Federal Judge Postpones Implementation of Michigan Out-of-State Trash Law

October 01, 2004

A federal judge has postponed the implementation of a law regulating the type of waste shipped to Michigan landfills from out of state. U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn postponed the implementation of the law for 30 days, saying that the details have not yet been worked out for a system that would determine if out-of-state waste meets the requirements set out in the law.

The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWWA) sued the state to block the law, slated to go into effect at the beginning of October. The law requires that jurisdictions shipping waste into Michigan carry the same prohibitions as Michigan regarding the type of waste they allow in their trash.

If the jurisdictions do not have the same prohibitions, then the haulers must demonstrate that all items outlawed in Michigan have been removed from the waste shipment. The NSWWA has argued that the law unconstitutionally interferes with foreign trade and interstate commerce, both of which are regulated by Congress. The group also says the legislation forces other jurisdictions to change their laws.

The law still requires some fine-tuning, however. The state Department of Environmental Quality has not finalized a form for out-of-state trash haulers to use to document the removal of prohibited items. As well, no specific appeals process has been set up for jurisdictions that do not make the departmentÆs "green list."

Cohn noted during testimony that he disputed the plaintiffsÆ argument that the law would force other states or provinces to change their laws. He said that he felt that Michigan was being "generous", noting that the other states and provinces do not have to change their respective laws, but rather that they have an option of not shipping waste to Michigan.

The types of trash currently prohibited by Michigan law which under the new law would be excluded from out-of-state shipments primarily fall into two categories: hazardous waste, because it directly threatens public health, and certain recyclables, because they needlessly take up landfill space.

The judge ordered the status quo to be maintained until Oct. 30, while the Department of Environmental Quality continues to work on implementation of the law. The court will review its progress at an Oct. 20 hearing.

Michigan DEQ Announces Improved Air Permit Process

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has redesigned and improved its air quality Permit to Install application review process, in conjunction with industry representatives, using a process called "value stream mapping." Effective immediately, all new applications will be evaluated using the redesigned process. The review process was reengineered to address the needs of the modern fast-paced economy, while preserving and improving environmental protections. The new process emphasizes earlier face-to-face meetings between permit applicants and DEQ staff, clear communication of application requirements, early identification of any outstanding permit-related issues, and will allow the DEQ to encourage early public involvement. The new process enables applicants to submit high-quality permit applications, which in turn allows the DEQÆs Air Quality Division to perform technical analyses quickly and efficiently, eliminating unnecessary delays and wasted efforts. Adherence to these simple principles will ensure that all applications will be reviewed and acted upon in less than six calendar months.

The new process is the result of the value stream mapping effort, where each task performed during an application evaluation was analyzed. For each step, the amount of time spent performing the task and time spent waiting for action was identified. Once these parameters were identified, a team of air quality professionals from the DEQ and regulated industries redesigned the process to reduce wait time and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific review, while adding an additional opportunity to identify projects that will benefit from enhanced public outreach.

Ohio EPA Seeks Comments on Draft Air Pollution Rule Changes for New Pollution Sources

Ohio EPA is considering changing regulations that govern small air pollution sources to make the permitting process less burdensome while maintaining current requirements for emissions control, monitoring and reporting that protect air quality.

A public information session to promote public understanding of the desired changes will be held on Monday, October 4, 2004, at 7 p.m., at the Ohio Department of Transportation Building Auditorium, 1980 West Broad Street, Columbus. In addition, public comments will be accepted until October 13.

There are 72,000 to 80,000 permitted units in Ohio's air pollution permitting system. Similar states have 10,000 to 20,000 permitted units. With resource constraints and the responsibility to adopt and implement several new federally imposed air regulations, Ohio EPA must become more efficient. The paperwork processing for very small emission sources is a resource drain that produces little to no environmental benefit. Processing fewer permit applications will allow Ohio EPA staff to do more inspections and devote more time to larger emitting, higher priority facilities.

One solution is to lower the emission level that triggers the need to apply for a site-specific air permit. To be exempt from the permitting requirement, a facility would have to meet certain criteria; only insignificant sources and those that would not require a health and welfare evaluation would qualify for this exemption. These facilities would still need to comply with all other air pollution rules. Emissions reporting also would be required. Any size or type of facility could include a project that would fall below the threshold, which for most applications falls at 10 tons per year.

