Biden-Harris Administration Finalizes Standards to Slash Pollution and Protect Health

December 04, 2023
The EPA announced a final rule that will sharply reduce methane and other harmful air pollutants from the oil and natural gas industry, including from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide, promote the use of cutting-edge methane detection technologies, and deliver significant economic and public health benefits. The final action was announced by Administrator Michael S. Regan and President Biden’s National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), advancing President Biden’s historic climate agenda and day one commitment to restore the United States’ global leadership on climate change.
Oil and natural gas operations are the nation’s largest industrial source of methane, a climate “super pollutant” that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide and is responsible for approximately one third of the warming from greenhouse gases occurring today. Sharp cuts in methane emissions are among the most critical actions the United States can take in the short term to slow the rate of climate change.
EPA’s final rule leverages the latest cost-effective, innovative technologies and proven solutions to prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038, the equivalent of 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – nearly as much as all the carbon dioxide emitted by the power sector in 2021. In 2030 alone, the expected reductions are equivalent to 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – more than the annual emissions from 28 million gasoline cars. The rule would achieve a nearly 80 percent reduction below the future methane emissions expected without the rule. These reductions are greater than what was projected for the 2022 and 2021 proposals, thanks to changes that strengthen provisions to limit wasteful, polluting flaring of natural gas and analytical updates that better capture the impacts of this rulemaking.
Oil and natural gas operations are also significant sources of other health-harming air pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can increase asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, as well as toxic air pollutants such as benzene that can increase cancer risk. Pollution from oil and gas activities occurs in or near some communities where people live, work and go to school – including in low-income communities and communities with large numbers of people of color, which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Based on an analysis of populations exposed to oil and gas pollution, EPA expects the final rule will reduce these pollutants and provide a range of health benefits for communities, including those with environmental justice concerns.
EPA’s estimates show the final rule will also protect public health by avoiding 16 million tons of volatile organic compounds from 2024 to 2038, along with 590,000 tons of toxic air pollutants like benzene and toluene. In this same timeframe, the rule will prevent wasteful leaks and other releases of about 400 billion cubic feet of valuable fuel each year– enough to heat nearly 8 million American homes for the winter.
“On day one, President Biden restored America’s critical role as the global leader in confronting climate change, and today we’ve backed up that commitment with strong action, significantly slashing methane emissions and other air pollutants that endanger communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “We’ve crafted these technology standards to advance American innovation and account for the industry’s leadership in accelerating methane technology. Thanks to robust public feedback and engagement with states, Tribes, companies, and organizations, we are finalizing this historic action to reduce climate pollution, protecting people and the planet.”
“As the world gathers to tackle the climate crisis, the U.S. now has the most protective methane pollution limits on the books. EPA’s limits on oil and gas methane pollution are a vital win for the climate and public health, dramatically reducing warming pollution and providing vital clean air protections to millions of Americans. With other countries also zeroing in on methane as a key climate risk, it’s a signal to operators worldwide that clean-up time is here,” said Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund. “EPA has shown tremendous leadership in establishing these leading clean air standards and we look forward to working with states and EPA to move quickly on implementation. The communities who fought long and hard for these protections now need to begin to reap their benefits.”
The final rule leverages innovative technologies and proven solutions that leading oil-and gas-producing states and companies are using — and have committed to use — to reduce dangerous air pollution. Building on two proposed rules issued in November 2021 and December 2022, the final requirements also incorporate feedback and information that EPA received through nearly 1 million public comments, as well as extensive engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. This public input helped the Agency develop rigorous and commonsense standards that will slash methane emissions and incentivize innovation, recover natural gas that otherwise would be wasted, and provide industry with adequate time and flexibility to comply in a cost-effective manner.
The final rule includes several important updates to requirements the agency had proposed in 2021 and 2022, both to secure additional methane reductions and to ensure industry has time to obtain the pollution control equipment needed to comply. It also provides additional flexibilities to encourage use of advanced technologies such as aerial screening, sensor networks, and satellites that help operators find and fix leaks more quickly.
