EPA Survives Sharp Budget Cuts

May 08, 2017

Although the President’s budget had proposed an over 30% cut in EPA’s budget, bipartisan cooperation that occurred in completing the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) Omnibus Appropriations Act resulted in only an 1% cut.

The FY2017 omnibus bill provided the following funding levels.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency funded at $8.1 billion, 1% under FY2016
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science funded at $5.4 billion, 0.8% over FY2016
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology funded at $954 million, 1% under FY2016
  • The National Institutes of Health funded at $34.1 billion, 6.2% over FY2016
  • The National Science Foundation funded at $7.5 billion, 0.1% over FY2016

The FY2017 omnibus spending package also retained funding for the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Board at $11 million and increased funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to $306 million, 5.2% over FY2016. Several programs at the Department of Education that are critical to educating the future science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce—such as the flexible spending grants for K-12 programs and Perkins/Career and Technical Education—received new or sustained funding.

EPA Webcast on Export Notices

Exporters of manifested hazardous wastes, spent/used lead-acid batteries, universal wastes, and cathode ray tubes for recycling should now be transitioning to an electronic border process using the Automated Export System (AES) or AESDirect. EPA is offering a 30-minute webinar that will provide detailed filing instructions for exporters and their authorized filing agents (e.g., customs brokers) on how to file the RCRA information about their shipments in AES and AESDirect. For more information and to register, see https://clu-in.org/live.

Environmental Protection Investigation Uncovers Falsified Records and Disposal of Hazardous Waste on Agricultural Lands

Yolo County, California District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced that Yolo County Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam ordered Woodland Biomass Power to pay $4.22 million for penalties, costs, and remediation, as a result of a civil settlement reached in an environmental protection action filed in Yolo County by the District Attorneys of Yolo, Solano and San Joaquin counties.

Woodland Biomass Power operates a biomass facility in Woodland, California, that burns wood fuel to produce electricity, and, in the process, generates ash. For years, Woodland Biomass Power claimed its ash was non-hazardous. This claim, however, was supported with faulty methods, and at times, falsified summaries of the test results for its ash. The company’s own test results have shown that much of its ash had elevated levels of dioxins and constituted hazardous waste because of high levels of pH and high concentrations of contaminants like arsenic, lead, and copper. Woodland Biomass Power also provided these falsified records to various governmental entities, individuals, and companies.

During the years it relied on falsified test-result summaries, Woodland Biomass Power caused tens of thousands of tons of ash—some of which was hazardous waste—to be disposed of on properties not authorized to receive hazardous waste, including agricultural lands in Yolo County. At least one location was within 1000 feet of the City of Davis.

“As the Yolo County Public Health Officer and a Yolo County resident, I am thankful for the great work of the District Attorney’s office and other experts involved in this case,” said Yolo County Health Officer Ronald W. Chapman, MD, MPH. “When we hear about an environmental contamination we immediately worry about our health and that of our family and friends. After consultation with the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, I believe the health risk to myself, my family and my friends from these past practices is very low regarding soil contaminations. Regarding air contamination, we do not have information to assess public health risk. Air sampling was not done during the use of the contaminated material. Going forward, I feel assured measures are being put in place to eliminate future risk.”

“The investigation into the unlawful hazardous waste disposal activity in this case was extremely complex and time consuming, taking many years to complete. The conduct being perpetrated by the defendant here might have easily gone undetected in many jurisdictions. Fortunately, Yolo County has remained steadfastly committed to environmental investigations like this which uncovered the fraud and the hazardous dumping practice and brought it to a stop,” said District Attorney Reisig. “Companies like Woodland Biomass Power need to be held accountable to ensure that hazardous waste is disposed of safely and responsibly.”

The District Attorney’s Office received significant assistance in this investigation from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Yolo County Environmental Health Department, and Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District. Other District Attorneys’ Offices throughout the state also assisted in the investigation.

Under the settlement, Woodland Biomass Power must pay $2.12 million in civil penalties, $850,000 to reimburse for the costs of investigation, and over $1.25 million to remediate the one site where testing has indicated hazardous materials are present in concentrations that exceed regulatory thresholds. The company must also implement improved ash-management procedures designed to prevent future violations of hazardous-waste laws.

Woodland Biomass Power has been cooperative in the investigation since the prosecution team discovered the fraud in early 2016 and, since that time, the company has re-evaluated its plant operations and implemented numerous improvements to its ash management practices.

Big Lots Stores, Inc. to Pay $3.5 Million for Hazardous Waste Violations

San Bernardino County, California District Attorney Mike Ramos, together with 34 other California District Attorneys and 2 City Attorneys, announced that San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Bryan F. Foster has ordered Ohio-based company Big Lots Stores, Inc., and its subsidiary corporations, that own and operate Big Lots stores and a distribution center in Rancho Cucamonga, to pay $3,507,500 in civil penalties, costs, and supplemental environmental projects.

The judgment is the result of an investigation into Big Lots Stores’ unlawful disposal of hazardous waste at its distribution center and into trash bins at the 206 stores in California.

According to Deputy District Attorney Dan Lough, who was assigned to the case, Big Lots failed to properly handle hazardous waste at both the stores and distribution center.

“The hazardous waste included ignitable and corrosive liquids, toxic materials, batteries, electronic devices and other e-waste,” Deputy DA Lough said. “In some instances, the hazardous waste was the result of overstock or expired merchandise. In others, it was the result of spills, damaged containers, and customer returns.”

