmental Quality Board has primary responsibility for regulating solid waste landfills in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The Toa Alta landfill has been receiving waste since 1966. During this period, the landfill has been owned by the Municipality of Toa Alta and has been operated by a number of entities, including the Municipality of Toa Alta, Empresas Municipales Toalte?a, Corp, CMA Environmental, LLC, and Landfill Technologies of Toa Alta. The municipality and Empresas Municipales Toalte?a, Corp have been the landfill’s primary operators since 2016.
Since 2007, the EPA has reached agreements with 12 municipalities and other owners and operators of landfills in Puerto Rico to improve landfill operations and to put them on schedules for closure. The EPA is continuing to assess landfills throughout Puerto Rico and to develop legal agreements where it has the authority.
Ag Companies Required to Better Manage Pesticides in California’s Central Valley
The EPA recently announced separate settlements with two companies over the improper storage and labeling of agricultural pesticides. J.R. Simplot Company, one of the largest privately-held agribusiness companies in the nation, and Gar Tootelian, Inc., a long-time distributor of chemicals and fertilizers in the San Joaquin Valley, have agreed to pay a total of $131,920 in civil penalties. The firms have committed to correcting all of the identified compliance issues.
Both companies operated facilities with multiple violations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which regulates the distribution, sale and use of pesticides in the United States. Simplot agreed to pay $98,960 and, separately, Gar Tootelian will pay $32,960.
“Pesticide facilities must be managed to prevent releases that could harm workers and the environment,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “We will continue to work side-by-side with the State of California to ensure companies manage their pesticides safely.”
Simplot operates five facilities in California’s Central Valley subject to the enforcement actions, including in the communities of Stockton, Terra Bella, Five Points, Traver, and Colusa. Inspections in 2015 and 2016 by EPA and by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation on behalf of EPA found 23 violations.
At its Stockton facility, the violations included:
- Failure to anchor or elevate bulk pesticide storage tanks, a requirement to prevent the tanks from floating in the event of an earthquake or flood
- Labels with missing net contents on bulk pesticide storage containers. This information is required on pesticides offered for sale, and is necessary to account for amounts of pesticide in the event of an emergency.
- A label with the incorrect EPA establishment registration number on a pesticide storage container. This number is used to identify where the product was produced, and is crucial in maintaining product integrity.
At its Traver facility, the violations included:
- Failure to anchor or elevate bulk pesticide storage tanks
- Labels with missing net contents on bulk pesticide storage container
- Failure to seal cracks in pesticide containment pads, meant to prevent releases of any pesticides that spill or leak from pesticide containers
At its Five Points facility, the violations included:
- Failure to anchor or elevate bulk pesticide storage tanks
- Failure to seal cracks in the pesticide containment pad
At its Terra Bella facility, the violations included:
- Failure to anchor or elevate bulk pesticide storage tanks
- Use of refillable containers for two of its pesticides without properly identifying them as such, or including cleanup instructions. Failure to do so could lead to the improper usage of refillable containers and potential contamination of products in the container.
- Labels with missing net contents on bulk pesticide storage containers
At its Colusa facility, the violations included:
- Inadequate holding capacity for a pesticide containment pad. The pad is meant to contain any pesticides that spill or leak from transport vehicles.
Gar Tootelian operates a facility in Reedley, California, which was inspected by EPA in February 2016. The violations included:
- Failure to anchor or elevate bulk pesticide storage tanks
- Labels with missing net contents on bulk pesticide storage containers and portable containers
- Failure to meet standards for refillable containers. The containers used for refilling and transporting pesticide were missing one-way valves or tamper-evident devices.
- Failure to meet design requirements for pesticide containment structures. The firm failed to protect pesticide dispensing equipment against damage and had a drain improperly configured through the containment wall surrounding its bulk pesticide tanks.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act regulations help safeguard the public, the environment, and facility workers by ensuring that pesticides are used, stored, and disposed of safely, and that pesticide containers are adequately cleaned. Pesticide registrants and refillers (i.e., those that repackage pesticides into refillable containers) must comply with the regulations, while consumers are required to follow the label instructions for proper use and disposal.
City of Virginia’s Utilities Department Required to Demonstrate Heating Plant Emissions Compliance
People in the city of Virginia are breathing a little easier these days. That’s because the city’s district heating plant is now compliant after violating its state-issued air quality permit 20 times during the past four years, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced recently.
The heating plant exceeded its permit limits for carbon monoxide, opacity (a measure of visibility) and fine particles. It also failed to correctly operate its emission control equipment. As a result, the city agreed to pay a $27,500 penalty to the MPCA and complete six required actions involving re-testing the emissions control equipment, submitting a compliance plan and a permit amendment related to facility operations. Four of the six requirements have already been completed.
The city’s district heating plant, located at 618 2nd street South, has four boilers that assist in electricity and steam production that heat downtown buildings.
Stipulation agreements are one tool that the MPCA uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first time or repeat violation and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.
Gov. Malloy and State Officials Urge EPA to Act Favorably on Petition to Control Pollution Caused by Upwind States
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and other Connecticut officials urged EPA to approve a petition filed by the State of Connecticut along with eight other neighboring Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to require nine upwind states located in the west and the south to reduce air pollution generated within their borders that is carried to states in the northeast by prevailing winds, causing public health issues for area residents and economic disincentives for the region’s businesses.
The EPA is scheduled hold a hearing in Washington DC on Thursday at the request of the nine petitioning states, who are urging the agency to accept the Section 176A petition when it issues its final decision.