The final rule includes a comprehensive suite of pollution reduction standards that address the largest sources of methane and other harmful pollutants at oil and gas facilities, including methane that leaks or is vented from equipment and processes. Among other things, the final rule will:
  • Phase in a requirement to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas that is produced by new oil wells
  • Require comprehensive monitoring for leaks of methane from well sites and compressor stations, while giving oil and gas companies flexibility to use low-cost and innovative methane monitoring technologies
  • Stablish standards that require reductions in emissions from high-emitting equipment like controllers, pumps, and storage tanks
In addition, the final rule includes a Super Emitter Program that will utilize third-party expertise in remote sensing to detect large methane releases or leaks known as “super emitters,” which recent studies have indicated account for almost half of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
The rule also clarifies how states can use their existing programs in plans for limiting methane emissions from existing sources and gives states two years to submit their plans for EPA approval.
EPA’s final rule will work hand in hand with the Methane Emissions and Waste Reduction Incentive Program in the Inflation Reduction Act to cut emissions of methane from the oil and natural gas industry.
“The BlueGreen Alliance is built on the promise that good jobs and a clean environment go together,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “Standards like the ones being finalized by the EPA to reduce methane emissions at oil and gas facilities meet that promise. Stopping unnecessary methane emissions will be a huge boon for our climate. But, just as importantly in our view, it will also create jobs across the country and protect worker and community health. We applaud President Biden for showing the world that we can have good jobs and a clean environment if we act to fight climate change the right way.”
EPA estimates that the final rule will yield total net benefits of $97 to $98 billion dollars from 2024-2038 ($2019), or $7.3 to $7.6 billion a year, after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas. These estimates account for climate benefits and some health benefits from reduced ozone exposure, but do not account for the rule’s full health benefits of reducing other forms of harmful air pollution. The rule will result in increased recovery of natural gas, valued at $7.4 to $13 billion from 2024-2038 ($2019), or $820 to $980 million a year.
These climate benefits are estimated using EPA’s most recent analysis of the social cost of greenhouse gases (SC-GHG), a metric that represents the monetary value of avoided climate damages associated with a decrease in emissions of a greenhouse gas. Following peer review in May 2023, EPA finalized its technical report on the updated SC-GHG estimates reflecting recent advances in the science on climate change. This report, which also addressed recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, was used to value emissions reductions in this final rule.
National Ice Cream Manufacturer Agrees to Pay Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations
HP Hood, LLC, a national ice cream manufacturer, agreed to pay a penalty of $115,849 to settle claims by the EPA that it violated federal laws regulating the handling and storage of ammonia at its facility in Suffield, Conn. As part of the settlement, the company has also agreed to complete system safety audits of its six facilities nationwide that have requirements under the risk management program (RMP) regulation.
"When a company falls short in meeting its safety obligations, it puts workers, local communities, and the environment at risk. With the company operating facilities across the country, we have a duty to call out a lack of accountability when we see it," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Ensuring safety and management practices of hazardous substances is key. We are dedicated to our core mission of protecting all communities, specifically focusing on mitigating environmental pollution and minimizing risks. This case serves as a reminder to companies that accountability and compliance is important. Chemical accident planning, prevention, and mitigation requirements, are all steps we make certain of, in order to keep New England safe."
An EPA inspection of HP Hood, LLC, facilities in Suffield, Conn revealed that HP Hood failed to document that its ammonia refrigeration equipment complied with recognized and generally applicable good engineering practices in violation of the Clean Air Act. This included issues like missing ammonia alarms, inadequate labeling of critical equipment, and failure to adhere to engineering best practices in equipment installation.
In addition, HP Hood failed to comply with the mechanical integrity requirements of the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention regulations by allegedly failing to sufficiently conduct piping inspections. Instances of damaged pipe insulation with potential safety risks and a minor anhydrous ammonia leak from a valve were documented. These findings highlighted the need for improved safety measures and adherence to industry standards at this facility, and at the other five HP Hood LLC facilities with risk management plan (RMP) requirements nationwide. As result, EPA negotiated with HP Hood LLC to pay a penalty, as well as create a schedule for conducting system safety audits at its six RMP facilities nationwide.