Instead of being transported to authorized hazardous waste facilities, the waste was deposited into the trash and illegally transported to local landfills not permitted to receive the waste.

"Companies that deal with hazardous waste are expected to fully comply with the rules and regulations that are meant to protect our citizens and the environment,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said. “Thanks to hard work and dedication of our Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, we were able to once again hold another corporation accountable for their negligent actions and bring them into compliance with California’s environmental laws.”

Prosecutors alerted Big Lots to the violations, and the company was cooperative throughout the continued investigation. Under the settlement, Big Lots must pay $2,017,500 in civil penalties and $336,250 to reimburse the costs of investigation.

An additional $350,000 will fund supplemental environmental projects furthering environmental enforcement and consumer protection in California. Big Lots will also fund hazardous waste minimization and enhanced compliance projects valued at $803,750, and has adopted and implemented new policies and procedures and training programs designed to properly manage and dispose of hazardous waste.

The hazardous waste is now being collected by state-registered haulers who transport it to authorized disposal facilities, and disposal is now being properly documented.

Minnesota Fines Environmental Violators over $440,000

In its ongoing efforts to promote environmental compliance, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency concluded 47 enforcement cases in 26 counties throughout Minnesota during the first quarter of 2017. Penalties from all 47 cases totaled just over $440,000. Click here for a list of enforcement actions.

Environmental enforcement investigations often take several months, and in highly complex cases more than a year. Although, in rare instances, they can involve courts, they are most often negotiated settlements where the goal is compliance with environmental rules. Fines issued are targeted to match the environmental harm, economic advantage gained or environmental corrective actions.

In addition to these 47 recently-completed cases, the MPCA also has 49 ongoing enforcement investigations, 19 of which were opened as new cases during the first quarter of 2017. Not all investigations lead to fines or other official action.

Imposing monetary penalties is only part of the MPCA’s enforcement process. Agency staff continue to provide assistance, support, and information on the steps and tools necessary to achieve compliance for any company, individual, or local government that requests it.

Environmental Groups Sue to Block Rollback of Wastewater Rule

A coalition of environmental and public health advocates filed suit to challenge a Trump administration rollback that could wipe out critical protections for cleaning up they characterized as America’s leading source of toxic water pollution: coal power plant waste.

The federal lawsuit seeks to invalidate an April 25 EPA order that abruptly put an indefinite hold on a set of safeguards to control the amount of arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, and other pollutants released from coal power plants into our public waters. By putting those protections on hold indefinitely, the Trump administration is allowing power plants to continue discharging toxics without any specific limits, using standards set 35 years ago.

“I don’t think anything considered state of the art in 1982 would still be state of the art today, especially when you are talking about the number-one source of toxic water pollution in the country,” said Earthjustice attorney Thomas Cmar. “EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is not above the law and he doesn’t have the power to roll back public health protections with the stroke of a pen.”

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Clean Water Action in the District of Columbia’s federal district court. Also joining the suit are the Environmental Integrity Project, PennEnvironment, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Prairie Rivers Network, represented by the Environmental Integrity Project. The suit asks the court to find that the EPA didn’t have legal authority to put the protections on hold, didn’t give public notice or allow public participation before doing so, and selectively applied its action to prioritize the interests of the coal industry over public health.

The toxics in coal plant waste raise cancer risk, make fish unsafe to eat, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children. Heavy metals in the waste, like lead, arsenic, and mercury, don’t degrade over time, and they can concentrate as they travel up the food chain, impacting fish and wildlife and ultimately collecting in our bodies and our children’s bodies. Power plant pollution can also make municipal water bills more expensive, because water treatment plants may have to spend more money to ensure that they deliver safe water to their customers.

After decades of inaction, limits for these toxic discharges from coal power plants were finally updated by the Obama Administration in September 2015 due to a court order secured by some of the same groups filing suit now. The new safeguards would have required power plants to eliminate the vast majority of this pollution, protecting our nation’s drinking water sources and making thousands of river miles safer for swimming and fishing.

Power plants were set to begin meeting these new safeguards starting in 2018, but EPA’s Pruitt agreed to a coal industry request to reconsider the rule. Through the April 25 order, the EPA is telling the industry that it doesn’t need to take any steps to modernize wastewater treatment while a potentially years-long rulemaking process plays out.

Advanced Steel Recovery Cited for Hazardous Waste Violations

The Department of Toxic Substances Control filed a complaint against Advanced Steel Recovery, Inc. (ASR), a metal recycling facility in Fontana, for multiple violations of California’s hazardous waste laws.

The complaint alleges that ASR illegally stored and failed to determine if any of the compressed gas cylinders or heavy metal-contaminated soil that was accepted, generated, or stored at the site was hazardous waste. The California Attorney General’s Office filed the complaint in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of DTSC.

The complaint also alleges that ASR had multiple piles of soil contaminated with heavy metals exceeding hazardous waste levels throughout the ASR site. These piles were not contained, covered or labeled, as required by law, and were exposed to open air, wind and rain. ASR has no permit or other grant of authorization from DTSC to accept, treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste.

ASR is a metal recycling facility that receives scrap metal such as major appliances, automobile parts and demolition debris from industrial sources and the public.

