EPA to Relax Mercury Emission Requirements for Coal Fired Power Plants

December 31, 2018
Last week, the EPA issued a proposed revised Supplemental Cost Finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), as well as the Clean Air Act-required risk and technology review.
A release by the Agency stated that the Trump Administration is providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits in the proposed revised Supplemental Cost Finding for MATS. After properly evaluating the cost to coal- and oil-fired power plants of complying with the MATS rule (costs that the Obama Administration estimated range from $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) and the benefits attributable to regulating hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from these power plants (benefits that range from $4 to $6 million annually) — as EPA was directed to do by the U.S. Supreme Court — the Agency proposes to determine that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act.
The emission standards and other requirements of the MATS rule, first promulgated in 2012, would remain in place as EPA is not proposing to remove coal- and oil-fired power plants from the list of sources that are regulated under Section 112 of the Act. The proposal also contains the required “risk and technology review,” concluding that no changes to the MATS rule are needed, and also takes comment on establishing a separate subcategory for certain units that rely on coal refuse.
A release from Earth Justice stated, “For years, EPA defended MATS as necessary to protect life, and industry complied, but now the agency under Andrew Wheeler is manipulating its analysis to rid itself of the protections. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, wants to enable uneconomic coal- and oil-burning power plants to profit by allowing them to produce more toxic emissions of mercury, arsenic and other pollutants. Most of the industry has already complied with the regulation, except for a few delinquent utilities.”
John Walke, Clean Air Director, Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “this is an unconscionable rollback to serve the coal industry at the expense of all Americans, especially our children. It sabotages health standards that already are avoiding as many as 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,000 heart attacks and 11,000 premature deaths now, and every year the utility industry complies.
When EPA created MATS in 2011, the Agency’s analysis determined that the rule would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital visits every year, saving taxpayers as much as 90 billion dollars in healthcare costs a year. The latest government figures show around an 80% reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants since the rule was adopted.
The industry invested billions of dollars in equipment like scrubbers to rid their smokestacks of these pollutants, and strongly opposes to deregulate the safe management of mercury, arsenic and the other neurotoxins covered under MATS. 
EPA will take comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and will hold a public hearing. Information regarding the time, date, and location of the public hearing will be published in a separate Federal Register notice. Additional information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and a fact sheet, are available at www.epa.gov/mats.
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Couple Reports that They Used More than All the Water on Earth – in a Month
The California State Water Resources Control Board has reached a $10,000 settlement agreement with two property owners over allegations that they deliberately made misstatements in reporting water diversion and use for diversion years 2009 through 2015. The settlement was approved by the State Water Board and incorporated as an order last month.
“This settlement sends a strong message to individuals who trivialize this important reporting requirement by declaring deliberate misstatements about actual water used,” said Julé Rizzardo, Assistant Deputy Director of the Division of Water Rights, Permitting and Enforcement Branch. “Inaccurate water use data impacts the division’s ability to effectively regulate water diversions and undermines the public’s trust in the water rights system. In high resource value watersheds like the Trinity River, accurate data is essential to ensuring senior water rights and the environment are protected.”
Louis and Darcy Chacon (the Chacons) claim a riparian right on Price Creek, a tributary to the Trinity River. They use the water for irrigation of 15 acres of mixed crops, stockwatering, and domestic use. As required, the Chacons filed Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use. However, for diversion years 2009 through 2013, they reported monthly amounts of storage and/or beneficial use of over one trillion acre-feet, which is greater than the volume of all the water on earth.
In response to receiving a notification of a reporting violation, the Chacons revised the reported amounts to 21,383.04 acre-feet, still orders of magnitude greater than reasonable. The Chacons continued reporting this inflated diversion and use amount for years 2014 and 2015.
The settlement agreement assesses a penalty of $10,000, with a portion of the penalty to be suspended and released upon completion of several corrective actions. The Chacons must hire a qualified individual to advise on reporting accurate diversion amounts, revise the Supplemental Statements of Diversion and Use that contain deliberate misstatements, and install an appropriate measuring device to ensure accurate diversion reporting in the future. Once these corrective actions are complete, the Chacons may reduce their fine by up to $7,500.
The California Water Code defines the making of a willful misstatement in a Statement of Diversion and Use as a misdemeanor. The State Water Board may impose an administrative civil liability for this violation in an amount not to exceed $25,000, plus $1,000 per day that the violation continues.
The state’s water use data is critical to water right permitting decisions, developing instream flow requirements, assessing compliance, and issuing notices of unavailability of water. Diverters can contact the State Water Board with questions on how to accurately report their diversions.
The order approving the Chacons’ settlement agreement is available online.
IAV GmbH to Pay $35 Million Criminal Fine in Guilty Plea for Its Role in Volkswagen AG Emissions Fraud 
IAV GmbH (IAV), a German company that engineers and designs automotive systems, has agreed to plead guilty to one criminal felony count and pay a $35 million criminal fine as a result of the company’s role in a long-running scheme for Volkswagen AG (VW) to sell diesel vehicles in the United States by using a defeat device to cheat on U.S. vehicle emissions tests required by federal law.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and Special Agent in Charge Timothy R. Slater of FBI’s Detroit Division made the announcement.
