The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has adopted a regulation prohibiting the use of specific refrigerants known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful chemicals that trap heat in the atmosphere at a rate thousands of times that of carbon dioxide, the most common of the climate-changing gases. The action was taken to preserve and continue in California some of the federal EPA prior prohibitions on HFCs. Last year, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals limited EPA’s authority in this area.
“The Board’s action today preserves the federal limits on the use of these powerful chemicals and refrigerants, and provides more certainty to industry,” Board Chair Mary D. Nichols said. "We applaud the actions of many industries, which already have made significant investments in developing and using more climate-friendly alternatives to the high-global warming HFCs.”
California is experiencing the effects of climate change and has committed to take action in order to meet state and federally mandated emissions reduction goals. Under Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), a law authored by Senator Ricardo Lara in 2016, California must reduce HFC emissions by 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. California already has established an approach to reduce super-pollutants, the short-lived climate pollutants that include methane, black carbon and a range of powerful climate-changing chemicals and refrigerants, such as HFCs.
CARB was relying substantially on EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) rules to help meet California’s emission reduction goals for HFCs. HFC emission reductions are important to ensure California ultimately meets its larger climate goals. As a result of the recent court decision, California had to pass its own regulation to ensure it could meet those goals.
The regulation affects certain stationary refrigeration and foam end-uses. It preserves emission reductions from specific sectors with past or shortly upcoming compliance deadlines and will prevent manufacturers from backsliding to start using high-global warming HFCs again. Most manufacturers already have transitioned, or begun the transition, to alternatives that have less of an impact on climate, that is, substances with much lower global warming potential.
The regulation adopted today applies mainly to equipment manufacturers, which cannot use prohibited HFCs in new refrigeration equipment or foams. Prohibited HFCs cannot be used in new equipment and materials in California for the following end-uses:
- Supermarkets and Remote Condensing Units, which are small refrigeration systems used by convenience stores;
- Refrigerated Food Processing & Dispensing Equipment, for example Slurpee machines and frozen yogurt dispensers;
- Stand-alone, or small self-contained refrigeration units;
- Refrigerated vending machines; and
- Foams used in buildings and other places.
Also under the new regulations, manufacturers are responsible for a disclosure statement that must certify the product uses only compliant refrigerants or foam expansion agents. The regulation makes some of the partially vacated SNAP prohibitions enforceable in California, and will lead to in an estimated 3.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emission reductions annually by 2030. While more reductions are necessary for California to meet its legal mandate imposed by SB 1383, this regulation is a good start.
XTO Energy to Pay $320,000 Penalty and Fund Improvements to Resolve Violations
The Department of Justice and EPA have announced a settlement with Houston-based XTO Energy, Inc., resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations stemming from the company’s oil and gas production operations on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
The settlement resolves claims that XTO failed to adequately design, operate, and maintain vapor control systems on its storage tanks at oil and natural gas well pads, resulting in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
As part of the settlement, XTO will ensure the adequacy of its vapor control systems and improve its operation and maintenance practices, monitoring, and inspections. These improvements to XTO’s operations on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will significantly reduce VOC emissions, including through monthly use of infrared cameras during inspections to better detect and respond to air emissions. In addition, EPA estimates that XTO will spend at least $450,000 to fund an environmental mitigation project. XTO will also pay a $320,000 civil penalty.
EPA estimates that XTO’s system upgrades will annually reduce the emission of at least 2,200 tons of VOCs. Improved operation and maintenance will result in additional emissions reductions. The settlement resolves alleged violations at all 20 of XTO’s well pads on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
“This settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants, benefiting the health of residents of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, as well as those living in surrounding communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This case further demonstrates the shared commitment of the Justice Department and EPA to enforce the nation’s environmental laws, including in Indian Country.”
