EPA announced the agency’s intent to grant a reconsideration of the Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Rule (NSPS Rule/Methane NSPS/Oil and Gas Rule/0000a), and stay a June 3 compliance date for 90 days, as EPA takes public comments.
This rule requires the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions using commonsense, cost-effective tools. EPA is convening a proceeding for reconsideration of the Final Rule, “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources,” published June 3, 2016, at 81 FR 35824. EPA is sending a letter to the petitioners who requested reconsideration of the rule, to notify them that remaining obligations under the rule will be administratively stayed upon reconsideration.
Regarding the delay, attorneys for Earthjustice said, “So far in the Trump administration, Big Oil asks and EPA says yes. By delaying compliance with this cost-effective rule, EPA is demonstrating that it cares more about polluters than public health.”
Earth’s Little Garbage People
If you’re enjoying some tasty food that has at least one ingredient that was farmed somewhere, you probably owe a little thanks to earthworms. How is it that these detritivores—literally dirt eaters—turn what humans find inedible into beloved compost? After the biology and physics of swallowing and “chewing,” like us it’s all chemistry for digestion. But earthworms have an extra enzyme that allows them to munch through cellulose, the ultimate fiber that makes tree bark a non-starter in human diets. Yet all this powerful chemistry means not everyone sees earthworms as the greatest creature to crawl—find out all the dirt in the latest Reactions video here: https://youtu.be/2Pa1FwmKZcQ.
EPA Considers Reversal of Limits on Toxic Air Pollution
The EPA notified attorneys involved in a court battle over protections from the toxic emissions of coal-fired power plants that it would seek a delay in federal court to consider reversing the EPA’s decision under the Obama administration to limit these emissions.
The EPA, in an email, announced plans to file a motion at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking to delay oral arguments in its defense of the Mercury and Air Toxics rule from polluters and allied states.
“Coal-fired power plants are the nation’s worst polluters by far. They spew enormous amounts of mercury, arsenic, and lead into our air, and that pollution harms everyone and particularly children, who are the most vulnerable among us,” said Earthjustice Attorney James Pew. “These limits on power plant pollution, which have now been in place for two years, have cut power plants’ emissions and greatly reduced the threat to kids’ health and development. Scrapping them now would bring poisons back into kids’ lungs, blood, and brains and will cause thousands of people to die—prematurely and unnecessarily—from breathing in power plants’ soot pollution.”
Pew thinks that it would break the law to eliminate the rule. “Overturning that rule now would be flagrantly illegal,” Pew said. “The Clean Air Act required these limits to be put in place more than a decade ago. If EPA wishes to deregulate power plants it needs to show that their emissions are safe. They are far from safe. They kill thousands of people each year.”
Earthjustice plans to call on the federal court to reject EPA’s motion. Two years ago, the Supreme Court criticized EPA for basing its decision to control power plants’ toxic pollution exclusively on the adverse health effects they cause. It rejected calls by the coal industry to throw the limits out, but directed the agency to consider their costs. Last year, the agency explained in detail that the benefits of these health protections far outweigh the costs. A number of power companies and States that are still dissatisfied challenged that decision as well. Among them was Oklahoma, then represented by Pruitt. Oral argument on their challenge is scheduled for May 18, and it is this argument that Pruitt seeks to delay.
According to the EPA’s science review, the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) would annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed days of work days. It would also protect babies and children from exposures to mercury than can damage their ability to develop and learn. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to mercury in the womb.
Less than two weeks ago, the EPA filed a motion with the federal courts asking to delay oral arguments in its defense of the 2015 ozone standard. Earthjustice opposed the delay and will continue fighting for implementation of that standard. Earthjustice represents the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the case.
Degradable Electronic Components Created from Corn Starch
As we upgrade our gadgets at an increasing pace, the amount of electronic waste we generate continues to mount. To help combat this environmental problem, researchers have modified a degradable bioplastic derived from corn starch or other natural sources for use in more eco-friendly electronic components. They report their development in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.
In 2014, consumers around the world discarded about 42 million metric tons of e-waste, according to a report by the United Nations University. This poses an environmental and human threat because electronic products are made up of many components, some of which are toxic or non-degradable. To help address the issue, Xinlong Wang and colleagues sought to develop a degradable material that could be used for electronic substrates or insulators.
The researchers started with polylactic acid, or PLA, which is a bioplastic that can be derived from corn starch or other natural sources and is already used in the packaging, electronics, and automotive industries. PLA by itself, however, is brittle and flammable, and doesn’t have the right electrical properties to be a good electronic substrate or insulator. But the researchers found that blending metal-organic framework nanoparticles with PLA resulted in a transparent film with the mechanical, electrical, and flame retardant properties that make the material a promising candidate for use in electronics.
Maryland Department of the Environment Annual Clean Air Progress Report
Despite one the hottest summers ever recorded locally, Maryland continued to make dramatic progress on reducing air pollution and improving air quality according to finding in a new report by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The report was released ahead of Air Quality Awareness Week, which is observed May 1–5.
The department’s Maryland Clean Air 2017 Progress Report states that, in 2016, most areas of Maryland continued to meet the 2008 health-based ozone standard and remain close to meeting the new, more stringent, 2015 ozone standard. It also finds that Maryland is meeting all federal standards for fine particulate air pollution and that levels of that pollutant continue to drop annually. Ozone and fine particulate pollution are Maryland’s biggest air quality issues.