The complaint also alleges that ASR:

  • Improperly managed major appliances containing Materials Requiring Special Handing
  • (MRSH) in a manner that could have resulted in the release, or prevented the removal of
  • the MRSH
  • Failed to provide written certification at the time of the transaction that the MRSH had been
  • Removed from the major appliances by a certified appliance recycler
  • Failed to use a hazardous waste manifest when transporting the hazardous waste compressed gas cylinders and transported the cylinders to an unlicensed facility

Momentive Performance Materials Silicones Fined $1.25 Million for Violations of Air and Waste Regulations

Momentive Performance Materials Silicones, LLC, (MPM) has agreed to pay a $1.25 million civil penalty to resolve a complaint alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws in connection with MPM’s use of an incinerator at its manufacturing facility in Waterford, New York, announced the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the EPA, the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The settlement was finalized in the United States District Court in Albany.

“Our laws provide essential protections to New Yorkers' health, safety, and environment,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “MPM flouted clean air and hazardous waste laws at its Waterford facility and, as a result, released harmful, toxic chemical into the surrounding community thousands of times. We won't hesitate to act to protect New Yorkers and bring to justice anyone who violates the law."

The civil complaint alleges that MPM purchased a manufacturing facility in Waterford, New York, in 2006 from the General Electric Company, and continues to operate it to this day. MPM manufactures various products at the facility, including sealants made of silicone. The silicone manufacturing process generates hazardous waste. MPM sought and received permits from DEC to treat and dispose of the hazardous waste, subject to compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). MPM treated and disposed of hazardous waste by burning it in a rotary kiln incinerator that included an automatic waste feed cut-off system designed to shut down the incinerator if MPM deviated from operating parameters in its CAA and RCRA permits. The automatic cut-off system was specifically designed to ensure compliance with environmental laws. Unbeknownst to federal and state authorities, MPM manually overrode the incinerator’s automatic waste feed cut-off system, allowing MPM to continue to burn excessive amounts of hazardous waste in the incinerator in violation of its CAA and RCRA permits.

On numerous occasions during the period of December 4, until December 31, 2008, MPM employees manually overrode the automatic waste feed cut-off system, thereby releasing various harmful hazardous air pollutants from the facility and into the community.

“Violations of New York State’s environmental laws and regulations are serious offenses with serious consequences,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “This fine is the result of the collaborative efforts of state and federal partners working together to protect our communities. New York State has zero tolerance for anyone who rigs the system to break environmental laws that protect public health and the environment. I commend DEC Environmental Conservation Officers Major Scott Florence and Investigator Karen Staniewski who led this effort to hold these polluters accountable, as well as DEC engineers Thomas Killeen and James Coutant who provided invaluable technical oversight.”

In 2015, Attorney Schneiderman, DEC, EPA, and DOJ entered into a settlement with General Electric for similar clean air and hazardous waste violations during the company’s ownership of the facility before selling it to MPM in December 2006. MPM continued operating the facility in a similar manner.

EPA Settles with Three Trucking Companies over California Diesel Rule

The EPA recently announced settlements with three companies totaling $201,000 in penalties for violating California’s Truck and Bus Regulation. The companies either failed to install particulate filters on their own heavy-duty diesel trucks or failed to verify that trucks they hired for use in California complied with the state rule.

"Diesel trucks are heavily used in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles Basin, which suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is committed to helping California achieve cleaner, healthier air by ensuring compliance with the state’s pollution rules.”

“These cases are examples of how California and the EPA can work together to protect Californians’ health by strongly enforcing the regulation to clean up our trucks and buses,” said Chief of CARB Enforcement, Todd Sax. “When trucking companies operate in California, compliance with state laws is essential.”

Diesel emissions from trucks are one of the state’s largest sources of fine particle pollution, or soot, which has been linked to a variety of health issues, including asthma, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular effects in adults. About 625,000 trucks are registered outside of the state, but operate in California and are subject to the rule. Many of these vehicles are older models and emit high amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. The rule, which requires diesel trucks and buses that operate in California to be upgraded to reduce diesel emissions, is an essential part of the state’s plan to attain cleaner air.

The recent announcement highlights separate administrative settlement agreements with three companies that are all members of EPA’s SmartWay program, a voluntary public-private effort that helps improve freight transportation efficiency through a comprehensive system for tracking and documenting emissions and fuel use.

C.R. England, Inc., operated 34 heavy-duty diesel trucks in California from 2013 to 2014 without the required diesel particulate filters. The company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, is required to pay a $64,000 penalty and is currently in compliance.

Knight Transportation, Inc., failed to verify that the carriers it hired to transport goods in California from 2012 to 2014 complied with the Truck and Bus rule. Knight, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, is required to pay a $72,000 penalty; the company agreed to register all of its hired contractors on the state database (TRUCRS) and to provide verification of state compliance.

Werner Enterprises, Inc., operated five heavy-duty diesel trucks in California from 2012 to 2014 without the required diesel particulate filters. Werner also failed to verify that the carriers it hired to transport goods in California complied with the Truck and Bus rule. The company, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is required to pay a $65,000 penalty.

The California Truck and Bus Regulation was adopted into federal Clean Air Act plan requirements in 2012 and applies to diesel trucks and buses operating in California. The rule requires trucking companies to upgrade vehicles they own to meet specific NOx and particulate matter performance standards and also requires trucking companies to verify compliance of vehicles they hire or dispatch. Heavy-duty diesel trucks in California must meet 2010 engine emissions levels or use diesel particulate filters that can reduce the emissions of diesel particulates into the atmosphere by 85% or more.

Passage of Voluntary Emissions Bank HB 2152 Creates Incentives for Arizona’s Business Economy and Improved Air Quality

ADEQ officials thanked Governor Ducey for signing House Bill 2152, Emissions credits; voluntary emissions bank, into law, which provides both new and expanding Arizona businesses added opportunity in meeting mandatory federal Clean Air Act requirements to improve air quality, and may serve as a draw for new industries to locate to in Arizona.

