EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed the Risk Management Program (RMP) Reconsideration proposed rule to address potential security risks, improve emergency planning and public information regarding accidents.
EPA has requested public comment on the proposed changes to the final Risk Management Program Amendments rule (Amendments rule) issued on January 13, 2017. EPA has proposed to rescind amendments relating to safer technology and alternatives analyses, third-party audits, incident investigations, information availability, and several other minor regulatory changes. EPA has also proposing to modify amendments relating to local emergency coordination and emergency exercises, and to change the compliance dates for these provisions.
EPA has a responsibility to protect first responders and communities adjacent to facilities with chemical substances and has done so, in part, through the Risk Management Program (RMP). RMP regulations, first issued in 1996, require facilities to take steps to prevent and mitigate the consequences of accidental release of regulated substances. The proposed rule would rescind or modify certain provisions of the RMP Amendments rule published in January 2017. It proposes to reduce what EPA describes as unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining consistency with the OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard. In addition, the rule proposes revised compliance dates for the modified RMP requirements to provide necessary time for agency programmatic changes and for regulated facilities to implement the new requirements.
Initial discussion of the proposed changes prompted a coalition of 11 Attorneys General to file a lawsuit challenging Administrator Pruitt’s rule delaying the effective date of a rule that EPA developed over the course of several years to update its original 1996 Risk Management Program regulations. That case was argued before the D.C. Circuit on March 16, 2018, and is pending with the Court for decision.
“EPA administrators are supposed to push for safeguards to protect workers and residents from deadly catastrophes, like the one we saw in 2013 when the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook. “But this is Scott Pruitt. There apparently is no favor he won’t do for the chemical industry. Repealing safety measures at industry’s behest is just all in a day’s work.”
According to reports by The Hill and Politico Pro, the safeguards EPA is seeking to rescind include:
- The requirement that chemical companies must determine the root causes of spills or explosions.
- The requirement that an independent third party investigate spills, explosions and other disasters.
- Requirements that accident investigation teams include experts on the chemical processes involved and those who have experience investigating such incidents.
- Training requirements for supervisors of plant operations.
- The requirement for the plant owner or operators to keep safety information up to date.
- The requirement that plant owners release chemical hazard information to the public upon request.
The proposed rule will be available for public comment for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing on the rule is scheduled for June 14, 2018.
New EPA Office of Continuous Improvement
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently met with more than 75 employees and stakeholders to provide an update on the implementation of the new EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) and announced EPA’s new Office of Continuous Improvement (OCI) and its director, Serena McIlwain.
EPA established OCI to coordinate agency-wide implementation of ELMS. ELMS is a system that will enable the Agency to track important Agency actions to ensure they respond and resolve challenges quickly and thoroughly using Lean principles and tools. ELMS asks that all parts of the EPA set ambitious and achievable targets for their work, measure their results, and attempt to improve their processes to bridge gaps between targets and results. ELMS uses visual management with regularly updated performance and work flow data to monitor progress toward EPA’s Strategic Plan targets. EPA’s programs and regional offices hold monthly reviews of the performance data and report their progress to the agency’s Chief of Operations. Administrator Pruitt will hold quarterly reviews to monitor overall progress on the Agency’s Strategic Plan and priority areas.
“I am very grateful to have been selected as the first director of EPA’s new Office of Continuous Improvement. My team is eager to provide the Agency with the training, tools, and support needed to bring ELMS to life. I look forward to supporting EPA’s transformation to a much more efficient and effective organization,” said EPA Director of the Office of Continuous Improvement Serena McIlwain.
Serena McIlwain has served in the federal government for nearly 30 years, working in both the legislative and executive branches of government. Most recently, Serena was selected as EPA’s Performance Improvement Officer (PIO) and Director of the newly created Office of Continuous Improvement. In this role, Serena will implement the new EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) to drive accountability and performance improvement. Prior to assuming her new role, Serena was the Assistant Regional Administrator and Director of the Environmental Management Division at EPA Region 9 in San Francisco, CA. Before joining EPA in 2014, she served as the Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy department, providing management and operational support for scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative professionals.