The report describes the strong evidence that Maryland’s pollution control programs, including Governor Larry Hogan’s more stringent requirements for coal-fired power plants, are working to clean the air. The report also points to steps being taken to further improve air quality, including passage of legislation introduced by the Hogan administration to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles and efforts to reduce out-of-state pollution that negatively impacts Maryland’s air quality.
“We’re making clean air progress with strong partnerships and steady investments, but more is needed regionally and nationally to sustain our pace and protect our health,” Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said. “Marylanders’ hearts, lungs and waterways will benefit from smart actions at home and in upwind states to keep improving our air quality.”
Reducing air pollution improves public health, and actions that reduce nitrogen pollution that can be deposited to the ground and waterways also help to restore the Chesapeake Bay.
In recognition of Air Quality Awareness Week, the Department of the Environment is encouraging all citizens to follow its air quality forecasts, learn how air quality affects your health and take steps to help keep Maryland’s air clean.
Summer 2016 and Maryland’s Power Plant Regulations
According to the department’s annual Clean Air progress report, Maryland experienced the sixth-warmest summer ever recorded last year.
“Despite that type of weather—which usually ushers in high levels of air pollution because of increased electricity generation and the hot sun’s effect on pollutants—Maryland continued to make dramatic progress in cleaning up the air,” the report states, adding:
“Maryland’s more stringent requirements for coal-fired power plants were in effect during the summer of 2016 and significantly reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), a compound that helps form ozone. The summers of 2013-2015 were much cooler than last year’s. While the hotter weather in 2016 inevitably led to an increase in ozone, the number of bad air days, the number of hours of bad air on those days, the daily peak and the geographic expanse of bad air on those days were all less than what was seen during hot summers at the start of the decade. The more stringent power plant regulations effectively reduced up to 12 tons of NOx per day in the summer of 2016. This is strong evidence that Maryland’s programs are working to clean the air.”
The power plant regulations put into place in 2015 build upon the Maryland Healthy Air Act, which required reductions in large power plant emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and greenhouse gases (GHGs) in previous years. Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with that law.
The Fight Against Smog
Maryland’s air quality has improved dramatically in the past decade.
Ground level ozone, or smog, has been Maryland’s most challenging air pollution problem for the past 30 years. At one point, the EPA designated Maryland as having the worst ozone anywhere east of the Mississippi.
In 2016, both the Baltimore area and the Washington, D.C., area continued to meet the 2008 ozone standard and both are close to meeting the 2015 ozone standard. Ozone in the Wilmington-Philadelphia area, which includes Cecil County, is slightly higher, but the area is close to meeting the 2008 standard and is working to meet the 2015 standard.
Cutting Bad Air from Out-of-State
Research shows that pollution from upwind states can on many days account for 70% of the Maryland’s ozone problem. Maryland has a long history of working in partnership with other states and taking action, when necessary, to reduce “incoming ozone.” These efforts have begun to show results: nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in upwind states have decreased in recent years.
In November 2016, Maryland submitted a petition under Section 126 of the federal Clean Air asking the EPA to require 36 power plant units in five upwind states to run their air pollution controls every day of the summer ozone season to reduce emissions—consistent with the requirement for Maryland plants under state regulations. The report states that the resulting emissions reductions would decrease ozone levels in Maryland and could determine whether many areas of the state attain the updated ozone standard. The requirement would also lower fine particulate pollution levels in Maryland.
Vehicles are a significant source of air pollution. The recently adopted Clean Cars Act of 2017, a bill introduced by Governor Hogan, will provide tax incentives through 2020 to encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles. Maryland has also begun to invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure that consumers can easily charge their electric vehicles.
As part of recent federal settlements with automaker Volkswagen for installing devices that allowed vehicles to exceed emissions standards and pollute the state’s air, Maryland is eligible to receive about $76 million dollars from an environmental mitigation trust fund. This money is expected to dramatically enhance the state’s efforts on Electric Vehicles and help Maryland with efforts to reduce emissions from diesel vehicles and other pollution sources. In a partnership between the Port of Baltimore, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Transportation, more than $1 million has already been invested in clean diesel projects at the Port of Baltimore.
The Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 requires stricter-than-EPA standards to reduce emissions, including GHGs and pollutants that help create ozone, and requirements for zero emission vehicles.
Measuring Sulfur Dioxide
In 2010, a new health-based standard for sulfur dioxide was finalized. In 2016, based on air quality modeling, the EPA identified a small area in Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties as potentially not meeting this new standard. Contrary to EPA’s air quality modeling, modeling conducted that reflected actual operating conditions shows that the area in question is meeting the new SO2 standard.
Results from the two existing sulfur dioxide monitors in the state show dramatic downward trends, with levels in 2016 that were well below the new standard. Maryland is working with residents and EPA to install a sulfur dioxide monitor that will more accurately demonstrate whether there is an issue with that pollutant in the area. Maryland is being proactive to protect public health and has already begun to implement new measures to further reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
Reducing Greenhouse Gases
In 2016, Maryland, working in partnership with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, began to develop the plan required by the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Act of 2016. This plan will reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 while also supporting a healthy economy and the creation of new jobs. New initiatives for 2016 and 2017 include Governor Hogan’s Clean Cars Act of 2017, enhancements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that are being discussed by the nine RGGI states, a ban on hydraulic fracturing, new efforts to reduce methane emissions and the Healthy Soils program.