Prior to the passing of HB 2152, surplus emissions reductions deposits to Arizona’s emissions bank, which can be purchased by new or expanding businesses to meet Clean Air Act permitting requirements, were accepted only from permitted industrial facilities (traditional sources). Surplus emissions reductions are generated when a company reduces its air emissions below legal limits.

Enactment of this legislation expands the emissions bank to accept deposits from “non-traditional sources,” such as reductions generated through electrification of vehicle fleets. Allowing deposits from non-traditional sources will significantly increase the number of credits that could be deposited. For example, Maricopa County reports that 86% of contaminants that contribute to ozone generation come from non-traditional sources, mostly vehicles. This bill provides both an economic and environmental opportunity because it supports business growth in Arizona and incentivizes further air emissions reductions through a voluntary free-market sale process.

ADEQ Air Quality Division Director, Timothy S. Franquist, said, “The enactment of HB 2152 is consistent with Governor Ducey’s vision for agencies to be actively looking for ways to increase economic growth in Arizona. The enhanced voluntary Arizona emissions bank achieves both economic and environmental benefits by allowing new types of emissions offset credits to be used.” Franquist further explained that, “Arizona’s model is not a ‘cap and trade’ regulatory structure used elsewhere in the country."

“These changes are a win-win for business and air quality,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman, Denny Barney, District 1, said. “The emissions bank allows the County to keep and attract desirable high-tech companies while working toward achieving air quality standards."

ADEQ and Maricopa County officials worked cooperatively with stakeholders throughout the legislative session to develop and refine key provisions of the bill as follows:

  • Clarifies that the State does not receive any new authority to establish emissions limits for stationary or mobile sources, participation in the emissions bank is voluntary and credits do not expire
  • Prohibits banked credit sweeps by ADEQ or any other entity
  • Allows non-traditional credits to be banked

California Water Board Adopts Mercury Limits for Water Bodies

The California State Water Resources Control Board adopted rules to protect people and wildlife consuming fish from freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers in California that contain mercury—a potent neurotoxin.

“Fish like salmon, bass, sturgeon and other popular fish like trout are sought after as a key food source by California Native American tribes, and other groups that depend on fish for sustenance,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Our goal in updating the rules is to more clearly identify who depends on such fish in their diet and where, and then focus our attention on what can be done to limit those exposures. Unfortunately, mercury can be found in many fresh water bodies in California, and are largely a legacy of the Gold Rush era, and difficult to resolve. Longer lived fish, like bass and sturgeon, tend to accumulate the most mercury.”

The rules establish new “beneficial use” definitions to protect California Native American cultural and subsistence fishing uses and non-tribal subsistence fishing uses. Based on these uses, the rules set protective levels of methylmercury in fish tissue and an implementation plan for achieving those levels.

The primary goal of the proposed mercury amendment is to restore and improve the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of California’s water bodies by reducing levels of mercury in order to support the beneficial uses of fish consumption by humans and wildlife and to define beneficial uses to protect California Native American tribal uses.

Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, mercury concentrations exceed background levels due to human activities. Gold and mercury mines; atmospheric deposition; industrial and municipal wastewater discharges, and urban storm water runoff are all sources of mercury that can enter surface water bodies and accumulate in fish tissue to levels that can be toxic to humans and wildlife.

The Board’s action sets what are called “water quality objectives” which are required to establish safe consumption levels for fish that are known to have accumulated mercury. The objectives are based on consumption rates for three populations that are at a higher risk of exposure to mercury because they depend on these fish as a regular part of their diet: recreational sportfishers; California Native American Tribes that subsist on locally caught fish, and other, non-tribal subsistence fishers.

The rules also establish two water quality objectives designed to protect wildlife from the harmful effects of mercury. One limit is based on consumption rates of wildlife that prey on fish species with elevated mercury and depend on them for a significant part of their diet, while the other limit is based on consumption rates of threatened or endangered species, such as the California least tern.

The rules also include a program of implementation outlining methods for determining limits for waste water dischargers, pollution prevention activities for urban storm water, and focuses on controlling sediment from non-point sources particularly in areas known to be contaminated by mercury to achieve the water quality objectives.

New statewide mercury water quality objectives for human health were needed to update the level of protection for recreational consumers of fish. State Water Board staff conducted numerous outreach activities throughout the state, including native American tribes, environmental justice groups, environmental organizations, water purveyors and the public to solicit input and public comment on this proposal since 2013.

Fish consumption studies indicate higher consumption rates for some groups than were used in the EPA’s 2001 recommended mercury criteria. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that EPA’s 2001 mercury criteria, if applied, would no longer be protective of certain threatened or endangered species present in California.

As a result, the Board’s May 2 action establishes levels of mercury in fish that are protective of public health and fish eating wildlife.

Minnesota Creek Polluted by Phosphorus, E. Coli Bacteria

Lakes in the Pioneer-Sarah Creek Watershed are contaminated by phosphorus, and several of the watershed’s streams have high levels of E. coli bacteria, according to new reports by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The pollution is severe enough to be harmful to aquatic insects and fish, inhibit recreational activities, and pose health risks to humans.

Phosphorus in the lakes comes from manure, cropland runoff, internal loading (agitation of phosphorus-laden lake sediments), and urban and rural runoff. E. coli in the streams is from livestock, wildlife, and human waste. Bacteria can reach water bodies from stormwater systems, manure-covered fields, malfunctioning septic systems, or feedlots.

