EPA Delays Another Rule

May 15, 2017

The EPA recently announced a one-year delay in the implementation of the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which included new provisions to protect children, farmworkers, and pesticide applicators from exposure to pesticides.

The EPA originally published the revised CPA rule on January 4 of this year, with an effective date of March 6. The new CPA would have ensured that applicators of the most toxic pesticides get adequate training. It establishes a minimum age of 18 for pesticide applicators; requires that applicators be able to read and write; increases the frequency of applicator safety training to every year; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings.

Eve C. Gartner, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice said, “We are outraged that EPA has ordered a lengthy suspension of a rule that would provide life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country. This is an abuse of the legal process that will jeopardize the health and safety of workers and families.”

When the EPA adopted the rule, it pointed to multiple tragic incidents where children died or were seriously injured when poorly trained applicators misused highly toxic pesticides. One of the key provisions of the rule sets a minimum age for pesticide applicators. This delay means minors can continue to handle some of the most toxic pesticides, putting themselves and others at risk.

This is the third time that the federal government delayed the rule in just four months. EPA offered the public just 4 days to comment on the latest delay.

Stakeholder Meeting on Texas UST Rule

The TCEQ will conduct a stakeholder meeting to solicit informal input on the adoption of the EPA’s 2015 Underground Storage Tank (UST) Regulations. This required rulemaking will update Title 30, Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 334 to incorporate federal rules that include:

  • Periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems to conduct walkthrough inspections and test UST system components
  • New requirements to annually test specific release-detection equipment
  • Changes to comply with existing EPA release-detection requirements to monitor at least every 30 days, instead of every 35 days

This rulemaking will also address minor rule revisions relating to the Fee on Delivery of Petroleum Products to reflect changes that were statutorily implemented in the Texas Water Code in 2015.

The meeting will be held on May 23, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the TCEQ Complex, Building E, Conference Room 201S (Agenda Room) 12100 Park 35 Circle, Austin, Texas.

TCEQ staff is specifically interested in comments on the management of potentially contaminated water resulting from the cleanout of sumps and required hydrostatic testing (for example, the reuse, recycling, accumulation, and disposal of water). All informal comments received will be reviewed, but the TCEQ will not provide a response.

In addition to submitting comments at the meeting on May 23, informal stakeholder comments may be submitted by fax to 512-239-4808, or by mail to:

Office of Legal Services, MC 205
Attn: Sherry Davis
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

Comments may also be submitted online at http://www1.tceq.texas.gov/rules/ecomments/. All informal comments should reference Rule Project Number 2016-019-334-CE. Comments are due by June 2, 2017. A formal public rule hearing is tentatively planned for November 2017, following rule proposal by the commission.

For additional information, contact Casey Grunnet, Program Support Section, at 512-239-7025.

Pennsylvania Tackles Public Safety and Environmental Challenges of Historical Oil and Gas Wells


With the results of a new study and development of an interactive mapping tool, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has taken a major step toward identifying environmental impacts and addressing potential public safety concerns related to abandoned wells drilled over the past 150 years of oil and gas development in the state.

Pennsylvania’s history of natural gas extraction predates permitting regulations enacted in 1955, and that legacy has hampered the proper decommissioning of wells. Even now, these historical wells may go unnoticed, said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. Residents may live near a well without realizing it, assuming the well site is part of the landscape.

The well may no longer be active, but stray gas can migrate into the atmosphere or water supplies, creating a safety or environmental hazard.

Due to Pennsylvania’s lack of permitting regulations prior to 1955, DEPs maps of these historical wells are inconclusive, a weakness that was validated during a recently published field study of 207 randomly selected historical wells in western Pennsylvania, where most oil and gas drilling has taken place. The study assessed well integrity, methane gas emissions, and other potential problems.

Seventy-one wells couldn’t be located using information in DEPs database. Of the 136 wells located, only eight were emitting methane to the atmosphere at various rates, including one that showed higher-than-anticipated volume. This well and four others have operators associated with them, and DEP is taking proactive steps to update records and evaluate compliance options.