“The Hogan Administration is committed to bipartisan solutions that protect the environment, while growing the economy and providing affordable and reliable energy to Maryland citizens and communities,” Secretary Grumbles said.
Westward Seafoods Fined $1.3 Million for Air Permit Violations
The EPA and Department of Justice recently announced a settlement with Westward Seafoods to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at its Captain’s Bay seafood processing plant in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. As part of the settlement, Westward is required to use new electronic systems for monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting, to properly train personnel for compliance, and to implement a more robust preventative maintenance and operations plan.
Westward Seafoods came forward to EPA and to the state of Alaska with information about the company’s air permit violations after the company discovered that three employees had turned off air pollution controls from 2009 to 2011 and falsified records to hide their actions. Prior to this discovery, the company had submitted the falsified records to EPA and the state of Alaska, which resulted in criminal prosecutions against the three individuals in federal court in 2014. The recent settlement resolves the company’s civil liability for all of the Clean Air Act violations.
“We rely on permitted facilities to self-monitor and report on their compliance with Clean Air Act requirements, so the submission of falsified records undermines our ability to protect public health and the environment,” said Edward Kowalski, Director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in EPA’s Seattle office. “This settlement requires significant third party independent oversight of Westward Seafoods’ operations to monitor and verify the use of required pollution controls.”
“Air permits are put into place to protect air quality and public health. Turning off pollution controls and falsifying records are serious violations,” said Denise Koch, Director of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Air Quality. “We’re satisfied that this agreement’s mitigation projects and enhanced system to verify compliance will reduce air pollution on Unalaska Island.”
Due to Westward Seafoods’ failure to use required air pollution controls and failure to accurately report its air emissions, the settlement requires an independent third party auditor to conduct an annual inspection of the facility and review its records twice a year to monitor and verify compliance with the consent decree and its Clean Air Act permits. Westward will also spend $1.1 million on air pollution reduction projects, more than $800,000 on other injunctive relief, and pay a $1.3 million civil penalty. The state of Alaska, a co-plaintiff in the case, will receive $228,000 of the civil penalty.
Westward Seafoods will conduct two mitigation projects to offset its excess emissions of nitrogen oxides or NOX pollution. EPA estimates that the company’s failure to operate pollution controls for two years resulted in nearly 105 excess tons of harmful NOx emissions. NOx is composed of highly reactive gasses which form quickly from fuel burning emissions from cars, trucks and buses, and power plants. Breathing air with high levels of NOx can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma.
Westward’s sister company, Alyeska Seafoods, operates a seafood processing facility two miles from Westward’s Captain’s Bay facility. Westward will replace existing lighting at both facilities with energy efficient lighting to reduce the need for generated electricity and reduce NOx emissions. The Alyeska facility will also install a five megawatt transformer and make other associated changes to provide an electrical connection to the city of Unalaska’s power plant, which generates lower NOX emissions than the Alyeska facility’s generators. Once these changes are made, the settlement prohibits the use of the two largest and higher polluting generators at the Alyeska facility except when city power is unavailable or during other emergencies.
Westward and Alyeska are required to operate the pollution mitigation projects for three years, which is expected to result in 140 tons of fewer NOx emissions. The projects will also reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. The mitigation is likely to continue in use beyond three years, resulting in almost 48 tons per year of additional NOx reductions into the future. The reduced emissions will help protect the air quality in the communities surrounding the facilities, including the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, an Alaska Native Village.
In 2010, Westward Seafoods agreed to a consent decree with EPA and the Justice Department, and paid a $570,000 penalty, to resolve previous violations of the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act at the Captain’s Bay Facility. Westward’s recent violations also violated the 2010 consent decree. The recent settlement resolves all claims for civil penalties and injunctive relief under Westward’s Clean Air Act permits and for stipulated penalties under the 2010 consent decree.
The recent consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
Port Townsend Mill Fined $30,000 for Air Emissions
The Port Townsend Paper Corporation has been fined $30,000 by the Washington Department of Ecology for two incidents in 2016 that led to emissions from the plant bypassing its control systems.
The first release happened in August after corrosion created a 1-inch hole in a duct at the plant, allowing small-particle pollution and other emissions to escape. The leak represented less than 1% of the plant’s emissions, and an assessment by an Ecology toxicologist indicated it did not pose a threat to human health. Because of the difficulty in reaching and repairing the leak, it was not fixed until the plant shut down for scheduled maintenance in September.
The second release occurred in November, when a damper in one of the plant’s main exhaust stacks became stuck, allowing some of the emissions to escape. Routine testing revealed the issue, and the plant corrected the problem after receiving the results.
“Proper maintenance and oversight of emissions equipment is an essential part of operating a pulp and paper mill,” said James DeMay, manager of Ecology’s Industrial Section, which regulates the plant. “Port Townsend Paper has made improvements to its procedures that should help to prevent similar problems in the future.”
The company may appeal Ecology’s penalty within 30 days to state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board.
“These issues were corrected in a timely manner and we have made the necessary improvements to prevent a reoccurrence,” said Mike Craft, mill manager at Port Townsend Paper. “We appreciate Ecology’s cooperation and acknowledgment that the release did not pose a threat to human health.”