The Pioneer-Sarah Creek Watershed, located in northwestern Hennepin County, includes the communities of Greenfield, Independence, Loretto, Maple Plain, Medina, and Minnetrista. The watershed’s diverse landscape is dominated by undeveloped and agricultural land uses.

The MPCA, the Pioneer-Sarah Creek Watershed Management Commission, and local partners are recommending a number of actions to restore and protect water bodies in the Pioneer-Sarah Creek Watershed. Actions include increasing buffers, reducing internal loading in lakes, improving manure and pasture management practices, improving urban stormwater management, and implementing livestock and agricultural best management practices.

The MPCA’s two reports on the watershed include:

  • The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which establishes the amount of each pollutant that a water body can receive without exceeding water quality standards, and allocates reductions to different sources of pollutants.
  • The Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), which identifies strategies for restoring and protecting water quality in the watershed.

The agency is seeking comments from the public on both reports.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Pioneer-Sarah Creek webpage. Submit comments in writing to Rachel Olmanson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, Minnesota 55155-4194, or rachel.olmanson@state.mn.us, by 4:30 p.m. on May 31, 2017. Rachel is available to answer questions at 651-757-2473. Comments must indicate to which report they pertain and the action you wish the MPCA to take, including sections of the report that you believe should be changed, and reasons supporting your position.

Aircraft Manufacturer Fined for Late Air Emissions Reports

Cirrus Design Corporation and Cirrus Aircraft Corporation have agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty and complete three compliance actions as part of a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) air quality enforcement agreement, the agency announced recently.

The parties began manufacturing aircraft in Duluth in 1993. At that time, there were no emission sources requiring state air quality permits. By 2015, operations had changed and they received a state air emissions permit and belatedly filed compliance reports dating from 2002 through 2013.

Those reports provided information that indicated the parties had failed to obtain necessary air emissions permits prior to new construction of, or making major modification to, air emissions sources at the Duluth production facility. As a result, there was no reduction or control of the sources’ air emissions. The pollutants included particulate matter (dust), volatile organic compounds (commonly-found chemicals in industrial and manufacturing processes such as solvents, coatings and adhesives), and other airborne toxins.

In addition to paying the penalty, the parties are also required to pay unpaid air emissions fees, submit an air emissions control analysis and related application, and, submit missing annual reports from November 2002 to the present.

The stipulation agreement is one tool that the MPCA uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first time or repeat violation and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

Excavating Company’s Hidden Fuel Tank Threatened Groundwater

Fitzgerald Excavating and Trucking in Goodhue must comply with state rules to protect groundwater after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) discovered the company improperly installed an underground fuel tank and went to great lengths to keep it hidden from the agency. Tank regulations help ensure that they are installed and maintained in a manner that protects groundwater used for drinking, along with preventing other harm to the environment.

The company must take several corrective actions and pay an $80,000 penalty to the state, according to a recent agreement with the MPCA.

This company in southeast Minnesota, owned by Jason Fitzgerald, buried a 12,000-gallon tank at its excavation facility north of Goodhue. The company acquired and reinstalled a tank that had been removed from a gas station. The tank, about 30 years old, posed a high risk of leaking and was prohibited from being reused. In violation of state rules, Fitzgerald installed the tank himself instead of using a licensed tank contractor. To keep the tank hidden from the MPCA, Fitzgerald buried the tank and poured a concrete pad over it. He then placed several 1,000-gallon aboveground fuel tanks as decoys on top of the pad. The aboveground tanks were exempt from state rules.

Fitzgerald took several steps to keep the tank and associated equipment a secret. For example, he placed fuel pumps on top the unregulated tanks to make it appear they were being used for fueling. In reality, he was pumping fuel from the hidden underground tank. Fitzgerald also cut holes in the bottoms of the aboveground tanks for fuel pipes down to the 12,000-gallon tank. The tank fill pipes were concealed inside a modified toolbox sitting on the concrete pad, and the tank vent pipes were disguised to look like support posts for the awning over the fuel tanks.

The hidden tank lacked leak detection equipment, secondary containment for spills, corrosion protection, overfill protection, and spill prevention equipment. All these protections are critical to prevent releases. Despite several MPCA notices to use an MPCA-certified tank contactor to remove the tank, Fitzgerald removed the tank himself and disposed of it without following state rules designed to prevent soil contamination, safety issues, and other problems.

In addition, Fitzgerald gave vague and conflicting statements to state inspectors concerning his fueling practices, where the tank came from, who installed the tank, and how the tank was disposed of once it was removed.

Fitzgerald was also cited for air quality and solid waste violations after inspectors found burn piles containing tires, plastics and other materials that cause excessive or noxious smoke. Large piles of tires and solid waste were also found at the facility near Goodhue.

Corrective actions include:

  • Submit proper notification for the underground tank
  • Properly dispose of ash and solid waste stored at the Goodhue facility
  • Stop storing, disposing of, and burning waste materials
  • Submit a plan for managing waste to the MPCA for approval

Stipulation agreements are one tool that the MPCA uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first time or repeat violation, and the severity of the violations. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

This is the third time since 2007 that the MPCA has directed Fitzgerald to take corrective action and pay a penalty for violating solid waste rules. The agency also took enforcement action against the company in 2009 for violating several rules on septic system installation.