“This settlement with XTO Energy will reduce emissions from its production facilities on the Fort Berthold Reservation and will benefit tribal communities and regional air quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “EPA will continue to work with energy producers and our state and tribal partners to ensure that oil and natural gas extraction occurs in accordance with the laws that protect our air and water resources.”
As part of the settlement, XTO has agreed to evaluate the design and capacity of its vapor control systems, modify those vapor control systems as necessary to ensure that that they are adequately designed and sized to collect and convey emissions to a control device, implement an enhanced inspection and maintenance program, and undertake monthly infrared camera inspections to identify any emissions and take prompt corrective action to address those emissions.
XTO will also conduct an environmental mitigation project to install and operate auto-gauging equipment on storage tanks to reduce how often thief hatches are opened. This project is expected to significantly reduce VOC emissions.
XTO’s oil and natural gas production operations in North Dakota use storage tanks to store produced oil and produced water. The oil and water are stored at separate well pads prior to transport by pipeline or truck. Multiple storage tanks are typically present at a well pad and are frequently controlled by the same vapor control system.
The case arose from EPA’s inspections and information requests in 2015 that found violations related to VOC emissions from produced oil and produced water storage tanks, due to undersized vapor control systems and inadequate operation and maintenance.
This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to reduce public health and environmental impacts from energy extraction activities. The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
Environmental Groups Sue to Maintain Clean Air Act Requirements
Public health and environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit to protect communities against the risk of toxic pollution. Recently, the EPA expanded a loophole that allows major industrial polluters to turn off their pollution control equipment releasing additional lead, chromium and other hazardous air pollutants into surrounding neighborhoods.
Since it was enacted in 1990, the Clean Air Act has required all major sources of hazardous air pollutants to reduce their hazardous emissions by the maximum achievable amount. Virtually every major industry — chemical plants, refineries, lead smelters, paper mills, etc. — has been meeting these requirements for years. EPA’s new action, a 4-page memorandum will change that. The memorandum did not include analysis of air pollution or public health impacts nor did it allow an opportunity for public comment.
By virtue of meeting the Clean Air Act’s requirements, thousands of major polluters across the country will be eligible to stop meeting these requirements. Under EPA’s new rule, they will be able to turn down, turn off, or disconnect their pollution controls and double, triple, or even quadruple their toxic emissions. They will also no longer have to monitor their emissions or accurately report them.
Earthjustice is representing, California Communities Against Toxics, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Citizen Action, The Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council are also joining the suit.
A report released recently by The Environmental Integrity Project examined 12 large industrial facilities in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota and concluded that the regulatory rollback could allow them to release more than four times more toxic air pollutants — such as lead and benzene — than they do now, with the total rising from 121,082 lb a year currently to 540,000 lb annually.
EPA Announced Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Water-Gen
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a recently signed Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Water-Gen.
This CRADA is an example of the EPA partnering with companies to address environmental challenges, such as providing clean drinking water to communities affected by natural disasters or Superfund sites. EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) is working to develop relationships that provide opportunities to test and evaluate new technologies, like the atmospheric water generators, to ensure the US can employ this type of technology and provide its citizens with the highest quality air and water.
The Federal Technology Transfer Act authorizes the use of a CRADA—a collaborative research partnership between an EPA lab or office and one or more external parties, such as universities, companies, governmental organizations, trade associations, and individuals. The CRADA sets the framework for the collaboration with the goal of evaluating, assessing, or developing new technology.
“The goal of this research and development agreement is to advance atmospheric water generators as a viable technology for dramatically improving access to potable water during shortages or contamination events, like natural disasters or infrastructure issues,” said Administrator Pruitt.
In August 2017, EPA’s ORD announced that it was seeking to establish a CRADA with up to four non-federal partners for the purpose of investigating the potential use of atmospheric water generators (AWGs) in “expanding the availability of water during shortages, contamination events and other interruptions of service.” In January 2018, EPA signed a CRADA with Water-Gen, a corporation developing cutting-edge AWG technology, to evaluate their GEN-350 system.