The penalty also includes a separate EPA assessment regarding a recent ammonia release from this company, caused by a forklift impact. Impacts to equipment have caused several accidents at facilities owned by other companies located in New England. As a result of EPA's action, HP Hood LLC has brought its facility in Suffield, Conn., into compliance to correct the conditions found during the inspection. In addition, the company must take steps to protect pipes in the machinery room from future forklift impacts.
Wisconsin Roofing Contractor Repeatedly Failed to Protect Employees from Deadly Fall Hazards
After an Overhead Solutions, LLC, manager attended an on-site training discussion on fall hazards on May 25, 2023, federal workplace safety inspectors observed the company's employees working about 30 feet above ground on a Menasha apartment complex roof without adequate fall protection.
Thirteen days later, an inspector observed a project manager employed by Overhead Solutions LLC of Suamico hand out caffeinated energy drinks to subcontractors on a 10-foot-high roof in Appleton, a kindness undermined by the fact that workers lacked fall protection and the manager did not correct the hazard and protect them from the construction industry's leading cause of death.
In both situations, OSHA opened inspections.
At the Menasha site, inspectors found employees wearing fall protection harnesses and anchors installed on the building’s roof with ropes attached to the anchors, but readily accessible lifelines were not attached as required. Inspectors also found employees exposed to deadly fall hazards as they unloading a pallet raised to the roof by a mechanical lift.
In Appleton, OSHA inspectors found a lack of fall protection, learned the company had no documented accident prevention plan and noted the site's project manager did not correct fall protection hazards in plain view.
The company received citations for four repeat violations and one serious violation of federal fall protection standards. The repeat violations are similar to those for which OSHA cited the company in Neenah, Seymour and Wrightstown in 2022.
OSHA has assessed the company with $180,469 in proposed penalties.
"Overhead Solutions' continued willingness to ignore federal safety regulations is putting its employees and subcontractors at risk of potentially serious and fatal injuries," explained OSHA Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. "By failing to ensure fall protection equipment is used properly and train workers and supervisors to recognize hazards and safety procedures, the company continues to invite disaster."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1,015 construction workers died on the job in 2021, 379 of them related to falls from elevation. Exposure to fall hazards makes residential construction work among the most dangerous jobs.
EPA Takes Action to Protect People from PFAS that Leach from Plastic Containers
The EPA issued orders to Inhance Technologies, LLC (Inhance) directing it not to produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals that are created in the production of its fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic containers. This action, taken under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), will help protect the public from exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals in containers used for a variety of household consumer, pesticide, fuel, automotive and other industrial products.
“PFAS should not be in the plastic containers people use every day, period,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “EPA’s action today is one more way we are furthering the Biden-Harris Administration’s Strategic Roadmap to combat PFAS pollution.”
Long-chain PFAS chemicals build up in our bodies and the environment over time. Even small amounts can significantly contribute to people’s long-term exposure and health risk. People may be exposed to these PFAS through their drinking water, fish they eat from PFAS-contaminated waters, and through groundwater that has been contaminated by PFAS. Centers for Disease Control and other data show that nearly 100% of people tested have at least one of seven of the types of PFAS that Inhance manufactures in their blood already. Even without further exposure, it would take more than a decade for PFOA from a single exposure, one of the types of PFAS manufactured by Inhance, to leave people’s bodies.
In 2019, the drinking water used by the town of Easton, Massachusetts, tested positive for PFOA. A local waterbody was later tested and PFAS was found that was traced back to a mosquitocide used by state officials. In September 2020, EPA was made aware of this PFAS contamination in the mosquitocide. EPA scientists then determined that the PFAS found in the mosquitocide came from the fluorinated HDPE plastic container used to store the product, which was manufactured by Inhance. EPA determined that when Inhance fluorinates containers, it manufactures many types of PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). EPA announced in March 2021 that these PFAS can migrate into liquid products like pesticides and can continue migrating over time.