The tank violations highlight the potential harm from improperly storing materials in tanks. The MPCA is marking its 50th year as the state’s environmental protection agency. The Minnesota Legislature created the MPCA after Minnesota witnessed two catastrophic spills in 1962. In December of that year, sub-zero temperatures caused a pipeline break at Richards Oil tank facility in Savage. The ruptured line released a million gallons of oil into the Mississippi River. Shortly thereafter, a storage tank at the Honeymead plant in Mankato burst, releasing more than 3 million gallons of soy oil onto the ice of the Minnesota River. Oil from both spills slowly traveled downstream and had a devastating impact on wildlife.

Today in Minnesota, there are about 18,000 regulated underground storage tanks (USTs) in use.

Gas Station Operator Pleads Guilty to Discharge of Hazardous Pollutant into City Sewage Treatment System

Mahant Singh, operator of a convenience store and gas station in Yazoo City, Mississippi, recently pleaded guilty to a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act. Singh admitted to discharging the contents of an underground fuel storage tank into a sewage line connected to the Yazoo City wastewater treatment system, which created a fire or explosion hazard and risked contaminating local water supplies, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain for the Southern District of Mississippi.

As charged in the criminal information, at the end of April 2016, water from rainstorms leaked into one of the underground gasoline storage tanks at the 49 Quick Stop though an inadequately maintained tank cap. The presence of water in the fuel storage tank triggered an automatic shut off, preventing the dispensing of gasoline. When there had been a similar water leak into a Quick Stop tank about a year earlier, in March 2015, defendant Singh arranged for a commercial tank service company to remove the water and gasoline mixture from his tank and to dispose of it properly, by separating the water and gasoline.

Instead of removing the gasoline and water mixture from his tank, as he had a year earlier, on or about April 28, 2016, defendant Singh pumped some of the content of the contaminated Quick Stop tank into an opening in the sewage line. Singh did so by extending a hose to the bottom of the tank where water might collect underneath the lighter gasoline. The other end of the hose he placed into the sewer pipe. Singh turned on a pump connected to the hoses, forcing liquid from the tank into the sewer line while he waited on customers at the Quick Stop store. In so doing, defendant Singh discharged liquid from the gasoline storage tank into the Yazoo City wastewater treatment system, thereby negligently introducing a pollutant into the system which created a fire or explosion hazard.

“The unpermitted discharge of gasoline-laden water into a community’s water treatment system is illegal, dangerous, and can also place the health of the community at risk,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “These Clean Water Act charges, along with the guilty plea, should send a strong message that these unlawful acts, which place the public at risk, harm the environment, and damage local infrastructure, will not be tolerated.”

“We are fortunate that the illegal disposal of contaminated gasoline did not cause an explosion or injury,” said Director Chris Sanders of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality's (MDEQ) Office of Pollution Control. “A quick response by Yazoo City and MDEQ officials to identify the source of the discharge limited the risk of harm to the public and to the city’s sewage treatment system. However, numerous buildings, including a school, had to be evacuated when gasoline fumes were detected in several areas throughout the city. Cooperation between EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and MDEQ to this illegal disposal was essential to these charges. The State of Mississippi, through MDEQ, works closely with EPA in pursuing criminal enforcement of pollution prevention statutes.”

Federal law authorizes a Class A misdemeanor under the Clean Water Act for any person who negligently introduces into a publicly owned treatment works any pollutant or hazardous substance which the defendant person knew or reasonably should have known could cause personal injury or property damage or to introduce into the system any material other than in compliance with all applicable Federal, State, or local requirements or permits. Under the Clean Water Act, defendant Singh faces up to one year in prison; a term of supervised release of not more than five years; and a fine of up to $100,000.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 17, 2017.

Stormwater Violations Lead to $83,500 Penalty

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality announces Buscher Construction and Development Inc. recently resolved violations of the Montana Water Quality Act that occurred at Poly Vista Estates, Trailshead and Falcon Ridge II subdivisions in Billings.

Buscher agreed to an $83,500 administrative penalty to resolve the following violations:

  • Conducted construction activity prior to getting a required General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction Activities at all three subdivisions
  • Discharge of stormwater without a permit
  • Causing pollution of state waters due to sediment runoff
  • Failure to implement its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan

Buscher also agreed to submit quarterly summary reports for each subdivision for two years and to maintain and renew regular permit coverage in a timely manner.

“To protect Montana’s environment, it is critical for companies to work closely with DEQ to educate themselves on applicable environmental laws and to help resolve issues like this,” said DEQ Water Quality Division Administrator Tim Davis. “This agreement is a good step in the right direction.”

Improved Leak Detection Technology and Centralized Monitoring to be Deployed at 23 New York Gas Stations

The EPA has reached an agreement with the owners of the underground storage tanks at 23 gas stations in the Albany, New York area, and at two gas stations in Connecticut and one gas station in New Hampshire, to improve detection and monitoring of leaks from underground tanks that store petroleum products. Falcon Petroleum, LLC, and its affiliated companies, RGLL, Inc., and GRJH, Inc., are expected to spend more than $200,000 to upgrade leak detection equipment at seven of their gas stations in New York and more than $225,000 on a comprehensive centralized monitoring program that will improve the collection and management of, among other things, the leak detection data collected throughout their network of gas stations. When not properly maintained, underground storage tanks have the potential to contaminate soil, surface water, and groundwater. Falcon and its affiliated companies will also pay a $60,000 civil penalty under the agreement.