Cruise Line Ordered to Pay $40 Million for Illegal Dumping of Oil Contaminated Waste
Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. (Princess) was sentenced to pay a $40 million penalty—the largest-ever for crimes involving deliberate vessel pollution—related to illegal dumping overboard of oil contaminated waste and falsification of official logs in order to conceal the discharges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, Florida. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz in Miami.
Judge Seitz also ordered that $1 million be awarded to a British engineer, who first reported the illegal discharges to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which in turn provided the evidence to the U.S. Coast Guard. The newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on August 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England without the use of required pollution prevention equipment. The evidence gathered by the whistleblower, including photographs of the magic pipe, led to an inspection of the cruise ship both in England and then when it reached New York on September 14, 2013. During each of the separate inspections certain crew members concealed the illegal activity by lying to the authorities in accordance with orders they had received from Caribbean Princess engineering officers.
The sentence imposed by Judge Seitz also requires that Princess remain on probation for a period of five years during which time all of the related Carnival cruise ship companies trading in the U.S. will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan that includes independent audits by an outside company and oversight by a court appointed monitor. As a result of the government’s investigation, Princess has already taken various corrective actions, including upgrading the oily water separators and oil content monitors on every ship in its fleet and instituting many new policies.
According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations. The August 2013 discharge approximately 23-miles off the coast of England involved approximately 4,227 gallons within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time as the discharge, engineers ran clean seawater through the ship’s monitoring equipment in order to conceal the criminal conduct and create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.
The case against Princess included illegal practices which were found to have taken place on five Princess ships—Caribbean Princess, Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess. One practice was to open a salt water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. The purpose was to prevent the oil content monitor from going into alarm mode and stopping the overboard discharge. This was done routinely on the Caribbean Princess in 2012 and 2013. The second practice involved discharges of oily bilge water originating from the overflow of graywater tanks into the machinery space bilges. This waste was pumped back into the graywater system rather than being processed as oily bilge waste, and then pumped overboard anytime the ship was more than four nautical miles from land. As a result, discharges within U.S. waters were likely. None of the discharges were recorded in the oil record books that are required to be maintained on board the ships.
“These violations of law were serious, longstanding and designed to conceal illegal discharges,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “The sentence in this case should ensure that these crimes do not take place in the future and should also send a strong message to others that illegally polluting U.S. waters will not be tolerated.”
“Today's large criminal penalty makes it clear that businesses that operate in our oceans will be held accountable for violating their obligation to safeguard the marine environment,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Greenberg. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our maritime partners are committed to ensuring that all vessel operators adhere to recognized standards in order to protect our open seas and coasts. We will continue to use the U.S. courts to pursue those who circumvent the law for their own personal gain.”
“Without the courageous act of a junior crewmember to alert authorities to these criminal behaviors of deliberately dumping oil at sea, the global environmental damage caused by the Princess fleet could have been much worse,” said Rear Admiral Scott Buschman, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Seventh District. “The selflessness of this individual exposed five different ships that embraced a culture of shortcuts and I am pleased at this outcome.”
As set forth in papers filed in court, Princess admitted to the following:
- After suspecting that the authorities had been informed, senior ship engineers dismantled the bypass pipe and instructed crew members to lie.
- Following the MCA’s inquiry, the chief engineer held a sham meeting in the engine control room to pretend to look into the allegations while holding up a sign stating: “LA is listening.” The engineers present understood that anything said might be heard by those at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California, because the engine control room contained a recording device intended to monitor conversations in the event of an incident.
- A perceived motive for the crimes was financial – the chief engineer that ordered the dumping off the coast of England told subordinate engineers that it cost too much to properly offload the waste in port and that the shore-side superintendent who he reported to would not want to pay the expense.
- Graywater tanks overflowed into the bilges on a routine basis and were pumped back into the graywater system and then improperly discharged overboard when they were required to be treated as oil contaminated bilge waste. The overflows took place when internal floats in the graywater collection tanks got stuck due to large amounts of fat, grease and food particles from the galley that drained into the graywater system. Graywater tanks overflowed at least once a month and, at times, as frequently as once per week. Princess had no written procedures or training for how internal gray water spills were supposed to be cleaned up and the problem remained uncorrected for many years.
Ten million of the $40 million criminal penalty imposed by the court is earmarked for community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida; $1 million will go for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters. Additionally, $1 million of the criminal penalty will be deposited in the Abandon Seafarer's Fund, a fund established to provide a mechanism for the U.S. Coast Guard to offer humanitarian relief and support of seafarers who are abandoned in the United States and are witnesses to maritime-related crimes.
State Officials Celebrate California’s Leadership in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Adoption
Leaders from three state agencies recently caravanned from Sacramento to the Bay Area and back to demonstrate how easy it is to drive and fuel hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in California, and to celebrate the state’s global leadership in efforts to get more zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road.
Making the round-trip drive two days before Earth Day were representatives from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Energy Commission, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), and other members of the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP), a public-private effort to promote hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in California. CaFCP members include state agencies, automakers, station operators, and air quality groups.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and other ZEVs play an important role in the state’s efforts to reduce its GHG emissions and petroleum dependence, and improve air quality.
