November 14, 2022
Recently, at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the EPA announced it is strengthening its proposed standards to cut methane and other harmful air pollution. If finalized, these critical, commonsense standards will protect workers and communities, maintain and create high-quality, union-friendly jobs, and promote U.S. innovation and manufacturing of critical new technologies, all while delivering significant economic benefits through increased recovery of wasted gas.
The updates, which supplement proposed standards EPA released in November 2021, reflect input and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and nearly half a million public comments. The updates would provide more comprehensive requirements to reduce climate and health-harming air pollution, including from hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas sources nationwide. It would promote the use of innovative methane detection technologies and other cutting-edge solutions, many of which are being developed and deployed by small businesses providing good-paying jobs across the United States.
The new proposal also includes a ground-breaking “Super-Emitter Response Program” that would require operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks. The agency estimates that in 2030, the proposal would reduce methane from covered sources by 87 percent below 2005 levels.
“The United States is once again a global leader in confronting the climate crisis, and we must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution – one of the biggest drivers of climate change. We’re listening to public feedback and strengthening our proposed oil and gas industry standards, which will enable innovative new technology to flourish while protecting people and the planet,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Our stronger standards will work hand in hand with the historic level of resources from the Inflation Reduction Act to protect our most vulnerable communities and to put us on a path to achieve President Biden’s ambitious climate goals.”
Oil and natural gas operations are the nation’s largest industrial source of methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, on average, over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere 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 U.S. can take in the short term to slow the rate of climate change. Oil and natural gas operations are also significant sources of other health-harming air pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic air pollutants such as benzene.
The Clean Air Act standards in the supplemental proposal will complement President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides resources for financial and technical assistance and a waste emissions charge for applicable oil and gas facilities that exceed statutorily specified waste emissions thresholds. The Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes early implementation of innovative methane reduction technologies and supports methane mitigation and monitoring activities, allowing the United States to achieve greater methane emissions reductions more quickly.
Taking into account both the supplemental proposal and other measures in the November 2021 proposal, EPA projects that the proposed standards would reduce an estimated 36 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 810 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly the same as all greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. in 2020. EPA’s estimates also show the updated proposal would reduce VOC emissions by 9.7 million tons from 2023 to 2035, and air toxics emissions, including chemicals such as benzene and toluene, by 390,000 tons. These projections reflect new analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposed standards, which incorporates an improved modeling approach as well as updated estimates of the number of facilities covered by the supplemental proposal and the amount of methane and VOCs they emit.
The supplemental proposal reflects public input on the November proposal and new information and analyses, which helped the EPA determine comprehensive and cost-effective approaches to reduce pollution from oil and natural gas facilities. Key features of the supplemental proposal would:
- Ensure that all well sites are routinely monitored for leaks at less cost, and until they are closed properly
- Provide industry flexibility to use innovative and cost-effective methane detection technologies, and a streamlined process for approving new detection methods as they become available
- Leverage data from remote sensing technology to quickly identify and fix large methane leaks
- Require that flares are properly operated to reduce emissions, and revise requirements for associated gas flaring
- Establish emission standards for dry seal compressors, which are currently unregulated
- Set a zero-emissions standard for pneumatic controllers and pneumatic pumps at affected facilities in all segments of the industry
- Increase recovery of natural gas that otherwise would go to waste – enough gas from 2023 to 2035 to heat an estimated 3.5 million homes for the winter
The supplemental proposal would also establish a super-emitter response program that would leverage data from regulatory agencies or approved third parties with expertise in remote methane detection technology to quickly identify these large-scale emissions for prompt control. Studies show that large leaks from a small number of sources are responsible for as much as half of the methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, along with significant amounts of smog-forming VOCs. While many requirements of EPA’s combined proposals would reduce common sources of super emitters, EPA is proposing the response program to address super emitters’ significant pollution and impact on communities where they are located. To ensure that the super-emitter response program operates transparently, notices sent to oil and natural gas owners and operators, along with their response and any corrective actions, would be available on a website for easy access.