Maui Clean Water Act Decision Upheld in Federal Court
A key Clean Water Act ruling was reaffirmed when the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the County of Maui’s petition for the full court to rehear an appeals panel’s February ruling. The panel found that the County has been violating the US Clean Water Act (CWA) since its Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility was first put into operation in the early 1980s.
The Lahaina facility, which serves West Maui, injects 3 million to 5 million gallons of treated sewage into groundwater each day. In 2011, an EPA-funded study used tracer dye to show conclusively that the Lahaina sewage flows with the groundwater into near-shore waters off Kahekili Beach, where it has been linked to algae blooms that smother the coral reefs and other degradation of this unique marine ecosystem. Noting that the County admitted it would need a CWA permit “to dispose of pollutants directly into the Pacific Ocean” through an ocean outfall, the panel held that it “would make a mockery of the CWA’s protections” to allow the County to do “indirectly that which it cannot do directly.”
Industry groups and 18 conservative state attorneys general had argued for the rehearing, making this decision an important affirmation of Clean Water Act protections across the nation. Not a single one of the Ninth Circuit’s 25 active judges even asked for a vote on whether to reconsider the panel’s decision.
Four Maui community groups represented by Earthjustice — Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club-Maui Group, Surfrider Foundation and West Maui Preservation Association — sued the County in 2012, seeking to protect the sensitive coral reefs at Kahekili, as well as public users of the popular beach park, from harmful pollution. In 2017, the US Geological Survey, the State of Hawai‘i’s Division of Aquatic Resources, and other experts published a peer-reviewed study documenting the ongoing, serious harm to the reef at Kahekili associated with the Lahaina facility’s discharges to the ocean.
“We’re pleased the Ninth Circuit rejected this attempt by polluting industries to do an end run around the Clean Water Act,” said Earthjustice staff attorney David Henkin. “When Congress passed this landmark law to protect our nation’s waters, it did not create a loophole for Maui County to pollute the Pacific Ocean by using the groundwater underneath the Lahaina facility as a sewer.”
In 2015, the County agreed that, if it lost its appeal, it would invest $2.5 million in infrastructure upgrades to allow treated effluent from the Lahaina facility to be reused for irrigation, rather than dumped into the ocean. To date, Maui County has authorized expenditures of over $3.5 million for private lawyers to litigate this case.
“It’s time for the County to stop spending taxpayer money on lawyers and to start focusing on fixing the problem,” Henkin said.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Like some creature in a sci-fi film, the huge gob of plastic known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing over a massive stretch of ocean between California and Hawaii where ocean currents deposit debris. According to findings published in the journal Scientific Reports, the size of the patch itself is not changing, but the volume of plastic it contains is. That volume is now thought to be 79,000 tons. Most alarming: The plastic in the patch is just some of what’s going into the ocean. Much more may be deposited on the ocean floor. “In this sense, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, in the end, merely the most dramatic outward symptom of a far deeper problem of enormous volumes of human waste reaching places where it was never intended to be,” Chris Mooney of the Washington Post writes.
New Report Recommends Improved Data on Methane Emissions
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has indicated that the US should take bold steps to improve measurement, monitoring, and inventories of methane emissions caused by human activities. Better data on methane—a greenhouse gas that contributes to air pollution and threatens public and worker safety—would help inform decisions related to climate, economics, and human health.
“Methane is getting more attention because it is a potent, short-lived greenhouse gas that is increasing,” said James W.C. White, professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “There have been recent advances in our abilities to measure and monitor methane from its many sources, and now we need to strengthen and interlink these different approaches.”
Anthropogenic sources of methane emissions span various sectors of the economy such as energy, agriculture, and waste disposal. There are a variety of reasons, beyond climate change, to measure, monitor, and track methane emissions. For example, monitoring of methane emissions is important to protecting the health and safety of workers in industries such as coal mining, and recovery of methane can have an economic benefit as a source of energy.