IAV is charged with and has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and VW’s U.S. customers and to violate the Clean Air Act by misleading the EPA and U.S. customers about whether certain VW- and Audi-branded diesel vehicles complied with U.S. vehicle emissions standards.  IAV and its co-conspirators knew the vehicles did not meet U.S. emissions standards, worked collaboratively to design, test, and implement cheating software to cheat the U.S. testing process, and IAV was aware the VW concealed material facts about its cheating from federal and state regulators and U.S. customers.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, which must be accepted by the court, IAV will plead guilty to this crime, will serve probation for two years, will be under an independent corporate compliance monitor who will oversee the company for two years, and will fully cooperate in the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation and prosecution of individuals responsible for these crimes.  Pursuant to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, IAV’s $35 million fine was set according to the company’s inability to pay a higher fine amount without jeopardizing its continued viability.  IAV is scheduled to appear for a change of plea hearing before the Honorable Sean F. Cox of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Jan. 18, 2019 at 9:30 a.m.
“Today’s guilty plea shows that this scheme to evade automotive emissions tests and cheat the American public and the U.S. government extended well beyond Volkswagen,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Our investigation into emissions cheating is ongoing and we will follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
“By helping VW cheat on U.S. emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act, IAV put its corporate success over public health and unfairly disadvantaged its competitors,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Williams. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure that companies like IAV play fair and that all Americans can enjoy the protections of our nation’s environmental laws.”
“IAV participated in Volkswagen’s deception of American regulators and fraud on American consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider.  “As this guilty plea demonstrates, our office will continue to aggressively prosecute corporate criminals, even when they work at some of the world’s largest, most prominent companies.”
 “IAV designed the software that allowed VW to cheat U.S. air emissions standards,” said EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine. “EPA and its law enforcement partners will not tolerate actions like this that put profit above public health and environmental protection.”
 “Americans rightly expect corporations to operate honestly,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Slater.  “This case sends a clear message that the FBI and its partners will hold corporations accountable when they defraud consumers and violate federal laws.”
The guilty plea of IAV represents the most recent charges in an ongoing investigation by U.S. criminal authorities into unprecedented emissions cheating by VW.  In March 2017, VW pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it deceived U.S. regulatory agencies, including the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, by installing defeat devices in diesel vehicles emissions control systems that were designed to cheat emissions tests.  As part of its plea agreement with the Department, VW paid a criminal fine of $2.8 billion and agreed to an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years.  Eight individuals were previously indicted in connection with this matter, two of whom have pleaded guilty and been sentenced.  The other six charged defendants are believed to reside in Germany. 
According to the statement of facts that will be filed with the court in IAV’s case, in 2006, VW engineers began to design a new diesel engine to meet stricter U.S. emissions standards that would take effect by model year 2007.  This new engine would be the cornerstone of a new project to sell diesel vehicles in the United States that would be marketed to buyers as “clean diesel.”  When the co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would both meet the stricter standards for nitrogen oxides (Nox) and attract sufficient customer demand in the U.S. market, they decided they would use a software function to cheat the U.S. emissions tests.
VW delegated certain tasks associated with designing its new “Gen 1” diesel engine to IAV, including parts of software development, diesel development and exhaust after-treatment.  In November 2006, a VW employee requested that an IAV employee assist in the design of defeat device software for use in the diesel engine.  The IAV employee agreed to do so and prepared documentation for a software design change to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer or it was being driven on the road under normal driving conditions.  If the software detected that the vehicle was not being tested, the vehicle’s emissions control systems were reduced substantially, causing the vehicle to emit substantially higher NOx, sometimes 35 times higher than U.S. standards.
By at least 2008, an IAV manager knew the purpose of the defeat device software, instructed IAV employees to continue working on the project and directed IAV employees to route VW’s requests regarding the defeat device software through him; the manager was involved in coordinating IAV’s continued work on it.
Starting with the first model year (2009) of VW’s new “clean diesel” Gen 1 engine, through model year 2014, IAV and its co-conspirators caused defeat device software to be installed on all of the approximately 335,000 Gen 1 vehicles that VW sold in the United States.
Moral Fiber Seeks to Close the Textile Loop Through Innovative Recycling
Akshay Sethi has a vision: he wants to revolutionize fashion by recycling polyester to create a sustainable fiber that can be reused eternally. But this ambitious vision is only part of an even bigger plan: to do the same for all plastics.
His Moral Fiber company has developed a three-step chemical process that can extract polyester from mixed blend materials to create a new yarn, billed as the world’s first textile product made entirely from old clothing. The equipment needed for this transformation can fit into a small shipping container, making it easy to deploy.