In addition to making EPA’s proposal more comprehensive, the supplemental proposal includes requirements for states to develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide. EPA is proposing to require states to submit those plans within 18 months after the final rule is issued, and to establish compliance deadlines for existing sources that are no later than three years after the submission deadline. The supplemental proposal includes requirements for considering the communities most affected by and vulnerable to oil and gas emissions, along with a demonstration of meaningful community engagement as states develop their plans.
EPA estimates that the supplemental proposal will yield total net climate benefits valued at $34 to 36 billion from 2023 to 2035 (the equivalent of about $3.1 to $3.2 billion per year), after taking into account the costs of compliance and savings from recovered natural gas. The climate benefits are estimated using the social cost of greenhouse gases, a metric that represents the monetary value of avoided climate damages associated with a decrease in emissions of a greenhouse gas. While EPA’s estimates are based on the interim social cost of greenhouse gases recommended by an interagency working group in February 2021, EPA also is including a separate analysis that is based on updated social cost of greenhouse gases estimates that address recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The additional analysis and accompanying EPA draft technical report will be available in the rulemaking docket for public comment. EPA is also seeking peer review of the report.
EPA will take comment on the supplemental proposal until February 13, 2023. The agency will host virtual trainings to provide communities, Tribes and small businesses information about the supplemental proposal and about participating in the public comment process. Those trainings will be November 17 and 30, 2022 and registration information is available on EPA’s website. EPA will hold a virtual public hearing January 10 and 11, 2023. Registration for the public hearing will open after the supplemental proposal is published in the Federal Register. EPA intends to issue a final rule in 2023.
EPA Penalizes Ampac Fine Chemicals, Resolving Claims of Hazardous Waste Law Violations
The EPA announced a settlement with Ampac Fine Chemicals, LLC to resolve violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
and related state laws at its pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Rancho Cordova, California. EPA determined that Ampac failed to comply with legal requirements that govern hazardous waste management and will pay a fine of $69,879.
In February 2020 EPA performed an inspection of the Rancho Cordova facility, which manufactures pharmaceutical ingredients and generates large quantities of hazardous waste
. EPA determined that Ampac did not: perform required calibration testing; mark equipment subject to air emission standards for equipment leaks; develop a monitoring plan for valves that are difficult or unsafe to monitor; separate incompatible hazardous waste during accumulation; have a qualified professional engineer assess the integrity of an existing tank; list emergency equipment capabilities in a contingency plan; and properly label hazardous waste containers.
“Failure to properly manage hazardous waste
and air emissions can pose a serious health risk to nearby communities,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “
This settlement will help protect workers, the community, and the environment in Rancho Cordova.”
Surgeon General Releases Framework for Mental Health and Well-Being at Work
Citing changes in the nature of work related to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has released a new framework outlining the role played by workplaces in promoting the mental health and well-being of workers and communities (PDF
). The 30-page document outlines five “essentials” for workplace mental health and well-being: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunities for growth. These essentials are each associated with two human needs that are shared by workers across industries and roles and three to four “key components” of supportive policies, processes, and practices.
For many U.S. workers, the pandemic has brought the relationship between work and well-being “into clearer focus,” states a press release
issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. The press release also cites survey findings that 76 percent of U.S. workers report at least one symptom of a mental health condition, that 84 percent say their workplace has contributed to at least one mental health challenge, and that 81 percent will look for workplaces that support mental health in the future. Employers are uniquely positioned to invest in the mental health of their workforces and thereby strengthen their organizations’ success, according to HHS.
The framework may “be viewed as a starting point for organizations in updating and institutionalizing policies, processes, and practices to best support the mental health and well-being of workers,” according to the document. It also states that “[t]he Five Essentials can guide leaders, managers, and supervisors, as well as empower workers, to identify and communicate about priority organizational changes needed.” Lists of resources to help individuals and organizations actualize each essential are also provided.
More information and a downloadable PDF of the framework can be accessed on the HHS website
EPA Reaches Settlement with Evergy Kansas Central Inc. on Actions to Address Compliance with Coal Combustion Residuals Regulations
The EPA recently announced a settlement under the Agency’s Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) program with Evergy Kansas Central, Inc. at the company’s retired Tecumseh Energy Center coal-fired power plant in Tecumseh, Kansas.