Examples of facilities that would be covered under the threshold exemption rules include a maintenance paint booth that is used to paint factory parts when replaced or repaired. This type of paint booth typically uses a small amount of paint and paints infrequently, having very low emissions. Another example would be a small shotblaster; this machine cleans metal parts by blasting sand or other material inside an enclosure. These shotblasters are manufactured with built-in air pollution control equipment that meets regulatory expectations, so a permit has little value.

Another solution is to regulate facilities through rules rather than permits. The rules are industry-sector specific and include qualifying criteria and all requirements that would normally be detailed in a site-specific permit. If a company qualifies for a particular permit-by-rule, it must comply with all the requirements in the rule to be covered under the permit.

Permit-by-rule provisions already exist in Ohio's rules for five types of operations: emergency electric generators, plastic molding facilities, crushing operations, soil vapor remediation and soil liquid remediation activities. Ohio EPA wants to add six new categories including: auto body refinishing, two categories of gasoline dispensing facilities, natural gas-fired boiler/heaters, small size printing and mid-size printing facilities.

Copies of draft rule changes are available at Ohio EPA's Division of Air Pollution Control and can be requested by calling Rick Carleski at (614) 728-1742. Written comments can be mailed to the Division of Air Pollution Control, Ohio EPA, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049. All comments must be received by Wednesday, October 13, 2004.

ADEM Urges Area Contractors to Reassess Erosion Controls

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has noted that the strong winds and heavy rainfall associated with Hurricane Ivan have caused widespread destruction of erosion control measures at construction sites throughout Alabama. Construction activities of one acre or greater are required to register with ADEM for permit coverage and also implement and maintain effective best management practices (BMPs) to minimize non-point source pollutants.

Best management practices include erecting silt fences, sediment traps, and other effective practices to filter solids and other pollutants. Additionally, regular inspections of the construction site and the associated State waters are required to ensure that BMPs are properly maintained. In some cases, monitoring of the stormwater is required to ensure compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.

According to Steven Jenkins, Chief of the ADEM Field Operations Division, "ADEM realizes that destruction of BMPs throughout a large area was unavoidable due to Hurricane Ivan and safety should be the first priority. While we recognize that the most severely affected areas may need additional time, we are urging all construction site contractors to concentrate on reestablishing stormwater control measures as soon as possible and we hope that this can be accomplished in most areas by the end of September."

Mr. Jenkins also added, "The Department will work with operators in high damage areas who may need additional time to restore BMP measures. After an opportunity for cleanup operations, the Department will begin inspection of these sites to determine compliance, and will be responding to complaints of uncontrolled stormwater runoff. While detailed records of BMP repair and installation must be retained by the operator, the requirement to submit a noncompliance report to ADEM is temporarily waived for unavoidable BMP destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan. This will allow operators to focus available resources on timely cleanup, repair, and remediation as needed." However, noncompliance reports can be specifically requested by ADEM on a case-by-case basis and those reports should be submitted.

The Department would also like to remind developers, builders, and homeowners that any new construction and reconstruction activities on beach properties should be coordinated with the ADEM Mobile Field Office and local building authorities. ADEM recommends that all clean sandwashed or blown onto driveways, streets, and parking lots be returned to the beach. Removal of sand from beach and shoreline areas is prohibited by law.

If you have any questions regarding these measures feel free to contact the ADEM Mobile Field Office at (334) 450-3400.

Illegal Electronic Waste Has Impact on Third World

Great Britain throws out in excess of 1 million tons of electronic refuse annually. This high-tech garbage, or "e-waste" as it is commonly referred to, can range from broken computer monitors to discarded mobile phones.

However, Britain is an island nation; where, then, does all of their waste go?

According to recent figures, much of it is shipped illegally to other countries. Last year, approximately 23,000 tons of electronic equipment and IT-related waste was shipped overseas, mostly to China, Pakistan, India, and Africa.

Often, the e-waste is shipped in packaging with false documents describing harmless contents. When customs officers open the containers, they regularly find something else entirely. In one recent case, a shipment to Pakistan labeled as plastic packaging was refused and returned when it was discovered to contain tons of computer monitors and e-waste.

The Environment Agency (EA), the British governmentÆs watchdog organization, notes that much of the e-waste is sent over seas to be dismantled by hand for lead and other valuable toxic contents. The EA says the e-waste exports, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, involve tens of thousands of outdated computers, several hundred thousand television sets, several million refrigerators and mobile phones, and 160,000 tons of discarded electrical equipment. All of this e-waste is being sent to the poorest countries in the world.