“The failure of upwind states to make investments needed to operate power plants and industrial facilities in an efficient and lean manner—just as we have in Connecticut and other petitioning states—is exacting a steep price on the health of both the people and economy of my state, along with many other states,” Governor Malloy wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
He continued, “Now is the time to require upwind states to take action. EPA must move to include the petitioned states in the collaborative and efficient OTC process to resolve finally the illegal transport of air pollution in Connecticut. Connecticut is tired of serving as the tailpipe of America.”
“The EPA needs to act favorably on the Section 176A petition to protect the health and well-being of Connecticut residents,” Commissioner Klee wrote in his planned testimony. “For many years, we have been forced to breathe unhealthy air created when ozone pollution is transported from upwind states. Adoption of the federal Clean Air Act was intended to address this issue—but to date, it hasn’t effectively done so. EPA leadership is required to bring upwind and downwind states together to solve this problem, because a small downwind state such as Connecticut can’t do that on its own.”
Background on Interstate Transport of Ozone
The ozone pollution carried to Connecticut causes area residents to suffer from increased asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and other public health problems.
Analysis submitted with the Section 176A petition notes that if the state eliminated all of the “home grown” air pollution, the air in parts of Connecticut would still be dangerously polluted and fail to meet federal standards on many days due to the interstate transport of pollution.
More than 90% of ozone levels in southwest Connecticut and more than 80% of ozone levels in some remaining parts of the state result from pollution that originates in areas located out of Connecticut’s jurisdiction and control. Readings at Connecticut air monitoring stations consistently show that that air entering Connecticut already exceeds ozone standards on days when quality here fails to meet federal standards.
Connecticut’s industries and electric power plants have invested heavily in pollution control technologies and additional emissions reductions in-state would come from smaller sources at greater cost. The cost of removing an additional ton of pollution here is estimated at between $10,000 to $40,000 – compared to as little as $500 a ton in upwind states, where even some basic control technologies have not been installed.
Interstate transport of pollution contributes significantly to poor air quality in Connecticut, causing the state to be considered a “nonattainment” area. This means business and industries proposing to engage in new activities that create any air emissions are required to spend more on pollution control equipment and must pay costs to purchase offsets. Industries in upwind states – which also benefit from cheap power produced there from “dirty” fuels – do not face similar financial hardships because air quality there has not placed those states in the “nonattainment” category.
Documents related to the Section 176A petition to EPA can be found on DEEP’s website.
Saltwater Disposal Well Operator Pleads Guilty to Multiple Felony Charges
Jason A. Halek, 43, of Southlake, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota, to three felony charges stemming from the operation of a saltwater disposal well near Dickinson, in Stark County, North Dakota, the Justice Department announced. Halek pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The well, named the Halek 5-22, received “produced water” constituting “brine and other wastes” commonly and generically referred to as “saltwater.” “Saltwater” in this context covers a wide array of drilling waste fluids, including hydraulic fracturing fluid, which is water combined with chemical additives such as biocides, polymers and “weak acids.”
According to an agreed upon factual statement filed in court, Halek admitted to injecting saltwater into the well without first having the state of North Dakota witness a test of the well’s integrity, which is necessary to protect drinking water. Halek also admitted injecting fluids down the “annulus” or “backside” of the well in violation of the well’s permit which required that fluids be injected through the tubing. Finally, Halek also admitted to failing to provide written notice to the state of the date of first injection into the well.
Previously, on Sept. 26, 2014, Nathan R. Garber pleaded guilty to various charges related to the operation of the well. Sentencing for Halek and Garber is scheduled for July 31, 2017.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division. Significant cooperation was provided by the State of North Dakota and the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC). The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Former Kokomo Superfund Site Now Home to New Solar Farm
Senior leaders from the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management recently joined Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight and Inovateus Solar for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the new solar farm on the former Continental Steel Superfund site in Kokomo, Indiana. The 29-acre solar farm consists of 21,000 solar panels used to convert sunlight into electricity to power 1,000 local homes.
“Thanks to an effective and collaborative federal, state and local partnership, we’ve been able to transform this vacant, blighted land into a powerhouse providing energy to Kokomo residents,” said EPA acting superfund director Margaret Guerriero. “Soccer fields and solar energy are turning this former superfund site green.”
In 2011, EPA completed a $66 million Superfund cleanup of contaminated soil and sediments at the former Continental Steel facility, where scrap metal was used to manufacture nails, wire and fencing. Groundwater cleanup is ongoing.
After completing the cleanup, EPA turned the property over to the city and provided a $100,000 superfund redevelopment grant to the city to engage the community in devising a plan to reuse the site. The city selected Inovateus Solar to develop the farm and manage construction of the solar system. Another area of the site is being redeveloped as the 60-acre Wildcat Creek Soccer Complex which will include 30 youth and full-size soccer fields, a walking trail, concessions, restrooms, storage and parking.
“We are pleased to see this significant project come to fruition,” said Bruno Pigott, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “Thanks to the cooperative relationships with our local and federal partners, this site will benefit residents for generations to come.”
"We are happy to partner with Inovateus to continue Kokomo’s trend of transforming underutilized sites into assets,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. “This project has been years in the making, and started when the area underwent a cleanup effort. The transformation from contaminated Superfund site to solar farm has been inspiring and a win for all involved.”
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Trivia Question of the Week
Rivers in the United States are under threat from which of the following?
a. Water demand
d. All of the above