Trump Rescinded Obama Policy that Required Federal Agencies to Reduce Emissions
Last week, President Trump replaced an executive order signed by former President Obama that required federal agencies’ energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The revocation came as part of a new executive order that requires federal agencies to track the generation of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the use of energy and water in order to generate cost savings.
Two California Plastics Manufacturers Fined for Clean Water Act Violations
EPA reached settlements with two Southern California plastics manufacturers over federal Clean Water Act violations. Under the terms of the settlements, both companies will take steps to prevent plastic materials they manage from washing into local waterways. Combined, the companies will pay more than $35,000 in penalties.
During inspections at the two facilities in 2016, EPA found inadequate containment measures that allowed plastic materials, including pellets known as “nurdles,” to enter local waterways. Nurdles are plastic beads about 1/5-inch in diameter that are widely used in manufacturing. These plastic materials contribute to harmful debris in the nation’s inland and coastal waters and pose dangers to fish, birds and other wildlife.
Modern Concepts, Inc., located in Compton, California, and Double R. Trading, Inc., located in City of Industry, failed to install required controls that prevent plastic and other materials from washing into storm drains and discharging into the Los Angeles River and Port of Los Angeles, respectively. Both companies have corrected the violations and returned to compliance.
“We urge manufacturers to take the steps needed to keep plastic materials out of our waterways, where they harm marine organisms and birds,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This is but one action among many we can take to minimize the scourge of marine debris.”
EPA coordinated the inspections with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in support of their efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the Los Angeles area.
“Trash in our waterways, including plastics, poses a significant threat to public health and wildlife,” said Deborah Smith, Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Addressing this water quality problem has been a top priority for the Los Angeles Water Board since 2001 to reduce the amount of trash being discharged to the Los Angeles River. This trash-reducing regulatory program was the first of its kind and has prevented tons of trash from entering the river. The Board will continue to work in partnership with EPA to ensure ongoing protection of the Los Angeles River and other regional waterways.”
Modern Concepts stores pre-production nurdles at its facility as part of its plastic products manufacturing process. EPA’s inspectors observed spilled plastic pellets on paved surfaces throughout the facility, which is located near Compton Creek, a tributary of the Los Angeles River. EPA also found the facility lacked pollution prevention equipment and used inadequate cardboard storage boxes, which exposed the pellets to rain and wind. Under the agreement, Modern Concepts Inc. will pay a $12,000 penalty for the violations.
Double R Trading Inc. operates a recycling plant that grinds plastic material into flakes that are ultimately exported to China. EPA inspectors discovered that the facility, when it was operating in Compton before moving to City of Industry, was discharging industrial stormwater into Dominguez Channel without a required permit. EPA inspectors observed large amounts of exposed plastic materials and fragments spilled on paved surfaces throughout the facility.
The inspection found that the facility did not have necessary containment systems to trap plastic material and prevent releases to a waterway that flows into the Port of Los Angeles. Additional violations included improper outdoor storage of oils and industrial. Double R Trading Inc. will pay a $23,326 penalty.
Nurdles or small flakes of plastic that wash into storm drains and out to open water can be eaten by fish, birds and other wildlife. Ingested plastic can displace food in an animal’s stomach and may lead to starvation. In the marine environment, plastic debris can absorb persistent toxic chemicals that migrate up the food chain and pose risks to human health.
Under the Clean Water Act, plastic manufacturers must obtain a stormwater permit from the state to discharge industrial stormwater to surface waters. The permit requires the installation of controls and use of best management practices to prevent or minimize the discharges of pollutants in runoff from their operations. Such discharges may contain pollutants such as plastic resin pellets, flakes or powders.