The EA admits that it has no accurate data as to how much waste is being deliberately dumped on poor countries by companies trying to avoid paying increasingly high disposal costs in the UK. Another possibility is that some of the waste is only technically illegal because companies have filled in the forms incorrectly.

However, two reports not released by the Environment Agency indicate a greater problem than the British government admits. The first, by the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER), was based on confidential interviews with businesses. It concluded that most computer exports are waste because goods were neither tested nor repaired before export.

The other, compiled by a grouping of the environment agencies of six European countries and known collectively as Impel, says that exporters have discovered new ways around the rules. The report asserts that governments have neither the resources nor the will to treat checking what leaves the country as a priority. Impel's ongoing study of six major European ports, found that 22% of all the waste exports checked for over one year were illegal.

Enforcement agencies found large quantities of computer equipment, electrical cable, worn-out tires, disposable cameras, cathode ray tubes, used oil, and contaminated motor parts were being exported. In many cases, the authorities were forced to allow these shipments to continue because they could not tell which equipment was reusable and which was obsolete. Many of the containers inspected showed misleading information about their contents and origin. The report suggested scrap exporters were trying to mislead the authorities.

China and India, considered the target of most e-waste exports, have used the United Nations and other international forums to urge Britain and other countries to discontinue the export of hazardous waste, insisting that they do not have the facilities to inspect all of the traffic being sent.

Environmental agencies of the European Union agree. A major investigation by an international coalition of environmental groups earlier this year found that massive quantities of e-waste are being exported to China, India, and Pakistan. There, it is reprocessed in operations which are extremely harmful to both human health and the environment. E-waste was found mixed with scrap metal from Japan, South Korea, the US, and the EU.

Guiyu, a town northeast of Hong Kong, is home to approximately 100,000 migrant laborers - men, women and children - who break up and reprocess obsolete computers shipped from around the world. They are unaware of the extreme health and environmental hazards of dismantling these goods. Drinkable water has to be trucked in for the entire population, due to the fact that local well water is so highly polluted.

Exporting e-waste is set to increase sharply over the next few years as European laws covering electronic and electrical goods maintain that scrap is recycled and bar it from being incinerated. The coalition of environmental groups issued an appeal to global manufacturers to take responsibility for their electronic products, and to phase out the dangerous substances found within them.

California Adopts Laws Limiting Cruise Ship Waste

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law two bills limiting the ability of cruise ships to dump sewage in the coastal waters off California.

The first law will prevent cruise ships from dumping sink and shower waste in the stateÆs coastal waters. Advocates of the bill said that the wastewater contains bacteria, heavy metals, and pathogens that can contribute to beach closures, seafood contamination and other environmental problems.

The other law will prevent cruise ships from dumping toilet sewage within three miles of shore.

California is the countryÆs second-largest cruise ship market after Florida. The state experienced a 14 percent growth rate in cruise embarkations last year, and the cruise industry predicts that the number of ship visits to California will grow by 25 percent over the coming decade. A single large cruise ship carries up to 5,000 passengers, generating up to 25,000 gallons of sewage from toilets and 200,000 gallons of waste from kitchens, sinks and showers per day.

Environmental Group Challenges Air Standards in Plywood Manufacturing

Environmental law firm Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging federal standards for air emissions from plywood manufacturing plants as too lax.

According to the EPA, the federal rule, issued in February, will reduce emissions of acetaldehyde, acrolein, formaldehyde, methanol, phenol, propionaldehyde and other toxic air pollutants by between 6,600 and 11,000 tons per year, or a reduction from 1997 levels of 35 to 58 percent.

About 220 facilities are covered by the plywood maximum achievable control technology rule. These facilities manufacture plywood, particle board, veneer, and similar wood products. Environmentalists voiced their objection to a provision exempting so-called low-risk plants from the new standards. According to the EPA, the decision to de-list certain facilities because they were deemed to present a low risk resulted in part from comments from the American Forest & Paper Association, an industry group.

Environmentalists rejected the EPAÆs argument that it had used a detailed rationale for removing certain facilities, calling it a fraud. One of the agencyÆs arguments insists that the cancer risk from many of the toxins emitted by plywood plants is very low. However, environmentalists insist that the EPA cannot support this claim.

The environmentalists suggest that this loophole deprives many of the protection guaranteed by the Clean Air Act. They claim that approximately 147 plywood plants may seek exemption. EPA officials were not available for comment.

A copy of the EPA rule, including criteria plants must meet in order to be excluded from the rule, may be found on the Internet at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fr_notices/pcwp_fr.pdf.