In general, there are two approaches to estimate these emissions. The top-down approach estimates emissions using observations of atmospheric methane concentrations and models that simulate their transport from the source to the observation location. The bottom-up approach measures emissions at the scale of individual methane emitters, such as natural gas wells or cattle farms, and uses those results to extrapolate emissions at regional and national scales.
In some cases, the estimates produced by these two methods differ significantly, potentially revealing missing emission sources, for example, or problems with the atmospheric sampling. To address such discrepancies, the report recommends a national research effort to strengthen the two methods to improve accuracy, better attribute emissions to specific sectors and processes, and detect trends.
Currently, the Greenhouse Gases Inventory (GHGI) serves as the main source of information for emissions in the US, with emissions reported at national, annual scales. As a complement to the GHGI, the report says the US should establish and maintain a gridded inventory that presents data at finer spatial (i.e. size and distance) and temporal (i.e. time) scales. Such an inventory, with values for major sources of emissions within the grid of a location, is necessary for scientists to make detailed comparisons between the top-down and bottom-up estimates of methane emissions and would address the needs of state and local policymakers who require more detailed information than currently available.
Numerous inventories that track methane emissions over time and link them to their specific source have been developed to address specific needs. The GHGI trends in the data help policymakers assess the effectiveness of national-scale policy initiatives. State-level inventories are more detailed than the GHGI, allowing for tailoring of state policy. Individual facilities or companies use inventories for corporate sustainability reporting and to make informed investment and risk decisions.
As the science evolves and methodologies to estimate emissions become outdated, the report stresses it is important to keep practices consistent with the best scientific understanding and current engineering practice. An advisory group should be established to guide how new science can be incorporated into improving the GHGI. The group could be facilitated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and should include experts from academia, industry, policymaking, other federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Any changes to the GHGI resulting from these activities should be clearly communicated to the public, the committee said.
New CAFO General Permit Issued in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released a new general permit, PAG-12, for NPDES permit coverage to persons operating concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Pennsylvania. The previous PAG-12 General Permit expired on March 31, 2018.
“This updated PAG-12 will streamline and clear up some requirements for farmers, while also improving water quality by strengthening protections for manure storage and leak detection,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
Notable changes to PAG-12 include:
- Electronic submission of Annual Reports, when required by DEP
- Annual inspections of earthen storage facilities and sampling of leak detection systems
- Changing the reporting period from “calendar year” to “crop year” (October 1 – September 30)
- Updated forms to comply with EPA requirements and elimination of duplicative and conflicting requirements
The new permit includes a $500 annual Notice of Intent (NOI) fee starting no earlier than January 1, 2020, but has eliminated the proposed initial NOI fee of $500 for new CAFOs. The annual fees would be paid to the Clean Water Fund for the purpose of supporting DEP’s pollution control efforts.
DEP held a 30-day comment on proposed changes to the new permit from January 20 – February 20, 2018. All comments received during the comment period and DEP’s responses to those comments are included as part of the PAG-12 materials. Other changes are described in the fact sheet for the PAG-12 General Permit, which can be found on the DEP eLibrary with the other PAG-12 materials.
Public-Private Partnership on Funding for Recycling Infrastructure
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and Closed Loop Fund recently unveiled an historic statewide, public-private partnership targeting a $5 million investment in recycling infrastructure in Connecticut in 2018. This statewide program follows Closed Loop Fund’s successful investment in Waterbury, CT in 2017.
DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee stated, “In challenging budgetary times public-private partnerships, such as this one, assists DEEP in meeting our mission of protecting Connecticut's environment. One of the easier things individuals can do to help our planet is to recycle, and these funds will go a long way towards increasing recycling rates across our state. We are grateful to the Closed Loop Fund for their assistance in putting Connecticut at the forefront of recycling efforts nationwide.”