CARB 50th Anniversary Celebrated by Industry Leaders
A number of clean air luminaries and industry and thought leaders gathered recently to recognize 50 years of progress in cleaning California’s skies and discuss the crucial role new vehicle technology and developments will play in continuing the state’s leadership over the coming half century. The 50th Anniversary Symposium was hosted by the UC Riverside College of Engineering – Center for Environmental Research and Technology as part of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the California Air Resources Board.
To underscore the crucial importance of technology in achieving California’s clean air and climate goals, there was a rare display of zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses that are just now beginning to enter the marketplace. One question discussed at the Symposium was how best to accelerate their market penetration.
Environmental Coalition Lawsuit On Accountability of Mining Industry
Environmental organizations have filed a lawsuit against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in the D.C. Circuit, challenging his failure to hold the hard-rock mining industry financially responsible for cleaning up its toxic pollution. A proposed EPA rule would have required mining companies to demonstrate that they have the funds, up front, to cover cleanup of hazardous substances at mine sites. The rulemaking served to implement EPA authority granted 30 years ago under the federal Superfund program, and was initiated after more than a decade of litigation brought by environmentalists alarmed by toxic releases from hard-rock mining — the leading source of hazardous releases in the US. Administrator Pruitt abandoned the new rule in December.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit challenging Pruitt’s action on behalf of Earthworks, Idaho Conservation League, Amigos Bravos, Great Basin Resource Watch, Sierra Club, and Communities for a Better Environment.
The premise of the environmentalist’s suit is abandoned copper, gold and other hard-rock mines throughout the western US have sat polluted for decades after valuable minerals were extracted, leaching acid mine drainage and even causing cyanide plumes that affect nearby residential drinking water supplies. When mine operators lack the funds to address these hazards, the cost burden is shifted onto taxpayers — often to the tune of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars for a single site. And because there are only limited public funds available for cleanup, shifting the cleanup burden to taxpayers also means that cleanups are delayed, leaving public lands and nearby communities to live with poisoned land and water for decades.
The EPA estimates the backlog of cleanup costs for hard-rock mines across the country at $20-$54 billion. In a legal battle stretching back more than a decade, plaintiffs pushed the EPA to complete this rulemaking process and require industry to demonstrate its financial ability not just to clean up expected hazards but also unanticipated toxic spills and accidents. The lawsuit alleges that this rule would have incentivized mining companies to avoid leaving cancer-causing chemicals behind, and kept the financial burden of cleanups off of taxpayers.
Air Conditioning Major Contributor to Electricity Demand
The growing use of air conditioners in homes and offices around the world will be one of the top drivers of global electricity demand over the next three decades, according to new analysis by the International Energy Agency that stresses the urgent need for policy action to improve cooling efficiency.
A new IEA report – The Future of Cooling – shows that without new efficiency standards the world will be facing a “cold crunch” from the growth in cooling demand in coming decades.
Global energy demand from air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050, requiring new electricity capacity the equivalent to the current combined electricity capacity of the United States, the EU and Japan. The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion – which amounts to 10 new ACs sold every second for the next 30 years, according to the report.
Using air conditioners and electric fans to stay cool already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity used in buildings around the world – or 10% of all current global electricity consumption. But as incomes and living standards improve in many developing countries, the growth in AC demand in hotter regions is set to soar. AC use is expected to be the second-largest source of global electricity demand growth after the industry sector, and the strongest driver for buildings by 2050.
Supplying power to these ACs comes with large costs and environmental implications. One crucial factor is that the efficiency of these new ACs can vary widely. For example, ACs sold in Japan and the European Union are typically 25% more efficient than those sold in the United States and China. Efficiency improvements could cut the energy growth from AC demand in half through mandatory energy performance standards.
“Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the IEA. “With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritized. Standards for the bulk of these new ACs are much lower than where they should be.”
The report identifies key policy actions. In an Efficient Cooling Scenario, which is compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the IEA finds that through stringent minimum energy performance standards and other measures such as labelling, the average energy efficiency of the stock of ACs worldwide could more than double between now and 2050. This would greatly reduce the need to build new electricity infrastructure to meet rising demand.