"To achieve California's climate change and air quality goals, we are putting our dependence on fossil fuels in the rearview mirror thanks to the availability of clean vehicles and clean fuels," said CARB Chair Mary Nichols. "As a fuel cell EV driver, I am excited to hit the road to show off these fast, fun cars. With a full tank of hydrogen from one of the growing number of strategically located stations, I can go anywhere I need to go and as far as I used to on a tank of gas. These cars are available now along with financing incentives funded by proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade program."
The caravan, which included models such as the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Toyota Mirai, drove from the State Capitol to True Zero hydrogen refueling stations in Hayward and San Jose, with a photo stop at Treasure Island before returning to Sacramento. True Zero, Honda, and Toyota are all CaFCP members. Additionally, a hydrogen fuel cell electric bus operated by the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District was displayed in Hayward.
California state agencies collaborate on a range of initiatives to help reach the state’s goal of getting 1.5 million ZEVs such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on California roads by 2025. These initiatives include Energy Commission investments in an initial network of 100 public hydrogen stations needed to help make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a practical option for consumers. The Energy Commission has funded 48 hydrogen stations, with 27 now open. Another 16 stations are proposed for funding, pending Energy Commission approval. The public-private effort to build a network on this scale is the first of its kind in the world.
“California is on the cutting edge in the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell electric cars. The Energy Commission is committed to investing in a network of conveniently-located refueling stations to support the fuel cell electric cars that are on the road now and to encourage more consumers to consider zero emission options,” said Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott. “We look forward to continuing our work with public and private partners as California paves the way for a zero-emission transportation future.”
CARB also supports development of fueling infrastructure by matching projected market demand and advancing station technology. GO-Biz helps station providers, local government and developers with planning and permitting of new stations. Additionally, incentives funded by proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program are available to help Californians lease fuel cell EVs.
“California is proof positive that investing in transportation infrastructure and the deployment of zero emission vehicles leads to statewide economic growth,” said Tyson Eckerle, GO-Biz Deputy Director for Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure. “The state has made strategic investments to build new hydrogen fueling stations and as a result, fuel cell vehicle owners can now drive throughout the Bay Area and beyond with the absolute confidence that they will reach their destination and have enough fuel to take the scenic route home.”
"More hydrogen stations are coming online in the Bay Area, and we are beginning to see the foundations of a growing statewide network," said Bill Elrick, Executive Director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. "With each passing year, we will see more stations and cars, realizing our vision for a zero-emission fleet."
“Clean hydrogen powering fuel cell electric vehicles provides huge benefits for all including cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions, the elimination of petroleum dependence and economic growth,” said Joel Ewanick, President and Chief Executive Officer of True Zero. “With the support of the state of California, automakers like Honda and Toyota and the True Zero hydrogen fueling infrastructure any uncertainly about this technology is over. We have the cars, we have the fuel, we have the fueling infrastructure. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are in day-to-day use by drivers and this success can only grow in the years ahead.”
Charges Filed Against Baltimore County Landlord and Lead Paint Inspector
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh recently announced that his Environmental Crimes Unit has filed charges against landlord and lead paint inspector James R. Lerch for allegedly issuing unlawful lead paint compliance certificates. The Environmental Crimes Unit filed a 23 count Criminal Information against Lerch in Baltimore County Circuit Court on April 11, 2017.
Lerch is an accredited lead paint inspector and is alleged to have issued unlawful lead paint compliance certificates for a rental property he owns in Towson, Maryland, and subsequently used those unlawful certificates in filings with the District Court of Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Rental Housing Registration Division.
Lerch was charged with one count of deceptive trade practices, one count of reckless endangerment, three counts of issuing a false lead paint certificate, three counts of submitting a false lead paint certificate, and three counts each of the following regulation violations: performing a lead paint inspection for related party, performing a lead paint inspection when chipping paint is present, failing to properly conduct lead dust samples, failure to notify the Department of the Environment in advance of conducting a lead paint inspection, and failing to provide the Department of the Environment with lead dust test results.
“Lead poisoning can cause serious health problems or even death, so we will not stand idly by when people try to skirt the law,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Marylanders should feel safe in knowing they are moving into homes that are lawfully inspected.”
Maryland law requires rental properties constructed before 1978 to be lead-inspected by an accredited lead paint inspector when there is a change of tenant or when a child living in the residence is diagnosed with an elevated blood lead level, among other circumstances. In addition to possible enforcement by MDE for failing to comply with that requirement, county-level rental licensing programs often require landlords to provide proof of compliance prior to issuance of a rental license, and compliance must be plead in all Failure to Pay Rent filings in the District courts.
The inspections must be performed by individuals who have both completed extensive training and been accredited by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). MDE provides inspectors with blank Lead Paint Risk Reduction Certificates that have unique numbers specifically assigned to the accredited lead paint inspection contractor. MDE maintains a list of the certificates they issue and also tracks the use of the certificates and records their use
and submission back to MDE. Detailed regulations control how the inspections are performed to ensure they are independent, uniform and reliable. Further, inspectors are required to notify MDE prior to any inspection and then to provide test results to document the inspection and allow MDE the opportunity to perform oversight and review.