“This is our first formal partnership with a state to help deploy below market rate capital to improve the recycling system across the state. We are eager to make an impact in Connecticut and replicate this model elsewhere,” said Ron Gonen, Managing Partner of Closed Loop Fund.
Closed Loop Fund’s first partnership in Connecticut began in Waterbury in 2017 in an effort to increase the city’s recycling rate from 6% to 25% in three years. Closed Loop Fund financed the purchase of recycling trucks as well as 95-gallon recycling containers for every household in the city. Early returns show that Waterbury’s recycling rate doubled in the first month of the new program.
The Closed Loop Fund is committed to investing in municipalities and private companies developing new technologies focused on elimination of waste or the development of new or improved recycling technologies for projects designed to improve recycling rates, increase demand for products made from recycled content, and grow existing markets and create new markets for recycled material for which conventional sources of funding are unavailable.
The investment will come in the form of 0% loans to municipalities and below market loans to private companies with substantial business operations in Connecticut. DEEP will assist in the identification and initial due diligence screening for applicants. Closed Loop Fund will make the final evaluation on funding projects.
Closed Loop Fund invests in sustainable consumer goods, advanced recycling technologies and the development of the circular economy. Closed Loop Fund aims to invest $100 million by 2020 with the goal to create economic value for cities by increasing recycling rates in communities across America. Closed Loop Fund brings together the world’s largest consumer product, retail, and financial companies committed to finding a national solution to divert waste from landfills into the recycling stream in order to be used in the manufacturing supply chain. Key supporters include 3M, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, Keurig Green Mountain, Nestlé Waters North America, PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.
New Energy Bill Approved in Connecticut
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee applauded the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee for voting to approve Senate Bill 9, an act concerning Connecticut’s energy future. The legislation was introduced by Governor Malloy earlier this session along with a companion environment bill.
“While the Trump administration and their GOP allies in Congress actively work to undo the progress, we have made in combating climate change, Connecticut is one step closer to taking real and substantive action to secure our state’s clean energy future,” Governor Malloy said. “As we speak, we see the effects of global climate change, including storms of unprecedented power and unpredictability harming our communities and putting residents, homes, business, and infrastructure at risk. The bill passed by committee today will help further Connecticut’s goals of increasing accessibility of residential rooftop solar, redoubling our commitment to renewable energy, and combating the effects of a changing climate. I look forward to continued conversation with the committee and stakeholders, and I encourage the full House and Senate to pass clean energy legislation.”
“Today’s vote is a victory for all of Connecticut in support of meeting our aggressive climate change goals and we thank the committee for their work on this legislation,” Commissioner Klee said. “We will continue working with legislators, advocates, and industry leaders on this bill to ensure Connecticut’s energy future is cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable.”
93 Manufacturing Plants Awarded 2017 ENERGY STAR® Certification
The EPA announced that 93 manufacturing plants earned ENERGY STAR certification for their superior energy performance in 2017. Together, these plants reduced their energy bills by almost $340 million, saved more than 60 trillion British thermal units (TBtu) of energy, and achieved broad emissions reductions, including 4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The energy savings is enough to meet the annual energy needs of almost 360,000 American households.
“Earning ENERGY STAR certification is a real mark of excellence, highlighting companies that are leaders in cutting energy costs and reducing waste,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum.
The ENERGY STAR industrial program provides industry-specific energy benchmarking tools and other resources for 17 different types of manufacturing plants. These resources allow an industrial plant to compare its energy performance to others in the same industry and therefore establish meaningful energy performance goals. Plants from the automotive, baking, cement, corn refining, food processing, glass manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and petroleum refining sectors are among those that qualified in 2017.
Since 2006, the ENERGY STAR Industrial Program has annually certified manufacturing plants for reaching the top 25% of energy performance in their industries nationwide.
Environmental News Links
Which of the following takes the longest time to decompose?
a) Plastic six-pack holder
b) Hard plastic container
c) Disposable diaper