Making cooling more efficient would also yield multiple benefits, making it more affordable, more secure, and more sustainable, and saving as much as USD 2.9 trillion in investment, fuel and operating costs.
The rise in cooling demand will be particularly important in the hotter regions of the world.
Currently, less than a third of global households own an air conditioner. In countries such as the United States and Japan, more than 90% of households have air conditioning, compared to just 8% of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world.
The issue is particularly sensitive in the fastest-growing nations, with the biggest increase happening in hot countries like India – where the share of AC in peak electricity load could reach 45% in 2050, up from 10% without action. This will require large investments in new power plants to meet peak power demand at night, which cannot be met with solar PV technology.
“Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, and allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs,” said Dr Birol.
Research Endeavors to Bring Inexpensive, Efficient Solar Power to Marketplace
Thanks in large part to developing and operating a facility for testing molten salt reactor (MSR) technologies, nuclear experts at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are now tackling the next generation of another type of clean energy—concentrating solar thermal power (CSP).
The Energy Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Office selected the ORNL-based team to develop a molten chloride salt facility as part of the Generation 3 Concentrating Solar Power Systems (Gen3 CSP) program. The Gen3 CSP program supports research in materials and facilities that could allow future CSP plants to operate at higher temperatures and lower the cost of electricity production.
Kevin Robb, a staff scientist in ORNL’s Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division, will lead the investigation into a chloride salt CSP heat transfer fluid. Robb’s nuclear-focused research uses the Liquid Salt Test Loop, a one-of-a-kind test facility that heats fluoride salts to around 700 degrees Celsius and then pumps the salts through the loop. The loop is helping researchers develop and analyze technologies that industry could one day use in fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactors, a type of MSR.
“We developed the loop with maximum flexibility in mind, so we could test numerous materials and components for possible deployment,” Robb said. “As we learned more about the CSP program, it was obvious we could leverage that experience to do the same thing for them.”
Robb and Gen3 CSP project collaborators from the University of Utah, Virginia Tech and Argonne National Laboratory will develop the solar-based loop, with salts and parts different from those found in the Liquid Salt Test Loop.
The team will design the facility to circulate heated chloride salts throughout the system. The goal is to offer extreme versatility via interchangeability of parts—from seals and pumps to valves and heat exchangers—providing researchers a variety of options to determine what works best in the loop, while avoiding pitfalls that could shorten the lifespan of a full-scale CSP plant. In commercial CSP plants, the hot chloride salts could be readily stored in tanks to generate fully dispatchable electricity at any time of day or night.
“Our research at the liquid salt facility focuses on maintaining low corrosion rates throughout the system,” Robb said. “We’ll analyze how different parts interact with the salt, and we’ll test corrosion mitigation tactics to simulate how this could work in a CSP plant.”
In addition, the facility will operate at temperatures above 725 degrees Celsius. This increased temperature will increase the efficiency of heat-to-electricity conversion to provide an economic advantage over current CSP systems that normally operate below 600 degrees Celsius. The end result could be a CSP system with greater electricity output at lower costs.
The Gen3 CSP program seeks to eliminate current knowledge and technology gaps, so that industry could use the design to bring cheap solar power to the grid in a rapid timeframe. This work could put the solar industry closer to reaching DOE’s goal of reducing the cost of CSP energy to 5 cents/kilowatt hour by 2030.
For Robb, the new project is at home within the walls of ORNL thanks to the institutional knowledge and capabilities developed over more than 50 years of work in liquid-salt energy systems—whether for nuclear or solar.
New York State Agencies Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Green Your Commute Day
New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced that 2,350 New York State employees celebrated Green Your Commute Day, the largest number of participants in the event's history. Green Your Commute Day supports Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, from 1990 levels.