Gerdau Ameristeel Inc. Cited for Multiple Environmental Violations
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) cited Gerdau Ameristeel, a Florida corporation that operates a steel mill recycling plant in St. Paul, for violations of several environmental regulations. Violations included failing to obtain proper permits for operating the company’s two cooling water ponds, failing to implement best management practices for stormwater control measures, failing to document regular inspections and preventive maintenance, failing a performance test, and improperly storing hazardous waste. The company has made corrections and agreed to pay a $110,000 civil penalty.
Several of the company’s corrections include applying for correct permit coverage, updating operation and maintenance plans, properly labeling hazardous waste containers, and implementing improved recordkeeping practices.
The improper management of hazardous waste and water and air quality violations potentially increased the risk of harmful contaminants being released into the air, land or water, posing a threat to human health and the environment.
The agreement, known as a Stipulation Agreement, is one of the tools the MPCA uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the agency 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.
EPA Announces Winners of the 5th Annual Campus RainWorks Challenge
The EPA recently announced the winners of its fifth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge, a national college competition to engage the next generation to design solutions for stormwater pollution using green infrastructure. Student teams proposed designs that help aid innovative problem solving for their campus and community.
Stormwater is one of the nation’s most widespread challenges to water quality. Large volumes of stormwater runoff pollute our nation’s streams, rivers and lakes, posing a threat to human health and the environment and contribute to downstream flooding. The Campus RainWorks Challenge engages students and faculty members at colleges and universities to apply green infrastructure principles and design, foster interdisciplinary collaboration and increase the use of green infrastructure on campuses across the nation.
“Our Campus RainWorks Challenge winners are the next generation workforce of green infrastructure designers and planners,” said Mike Shapiro, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “All the submissions included innovative approaches to stormwater management. I want to congratulate Kansas State University and the City College of New York for their winning submissions.”
EPA invited student teams to compete in two design categories—the Master Plan category, which examines how green infrastructure could be integrated into a broad area of a school’s campus, and the Demonstration Project category, which examines how green infrastructure could be integrated into a particular site on the team’s campus. Teams of undergraduate and graduate students, working with a faculty advisor, developed innovative green infrastructure designs in one of the categories, showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.
The 2016 challenge winners are:
- Kansas State University (1st Place Demonstration Project Category) – The team’s “Stronger Quinlan” project proposes repairing an historic campus nature area with green infrastructure elements to reduce stormwater pollution and flash flooding of Campus Creek. By installing rainwater harvesting and permeable pavement as well as planting trees and native plants, the students estimate their design could reduce stormwater runoff by 46% and capture 597,000 gallons of water per year for irrigation.
- City of College of New York (1st Place Master Plan Category) – The “Castor Project” is named after the school’s mascot, the Castor canadesis, more commonly known as a beaver. Taking a cue from the beaver’s role as a natural water manager, the team designed a master plan for campus-wide stormwater management. The plan calls for increasing tree canopy 15% by adding 89 trees and impervious area 38% by adding 23,000 square feet of permeable surface. A water storage tank could capture up to 3000 cubic feet of stormwater for gray water uses.
- University of Maryland (2nd Place Demonstration Project Category) – The team project, “(Un)loading Nutrients”, proposes transforming a campus loading dock into a campus amenity that also manages stormwater. The plan calls for 6660 square feet of new plantings for bioretention and reducing impervious surface by 18%. The students redesign of the loading dock and adjacent parking lot creates a safer pedestrian walkway between a dining hall and classroom building.
- University of Cincinnati (2nd Place Master Plan Category) – Titled “ReMEDiation”, the team’s master plan envisions installation of green infrastructure best management practices that mitigate stormwater runoff on campus and reduce flooding and combined sewer overflows into the Ohio River. The team estimates that enhanced green spaces can reduce stormwater runoff by 25% and increase community benefits of urban gardens and nature trails.
Two 1st place student teams will be awarded $2000 to be split evenly among the members. The faculty advisors will receive $3000 for their institution. Two 2nd place student teams will be awarded $1000 to be split evenly among the members. The faculty advisors will receive $2000 for their institution.
EPA also recognized the teams from the University of New Mexico (Honorable Mention Demonstration Project category) and East Georgia State College (Honorable Mention Master Plan category)
EPA plans to announce the sixth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge in the summer of 2017.
Green infrastructure tools and techniques for stormwater management include green roofs, permeable materials, alternative designs for streets and buildings, trees, habitat conservation, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems. Utilizing these tools decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems. Communities are increasingly using innovative green infrastructure to supplement “gray” infrastructure such as pipes, filters, and ponds. Green infrastructure reduces water pollution while increasing economic activity and neighborhood revitalization, job creation, energy savings, and open space.
Neonicotinoids Detected in Drinking Water in Agricultural Area
Concern over the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is growing as studies find them in rivers and streams, and link them with declining bee populations and health effects in other animals. Now researchers report that in some areas, drinking water also contains the substances—but they also have found that one treatment method can remove most of the pesticides. The study, conducted in Iowa, appears in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
Neonicotinoids are potent insecticides that are used widely around the world, often applied to seed coatings of crops. But some research has associated the compounds in certain cases with harm to bees. Other studies have suggested that chronic exposure to the compounds can cause developmental or neurological problems in other animals, too. The pesticides are so commonly used in agriculture that surveys of streams in farming-intensive regions in the U.S. have found that neonicotinoids are widespread in surface waters. Gregory H. LeFevre, David M. Cwiertny, and colleagues wanted to investigate the fate of these compounds as water from the Iowa River and an aquifer supplied by the river is treated and ends up at the tap.