McDonnell emphasized how important it is for the public to be aware of historical wells. Public collaboration in identifying wells is very helpful to our efforts to update data, make the information publicly accessible, and most important, mitigate risks. In a new video, DEP staff explain the risks and the departments work to tackle them.

DEP’s new interactive map site integrating historical maps with aerial imagery is designed to help the public better understand the historical areas of oil and gas development in Allegheny County, learn about the environmental impacts of historical oil and gas wells, and locate wells currently known to DEP.

The Allegheny County map shows known wells and potential historical wells that are not currently in DEP’s database. Users can search by location for potential wells and get information on known ones. DEP plans to explore other areas of the state to expand the interactive map.

Since oil and gas development began in Pennsylvania in 1859, hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled. Because permitting standards weren’t enacted until 1955, many abandoned historical wells have not yet been identified. In addition, a significant number of historical wells haven’t been plugged to 1984 Oil and Gas Act standards. Potential results include impacts to water supplies, a build-up of gas inside a home or other structure, and an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

These legacy wells vary in appearance, depending on the vintage and type of well, but typical signs include steel casings and associated valves, pump jacks, small-diameter gathering pipelines, tanks and isolated areas of subsidence.

If no responsible party can be identified for a well, DEP assumes responsibility for plugging. However, available funding levels fall far short of needs. Conservative estimates indicate that as many as 200,000 wells may need to be plugged, at a cost that could approach more than $8 billion. DEP is actively seeking additional funding to support further work on this front.

Property owners who discover a well on their property should contact DEP (888-723-3721) or visit the abandoned and orphaned well website to ensure that the well has been properly identified, and any potential environmental issues are addressed.

Potomac Electric Power Co. Fined $54,000 for Hazardous Waste Violations

Potomac Electric Power Company has agreed to pay a $54,000 penalty to settle alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations at its maintenance facility in Washington, D.C., the EPA announced recently.


The settlement addresses compliance with environmental regulations that help protect communities and the environment from potential exposure to hazardous waste.


EPA cited the Potomac Electric Power Company for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law governing the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA is designed to protect public health and the environment, and avoid long and extensive cleanups, by requiring the safe, environmentally sound storage and disposal of hazardous waste.

EPA cited the company for RCRA violations involving hazardous wastes stored at the maintenance facility, including lead-contaminated rags, lead-contaminated transformer flushing oil, mercury-containing lamps, and mineral spirits. The alleged violations included:

  • Failure to properly label or date “hazardous waste” containers
  • Failure to keep containers of hazardous waste closed
  • Failure to conduct effective inspections of hazardous waste storage areas
  • Failure to maintain fire protection equipment
  • Failure to maintain an adequate contingency plan

The settlement reflects the company’s compliance efforts, and cooperation with EPA in the investigation. As part of the settlement, the company has not admitted liability, but has corrected the alleged violations and certified its compliance with applicable RCRA requirements.

Hazardous Waste Violations Lead to $69,000 Penalty for Reliance Treated Wood Inc.

Reliance Treated Wood, Inc. has agreed to pay a $69,000 penalty to settle alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations at its wood treatment facility in Federalsburg, Maryland, the EPA Announced recently.

The settlement addresses compliance with environmental regulations that help protect communities and the environment from potential exposure to hazardous waste.


EPA cited Reliance Treated Wood, Inc. for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law governing the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste.

Reliance Treated Wood, Inc., pressure treats wood at its facility. EPA cited the company for alleged violations including:

  • Storage of hazardous waste containing chromated copper arsenate in the drippage collection system and sump for more than 90 days
  • Failure to obtain and keep on file an annual written assessment of the facility’s drip pad
  • Failure to adequately maintain the facility’s leak containment safeguards
  • Failure to maintain an adequate contingency plan
  • Failure to maintain personnel training records
  • Failure to make timely waste determinations

The settlement reflects the company’s compliance efforts, and its cooperation with EPA in the investigation. As part of the settlement, Reliance Treated Wood, Inc. has not admitted liability, but has certified its compliance with applicable RCRA requirements.