In the settlement, Evergy will take certain actions to address potential groundwater contamination from a CCR impoundment at the Tecumseh site, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
“The EPA is committed to ensuring that coal ash surface impoundments and landfills operate and close in a manner that protects public health and the environment,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The action will require Evergy to investigate and determine the extent of contamination from their operations.”
“EPA is encouraged by Evergy’s willingness to work cooperatively with EPA on this coal ash matter and its commitment to protecting Kansas waters,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Meg McCollister. “This settlement is an important step forward in the federal government’s nationwide effort to ensure energy providers clean up the harmful effects of CCR pollution.”
The settlement requires Evergy to assess the nature and extent of CCR contamination at a CCR impoundment at the Tecumseh site. Evergy will install additional monitoring wells, conduct groundwater sampling and analysis, and update closure plans for the facility’s CCR impoundment. If Evergy determines that remediation is necessary, then it will meet with EPA to discuss next steps. The company will also pay a civil penalty of $120,000.
Produced primarily from the burning of coal in coal-fired power plants, CCR is a large industrial waste stream by volume and can contain harmful levels of contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and cobalt. Without proper management, contaminants from CCR can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and the air.
The administrative settlement was finalized on November 7. In the agreement, EPA alleges that Evergy did not meet certain requirements under the CCR program, including:
- Failure to adequately prepare annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action reports
- Failure to comply with groundwater monitoring system requirements
- Failure to comply with groundwater sampling and analysis requirements
- Failure to complete an assessment monitoring program
- Failure to comply with CCR impoundment closure and post-closure reporting requirements
Evergy is a utility company engaged in the generation, purchase, transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity in Kansas and is headquartered in Topeka and Kansas City. The Tecumseh coal-fired power plant began operations in 1925 and was retired from operations in 2018. According to EPA, Evergy identified CCR contaminants leaching into groundwater from an impoundment at the Tecumseh facility in 2018 and did not fully comply with the CCR program to adequately address the contamination.
To address the risks from disposal and discharge of coal ash, including leaking of contaminants into groundwater, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments, EPA established national rules for coal ash management and disposal. In April 2015, EPA promulgated a comprehensive set of requirements for the safe handling and disposal of coal ash from coal-fired power plants, which established technical requirements for CCR landfills and surface impoundments.
EPA is increasing its efforts and working with its state partners to investigate compliance concerns at coal ash facilities around the nation to ensure compliance and protect the health of communities overburdened by pollution such as coal ash residuals.
Oklahoma City Used Oil Recyclers Pay Nearly $2 Million for Processing, Transportation, and Storage Violations
January Environmental Services, Inc., January Transport, Inc., and company-owner Cris January will pay civil penalties of $1.9 million and perform comprehensive corrective measures to resolve allegations that they violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) through their used oil transportation and processing operations in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In a complaint filed on November 30, 2020, the EPA, the Department of Justice, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) alleged that the companies and Cris January committed multiple violations of RCRA’s used oil
and hazardous waste regulations
“Federal hazardous waste laws are vital to preventing pollution from entering the environment and causing costly damage to natural resources and potential harm to people’s health,” said EPA Regional Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance. “Companies are required to take responsibility for these materials for their entire lifespan and must be held accountable for failing to do so.”
JTI owns and operates a used oil transportation service, and JES owns and operates a used oil storage/processing facility in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Cris January is the president of both corporate entities. Prior inspections of the facility by ODEQ found alleged violations of RCRA regulations
regarding used oil and hazardous waste transport
and storage. In November 2017 and March 2019, joint EPA and ODEQ inspections found these types of violations had continued.
Companies that receive, store, handle, generate or transport hazardous waste must follow RCRA regulations, including properly determining whether the waste is hazardous and properly tracking the hazardous wastes through a manifest system
. Alleged violations at JTI and JES included failure to perform hazardous waste determinations for solid wastes found onsite, storing hazardous waste without a RCRA permit, and accepting hazardous waste for transport without a hazardous waste manifest. Additionally, companies that receive, transport, store, and/or process used oil for recycling must comply with RCRA’s used oil program. The alleged violations by JTI and JES also included transporting used oil and accepting used oil for processing without determining its halogen content, and failing to comply with the General Facility Standards and recordkeeping for used oil processors.