The researchers tested water as it went through two different water treatment systems. They found that a system serving Iowa City, which uses granular activated carbon filtration, removed 100%, 94%, and 85% of the neonicotinoids clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, respectively. The rapid sand filtration system serving the University of Iowa reduced the same substances only by about 1%, 8%, and 44%, respectively. Drinking water samples from this treatment plant contained between 0.24 and 57.3 nanograms of individual neonicotinoids per liter. Regulatory limits for these substances are not currently in place as researchers are still working to understand if and how neonicotinoids impact human health, the researchers note. They add that more studies are needed to figure out whether chronic, low-level exposure to neonicotinoids might be harmful.
A Better Way to Predict the Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Production
Consumer goods companies often rely on life-cycle assessments (LCA) to figure out the potential consequences of how they design products and source ingredients. This kind of assessment, while sophisticated, often lacks detail about how the products affect natural resources such as land, water, and biodiversity.
A team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota, in a partnership called the Natural Capital Project, along with researchers from Unilever's Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre, developed a new kind of assessment to integrate these impacts in a more detailed way. They call it Land Use Change Improved Life Cycle Assessment, or LUCI-LCA. It's designed to help researchers or companies more accurately predict impacts of new designs and sourcing.
The researchers tested this new LCA by evaluating the potential environmental impacts of two bio-plastic products that could be produced from sugarcane grown in Mato Grosso, Brazil, or from corn grown in Iowa. Their approach—which includes more accurate data about the regional land composition than the traditional LCA—came to different conclusions about which option would be more environmentally responsible. The group published the results in the April 21 issue of Nature Communications.
"The size and reach of multinational companies is stunning, on par with that of many nations," said Gretchen Daily, professor of biology at Stanford and senior author of the paper. "When we think about how to bring human activities into balance with what Earth can sustain, corporations have a major role to play in decoupling economic growth from environmental impact."
Life-cycle assessment offers a systematic way of determining potential environmental impacts of a product from source materials to disposal. Results from these assessments often inform decisions companies make about product design, material and technology choices and sourcing strategies. An incomplete or inaccurate assessment could lead to well intentioned but environmentally damaging decisions.
One problem with a standard life cycle assessment is that it represents the average land composition of the country from which materials will be sourced. So, in this case, it assumes that Mato Grosso contains the same proportion of rainforest as all of Brazil, and that sourcing sugarcane from that state would lead to deforestation of the Amazon. Daily and her colleagues made improvements that allow for more refined assessment using data relevant to the exact regions from which materials would likely be sourced, taking into account predictions about future impacts to the environment.
"In reality, from the modeling that we did, it looked like most of the expansion of agriculture in Mato Grosso would happen in the savannah," said Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, research associate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and lead author of the study. "Whereas in Iowa, if any expansion happens, it will likely mean expanding into forest."
While the standard LCA showed that the Mato Grosso sugarcane would lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere, this more spatially sensitive LCA found that the carbon footprint of the Iowan corn was larger. In addition, while the traditional LCA found that the corn would result in more water use than the sugarcane, the new LCA found that the sugarcane would use more—900% more.
"This work has major implications for anybody involved in product innovation, commodity sourcing or policy setting for new land development," said Ryan Noe, a researcher with the National Capital Project at University of Minnesota and co-author of the paper. "Where that sourcing comes from matters and it's not really being captured with the approaches being used."
The researchers hope that the stark and significant differences between the results of the two LCAs will encourage companies and policymakers to adopt the new approach for decision-making.
"Our ultimate mission is to get this kind of information—this spatially explicit value of nature—to people and to have the impact on natural capital included in as many different kinds of decisions as possible," Chaplin-Kramer said.
It took the team substantial time and effort to pull together the data necessary for this case study. But with increased interest, they believe they could develop a more streamlined tool that would require little manual work.
"There's more work at some levels—but this is exactly the kind of 21st-century work that responsible corporations are pursuing to promote green growth and a sustainable human enterprise," Daily said. "In the short run, this approach will reduce costs and risks. In the long run, it is utterly key to survival."
BP Oil Spill Did $17.2 Billion in Damage to Natural Resources
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill did $17.2 billion in damage to the natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of scientists recently found after a six-year study of the impact of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
This is the first comprehensive appraisal of the financial value of the natural resources damaged by the 134-million-gallon spill.
"This is proof that our natural resources have an immense monetary value to citizens of the United States who visit the Gulf and to those who simply care that this valuable resource is not damaged," said Kevin Boyle, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Science and one of the authors on the paper.
Findings from the study are published in the issue of Science released Friday, April 21.
The scientists developed a survey to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the BP Deepwater spill by determining household willingness to pay for measures that would prevent similar damages should a spill of the same magnitude happen in the future. Survey information included descriptions of damaged beaches, marshes, animals, fish, and coral.
On top of estimating the impact of the spill, the $17.2 billion represents the benefits to the public to protect against damages that could result from a future oil spill in the Gulf of a similar magnitude.
In May 2010, one month after the spill, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned a group of 18 researchers to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the BP Deepwater spill.
To estimate Gulf Coast resource values, researchers created a scenario in which people were told that they could have a role in mitigating future damages by effectively paying for a prevention program.