"New Yorkers never shy away from a fight and I am proud that under the leadership of Governor Cuomo that New York is leading the way by taking bold action in the fight against climate change," said Commissioner Seggos. "Whether biking in Buffalo, carpooling in Cooperstown, or riding the bus in Brooklyn, I commend all State employees who joined us to take action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions."
An estimated 2,350 employees from multiple state agencies across New York are leading by example and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by commuting to work using a means other than driving alone in a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle. The record number of participants represents a 37% increase in participation over last year. Their actions directly offset 22.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of burning 2,330 gallons of gas.
"Green Your Commute Day is a great opportunity for State agencies to participate in one of the green and sustainable initiatives Governor Cuomo promotes to reduce New York's greenhouse gas emissions," OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito said. "I applaud the members of Team OGS and all State employees whose efforts are helping New York reduce its environmental impact."
DOT's 511NY Rideshare program, a free service open to the public that helps users find potential carpool partners, has developed a new portal specifically for DEC and DOH employees. The new portal will make it easier for DEC and DOH employees to find colleagues to carpool with so they can green their commutes all year round. 511NY Rideshare also provides traffic and transit information, helps users match with a "bike buddy" to ride with, and provides access to regional guaranteed ride home programs for carpoolers.
The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York, representing 34% of the state's total emissions. Green Your Commute Day tackles these emissions both by reducing these greenhouse gases and by highlighting how state employees and citizens can act to lower them by utilizing a more sustainable mode of transportation. This year, employees walked, biked, took transit, carpooled, and drove electric vehicles to get to work.
Creator of ‘Lock Her Up’ Chant to Run EPA’s California Office
The new head of the EPA’s regional office is a former spokesman for a California oil company that has a long record of environmental violations. He is best known for starting the “lock her up” movement against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced the appointment of Mike Stoker as administrator of EPA’s Region 9 office, which oversees the agency’s work in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.
“Other than himself, Scott Pruitt could not have found anyone more unfit to lead the EPA’s important work of protecting the health of millions in the Pacific Southwest than Mike Stoker,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook, a resident of San Anselmo. “If I was standing blindfolded on Market Street I could find a dozen more qualified and committed people to do the job.”
Stoker originated the anti-Clinton “lock her up” chant in his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention. He has spent much of his career as an attorney representing agribusiness interests in California and as a spokesperson for Greka Oil & Gas Co., which has a long history of oil spills in the state and was fined $2 million for “countless safety code violations.”
As a Santa Barbara county supervisor in the 1990s, Stoker led what a local journalist called “a take-no-prisoners assault” on the county’s Air Pollution Control District. Nick Welsh of the Santa Barbara Independent said Stoker’s crusade against the agency left it “not just eviscerated but skinned alive.”
Later on, Stoker was chair of the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board in the administration of Gov. Pete Wilson, and he was a deputy California secretary of state in the Gov. Gray Davis administration. The EPA Region 9 post has been vacant for more than a year, reportedly because potential nominees who fit Pruitt’s anti-environmentalist mold didn’t want to face the scorn of EPA employees in the San Francisco office. According to the Los Angeles Times, neither does Stoker, who has asked to work from a small Los Angeles field office.
The EPA’s press release on the matter quotes a number of Californians in support of Stoker’s appointment, including officials with the California Business Roundtable, the California Chamber of Commerce and agricultural industry groups. But the only environmental organization cited is SOS California, which works to stop the natural seepage of oil onto beaches – not spills from the oil drilling of companies like Greka.
“You’d normally expect a new regional head of the EPA to have support from environmentalists,” said Cook. “That Stoker has almost none, and that he doesn’t even want to face EPA employees who’ve spent their careers protecting public health, speaks volumes about what we can expect from his leadership of Region 9. One thing is for sure: He’s in for a fight.”
Environmental News Links
If bees and other pollinators were to charge us for pollinating our crops, how much would the bill come to, per year?
a) $275 million
b) $14 billion
c) $190 billion
d) $300 billion