For now, the process is being tested in a pilot plant in Los Angeles but next year, Sethi hopes to be able to start sending the “box” to countries with growing middle classes and high levels of consumption and waste so that they can recycle clothing and produce Moral Fiber as well.
The technology has had several iterations since Sethi and fellow chemistry student Moby Ahmed started exploring ways to recover polyester, the most common fabric in mass-produced clothing, while at University of California, Davis. They founded Ambercycle (now Moral Fiber) in 2015, working initially with microbes to break down polyesters.
“We started with a microbial process and when you are trying new things, you discover new things. And so, we discovered this chemical process. It’s three steps, very elegant,” Sethi said.
“We take a mixed material, which has some cotton and polyester, and extract the polyester at the molecular level to produce a new yarn,” he said.
The leftover material is incinerated to power the pilot plant but the final box could also be powered by solar panels placed on the roof. The process requires around 45–50 amps of power at peak consumption. Sethi says the technology can extract polyester from any blended material and will be suitable for recycling other plastics.
“We’ll start with fabric but it can process packaging, bottles, containers, films, multilayer packaging. We see this box as the box that is tailor-made for textiles but in the future, we want to make a box for packaging, a box for carpets and for all sorts of different materials,” he said.
Sethi has financing from large international stakeholders in the apparel supply chain as well as traditional venture investors. So far, the Moral Fiber team have been working “in stealth”, keen to deal with any issues before going public.
The Los Angeles plant uses clothing scraps from local outlets, processing around 100 kilograms a day. Sethi and his team are currently tweaking the process and learning what is needed to scale up. Next year, they plant to launch a Moral Fiber collection with a major brand.
Sethi sees Moral Fiber as another weapon in the battle against marine plastic pollution. He wants to keep polyesters out of the sea and also deal with the problem of microfibers leaking into our rivers and oceans when textiles shed.
“What we’ve seen so far is you can make a polyester fiber that doesn’t shed. You can do it, it’s just a question of making it in such a way that it’s scalable,” he says. “We are working on ways to do that right now. You can’t have materials that go into the oceans and biodegrade there and turn into microfibers.”
Through its Clean Seas campaign, UN Environment is urging governments, businesses and consumers to reduce their use of unnecessary single-use plastics and preserve the oceans and their rich wildlife for future generations. Microplastics, which are produced when plastics start to break down, are a particular problem, with some estimates stating that as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles—500 times more than the stars in our galaxy—litter the seas.
As part of its campaign, UN Environment encourages inventors, designers and researchers to look for ways to beat our plastic addiction. Pioneering solutions to the plastic problem, and other environmental crises, will be at the heart of the fourth UN Environment Assembly next March. The meeting’s motto is to think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits.
Sethi lives by this mantra but he also knows that his innovation must be able to compete with materials made from fossil fuel byproducts.
“This is a staunch belief of mine … It has to be competitive with oil. If it’s not, it’s not sustainable. The number one cornerstone of our process was that we could compete on the economics of oil,” he said.
Another challenge is to deal effectively with the multiple players in the textile and clothing business, although Sethi is fortunate to have had support from Fabric of Change, a global initiative to support innovators for a fair and sustainable fashion industry, and Ashoka, the largest global network of leading social entrepreneurs. Moral Fiber also joined the Fashion for Good scaling program in November, where the company will be supported for 18 months and offered unique opportunities to connect to manufacturers, brands and investors.
For Sethi, a key driver in his search for sustainable textiles is the knowledge that fast fashion is not going anywhere, particularly given the growth of the middle class in emerging economies. The demand for clothes will increase but he hopes Moral Fiber can offer a sustainable, closed-loop solution.
“All clothing made with Moral Fiber can be infinitely recycled,” he said. “When it comes to product life cycles, we must return to infinity. It is the only way.”
Detroit Required to Comply with Asbestos Regulations
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) entered a consent judgment with the city of Detroit (City), the city of Detroit Building Authority (DBA), and the Detroit Land Bank on December 19, 2018, to resolve alleged violations of the federal National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos (Asbestos NESHAP) and state asbestos rules stemming from City’s demolition program targeting blighted and dangerous residential structures.
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that must be addressed prior to demolition work,” said DEQ director C. Heidi Grether. “We appreciate the City’s willingness to work with the DEQ to reduce the risk to citizens who continue to live and work near these abandoned structures.”
The agreement requires compliance with all state and federal asbestos requirements and requires the DBA to conduct additional post abatement inspections to check for asbestos prior to demolition. 
The City has the option to submit a proposal for a supplemental environmental project within 12 months which may reduce a portion of the total settlement amount and must be environmentally beneficial. If future violations of the Asbestos NESHAP occur, a stipulated penalty of $3,500 per violation may be assessed.  The consent judgment will be active for three years from its effective date. The consent judgment also includes a settlement amount of $100,000. 
“The DEQ remains committed to ensuring that the City’s demolition projects comply with the state and federal asbestos rules and regulations to ensure that public health is not adversely affected,” Grether added.
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