Final analysis showed that the average household was willing to pay $153 for a prevention program. This rate was then multiplied by the number of households sampled to get the final valuation of $17.2 billion.
"The results were eye-opening in that we could tell how much people really value marine resources and ecosystems," said Boyle. "And even more meaningful because we did additional analysis that proved the legitimacy of oft-criticized values for environmental resources."
The project team administered surveys to a large random sample of American adults nation-wide after three years of survey development. The first round of surveys was administered face-to-face with trained interviewers while the remaining surveys were completed via mail.
Survey participants were informed of pre- and post-spill conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and what caused the oil spill. They were then told about a prevention program, which can be viewed as 100% effective insurance against future spill damages, and that another spill would occur in the next 15 years. With this information, participants were asked to vote for or against the program, which would impose a one-time tax on their household.
"Our estimate can guide policy makers and the oil industry in determining not only how much should be spent on restoration efforts for the Deepwater spill, but also how much should be invested to protect against damages that could result from future oil spills," said Boyle. "People value our natural resources, so it's worth taking major actions to prevent future catastrophes and correct past mistakes."
EPA Methane Emission Policy Likely to Cost Less, Miss 2025 Targets
Regulations recently enacted by the EPA to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas production will cost about a third less than what the agency estimates but may not lead to expected leak reductions, according to publicly available data analyzed by Stanford researchers.
The research published online April 18 in Environmental Research Letters evaluated the recently updated EPA 2012 New Source Performance Standards that lay out how methane leaks should be detected and mitigated by the oil and natural gas industry. The research shows that enforcing the standards will cost about 27% less than EPA estimates. However, the group also found that methane emissions reductions will likely fall short of the agency's 2025 mitigation targets by 20 to 50%, in part due to challenges with the technology used to detect leaks.
"We found out that even if you implement all these regulations as specified, what you achieve in terms of emissions reductions might be less than what the EPA estimates it's going to achieve in terms of targets," said lead author Arvind Ravikumar, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. "One of the reasons it happens is because of uncertainty in both technology used to detect leaks as well as our understanding of leakage."
In their paper, the group made recommendations for how to improve reduction of methane leaks. Despite the president's recent executive order to review the EPA's regulations, the findings may be helpful to state-level regulators and companies developing new technologies to detect leaks in oil and gas operations.
Methane leaks from natural gas operations contribute to rapid global warming while costing millions of dollars in economic loss. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, which is the top source of electricity production in the United States. Even small leaks can have large impacts on the planet: Methane emissions cause about 25% of manmade global warming today. Methane leaks can also threaten human health and safety, as shown by the 2015 Aliso Canyon leak in Southern California and multiple recent explosions in New York City caused by leaks in aging natural gas pipes.
"It would be better for everyone if we don't waste gas," Ravikumar said. "About 1 to 2% of gas is completely leaked now and fixing it is a direct economic value to both the operators, because they can sell that gas, and to consumers, because ultimately, we pay for it and prices are very volatile."
Federal law requires operators to survey for leaks with a technology called optical gas imaging, or infrared cameras. But the technology's accuracy depends on variables like weather conditions and time of day, making the equipment "notoriously finicky in terms of its performance," said Ravikumar. The EPA estimates a 60% reduction in leaks from these periodic surveys, but researchers found the technology to range between 15 and 75% effective in actually reducing methane emissions.
The group based their findings on calculations from a software tool they adapted to model costs and benefits of mitigating methane leaks based on publicly available surveys conducted in U.S. natural gas facilities over the last four years.
"We are using this tool to develop a quantitative and statistically supportable approach to evaluating a policy," said study co-author Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering. "Not only that, because it's open source, anyone can see exactly how the calculations are done, run it themselves and see the effectiveness of a policy."
The EPA regulations the group analyzed impose uniform standards on how often operators must inspect their facilities for leakage, what technology they can use and how soon a problem should be addressed. But given the variability in natural gas facilities, Stanford researchers recommend addressing methane leaks from a regional and holistic perspective, such as coordinating with other GHG mitigation policies, rather than imposing uniform standards based on national averages.
"These are only recommendations," Ravikumar said. "The methane business itself is fairly new and there are still many unknowns when it comes to methane emissions—given what we know, these ideas seem like the best way forward."
To address the issue of varied results from infrared cameras, Stanford researchers encourage regulators to instead adopt a more technology-agnostic approach. Since the group's software modeling tool was initially released in 2016, several organizations have begun developing alternate ways of detecting methane leaks that may prove more effective.
"Companies are developing detection technologies using our models," said Brandt, who is also a Center Fellow at Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy and an affiliate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "You can start to play with different variables and examine the costs and benefits associated with them."
The researchers also recommend addressing emissions regionally since each basin features unique properties. For example, a possible solution would be indirect mitigation, in which the EPA sets a methane reduction target and then lets operators decide the best approach for reaching it.
"This research is not only applicable to the federal EPA rules - we are also talking with the California Air Resources Board," Ravikumar said. "There's a lot of interest around finding the best way to reduce emissions."
Hazardous Chemicals Go Unregulated in Routine Oil and Gas Operations
California and more than two dozen other states require oil and gas producers to disclose the chemicals they use during hydraulic fracturing activities, enabling scientific and public scrutiny of the environmental and human health hazards these substances may pose. But all existing disclosure regulations cover chemical use only in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and, in California, two oth