This settlement, approved by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, requires JES and JTI to institute a number of company-wide changes to come into compliance with RCRA used oil and hazardous waste regulations, many of which the companies have already undertaken. Compliance requirements include training staff on using proper manifest forms to track the handling of hazardous waste, develop a written waste management plan, and update emergency preparations such as coordinating with local emergency responders and hiring an independent engineer to review the facilities’ spill-containment and contingency plans.
Montana DEQ Releases PFAS Surface Water Monitoring Report
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently published a report on recent monitoring results for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in surface water. DEQ and the state of Montana recognize PFAS as emerging contaminants of concern, and a working group of state and local agencies completed the Montana PFAS Action Plan in June of 2020 to proactively identify and reduce or eliminate potential PFAS health risks. The “PFAS Surface Water Monitoring Project 2021 Monitoring Report” implements a portion of the Action Plan.
In 2021, DEQ implemented a limited PFAS monitoring effort to better understand whether the chemicals are present in Montana surface waters. The purpose of the monitoring was to measure the prevalence and magnitude of PFAS contamination in a small sample of locations to determine the potential scale of contamination across the state. The recent report provides an overview of monitoring results—including selected rivers, streams and lakes in Helena, Great Falls, Billings and Bozeman.
Results of the 2021 monitoring project indicate that PFAS are moderately prevalent in some of the areas where sampling was conducted and PFAS concentrations range in magnitude depending on site location. Multiple PFAS were detected in areas of the state near or downstream of confirmed and potential sources of the contaminants. The detected PFAS are associated with the use of fire-fighting foams, food packaging, surfactants used in industrial processes, stain resistant fabrics, metal manufacturing and other uses. The monitoring data indicates that PFAS may be entering surface water from sources such as wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, military installations, airports and urban runoff. DEQ’s preliminary monitoring suggests that further studies will be necessary to identify and address sources of PFAS contamination.
According to the EPA, “most people in the United States have been exposed to some PFAS.” PFAS are a group of thousands of human-made chemicals that have been used in many consumer and household products since the 1940s. PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down and can stay in the environment, and in our bodies, for long periods of time. To view more PFAS information from EPA, visit: https://www.epa.gov/pfas
Research is ongoing, and only a few of the thousands of PFAS have been studied for their potential to affect people’s health. Current science suggests that exposure to certain PFAS may lead to health problems including changes in the liver, immunological effects, increased cholesterol levels, cardiovascular effects, reproductive effects in women, developmental effects in infants and children, and an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers. The EPA and other federal agencies continue to study the health effects of exposure to low levels of PFAS over long periods of time, and EPA is taking steps to address PFAS contamination across the country.
New Mexico launches Environmental Crimes Task Force
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the EPA recently convened New Mexico’s first Environmental Crimes Task Force. The goal of the Environmental Crimes Task Force is to increase federal, tribal and state cooperation in investigating and prosecuting criminal violations of federal, tribal, and state environmental laws. In pursuit of this goal, the Task Force will meet regularly with members from federal, tribal, and state agencies to disseminate actionable intelligence and coordinate responses to address those individuals and entities who threaten health and environment by violating such laws. Violating environmental laws—including, but not limited to, the federal and state air, water, and hazardous waste laws—is a crime and can be punishable by incarceration and/or monetary fines.
“If you circumvent New Mexico’s environmental laws – we will find you and we will prosecute you,” said Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “The Environmental Crimes Task Force will bring much needed investigation and prosecution resources and coordination to New Mexico, which will serve to level the playing field and increase environmental compliance in our communities.”
The Environmental Crimes Task Force will also focus on advancing civil rights and environmental justice through timely and effective remedies for systemic environmental violations in underserved communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened, including low-income communities and communities of color.
“This task force is being created to curb environmental crime in the state of New Mexico and neighboring tribal territories,” said Kim Bahney, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for the Southwest Area Branch. “Public health and the environment should not suffer at the hands of deliberate polluters.”
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