19 Criminal Charges for Release of Hazardous Chemical

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) recently announced that an investigation referred to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has resulted in the filing of 19 criminal charges against a Sun Valley scrap metal recycler for allegedly releasing hazardous chemicals.

The charges are the first to stem from a statewide initiative that found alleged hazardous waste violations at 40 out of 42 metal recycling companies, most in environmentally burdened communities.

“This program confirms there should be continued focus on this industry,” said Hansen Pang, chief investigator of DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “Many of these facilities are in California’s most vulnerable communities. We are creating strategies to ensure these companies meet regulations, and that residents in these areas are protected.”

In the Sun Valley case, DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) found the owners and operators of ANK Metal Recycling allegedly failed to properly store and dispose of hazardous waste such as diesel fuel, heavy metals, refrigerant gases, and asbestos.

The 2015 Enhanced Enforcement Initiative in Vulnerable Communities called for inspecting 40 to 45 of the state’s 2,500 metal-recycling facilities. OCI inspectors found alleged violations at 95% of those inspected, and DTSC is pursuing enforcement action on all violations.

OCI also uncovered alleged violations related to used oil filters that were not properly drained, illegally transported and improperly crushed and shredded. Four facilities have signed interim consent agreements requiring that the used oil filters they receive are properly drained and managed.

Following are some of the violations found during the initiative:

  • Failure to remove materials requiring special handling, such as mercury-containing switches, capacitors, refrigerants, oils, and batteries from vehicles and appliances
  • Mismanagement of metal recycling residues, such as debris and soil contaminated with hazardous waste levels of heavy metals, PCBs, and oils
  • Unauthorized acceptance, storage, transportation, and treatment of undrained used oil filters and other hazardous waste
  • Failure to comply with hazardous waste recordkeeping requirements
  • Failure to minimize releases of hazardous waste and constituents from processing scrap metal

RELP Metro LLC Agrees to $214,920 Settlement for Stormwater Violations

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has reached a $214,920 settlement agreement with RELP Metro, LLC, for alleged stormwater permit violations at its 68-acre Metro Air Park construction project in Sacramento.

RELP Metro enrolled the project in the statewide General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction and Land Disturbance Activities, but failed to comply with the requirements to protect local water quality and the environment. Regional Water Board and Sacramento County staff inspected the site numerous times in December 2016 and January 2017, and found that the project was not prepared for rain storms, as required by the General Permit.

Staff discovered that RELP Metro’s contractors had not installed adequate sediment and erosion control measures, resulting in sediment-laden and alkaline runoff to flow into Sacramento County’s storm drain system and a nearby drainage ditch during rain storms. Both conveyance systems discharged to the Sacramento River.

“We are investigating construction site complaints and taking immediate action to stop further environmental damage,” said Andrew Altevogt, assistant executive officer for the Regional Water Board. “We initiated this fast track approach after RELP Metro, or its contractors, made a conscious decision not to comply with the basic requirements for the protection of surface waters from their construction activities.”

The settlement was reached using a streamlined process that provided RELP Metro an opportunity to quickly resolve the alleged violations that threatened a tributary to the Sacramento River. By late January, following several notices of violation, RELP Metro installed a stormwater treatment system at the site to prevent additional permit violations.

Discharges of sediment can cloud the receiving water, which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants. These discharges can also clog fish gills, smother aquatic habitat and spawning areas, and transport other materials such as nutrients, metals, and oil and grease which, along with high alkalinity caused by runoff from construction materials, can negatively impact aquatic life and habitat.

The owners of any construction site greater than 1 acre in size must enroll in the General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction and Land Disturbance Activities. Among other items, this permit requires that the owner hire a “storm water professional” to design and install an effective combination of erosion and sediment controls to prevent discharges of sediment-laden stormwater.

NRDC, Partners Sue Trump Administration Over Order to Remove Arctic and Atlantic Drilling Ban

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit recently challenging President Trump's executive order of April 27 that aims to open the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, and potentially other areas, to oil and gas leasing. The groups filed the complaint in federal court in Alaska on behalf of a coalition of indigenous and environmental groups.