“Gas station owners have a responsibility to regularly monitor their underground storage tanks to protect against potential leaks,” said Acting EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “Leaking tanks can contaminate groundwater, which is one of our most precious natural resources. This agreement includes an innovative centralized monitoring program, which will protect the environment by helping to ensure that the companies’ underground tanks at all 23 gas stations in New York are monitored on a continuous basis.”

This settlement resolves the claims identified in the United States’ complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York in December 2016, which alleged that at eight gas stations in the Albany area, the companies had failed to comply in the past with important requirements of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the law governing underground storage tanks. The agreement requires that these gas stations, located in Ballston Lake, Cropseyville, Hoosick, Hudson, Queensbury, Troy and Valatie, New York, fully comply with these regulations.

Under the agreement, Falcon and its affiliated companies have also agreed to connect the tanks at their 23 gas stations in New York, two gas stations in Connecticut and one gas station in New Hampshire, to a centralized monitoring system. This system will assist in identifying leaking tanks and pipes by collecting all leak detection data and electronically transmitting it to a central monitoring location. This will allow the accelerated detection and correction of any leaks. Under the agreement, the companies will operate and maintain the centralized monitoring equipment for all the underground storage tanks covered in the agreement for a minimum of five years. The centralized monitoring component of this agreement is consistent with the EPA’s Next Generation enforcement efforts, which focus on increasing compliance with environmental regulations by integrating the use of advanced technologies, such as pollution detection systems and information technologies, with traditional compliance measures.

The settlement, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period, is conditioned upon approval by the United States District Court before becoming final.

Denver Contractors Fined for Violations of Lead-Safe Home Renovation Requirements

The EPA announced a collective settlement with Denver-area contractors KGN Asset Management, LLC, KGN Asset Management, Inc., and Restoration Realty, Inc. as part of an ongoing initiative to protect residents of Denver neighborhoods from toxic lead-paint hazards during home renovations. Disturbing lead paint during renovations without proper work practices can expose homeowners and the public to toxic lead hazards.

The contracting firms are associated with Keith Nylund, the host of the DIY Network series “Raise the Roof.” The series followed Nylund as his firms conducted major renovations on homes throughout the Denver area, many of which involved removing roofs to add additional stories, a renovation practice commonly known as a “pop top.”

According to the settlement, Nylund’s firms allegedly conducted seven home renovations in Denver between 2014 and 2016 without following various requirements of the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule. These requirements prevent and minimize the release of lead-contaminated dust and debris. The alleged violations included failure to obtain EPA lead-safe firm certification, failure to maintain various required records demonstrating compliance on several properties, as well as violations of lead-safe work practice standards on several properties. The firms agreed to pay a total penalty of $30,000 to resolve these allegations. KGN Asset Management, LLC, has since become a lead-safe certified firm.

Despite its ban from use in 1978, EPA estimates that lead-based paint is still present in more than 30 million homes in the U.S. When lead paint is disturbed during home renovations, proper work practices prevent toxic lead exposure to the home’s occupants. Infants, children, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to lead-paint exposure, which can, even at low levels, cause lifelong impacts such as developmental impairment, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, and behavioral problems.

The Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule protects the public from toxic lead hazards created by renovation activities involving lead-based paint and requires the certification of individuals and firms involved in these activities. Contractors working on homes built prior to 1978 must test for lead in paint, or presume lead is present, and apply applicable lead-safe work practices to minimize the risk of exposure to lead.

As part of ongoing efforts to prevent toxic lead exposure resulting from renovations on homes with lead paint, EPA has conducted outreach and education activities among contractors and residents and inspected many jobsites in Denver-area neighborhoods. The agency will continue to evaluate compliance associated with these inspections and work to improve compliance among contractors who perform renovation projects where lead paint is present.

Petroleum Distributor Ordered to Upgrade 180 Storage Tank Alarm Systems

The EPA has reached an agreement with Christensen, Inc., a Grandview, Washington-based petroleum storage and distribution company over their failure to submit important emergency planning information for several years at five facilities in central Washington and one in Seattle. Christensen, which bills itself as the largest wholesale petroleum fuel distributor in the Pacific Northwest, stores hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel, gasoline, LPG-propane, lubricating, motor oils, and other hazardous chemicals at these six facilities.

The missing information—including on-site volumes of hazardous chemicals stored at each facility, as well as storage locations—must be filed annually with the State Emergency Response Committee, Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the local fire department, a requirement of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (Section 312). Local firefighters and emergency responders use this inventory data and location information to better understand what kinds of chemical or hazardous substance hazards they might face if called to fight a fire or respond to another emergency at the facility. The company was issued a $65,670 penalty for these EPCRA 312 violations.

As part of the agreement, the company will also undertake a project to install high-tech, web-based monitoring systems on at least 180 underground storage tanks owned by their customers throughout Washington State and in parts of Idaho and Oregon. The project will provide instant notification to off-site locations of events that have the potential to cause or have caused a release of hazardous substances from the tanks.

The new systems will offer users state-of-the-art technology in leak detection, providing a real-time, web-based alarm system that will send data from each particular tank to a central management system. The monitors will provide instantaneous electronic notification of failed tests, warnings, and alarms. The company will also provide advanced payment of the annual monitoring fee for one year for each system.