In March 2022, EPA issued a Notice of Violation to Inhance for its failure to notify the Agency before it began manufacturing PFAS. Inhance had five years from the proposal of EPA’s long-chain PFAS significant new use rule in 2015 to when it was finalized in 2020 to inform EPA that it was manufacturing long-chain PFAS as part of its process. Following this notice, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) engaged with Inhance to determine if Inhance had ceased manufacture of the regulated PFAS. Upon determining that Inhance was still manufacturing the regulated PFAS and intended to continue to engage in its fluorination process, OECA referred enforcement to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and DOJ filed suit on behalf of EPA against Inhance in December 2022. Only after these actions did Inhance submit significant new use notices (SNUNs) for the nine PFAS it manufactures to EPA for review on Dec. 30, 2022.
Inhance has historically fluorinated up to 200 million containers annually, which is more containers than there are households in America. The release of 2.2 Kg of these 9 PFAS could cause significant contamination of drinking water supplies leading to risks of adverse health effects in millions of people. For example, EPA recently proposed a Maximum Contaminant Level of 4 parts per trillion for PFOA in drinking water. Additionally, EPA has also proposed that there is no level of PFOA in drinking water that is without risk of adverse health effects. If 2.2 Kg of PFOA were released to drinking water sources, it would contaminate more than 145 billion gallons of water to levels that would exceed this proposed enforceable level. This corresponds to almost three years’ worth of water use in the City of New Orleans.
Upon review of the SNUNs and consistent with the Framework for Addressing New PFAS and New Uses of PFAS, EPA has determined that three of the PFAS (PFOA, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA)) are highly toxic and present unreasonable risks that cannot be prevented other than through prohibition of manufacture. Therefore, under TSCA section 5(f), EPA is prohibiting the continued manufacture of PFOA, PFNA and PFDA that are produced from the fluorination of HDPE. EPA also determined that the remaining six of the nine PFAS chemicals manufactured by Inhance may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment and, under TSCA section 5(e), is requiring the company to cease manufacture of these chemicals, and to perform additional testing if it intends to restart production. However, Inhance’s current fluorination process for plastics produces all nine of the PFAS chemicals subject to these orders simultaneously, including PFOA, PFNA, and PFDA. Thus, the production of the other six PFAS could not restart so long as the fluorination process continues to produce PFOA, PFNA and PFDA. These orders become effective February 28, 2024.
Alternatives to this fluorination process exist that will allow for many sectors to continue to provide products with the necessary protective packaging. Additionally, EPA understands that Inhance is working on changes to its process with a stated goal of eliminating all PFAS production.
As always, EPA will review options for ensuring compliance with the orders, consistent with its enforcement policies, either through further litigation or an appropriate settlement. EPA also notes that TSCA provides waivers for national defense purposes.
EPA Fines Iowa Ethanol Producer for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations
The EPA will collect a $89,860 penalty from POET Biorefining – Menlo, LLC, a bioethanol producer in Menlo, Iowa, to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
The company is a subsidiary of POET LLC, the world’s largest producer of biofuel. According to EPA, the Menlo facility is a “major air emission source” that failed to comply with federally enforceable permit provisions intended to limit harmful releases of air pollution.
After reviewing POET Biorefining facility records in 2022, EPA alleged that the company failed to properly operate the facility’s scrubber, which is designed to limit releases of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. In response to EPA’s findings, the company corrected the alleged violations and implemented procedures to ensure that the scrubber operates within required parameters.
According to EPA, POET Biorefining creates biofuels through fermentation of corn sugars, which can emit volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. Volatile organic compounds are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and easily evaporate. Direct or long-term exposure to VOCs may result in eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, organ or central nervous system damage, or cancer. Hazardous air pollutants are those known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health impacts, such as reproductive effects, birth defects, or adverse environmental effects.
Reducing air pollution from the largest sources of emissions is a top priority for EPA.
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