The following is a statement by Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and Director of NRDC's Alaska Program:

"These areas have been permanently protected from the dangers of oil and gas development. President Trump may wish to undo that, and declare our coasts open for business to dirty energy companies, but he simply lacks the authority to do so under the law."

A statement on behalf of the coalition, including a copy of the complaint, will be available here.

Free Air Quality Alerts Help New Englanders Prepare for Summer Smog Season

With the onset of warm summer weather, the EPA advises New Englanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone and fine particle air pollution (when combined, often referred to as smog), and take health precautions when smog levels are high. EPA and states continue to offer free resources for the public to monitor the latest air quality forecasts.

Air quality forecasts are issued daily by the New England state air agencies. Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts for New England are available each day at EPA's web site. People can also sign up to receive "Air Quality Alerts." These alerts, provided free by EPA through the EnviroFlash system, in cooperation with the New England states, automatically notify participants by e-mail or text message when high concentrations of ground-level ozone or fine particles are predicted in their area.

Warm summer temperatures aid in the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution. The current ozone standard, set in 2015, is 0.070 parts per million (ppm) on an 8-hour average basis. Air quality alerts are issued when ozone concentrations exceed, or are predicted to exceed, this level. EPA New England posts a list of exceedances of the ozone standard, by date and monitor location, on its web site.

Although the number of unhealthy days may vary from year to year due to weather conditions, over the long-term, New England has experienced a significant decrease in the number of unhealthy ozone days. Based on the 2015 ozone standard, in 1983, New England had 118 unhealthy days, compared with 32 in 2016. This downward trend is due to a reduction in the emissions that form ozone. With your help, we can continue this improvement in air quality.

Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to air pollutants, including people who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma. When air quality is predicted to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, EPA and the States will announce an air quality alert for the affected areas. EPA recommends that people in these areas limit strenuous outdoor activity and EPA asks that on these days, the public and businesses take actions that will help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Everyone can reduce air pollution through the following actions:

  • Use public transportation or walk whenever possible
  • Combine errands and car-pool to reduce driving time and mileage
  • Use less electricity by turning air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, and turning off lights, TVs and computers when they are not being used
  • Avoid using small gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, string trimmers, chain saws, power-washers, air compressors and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days

Bacterial Boost for Bio-Based Fuels

“Electrical” bacteria are the key ingredient in a new process developed by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory that recycles wastewater from biofuel production to generate hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used to convert bio-oil into higher grade liquid fuels such as gasoline or diesel.

“We are solving multiple problems at the same time,” said ORNL researcher Abhijeet Borole, who led a multi-year project to develop the system.

The team’s lab-scale demonstration can produce 11.7 liters of hydrogen per day at rates that are required for industrial applications. Borole notes that although more work is required to bring the technology to the commercial scale, their progress demonstrates the potential of microbial electrolysis to make bio-refineries more efficient and economically viable.

Much like a conventional petroleum refinery, the bio-refinery concept is focused on the conversion of plant materials into higher value products, including hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals.

Microbial electrolysis is powered by electrogens—bacteria that digest organic compounds and generate an electric current. Borole put these bacteria to work in breaking down organic acids in liquid bio-oil that is produced from plant feedstocks such as switchgrass. Normally, about a quarter of the liquid bio-oil is contaminated water that contains corrosive acids.

“We are taking this waste, which can be 20 to 30 percent of the biomass that you put into the process, making hydrogen from it and putting that hydrogen back into the oil,” Borole said.

The hydrogen generated from the microbes could displace the need for natural gas, which is used later in the production process to upgrade bio-oil into more desirable drop-in liquid fuels.

“You can recycle the water, produce clean hydrogen and eliminate the natural gas,” Borole said.

The researchers developed a procedure to evolve and enrich a hardy bacterial community that could tolerate the toxic compounds in the biofuel wastewater. This delicate balance also involved optimizing the overall process and system parameters to enable the bacteria’s success.