The alleged violations occurred at the following six facilities:

  1. Grandview Plant located at 501 East Wine Country Road in Grandview, Washington
  2. Yakima Plant located at 311 West I Street in Yakima, Washington
  3. Pasco Plant located at 151 Commercial Avenue in Pasco, Washington
  4. Seaport Petroleum Facility located at 7800 Detroit Avenue SW in Seattle, Washington
  5. Toppenish Plant located at 63443 Highway 97 in Toppenish, Washington
  6. Mid Valley Car Dealership located at 501 Stover Road, Grandview, Washington

Leaking underground storage tanks release fuel or other petroleum products that can contaminate surrounding soil, groundwater, or surface waters. Because most petroleum products float and ride on top of groundwater, they can even harm indoor air quality by permeating porous basements and crawl spaces. Early leak detection can help minimize the harm to groundwater and prevent costly cleanups.

For more about EPCRA section 312: https://www.epa.gov/epcra/epcra-sections-311-312.

Alaska, EPA Work to Improve Air Quality in Fairbanks

Fairbanks North Star Borough is reclassified as a “serious” nonattainment area for fine particulate air pollution.

“Fairbanks North Star Borough faces an especially difficult challenge of meeting existing pollution standards for a number of reasons including a high reliance on woodstoves and wood heaters to stay warm. We recognize their challenges and will work closely with the state of Alaska and the Borough to find solutions that will achieve both clean, healthy air and warm homes,” said Tim Hamlin, director of EPA’s Region 10 Office of Air and Waste.

The community faces an especially difficult challenge when its fine particulate levels spike during the many cold air inversions that occur each winter. One of the biggest contributors of fine particulates are the woodstoves and wood heaters many Borough residents use to heat their homes. The big challenge is that the need for heat is greatest when burning wood is most likely to be harmful to public health during severe cold air inversions that trap the fine particulates from wood smoke closer to where people are breathing the polluted air.

While we understand the logistical limitations of the Fairbanks community, switching sources of home heating, especially during cold air inversions, can greatly reduce harmful particulate emissions. Using dry wood in professionally installed certified woodstoves and using techniques to burn it hotter reduces fine particle pollution and the amount of wood burned.

Final Action

  • On April 28, 2017, EPA officially re-classified the Fairbanks North Star Borough area from “Moderate” to “Serious” nonattainment for the 2006 24-Hour PM2.5 or Fine Particulate Matter National Ambient Air Quality Standard. EPA’s final determination will be published in the Federal Register and become effective 30 days from the date of publication. More info here: https://www.epa.gov/ak/fairbanks-air-quality-plan.
  • Under the Clean Air Act, Fairbanks was required to meet the standard by December 31, 2015. EPA found that Fairbanks did not attain the standard based on 2013-2015 air quality data and the area must be reclassified from “Moderate” to “Serious” nonattainment.
  • The State of Alaska will be required to submit a serious air quality plan for Fairbanks by December 31, 2017. The state and the Borough are already working to develop a serious plan with technical assistance and support from EPA.
  • The serious plan must include the adoption of Best Available Control Measures and Best Available Control Technology (BACM/BACT) and demonstrate attainment of the standard no later than December 31, 2019.

EPA Honors Award-Winning Asthma Programs

The EPA marks the start of Asthma Awareness Month by honoring leading asthma programs from across the country for their efforts to improve the lives of people with asthma in underserved communities. The National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management is the highest recognition EPA bestows on a program and its leaders for delivering excellent environmental asthma management as part of their comprehensive asthma care services.

“Congratulations to these award-winning programs for their outstanding efforts,” said EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn. “Thank you for helping to alleviate the burden of asthma borne by more than 24 million Americans, including more than 6 million children.”

This year’s winners are:

  • Healthcare Service Corporation, Chicago, Illinois – Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the nation’s largest customer-owned health insurer, in partnership with community-based organizations, provides in-home environmental assessments to families in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. As a result, HCSC claims data showed a reduction in hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits that directly correlates to an increase in cost savings.
  • The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Richmond, Virginia – The YoU Can Control Asthma Now (UCAN) community asthma program at VCU uses a family-focused case-management approach that includes the management of environmental asthma triggers. This program has strong ties to the community through coordination with two asthma coalitions, local schools and community centers. The UCAN community asthma program has saved an average of $691 per patient from decreased hospitalization and emergency department visits.
  • Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Los Angeles, California – Esperanza Community Housing Corporation is a national leader in advancing the Promotores de Salud (Community Health Promoters) model that trains local residents to provide culturally appropriate asthma education and home-based environmental interventions. Esperanza’s program puts trusted community members into leadership positions—an approach that has translated into an increase in participation in the program, a significant decrease in asthma emergency visits and an increase in cost savings.

Asthma is an enormous challenge for medical and public health communities, and has a substantial impact on the economy in terms of direct medical costs, as well as lost productivity amounting to more than $56 billion annually. Many environmental asthma triggers can be found indoors, where most Americans spend about 90% of their time. By equipping health insurance, housing, and environmental programs with the necessary support, EPA is focused on making environmental asthma intervention in homes a critical component of comprehensive care.

Two Massachusetts Facilities Agree to Improve Handling and Reporting of Hazardous Chemicals

Two facilities located in Springfield, Massachusetts, have agreed with the EPA to come into compliance with federal requirements designed to protect the public and first responders from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The agreements were with Performance Foodservice which owns and operates a food distribution and refrigeration warehouse facility where it uses anhydrous ammonia in its refrigeration systems; and with Solutia Inc., which operates a chemical production facility and handles vinyl acetate monomer in its process.

Performance Foodservice – The Performance Foodservice facility in Springfield consists of a large distribution warehouse, a cold storage area, trucks, and loading bays. The refrigeration warehouse uses anhydrous ammonia in its refrigeration systems. Anhydrous ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with many environmental benefits, but it must be used with care because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Ammonia is also flammable under certain condi