“You are trying to efficiently extract electrons from hundreds of compounds and make hydrogen,” Borole said. “How do you do that when the plant byproducts are poisoning this bacterial food? You have to find a way to negate or neutralize that poison and be able to produce those electrons at the same time.”

In this application, the bacterial poison comes in the form of products created by the degradation of lignin, a tough polymer found in plant cell walls. But understanding how to build and optimize microbial electrolysis systems that can tolerate and treat contaminated wastewater could have benefits outside of biofuel production.

“These systems have potential for wide-ranging applications, including energy production, bioremediation, chemical and nanomaterial synthesis, electro-fermentation, energy storage, desalination and produced water treatment,” said Alex Lewis, a doctoral student with the University of Tennessee’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Education.

The research team is now focused on completing a life-cycle analysis for the technology to evaluate its GHG emissions and water use.

The team’s latest paper is published in Sustainable Energy & Fuels as “Proton Transfer in Microbial Electrolysis Cells.” The project was funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office and ORNL’s Seed Money program.

Big Lots Stores Inc. Ordered to Pay $3.5 Million to Settle Hazardous Waste Civil Lawsuit

Riverside County, California District Attorney Mike Hestrin, along with 34 District Attorney’s Offices and two City Attorney’s Offices across California, announced on April 27, 2017, that a judge has ordered Ohio-based Big Lots Stores, Inc., and its subsidiary corporations, to pay $3.5 million in civil penalties and costs for environmental violations.

The judgement in the civil lawsuit filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court is the result of an investigation into the unlawful disposal of hazardous waste by Big Lots Stores at its distribution center and its 206 California stores over several years.

There were 13 Big Lots stores in Riverside County during the time period of the violations and the investigation. Riverside County will receive $40,500 in civil penalties, which will go to the county’s consumer protection prosecution fund.

The lawsuit alleges that, instead of transporting hazardous waste to authorized hazardous waste facilities, Big Lots illegally disposed of the waste in the trash and illegally transported it to local landfills not permitted to receive such waste. The hazardous waste included ignitable and corrosive liquids, toxic materials, batteries, and waste from electronic devices. Some of the waste was the result of spills, damaged containers, or customer returns.

Once prosecutors alerted Big Lots of the violations, the company cooperated during the subsequent investigation. Big Lots has now adopted and implemented new policies and procedures, as well as new training programs to properly manage and dispose of hazardous waste. Big Lots hazardous waste is now collected by state-registered haulers to transport it to authorized disposal facilities and is now being properly documented.

Under the settlement, Big Lots must pay $2,017,500 in civil penalties and $336,250 to reimburse costs of the investigation. Another $350,000 will go to fund environmental projects that further environmental enforcement and consumer protection in California. Big Lots also will fund hazardous waste minimization and enhanced compliance projects valued at $803,750.

MassDEP Announces Winners of the 2017 Public Water Systems Awards

As part of "National Drinking Water Week," the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) recently announced 55 recipients of the annual Public Water Systems Awards. The awards, presented since 1991, acknowledge the many dedicated drinking water professionals whose accomplishments in maintaining consistent and safe delivery of potable water to the residents of the Commonwealth are worthy of special commendation.

"During last year's unprecedented drought, the work of these exemplary public water systems became more important than ever," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. "The Baker-Polito Administration is proud to recognize the drinking water professionals who work hard every day to ensure Massachusetts residents have a safe, reliable water supply."

"The Commonwealth is fortunate to have 1,687 public water systems that combine to perform an essential public service that is vital to our daily lives," said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. "Whether in drought or times of abundant precipitation, each year, we take time to recognize some systems for their special accomplishment that we feel merit recognition and commendation."

"National Drinking Water Week" recognizes the importance of source-water protection, water quality and conservation, as well as the value, importance and fragility of the Commonwealth's water resources. MassDEP works with drinking water utilities to make sure that the water delivered to consumers meets all federal and state standards and is clean and abundant.

The 44 award recipients were categorized and judged based on the size and type of system (community and population served) and their compliance records. Click here to see a list of winners.

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